Archive for February 2015

Chapter Thirteen: Who Will Serve and Who Will Eat   Leave a comment

As the pilgrims approached the unknown planet, a series of unknown vessels appeared, bombarding the Straylight with unidentified energy. Quick diagnosis on Engineer Fannagus’s part revealed that it was radio waves—too analog for the Second Republic vessel to recognize as communication. Fannagus jury-rigged a radio transceiver and Manx replied to their hails. They identified themselves as Charioteers and escorted the starliner to Leagueheim.

leagueheim

Leagueheim (c/o deviantart)

Manx and Swindon dressed up Brother Sand’s corpse in a steward’s uniform and passed him off as their dead Charioteer pilot. However, their itinerary still had enough gaps in it—there is no known jumproute between Nowhere and Leagueheim—that the Straylight was remanded to a council of Guild functionaries for potential salvage. Manx and Fannagus talked down the Scraver and Muster representatives with little difficulty. The Engineers proved amenable to sharing the credit for any findings aboard the Second Republic vessel; the Charioteers ceded their claim once Manx convinced them the Straylight wasn’t a threat to their monopoly; and the Reeves settled for a bribe – thirty “contracts” for skilled ship’s stewards (the Symbiotes in stasis in the pool).

In the course of their negotiations, the pilgrims learned that they had been “out” for thirteen months.

Fannagus went to the Engineers’ library to begin work on the new AI logic that would stop Criticorum from being culled. When Ferizio nearly spilled the details on what Fannagus was working on to other engineers, Fannagus blew up at his young friend. The two went their separate ways in anger.

While tracking down a bent Charioteer to “pilot” the Straylight, Manx was found by some Scraver flunkies. They escorted him to Dean Toth, who furiously demanded where Manx’s son was. Manx insisted he didn’t know—that he’d been hoping to get that tidbit from the Scravers, in fact—and a few hours of heavy interrogation by some Scraver heavies convinced Toth that Manx was telling the truth.

Fannagus passed Sir Swindon while returning to the Straylight. Swindon bid his good-byes, insisting that he had to get to Ravenna to save Lady Maryam from the mental alterations that Countess Adorna had put on her. Fannagus saw him off, then powered up the bridge to continue researching the AI he carried with him. However, when he drew the familiar transparent cube from his robes, it was already glowing brilliant white. The Second Republic quantum core was communicating aerially with the Second Republic starliner and had already begun taking over its systems.

Toth brought Manx up to speed on the last year: a person or persons known as “the Iconoclast” had been striking at Guild centers throughout the Known Worlds. He believed that the Iconoclast was Manx’s son, and that Manx’s son knew the whereabouts of Caspar Chauki. That knowledge gave the Iconoclast leverage which hindered Toth’s efforts to move against him, and so he asked Manx to bring his son in. Toth was just about to offer some aid when the sound of blaster fire interrupted them.

Fannagus partitioned the database that “Arcos” was studying, trapping it. Arcos retaliated by shutting off the oxygen scrubbers. In exploring the database, Arcos had found a whole new list of worlds in need of the same “optimization” that it had started on Criticorum. Fannagus convinced the AI that it would have better luck with his help than without it, and Arcos eventually turned the air back on.

Manx recognized the commandos attacking the Scraver headquarters as the Black Service, the Muster’s off-books elite unit. He fled out the side of the building and hijacked a magnetic maintenance lifter, riding it down the outside of the two-mile skyscraper like a sled. Re-entering the building a hundred stories later, he fled through a security office, blending with the crowd until guards could engage one of the pursuing soldiers. The last soldier, Manx overpowered and drowned in an office fountain, though not before suffering a severe blaster burn.

black-service

The Black Service (c/o deviantart)

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Posted February 27, 2015 by John Perich in Uncategorized

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Chapter Twelve: The Straylight   Leave a comment

The pilgrims regained consciousness in the plush lounge of a cruise liner, adrift somewhere in space. They found that Brother Sand had somehow come with them, and that he’d been shot in the gut. He made delirious references to the snipers he’d hired shooting him to keep him out of the Gargoyle, to “serving an Empire that didn’t exist”, and to the pilgrimage being a front to get one agent (himself?) to Nowhere. Sand pressed a ring into Captain Manx’s hand, a ring that bore the same sigil that Manx had spotted on Sand’s documents on Shaprut, and died.

Fannagus and Ferizio explored the ship like children on holiday, recognizing it as Second Republic tech. They eventually figured out how to call up maps and communicate through the intercom. They made their way to the bridge and identified their current course: in orbit around an unrecognized star. Since the readouts were all in proto-Urthish and referenced planet names that had been out of vogue for a thousand years or more, the Engineers had no idea where they were. The best they could manage was the ship’s name: the Straylight.

straylight

The Straylight, out of Palimpsest
(img c/o deviantart)

Manx searched Sand’s body and found a small arsenal, vials of chemicals, and a strip of blank, striated paper. He and Sir Victor carried the body down to the banquet hall and stored it in the freezer. Throughout the ship, they found no other passengers, but evidence of a ship in use: well-maintained, stocked for guests, free of dust and wear.

Reconvening on the bridge, the pilgrims set a course for the second world orbiting the unknown star. The Engineers set about examining the ship’s logs, determining that it had been in operation 1,130 years ago, but that it hadn’t been doing anything since.

