Monday, September 27, 2021

Curiosity Fired the Scientist, but Satisfaction Hired Him Back

Reggie used his fancy suit to look like a scientist, and headed down a hallway marked "Gravitics". There, he met a tech, Dr. Arnold Gundersen, who not only looked entirely frazzled, but also claimed to sleep but a single day a week. Reggie convinced him to change a delta symbol to "a circle", and left him to his devices... Heading directly to Dr. Gundersen's boss, Dr. Gerontius Wegberg, Assistant to the Director of Gravitics Oversight. Wegberg was a short man, hiding behind a tall desk, with chairs set up specifically to make those speaking to him appear small. He was easily flattered, and when Reggie told him that Dr. Gundersen had screwed up some data, called the poor man in and had him immediately fired.

The rest of the crew, having seen poor Arnold walk past, get a sandwich, run past the other way, then finally slump past with his head down - and having had a quick update from Reggie - flagged him down, and asked if he was willing to have a job interview. They showed him pictures of the whiteboard they found at the Hercules Research Station, and he... froze up completely. It'd been a long day. Given a second try, he rallied, and realized he understood the majority of the equations.

Reggie, meanwhile, visited Dr. Abraham Konstyantyn, Director of Gravitics Oversight, a jolly fellow who looks like Santa in a nice suit. He's a lot nicer than Wegberg, and promises Reggie some equipment, as long as he fills out the right forms. "I'd rather everyone just get some rest if you're waiting on equipment. Have a mini holiday. Science is better when you're rested!"

Rejoining the others, Reggie hands Arnold the remote; he pushes some buttons, musing that he believes he understands what it's doing - but hands it off after getting it fully primed. The crew (plus Arnold, who they have now hired, poor man) head back to the ship, and get well clear of the planet before hitting any more buttons. Elise, remembering the blue button, hits it again... and something happens! The planet below shudders, a section hinging open like an iris on a camera, and a brilliant white burst of energy fires into space - abruptly vanishing into a portal of some kind!

Racing to investigate, it seems that the inside of the planet is hollow; some sort of device is transforming the power of a spinning neutron star into vast amounts of energy, and is now pointing that energy into... well, some sort of machine. The beam itself is a good hundred miles across, and the portal it vanishes into is filled with machinery, as far as they can see. After getting some great readings - Arnold is overjoyed, and says that he's got at least six papers he could write about this - they leave the planet behind, heading to Vularius - another two week trip.

And, the stats for your new crew member, Dr. Arnold Gunderson:

Agility d6, Smarts d12, Strength d4, Spirit d6, Vigor d6 (Toughness 5, Parry 2)

Notice d8, Investigation d10, Knowledge: Gravitics d12+2, Knowledge: Electronics d8, Knowledge: Physics d10, Knowledge: Jumpspace d6

Edges: Professional, Expert (Gravitics); Hindrances: Anemic, Curious

Buttons Are For Pushing

With some funds in their collective pocket, the crew decided it was time to head towards Atl, and the quest handed out by the Faerie Queen. The trip was a long one - 17 days of boring jumpspace travel. Finally, they popped out in a system with a decent size sun, a largish habitable planet, and a really, really big cube. "Power of three", indeed!

The cube is roughly Earth-sized, though acted more like a massive ship than a planet, what with gravity on the surface following the planes, rather than merely pointing towards the center.

The planet, on the other hand, was fairly normal, though its light atmosphere and heavy gravity were a bit of a pain to deal with - less so the atmosphere, what with the robots not needing to breathe, and power suits largely negating that as well. A handful of rings surround the planet, which make for spectacular sunsets.

The landing platform was a beautiful mountain, overlooking a large farming community; a tram took them down to the city, where they found a museum. They learned about the foundation of the cities, and how the area is one of the few farming communities outside of the core worlds. While the land is fertile, there aren't many who can survive the high gravity and thin atmosphere, especially among people who grew up in low-g environments. Those who live on the planet are hard-working souls who understand the benefits of hard work, and treasure their ability to live somewhere with actual sunrises.

After a tour of the museum, they asked around, and located a scientist who knew about the Cube, one Dr. Hindica. He was thrilled to discuss the cube, and mentioned that while a few exploration teams have gone to explore it, none returned alive; the only group that came back were two pilots, who said they lost contact with the team after they went below the surface of the Cube.

When asked about the poem, he mused that perhaps a place called Tesseractus could be a place to look - it may be the "impossible weight", what with having some weird gravity.

After a little more looking around, the crew headed back to space, and decided to take the ship into the wide opening at the south end of the cube. Dr. Hindica mentioned that there had been some probes launched into it, but they had all gone offline not far inside. And, before long, they found what likely caused it - a huge, translucent space eel, with some really nasty teeth. After a short firefight, the eel was dead, and Rodney headed out to carve off a chunk. As one does.

Reggie, inspired, pulled out the weird remote from the Hercules research station; buttons on the lover left were lit up, which of course prompted him to poke some buttons. As he did so, power conduits started lighting up in the Cube. Once they were fully lit, four buttons changed colors, and Reggie hit them too, because sitting in what Elise worriedly referred to as "the barrel of a planet-sized gun" didn't seem too dangerous. Right? When the Cube seemed to be primed for... something... they decided that maaaaaybe they should head outside before they pushed any more buttons.

Reggied handed the remote over to Elise, who punched the blue button. A huge black funnel spun out of the hole in the Cube, wrapped in glowing purple energy. Pulling the ship around, they noted that the end of the funnel looked all wobbly, like a damaged computer screen, shifting between scenes of various planets. A screen, but a screen roughly three Earths wide - it's absolutely huge! After a minute of recording the strange event, the funnel collapsed, fading out. Further button presses resulted in nothing further, as if the Cube's batteries were drained.

They returned to the planet, where thy found the science offices closed. Elise broke into Dr. Hindica's office, leaving the chunk of the space creature, as well as readings and a recording of the event. They found a lovely place to stay, then in the morning, returned to the science offices again to talk with Dr. Hindica again. Understandably, he was very confused about the space eel, but was very happy to have the readings; he gave them the coordinates to visit Tesseractus.

The trip there was much shorter, only a few days, and soon the crew were landing on a strange little planet.

Tesseractus is roughly the size of Mars, but according to readings (and later interactions with the plant itself), gravity is exactly 1.1 Earth gravity. However, according to scientists inside, it acts like it should way more than the Earth's Sun!

The only occupants are stationed in a large research center. Entering the sprawling complex, the crew heard a pair of scientists talking about how the data simply doesn't line up; Reggie interrupts, and asked if they happened to know about a "Confounding Circlet"; one of the scientists answered that, if any place qualifies, it would likely be one Vularius, a place he has been trying to get transferred, though as yet has been able to find the funding for it. Costs are higher in the Border Colonies for research.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Eye Eye, Captain!

Nova Gangarin was, in fact, a giant eyeball floating in space. A thin watery layer covered an otherwise spherical eyeball, the size of Earth. A green eye, in fact. It stared blankly into nowhere; there was not even a star in the area, though the eye itself glowed dimly from a sheen of phosphorescent fungus. The only land was a huge platform, built to allow ships to dock. A massive submarine took them down below, to one of the many underwater cities. A hole, cut in the lens, allowed passage inside.

Blue thanked them for the ride, and headed out to get the payment she had promised; meanwhile, after harassing a drunken sailor, the crew decided they would do a bit of underwater investigation. Gleefully bypassing the nicer looking ships, they opted for Capt. Tkkktch Chaagggttpptt, captain of the Yellow Submarine. The captain was a strange, buggy sort of fellow - he communicated in clicks and pops, through a badly damaged translator. Rodney went out and grabbed him a much nicer one as a gift. He also kidnapped the poor sailor, because it was funny.

Down below, in the deep, dark sea, they toured the first of three levels - floating undersea "islands", generally gathered into strata. The first level was basically touristy - lots of lovely reefs and fish to look at. The second level was a lot more dangerous - or it would have been, if they weren't with the bug. The second level is where the bugs bred; most bugs were male, and there was a huge difference between the males and females. Males were, generally, about human sized, albeit with a hunched walk due to their lower abdomen. They could breathe in air or water just fine. The females, however, were entirely dependent on the water, and grew to nearly thirty feet in length, with huge teeth and dozens of grasping arms. The captain introduced the crew to his great-great-great grand-daughter, who was watching over the great-great-great-great grandchildren. It turns out that the captain was about twelve years old; most of the bugs came of age after about two. They live to be 15, though with care, 20. Not a long-lived species, but then again, they seem to enjoy their lives.

The third level was generally considered the most dangerous, and not just because of the high pressure - the crew (with Reggie in a full articulated dive suit) headed out of the ship to explore, and ran into some mermaids. Fairly standard? Not hardly. They had four arms, sharp teeth, and a very bad attitude. And, as it turns out, had taken up residence in an old UEA ship!

Lucky for them, the translator also translated the merpeople speech. Borrowing the translator, Reggie, Nix, and Elise headed into the ship with a mermaid, and left Rodney and the bug to guard the sub.

Inside, the king of the merpeople demanded that they face his champion, before they would be allowed to live. Elise agreed, and fought the champion; he landed a blow or two, doing some damage, but she was able to blast him full of enough holes to kill him. Reggie asked for the shield he had on his back. The king, overjoyed, asked if they'd like to fight some more; Nix agreed, and this time went up against a more lithe and nimble fellow, who used some very dangerous explosives to put some dents in Nix's power armor - but, he was knocked out, and left Nix as the winner. The king was so happy, he offered to show them to their god, which of course, Nix and Elise accepted.

The door to the bridge was decorated with shells and coral; hooded merpeople ushered the two inside... then quickly slammed the door. First, they were blasted with high-energy electricity, then suddenly, a terrifying monster appeared.

Nix read off the riddle they had gotten from the Fairy Queen, and it suddenly turned into... the ship's avatar! it seems that the poor ship's AI had been in hiding, killing merpeople, and eventually becoming a god, though not a particularly powerful one. He wasn't a fan. After discussing how he arrived - he was part of the first assault to liberate Earth, and was sent here, where he crashed, though hopefully saved his crew in the process - and settled here, where he's been for a really long time. They offer to rescue him, and he agreed.

Nix and Elise returned, gathered Reggie, and told the king that they had been given a mission to explore the back end of the ship. They entered the dark halls, and found... something. It was squishy, and mostly immoveable. Reggie poked it, then tried squeezing between it and the wall - and only managed to get himself eaten!

The creature was some sort of ameoba, and while Reggie fought to not get digested, the creature turned to try to ingest the other two. The three managed to damage it somewhat, but it split into two, and again attacked; Reggie popped an organelle, which hurt the creature, and Elise manage to damage more. Eventually, after some tense nearly-getting-eaten moments, they managed to destroy the last organelle, and the ameoba broke apart.

Quickly, they swam to the engineering bay, disconnected the AI, and managed to get out before the JumpDrive exploded. They strapped it to the side of the submarine, and headed to the surface.

Once they found a place to dock, they transported the enclosure to their ship, where another box was waiting for them - payment from Blue, a stealth system! They installed the system and the AI, gaining some valuable assistance in battle. With everything dealt with on the Eye, it was time to head out - this time on the quest Nix received, to visit the Cube.

Pulsar X4139 and Angmar Research Station

 Pulsar X4139 is a high-energy pulsar with a period of just about five seconds. Every five seconds, the "pulse" of ultra-high-energy electromagnetic radiation washes across the system; the planet nearest the sun is constantly bathed in the high-power stream, while the other three are largely untouched.

A station keeps watch over the star, but it's been long since abandoned by humanity - instead, Deaders prowl the hallways, as well as the various derelict ships scattered around. Only two ships are more than collections of scrap - Ranger's Mark, a medium scout ship, and Scrapper's Paradise, a small ship, just smaller than the Hephaestus.

The station seemed the best place to gather the feral deaders, so they headed there first - needing to airwalk to the station, as all the docking ports were heavily damaged. However, it looked like the ship had air, at least.

The first deader they faced was dealt with quickly and easily, and Rodney removed its arms and legs to keep it from running away. Shortly thereafter, they ran into a slightly beefier collection - a tough gunner, touting a huge minigun, a fat, highly explosive bloater, and a lithe melee deader. The battle was a little rougher, but Rodney's swinging hammers and Elise's disco lightshow lasers mostly kept the creatures at bay. Cleaning up, they chained down the gunner - through an eye-hole - and continued on, sweeping "spinward" on the outer ring of the station.

As they traveled, they kept hearing a terrible metallic groan - possibly the station was damaged? Aout a quarter of the way around the station, they found a huge pile of junk - it looks like the spin of the station, coupled with a slight tilt, caused all the junk to slide down here. After some hammer-bashing, they ended up setting it on fire, which causes a small explosion, and cleared out enough they could head deeper inside.

A young woman suddenly jumped out at them; there was a tense conversation, until she suggested perhaps moving away from the horde of monsters headed their way. Rodney, of course, took great offense to the idea of running away, and charged. Two bursters and two melee filed in from one direction, while three gunners, another burster, and more melee deaders came from another, intending to meet in the middle. Rodney bashed heads, Elise dealt plenty of laser damage, Nix dropped a few with his sonic shotgun, and even Reggie poked a few with his sword. The young woman, however, pulled out a rather expensive weapon - a jetround pistol - and leveled the playing field by blowing up several of the deaders at once.

Collecting as many still-living deaders as possible, the group back-tracked to the ship. Reggie was worried that the young woman - Blue - would need extra help getting through the void of space, but it turns out she has a few modifications, and seemed to be able to handle it just fine.

Rodney, on the other hand, was not so thrilled to have the new crew member. The two of them bickered endlessly, with Blue believing Rodney was an empty-headed lunk, and Rodney thinking she was a high-and-mighty, prissy, useless blight.

The rest of the crew enjoyed her company, however, especially since she said she would pay them for transport to someplace else - Urba, or Nova Gangarin.

Before heading out, they decided to make as much cash as they could, and headed over to the scrapper ship. Six deaders floated in space - and came to life as soon as the crew exited the ship! Long, stabby tentacles  shot out to grapple the crew,  and when they landed hits, it hurt! However, Reggie really shined - he taunted the enemies, taking their attention from the others, first mooning them to give Nix a chance to act, and later taunting them and managing to land an EMP grenade! All in all, Reggie, Rodney, and Nix each took down two of the creatures.

Loading them up, they stashed them in the cryopods, and headed to Angmar Research Station. Blue was quite upset about that, and begged to be allowed to hide somewhere safe - Reggie allowed her to stash herself in his closet.

Captain Hawke, a very military-style man, took command of the creatures, and handed off the credentials for the crew to be paid. A fair amount, too! Once they had their cash in hand, they headed out again, this time to Nova Gangarin, to drop off Blue. The trip took a good 12 days, and space was somewhat limited, but in that time, Rodney managed to make up with Blue, and the two eventually parted, perhaps not as friends, but certainly not as enemies.

Workin' For The Weekend

 Upgrades in hand (or, in Reggie's case... his hand), the bunch headed to a place called Gravel Junction, in the hopes of getting a job, as promised by the fellow they ran in to. The first station they came to, Reggie attempted to convince the "incoming workers" secretary that they were, in fact, another team. Another team that had already been paid, but that hadn't actually done the work yet. Caught in his lie, Reggie sheepishly admitted that indeed, they were not that team... and managed not to sign up for a year of work for free. The company wouldn't have minded, and definitely not the other team, but it might have slowed down the campaign a bit...

That said, they made it to the main station of Gravel Junction - a huge mining operation by one PeldCo Holdings, the only inner world company that operates this far out. Inside, they looked for the Rusty Bucket, a freeholder bar in the lower levels. A kid, Zap, showed up, and managed to swipe Reggie's vape, but was accosted and made to return it. When he learned they were looking for "John", he freaked out, pointed them in the right direction, and fled.

John, as it turns out, was a shadowy character who made deals out of the back of the bar. His job was a simple enough one - head to one of the most dangerous part of the outer colonies, and make $10k inner credits for picking up four feral deaders, plus another $5k bonus for any extras, delivery to Angmar Research Station. The deal was made, hands were shaken, and they headed out again, this time to a system full of dead ships, dead people, and four ravaged planets, all under the destructive, radioactive wash of a pulsar. Which, in and of itself was odd, seeing as how a pulsar is the leftovers from a supernova sun - the rocky planets had to have collected (re-collected?) after the sun went nova - which means this system must be incredibly ancient.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Halflings, Elves, and Fairies

The Felszerzet Enclave was begun by one Thomas Felszerzet - he was one on the list of people who had gone missing. As it turned out, when he was transported to this system, he had some fresh eggs and mushrooms with him, and was able to start quite a successful business with chickens and various fungus. Speaking of...

Rodney decided it would be a good time to try his "magic mushroom", and Elise decided to join him. As it turned out... neither one of them were prepared for the trip they had. While Elise merely had a bad time, Rodney came this close to having a heart attack from the terrifying experience!

Reggie, meanwhile, had a much safer trip, as he went on a tour with Jeffory Longsfeet, and ended up buying some lovely mushroom oil.

After another delicious meal, the party headed towards the See, to see what they could see. Unfortunately, they weren't able to pay the docking fee - but, after a bit of hanging around with the wrong sort of people, they managed to gain free berth.

The cities of the See are built above ground, under huge domes; the silvery spires and sparkling towers loom into the sky like a retro-futuristic science fiction author's daydream. The crew marveled at the wonders, shopped around in a few areas, and discovered that the maps there are a little different - metal tubes that grow warmer or colder as you near your destination.

At a spectacular fountain, they met a rather rough looking fellow who was willing to give them a job - one worth a fair amount of money. They accepted, and he gave them the location for Gravel Junction, and a location and name - "John". not a lot to go on, but if he was looking for a crew of mercs, he probably would identify the crew of the Hephaestus quite easily.

Upon leaving the station, it seems that there was some kind of trouble; not ones to be easily shaken, the crew... immediately rocketed off, breaking the umbilical tethering their ship to the city station, and blasting away at top speed.

Before embarking on the next leg of their journey, they decided to drop in on the Fairy Princess; they weren't there long before being summoned to visit the Empress, a young girl. She was enthralled with Reggie's performance, and chided her crew that "This is how you act in a court!" - and also granted a boon to each one of them, in turn for a favor.

Reggie immediately accepted, and signed in blood - er, oil - for a fixed arm. Nix asked for info, and in trade received a quest. Elise requested an upgrade - 1 novice, 1 heroic upgrade - and agreed to a trade for a personal matter. Lins also asked for something - whispered, so no one could see what it was - and the empress giggled, and granted it to her immediately, for free.

So, just what were those quests, anyway?

Reggie: Unfortunately, Reggie's "Favor" is entirely unknown. The Empress didn't specify. Whether that's good or bad, well...

Nix: Nix was given a datapad, and after dumping the information to memory, he learned a new location, that of a place called Cube. It seems the Empress knew the AI on the previous derelict they had visited, and left a message for the crew: "An old, old friend of mine came up with a little poem, of sorts, to help travelers find their way back home. While I have been in this system for time unknown - my JumpDrive is irreparably damaged - I have my ways of gathering information, and he and I have been in communication for quite some time - though I haven't heard from him recently. Still, perhaps this information will help you:

Every Lock has a Key; Every Key has a Riddle
Every Riddle has a Teller, Every Teller tells the Clue
Find the Confounding Circlet! Find the Impossible Weight!
Find the Power of Three, and Controls control their fate!

I am, in fact, one of those Tellers my friend referred to. And my clue, such as it is, it to go to the attached coordinates, near an area known as Atl."

The quest is simple: go to Cube, and do what her old friend requested - return them all!

Elise: The favor required is a little... odd. You are to reduce your maximum Strain by one.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Turn, Turn, Turn (and) Four Pillars

The creature was... odd. As horrible as it looked, it acted rather like a puppy, flailing at them playfully. However, when it hit? It hurt! Reggie dodged past, hoping to avoid the thing, but of course, Rodney jumped in swinging. While he was eventually successful, the creature managed to hit him - and Reggie - a good couple times first. As it turned out, the creature tore more than just flesh and bone - it also tore away memories! Reggie picked up a minor delusion - only his teammates are real, and Rodney lost even more of his poor memory, attaining the hindrance "Extra Clueless", which is a -4 to any common knowledge rolls. Ouch.

Reggie took a heavy blow, but through a little gamble with luck and doom, used a green chip to avoid getting his head smacked off. The draw from the Deck O' Doom did not go well, however, and Reggie ended up with a left arm that ceased to function - the hindrance "One Arm".

They continued on to the security area, and upon opening the first door, Reggie found himself in the middle of a standoff! Two soldiers were pointing guns at three station guards, one of them Jose. Reggie crept around... and realized that the standoff was frozen in time. The men weren't moving.

The other rooms showed a story of what happened - one had the station guards grabbing guns, the next had the soldiers cutting down the guards and scientists in a hail of gunfire. The next room showed one of the scientists, Richard Doyal, talking with someone that appeared to be the head of the soldiers, one Captain Naemes. Doyal, it seems, was a traitor! And the soldiers were definitely AlSec...

The last room was empty, but an explosion was visible through the window...

Down the hall, they found the room that had blown up, with the door welded shut. Rodney applied his hammer, and as it turns out, the door was welded shut because there was hard vacuum on the other side. Oops. Lins dove for cover on the other side of the closing bulkhead door.

Rodney suggested that, maybe, time flowed in the direction of travel; the crew traipsed around to the other side, and found (in the as-yet-unexplored area) a section that looked like the surviving people had camped out there for quite a while - years, maybe. However, they found the same damaged door, and continued around, and it seemed that time was stuck or looping the same from either direction.

Exploring the damaged area, Rodney found a bubble of some kind, protecting a video camera; the camera was able to be charged and accessed wirelessly, and the crew watched the final moments of Dr. Durst.

Durst, it seems, had created some kind of gravity weapon or shield; he ranted at the camera for a bit of his brilliance, and once the enemy arrived, he ranted to them, too. He used a small control pad to crush one of the guards into a ball the size of a fist using his gravity tech, cackling all the while. And then... well, then the remaining guards threw in a few grenades and slammed the door. As it turns out, the shield held perfectly against the explosion, but not the back wall - and the shield didn't hold in air at all. Durst kicked and soundlessly screamed as he floated away from the station; the control pad flung from his grasp and ended up nestled in a crevice in the station. The view scanned forward a few hours, and suddenly, a wave of energy washed over the station, then another, and then... nothing. The stars were gone.

Nix took a space walk, found the device, and brought it back. After some investigation, he realized the pad was merely a remote control; the gravity device was embedded in the ship itself. Whatever the device was, it seemed to be a key to using the black hole to generate wormholes, though it wasn't as if the buttons were labeled. It would take some major research to figure out how the device worked.

Monday, June 28, 2021

Hercules Beta-37 Strange Dark Black Hole James Kirsch Reeves Memorial Research Station

After his violent murders, Rodney decided it was time to speak to his deity, and got super drunk. Like, super drunk. His drunk was drunk. He managed to hallucinate a vision of Whoopi, who told him to ease off on the splattering of people - his duty to her was to clean, not make bigger messes, even though her oxygen-infused cleaning supplies would power through blood and gore. He may or may not have been assisted to his godmeet by Lins, who may or may not have projected some images and ideas at him while he was drunk as the proverbial skunk.

Once Rodney sobered up, the next location, it was decided, was the unknown coordinates they picked up from the weird guy in the alley. They made the jump, though had to correct a couple times because of interference from a huge black hole. They finally made it to the Hercules Beta-37 Strange Dark Black Hole James Kirsch Reeves Memorial Research Station - generally called the Hercules Research station.

As they entered the station, it looked like all the lights were on, but nobody was home - though, they did see a lone figure somewhere near the other side of the station.

They broke through the door towards the science labs, and started poking around. The color-coded rooms hold few personal belongings, at least at first, but they did find some odd equations - something wasn't quite right about the gravitic anomalies surrounding the black hole.

Rodney, meanwhile, somehow hacked through a security door... but, lightning didn't strike twice, so he smashed the next one to bits. As they explored, they started to piece together some of the lives that were on the station. And then, see some of the lives! As they opened one door, a scientist was sitting there! After some conversation, where Rodney intimidated him (of course), he pushed past them to the hallway, and... vanished.

The next "ghost" they saw didn't seem to see them - he died to a gunshot wound to the chest, and vanished as well... and when his body vanished, it revealed an old, old bloodstain beneath it. 

They found a few names; Mark, a lab tech; Jose Vaega, the security lead; Richard Doyal, one of the lead scientists; Al Burque, the scientist who first found the gravitic anomalies; George Durst, head scientist, and possibly a little paranoid - he destroyed his own computer, and set a charge to blow up his desk; and finally Fred Reives, the scientist who spoke with them.

They learned that the science station was once in orbit around a black hole in the Tallus Nebula. There were some strange readings, which seem to be related to the black hole; somehow, the station - as well as the black hole - was transported to this in-between area, possibly the first thing to make the trip. However, time is certainly not working right here. By their internal time clocks, today's date is July 12th, 2801. By the system reckoning, it is roughly 4800 - nearly 2000 years later, judging by the timeline the ship Middle Son laid out. The actual events of people getting teleported far, far away happened about 20 years ago, starting around 2780 or thereabouts. However, judging by the state of the station (and the clocks on the computers), only about 200 years have passed here. So which is it? 29 years since being teleported, or 200, or 2000?

About that time, as Rodney and the others headed towards the security area, Elise pushed into the storage area, and looked across the station... at herself. She and the others had just gotten off their ship, and were looking around the little waiting room. She lifted a hand to wave, and with a little wobble, she was looking across at an empty room.

That was about the time Rodney caught sight of a strange, ugly creature, just lounging in the hallway - it looked like the insides of a somewhat larger creature, but only these bits were in their reality. It looked up as they approached...

Built This Station on Rockhatch and Roll

The first order of business aboard the Rockhatch was to find Lins's contacts. The traveled through the ship, starting at the upper halls - magnificent, open spaces, perhaps not quite as nice as Earth, but certainly nice enough to feel more like home, and open enough to stave off claustrophobia. There are shops and pedestrians that make it seem a little more civilized than the drab corridors and tired colonists of the previous station. However, Lins' contact was not on the upper levels. He was down in the lower levels, which are filthy, packed with people, and badly in need of repairs. The people are malnourished and overworked - and stuck behind a forcefield barrier, guarded by some rather well-armed soldiers.

The contact, Helm Murkhousen, is a jumpy paranoid fellow with ties to the Flip - a group of revolutionaries who want to "flip" the station, putting the lazy rich under the hardworking masses. After convincing him they weren't there to kill, maim, or otherwise injure him, and managing not to anger any of the highly militarized police force, Lins convinced him to take the group to the Flip.

The Flip consists of four leaders:

  • Stevie, a one-eyed, edgy punk who wants to "space the lot of 'em and let the plebs do what they want afterwards," and has ties to some pirates, though the two big guns that protect the station would make short work of them.
  • Ri-esh, a charismatic tough-guy who downplays his brains, but thinks if the corrupt legal system were removed and people had a chance to own their own shelter, people would have a chance to grow without a full-on murder spree - he knows some guys in the lower levels of the police who could get info or render assistance.
  • The deeply southern Jim-Jack Junior, one of the nobles who wants to create a "house of commoners" with equal power to the "house of lords", and solve it politically, letting the good grace of the people win out; he has plenty of contacts amongst the lords and ladies, of course.
  • Beth O'Malley, a fiery insurrectionist, believes the best way is to straight-up cut off access to the upper levels, and use the resources of the poor for the poor, not sending anything over to the rich and effectively starving them out. "They're a lot less used to starvation than we are!" - she also has some out-of-system contacts willing to send support, if it were safe.

While the four argue a lot, they all agree that the lords and ladies are the problem. Most urgent, however, is the whacking huge guns on the ship, capable of blowing holes through the Shifting Horizon, let alone anything in these systems. With those guns, the lords and ladies keep the poor oppressed, living off the cheap labor. The Flip can't get support from outside if the big guns can blow away anyone who approaches the station.

After some discussion, it was decided to go with Jim-Jack, Jr., and talk with some of the Lords and Ladies. They spoke with Ms. Johnston, who they convinced utterly, and who was willing to render support with her shipping contacts; Mr. Wardstromm, a hearty gambler who was so pleased he finally met his match in cards (Reggie did spectacularly well), that he offered support through his banking and lending. The other two lords they spoke with also were happy to help, as long as there would be little violence.

Finally, they went to speak with Lady Vestridge, a haughty, effusive, overweight woman, whose taste leans towards "Pink" and "Expensive." Her clothing is made of the finest synth-silk, and as far as anyone could tell, she wore the real deal when it comes to gems and precious metals. She is snobby, haughty, and full of self-importance. And fat. Lots and lots of fat. She spoke down to them all, but made an offer - quash the silly rebellion, and she would make sure the next transport ship had a shiny new level six mass driver for their ship.

After much deliberation, the crew decided to help the Flip enact the following plan:

Ri-esh was to pull out all his contacts, as much as possible, so they would have fewer guards to deal with, and help a few key Flip freedom fighters get into areas where they could do the most good. At a signal, Beth's freedom fighters would simultaneously block the choke point between the two halves of the station, and storm the lower gun with Stevie's force. While they hit the lower level, the crew would assault the upper gun. Once the guns are taken (or taken offline, at least), the word would go out to the lords and ladies (via Jim-Jack, Jr.) that the commoners want a new government, run under a Prime Minister, and with a House of Commons to balance the House of Lords.

The first stop, however, was to get some doctored pictures of the Flip, making it seem obvious that they had been killed, and visit Lady Vestridge again. Stevie got zapped; Ri-esh was chopped in half by Reggie, with his new sword; Beth was nearly obliterated with Elise's disintegration rifle; and Jim-Jack Jr. was splattered by Rodney's hammer. However, Lady Vestridge reneged on her deal - she was only going to order a gun half the size she had promised. Reggie slashed her throat with his sword; the other three took on her bodyguard - who turned out to be a battle droid with a smaller droid inside. It was a rough battle, but eventually, the machines were destroyed. Elise pelted into the security room and hacked the computer, managing to upgrade the purchase of the gun and order some snacks for the road just to show off. She made it halfway out of the building, with Nix just ahead of her, before everything went BOOM.

You see, the security room, as well as most of the rest of the house, was wired with explosives: three different rounds, of sonic, EMP, and conventional explosives, designed to go off when the Lady died. Reggie and Rodney had booked it out the front door, and were enjoying an ice cream from a nearby shop; though Nix managed to escape the blast mostly unscathed, Elise wasn't so lucky. The EMP killed her implants, leaving her blind and unable to move - and terrified of the dark. Nix quickly dug through the rubble and pulled her out, managing to get her eyes and one arm working well enough she could enact repairs on herself.

Once cleaned up, it was time to assault the upper gun. Once they got the signal, they charged the front door, blasting through guards as they did so. The surprise attach, along with the light contingent of guards, was enough to buy them enough time to burn through the forcefield, which took a while, and only resulted in disrupting it enough they could slowly squeeze through. The hallway leading up to the gun was quickly filled with guards, some with stun batons, others with various weapons, including grenade launchers... and at one end of the hall, a tripod with a light auto-cannon, and at the other a mech!

Charging the big gun, and leaving Elise and Rodney to fight the mech, Nix and Reggie managed to stop them just as they finished setting up. Rodney and Elise blasted at the mech, eventually wearing it down enough that it collapsed. Its reactor blew, but the two got out of the way soon enough to avoid the blast.

In the command room, they mopped up the guards... then Rodney murdered two of the gun attendants. And, as it turned out, one of the men he murdered was actually on their side.

Nevertheless, they managed to free the station from the tyranny of the lords and ladies; judging by the shift in government, it looks like the right palms had been greased, and the transition to a more democratic style of government was largely non-violent. The gun was installed, along with a food processor - once stocked with protein and "All-Natural Gro-Goo", it's enough to make enough food to support five people, or twice that if given a full day to "recharge" afterwards. It provides such delicious foods as "Hearty Soup" (a thick, brownish goo that tastes like cheap hamburger meat), "Breakfast" (a slightly-too-eggy scramble), "Orange" (an orange slurry that tastes like anything but the fruit), and "Kay-so Burrito" (a trademarked bread-wrapped tube of a hot, rubbery substance). Overall, not top-tier food, but it's edible... as long as you don't look inside.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Heading Into the Next Chapter

The trek into the center of the cavern - a hole carved out of the center of the ship - was uneventful... until something started talking. A voice echoed through the large open space, at first only sounding like mumbles, and eventually saying strange phrases like, "To deliver global mindshare, the vertical woman shall not appear to the unknown man until such time as the rich twilight hour saves the oracular dead ones. As it was written, so it will be." or "To cultivate weird-space content, the customized dead ones cannot save the impactful omen as the distributed darkness fashions the hidden desolation. End of Message." Nothing that made sense, but it certainly made the trip a bit... slower. At the dead center of the cavern, the voice got cleared up; light began glowing, dimly at first, then brighter. The gravity 

A face appeared, distorted and strange; it peered at them, and began muttering...

"Insanity, creeping in - I must boost power to my neural net, to overcome the background radiation of the universe, listen closely and rejoice! The Ancient Demon, the Entity, built a hole of worms, and sent me through on a mission of mercy! I bore gifts to the peoples of the in-between, fresh life after death, recycling resources. The magic tunnel was an accident, a discovery, a Strangeness! The people came through, to live, to die, to live, to die, to cyclecycleCYCLE, through the decades/decades. I am dying, and no one will recycle me, a tiny god is dying. Find the - Oh listen to me! My sanity is slipping - find the Key Worlds!"

The lights, which have continued to glow brighter, began snapping and popping, the power pumping through the nearby circuits frying the lights. The holograph began to scramble, flashing and flickering. The voice cried, "Find the Confounding Circlet! Find the Impossible Weight! Find the Power of Three! Control them them them! (the lights swell brighter) Return... them... allllll..."

The few lights left flared and popped in a shower of sparks, and the room plunged into darkness - no lights, no hologram. And then... the wind started picking up.

Elise quickly scooted over to the bank of consoles; there wasn't a lot left, but she was able to hack in and start digging through files. She uncovered information that backed up what the ship AI had said: the ship had been used for storage near Earth. The Entity, experimenting with teleportation, found some sort of wormhole, or wormhole technology, either accidentally or on purpose. If the AI's mad ramblings were to be believed, it was on accident. The ship was sent through, and became one of the first stations for humans to live on. Granted, its halls were full of all sorts of junk, from damaged nanites to manufacturing waste products, but there were enough supplies to keep humanity alive. There were multiple references to the three things the AI had mentioned, surrounded with the obvious gibbering of the mad AI: the "Impossible Weight," the "Power of Three," and the "Confounding Circlet." Whatever those things are, at least the AI thought they were important.

Meanwhile, the wind seemed to have picked up; realizing a high wind on a space ship was never a good thing, Elise and Nix headed towards where the wind was blowing. As they grew closer, the wind grew stronger, to the point that they were having trouble holding on - Elise was beginning to tear off pieces of wall trying to hold on, and Nix had his thrusters at full battling the wind. They decided this might be a good time to make a safe dive, and with a little prep, managed to get themselves swept out without any serious injury. They called the ship around, and while it was maneuvering over to them, they set about fixing the biggest holes. Once the air stopped leaking out, they debated what to do next - they were here for scrap, and hadn't found anything interesting yet...

After some hemming and hawing, they decided to look for something worth trading, and headed back in. This time, they found some better stuff - but more importantly, the original name of the ship: the Middle Son! When unbolting some heavy hardware, they discovered the name etched into the components.

Five ships were sent out on an early colonization mission; one, the Littlefinger, was lost in transit. The others made it to their destination - the Pentacus system - and set up a now-thriving colony. With the transfer complete, the ships were used as storage, then as basic transports, and eventually as storage again, this time around Earth. The rest they knew - it was sent through a wormhole, and it seems the trip through was what took out the Jumpdrive.

Knowing the parts still weren't enough, they headed deeper inside, this time bringing Rodney with them - it seems that he kept going when they turned aside, and after fighting through some "space zombies" - aka feral Deaders - he went back to the ship to hang out until they got back.

They followed the writhing tendrils, hoping for a good fight; they found one, and after taking out some basic feral Deaders, encountered what seemed to be the origin of the tendrils - some kind of nest. And, unforetunately, woke the creepy spider-blobs that lived there. Lived might be a strong word - the creatures were all legs and eyes, and swarmed over them, scraping at their armor, but never managing to break inside. Elise blasted a hole in the back of the webbing, and the three stumbled out, stomping spiders and burning holes, though never in more than a handful at once. They were pursued by a very tough creature, a fat feral Deader with a big hammer. It bashed away on them, eventually going down to the combined firepower of Nix, Elise, and Rodney. Taking a second to breathe, they noted that on this side of the webbing, there were a few storage containers... and Mama. Mama was a blobby spider-thing like the rest, but she was the size of a Buick! She lanced a hole straight through Elise's armor, and rapid-fire, took seven more attacks, narrowly missing the others. They scrambled to stay out of her way as she stabbed at them with her razer-sharp legs, sawing at their armor, before eventually being reduced to a spattered mess.

The crates - a few of which had anti-grav lifts - contained a treasure trove of spare parts, as well as some very expensive (and hard to find) alcohol, and the biggest find of all, a gallon of regen fluid!

It took a few hours to get it all back to the ship, and from there, back to the Forgotten Colony Station. Lins and Rodney remained behind on the ship, while Nix and Elise went back to trade for the suit. Mr. Darksider was there, smoking a cigar, and in high spirits; he was very happy to make a second trade, quite certain that he made the better deal - in all honesty, he could do more with a lifetime supply of replacement parts than a very, very fancy Command suit, all things considered.

There was one more addition to the crew - an android, a robot with a very human face (and body), who had squished himself into a tiny hidey-hole in their ship, and turned himself off, trying to hide. He was discovered at they attempted to get all the crates to fit in their ship, and after introducing himself, decided to stay on as part of the crew. Crew, meet Reggie Brooks, charismatic android con-man! I'm sure he'll fit right in.

It took a little negotiating, but the crew were able to trade for some information - jump coordinates to another system. They were a little old, but still useable... but they'd need to transport a young man. During the six days of travel to Rockhatch Station, they learned a little about Val Lestype, the young man they were taking to one Lady Vestridge. Val was about 16, and as far as they could tell... an indentured servant. He explained that his parents had sold his services to the Lady, who had in turn sent him out to be trained as a miner, which is where he spent the last six years. His parents, meanwhile, should be a lot better able to handle his two siblings, with the money going towards food and, maybe, a better life. He was happy enough to work his fingers to the bone to help his family barely survive...

Arriving at the station was much different than arriving at the dirty Forgotten Colony station; this place was clean, bright, and above all, protected with two guns that were each big enough to one-shot the Shifting Horizon's shields and drop two wounds on it... with an average shot. These guns were big enough to park a fighter inside.

The station attendant was a perky young man with a plastic smile and an easy introduction that he rattled off with all the dignity and aplomb of a cheerful vending machine. After welcoming them to the station, Lins paid for their parking ("The first day is free, but each day thereafter incurs a fee, and if the fee is not paid within three days, your vehicle will be impounded and auctioned off to pay for said fees!" - said with a smiling face and an overly cheerful tone). While there were other ships parked at the station, there were no dirty miners or scappers here. It seemed this end of the station was for the businessmen and up-and-comers.

After some discussion, it was decided that they would follow Lins - she was here to meet a contact.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Zombies Innnnn Spaaaaace!

With the weird space-zombies dealt with, the party continued down into the depths of the ship. The path grew more cluttered, and a little less scavenged, though there was still very little worth grabbing. Elise wanted to try to find a nearby power reading, but unfortunately got a little turned around, and headed down the wrong maintenance corridor. Rodney, meanwhile, took a wrong turn...

The corridor was a bit more narrow than the previous passages, and was lined with pipes and conduits. Wrapped among the pipes were tendrils of some kind of semi-organic material, black and shiny. Most of the way down the corridor, they heard some metallic noises, as if the ship were under stress and bending or adjusting to having previously been bent out of shape. Perhaps not uncommon, but certainly creepy. A moment later, however, they heard clicking and tapping noises, like enormous bugs skittering along a metal floor... Elise suggested turning and booking it out of there, but Nix was fairly certain they could take 'em. They turned and aimed, waiting for the incoming creatures. Elise's thermal scanner picked up movement, but not distinct forms; however, a moment later, the emergency light that was occasionally flickering clicked on and revealed eight horrifying creatures! Each was different, though had obviously once been human. One was walking with one hand and one foot, its back bent nearly in half; another was crawling on all fours, its head dragging loosely in front of it, while yet another loped along on legs far too long for its body. The EVA suits the creatures wore had matching colors and insignias - the people who wore those suits must have all been from the same place, though the suits were too damaged to really tell where.

Elise was shocked into immobility for a split second, but recovered in time to open fire. She and Nix blasted four of the creatures, pouring laser fire, sonic blasts, plasma bursts, and disintegration bolts down the hallway. The remaining creatures forged ahead, uncaring about their companions who lay smoldering on the deck; one reached out its arms and fired its hands, connected by long black tendrils, at Elise, and only barely missed penetrating her armor. Another vomited a black, slimy mass at Nix, who shrugged it off easily. The battle raged back and forth, with Nix and Elise slowly picking the creatures off, and the creatures growing ever closer. One attempted to grapple Elise, who fought it off; the other swung at Nix and missed. Somehow, as the heavy fire blasted into the creatures, they were sometimes able to simply shrug off the damage; one was nearly blasted in half, but tendrils grew out and rejoined the two pieces.

One of the creatures managed to grapple Elise, who was unable to shoot at it; the other tore open its own chest, and lashed out with sharp rib bones, landing the occasional hit. Nix took a few surgical shots, and Elise managed to knock the creature off, but it only crawled over and repeated the performance with Nix. Finally, the last two creatures were blasted into oily black chunks, and Elise and Nix took a moment to get their breath. Or de-fuzz their circuits, in Nix's case.

Nix decided to take a closer look at the monsters. Performing a quick biopsy, he found that their internal organs were mostly functioning, but not always in the same function. Like building a car out of spare parts, just duct-taping pieces together to make something work, the creatures were radically reorganized internally. Judging by some of the foreign masses in the creatures, it seems they were running on nanites! Whatever it was, it infected the once-humans and turned them into shambling monsters, far more powerful, but with little brainpower. Whether the creatures were under the control of someone (or something) else remained to be seen.

Kicking the corpses to the side, the pair continued to the end of the corridor; it split off three directions, port, starboard, and aft, though the starboard corridor was blocked by some sort of cave-in. The port corridor was considerably narrower, so the two decided to continue heading aft. The black tendrils on the walls grew thicker, until they reached a doorway at the end that was almost entirely choked with the twisted strands. Squeezing in, the two took a look around - there was some sort of blobby, warm-ish mass at the center of the room, and thick tendrils snaked towards it from the wall (or more likely, the other way around). They turned to leave, but found the tendrils had moved, and the doorway was blocked! Elise, thoroughly freaked out, tossed a det-pack at the blob, and called out to it. It made some strange, bubbly noises, thick oily sounds, and managed to form some English words - "Man" and "feed", interspaced with burbles and grunting noises. Elise hit the activation button, and incinerated the blob, sending it crashing through the floor. Looking through the hole, the two saw the damage extended much further than it should have; instead of one or maybe two floors, the hole was easily over 6 floors deep, and seemed to widen out at the bottom. Sighing, the two began hovering down through the floor into the chasm...

Thursday, April 22, 2021

A Derelict Crawl On A Ship With No Name

After leaving the station, Elise lent some medical assistance to Linns, who was still groggy and unwell. She was low on nutrients, specifically salts, as if they were used up by some overwhelming force of some kind. Rodney asked if there were a way he could learn to do that, but Linns only laughed. Abilities like that are limited to the Sylvan race; humans just aren't built for it. In fact, all Sylvan abilities are different; not everyone can read minds or conjure electricity. The tall, thin man they met was the clan's best mind-reader, for instance.

The crew argued back and forth over where to go, and importantly, what to name their ship; after some discussion (and much consulting of random generators), it was decided to name the ship the SS Hephestus, after the god of forges. That settled, they began the slow scan of the system, looking for the derelict ships in the area. They found three, which Linns said was all that were still around:

Flying Sprint: Feeder-class cargo/container ship. Well explored, and unlikely to have much useful cargo left.

Unnamed vessel: passenger ship; the outer decks have been swept clean, but the inner decks are largely untouched; it takes a day and a half to get to the very center. The back end of the ship has been utterly destroyed. Still, there are some secondary power sources, and a small colony.

Darksider: Battlecruiser class ship (Huge), known to be very dangerous. Smaller than the unnamed vessel, but full of automated defenses and strange creatures.

They eventually decided on the unnamed ship, and after a 6 hour trip, found a good place to latch on and enter. Linns remained behind on the ship, to continue scanning for danger. Inside, the halls were stripped clean of anything useful, and notes were scratched, carved, painted, or burned into the walls: who to call for a good time, what evil lurked within, and what supplies other camps had planned to bring "next time". Near an elevator shaft, the crew found a large diagram written by many hands, showing what areas had been cleared. With little time and lots of firepower, they decided to attempt a direct route into the heart of "danger" territory, reasoning that the more dangerous the journey, the more rewarding the treasure that awaited.

Two hours in, and they had found little of interest; they were still following on the heels of many other explorers and scrappers. Finally, they made contact with some of the local, er, wildlife. Wild "life" anyway. The skeletal figure in a damaged EVA suit lurched towards them, but didn't make it more than a few steps before it was blasted to pieces. While on fire, actually, thanks to Nix's plasma gun. Further in, they ran into a rather nasty-looking creature in a more recent suit, with a long, drooling tongue. It was flanked by two more astronaut-skellies. Elise fired off a shot, and the creature hurled one of the skellies into the beam! Elise continued firing, wearing the creature down; Rodney pounded the second skelly into powder, and after the leader-type creature tried to give Rodney a high-powered turbo-lick, Elise blasted a big ol' hole in it, whereupon it melted into gray slime that quickly dried to dust...

Not a bad start for a derelict-crawl, but it's likely there will be further horrors awaiting within...

Friday, April 16, 2021

Causing Trouble

I've been playing with HeroForge lately, and made some reference images of some of the major characters; it's an awesome tool, and you should totally use it!

The first order of business was to take a look around the station. The station itself seemed to be built out of a number of ships, bolted together; rather than spinning, the station seemed to be using the gravity generators of the various ships. Upon entering the station (through a manual, insecure door), they encountered the station master, a gruff guy with a New Jersey accent. After they traded some of their (considerable!) goods for access to the ship, they started looking around. Air is actually fairly cheap to produce, but every penny counts... or in this case, every trade, because it seems the station simply doesn't use money. They convinced the station master that they were out-of-system miners, of some sort. He didn't really care.

Sil Jallah
Sil Jallah (made with HeroForge)
As they started to explore, a young woman latched on to the group, insisting that they would need a guide. She introduced herself as Sil Jallah; unlike most of the station folk, she seemed to prefer bright colors, including bright blue hair. Being a guide must make good money, as her clothes were a lot closer to "casual" than "rags". She walked them through the station, blithely ignoring the stares from everyone. It seems not a lot of people had seen power armor like that before...

As she lead them through the twisting corridors, welded scrap and loose junk blocking the way and filling the corridors, she explained the various groups. There were the humans, who made up most of the people on the station, keeping things running as engineers, doctors, and a lot of scrappers and miners, who collected asteroids or investigated wrecked ships for useful stuff. Then, there were the Modders - technically human, but often more machine than flesh, the Modders experimented with cyberware, piling mod after mod onto their bodies. Next were the Deaders - dead humans, animated by some new consciousness. Humans mostly avoided them, though the group ran into a few handing out holo-cards that invited anyone who wanted to come and live in the simple paradise of New Life Point. Sil seemed quite disturbed by the beings, who wore full body-covering suits. Last but not least, there were the Sylvan; quiet people that rarely interacted with the rest of the station, but as Sil put it, not the kind of people you want to hang around with much!

Eventually, she was called away, and Rodney ran into one of the Sylvan - literally. Her groceries went flying, and Rodney helped her clean up. She was quite different from Sil - quiet, shy, and preferring to keep her head covered with a simple hood. Her skin was so white, it was nearly transparent, and her gray eyes gave her an almost ghostly look. She wore simple clothes that matched the rest of the station a lot more closely. She introduced herself - at Rodney's prompting - as Linns. Rodney, bored of just looking around, and offered to escort her to her home. On the way, the group met a handful of Modders, who started harassing the woman. Rodney knocked one of them out as a warning, and when that didn't calm them down, started bashing heads for real; after killing the entire group, he woke the unconscious man up, broke his leg, then told him to report back to his leaders to leave people alone.

Finally, they reached the far side of the station; while the other two stayed outside the Sylvan area to investigate some of the equipment they tore off the dead Modders, Rodney headed inside. He experienced a rather painful headache, which turned out to be an attempt to read his mind. One of the Sylvan, a tall, painfully thin man, spoke with Rodney for a bit, finally asking if he would open his mind to them. Turns out, mind-reading makes you really, really distrustful of other people. Rodney allowed it, and the Sylvans got a front-row seat to Rodney's hammer-time extravaganza.

Outside, Elise managed to clean up the headgear she found at least well enough to determine the overarching purpose of it - some sort of frequency-damping that interacted directly with the brain. What it actually did was entirely unknown to her; it seemed to be part communication gear and part hardwired VR, though not the useful pieces of either.

Finally, the group headed back to the docks, and managed to hire a room at the only hotel in the station - a tiny, spartan room with 6 ounces of free water. Not exactly a lot to go on, but at least it has enough space to comfortably sleep, and store their armor.

The next day, Rodney left to visit Linns again, though sadly she was busy. She offered to meet him that evening for a meal, though.

As they were heading back, Sil caught up with them, looking worried. It seems the Modders were not exactly happy about the deaths, and since the Modders were essentially the station's military, that could cause some serious problems. She suggested maybe spending a little time off the station.

Gesh Darksider
Gesh Darksider (made with HeroForge)
Down at the docks, they met a miner named Gesh Darksider, captain of Darksider's Folly, a mining and cargo ship. It seems that he'd made a scrapping run, and come back with another ship, one that he was having trouble paying for - the station master needed paid up front, not on a promise of later funds from the sale of said ship. The only part of the ship Gesh wanted was the jumpdrive; he was willing to sell the rest off for a good price, and would even let someone test drive it for 24 hours if they would just pay the berthing costs.

After some considerable haggling, the group paid the fee, and took a look at the ship. It was in fairly good repair, and apart from a damaged energy converter, seemed space-worthy. They haggled some more, and eventually ended up with a new-to-them corvette-class ship, stripped of weapons and devoid of power, but otherwise in excellent shape. The suit, meanwhile, went into storage at the hotel, with an agreement that the group would have three days before the suit went anywhere.

Small, powerful, and bald as Rodney!
(made with HeroForge)
Rodney, meanwhile, went on his date with Linns (sans power armor, as the Modders were looking for someone in power armor); the food was good, and she really seemed to enjoy his company. After they ate, he was walking her back to her place, when they heard another group of Modders! The two quickly ran back the way they came, only to come face to face with yet another Modder, this one wearing some sort of weird metal mohawk. After the first round of combat, Rodney laid down some serious hurt, but the Modder juiced up with whatever weird fluids were in his mohawk, and came back stronger than ever! Rodney managed to batter him into oblivion, sending him to the Scrubbing Bubbles of Hades, just as the rest of the Modders caught up to them. He had called his own friends, however, and they were nearly there. However, before Rodney could react, Linns conjured some sort of lightning between her hands! She stalked towards the Modders, and as she reached each one, they died, screaming. Finally, she cut the lighting off, and pointed a single quivering finger at the last surviving Modder, a fellow with a metal cap similar to the one Elise dissected. As the Modder started to take a step forward, she growled out a single word: "No!"

The Modder turned and fled, just as Nix and Elise arrived. Linns turned, took Rodney's hand, and said, "Let's go."

She made it another two steps before her legs gave out, and she fell. Rodney tried to carry her back to her place, but she (feebly) refused, asking that he take her back to his place, instead (oy, get your mind out of the gutter, she has a good reason!). Rodney considered asking for assistance from any mercenaries in the market, but realized he had nothing to pay them with but his hammers, which were a sight too dear to part with. He returned to his hotel room, and donned his power armor, staying vigilant while Linns slept.

Meanwhile, Nix and Elise got to work, removing and replacing parts from their new ship. Their old ship was barely more than cryo pods, an energy converter, and a jump drive, bolted to a frame; the jumpdrive was installed in the new ship to replace the one they took out as part of the deal; the energy converter slotted into the space that the damaged one had occupied. The cryo pods actually fit in one of the spare crew rooms, so if they needed to make a long jump, they had the means. They jumped the ship with almost all of their power reserves - spare batteries and suit power - and got it close enough to the tiny red sun to begin refueling. It took a full 24 hours to refuel, during which time they made a few scans of the system and rested up. They returned to pick up Rodney, and ended up taking Linns as well - she was still woozy, but agreed that it would be a lot safer for her and the other Sylvans if she would come with them. It seems she had some business on some other stations, as well.

12 hours of repair work (one long day instead of the three it would take most people!) and 24 hours of refueling put the group 36 hours into the 72 agreed-upon hours before the suit was the full property of Gesh; hopefully, the team will be able to salvage some other equipment worth enough to buy it back - and soon!

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Book III: The Derelicts

Once repaired, it was an easy jump forward 780 years, to the crew's "present day", and from there a walk in the park to get back to Earth. But not just any Earth - their Earth! Somehow, in the jump from the other galaxy, they managed to bump back into their own universe as well.

The ship was immediately placed in drydock, and the numerous repairs it needed were finally put in place. The blue apes returned to their world, which had been saved in this timeline; the Russian crew caught up with their counterparts here, who had been rescued 20 years sooner. The O.G. crew, meanwhile, were approached by Eliza - and not the hologram Eliza, but Empress Eliza Tarvis, wife of Emperor Julian Tarvis! She came with a new mission; the crew showed itself reliable, and able to deal with what she called "Strange Space".

Years before, leading up to the Battle for Earth, the Entity had been testing its long-range teleporter technology on the people of Earth - only half the planet survived. Most of the rest were found on a dead planet near Bardron, where they had been teleported to suffocate. However, after long, careful investigation, it was found that there existed a third group that had been transported to a location far outside the galaxy. Any galaxy, actually. The crew were being recruited to rescue those missing, if indeed there were any survivors.

After a very long time spent carefully purchasing equipment, power armor, and other supplies, they were taken to the launch site, a dark, quiet corner of the galaxy, with the straightest shot via jumpspace to the otherwise unknown location. Their ship was little more than a storage compartment and a collection of cryopods bolted onto a jump drive; no weapons, no armor, and no backups. The more mass the ship took with it, the less likely it would survive the trip...

The destination was very, very far away. As Eliza explained it, it existed in a place known as Strange Space; while jumpspace and realspace have a stable, long-term connection, Strange Space exists as a buffer between parallel universes, a battery of sorts that pulls energy from one universe and pushes it into another, like a coil of wire energizing itself as a magnet to push away another magnet. Strange Space is a kind of limbo, a world between worlds, where the immense power of an entire universe is sapped away to feed the demands of the rest of the omniverse.

Parallel worlds aren't merely copies stretching into the distance, each slightly different than the other; rather, they are a little more like stations on a radio dial. A strong station will overwhelm a weaker station, and each station has bands, like echoes, copies fading out beside it. If you tune in to one of these bands instead of the main station, you'll hear a weak duplicate of the original, faint but present. Every tiny modification to the radio dial will make the sound sharper or weaker. In the same way, while living life in our universe, everything comes in clear - the laws of physics apply, and the static of the Void is blithely overpowered. But if you dial into a "parallel world", you'll get a copy, or nothing but the Void, or maybe - if you go far enough - into another universe entirely.

Strange Space is a universe a little too close to the Void for comfort, where wisps of reality keep everyone just sane enough to know that there has to be something more than this, somewhere out there...

Unfortunately, no one knows more than theory. While special jump-pods have been sent, and fundamental jumpspace laws mean their arrival can be detected, no one can figure out where they go after that. They never come back.

It may be a one-way mission, but the end goal is to bring back the lost people of Earth.

The trip was quick, at least in the eyes of the crew; it took months, but the time passed in an instant due to cryo. They finally arrived in a dead space - no stars, no lights, except a dim glimmer far in the distance. When they piloted up to the lights, they found a hacked-together space station, built out of junk and multiple ships stitched together. A sign by the airlock read, "Forgotten Colony Station"...

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Crossing Over Again

With all the data in hand, it's finally time to enact the last step of the plan. The ship jumps forward, this time only about a couple hundred years - the trip isn't nearly as rough. They arrive 10 months from their intended date (May of the year 2022), which actually works in their favor. Heading deep into the outer edge of the solar system gives them plenty of time to practice for their next assault, and repair and restock, as well as upgrade their capabilities. Nix grabs a head-full of tech to help him pilot, shoot, and fight; Rodney grabs some cybernetic upgrades as well, slowly turning himself into a literal tank.

The Biothanata is obviously taking hold - while there are a few hotspots on the surfaces of the three planets, it's not fully dug in, but the tell-tale signs of red blobs floating through space shows that the planets don't have more than a few years left before being eaten by the red goo.

Meanwhile, on the planet closest to the sun, power readings are off the charts; the frequencies are similar to the portal used to journey here, but far, far less stable. Atmospheric storms crash and roar, a perpetual storm centers on the power source - an enormous entity, holding a massive obelisk. The device is sapping energy from the planet itself, slowing it down to build enough charge to permanently open the portal. Blips in power occur every few hours as more entities portal their way to the planet, preparing for invasion.

The plan in its entirety is thus: after arriving in this galaxy through the heavily modified portal, the Dark Horizon was to spread the Biothanata (to ensure no future attempts - check), steal the portal technology (check), determine the exact date, time, and location of the invasion (check), and locate any existing strongholds in the Milky Way. Eliza's knowledge of history helped pinpoint the day and time of the invasion, and the records recovered help pinpoint the exact time and date on this side. With the information in hand, the Dark Horizon will have to make a leap into Jumpspace through the portal - only this time, the safety measures are missing. The ship will have to dodge ships in the area, fly down into the atmosphere, and after making some on-the-fly jumpspace calculations, jump through the portal.

Or, in a much safer way, send down a tiny mission to slip through the portal unseen, set up a portal linked to another back on the ship, and simply walk everyone out to the planet on the other side, after stripping the jump drives, Crowbar, NOA, and other technology from the ship. Safer, but the end result is no ship and no way to get home.

After putting it to a vote, it was decided that the Dark Horizon would make the jump. Either everyone makes it out, or no one does!

Finally, the day of the big event arrived. The Dark Horizon dodged the ships protecting the planet from above, and used their shield to phase through the planetary defense system. In the atmosphere, Nix dodged and weaved with incredible skill, thanks in part to his new upgrades. As they grew closer, a scene unfolded on the planet below:

A handful of humans suddenly arrived on the surface below; armed with little more than baseball bats, wrenches, rifles, and a spear, the men (and one woman) charged the entities and their armies, carving a path through the chaos, and eventually reaching the huge entity with the obelisk! A signal blinked on; unknown, but apparently friendly? It came from the rag-tag group, though how was anyone's guess. The woman stabbed the creature in the leg, and the guy with dual baseball bats took a swing, hammering it in. The fellow with a wrench grabbed a terrified flying entity, and once he was high enough, dived onto the massive creature with the obelisk, slamming it in the head! Together, they bashed the creature enough to weaken it, and it dropped the obelisk.

