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.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Fear and Loathing in Lost Vegas

This writeup covers three sessions, which I've separated.

After the harrowing experience of the day before, the party once again turned to their mission at hand: finding a way inside. And, in fact, the way was just ahead - behind a crowd of nearly a thousand grey apes, who had built a village around the rocky entrance. Three stones jutted into the air, leaning together and leaving a wide entrance.

Rodney wasn't quite comfortable with fighting a thousand apes, so instead, he decided to step out and attempt to challenge them. In a booming voice, he called out various nonsense, ending with a threatening glare. The apes, meanwhile, has just been discussing the missing scouts, when a tall, terrifying creature stepped out and shouted at them, seemingly entirely unafraid. Most of the village immediately took off; the stronger guards held firm for a moment, but seeing the rush of a stampeding crowd pass them by, their will to stay and likely die quickly dried up, and they took to their heels.

The tribe would come back after only a few minutes, but by then, the party had already descended into the passage between the stones.

Down below, they noted various carvings and painting on the walls, of monsters and terrible disasters. However, many of the paintings were scratched out, and crude stick-men were added, usually attacking the monsters.

Eventually, they came to the end of the passage, which was guarded by two bandits in a jeep. Catching the bandits by surprise, the party rushed forward; in seconds, the gunner was dead (shot by Tevye), and the driver was bleeding out, his attempt at chucking grenades having failed miserably. Rodney jumped into the driver's seat and drove them out, somehow managing to keep the jeep fully intact.

Before long, they left the caverns through some kind of building, driving into the inside-out world. The descriptions of the area didn't seem to include quite so much rubble - whatever had happened here left the run down buildings outside the wall in even worse shape. Dark smoke rose from a fire to the left; the party wisely decided to avoid that area. Hoping to find a direction to travel, the crew set Ensign Soler on building a signal tracker from the jeep's radio. The result was crude, but useable; it pointed to the strongest signal, likely the direction of the city they were headed for.

Map of the caverns

On the way, they stepped into the middle of a brewing street fight - on the one side were a group of mostly humans, some in power armor, and on the other, a motley crew of droids and very strange creatures - some were short, some tall, some had three or four arms, or any number of legs. Memory of the logs told Nix that these were Symbiontoids - each creature wasn't a single being, but a collection of parts: their "skin" is a tough creature that wraps around the "digestive system", which supports the "splanch modules", little more than bones and muscle, and all controlled by the brain, the "person" behind the collection.

The party decided to carefully make their way past the Symbiontoid group. Once the crowd had thinned, Rodney approached one of the creatures wearing slightly better armor, and in the spirit of friendliness and peace, handed it a grenade. The creature freaked out, and hurled the grenade away - directly into the crowd, as it turned out - then yelled in panic for everyone to get out of the way. After much shouting and diving for cover, everyone realized the grenade was a dud. Rodney, ever helpful, was quick to point out that the creature was the one who dangerously threw the grenade... then, once the crowd turned against him, calmed them down and told them he'd take care of things. Then intimidated the already panicked creature, who was all too willing to help now that he wasn't going to be lynched. 2nd Lt. Bbbbbubbbbles, who has three spawnlings, gave them directions and a pass they could show any other members of the Symbiontoid Hivemind.

Following the directions, they made better time getting to the city; when they were drawing near, a human waved them into an alley, and offered to smuggle them into the city. He, as well as two grays (tall, gray-skinned fellows who show no emotion in voice or action), a droid, and a very large Symbiontoid carrying two large weapons, ushered them towards the city. Once they were away from prying eyes, the guides turned on their guests. During the battle, Ensign Soler chucked an EMP on the droid, and shut it down; Rodney went toe to toe with the Symbiontoid, and barely won out. The two blue apes went for the greys and the human; one of the apes was killed, but they managed to pin down the enemies long enough that Nix was able to blast them from the sky. They collected a few items from the corpses:

  • An energy spear; STR + d8, AP4; consumes the charge of one normal battery per battle
  • A vibrosword, essentially a sword-shaped chainsaw, very loud; STR+2d6, AP 1
  • An expensive-looking knife with hollow handle containing electronics and a dataport

As they finished clearing the bodies, a red ape slipped up, and palmed a map into Rodney's hand.

City Map

The map was a slight deviation from their current path; following it, they reached a locked door, which Rodney was unable to bash open, but Nix managed to pick quite handily. Inside was a fairly normal looking home - a living room/bedroom with a fold-out couch, a table with two chairs, a rug, and a wall-mounted terminal; a kitchen with a fridge and a stove, and a partially collapsed roof; and a cramped bathroom, with some basic first aid supplies.

After going over the area with a fine tooth comb, they discovered the terminal was hiding a secret - Rodney punched a hole through the front, and quickly realized that it was a fake screen, hiding a communication device inside... a communication device that was sporting an energy-spear-sized hole in it. Oops.

Irritated at their careful search not finding anything, Rodney and Nix next decided to trash the place, pulling open the couch and moving any furniture... and the rug, which hid a secret passage in the floor. Heading down, they found the space well lit. Most of the tunnel lead through earth and stone, but about halfway through, a wide area was obviously tunneled through the wall surrounding the city - it was much smoother, and obviously permacrete with steel rebar instead of natural stone. At the other end of the tunnel, they met up with the Resistance - mostly red apes carrying guns. Nix showed them the map, and the group escorted them through the city to a low, heavy-duty warehouse.

Inside, they met the Red Ape Queen, and a number of her group, including a doctor that healed up Rodney's wounds. She was overjoyed to see them, and briefly mentioned a prophecy that a group such as theirs would come and save their world. They spent the rest of the evening planning out how they would assault the Mayor's office, to rescue the mayor who was being held hostage by his second in command, known only as the Advisor - and to access the maze beneath the city, and activate the device that the Red Queen could not.

The plan was to have the Queen and her apes cause a distraction, leading some of the guards away from the office, and leaving an opening for Nix to slip inside an air duct, and hopefully find a way for everyone else to get inside the building.