Manx and Victor discovered rows of floating bodies in the deep end of a pool in the Straylight‘s sauna. Confused at their lack of decay over so much time, they recruited the Engineers to help them examine the bodies. When Ferizio began draining the pool, the bodies sprung to life. Despite Manx’s remonstrations with a shotgun, the “bodies” clambered out of the pool and advanced on them! Manx peppered them with shotgun blasts while Fannagus ran to evade them. Ferizio got the pool refilling again with the solution that had been stabilizing the bodies. Fannagus had a close call, dragging one of the assailants into the deep end with him, but held out long enough for the weird human-like creatures to return to torpor.

Posted February 9, 2015 by John Perich in Uncategorized

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Chapter Eleven: The Gargoyle   Leave a comment

(We’re missing Chapters Nine and Ten, I know. REAL QUICK: Chapter Nine got our heroes to the Stigmata garrison, where Acolyte Gwinn turned on the heroes and abandoned the party. They made it to Nowhere, but lost their native guide and got their flitcar shot up in the dusty wastes by snipers)

Captain Manx got an entrenching tool from the repair kit strapped to the side of the flitcar and slowly dug and levered the car around, until Engineer Fannagus could pop the hood and work on the engine behind its cover. The snipers continued to pepper the car with rifle fire before going mysteriously silent. Manx dug some impromptu barricades while Fannagus jury-rigged the engine to redline to its highest gear once he got it working again. With moments to spare, the engine ground to life, and the pilgrims sped off—just as the masked snipers, led by Brother Sand, drew near.

This was the first session where we used Fate Accelerated Edition instead of my clunky homebrew. The players seemed to get the hang of invoking aspects and creating advantages pretty well.

The pilgrims rode the flitcar until the engine died, then trudged in the direction of the Gargoyle on foot. They found the titanic monument in the center of a vast dust bowl. Approaching it, they spotted an opening in the massive plinth on which the statue crouched, and cleared away the centuries of drifted dust to wade inside. Once within, Fannagus set to work puzzling out the alien markings on the walls that directed them to the Gargoyle itself, while Manx covered their tracks and left some false trail signs to steer their pursuers the wrong way.

Eventually, Manx, Fannagus, Victor, and Ferizio reached the top of the plinth, though its dimensions seemed vastly larger than what they’d perceived from the outside. Viewing the Gargoyle from below, they felt as if they were drawn into its vast, abyssal mouth. With their questions foremost in their minds, they passed into darkness.

Fannagus found himself driving down a dirt road in a pre-Republican combustion engine truck. A map on the seat next to him indicated six different stops, connected by a variety of roads. He picked what he thought was the shortest route and set off for his first stop: a small, pre-space-flight farm that nonetheless had an artificially intelligent “farm regulator” maintaining it. Rain had grown unpredictable, crops were mutating, and the cows had formed a parliament, so Fannagus got out his repair kit and fiddled with the machine’s innards to restore its settings.

Continuing to his next stop, he met a pair of salespeople from the company that installed the farm regulators, stranded by a broken-down truck: Tamara Japrisot and Alan Turing. The three of them talked shop, comparing their difficulties with various forms of AI, on the way to Fannagus’s next repair call. This next stop was much more serious than the last, however: the three found the basement of the farmhouse packed to the walls with corpses. The regulator’s AI had interpreted its mandate to supply enough food to maintain the farm’s population too literally. As the food reached zero, it corrected the population to zero.

Tamara Japrisot

Dr. Tamara Japrisot, lead researcher on the Suprema AI language. The researcher whose notes Fannagus was sent to find.

Realizing the regulator would continue culling the population, Fannagus sat down with Alan to figure out a way to fix its process. Alan revealed that (somehow) Fannagus had published a paper on how to overcome procedural dead ends in Suprema machines. Through conversation and strenuous theorizing, Fannagus realized that he could get an AI to correct a “satisfactory” (but monstrous) solution by forcing it to constantly re-evaluate “satisfactory” solutions—making it neurotic, and therefore more human. Fannagus coded the new logic cycle into the machine in the basement and rebooted it … to success! It dawned on Fannagus that a similar process could stop the quantum cube from culling six hundred million people on Criticorum. Then the world vanished.

Alan Turing

Alan Mathison Turing, OBE, FRS, was a British pioneering computer scientist, mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst, philosopher, mathematical biologist, and marathon and ultra distance runner.

Manx awoke as his son, Hal Jr., sneaking off to Criticorum on leave from his temporary job with the Muster. His pal Gobi, a Charioteer, steered him through the urban megaplex to a secret club in the depths of the arcology. They paid a steep cover to drink some local swill and be “introduced” to some local girls. Hal’s girl was an Ukari named Zahra, possessed of an attitude and a mind unlike anyone he’d ever met before. Normally a player on Aragon, he found himself at a loss.

Gobi

Gobi, Charioteer

Hal spent the entire trip with her, enchanted and yet resistant in the way that teenage boys can be. They spent as many hours discussing their differing views of the universe—Hal believing that fate and commerce had assigned everyone their proper place in society, Zahra taking a more existentialist view—as they did in carnal pursuits. Finally, Gobi came to pry Hal free and get him on a ship back to Aragon. On the way out, Hal passed a Muster squad rousting apartments for warm bodies; they raided Zahra’s tiny flat shortly after he passed. On the jump back to Aragon, Hal fell deep in reflection, realizing he wasn’t satisfied with a galaxy that could turn someone as bright as Zahra into mere chattel. Gobi offered to introduce him to a “friend” who could advance him the cash he’d need to buy out Zahra’s contract. As Hal stared into the vast abyss of stars, he was given a brief vision of a vast network of credit and debt pulsing between the populated worlds. Then, the world vanished.

Zahra

Zahra

Posted February 4, 2015 by John Perich in Uncategorized

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