Tuesday, August 2, 2016

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment