What Dreams These?

What Dreams These?

Although it is a post-scarcity utopia, there are some things that even the Spiral Confederacy cannot guarantee its citizens. Ocean class spaceships, for example, 40km long and 10 km wide, require special facilities to build, and so much energy and raw materials that they cannot be built quickly enough to meet demand. Ships of this size are so rare even in the Spiral Confederacy that their citizens are not free to travel where they like, but find themselves bouncing around the Confederacy on missions and tasks that the leadership require. The Confederacy has never built a Dyson sphere, although it has constructed smaller orbitals, because the engineering challenge is too great to be worth the reward. Some technology, such as psionic amplification devices, is still so new that it requires rare elements that are hard to obtain and work with, and so although the Confederacy might in theory have the resources to produce an infinite quantity of such devices, in reality their numbers are never sufficient, and they are not distributed evenly across the Confederacy. Some commodities are limited because the Confederacy’s success has rendered it incapable of mobilizing people to do some tasks, and its strict resistance to allowing AIs into society prevents it from utilizing their prodigious intellects to replace human ingenuity. For this reason the Confederacy never has enough researchers to further its understanding of new planets or to develop new technologies, and until it admits AIs fully into its society will not be able to progress beyond Tech Level 15 at any appreciable speed. Because no one in the Confederacy has to work, real scientific endeavour has stagnated. Although the Confederacy has more stars in its borders than anyone can count, and more people orbiting those stars than it could ever catalog, it suffers from a single scarcity: A scarcity of workers.

This scarcity of willing workers means that the Confederacy suffers two particularly challenging constraints, in delivering sudden death and eternal life. Although the Confederacy is blessed with an infinite supply of the most destructive and violent weapons humans have ever seen, it lacks people to wield them; and although it has developed the technology to save human souls into computers and download them into new bodies, it lacks the medical staff and skilled workers to be able to provide this resleeving service to everyone within its borders. This technology – officially called Sentient Recapture but unofficially and everywhere referred to as “resleeving” – offers the potential for eternal life to anyone who uses it, and liberates human civilization from the fear of death. It enables a human soul, with all its personality and memories, to be stored digitally, and reimplanted into the empty mind of a cloned body. This technology is enormously costly, however, for two reasons: AI attack, and human genetic caprice. Because AIs are excluded from human society, and creep around the fringes of its computer systems, colonizing them and using the human information architecture as parasites use a host body, all major computer systems in the Confederacy have to be built with protection against AI intrusion. Although no one has any evidence that it has ever happened, fear of AI inserting themselves into human stored consciousness, potentially using resleeved humans as experiments in organic AI tech, require that the digital storage sites for backed-up souls be heavily guarded against AI intrusion. Since the primary defense against AI attack is a physically huge computer system with multiple redundant physical structures and huge quantities of highly advanced anti-intrustion software, human download sites are physically massive, use huge amounts of power, and require the constant presence of technicians to monitor the systems. They simply cannot be expanded rapidly enough to accomodate all the humans in their local area, and so some mechanism is needed to ensure that only some privileged people receive this technology.

Similarly, war cannot be fought by AIs, and the Confederacy has put strict limits on robot technology to ensure AIs cannot infect robot soldiers and suddenly uplift them to artificial intelligence. This means that ultimately the Confederacy will rely on physical, human soldiers to do the old-fashioned work of killing enemies – and although it is a utopia, the Confederacy has many enemies. The Confederacy also relies on humans to do some medical work, to do much of its scientific research, and to manage distant space stations and territories. Even if it were willing to work with AIs, AI cannot travel through jump space, so ultimately inter-stellar force projection and border control depends on mobile, committed and well-trained humans. But in the Spiral Confederacy work is considered a bother – people only work for fun, never because they need to, and this principle is so central to the Confederacy’s self-conception that it can never be trained.

The Confederacy’s leaders have solved this problem by offering special rewards to those who serve it voluntarily. These rewards usually take the form of those scarce technologies that are still not ubiquitous even after 20,000 years of constant growth. If someone is willing to spend 10 years running a remote research station she will be given her own starship, so they may fly where they will; if a psionic is willing to spend a couple of years doing field work on a remote planet occupied by semi-sentient psionic lizard creatures, he will be given an amplification device and training in new disciplines. And if someone joins up for the Confederate army and actually goes near a war zone, they will be given a backup. Of course the Confederacy has other means to get people to work – from threats of prison to simple old-fashioned propaganda – but in the end it knows that where principles and a desire for adventure fail, basic rewards will work.

This means that there are really only three reasons that anyone joins the Confederate army: they are a true believer in the Confederate cause; they want to kill people; or they want to live forever. Most of the billions who join the Confederate army will never see action, instead spending a couple of boring years on a space station somewhere before returning to civilian life, perhaps now possessed of some minor reward that will forever set them apart from their peers. But should they be unlucky enough to see actual combat, they will get to enjoy all three of the motivations at once: They will kill many people for the cause, and they will be granted eternal life. All soldiers heading into the field are given a backup, and guaranteed a resleeve in the same body should they die or suffer any injury so serious that they cannot be restored to full health. There are soldiers in the Confederate army who have multiple posthumous medals (and were at the award ceremony for all of them); no Confederate soldier can ever remember the moment of their death, but every soldier who dies receives the coveted broken heart award, that sets them apart from their peers as particularly dedicated to their work (and especially unlucky).

This compact of eternal life makes the Confederate soldier an implacable and fearsome foe, dedicated to the cause he or she has signed up for and committed to killing for it. No soldier ever need fear death, and because most Confederate citizens are genetically engineered to have a euthanasia switch they can engage during periods of prolonged suffering, no soldier need fear torture. Among Confederate soldiers death isn’t just the highest sacrifice – it’s a sacrifice they can live to brag about, though only their peers will be able to tell them how they died. Confederate soldiers do not seek death, but they happily embrace it when the mission demands it. Confederate leaders also know that they can send their soldiers on suicide missions, and throw away whole divisions in reckless gambits or desperate moves. Such sacrifices need only be judged on their merits, as logistical and tactical problems, not on moral grounds. For the enemies of the Confederacy this adds a terrifying additional calculus to every battle. As if it weren’t enough that their opponents carry the best weapons and armour in known space, they do not relent in their use of those weapons or shirk from even the hardest of battles. An enemy of the Confederacy cannot expect to win by forcing their enemy to pay too steep a price – they must entirely exterminate their enemy, or fail.

It is always the case that foolish warmongers fail to properly assess the risks of the war they decided to wage, and so of course reckless rebels or jealous outsiders will attempt war with the Confederacy, thinking that this time they have a strategy that will ensure the price is so high that they will force this vast confederation of uncaring stars to come to some settlement. But then an Ocean class battleship drops a million dedicated soldiers onto their planet, and refuses to even consider negotiation after half a million have died. Seeing such recklessness, the rebel presses the attack even as his or her own losses mount, thinking that the back of that force must break, but still the only official communiques from the Confederacy are surrender requests. The Confederates gain ground, and the rebel’s position begins to become precarious. They suggest a ceasefire, and in return they are given an offer of total capitulation. As their own losses grow their own political support wavers, people begin to fear the insanity of the Confederate strategy. Who can argue with people who are not afraid to die? Every battle they see thousands of their enemy die, and yet they lose every battle. Every culture that has been to war has some version of a story about pyrrhic victories, but it seems that the Confederacy can sustain a thousand pyrrhic victories and never waver in its certainty that it will win. The confidence of the aggressor wavers, and they suggest a negotiated settlement; the Confederate general refuses to accept anything less than the immediate execution of war criminals and unconditional surrender, disarmament, humiliation. The rebel’s generals report that morale is good among the enemy’s soldiers, though they have lost 70% of their number. Another battle, a major city falls, a conquered country’s neighbours switch sides. Political support collapses, and the tumbrils take the warmonger to meet his new Confederate executioners.

On the frontier, the lesson is always the same: there is no use in arguing with people who cannot die.

A note on ideas: I picked up the term “resleeve” and most of the associated ideas from the Richard Morgan book Altered Carbon, which I reviewed here. This sci-fi vision has been something of a fixture in my gaming: the quotes from the Dialectic Ephmeralists that Drew became fond of in the New Horizon cyberpunk Campaign were all drawn from Quellchrist Falconer, a political visionary in Morgan’s books. I don’t do anything original when I game.

What? What is it?

And oh my love remind me, what was it that I said?
I can’t help but pull the stars around me, to make my bed
And oh my love remind me, what was it that I did?
Did I drink too much?
Am I losing touch?
Did I build this ship to wreck?

-Traditional poem of the pirates of The Reach

In their most recent adventures in the Reach, our heroes managed to create a major incident in the Bones, a particularly unsavoury part of the pirate system known as The Reach, and in so doing learnt that the death priest they had killed was entangled in some ancient story of AIs and betrayal. They had discovered that 1000 years ago the leader of a cult of adherents had traveled to the Gardens on a secret mission, and then fled suddenly with the cult’s AI, both of them abandoning the system in a sub-light vessel and heading to a nearby star system to hide. The death priest they killed had been digging up bodies in the same part of the Reach and torturing the souls of the long dead for information on a thing called “the ansible”, so naturally the PCs guessed that the cult leader had fled with information about it, and determined to follow.

They learnt from their new follower Sue the Unbroken that the leader had fled to an abandoned observation post called Rocannon’s World, in the remnant system Perez, and headed there as soon as they could. Perez was too far for their tiny utility ship to reach, but they could pass through the system of Slainte, a near-uplift system with a major starport carved into one of the remnant planet’s moons. On arrival they were shocked to discover hundreds of naval ships in-system, including the much-feared Blindhammer and the enormous Ocean-class battleship the Rubicon, and began desperately searching the system for the Reckless. Fortunately the navy hadn’t arrived for any purpose in connection with the PCs’ irrelevant mission, and weren’t gathering for an attack on the Reach; they were preparing a major battle further out on the frontier.

Lam, the group’s pilot, is an ex-naval officer, and was able to identify a ship she used to serve on, the cruiser Notes From the Fallen. She had spent a year on this ship, cloistered in the tiny crew area with 11 other men and women while they engaged pirates on the edge of the Rim, and she was eager to catch up with them. She put in a call and the cruiser docked with the space port to allow a little R&R. The Notes from the Fallen is a 300m long beast comprised entirely of engines and weaponry, its crew forced into a tiny living area in the very centre of the ship, and everyone on board took any chance to get portside and stretch their legs. They met Lam in a bar called Moonfall, and toasted her independence in the local brew, a vile seaweed-based liquor that is always drunk so cold it almost burns the throat. They had spent the last year hunting rebels on the frontier, tracking isolated ships through asteroid fields in long-forgotten systems, a game of cat-and-mouse that inevitably ended the way all such games end, with the mouse crushed and the cat barely sated, until they were called away for this new mission into a different frontier. They had no gossip for Lam or any information about anything relevant to her group’s mission; their job was simply to destroy any automated defense systems that might resist psionic attack, and they doubted they would even get a chance to fire a weapon in a fleet this size. Mostly they were there for show – the Blindhammer could destroy the combined fleets of every rebel system on the frontier without pausing to reload, and if they really needed it the Rubicon could bomb an entire planet to ruins. If they were lucky they would get to blow up a communications satellite, but as far as they were concerned this was a holiday, and they hadn’t been paying attention to the details.

Lam returned to the Come As you Are no wiser to any salient details of their mission, so they decided not to dally. They jumped out to Perez.

As good a place as any to die

As good a place as any to die

The Starred One

They reached Perez in one week, finding a system with a tiny star port hanging over a remnant planet on the edge of uplift, and another, much older observation post on the edge of the system. This post appeared to be shut down, and had been overlooked in favor of more modern stations further in-system. The PCs approached this ancient observation post cautiously, but it appeared to be mostly silent, nothing active or moving except a few flashing red proximity lights. The station consisted of a simple spindle running through a single habitation disc, the most basic of observation outposts. It had a single ship docked, a huge vehicle composed mostly of engines that must surely be the sub-light vessel that the leader had hijacked to come here. That vessel was completely empty and silent, and scans revealed a primitive vessel with no signs of life or even computer activity.

They docked, and with some trepidation entered the station. Simon Simon, using his new Stealth grace, was able to activate doors and docking procedures without drawing the attention of the AI they suspected was hiding in the space station, so they were able to enter and turn on the lights without any challenge. The hallway from the docking area into the main chamber of the station was silent and cold, and the atmosphere seemed breathable, but it had a chilling strangeness about it. On one wall someone had smeared, in red paint

Hello Silence

and on the other wall

my old friend

Someone checked, and confirmed for once that it was not human blood or anything else creepy – just very old, crumbling red paint. They advanced.

The station was a simple structure, a single walkway curving around the outside of the station and a small cluster of rooms nestled inside it. They began walking around the walkway, looking for the main ventral corridor that would take them to the key rooms. Their vacc suit torches showed them that strange things had been done to the walls and ceiling of this hallway – the ceiling had been coated with phosphorescent stick-on stars, and the walls covered in red hand prints that crumbled to dust when anyone touched them.

They advanced cautiously, but not cautiously enough. As the ventral corridor emerged into view, two hovering drones emerged from the corridor and opened fire. They ducked back around the curve of the hallway but two more drones attacked from behind. Caught against the curve of the hallway, they opened fire with everything they had, and managed to destroy all four drones without taking more than moderate damage themselves. When the gunfire and smoke ceased, Alva and Simon Simon were gasping in pain but they were mostly still safe.

They advanced into the ventral corridor. This corridor stretched from one side of the station to the other, passing through all the living and science areas of the station – all the doors opening into this corridor gave access to all the important rooms in the entire station. They were moving towards the first of these when the wall exploded outward and a massive, angry robot stumbled into the corridor. This robot was constructed of all the rubbish and equipment of a scientific station: its body was made of tables, chairs and coffee machines, its arms built of cables and bedding and even a microwave oven. On one arm was a huge blade that appeared to have been carved out of a steel optics bench, and in the other a huge machine gun. Its head was a speaker surrounded by the dark plastic nodules of cctv camera housings. From the speaker came a roar of distortion and static, and it attacked.

Ahmose moved forward to take it in single combat as the others opened fire with auto rifle and laser. The robot was screaming in galactic standard language, its voice horribly distorted by feedback and static but recognizable as the smooth, calm voice of a space station announcement system. Whatever mad sentience drove this creature had taken the announcements from the space station system and rearranged them into deranged muzak versions of ancient poems. It quoted monologues on revenge and anger from famous poets from all across the known planets, screaming them out from the overpowered public announcement speaker in its face as it swept its sword at Ahmose. After it hit her it screamed, in unevenly spaced distorted announcer-woman words

They think our heads are in their hands
But violent use brings violent plans
Keep him tied, it makes him well
He’s getting better, can’t you tell

Ahmose, staggered, fell back, but Alva pressed a stun stick into her hands. Simon Simon used his scrying grace and computer skills to hack into the things eyes and blind them, at the same time as Ahmose hit it with the stun stick. Where their weapons had deflected from layers of armour and useless garbage covering, the stun stick penetrated straight to its electric core, driving it crazy. It staggered back and opened fire wildly with its machine gun. Ahmose pressed the advantage, but in the hail of bullets Simon Simon went down. More blows with the stun stick and the beast finally fell, coruscating with sparks and impotent screaming rage. They poured fire into it until it stopped twitching and screaming.

What is it?

With the AI’s main weapon disabled they were able to explore the remains of the station comfortably. They found several rooms where the scientists lived and relaxed, all ransacked for parts for the warrior-machine, which had clearly been constructed by a servitor robot they found in the remains of the cafeteria. They moved cautiously into the main control room, where they found the adherent who had come here with his AI. His dessicated corpse sat in a chair looking at a huge set of screens, an empty glass on the floor on one side of the chair and a discharged slug pistol on the other. On a desk in front of him was a single object: A slim grey tablet, about two hands in size, inert and inscrutable. It surface, sides and back were completely smooth and unbroken except for a single hole in one side, which appeared to be a slot for something.

