Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Book III: Corruption

In Book I, the crew began their exploration in innocence and excitement; last week saw the end of Book II, in which the crew marveled and wondered at the strange world deep in unknown territory. This week sees the introduction of the third book (or season, if you're more of a TV person): Corruption. The many adventures of the Shifting Horizon are going to grow darker from here on out.

That said, on to the adventure!

It seems that everyone on board has had their memories messed with... no one has any recollection of crashing on the planet, and only remember the Littlefinger. Even NOA has been reprogrammed, and refers to the planet incident as a rescue mission.

Hacked Pod

Meanwhile, after a few weeks of business-as-usual searching, a Jump Pod arrives from Earth with the parts everyone ordered. Apart from the usual news, it appears pirate attacks are growing more frequent, and more daring. The UEA is having trouble hunting them down. Additionally, and more worryingly, an upgrade for the manufacturing bay failed the encryption check. After a bit of investigation, it was discovered that someone, or something, had hacked the pod. Kiri, of course, thought the best plan was to scare the absolute living crap out of the engineers, as they were the only ones with enough access and ability to hack the pod. Neither one admitted any wrongdoing. Obviously. However, a new logging system picked up a ping: someone attempted to communicate with the pod again!

Julian quickly located the source of the attack - a cryopod. After summoning some guards, they breached the containment, and found someone plugged into the system. Plugged in well, too; it was likely that extracting him forcefully may well damage many parts of the ship. What to do? Easy! Log in to cryospace! Julian elected to stay behind, while Gus and Kiri entered the strange digital world. Armed with cyberdecks, the two managed to take out several bots the spy had placed on the network, then prepared to battle the huge, armor-clad warrior.

Julian, tired of waiting, ripped a wire out of the wall. That wire happened to be running a firewall protecting the spy, which resulted in the spy suddenly having no armor at all. It didn't take long for the duo to smash him to bits. Upon his defeat, the hacker/spy was revealed in his true form - a withered invalid, as in the cryopod.

Nonplussed, he brushed off the last wisps of his broken guise and explained that he worked for AlSec (Alliance Security, the black-ops section of the UEA). He was placed on the ship to gather data about... well, no one will know. He just so happened to miss one of the poison bombs wired to his body, and it killed him. Oops. Still, the team found the spy, and know that AlSec is targeting them, for whatever reason. The other spy on the ship - Breath - was also discussed; why was Alsec targeting them? And was it just them, or all the exploration ships? And for that matter, why was mission data being passed to AlSec? AlSec should be getting the same data the UEA has been getting!

Curiouser and curiouser...


Back to exploring, the Shifting Horizon arrives out of jumpspace to find a UAE ship, shot to pieces, the engines completely gone. The ship is absolutely wrecked. It's clearly UAE, though; the same class as the Shifting Horizon, in fact. While there's not much of it left, the damage seemed to be new, and there was a strong distress beacon running.

Julian, decked out in his new power armor, space-walked over to investigate, climbing straight into the bridge. While there wasn't a lot left, he did manage to for the black box, mostly undamaged. Whatever shot the ship up was very, very thorough. Kiri and Gus, meanwhile, explored engineering; there was almost nothing left. Even the standard ships were missing. Though neither knew much about jump drives, they were pretty sure this was the result of a jump drive going critical. Not a pretty picture! Of course... J2 drives don't do that. J0, sure, but not J2 unless they were significantly tampered with. And speaking of jump drives, the whoe ship looks as if it made one last trip through jumpspace, holes included; as the team discovered earlier, it's possible to survive in jump space, but making the transition between real space and jump space is a lot less so. Ships are built streamlined for a reason; realspace to jumpspace and back again tends to knock things around. As it is, with all the holes in the ship, not a lot managed to travel with the ship the whole journey.

The team met in the middle of the ship, at the officer quarters. They were just as empty as the rest of the ship... except for one room, which is wired with vehicle mines! Julian asked for identification (over comms), and provides his rank and serial. After a bit of a pause, a voice answered with quite a bit of suspicion. "Stay right there, or this whole place goes up. Who are you, really?"

