(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.
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.
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.
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.