Monday, November 29, 2021

No Way But Forward

Rocketown is a place where adrenaline runs high - as they arrived, they caught the tail end of a race, then watched another that ended with a ship slamming into an asteroid at just over 0.8 c - that is, 536 million miles per hour. There wasn't so much a crater as a brief, rapidly expanding cloud of energy and dust...

The suit, meanwhile, was more than just a suit. As Elise fixed it up, it came to life - it's name is Gaius, and it firmly believes their actions have doomed them all to destruction. Nonetheless, it is willing to work with them, if only to watch their failures up close.

On the largest asteroid, they managed to locate Green, a lovely young woman with striking green eyes and a fiery temperament. Reggie managed not to get himself shot, and Terminus managed not to get shot either, though both of them pushed the boundary a bit.

The information they received from Gray and Green was... not hopeful. Red's information on The Forgotten, Blue's knowledge of Inner Worlds politics, and Gray and Green's new information on the feral deaders come together to form one final result: with current technology, and current understanding, there is no way to fully stop the Deader threat.

Sometimes, a feral deader is formed - a mindless monster, seeking only to consume. When this happens, that deader is immediately taken to Pulsar X4139, where Blue was abandoned. There, the leftover bio-waste of generations and the horrible, life-threatening conditions are enough to slow down the ferals, and keep them contained. They have no way out. However... a feral deader seeks life, a host, and if that host cannot be found... the deader has the ability to send its nanite swarm through jumpspace.

Whatever started this wave of feral deader attacks has started a landslide, with a few tiny pebbles forming an avalanche, and there is no way to stop it - only get out of its way. And, at this point, continue running. Even leaving the galaxy won't be enough, as the nanites will eventually travel everywhere.

However, with their information pooled, the "color cabal" now have the information for their leader, Chrome...

The crew arrived at the Fairy Princess; the ship's avatar transformed herself, from a pretty young thing to a queen of elves, terrible and beautiful. She immediately called the crew to her chambers - which look a lot more warlike than ever before. She told Reggie that she is calling in her favor - save them. Every last human. She couldn't save the little girl put in her charge, but she will be damned if she won't save everyone else. Her messengers are at the disposal of the crew; her loyal subjects, all willing to lay down their lives to save even a handful. She believes the portal is the way to do it, but the information needs to be decoded, first - and collecting the people will take some time, too.

It's time to save the galaxy.

And I think to myself, what a wonderful liiiiiife!

 Arriving at Ouranos, the crew were immediately met by "Stacy", a card-carrying member of the "Vacation Resort Destination Consortium," who desperately wanted the crew to enjoy all-expense-paid tickets to exclusive entertainment features, after a short presentation of course. They passed, and instead began asking around town about Gray. Red stayed behind; Lins stuck with Rodney, and Blue headed off on her own. Silver stayed behind with Dr. Gunderson aboard the Sunsport, with the children. Elise's new robot, "Terminus", followed along to provide support.

The city itself was fully a resort destination - though the planet was incredibly toxic, the views were gorgeous, and the dome over the city kept the inhabitants safe. The crystal clear lakes (full of hydrochloric acid) and the cerulean skies (of unbreathable air, naturally) were offset by the copious crystal growths in the landscape. And, of course, the city inside the dome was beautiful as well - brightly lit, and filled with beautiful people (and robots), it was a paradise, as long as you didn't get too near the seedy edges.

Reggie headed to the gambling tables, where he was resoundingly fleeced. No one there had heard of Gray, but a few people suggested that if he was as fancy a gambler as they said, he might be at one of the more exclusive places.

Rodney, meanwhile, heard about this "Red Lady" and wanted to see if she were part of the "color club" too. Lins, trying to be supportive, took him to a burlesque show, which did not go over well. "This is the weirdest barbeque I've ever seen. None of these ladies can afford clothes, and there's no food!"

Hoping for better luck in sticking to colors, he then headed to the red light district, which did not go over well either. He ended up paying a club owner to "buy those poor ladies some more clothes!"

They met up with the rest of the group, who were headed to Casino Desure; they slipped in, though were forced to give up their equipment and weapons. Reggie managed to hide his pistol, and Nix smuggled in a couple sonic grenades, but the rest of their inventory was left behind. At first, they mingled with the high-ranking guests; Reggie accepted a beverage, and Nix was offered a robot-specific drink. Elise, too, drank some very fancy champagne. Lins warned the waiter away from Rodney, though. Of course, the drinks were spiked - both Elise and Nix managed to stave off the most immediate effects, thankfully. Reggie, being once again mistaken for human, had been given the wrong drink, and felt nothing.

They noted that there seemed to be a circle of people - thirteen groups of three, with one of the people in each group leaving and joining the next group every minute or so. After some more mingling, most of the guests left, leaving only their crew, and twelve other guests. Suddenly, the twelve remaining guests all suddenly dropped to the floor! The thirteen groups gathered together into three larger groups - one, a wall of people, roughly in the middle of the ball room; one, a tight knot, beginning to chant, in the direct center of the ball room; and one, a looser knot, a little ways behind the others. The door was suddenly closed, and a new arrival stepped out - a man in a full suit of battle armor. while the two knots of people chanted, the third group drew weapons - knives, tasers, and sparking energy whips.

The group split, charging for each individual. Reggie was the furthest into the ballroom, roughly halfway around the room from the entry doors; Nix was next, then Elise, and finally Rodney and Lins, about a quarter of the way around the room. Rodney started swinging fists before the first attackers got to him, and managed to land a good, solid blow on one, knocking him out! He dodged their attacks, hoping to buy Lins time to do her magic lightning thing, but she suddenly clutched her head in pain.

Elise started swinging arms, and managed to connect a good few blows, but took a hit herself - those energy whips seemed to do a bit more damage to those who were poisoned!

Nix, meanwhile, managed to avoid getting hit, and quickly went up-and-over, heading towards the big guy in power armor. He threw a sonic grenade, and... rolled terribly on damage. Sacrificing a black chip, he purchased an edge - No Mercy - and rerolled his damage... poorly again.

Reggie, however, met his attackers head-on. The first slashed at him, and he dodged with ease; the second dove for him, but he rolled across the man's back, pulling his hidden gun and firing a shot at the man in power armor! The shot glanced off the armor, but got the man's attention. He raised his hands, and electricity crackled from his fingertips. In a calm monotone, he said, "You cannot succeed. Even if you were to stop us, you would fail."

Rodney, meanwhile, grabbed the knife from the cultist - I'm just going to call them cultists, if that's all right with you - and started ending lives. He protected Lins, helping her get closer to the door where their equipment was.

Elise was pinned down, and took a taser to the face; the ones attacking Nix turned and attacked her as well. Reggie kept up his attack, managing to squirm out of the grasp of the cultists, and headed towards a toe-to-toe with the boss. Nix dropped his other sonic grenade, but only managed to shake the boss. Frustrated, and starting to get hit, he backed off.

The fight came down to two groups - Elise, Reggie, and Nix, trying to battle through and land some hits on the boss, all while surrounded by quite a few cultists, and Rodney and Lins, battling the few that dared approach the man in white jeans and a t-shirt.

Soon, Rodney downed five of the cultists, while Elise managed to knock out three. Reggie took one down, and with Nix, managed to tie them up enough that Rodney could bash open the door, dash in, and grab his hammers. Nix flew in after him, with Elise not far behind; dashing back out again, Rodney bolted for the big group of chanting cultists, managed to shoulder-check his way into the middle of them, then with a double-handed swing, crushed the lot of them in a shower of blood.

Reggie had been left going toe-to-toe with the big bad, and if there's one thing robots don't handle well, it's electrical attacks. Not only did he take a solid taser to the back, but the big guy wasn't backing down. When the other cultists were killed, the last group finished whatever charging routine they were going for, and dashed out towards them, waving energy swords and shields! Reggie took a sword to the guts, and dropped. If he were human, that would have been the end of his story, but his ability to ignore wound modifiers saved the day, and he barely pulled through.

Terminus, meanwhile, drew a bead on the boss and pulled the trigger; the slight wounds sustained earlier were enough that the massive sniper bullet dropped him. The other cultists fought on, but it was a losing battle - Terminus and Elise blasted the survivors, Rodney cracked heads like watermelon, and Reggie... well, Reggie tried really hard not to die.

The final tally was one dead boss, seven out of 39 cultists unconscious, the rest dead - as well as the twelve party-goers from the beginning, dead from the poison. Reggie had taken a taser hit and four wounds - which was reduced to three after some quick healing. Elise took two taser hits and two wounds, plus another two from using the green chip - but, from her suit and some good healing rolls, managed to get all healed up. Rodney took two wounds, one of which was healed up, and the other that healed in travel, later. Nix's wound was repaired back on the ship.

Reggie, barely hanging together, but at least duct-taped back together, grabbed the helmet from the boss. Nix, of course, looted the rest of the suit, surmising that it could be a good find to protect their squishy Face. Rodney grabbed a 40 from the bar.

After Lins interrogated a number of the cultists, she learned that they were planning to shield the planet, and wait out the deaders' imminent attack. They also had a prisoner until roughly a day and a half before - a "powerful sorcerer" of some sort. Guessing it might have been Gray, they downloaded the information (a tracker had been placed on the prisoner, and his movements tracked up until only a couple hours before) - and headed out to his last known location, a park in the center of the city.

Of course, this is a law-abiding town; while Elise was trying to hack the city grid, she realized she tripped an alarm, which is why they had to scramble away so quickly to begin with. They stopped long enough to watch a pair of unmarked cars drive up, and some men in dark suits stride over to the building - then immediately radio for backup.

At the park, Reggie managed to ingratiate himself with a church potluck, but didn't manage to get any clues. Further around the park, they found a crashed drone - a messenger drone, though this was a slightly bulkier one that also contained a carrying pouch. Inside was a dot, wrapped in tape - while she wasn't sure, Elise thought it might be a tracker. And, then, put it all together - the prisoner had used the messenger drone to fly the tracker all over the city, keeping the cultists off his trail. They only place the drone wasn't would probably end up being where the prisoner actually went. As soon as she finished explaining, Reggie said, "Wait! I know what happened - the prisoner stuck his tracking thingy on this drone! Wait, wasn't there a place it didn't visit? I bet he's there!"

It was a bit of a long walk, but comfortable; the beautiful city's dome was kept at a constant temperature, with a light, constant breeze from the air scrubbers. The cerulean sunset was magnificent. Eventually, they arrived at a block of two apartments - one a more standard highrise, and the other a collection of multi-family residences - backed by some large warehouses. They picked the apartment building first. Reggie managed to get himself invited in by a little old lady, who offered him cookies and lemonade, and let slip that the only strange people she knew of were Sammy, who lived at the end of the hall, and the fellow who moved in upstairs.

Sammy, it turned out, was in the "acquisition" business; after a brief conversation, he fled out the back window. Reggie grabbed a box labeled "acid", and headed out. Upstairs, they encountered another locked door - this one with a fellow with a German accent behind it. Again trying to drop clues about color, Reggie sang a little ditty: "I see skies of blue, pools of blood red; for the love of God, please get out of bed..." (sung to the tune of It's a Wonderful Life). Gray - for indeed, it was he - opened up, and with a little introduction, Gray grabbed his suitcase, and they headed out. And none too soon - as they were leaving, the little old lady was offering cookies to two large men in ill-fitting dark suits.

Whisking through security, they managed to get back to their ship, and together with the SunSport, headed towards Rocketown.


The Cube was a little different, this time - a huge ring floated in front of it. As they arrived, it was apparent that the few scientists and military personnel left on the ring had survived the trip; they had sent some of their number off to get reinforcements, and the others were still trying to get off the ground. Once back in this system, the controller lights up again - all four corners, this time. One controls the power station Tesseractus, one controls the ring, one controls the Cube, and the final set of controls - once some button-pushing was done - seem to control the glowing symbols that have appeared around the ring. There are 22 positions, each with a unique symbol; each symbol has the ability to be swapped with another symbol, or deactivated, meaning that there are 4.71 x 1027 possible options to choose from. Silver, under the direction of Reggie, memorizes the symbols for later use. Leaving it on the setup they found, they activate the Cube; once again, the Cube blasts out a cone of black-purple energy, but this time, the ring stabilizes it; it remains open. The scientists left on the ring's surface are thrown through the portal.

Following them through, the Hephaestus finds itself in the Canis Major Dwarf Galaxy - assuming they could find a suitable jump-path, they could arrive back at Earth after only a year of travel! However, after returning through the ring, Elise's "favor" is activated.

The Fairy Princess appears in front of her. "You have done well - but you need to return. I have need of your services."

It appears that the favor included implanting a small AI in her arm...