Julian repeated himself, only to be met with further irritation; finally, the crew convinced the last remaining person on the ship that they were not hostile, at least enough for him to open the door. In the silence of space, Julian, in his power armor, stared across at what looked like... his power armor. Realizing what was going on, Julian opened his armor and showed his face; the survivor did the same. It was, in fact, Julian!

He had a burned, ripped up note, describing how the Shifting Horizon found a disabled ship with an emergency transponder; as they were assisting the ship, they were attacked by four cloaked ships; only Julian and Gadget survived. Julian described how the four ships had disabled the ship's engines and weapons with precision, then landed on the ship and wiped out the crew. Julian survived by accident, almost; he was in his power armor when they attacked, and was knocked into a corner. Gadget was trapped under debris, and couldn't join the fight. After the bloodbath, the two managed to jury rig the J0 drive from the old ship and make one last jump. Somehow, the jump took them nearly a day backward in time; Gus noted how it was like when they escaped the burning jumpspace planet.

Meanwhile, the black box and future-Julian's notes provided them with the exact locations of the four jumpspace ships. Captain Grainer mentioned that the coordinates of the landing are known to the UEA - as the ship travels back and forth, the entry and exit points are already mapped out, assuming nothing is found. Which means the ships likely got the information from the UEA. The others agreed - black ships, cloaked, shooting at them? Probably AlSec. The plan was formed: jump in, and start shooting. Eh, it's about as much of a plan as they ever have, right?

They made the jump; the four ships were there, just as expected, with the derelict ship in the middle of a kill box. The found ships were slightly smaller than the Shifting Horizon, but just as well gunned and nearly as armored. The Shifting Horizon opened fire; Gus on railguns, Kiri on heavy lasers, and Julian piloting and firing torpedoes. They began with a torpedo salvo; the other ship's armor took the brunt of the blast, but after the first round of firing, the first ship was disabled by a well-aimed heavy laser to the engine. The other ships were completely surprised. The second round saw the second ship obliterated by torpedoes (over-damage of 63 points, or 15 wounds!!); the enemy ships barely manage to take action, turning to fire, and only able to fire half their weapons; they only reduced the Shifting Horizon's shields by 18 points. The third round was close; before the third ship was destroyed, it and its remaining ally managed to completely reduce the shields, but the Shifting Horizon easily dodged the incoming missiles. In the fourth round, the last ship managed to damage the Shifting Horizon slightly, but a great roll from Gus returned it to full fighting form, and the others disabled the final ship.

Julian, Gus, and Kiri took the shuttle over to the first disabled ship, but had to steer clear at the last second - the ship blew itself up! They moved on to the first ship, breached the door, and quickly took out the guards inside. Julian headed to the front, and Kiri went to the back; Kiri found someone repairing the engine, and promptly knocked them out. Then noticed the containment breach in the jump drive. Julian had a brief tussle with a gunner... don't pick a fight with a guy in power armor, especially when you only have a side-arm. On the way out, Kiri spent a black chip (!) to gain some power armor; Gus grabbed the other armor and dragged it out, marine still inside, as Julian escorted the pilot.

The marine committed suicide; as an AlSec marine, he had a small bomb planted in his head, and rather than be captured, he set it off. The pilot, on the other hand, was much more willing to cooperate; in fact, as the others explained that the Shifting Horizon is a UEA ship, the less he believed his own cause. Julian trusted him enough to add him to the crew as pilot or gunner, whichever is needed (I updated the crew roster with the new member: Benjamin Vance, ex-AlSec pilot). He's pretty good; d8 shooting and d10 pilot.

Finally, the crew removed the J0 drive from the derelict and put it in storage. After a long conversation, Julian and future-Julian decided it would be best if future-Julian were to go into cryo. Out-of-game, it gives Julian a backup character; in-universe, well, he went through quite a bit of trauma, and a nice rest in cryo can be relaxing. And now Julian has two sets of power armor...

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