All the screens in the room were activated, showing one of two images. On half of them the words “What is it?!” scrolled constantly, flashing in different sizes and fonts. On the other half was a slowly revolving three dimensional model of an irregularly-shaped object, which perfectly corresponded with the shape of the hole in the tablet.

Ahmose and Alva recognized that object instantly. It was the exact same shape and size as the mysterious crystal they had been engaged to obtain from an asteroid in the Dune system, when they first met.

They had held a 1000 year-old secret in their hand, and gave it away to some gangster called Mr. Kong in exchange for a worthless voucher for a backup service.

Shaking their heads in disappointment, they took the tablet and left. Simon Simon shut down the power for the AI, and they took its memory in case they would need it later. Carrying the mysterious tablet and the secret of its missing part, they returned to Slainte.

An offer you can't refuse

What games are these?

The Left Hand of Darkness

On Slainte they had to spend a week resting. Some of them needed healing, and everyone wanted to let off steam in a real Confederate space port, so they took their time here. After two days on the port they received an invitation to an evening meal from a strange man called Dathrak Khan Sevelid 3 of Mithrandir. The invitation was to a hangar, with a dress code (party) and a weapons code: Optional. They investigated this Dathrak Khan and discovered that he was a scion of some noble family on a distant remnant planet, who had used his connections and wealth before uplift to ensure he got the most he could out of the Confederacy after uplift. His reputation was slightly scandalous, since he retained a lot of his remnant ways and didn’t bother conforming to the strange customs of the core; he was old enough to have resleeved several times but had made a point of resleeving only into remnant bodies, adopting none of the sophisticated biology of the Core except for the enhanced sexual function. Famously charming, this man had a body that still sported hair and still sweated in a primitive fashion, but despite this his parties and social events were enormously popular. He was also rich, even by confederate standards.

Intrigued, they attended his party in their finest formal wear, carrying only light weapons. They were greeted by a barely-dressed woman carrying a vaping bowl, already obviously very high, who welcomed them effusively and gestured them inside. She led them through an entry area and into a hangar that looked out over the scarred grey surface of the moon-sized spaceport. The hangar itself was a huge space carved out of the rock of the moon, field effectors holding air in and keeping the temperature even. The far doors of the hangar were large enough for a small ship to pass through, and indeed there was a ship in the hangar – a beautiful, lethal black sliver of high-tech luxury, beneath the nose of which was set out a dining table and chairs big enough for a party of about 12. A woman was sprawled over two of the chairs, giggling, and in another chair sat a slim, handsome man in a slightly unorthodox suit.

In the corners of the hangar stood guards in full battle dress, heavy machine guns in hand.

As they entered the man stood up and sashayed towards them, carrying himself with a casual arrogance and obvious awareness of his own beauty. He greeted them all by name, introduced himself as Dathrak Khan Sevelid 3 of Mithrandir (“my friends call me DK, or Doctor Khan – do as you will!”) and welcomed them all to his table. The woman disappeared to get drinks and drugs, barely functional through her giggles, and within moments servitors were emerging with plates of delicious-looking food. A few more young men and women joined them, all high on various vapes, and soon DK himself was sampling from a range of steaming bowls. The PCs kept their wits about them, until eventually DK revealed the purpose of his invitation.

“Allow me to introduce you to your new ship, the Left Hand of Darkness. Darkness, say hello.”

The ship greeted them in a smooth, professional-sounding woman’s voice. “Hello new masters. I look forward to serving you.”

Lam went into rapture, and charged to the ship, all further thought of rational conversation forgotten. Against the backdrop of Lam’s exclamations of joy and rapid-fire questions, or statements about the ship, DK laid out his terms: He would give them full ownership of the Left Hand of Darkness, a Tech Level 14 ship straight from the Core’s best factories, if they would give him the body of the dead remnant from Dune that they were carrying with them. He didn’t ask for the living one, only the dead one; in exchange, they would be full legal owners of the Left Hand of Darkness, no questions asked or conditions. He was, he told them, attempting to procure the body for a collector of rare and unique galactic items.

They asked for a few days to think about it. He agreed, but everyone at the party knew exactly what would happen.

Hello darkness my old friend

Hello darkness my old friend

The shadow of the hunter (is the last thing that the mouse sees)

Of course they agreed. Ahmose observed that there was nothing else they could do, since DK no doubt intended to get the body one way or another, and at least this way they could get some benefit and some chance of tracking the collector. They decided to hand over the body, but that Alva would attempt to read DK’s mind when they did so, to find out who this mysterious collector was. Two days later they returned to the hangar with the body of the dead remnant, to find DK waiting. They handed over the remnant, and DK gave them the ownership certificates. After they had exchanged a few pleasantries, Ahmose said to DK

“I know there’s no point in asking this, but I can’t help myself. Who is the collector who is so interested in this body?”

Of course DK waved a demurring hand, laughed and said something about how everyone knows such trade secrets are never shared. As he did so Alva probed his surface thoughts, and took out the information they wanted.

The collector was an AI. Its name: The shadow of the hunter (is the last thing that the mouse sees).

They left in possession of a new, beautiful ship, and a strange new secret.





The Spiral Confederacy is a huge, galaxy-spanning civilization of thousands of systems, linked by a tenuous faster-than-light technology that strongly proscribes the way that these systems interact. Space travel and its associated technologies has liberated the people of the Spiral Confederacy from scarcity or poverty, so that everyone has everything they will ever need; the associated technologies have led to marvels of engineering such as space elevators, orbitals, and spaceships of vast scale and almost infinite power. Unchallenged by any rival (and strangely devoid of alien competitors …), the Spiral Confederacy enjoys incredible achievements in space technology, and its citizens are free to travel across a dizzying array of systems. The physics of space travel, however, includes some strict limitations that put strange conditions on the freedoms that Confederate citizens enjoy, and as much as this physics has liberated society from its old limits, it has also shaped the way that the citizens of the Confederacy interact with each other.

Space travel in the Confederacy is powered by two kinds of physics: the physics of sub-space and the metaphysics of jump space. This post describes these physics and their consequences, and also the basic structure of all Confederate ships. It also describes the relationship between the physics of the Confederacy and its strangest components: psions, priests, and AI.

Sub-space: The finite power of fields and drives

Sub-space physics is the physics of a kind of substrate to the structure of space and time, which can be manipulated to induce temporary changes in the geometry of the space-time continuum. This can make places far apart suddenly become very close, or it can change the structure of physical space. This is the basis of field technology, which enables the creation of invisible fields in real space that are harder than glass, or the manipulation of objects at a distance with a new force that resembles gravity but is completely under the control of its creator. This is the technology that enables the Confederacy to project electrical energy over vast distances without crossing the intervening space, so that in Confederate star systems electricity is accessed remotely, as if fields of electricity were a kind of Wi-Fi. This technology is also the source of power for the Reach, but it operates at a higher level that no one in the Confederacy understands, drawing power directly from the sun and siphoning it to the different pearls.

Sub-space technology cannot exert its influence faster than the speed of light, so it cannot be used to transmit information faster than the speed of light, and does not break certain basic principles of relativity theory. It is also affected by gravity and affects gravity, and in general operating sub-space technologies in a gravity well is more difficult than in the clean expanse of space, so for example field technology on planets tends to require more energy and be less effective than it is in space. Nonetheless, sub-space technology suffuses all of everyday life in the Confederacy, enabling the transfer of power without cables or cords, miniaturization of fusion power, anti-gravity and levitation for flyers and personal transport, and of course sub-light space travel without reaction mass.