Meanwhile, during her travel, Elise had managed to construct a robot - a stealth assassin. She finally got it working as they arrived at their next destination - Ladarth. Oddly, the ship is empty - except for a handful of children. Looking for life signs, they find Ted Samsun, 14, and his 7 year old sister Melody, hiding in a med bay. Searching the huge colony ship, they find Jessie Bilmann, 8, and his robot dog in a locked bedroom; Perlie (13) and Suzy (11) Brassington, and their cousins Emil (11) and Daniel (9) Gosse in a maintenance area; Langdon Foster (16) and Maria Segreti (16), locked in another maintenance area; Julia Alvars (15), a junior cadet - and thus the highest ranking member of the crew - locked in a kitchen area; Jayce Saku, 12, locked in a cafe; and Bart (10) and Stevie (2) James, hiding in their playroom. All the children had been trapped two days before; each of them had been locked in their rooms by parents, guardians, or friends.

According to the ship, the crew did not leave, nor was there any emergency; however, judging by the few blaster marks on the walls, and the ash of people burned alive in bridge, something certainly happened!

Rodney stayed behind with Lins, Silver, and Dr. Gunderson, as the rest headed to the next system - Cairn Faegle. That system was as devoid of life as the previous - most so, actually, since there was no life at all. However, they did find a new ship - a stealthy asteroid ship, built for a single person, with no jumpspace capability, but some heavy firepower. Reggie boarded it, and was able to get it back online. The ship has a rudimentary AI, still vanilla, and the only information it had was of a large ship full of Deaders attacking the Cairn Faegle. Strapping the ship to the Hephaestus, they jumped to the next location - Happy Landings.

More Deaders, swarming the station, though being barely held off; they attacked, destroying the ship hosting the creatures, and mopping up the rest with the help of the Happy Landings mercs. The battle is short and sweet, due to the heavy torpedoes of the as-yet-unnamed stealth ship.

Elise asks around for some parts; Henry says he's got a flight system, but he'll need some parts imported from Ellipsis for it. For the same deal, a little old lady named Lady Deathlok ordered a hit on Jarrod Scarbow, a pirate, arrested at Cloury Loch. Reggie, meanwhile, played a game of poker, and picked up some information on one "RK"; he used 400 credits to ask Lady Deathlok to dig up information on him, and she assured him that "Daft Marvin" will do a grand job of it.

Moving on, they arrived at the giant eyeball, Nova Gagarin, and fought off a horde of ships there. Though the ships were gone, they still had to brave some anti-aircraft friendly fire from the surface to get down. After intimidating a guard, they ran into their old friend Capt. Tkkktch Chaagggttpptt, of the Yellow Submarine; he was all too happy to help them out. It seems that the bug-people aren't affected by the feral Deaders, though humans can be turned, zombie-like. While he doesn't think it's fair, and will take away from the humans' fun, the captain agrees to call some of his relatives from the deep sea to come help. The huge sea-serpents make quick work of the feral deaders!

Blue, their old friend, asks for their help - she is joined by Red, a muscular, grumpy fellow. She explains that this whole thing isn't the Deaders' fault, but rather the Forgotten - strange, shadowy creatures that seem to be controlling things from the sidelines. That is, the same creatures that gifted Silver to them. Durst Tech may be working with the Betel Republic to control the Deaders; they might be behind some of it, or they might be trying to stop them. Either way, they need information from some of their friends.

Their little cabal is made up of people named for colors - Blue, Red, a scientist named Yellow - who blew himself up to keep some information safe, Green (who is staying in the Outer Colonies, most likely RocketTown), Gray (who is probably hiding out on Ouranos), and Chrome, a member so secretive that none of their group have ever spoken to him directly. If they could get the information from Gray and Green, they should be able to piece together enough to actually stop the deader swarm.

Blue hinted at her origin earlier, but spilled the beans more fully. Her mother was killed; hoping to save his unborn child, her father made a deal with the Deaders, who brought her mother back to life - give or take. However, through some fault of biology, the nanites that kept her mother alive infected her, as well; while she isn't a deader, per se, she is immune to feral deaders, and has heightened abilities due to the nanites in her bloodstream. Red's story didn't start the same, but reached the same result - a Modder, he got some bad hardware from a damaged deader that infected him as a teenager. The others are the same - one way or another, they were infected with Deader nanites, and are now no longer human, but a symbiont, two halves fused into a whole being.

After the Sunsport (and the children, who are now being trained under Rodney) arrived, they turn course to Ouranos, to look for Gray.

