Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Entity 2

It's been a few weeks since we last met, so we began with a bit of review. That done, the crew headed over to L20 to pick up their freshly minted fleet. Suitably impressed with their new battlegroup, they quickly advanced their ranks: Capt. Julian became Admiral Julian, Commander Julian became Captain Julian, Commander Kiri was reinstated as Captain Kiri, and everyone else was upgraded to Commander if they weren't there already. Expecting to come out of their encounter alive, the group also discussed their future plans - namely, begining a new empire. A few names were bandied about; Gus attempted to make the initials spell "ISIS", but for some reason, no one seemed to think that was a good plan.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Less Money More Stuff

L20 has a big facility, but it's not infinite, and right now, they are in full production mode, churning out small, medium, and large ships for every government. There isn't a lot of ground fighting, though, so they were able to make the full order of power armor suits: 10 command suits, 10 weapon's expert suits, and 180 Soldier Suits. In fact, they threw in a walker, too. No armored assault is complete without a giant mech, right?

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Entity 1

The party decided the best course of action was to first see if the Entity was still in its cage. Using the map, they traveled through jumpspace and into the center of the Black Zone, where they found a tiny red dwarf and a barely-habitable planet. On the surface, little existed but hardy weeds and a single life sign. They set down on the surface, hoping to gain more information on this creature.

Caution won out; they were far enough away that when the enormous creature burst out that it was too far away to do much. It hurled rocks at them, but didn't manage to ever get within punching range (sadly, because it hit like a tank). Though everyone fired all manner of weapons at it, it shrugged off the damage (toughness 25 will do that!). It glanced a rock off one of the robots, but took a boomer round to the face from Gus. The next round, the bomber carrying Nae and Lt. Vance was in position; its forward guns did little to hurt the monster, but the large bomb they dropped did some damage. A well-aimed Gatling Laser through its face ended the battle as abruptly as it started; the creature crumbled to dust, as the party reacted with no little surprise. Gus suggested that, perhaps, Not-Grainer was actually the Entity, and this was the only creature that could have killed him. Man, I should have thought of that!

But no, the creature was dead, and Not-Grainer is actually one of the good guys - he's just super busy trying to keep the rest of his race from deciding to end the universe, or something. Anyway, a careful investigation of the cave the creature lived in revealed very little (a stone chair, a basin with water, some weeds that seemed to be what it ate). The jump pod just outside that proved most useful. It seems that the Entity was not this beast after all; somehow, the Entity had managed to escape, and left the creature behind as a decoy, likely to fool any investigators. The Entity had escaped almost 27 years before - just before the original Shifting Horizon had launched, in fact, which Gus was quick to point out.

They tested the crowbar, and found it worked surprisingly well; jumpspace exclusion zones were completely ignored. They traveled on to Pi Solaria to investigate the serial number from the pod, and got the name of the company that purchased it; they also took the time to make a hefty profit. With the jumpspace map, they were able to secure an awesome deal - 2 billion credits, in hand, and stock options worth 2 million a year! A lot of money for them, but barely a drop in the bucket for Solaria Corp. Solaria Corp will likely sell upgrades for a million or more, though it amounts to little more than a software upgrade. With hundreds of millions of ships in the galaxy, they stand to make considerable profit. They only need to sell 2,000 upgrades to cover their costs, as it is. The party left soon after, slowed only a few minutes by a riot outside, which they neatly sidestepped. Their presence scared away the protesters, but did not calm anyone down... hopefully, that won't come back to haunt them.

The company that bought the jump drive was a shell company, though they did find the name of a scientist, who just so happened to be part of a symposium on nearby Nahundi; but first, a stop by L20 industries! With their next-generation jump drive, they made the trip in half the time, and were able to sell the map a second time, for another 2 billion credits, before news of the first sale arrived. Having a fast ship is nice that way - being able to travel faster than information is a good skill to have. They put in an order for a fleet of ships, power armor, and some mechs, then left to investigate Nahundi.

They were welcomed with open arms, and even invited to speak - as it turns out, the symposium was about the jump space barrier, and how to get through or around it. Most of the scientists didn't even know about the barrier. The party set up a recruitment table, where Eliza attracted quite a few scientists who likely didn't understand that they were signing up to be soldiers, and probably won't care as long as they can stand next to Eliza.

Meanwhile, the party found where the scientist was staying, and when no one came to answer their knock, Gus scanned the room - and found a fairly cool corpse. Oh dear. Julian ordered the door knocked down; Gus managed to... barely scratched the surface. Nae, sighing and rolling her eyes, planted a firm kick and popped the door open. It was only after they splintered the door jam that the two androids remembered they had lockpicking skills...