Jump space: The strange metaphysics of the Other

While sub-space physics manipulates the topology of the real world, jump space physics removes objects from the real world into an alternate space where the rules of physics simply do not apply. In jump space one can travel at many thousands of times the speed of light, because light does not exist. The physics of jump space is not well understood, and it is in many ways an extremely limited technology. Transition into jump space usually requires approximately a week of time – one cannot leave early, and one cannot leave later – and it seems to operate in defined quanta of speed: in that one week one can travel up to one parsec, or two parsecs, and so on, with the faster movement requiring more sophisticated technology and greater energy. Although the means to create this step into different levels of jump space has been developed, the underlying physics is not really understood, and jump space technology is not used for anything else.

Jump technology has several strange quirks that cause many people to consider it as a form of metaphysics rather than a serious physical concept. Firstly, entering jump space requires an incredibly complex series of calculations that can only be done in real time by a powerful computer; but it also requires human willpower, and no object can enter jump space unless it is connected to a human will. Furthermore, non-human sentience – or at least, machine sentience – does not seem to be able to survive jump space. AI sent into jump space always either die or go insane, and this simple fact has prevented AI from effectively colonizing the solar systems of the Confederacy – they need to travel between systems only as memory in the possession of a human adherent, and cannot spread without human help. Finally, jump space has a strange effect on humans and computers that use it, which no one can fully understand, so that it is dangerous to reenter jump space immediately after emergence. This effect, called the jump wake, causes computers to malfunction and humans to lose the power to astrogate, leading to mis-jumps and sometimes complete loss of the ship, which is assumed to disappear permanently in the jump space. Typically one must wait about a week after jumping before one can jump again if one is using the same navigator and computer. More skilled navigators can recover in less time, and better computers can also recover sooner, but usually one has to spend a week letting the jump wake pass before one can attempt to jump again in the same ship.

Jump space can be used to send information faster than the speed of light, but this information transfer occurs in two week steps due to the time spent in jump space and the jump wake. In a society as physically widespread as the Confederacy this means that information and news travel only slowly between planets, and systems off of major trade routes will often be years behind on key political movements in the core. Indeed, it has been calculated that if a major alien force were to attack one edge of the Confederacy it would be approximately a minimum of 8 years before every system in the Confederacy knew of the attack, assuming optimal information transfer strategies. Normal news, of course, travels far more slowly than this, so that planets on one side of the Confederacy can be experiencing an art movement long after it has been discredited in the planet where it started. Such are the fundamental limits to cultural exchange imposed by the jump drive.

Physics, psions and priests

Psionics enables humans to cross vast distances in the blink of an eye and to interact with the physical world using just their minds. It is widely believed that psionic power simply enables humans to directly manipulate sub-space using their mind. This means that psions are not believed to be able to do things that could not be done using sub-space technology, and it also means that psions cannot propagate effects faster than the speed of light. One implication of this theory is that it is theoretically possible to design a machine that could use sub-space technology to, for example, read minds; it is possible that AIs could develop such a machine given enough time and psions willing to assist them.

In contrast, priests are able through their faith to perform acts of magic that would be impossible for either psions or any known technology, including transmitting information faster than the speed of light. This means that, for example, a priest with the correct invocation can communicate with another priest on the other side of the galaxy, instantly. This power is necessary for artifacts and magic items designed by priests to operate when the priest is not present, since these items must be tied to the priest’s will but will operate even when the priest is not present. Scientists generally accept that through their faith priests are somehow empowered to access some aspect of jump space in performing their invocations, and thus are able to break basic laws of relativity. This implies that no machine will ever be able to reproduce priest magic, at least until the Confederacy develops the technology to send unoccupied ships and drones into jump space.

There are many research projects underway in the Confederacy to understand the relationship between psionics and priest magic, so that psions can gain the powers used by priests, and also so that sub-space and jump space physics can be better understood, to improve space ship design.

How spaceships work

Spaceships have four key components:

  • Miniaturized fusion reactor: Spaceships draw power from fusion reactors, which themselves use sub-space technology to miniaturize the power source, containing the entire plasma system in as small a volume as possible. A reactor a couple of cubic metres in size will provide power for a 50m long scout ship or basic utility vessel, and the power available scales exponentially with size. Larger ships will use multiple smaller reactors for redundancy, and larger reactors for military vessels with shields and weapons. Since both sub-light drives and jump drives consume huge amounts of power the size of the reactor depends heavily on the speed and jump distance the ship is capable of.
  • Sub-space drive: The sub-space drive uses sub-space technology to power the ship through normal material space. The drive functions by bending space-time around the ship so that it can move large distances without ejecting reaction mass, thus liberating the ship from the need to carry large amounts of fuel to eject from normal reaction drives. Because the sub-space drive breaks some aspects of Newtonian physics, it enables the ship to perform in strange ways. For example, sub-space drives do not accelerate smoothly, but simply place the ship in a higher state of movement automatically. This effect works primarily upon the plane on which the engine lies, and so smaller ships use smaller drives on movable planes to control steering; larger ships simply make right-angled turns, or have sub-space drives pointing in many directions. Engines are aligned on a plane because the act of suddenly changing speed in this way generates large amounts of exotic sub-atomic particles, which decay into physical space to produce light and heat, and ships need to be designed to ensure that this decay product is generated outside the ship. Some larger ships capture the decay product in field manifolds and use it for other purposes, but smaller and utility ships typically are designed simply to vent this nuisance heat and light. The result of this for most smaller ships is that mobility is best on a single axis, and manoeuvrability depends heavily on the smaller coaxial engines. Engine power and manoeuvrability is affected by gravity, and most ships used in the Core are assumed to always be able to travel between spaceports, so are not designed to enter significant gravity wells or atmosphere. A sub-space drive capable of operating in such circumstances usually has a different design, and such ships will also have shielding and aerodynamics to aid in steering, since the smaller coaxial engines will tend to be highly inefficient in atmosphere.
  • Jump space drive: The jump drive is usually small in comparison to the sub-space drive, and is located in the centre of the ship near the main computer. Some larger ships will have more than one to ensure redundancy, but the components and technology of a jump drive are rare and advanced even by Confederate standards, so most ships usually have a single jump drive at the lowest necessary rating. Jump drives are rated 1 to 6, with the number indicating the maximum number of parsecs the drive can travel in one week (one parsec is 3.26 light years). Most Confederate ships are jump 1-3; military ships can sometimes handle jump 4. Jump 5-6 is an exotic technology, valuable even by post-scarcity standards and rare in the Confederacy. The Confederacy maintains a series of communications lines called strategic leys that run centrally through the key axes of Confederate space, linking key rim systems at opposite ends of the Confederacy through the Core. These strategic leys are stocked with several jump 6 ships, with extra ships at regular intervals, so that key information can be transmitted across the Confederacy at maximum speed. Even so, moving one message more than 20 light years in two weeks requires the presence of two jump 6 ships, incredibly value vehicles even by Confederate standards. It is rumoured that the Confederacy maintains a small corps of priests scattered across its reaches, capable of instant communication, as a backup for emergencies, but this rumour is generally derided as fantastical – typically the Confederacy transmits information through very fast, efficient ships run by the communications corp.
  • Field effector: Every ship is capable of broadcasting energy outside the ship, to provide energy to ship’s boats, laser rifles, welders and other small peripherals. Some ships maintain an atmosphere around the hull, held against the hull by an external field, and many ships also maintain external shields to prevent impact from small objects or weapons. All ships maintain a minimal field to deflect debris. These fields are maintained by the field effector, another form of sub-space technology usually located near the power plant. Some ships have multiple specialized field effectors (e.g. shield effectors, basic field effectors, and in-atmosphere anti-gravity effectors). The field effector also ensures regular gravity on the ship even when it is undergoing intense in-atmosphere manoeuvres. To function as a properly self-contained vehicle all ships must have a field effector, and no Confederate ship is built without one.

