Sunday, April 24, 2016

Book 1, Chapter 5: Whodunnit?

To begin, I offer two quotes, taken out of context:
Julian, about Dr. Lundquist: "Now I really wish I knew what she keeps up her dress."
Also Julian, also about Dr. Lundquist: "I tell the android to interface with her data port."

This was an amazing session. We had three people join as we were playing, so things were a little disjointed at first as everyone tried to get up to speed. Still, it all came together in the end. And how!

At 3:36, Frosty went to visit Dr. Becly, the jumpspace scientist from the burning planet. Frosty visits frequently, as he mentioned, discussing jumpspace. The guard at the door knocked for him, but there was no answer. The guard explained that they had brought the wrong food yesterday morning, and the grumpy doctor had gotten upset, refusing his lunch as well; "So, he doesn't want to eat, he doesn't get to eat."
Frosty entered the room; Dr. Becly was dead! He alerted the captain, who decided there would be a heading that night at 8 pm, where the most guilty party would be locked up. He instructed the available crew, at the time Julian and the android, to search for the killer. They began in the room; the med techs placed the time of death at 3:18 am, and the cause of death as a single surgical strike to the kidneys with a mono-filament blade. The guard, meanwhile, were devastated; somehow, the killer slipped in and out under their noses without them seeing a thing.
Julian and the android searched the room, and found a top, a notebook missing some pages, and the lack of another book, as well as the data pad with all the jumpspace research on it.

Next, they combed the security footage, and found an anomaly - a shadow. They followed it down the halls, and eventually to the civilian dining hall around 3:30 am, where they eventually lost it in the morning diners, just before 6 am.

The next step they choose was to interview the diners; the engineer, Lucia Belo, was there all night, working on some math, but didn't notice much. Jiahao Wong, physicist, arrived around 5, but was preoccupied and didn't see anything. The cybernetics doctor, Dr. Theresa Lundquist, was the next in, at 5:30 am. She did see the invisible shape, but thought it was just her eyes playing tricks. Finally, Mark Grenson, pioneer, aided, not long before 6. He didn't see anything, but he was acting suspiciously; enough that Julian took him to the crime scene. He didn't know the crime had even occurred. Tina Fey, having finished some more boring jumpspace calculations, arrived, and pulled Mr. Grenson aside. Her good cop might have been a little more flirty than she intended...

The end result was a few tantalizing clues, but nothing solid. Back to the drawing board... luckily, word came from the med techs about something suspicious: a crew member, Jenny Ovesen, was found unconscious by the garbage area near engineering. She refused to answer any questions.

As it turned out, she and Julian knew each other; they grew up in the same area. Last Julian had heard, she was mixed up with the wrong crowd. After a bit of prying, Julian managed to get her to confess - she was part of NorSup, the drugs and human trafficking gang. She knew of another NorSup member, as well: Mark Grenson.

Exposed, Mark caved, but still knew nothing new about the murder.

After still more questioning, Jenny admitted that she had retrieved a package - a backpack - and ran it through a scrubber. She was supposed to leave it, but stayed, and got tazed from behind.

Another dead end, it looked like. Worse, the guards were running their own investigation, and Frosty, the android, and K'Aps were at the top of the list.

Things looked grim, at least until the group had Jenny look for matching gear; nothing on the ship, but a network search located a match: it was a ghost suit. Another guard, Rein Stroble, remembered an assassin and thief who used such a suit: code name Breathe.

At this point, it was just after 5 pm; with only the hours left, the crew split up and started searching rooms for any clues. Julian found something in room 5, right next door to the murder victim: a holographicly disguised box, with a notebook and data pad! And in the shower, a fragment of changeling skin, a ready made disguise. Now sure that Botty, the poor botanist, was the killer in disguise, the group converged on the man; Tina tried to talk with him, but Julian went straight to the point, trying to shove him in the water. He failed, but K'Aps managed; Botty came out of the water mad as a, well, wet hornet.
The android saw a flash of movement, and he turned to see a man hiding in the bushes; he did not recognize him. Breathe! The crew quickly engaged; the speedy Breathe pulled a sonic pistol and a laser SMG and opened fire, but missed (thanks to a discarded token). Breathe shook off a shaken status, then discarded a token to shake off another. K'Aps moved in to stab him, but ran into a quick counter attack - luckily, it missed. The personal forcefield on Breathe kept him alive; the next round, he managed to wound K'Aps, but took a shaken that he just couldn't get rid of. The others leaped at the chance, and with a really lucky roll, the android added two wounds. Julian finished him off.

The medics managed to stabilize him, bringing him into custody. Behind them came a guard - Jenny had been attacked in her cell, and is in critical condition. Breathe had tried to tie up that loose end only minutes before the battle.

Breathe down for the count, and a gang member behind bars, and still two hours from the deadline. Not bad for a days work.

But what was Breathe doing during the investigation? Where did his ghost suit end up? And why was he going after that data, especially now?