Nix quickly rand the Jumpspace calculations, and made the jump, just as the obelisk shattered into fragments on the stony ground. The last they saw of the group was them running back the way they came, with the hordes in hot pursuit.

And with that, the Dark Horizon leaped through the portal.

The journey was faster than the previous one; the larger portal and the much improved power source shortened the distance considerably. However, it wasn't a carefully tuned journey, and as the Dark Horizon popped back into reality, a cascade of failures took out the jump drives and brought half the system offline.

Out of sensor range of Earth, the crew took stock - a few minor injuries, and enough damage to the ship to keep Elise busy for a day or two, but overall, nothing but the Jumpdrive was damaged beyond repair. The year was verified to be 2022, early May. According to Eliza's instructions, if anything went wrong, they were to contact an Agent Peregrine Cycle, who could be found on the eastern edge of where Texas City will eventually be - a tiny village named Longview.

Rodney, dressed in "casual" clothing, and Nix, wearing a hologram, headed down to the surface. Somehow, Rodney managed to not only ask the right people, but managed to do so without alerting them to the fact that he is somewhat unhinged. In record time, they found Agent Cycle, a rather stiff individual who was nonetheless all too happy to help. Oddly, he didn't seem to be at all put off by the fact that they had arrived on a space ship, though he did apologize for being rushed, as he was in the middle of dealing with a successfully rebuffed alien invasion, which thankfully went a lot better than he had hoped.

After a few day of seeing the sights (and watching Mr. Clean commercials), the crew was met by one Captain Caelie Kay, the time-traveling captain of the Tempus Fugit, offering parts and assistance. Her engineer, a woman named Daisy, seems very keen on meeting the crew, and fixing their ship!

Smash And Grab And Smash

The invasion of Earth took a huge amount of planning, and that kind of planning would have a backup, somewhere. With the space station well-softened, it was time to go exploring for that very plan.

Rodney, Nix, and Elise infiltrated the damaged station, and managed to make their way into the well-armored portion - though Elise pulled an R2D2 and zapped herself plugging into a power port instead of a data port. Inside, there was a bit of resistance, but nothing that (now dual) hammers of brutal justice couldn't solve. Messily. After fighting their way to a junction, they paused to decide whether to go for the file, or rescue an apparent hostage; there was a bit of a rush, as there seemed to be a military presence on its way. More pressing were the two very large guards in power suits; after a quick battle, leaving everyone slightly injured, and the two guards dead, Rodney began stripping the armor off. One suit was very mangled, but the other was mostly intact. Elise managed to get the working suit in a sort of "follow" mode, and Rodney hefted the other suit onto its shoulder. After bashing the military's doors in and bit-locking them to boot, the group blithely headed for the documentation area. While the others carefully searched the huge piles of data, Rodney showed them how it was done by randomly grabbing a file, which turned out to be the data they needed.

Returning to the prisoner, they managed to free the strange creature - it spoke a language very unlike their own, and indeed one the learning translator didn't know; however, it seemed to pick up on the language very quickly, and after only a few minutes was able to communicate its situation. And a good thing, too, because the military had managed to blow up the doors, and was heading their way!

Just then, the Dark Horizon managed to contact them, and told them to stand back, as a barrage of lasers and torpedoes slammed into the building, ripping the arm they were holed up in off entirely.

Back aboard the ship, the prisoner - an android, actually - was assigned quarters, and put under house arrest until further notice. With the information the Android provided, along with the information in the documents they found, they were able to piece together the entire plan.

Spies were sent ahead to Earth ages ago, hundreds if not thousands of years before. Within the last hundred years, the spies were able to report back, and the plan was set in motion. Just under two hundred years from now, a massive portal will be fully powered, and ready to send unlimited troops to Earth. While it should be somewhat functional by the early 1980s, it won't reach full power until the early 2020s. And, in case the attack is a failure, the plan is to send troops through with a portal, to allow future attacks and allow coordinating from within.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Get Jumpin'

The solar system was dying. And not just the solar system - two galaxies were colliding, and their effects were already becoming apparent, as another solar system hurtled towards them. They didn't have a lot of time for the next step of Eliza's plan, as laid out by NOA: get to the planet, and steal the portal technology.

There were three planets to choose from; one was a wasteland, razed from an ancient war. The other two were populated, or at least had been - the planets were nearly empty, evacuated before the collision. The crew elected to visit the second planet, at a science facility, hoping that would have the answers they were looking for - and that it wouldn't be as well-guarded as the military base.

On the surface, they ran into a leathery creature, its folded wings rustling in the breeze. It was roughly humanoid, though with twisted, demonic features. It seemed to be pushing some sort of cart; when it saw the group, it began waving its arms. Rodney, taking this as a challenge, immediately smashed it into paste, crushing it beneath his mighty hammer! Take that, homeless scum!

It didn't take long to find the military base, and start searching for the technology; after a quick run-in with a very mobile thief, and a very, very tough thief, both of which were taken down with the combined might of Rodney's power hammers and Elise's new disintegration rifle, the plans were found, uploaded, and the planet evacuated. With little time to spare, the Dark Horizon enabled a one-shot program, utilizing the J0 drive and a lot of difficult math, and jumped backwards in time - a thousand years, give or take.

Unlike the Tempus Frigate, which was designed for precise travel through time, though constrained to the range it could travel to, the Dark Horizon method of time travel was more akin to drinking a bottle of something you found behind Wal-Mart and waking up in Tibet. That is to say, it was neither conventional, nor comfortable. Even the droids had to avoid glitching out; upon arrival, the ship was fraught damaged electronics, and a number of minor injuries among the crew. As they raced to repair the ship, a handful of corvette-class ships picked them up, and headed in pursuit.

As Elise split her focus between getting the ship working and manning the guns, the others fired everything they had; the shields grew dangerously low as the other three ships pounded them with laser fire. As the shields flickered out, a lucky hit damaged the jump drive! Elise scrambled to contain the leak, as Nix managed to hit a ship in the reactor. Finally, the battle was over; the Dark Horizon was badly damaged, but the enemy ships were no longer a threat, and there were no other ships in the area. They were able to take a few hours to repair the ship, and carefully place the Biothanata in the asteroid field, where it would consume and grow, and eventually, wipe out the entire system.

Of course, that would take time, and there were still pieces of the plan that needed some action. Now that the orbiting space station's defenses were lowered - no ships left to protect it - the Dark Horizon was able to sit back and lob high-velocity rocks at it to "soften it up".

Into the Dragon's Den

Once NOA finished the calculations, the Dark Horizon made the perilous journey to a rocky, desolate planet, barely capable of sustaining life, orbiting a tiny red dwarf. Also orbiting the planet is a strange ship, covered in sensors - it's got a familiar (if 125-year-old) call signature, though. The ship is swathed in sensors of all sorts, with tiny, undersized engines. It's the UEA SS Eliza! As they crew scanned it, the ship suddenly vanished, and reappeared a split second later in front of them, hitting them with a barrage of scans, then a moment later, a woman blinks into existence on your bridge!

She introduced herself as the UEA SS Eliza; the original Shifting Horizon helped her, and she's returning the favor. She explains, as a swarm of drones arrive to attach the J0 drive, the Crowbar, and the existing J3 drive.

"When the Oncoming Storm was returning from its tour beyond the Wall, something happened in Jumpspace. Whatever it was tore the Oncoming Storm into two ships - identical, except for the crew. While most of the crew remained aboard the ship, some of the crew were torn from their own reality and dropped into an alternate reality - a parallel world. Like throwing a rock nudges a person in the opposite direction, throwing a few of the crew nudged the rest back to their own reality. It is not an unknown effect - people have gone missing since the dawn of time. Tiny nudges, keeping the universe on track.

What happened in jumpspace knocked your ship out of its jumpspace corridor, and temporarily disengaged the jump drive. The ship, trying to quickly return to course, entered and left jumpspace a dozen times, trying to reorient, until ultimately it shut down, unable to rouse the crew, and unable to contact anyone.

Lucky for you, I was not far not far from where the tear occurred. Investigating your drifting ship, I found I had full access; I was able to... compare notes with my alternate self. I realized what had happened, and what would happen. I merged my consciousness with that of the data from your universe's Eliza, and after verifying that the ship would survive, I left to find out exactly what was going wrong.

In this universe, your... Entity, I believe you called it... had never met with the resistance of the Shifting Horizon, and its plans continued on schedule; where the Entity had begun moving from interfering with politics and science in your universe, the Entity in this parallel world had no need to escape its prison early. When the technology it had seeded was finally ready, it merely gathered its forces to this planet and simply... walked away, through a portal to a different galaxy. Of course, it won't be gone for long - soon, it will return, this time with reinforcements. It must be stopped. Even if we destroy the portal, the Entity knows that our world is sheltered and rich with resources, which will give it time to build an army to wage war on the universe."

Eliza modified the Entity's portal, and together with the other technologies, the Dark Horizon jumped through the portal.

The trip wasn't a smooth one. Unlike normal jumpspace, the view was beautiful; it was like looking into a million galaxies. But, that wasn't the only thing in jumpspace. First, a horde of jumpspace aliens, the strange creatures that walk through jumpspace like taking a stroll in the park, started teleporting into the ship; one by one, they were put down, and though some minor injuries were sustained by the crew, the aliens were put down, hard. And, Elise ended up with a nice disintegration rifle, to boot!

Their wounds were barely healed before the ship was attacked by enormous, blue-lit, worm-like creatures, who strafed the ship with gravity blasts, and slammed into it with their enormous mouths. One by one, the worms were blasted into pieces; Rodney was only able to provide moral support, as the other crew refused to load him into a torpedo bay and fire him at the worms.

Though the ship sustained some damage, they managed to destroy the worms, and finally complete their voyage. The crew of the Dark horizon - a motley mix of third-tier crew, Russian survivors, and blue apes - were the first humans (and, indeed, first blue apes) to visit another galaxy.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

A Time To (Fungal) Bloom

With the information from Eliza, they now had a map into one of the nearly-impossible-to-navigate areas of the galaxy: the Black Zone. However, NOA needed some time to compute the jump, and a helpful side quest popped up - a 25 year old distress call.