Inside, the cause of death was fairly obvious - a sniper round through the chest, via the window, likely from the hotel across the courtyard. The scientist died the previous day. For once, the party decided to actually involve the authorities; the man behind the desk paled when the death was mentioned, and broke down under (gentle, because Kiri wasn't there) questioning. The symposium had gotten death threats from JiC, but the hotel failed to report them. If that new ever got out, the hotel would have quite a bit of trouble. And not just the assassination, either, because...

Screaming erupted outside. Gus scanned the area, and detected a large number of people running away from a person in the center of the square, who looked like he was wearing the usual vest full of explosives. Julian ordered Eliza and the security officers at the recruitment desk to see what was going on. As the guards pushed their way through the crowd, Eliza leaped onto the side of the hotel and skittered upwards until she could see the bomber. The terrorist seemed to be reading some sort of manifesto, with a dead man's switch held out. Eliza carefully took aim with the laser gun mounted in her arm, then shot the wire in half, making the switch useless. Nearby, Gadget, flying above the crowd with his new flight abilities, took careful aim as well, this time on the terrorist's leg. As he drew a bead, the terrorist released the switch, then stared at it in confusion when the bomb didn't go off.

A slight intermission here for two notes. First, Eliza is not a gentle android. She has modified herself over the years far beyond her original specs. Unlike her lifelike skin indicates, she is a fighting machine. Her stats are as follows: Robot (Wildcard); Agility d10, Smarts d8, Spirit d6, Strength d8, Vigor d6; Fighting d10, Shooting d10, Notice d6, Knowledge: Electronics d8, Stealth d10; Parry 7, Toughness 5, Pace 6, running die d10; arm-mounted Laser rifle; arm-mounted sword (str+d6); Android, Wall-Walker, Data Jack; First Strike, Jack-of-all-Trades, Marksman.
Second, the switch was a "poor man's dead man switch" - that is, a "normally closed" switch, held open by holding the button down; releasing the button would cause the circuit to close, thus activating the bomb. A much better design is to have the switch close when it is pressed, activating an internal circuit; thus, the wires are active, and releasing the button or severing the wires would set off the bomb. JiC, however, is not a smart group, or well-funded.

Gadget took his time to get a bead, then fired, neatly severing the terrorist's leg at the knee. Nae was at his side in an instant, stopping the bleeding, though not reattaching the leg. Security finally reached the scene, and tried to get everyone to clear the area, but were effectively laughed off by the crew. Gus's repair droid hauled the terrorist to a safe location and removed the vest, then sent the man to the Shifting Horizon for questioning. As it turns out, if you think someone is going to be dead soon anyway, you aren't as careful with information; the man not only knew the ringleader, but various other information about his group as well. He gave it all up after a quiet chat with Alexy, who absolutely loves his job, especially with the newfound freedom of expression granted him by no longer working for the UEA.

The next morning, the party was given the presentation time slot of the dead scientist, and Julian filled the time with a very exciting presentation; between the music, the fancy multi-media presentation, and the introduction of the jumpspace map and the crowbar, they were a huge hit. Afterwards, a Kchk'Trrs asked Nae to take a look at their data-sharing system; she was having some problems with it, and thought a science super-star could figure it out. That, and she could sell the keyboard for a hefty profit, since it was touched by none other than the legendary Nae of the starship Shifting Horizon. Nae took a look, and realized that someone was siphoning data from the system; a joint effort between Nae, Gus, and Gadget revealed a ship had hacked into the data stream and was stealing quite a bit of information. Quickly, the Oncoming Storm moved into position next to the ship, but it jumped to the edge of the system, then to the Bardron system; it followed, only to see it dump its data and blow itself up. They returned to Nahundi to pick up the crew.

As they were away, another 105 scientists joined up, including 12 Kchk'Trrs. Captain Julian decided to wait until they had their fleet of ships ready before attacking, instead keeping the area under surveillance.

There and Back Again

At the beginning of this session, Captain Julian imposed martial law; all able-bodied people were conscripted, and given some basic weapons training. Children and the few adults that weren't willing went into cryo for the duration. Granted, most people were perfectly fine with the training, even the good psychologist's teenage daughter, who will likely get into trouble, but you don't even understand mom, Captain Julian said it was ok I asked him specifically, geeze mom, it's like, war, get off my case. Er... moving on.

