Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Rip Van Winkle

The Shifting Horizon returns! Once again, we visit that old ship, this time through the eyes of the crew that was lost during their journey outside the Wall (see There and Back Again).

Of course, life takes its toll - many members of the original campaign are no longer available, and with the 'Rona, who even knows if we can meet in person. That being said, I'm going to give it a go, and we'll see how it turns out!

2nd Lt. Rodney Kariuki awoke with a start. He sat up, then immediately lost the entirety of his lunch - a rotted, nasty pile of deep-fried cheese curds with chocolate and raspberry cream. Hacking and coughing, he barely managed to crawl out of his cryopod and into the hallway before he collapsed, unconscious. Knowing he'd need help, when he awoke again, he staggered to the droid storage at the end of the hall and popped some fresh batteries (or rather, fresh-ish - the batteries didn't seem to be entirely charged) into the two droids waiting there. While one of the droids seemed to be mostly ok, the other was suffering from low batteries and corroded joints. They introduced themselves as Tevye Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene Nixon. As it turns out, they were from the same warehouse, and their first thoughts upon being turned on were about the same. The robot with the navigation bent decided to go by "Tevah", as he pronounced "Tevye", while the other decided to go by "Nix".

Together, the three took inventory of the ship. In cryo, where they wake up, the pods are open and empty. Written on the wall in a dried paste is the phrase: "Icy sleepers, gentle-rested, safely frozen... or nightmare infested?"

The bridge was barely working; the consoles only noted that the bridge was operating on backup power, and the main generator needed to be brought back online. Other rooms they passed through has messages similar to the first; in the exercise room, thick paste smeared on the wall read, "I'm weighting for you!!" In the kitchen, the few drawers were open, and all the food fridges are empty. A phrase was scratched into the wall: "Come on in, the water's fine, but it's ALL WE HAVE LEFT!"

Dehydrated, Rodney tried the kitchen faucet, but only managed to get some rather stale, brownish water. It was enough to wet his throat, but not much more than that. The crew quarters were in shambles, with: "Can't sleep now, you slept so long, stay awake! Sound the gong!"

Eventually, they made their way to the power core, and after some "hands-on troubleshooting" from Rodney, and some actual repair work by the droids, they managed to restore power to the ship, and returned to the cryopods to see if they could rescue any more of the crew. Only a handful of crew remained; specifically:

Ensign Alec Panyanouvong (navigation), 2nd Lt. Lynn Ibe (weapon systems), Ensign Tamera Stradley (comms), Ensign Josep Soler (engineering), Ensign Darien Kundert (security), Ensign Hugo Weaving (security), and 2nd Lt. Marianne Falk (medical). With Lt. Falk assisting, they managed to wake the rest of the crew, and send Weaving and Kundert off together to explore the ship.

Meanwhile, they gathered on the bridge, to try to discover what happened to the Oncoming Storm while they were asleep. NOA, the ship's AI, seemed to have been wiped clean. Still, he tried to help by bringing up the last recordings from the black box:

The Oncoming Storm is moving through jumpspace. Suddenly, the featureless black of J3 jumpspace is replaced with a spiderweb of cracks that flash across the viewscreen; the cracks flash again, closer, as the navigator tried to steer clear of the anomaly and drop out of jumpspace. The ship twists, alarms blaring from the sudden shift in inertia, but for a moment, everything seems to be successful. Space returns... but there is no sign of the crew on the bridge. Or anywhere, for that matter. Power flickers, and dies. The ship drifts. After 25 years, a seal cracks on one of the cryo pods, and as an emergency measure, the pod is opened.

Whatever left them stranded seemed to have taken the crew, as well - and 25 years of drifting in space did nothing good to the ship. There are quite a few systems down or damaged from micrometeors, along with the damage sustained from the original incident.

NOA tried to get a fix, but realized he would need more time - he has absolutely no idea where they are. It took a full 24 hours (during which the robots managed to recharge, and the crew were able to recover from their long stay in cryo). Eventually, he came back with an answer: he had their position, but it looks as if the universe is millions, if not billions, of years older than it should be. And not only that, but best-guess places the ship outside The Wall! It normally would take about a month in Jumpspace, but that wouldn't include the Wall.

There's a star system that may be within reach, but it will take a while to get there, and will use up all the energy to make the trip. Food stores are critically low. Production can resume, but it will take at least a month until that point. As unfortunate as it seems, the crew may have to go back into cryo, or face starvation.

After some talk, it was decided to head towards the planet to refuel... but before they could get underway, an enormous ship jumped in front of them! As they scrambled to hail it, it fired a slow-moving torpedo at them, that somehow managed to break through their shields entirely. A moment later, they realized someone was standing on the bridge with them - humanoid, but obscured under a cloak.

The man (?) spoke with a grating voice; it seems that they were in the right place at the right time, give or take, to help with a problem the creature was facing. In fact, a problem the Oncoming Storm originally faced: the Entity, a creature who had been meddling in the affairs of Earth. The creature spoke. "I do not trust you. But, you have had no contact with the Entity, and as such, you are a rare alloy in unmined earth. You struggle against a force you do not know. Now you will know it."

The creature the Oncoming Storm originally was sent after is known as the Entity. It was trapped inside a bubble, a dead shell surrounding a dim world, inside the Black Zone, which is itself inside the bubble around the systems. The Entity has been enacting a slow plot to free itself, and as yet has gone unhindered. The powerful organization that the dark figure 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 shell, while the creatures it created are trying to find him. The creatures outside the bubble are unlikely to find their way in, but the Entity may soon be running the asylum, as it were.

With that, the dark figure vanished... and the Oncoming Storm was somehow teleported back inside the Wall. It left behind a tool - a "crowbar", which supposedly punches through jumpspace exclusion zones, such as the Wall itself.

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