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Book 1, Chapter 4: Biothanata, Haroona, and a Ship Graveyard

With the scientist locked up, and the survivors cared for and placed in cryo, the Shifting Horizon continued its journey. The next stop landed in a system with two inhabitable planets; one lush and green, and the other only sparsely populated, and covered with some kind of red liquid. Of course, the group decided to land on the worse planet first...

But, before they could take off, they were hit with a signal - a hugely powerful signal, from far out in the galaxy. As much as they wanted to explore it, though, they just didn't have enough data. On to the planet!

Only a few moments out of the landing pod, and the group met some unfriendly natives: water lizards. These cat-like creatures quickly clamored onto land and attacked, but they were no match for the Frosty's overpowered minigun. He burned through a full barrel of rounds, and eliminated all but one of the beasts. OP, indeed. The final creature was finished off as well, just in time for a group of sickly looking deer to run past, pursued by a number of dog-like creatures. In the spirit of "everything is a target, and there is no such thing as overkill," the group fired at the beasts, reducing them to ash. Even the tough leader of the pack, shrugging off wound after wound, was brought to a quick end. The deer, nervous that they would be the next target, rushed to the end of the isthmus. Julian Tarvis grabbed a small vial to get a sample of the goo, but before he could snag a sample, the goo reached up to grab him! He leaped back just in time as the goo began to climb the banks, stretching towards him and the ship. The deer panic, and one loses its footing, plunging into the red liquid below. It is quickly dissolved, the flesh melting off of it as it screams its last breath...

The crew quickly head toward the ship as the entire sea of red goo begins to splash and froth, then suddenly, with a snap-the-whip motion, heaves a large blob skyward; just as the blob reaches its apex, it bursts into flame, lengthening into an oblong rocket-like shape, and blasting out of the atmosphere! Without waiting to see what happens next, everyone jumped in the ship and gunned it out of the system. In orbit, they could see more of the blobs shooting out from the planet. The ever-helpful AI suggests a name: Biothanata, eater of worlds. The next JPod home will contain a message: nuke the Biothanata to a crisp!

Frosty took a break to get some electronics installed in his head, leaving the others to explore the much less hostile planet. He never noticed his translator being stolen... After a bit of discussion, the group found the Haroona, a peaceful agrarian society of blue ape-like beings. Frosty's translator made quick work of the language, and the group took the opportunity to introduce the peaceful creatures to... well, they had a few options: arms, farming, and technology. They opted for everything, plus fire. What they didn't know is how fast the Haroona can learn... the next time they see their blue friends will be interesting, to say the least.

JPod away, the Shifting Horizon moved on, this time locating a single neutron star... and thousands of ships. Millions. They found an impossible holographic ship, somehow without mass, but with inertia; an ancient J0 ship, far older than it should have been; even a standard rocket-powered ship from World War II (complete with swastikas, natch). Ships from every nation were collected in stable orbits. Finally, the crew found a tiny energy signature: a space-station-like ship with heavy damage. They found that the J-drive had been ejected into space, where it exploded; the blast left the faint shadow of one of the crew on the outside of the ship. Markings showed it was a Russian ship.

Inside, the first few rooms were empty, but past an airlock, they found something... corpses! Julian felt a cold hand brush his shoulder, but managed to keep from wetting himself. For the most part. The room was a burial room, full of the dead, frozen. Past another air lock, the group found the main living area, and four more corpses. One, dead of a broken neck; one from poison; one from hanging (rope around the neck, and a spring on his foot), and the last from shooting herself in the head with a crossbow. It wasn't pretty. From there, there were five exits; straight forward was locked, down was vented to space (and unopenable), right was a dead plantation and a log book, up was a water recycling center, and left was a darkish room with a switch.

The log book contained the last entry from the captain, explaining how he abandoned most of the passengers on a planet out of fear (Pyl'nyy!), but ran out of power in orbit around this star. There are a few basic notes from others, detailing how they tried to get energy from other ships, but failed.

The switch, as it turns out, was a fan; as it squealed to life, the reverberations were enough to wake the dead; once again, however, no one was more than simply shocked. I guess the planet in jump space was enough to harden them against any threat?

As the fan used the last dregs of power, the room ahead clicked open. The android shoved his way in, breaking the (long dead) arm and leg of a man. In the corner of the room was a child-sized medical cryopod, with a tiny baby inside - alive! Frozen for decades, but alive.

As they returned to their ship, they came across another ship: the Gulliver! Its enormous engines were built to accelerate it to near-relativistic speeds; full speed ahead meant the crew traveled from point to point very quickly for them, but days, weeks, even years would pass at every acceleration. The ship was the first deep-space ship to launch, and experienced only about 15 Earth years. Its crew was quite willing to share information, but wanted to resume their journey. They left the crew with a final piece of data: triangulation data for the signal!

As you can see, the exploration is progressing; the crew have covered half the distance from Earth to the Pentacus system. Will they live to see the other side?