Put a Ring On It

 I realize I've not been keeping up with the blogs, and that has lead to some detail being lost - I'm working on getting it all there, though, so if you see a detail missing, let me know.

After leaving Tesseractus, they traveled two weeks to the next "interesting" place, a huge ring-world known as Vularious. Hang on - I think you may have misunderstood me. When I say this ring is huge, I don't mean that it is simply "fairly large". I mean that three Earth-sized planets could fit edge-to-edge across its inner diameter. The system consisted of the ring, and some kind of pulsing, artificial sun at the center. The ring itself is covered in enormous, complex edifices and oddly-positioned buildings; the inside of the ring appears smooth, but is littered with smaller structures, few over half a mile tall. The outside is not so "smooth", and is covered with much larger "buildings", some a thousand miles tall! However, for the massive size of the thing, there are only three colonies: two scientific camps, and one scrapper camp.

The first order of business was contacting the scientists. The group convinces the scientists that they are most likely insane, and have blown up a planet. The lead scientist seems a bit of a nervous fellow - Dr. August Whinery, of Durst Tech. He claims their base has been attacked before by the other scientists, and important equipment has been destroyed.

Borrowing a land vehicle, the group head over to the much better fortified camp nearby; this base is under the control of the much more haughty and dismissive Dr. Alexander Zhang, of the Caedfell Moons; unlike the Durst Tech guys, Zhang has military support from home, so beefier equipment than the stuff the Durst Tech mercs have access to. However, he claims that Durst Tech has been sabotaging their equipment; they moved bases, and Durst Tech followed them. Of course, they followed Durst Tech when Durst Tech moved, so it's really a big game of back and forth.

Making no progress with the scientists, the team headed "spinward", taking their ship over to the scrappers - CrapTrap Scrap City, home of the CrapTrap Scrappers. The broke, irritated scrappers, who haven't been able to get more than a few tiny scratches into the ring. As it turns out, the material is nearly impervious to normal percussive blasts, and as Elise found out, reflects disintegration beams.

The scrappers - who haven't had much contact, if any, with the scientists, claim that some of their equipment has gone missing or gotten destroyed, too. They blame it on some strange creatures that they saw once. With no better leads, the crew headed over to find these strange creatures; after some searching, they located a shadowy creature, and stopped it to communicated with it.

The creature was hard to see - they were translucent, and the light shifting though them detracted from their already cloaked appearance. Only with a combination of sensors and careful movement tracking could the creature be seen at all.

After a greeting - it seems that the creature communicated through vibrating the ground, which was then picked up by their suits - they asked the creatures if they were the ones destroying equipment. As it turns out, the creature claims they were trapped, for "1051920 days" - about 2,880 years - by the ring. They were merely trying anything they could think of to escape.

It was about that time that their newest member of the team hailed them, and said that he may have figured out what some more buttons on the control pad did. They lit up when they came near the ring, and he has a vague idea of how to turn it on... though what happens after that is anyone's guess. The crew informed the creatures, who gladly vacated the surface of the ring - apparently taking some sort of glowing ship back to the artificial sun in the middle of the ring!

The scrappers, too, were all too glad to have an excuse to leave. The scientists, on the other hand, needed some convincing. Durst Tech mostly agreed to leave, and began packing things up, but only if the Caedfell people left too; the Caedfell people refused unless the Durst Tech people left. Reggie and Nix came up with a plan to use the "warm up" procedure with their control device to send shockwaves through the ring, gradually increasing their frequency. That was enough to get the two sides moving, albeit slowly. After quite a bit of back and forth, Durst Tech left, and the Caedfell group took half their people off-ring. A few other ships from Caedfell broke ranks and left, leaving only a skeleton crew on the ring itself.

And so... they pushed the final button. A shockwave of energy wraps, finger-like, around the ring, and suddenly... the ring is gone! The control device deactivates, and they are left in a system with nothing but a handful of ships. The Durst Tech ships head towards their nearest station, while the Caedfell ships remain, trying to find where the ring went. The sun-like ship, meanwhile, zipped over to the Hephestus, thanked them, and left them a gift - an oblong, silvery object, 8 feet long by 3 feet wide, and the surface of which is exactly 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

Course was laid in for the Cube; in the 10 days of travel, the object eventually opened, revealing a strange, silver creature, some sort of android. Reggie, now a proud father, named her Silver Surfer Bridges.