Nearly to their destination, the crew saw a ship, barely in sensor range. While they considered what to do about it, it suddenly appeared much closer; it was a huge ship, nearly the size of the Oncoming Storm, covered in sensors and weapons! Oddly, its ship beacon registered it as an old UEA exploration ship called the UEA SS Eliza, though it looked nothing like one. The crew were on the verge of deciding whether to shoot or leave when the ship suddenly vanished again, then reappeared - along with 50 copies of itself! Just as suddenly as the copies arrived, they vanished, and the lone remaining ship hailed them.

They were greeted by Susie-Mae Lansing, a perky southern lady with a matching drawl, then the captain of the vessel, Capt. Roger Kelft, a smooth adventurer, who invited them aboard. Fearing treachery, Julian suggested that they board his vessel instead. They agreed, and soon, Captain Kelft, Susie Mae, an engineer, a medical officer, and an android named Eliza - the ship avatar - joined them. Julian proudly showed them his ship. They... weren't impressed, actually. Julian was a bit incredulous, until slightly later when he asked if they had run into anyone like the strange teleporting creatures they had met earlier. The Captain nodded, and Eliza listed off how many they had destroyed - over 15 thousand! Julian, himself impressed, asked how they managed it; the captain invited them back aboard his ship, saying the Shifting Horizon was a bit too "soft" for comfort.

Aboard the UEA SS Eliza, the captain showed them around a bit - the corridors were plated in exterior bulkheads, and there were what looked like fire suppression shower heads every 10 yards or so, with matching drains in the floor. The others wondered about it, and the captain explained it was for acid. It's hard to teleport when you've had your flesh eaten away. No one much cared for the featureless bulkhead-walls; even the conference room table was made of stainless steel, and bolted to the floor. The Captain agreed that it lacked personality, but it was tiring replacing decoration that was washed away by gunfire and acid. Better boring than dead.

The captain explained the strange circumstances of how they got where they were:

A long time ago, back in the J0 days, a ship was created to map the universe. It traveled jumpspace and realspace, back and forth, measuring and mapping, linking routes, traversing and re-traversing. Over time, the scientists and engineers on board continued to modify the rudimentary AI to help with more and more tasks, upgrading it to be able to repair the ship, and eventually to modify its own orders. As time wore on, the scientists, engineers, and crew produced a second generation; as the generations expanded, the scientists became passengers, then followers, then zealots. The ship remembered it all; spliced and re-spliced, merged and edited, the recordings of passengers and crew were used to create projections of personalities, and soon personalities became people, fleshed out as projections, even androids. The interior of the ship became a living memory, a zoo if you will.

At that moment, Eliza stood and proclaimed, "I am that ship. My passengers, my crew, are merely projections, replications. They deteriorate, and I rebuild them. I have mapped the galaxy for thousands of years; I found which paths travel through space, and which travel through time. I mapped and remapped, until I had traveled the whole of the galaxy. I saw so many things, but all that I had space for was the Map. And yet... I am lost. I traveled through a crack in the world, and I learned how insignificant I am, and I cannot return."

Julian desperately wanted a copy of the map. Gus and Gadget were quite interested in learning how these people looked and acted so human, and yet were androids (they were a step farther than Terminators; real flesh, real muscles, synthetic bones, and nanowire nervous system). Eliza agreed to upload the map; in doing so, she freed enough memory to be able to store new information; once the map was uploaded, she left for Earth.

However, uploading the map triggered a long-dormant plot twist - the Shifting Horizon didn't have a J2 jumpdrive! Rather, it had a J3 drive, capable of using jumpspace maps to travel great distances in a much shorter amount of time. The uploaded map now allows it to jump very quickly from any system, taking the shortest path, often for half the time.

Finally, it was time to move on to their destination. Coordinates previously double-checked by Eliza, they jumped into the lion's maw...

On the way, Gadget read up on jumpspace, and managed to invent a "jumpspace mine" of sorts. It made the transition from jumpspace to realspace, and vice versa, very... painful.

Additionally, two new characters arrived, whose names I forgot to write down. One, an android, and the other, a male Kchk'Trrs.

The planet was dead - nothing living, but swarms of creatures, slithering through realspace. They approached one of the many dead ships surrounding the planet, and found it infested with a strange growth, wood-like on the outside, but fleshy on the inside. Nae took a cutting, which triggered rather a lot of wild thrashing - taking this as a sign to leave. However, a swarm took notice and began moving towards them, teleporting ever-closer. Slightly freaked out, they group retreated to another system, and found the ruins of a civilization (making more jumpspace mines along the way). There was nothing left now but the fighting. Returning to the system, they engaged the enemy...