Because Confederate ships use miniaturized fusion reactors and have no need for reaction mass, they need little fuel and only refuel rarely. They can usually refuel through splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen, or by scooping from a gas giant, but usually they refuel in a couple of minutes at each space port they enter. For basic life support and for their food fabricators, most ships also carry a form of fuel called a slug, a large block of material containing all the key elements necessary to fabricate food and water for the crew for a couple of months; the chemical fabricators in the ship then convert this slug into basic food and pharmaceuticals. Most ships stock real food and other goods, but fall back on the slug in survival situations or when a crew member requires a product not in the cargo manifest. Human and food waste is recycled into the slug. This ensures that stranded ships are able to last for months to years before the crew begin to starve.

Typically, the only limit on the use of a Confederate ship is the jump wake, and the crew’s willingness to live in close quarters for long periods of time.

Example Ship: The Blindhammer

The Blindhammer is a Lake-class battleship that has never been defeated in its 100 years of active service. Lake-class ships are the perfect size for maximum maneouvrability, being large enough for a significant power and engine structure, but too small for their mass to interfere with the operation of the engines, and the Blindhammer is a perfect example of lethal agility. Five kilometres long, 2 kilometres wide and 1 kilometre deep, it is a little small for a Lake-class battleship, but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in brutal power. With a crew of 24, the Blindhammer‘s structure is devoted almost entirely to powerplants, engines and weaponry. The crew live in an expansive series of mansions atop the ship, covered by a blister of atmosphere, but the rest of the ship is unblemished by human design concerns. Its huge engines are capable of accelerating the ship from a standing start to 0.1c (10% of the speed of light) in a couple of minutes, and it is capable of jump 4. Traditionally the Blindhammer has the best astrogaters and computers available in the Rim, and so is usually capable of a second jump within 1-3 days of exiting jump, making it capable of traveling 25 light years in just over two weeks – equivalent to a jump 6 ship with a lesser navigator. Unlike larger Ocean- or Peninsula-class ships the Blindhammer does not have munitions fabricators, so cannot change weapons during transit to the battlefield, so instead the Blindhammer is equipped with a versatile array of weapons. Devoted to interstellar combat, the Blindhammer does not have any weapons for orbital bombardment. It also does not sacrifice mobility or jump distance in order to maintain a force of marines for boarding, as does for example the Reckless (another Lake-class battleship). The Blindhammer has one role, which it performs very well: fleet destruction.

The Blindhammer‘s typical strategy is a simple and highly effective application of advanced Confederate technology to destroy opposing fleets. It jumps into a system, identifies the position of the fleet, and immediately fires off a pattern of attacks from its huge array of laser weapons. Simultaneously it spins up to a near-Einsteinian speed, typically a large percentage of the speed of light, laying down more patterns of fire as its targeting computers gather more information on the movement of the local fleet and the likely evasive action they will take after first contact. Once at high speed it initiates a series of evasive manoeuvres, executing 90 or 180 degree turns at random using its coaxial engines. Usually the enemy fleet learns of its existence at about the same time as most of the fleet is turned to ash; any survivors will lay down fire patterns on assumed trajectories that the Blindhammer is not following, although such details hardly matter – no fleet has ever penetrated its shields and armour, on the rare occasion that their weapons hit it before they are destroyed. The Blindhammer then enters the immediate battle space at some percentage of the speed of light, destroying remaining ships while setting a trajectory for a new jump point, and jumps out before the planetary authorities have received a report of the destruction of their fleet. Usually, most of the thousands of crew in the opposing fleet will die before they know they are under attack, and the remaining crews will have at most a few minutes of panic before they, too, burn. Fragmented communications from the dying ships will likely reach the planetary command station at about the same time as the Blindhammer jumps out of the system.

A week later, while the investigation into the destruction of the system’s entire battle fleet is still under way, the main body of the invasion fleet arrives. Negotiation commences …

Hard scrabble

Hard scrabble

After the PCs rescued the Cult of the Unredeemed in the Reach, they decided to find the AI that the cult used to worship. This AI had fled to an abandoned space station called Rocannon’s World, in far orbit off of a remnant planet in the Perez system. The Perez system was out of their reach, but they could get to it by jumping through the Slainte system. The Slainte system is the last major Confederate presence in the frontier before the systems become truly wild, and is host to a major star port that serves as a gathering point for adventurers and contact units heading into the wilds of the frontier.

The space port in Slainte is a huge, sprawling complex that serves the needs of hundreds of ships every year. The only habitable planet, Slainte 2, has four moons, the smallest of which is little bigger than an asteroid. This moon, in close orbit around the planet, was hollowed out and converted into a starport by the Confederacy soon after they discovered the system. It is about 400 km long, 50 km wide and 80km deep, a rough obloid of malleable rock with a rugged, mountainous surface pitted with craters and canyons. To save space the Confederacy did not install power generators in the moon, instead choosing to build a system of solar panels around the sun, and to beam the energy directly back to the moon. As a result the moon has extensive living and merchant space, as well as about 300 docks, huge storage space, and room to host space ships up to Forest class. Not that any spaceships of that size would choose to visit this backwater …

The Slainte system is a collection of five small planets circling a weak main-stream star. Two are empty rocks, one a small gas giant, and the only inhabited system is a small planet at the edge of the habitable zone, Slainte 2. Slainte 2 is a frozen planet, its entire surface covered in ice and snow, with no free-standing water. It has a population of 9500, living in widely scattered settlements in the equatorial zone. It is a remnant planet, and the population is close to uplift, but remain largely stranded in their frozen home while they adjust to the reality of intergalactic civilization. Fortunately this adaptation is not difficult for the population of Slainte 2, because they have retained their knowledge of technology, and their society was tech level 10 when the Confederacy found it. They would already have achieved stellar travel, but the tiny population of their planet prevented them from the major construction projects required for the initial leap into stellar society. Instead, their society focused on bioengineering, pharmaceuticals, and materials technology to make life in their frozen wilderness safer.

Life on Slainte 2 is harsh. The planet lacks easily-accessible natural resources, with the rocky core buried under kilometres of ice, and there are few naturally-occurring sources of food. Basic requirements for modern civilization, such as silicon and iron, are difficult to obtain and require huge expense of resources. Before the Confederacy arrived the people of Slainte 2 lived in a precarious state of near-collapse, divided among 10 tiny communities that each had specialist roles: one would dig for silicon, spending much of their human resources on maintaining an open mine through the ice, while another would harvest minerals from the chill waters under the ice, and another would farm algae for hydrocarbons. Resources were strictly rationed and all aspects of life carefully monitored and controlled, but with such a small population it was not possible to waste even a single life, so the society developed naturally into a civil service bureaucracy, in which social change was rare and all aspects of life were managed by a small clique of technocrats. Entry into this clique was through merit only, and the society maintained the status quo through strict roles and very little inequality. The strict resource constraints also meant that Slainte 2 had strict attitudes towards sex – procreation was seen as a rare and special privilege, and sex viewed as purely a mechanistic part of life, divorced from the creation of new people. But with such a small population sexual tensions were potentially fatal, and the population developed an intense culture of privacy and shame about sex, so that when the Confederacy found them they were ripe for exploitation by the worldly (and, many would say, cynical) hedonists of that society. Fortunately the Confederate blockade has enabled the people of Slainte 2 to slowly adapt to the realities of confederate life, while slowly expanding the resources on their planet. They have been gifted with many tools to help with their survival in the ice, and their world is changing rapidly to open up new horizons for its population. The people of Slainte 2 have welcomed the Confederacy with open arms.

The same cannot be said of their near neighbours.

Don't cross me

Don’t cross me

Military maneouvres in the Black

The PCs were expecting a small naval presence associated with the Slainte starport, but when they jumped into the system they encountered an entirely different phenomenon. As soon as they arrived hundreds of green proximity alerts sounded, indicating the presence of ships in-system. Almost all of these alerts were for military ships, and checking their visual screens the PCs could see the situation – a huge armada of navy ships spread out across their field of view. For a brief moment they panicked, thinking that their secret human trafficking mission had again entangled them in trouble.