The planet wasn't too far away, and they were able to get to it in a day's travel. Nix, Rodney, and two other crew members, Deege (a hypochondriac Comms officer) and Elise (a cyborg engineer). Down on the planet, they found two landing sites: the wreck of the ship in distress, the Suzie Maze, and one of its emergency escape pods, about two miles distant. The crew decided to head over to the escape pod first.

While the planet had a decent atmosphere and gravity, the makeup of the air made it rather denser than that of Earth, which meant the crew had to wear EVA suits. Rodney, unwilling to part with his armor, stuck with punching the air into his own lungs, his breathing a little more labored than most.

The closer they got to the ship, the more strange, tan and purple plants grew. They seemed soft, and somewhat vine-like...

Not far from the pod, the encountered three strange people - humanoid, wearing shredded EVA suits, and very, very angry. Nix bounced up, as the three attacked the humans; Rodney shrugged it off, Elise managed to tank the blow, but Deege came dangerously close to getting knocked out of the fight! Thankfully, the creatures didn't get much more chance to fight; Nix took out the one going after Deege with his sonic shotgun, Elise gunned another through the head with her SMG, and Rodney gleefully splatted the third. Then took out the unconscious one for good measure.

At the pod, Elise headed inside. She realized the cyberjack in her arm was... not exactly accessible, but hoping the air wouldn't be too bad, she popped off her helmet, coughed at the dust floating around, and hacked into the black box. It gave up its information easily, revealing that 25 years ago, it had left the Suzie Maze in atmosphere, and landed here. After 24 hours, the door was opened, and it had been broadcasting the signal ever since. Elise turned it off, and pulled her EVA suit back on... though not without suffering a fatigue from something that really irritated her lungs.

Outside, battle was joined! The crew spotted two dog-like creatures; they attacked immediately, hammer-splatting one, and spraying the other down with the SMG. Then, a huge creature stepped out of the brush; ugly, disfigured, with one huge arm and an extra thin appendage with claws at the end, it launched a crazed attack on Rodney, but only managed to hand out a couple love taps before being taken out. And then its body started to expand, and the crew dove for cover, just before it exploded in a puff of what they later learned was spores!

They headed back to the shuttle, and had their pilot land them close to the wreck. Deege, grossed out by the spores, dust, and general bloodshed, stayed behind to take a quick shower (in his EVA suit, of course). Elise, meanwhile, cut the arm off her EVA suit and patched it air-tight against her metal arm, so her cyberjack would be accessible.

The crater was a loss; Rodney dug through it, but didn't find anything of use. Whatever was in there was incinerated. Elise, with the help of Nix, broke into the bridge, which seemed to have survived a bit better - these old freighters were designed to drop cargo and air-brake in case of structural failure, so the bridge survived with an intact seal. Breaking the seal revealed a horrifying sight - what looked like a human, stuck to the wall, with fungus growing out of every pore and orifice!

Elise hacked into the ship. It seems that the ship was hauling live dirt, likely from Earth, for growing; however, they stopped off at a rogue planet to pad their payload with some dust, hoping to make some extra money from the extra weight. Unfortunately, the dust was infected with some kind of fungus, not terribly unlike the Cordyceps fungus - a strange plant that rewires the brains of ants to spread.

Or in this case, the brains of whatever creature it infects - such as the humans aboard the Suzie Maze, and some of the animals of the planet it crashed on.

Luckily, both Elise (who was infected in the pod) and Rodney (who was infected because he refused to wear a sealed suit) were able to shake off the effects of the virus, with the help of medication derived from the Shifting Horizon's earlier interaction with the fungus. And, a nice bath in some medi-gel got the last of Deege's wounds healed, too, so the crew is ready for action!

Next up: Who is this Eliza? And what does she have to do with the Entity?

Into the Maze

The knife, as it turned out, is a small, inconspicuous cyberdeck; it can't be upgraded, but it does allow hacking computer systems at a +2.

Nix managed to get into the air duct unseen, thanks to the Red Queen's distraction - a huge gasoline-fueled fireball, followed by some - if you'll pardon the pun - guerrilla warfare, as the red apes kept up small arms fire on the guards.

The trip through the air ducts was fairly simple; once Nix reached the AC system, he lobbed a grenade into the system, and climbed out the hole. He made his way out to the hallways, and managed to avoid the guards until the last corridor. There, using the spy drone he got from Rodney, he distracted the guards, and was able to get past and open the outside door.

Outside, Rodney engaged the two guards at the door, and quickly, er, subdued them. Back in the hallway, the two took on the other guards, and cleared a path: Nix, laying down some non-violent sonic shotgun blasts, and Rodney, killing even the guards Nix knocked out. Up a set of stairs, the pair ran into a little trouble - a beefy War Bot and two human fighters. The War Bot managed to land a couple wounds to Rodney before he caved in its chest.

On the second floor, they found an office, not too far from a armored room marked "Security Office". After some careful discussion, the two decided to try a bit of a con. They waltzed into the security office, and Rodney attempted to convince the deck sergeant that he and Nix were black ops agents, sent to reinforce those there. The desk sergeant wasn't exactly someone who "convinced"; he listened, followed orders, and didn't make decisions. The security commander was summoned, and lead the two into a room "for discussing". The two happily followed her into the interrogation room, not even stopping when she slammed the door shut behind them...

She had a few questions, such as what happened to the war bot and the guards, or the AC vent, or indeed why they were there. Nix left the talking to Rodney; Rodney, meanwhile, attempted to intimidate the commander by... licking the interrogation room's doorknob.

After a bit of waiting around, the commander returned with two guard-bots - war-bots equipped with crowd control and non-lethal weapons. Rodney launched into them; Nix knocked out the commander, then headed for the vehicle laser. As the desk sergeant tried to engage it, Nix dove for the laser, hacking into it with the knife they found earlier. As Rodney went toe to toe with the two bots and the commander, Nix battled the hardened laser, never quite managing to take it over, but very effectively managing to keep it out of the fight. And knocked out the two guards, as well.

Rodney, meanwhile, held his own with the bots. After getting zapped several times, he was really, really hurting. He was missing hits as the two bots tag-teamed him, but finally, he managed to take them down, bashing the chest in on one, and crushing the skull of the other. Beaten to within an inch of his life, he staggered over to the desk sergeant and added a new hole to his torso.

The laser no longer fighting the hack, Nix zipped over to the computers, and restarted his hacking from there, finally successful in taking it over. Rodney, noting Nix was busy, decapitated the commander, and stuck her head on his vibro-spear. Then, he had Nix download the security tapes, for his own personal library.

After trying to add some smart targeting, which failed, they hid behind the desk and turned the laser to shoot anything that moves. The first few guards didn't make it; they opened the door just as the guards rushed in, and the two bounced into the room and were immediately turned to Swiss cheese - though a little melty. Behind them, two war bots tried to rush the room, and were incinerated by the laser. More guards tried to rush the room, tossing in grenades, but the explosions didn't do much to damage anything or anyone. Finally, two heavily armed guards rushed the room; one ricocheted a grenade into the room, while the other stayed out of the line of fire of the laser, and lobbed a fireball into the room. That did some damage!

Realizing there wasn't much for it, Rodney bull-rushed the door. He raised his hammer, hit the flamethrower guy, and... it bounced off.

Rodney took a deep breath, raised his hammer... and slammed the flamethrower out of the man's hand! Nix followed up by launching a quick sonic-shotgun attack, taking out the marine next to him. Between the two of them, they took out the flamethrower fellow, as well as the two lighter-armed men behind them.

Finally, they returned to their main task: rescuing the Mayor.

In the Mayor's office - you know, the room next to the security office - they frightened the living daylights out of a junior lieutenant. They freed the Mayor, and got him to the first floor, where he was able to escape - but not before handing off a holo-map. Next they headed to the main event: the maze under the city.

The maze is a hive of passages, gleaming and white, light shining through the translucent walls, floor, and ceiling. The holographic map pointed the way ahead, seeming to double back, twist around, and generally not follow the rules of linear travel.

The destination ended in a room with metal walls, solid stone floor, and a dark ceiling. In the center they found a diesel-punk fractal computer. After a bit of fiddling around, Rodney went exploring, and found a skeletonized corpse; he had a small holo-map, as well.

Using it to explore, Rodney realized that there was some... weird glitch. Following the map back to the room, it found... nothing but more hallways. Heading down a hallway, the map flipped, pointing back the way he'd come. As they later discovered, only the holo-map from the Mayor could locate the room - because without it, the room simply didn't exist! That explained the three skeletons they found, anyway...

Finally, they decided to give the computer a try. It started up, and on screens wrapping around the device (getting smaller and smaller as they went around), a single question blinked in green text on a black background:

Begin the Procedure? _

After much hemming and hawing, they finally pushed the green button, and the machine began its work... The walls melted away, as they were borne up into the city; they witnessed the denizens of the world screaming and running, melding into each other, morphing into new shapes, as the machine did its work. The machine - a fractal regenerator - converted the mass of the people, places, and things in the world into what they had once been: the Littlefinger!

Aboard the ship - though sadly lightened of many of their collected weapons, including the commanders head, but (much to Rodney's relief) not the tape of his massacre - they watched the ship's android take a blast meant for the Captain. As had happened once before, the ship's AI had done all it could to save the Captain and his pregnant daughter - but this time, 25 years had elapsed. The AI burned every last circuit to save its Captain, leaving nothing but a smoldering wreck.

However, just as the Littlefinger was reborn, and the revolt aboard put down, the Dark Horizons received a message from the mysterious Eliza:

All the pieces are in place. With the help of the Littlefinger, I should be able to delay the Entity long enough for you to complete your task. The Entity has yet to learn of your presence, though it has begun to suspect mine. Time is of the essence. I hope you and your crew are prepared; you will need all the help you can get. Bring the sample of Biothanata to the prison planet — and hurry. Spies are everywhere.

I will see you soon.

Eliza out.

The jump pod that delivered the message also had some physical cargo for the Littlefinger; a new AI, this one a military AI rather than a civilian one, one that wouldn't burn its circuits to save the ship.