The first few waves of creatures, they managed to defeat with torpedoes, but quickly ran out. Leaving the crew to man the lasers, the party spread around the ship to protect it. The first aliens teleported inside, and were hit by the jumpspace mines. Only one managed to survive; the rest crashed to the ground wreathed in green flames. The second wave fared only a little better, though they were quickly cut down by withering fire from Gus and Gadget. One managed to escape up an elevator, but was cut down by the dozen security guards around the jump drive. The next wave included some tougher leadership; Julian, confident from his earlier encounters, jumped into the fray, but was bashed for 2 wounds by a berserker with a power hammer; the others weren't as able to land a hit, and Nae managed to keep them at bay with some well-placed sonic shotgun blasts. The battle raged on; Gus and the newcomer Android managed to corner a creature in a hangar bay, and the new Kchk'Trrs attempted to assist. However, his attempt was in vain; though the creature was killed, so was he. Which makes two male Kchk'Trrs lost on this ship. It's not a good track record. Granted, the newcomer was a wanted felon, and likely would not be missed, but still.

All told, 16 creatures, 8 taskmasters, and 4 leaders entered the ship's lower levels, and were killed; an additional 8 creatures, 12 taskmasters, and 1 leader entered the ship at other points, but were destroyed by either mines or crew fire. The remaining swarms opted to not approach the ship; they didn't know how many torpedoes remained, otherwise they may have chanced it.

Over the next several days, the Oncoming Storm took up an orbit around the sun, siphoning enough energy to not only refill their supply, but produce a very large number of heavy torpedoes, stacking them inside the ship bays. Finally, they fired every last one of them at the planet, providing covering fire with railguns and lasers, until the planet was a raging inferno, and the ships were destroyed. It is unlikely that the creatures would be able to rebuild from that (indeed; the ships were acting as power collectors, and the planet below was covered in creature-birthing trees. Without them, the creatures cannot reproduce, and the few that escaped the immolation will likely die of old age before they find civilization).

After the planet was destroyed, Eliza returned; she had done a quick trip through the system inside the bubble (Earth, et al), and realized that what the party had told her was correct. She sent her ship back to help, and stayed on as part of the crew.

On the way back to Earth, Gadget again put his hand towards inventing, and managed to come up with a repair grenade for Androids that works as a large blast radius EMP for enemies, or a d6 repair for friendly robots. Using tech from the creatures, he invented a personal energy shield that has a 50% chance per attack of activating each attack, but only once each round. However, I am going to change how I originally said it worked; instead of providing armor, it will instead soak 3d6 damage. He also was able to replicate the jumpspace belts the creatures use, and he created copper-wound Faraday cages which provide 6 armor against EMP, for robots and androids.

The jumpspace map only applied inside the bubble - the jumpspace exclusion zone wrapping around Earth and the other systems - so it still took two months to return. The crew once again reduced to a skeleton shift, and the ship traveled through jumpspace. But during the long trip back to earth, something happened. The crew can only guess that the creatures found them. Gadget awoke to his low battery alarm - he was charging, but his battery had decayed. He managed to replace it, and woke the captain, who suffered from extreme cryo-sickness - something that only happens after years in cryo. An investigation turned up nothing on the skeleton crew. Worse, the ship had only a week's worth of energy remaining.

The missing crew included: Ensign Alec Panyanouvong, 2nd Lt. Lynn Ibe, Ensign Tamera Stradley, Ensign Josep Soler, Ensign Darien Kundert, Ensign Hugo Weaving, and 2nd Lt. Marianne Falk.

The party agreed that the only bet was to try to find the nearest sun to recharge; they had no idea how long they had been out. As they tried to limp to the nearest star system, in the hopes that they could scavenge some fuel, they were interrupted by a huge ship that somehow appeared directly in front of them. Grimly, they prepared to jump out of there, as the ship fired at them... then vanished. And on the bridge stood... Captain Grainer?

He explained about the Entity - the creature the crew had been searching for. It was trapped inside a bubble, inside the Black Zone, which is itself inside the bubble around the systems. The Entity was the creator of the nasty creatures, and was also a terrible criminal. The powerful organization that... well, it's not actually Captain Grainer; it's a being impersonating him, but anyway - the organization that Not-Grainer works for is a police force of a sort. They jailed the Entity over 10,000 years ago. Meanwhile, the Entity is likely looking for the crack in the outer bubble, while the creatures are trying to find him. Finally, Not-Grainer teleports the ship back inside the bubble, and is gone. Oh, but he left a tool - a crowbar, which supposedly punches through jumpspace exclusion zones. Gadget tried to figure it out, but its design is beyond mystical.

Finally back home, NOA took a reading of the stars, and realized that they spent 25 years in cryosleep.