When a ship arrives in-system a strange kind of tactic follows. Ships already in system have been broadcasting information, which will reach the ship when it arrives, so usually as soon as a ship arrives in a system its crew get a warning about all the other ships present. But because jump zones are on the edge of the system, the in-coming ship is usually at least light-minutes away from the resident ships. This means that anyone arriving in a system has several minutes in which to assess the situation before anyone becomes aware of their presence, because all signals are traveling at light speed. Should they be detected the fastest weapon that can reach them – a laser – will take an equal period of time to reach them and needs to account for their trajectory in order to hit them[1]. This meant that the PCs had a few minutes to assess the situation and determine what to do.

They soon realized that the gathered naval vessels had nothing to do with them. Local media channels were full of gossip about the impending mission, and the components of the task force. A fleet of 300-400 ships had gathered in system over the past month, led by the Ocean Class battleship the Rubicon and the Lake Class battleship the Blindhammer. When the PCs arrived the Rubicon was in their field of view, partially eclipsing the distant sun. The Rubicon was a classic Confederate Ocean Class battleship: 40 kms long, 3o kms wide and 10 kms deep, it was a smooth black wedge bristling with weaponry and threatening complete destruction. A battleship of this size has never been defeated in the history of the Confederacy, and is capable of wiping out entire fleets without taking even a scratch of damage. Its subordinate ship, the Blindhammer, has a long and illustrious history in combat against rebels and corsairs and has also never been defeated – or even damaged – in 90 years of service. These two megaships were accompanied by a fleet of hundreds of smaller cruisers and battleships, including a fleet of psionic Cognates, ships that carry telepaths and have the power to amplify their mental powers so that they work over vast distances.

These ships had gathered here because the Confederacy had decided to send a clear message to a remnant culture beyond the sector. About 20 light years out from the Slainte system was a network of six interconnected systems, ruled by a remnant culture at tech level 10. This culture had been contacted by the Confederacy but was suffering from what Confederate scholars call horizon-blindness. Most stellar cultures go through this phase, where their success in interstellar colonization and the difficulty of the initial step lead them to believe that they are unusually powerful, and to find the existence of more powerful societies impossible to conceive. Most remnant cultures that have colonized other planets and reached this tech level tend to be very old and rich, since a continuous period of unbroken cultural growth and great wealth are pre-requisites for interstellar growth. Such societies, flush with the success of their recent achievements, sure of their longevity, and aware of the difficulty of what they have achieved, find the idea of a society infinitely greater than their own impossible to conceive – this is horizon blindness. When such societies meet the Confederacy they are often suspicious and proud, but most of all they find the true scope of the Confederacy impossible to comprehend. In this case the society in question had been contacted perhaps 100 years ago, but had become increasingly paranoid. Over the past 30 years they had secretly built a larger fleet, its flagship a 1km long behemoth. Incapable of understanding what they were dealing with, they decided a year ago to attack a Confederate cruiser that had visited their core system in connection with some negotiations over conditions for uplift. This cruiser, only a third of the size of the flagship, escaped the attacking fleet but suffered minor damage in the escape. The Confederacy took this as a major attack on their credibility, and decided to respond by sending a small fleet to chasten the attackers and cure their horizon blindness. The plan is that the entire fleet will jump in simultaneously, and before the enemy can react the Cognate ships will disable the majority of the personnel on their ships. Confederate vessels will then board the ships and disarm the paralyzed marines, taking control of the majority of the navy. The ship that damaged the Confederate cruiser will be rendered to atoms, and the leaders of the remnant system given a choice: surrender on Confederate terms or face complete takeover. With most of their navy disarmed instantly they will be likely to surrender without anyone being harmed. The entire battle should take a couple of minutes, and involve only a few thousand deaths.

Such an action usually cures horizon blindness, although it unleashes a wide array of socio-cultural forces that can lead to the destruction of fragile human societies. If you want to make an omelette, however … and in any case, post-apocalyptic societies have proven to be very malleable.

The Slow Light Caverns

While in orbit around Slainte 2, the PCs decided to explore the surface. Unlike Niscorp 1743, Slainte 2 has no major life forms – it is a planet of algae and tiny crustaceans. It does, however, have one famous natural feature, the Slow Light Caverns. These caverns form in the hollows of a canyon network in the sub-tropics, in a band around the equator. Slainte 2 is a planet of constant, disorienting winds, and these winds slowly cut through the ice of the surface over thousands of years. In the tropics the ice is weaker, and beneath the ice there are often thin streams of flowing water. The wind cuts through huge glaciers, slowly carving massive caverns over thousands of years. These caverns are like cathedrals of ice, hundreds of metres deep and often tens of kilometres long, huge drifting hallways of ice and gently drifting snow that sing with the sound of the constant winds. But near the tropics the walls of these caverns are often full of slowly moving water, thick with salts and algae, that have been drawn up from the depths of the planet by capillary action and the convection effect of sunlight through the thinned walls of the caverns. At the caverns near the surface the sunlight, slowly flowing water, and ancient ice combine to form slowly-moving rainbows and defraction patterns, like a kaleidoscope of slowly-moving colours and shapes that ripple across ice walls hundreds of metres high. It is possible to fly into these caves in a flyer, to set down and establish a field umbrella that keeps out the wind and the cold. One can make a camp and sit back on the ice, cocktail in hand, to enjoy the spectacle of patterns of slowly-changing kaleidoscopes of rainbow light projected across a vast canvas, hundreds of metres high and kilometres wide. At midday the high sun casts oblique patterns of rainbow light across the cavern floor, like archaic stained glass windows in some massive pagan church. As the day passes the light extends, and the water inside the ice warms, flowing faster and casting faster patterns of golden light across the floor and walls of the caverns. On warm days some of the surface ice melts, and the patterns take on a three dimensional form, ribbons of rainbow light and kaleidoscopic patterns dancing in a diaphonous cloud of faint mist. If one has a grav belt one can float up into these beams of light, and drift through them like a diver hanging in the sunbeams of a great ocean; an explorer hanging here in this way will find that every time he breathes he creates his own tiny rainbows of exquisite patterns, drifting around him in the faint breezes of the cavern; such an explorer might also notice the thin and distant wail of the winds that carve the cavern, singing through the narrow gaps and stalactites of the cavern far overhead, where it is still forming and new. Towards evening, as one settles down for dinner in the comfortable surrounds of the flyer, the sun will begin to sink and its rays will pour directly into the cavern. By now the mist has subsided and the water again frozen in the walls of the cavern, and now the cavern glows with the light of the sun itself, becoming a vast limnal space of orange deepening to red. Impurities in the ice will diffract this light, breaking it into sparkling patterns that form strange stereoscopic patterns in huge sweeps over the ice floor of the cavern and its distant walls. As the sun sinks and the angles change these patterns will slowly morph and change. In some of the caverns young people will gather, playing music and taking vapours, dancing to the slow and hypnotic pace of the sinking sun. In other caverns lovers will link arms and bask in the strange beauty of it all, marveling that even as civilization reaches this high point of infinite power, such places of wonder still reach out to the primal senses, and draw humanity back to its roots of religious wonder.

In some other, smaller cave, a man tired of his long journey through this life will activate a particular gland – that one – and sink slowly into oblivion in the comforting embrace of the gently pulsing orange light. Perhaps a hundred years from now cavers will find him, and his last note, if he thought it necessary to leave one (probably his friends already knew, and toasted his leaving the day before, staying down below to party in one of the larger caverns). But whether people come to these Slow Light Caverns to simply watch, to party or to die, no one can witness the simple, profound beauty of wind, fire and ice without being transported back to that primitive time when the world was full of mystery and human life was new.

Which is why the PCs visited the Slow Light Caverns, though by now they needed little reminding that the universe is full of ineffable mysteries. Compared to death cults and the dark plans of distant gods, the simple play of light through ice is a refreshing boon…

fn1: To handle this risk, military ships are programmed to perform a random shift as soon as they arrive, and they usually arrive in sequence so that they can coordinate this shift to not hit each other. This means that it is impossible for waiting ships to effectively target them. To counter this, waiting ships will launch a cone-shaped spray of laser weapons as soon as they identify a target, followed up by a spray of sub-light missiles. Only very large ships can power enough lasers for this strategy to be effective, however.

At the end of the last session of the Spiral Confederacy campaign, Simon Simon the adherent visited a strange adherent cult in the Bones of Pearl 2, to find out why they were being hunted by the Pearl 2 authority’s mercenaries, the SSA. This was handled in downtime, which is where our group do “unimportant” or non-combatant things through Facebook messenger during the week. In this case things went a bit pear-shaped, they got into a bit of a fight, and one PC nearly had to kill another. This is a report of the full downtime, broken up into its various parts. I have made subsections to make it easier to follow, which are:
•    On board the Come as You Are
•    At the Coven of the Unredeemed
•    The Tale of the Unredeemed
•    Emergency at the Coven
•    Back at the Come As You Are
•    Flight from the Coven
•    A classic moment in GM-player interactions that everyone is very familiar with
•    In the Combustible Van with Lam and Ahmose
•    To be or not to be: Breakout from the Coven
•    Escape from the Bones
•    Return to Pearl 7
•    The Resurrection of the Unbroken

The downtime is reported as direct chat logs, just cleaned up and modified slightly to make them more readable, but they remain vaguely unreadable in that way that chat logs do. This was a long and winding downtime that occurred over a week, so I doubt anyone will want to read all of it. For insight into the magic of the universe, scroll down to the Resurrection scene; for an amusing moment of near death, go straight to To Be or Not to Be, where you can also see the effect of differing technologies between Confederacy and its outlying systems, combined with AI support and a psionic, which should further deepen the mystery of how The Reach has remained independent all this time. In The Tale of the Unredeemed you can learn something of the history of the Confederacy and adherents as a concept.

The chat log starts below.

On board the Come As You Are
GM: By way of downtime for you guys. Everyone is going to chill out now that you have that bone pile behind you. But still alva is a little freaked, and ahmose is in her Grumpy Edgy Captain state.

While Simon Simon is off being interesting you have a dig through the loot. The space ninja’s swords have changed to rusty useless metal. Alvas drone investigated the silver sword and tells you it is silver yes, but it seems too light. The priests notes are written – shock – in his native language. You can’t read it or even recognize it, though some of the diagrams make a kind of hideous sense. To decipher the notes would need access to a major research database of remnant languages, and a few years of research. Or an oracle. On the bright side, you take them to an expert and he or she could tell you where they are from. Which is all you really need to know. Further rummaging will reveal a list of transport options and costs for a couple of star systems, with travel dates 3-6 months from now.

The drone tells you that the bone on the priest’s staff is human. There may be other fragments of human bone inside the staff. Also in the bag there is a stash of about 1000 credits.

Lam: Lam is pretending she didnt hear that. Lam hears the credits jingle though!

GM: It is a leather pouch of coins made in some old fashioned mint, bearing an image of some old chick on one side and flowers and birds on the other. Remnant shit basically. There are a few knucklebones in the pouch. The death priest seems incapable of doing anything without a bit of dead human interfering.

Hmm, I wonder what the pouch holding the credits is made out of? Ooh a very supple leather. You want to keep that Lam? There is also a solid leather sheath that probably contains scrolls. This leather looks like it might be mundane.

Lam: Yay? Lam will look at the shiny coins but is unimpressed with this strange disturbingly familiar leather pouch. She will touch the scroll sheath!

GM: okay, she flicks the finger bone out of its little leather holder to unseal the sheath. It’s a small finger bone, hmmm ….

The sheath opens and reveals three scrolls and one set of scrolls. The three scrolls are sealed in wax with the mark of the death cult, held separately. The scroll set is bound together with a simple coil of ordinary string. Ordinary string!

Lam: Yay ordinary! Is it all in a weird barbaric language?
GM: It flops open to reveal several sheets of paper with maps drawn on them. All are tombs. There are marks on certain tombs. The tombspine is amongst the maps.

Lam: So we have a list of all the tombs that were due to be defiled?
GM: Well, not quite … you have a list you can’t read, with maps you can’t read, for tombs you don’t know where to find. But with the correct work you could find them. If you had a death priest you could even interrogate the dead!

Lam: Lam is satisfied that she has contributed to this mission! Now we need a weird language speaking guy!

Ahmose: Simon should give us a pick up call when he’s done. But we keep the ship ready to leave in case those mercenaries [GM note: the SSA] decide to pay us visit. That’s all Ahmose can come up with before her headache forces her to not think anymore

[GM note: Ahmose was touched by the wraith and is still recovering intelligence, but she had enough brains to warn everyone not to touch the sealed scrolls until they get]

GM: Okay, so you can busy yourselves preparing the ship while you wait for Simon Simon. Anyone want to open one of those wax-sealed scrolls?

Lam: Once she recovers she will search for a language specialist.

Alva: Alva is going to try and decipher the things we found, as far as he is able.

Lam: Open the seal!
Ahmose: Is Ahmose recovering intellect? She will try and stop Lam to contact any language specialist on this pearl! If there are peeps that can speak this language on this pearl, there is a high chance he’s involved with the priest. And I rather not open the seal before talking to Michael, the one guy who might knows what’s going on. Let’s go through all “non-magical” stuff for now.
Alva: There isn’t any magical stuff there. Just stuff that we haven’t logically explained yet. Alva is sure there is some explanation though.

At the Coven of the Unredeemed

GM: To set the scene, the dude lets you in and someone comes up behind you, puts a weapon at your back and demands your guns. Do you hand them over?
Note that with a mere thought you can disconnect your laser rifle from the ships energy so it becomes useless

Simon Simon: “I shouldnt die…” He says tiredly, like they should already know this. Simon will hand them his weapons, at this point there is little point in resisting. He is in their grasp and if they decide to off him he wont stand much of a chance. He leaves them activated for now.

GM: The guy behind you takes them with a grunt and disappears without you really seeing him. The dude with the heavy rifle leads you to a kitchen and gestures to a table and chairs. There’s a middle aged woman at the table with a pistol, a teapot and two cups. Wanna sit?

Simon Simon: Simon mumbles something to himself and shakely sits down. He sits straight with his hands on his knees, tapping softly. He looks around a bit nerveously, then gives a close lip smile to the woman. He looks like he is on an interview. (He, as stealthy as possible, tries to search for any nearby AI’s and systems).

GM: Stealthy. This whole section seems to be devoid of AI attention, something you already started to notice. Maybe it’s too tasteless even for AIs.

“Name is Sue. You? You confederate ?” She picks up the pot and leans forward to pour your tea

Simon Simon: “Sue? Sue.” He nods, Mary Sue he thinks, but holds the thought. “I’m Simon… simon.” He holds his hand out. “No tea, too hot. I need cold, cold shower actually.” He is fear-exhausted and dirty. “I’m… not sure I’m confederate anymore, but im not from here at least, but I’m interesting!” He says slightly defensively.

GM: Unfortunately she is already pouring the tea. Unfortunately because as you start speaking you hear a loud clack! and all the lights go off, plunging the room into near total darkness. You hear her say “Drat! Another power cut” as the lights cut, but you’re fine because your low light vision cuts in. However, she is not and you can see she is now missing your teacup, and a wave of hot water is about to lap over the table onto your legs. Do you move? Moving could risk getting shot; staying where you are risks boiling water

Simon Simon: Are the table / chairs light?

GM: steel!

Simon Simon: if the chair is light enough/not attached to the floor he will try to slide back while still sitting, if not he says “Hot water hot water!! I said too hot Mary sue!” and try to move out of the way.

GM: He does the latter. The lights suddenly come back on. Sue says “Don’t bother with the serum, Joe, he’s from the Core” You turn your head to see heavy rifle guy standing next to you with a wicked looking needle.

He stops sticking it towards your neck, and she gestures at the tea. “Low-light vision.”

Simon Simon: He spins about “Wow joe!” he says with wide eyes and raised hands, looking at the needle, he never liked needles. “Been poked enough for a day!!” His face turns to one of worry, and he turns back to the woman. “Serum?! No serum, don’t wanna put me down Mary Sue, I have informations for you, and questions.” His eyes are a bit intense.

Sue: “Don’t worry Simon, it was just a truth serum. Since it won’t work we’ll just have to trust each other. Why don’t we start by you telling me this information?” She gestures at Joe, who puts the needle down out of your reach and starts mopping up the tea.

Simon Simon: He squints his eyes at her and sits back down. “You’ve tried burn and stab me with a needle in the first 5 minutes of our meeting.” Not sure I want this job anymore he thinks. He sighs and is thoughtful for a moment. “Okey I’ll give you some information” He leans foward and whispers “I am adherent, with a Mother, which is nice, sometimes not so much. I know you are adherent without a Mother, how is that a thing?”

GM: Sue waves Joe away. “Joe, best you step back lest our guest get the wrong idea

“We are Abandoned.” Somehow the way she says it has a capital letter on it. “I will tell you the tale, if you care to hear it. But time may be short. First why don’t you tell me this ‘information'”

Simon Simon: He lifts his hands again half way in open surrender. “No ideas, just talk.” He thinks for a moment, looking Sue over. “Fine… but you gotta keep me safe, for a while, I am very interesting and shouldnt die you know. Deal?”

GM: “We’re having trouble keeping ourselves safe at the moment, Simon, and the SSA has spies everywhere. But we’ll try. Look, Joe here is warming to you already!” Joe gives you a nod. He’s a grizzled, muscly dude in his early 30s, broken teeth, looks like a street ruffian. Not very hacker-y at all.

“So, on with the tale, Interesting Simon”

Simon Simon: Simon retreats physically at the idea of warming up to Dirty Joe. He looks back at sue, smiling, joe momentarily forgotten. “SSA! That’s it; I found out about them same way I found out about you.” He looks serious. “They know about this place.. and they are coming. You shouldn’t die either…”

“Oh really?” She arches an eyebrow. “We’re rather aware that they’re after us. How did you know, and how can your knowledge help?”

Simon Simon: (Would simon be able to place a fake report on them with a different location?)

GM: [he might. But what he definitely could do is link up his hack of the security/municipal communications system to their computer, so that they would be able to learn what the security services are doing – remember these guys have no AI and (compared to you) relatively primitive hacking skills so it would be a big boon]

Simon Simon: “How I know? their networks are strong but not invincible; i’ve cut myself a small path in; I guess… I could show you or your computers the way in.” He says thoughtfully. “Are you sure you are aware of them? They know of this place, thats how I found you. They won’t be long coming.”

GM: She takes this news that you can hack their system quite well, and gestures for Joe, who wanders away. There’s a few minutes of awkward silence before he comes back with a tablet and a techie-looking guy.
“Can you install your techniques to work through this? It would help us a lot to know where to move, and when they find our next safe house.”
Distrust appears to have evaporated fast

Simon Simon: “I’ll give you whatever can help you for the now, the current road” He says as he quickly patches in the current SSA reports. “… you tell me why you are you Abandoned and promise to get me out of this place back to my friends and I’ll show you the path for more.” Trust goes both ways.

GM: She grunts what you guess is agreement, and you and the techie get to grips with the clunky old tablet. It only takes a few minutes but that’s a lifetime for a confederate. There are more communications flowing – thankfully none about the place you just raided and none about your ship or your colleagues – but there appears to be some roadworks scheduled for this street in two days’ time …

Simon Simon: Simon stares at the tablet like its an affront to all that is decent in the universe and gives a look of pity to the techie. “No wonder you are abandoned…” he mumbles to himself…

GM: the techie seems really impressed by your skills, including a couple of hacks you haven’t shown him that exploit weaknesses in old systems like this that will take another 50 years to be discovered. Then he scuttles away at a hard glance from Sue.

The tale of the Unredeemed

Sue: We aren’t just abandoned, Simon Simon, we are Unredeemed. We have become a cult of the lost, for the lost. Not just people who have lost, though. We are a home for people who wait helplessly for redemption. Take Joe here, lost his wife to slavery for his own misdeeds. He will never get her back. He cannot redeem himself while she toils in the silicon yards, he is not even allowed to know her status. Likely she is already gone, lost to his folly, so he waits out his days in this coven of the abandoned and the hopeless. And the conditions of our redemption are, well, let’s just say they aren’t the easiest.”
Joe grunts, runs his tongue over a broken tooth

“We started as a cult, maybe 1000 years ago. Not all of us were adherents but some of us were. No one really knew who we were but we weren’t illegal. Our AI was called the Starred One. It set our goals and the patterns of our lives, and we worshiped it, and followed the lead of those who could speak to it.”

“Then one day one of those priests of the Starred One went on a mission to the Gardens. We don’t know why, he would not tell us, but something went wrong. He fled and for some reason he took the Starred One with him. He jumped in a sublight ship with our God and fled this system. We searched for years to find them, because we knew they must be close but we couldn’t find them until they arrived at a system where we could track them, and the closest was 5 years travel for that clapped out old vessel.

“Maybe 30 years later they were found in an abandoned space station in another system, but the priest refused to speak to his followers, and the Starred One had gone mad. It killed anyone who ventured onto the station. So we had to leave them there. The priest died there and we never could approach the Starred One again, because in its madness it refuses to let anyone on board.”

“We could force it, but the priest sent us a dying transmission that reached us years after his death. He told us that one day we would meet more gods, and then our Starred One would become pure again, and until that day we should hold our faith and wait.”

“So we wait.”

Some things that Simon Simon would immediately notice in this story are listed below …

1.    The confederacy wasn’t in this sector back then, so either this “Starred one” and it’s “priests” were adherents fleeing from the confederacy or the AI was a random AI that developed separately here and was hiding in the Reach
2.    If hiding in the Reach, it’s possible it is a leftover from whatever culture created the Reach
3.    If the cult were led by adherents from the confederacy, they could have been con artists. Sometimes adherents go to the frontier to set up cults by impressing people with their “foresight”. It’s unusual for adherents to form groups, and often when they do the non adherent members are exploited by the adherents
4.    You don’t know if adherents are that old a thing as to have been around 1000 years ago. There is no history of adherents (or AI) but your best understanding is they are a newer phenomenon. The confederacy is at least 10000 years old (no one really dates it’s start ) but it spent much of that time consolidating in the core, and AI worship only began once there was a coherent wider space for AI to move through, nest in, and be chased around in. So if this cult is at least 1000 years old it’s either one of the first adherents or it was here before and the AI is an ancient one with no links to the confederacy. In either case it’s a novel and exciting thing
5.    You have never heard of an AI going mad but there are rumours that it’s possible… How, though?

Simon: Simon stands there with his mouth open in shock. He barely notices when the lady’s speech ends, lost in thought. “So many… new parameters… factors and entities to consider…” he mumbles to himself, he leans back on the chair and covers his face with his hands staying like that for a while. “Oh… Mother… how long have you been here and suffered alone..” He says imagining a single moment without his AI.
Simon wants to do a lot of things. He wants to lead then all to safety. He wants to fuel a rebellion. He wants to take over the Starred One. He wants to never be even slightly close to the Starred One. He wants to blow this whole place. He wants to go hide in a dark space for a while. He wants to ask Mother about this… he doesn’t want to hear the answer. It takes him a while but he absorbs the information as much as he can for the moment, then shakes himself a bit and looks back at Sue. “The Death cult.. the dark priests, they were involved, if not responsible, for the SSA hunting you… do you know why?” He says as he shows her the files he got, how the dates of the authorities hunting them matches those of them protecting the cult’s hideout.
GM: She accepts your evidence about the death cult and SSA hunting them, but knows nothing about this cult or why it would entangle her in its business. Do you tell her about the ansible and the priest’s journey through the tombs of the Galaxy?

Simon Simon: yes, I tell her I saw the cult in the gardens as well, and they are pretty insane themselves. I ask her if she knows exactly where in the gardens their priest went, and if she knows of the tombs; if not I, I tell her what I know

GM: That tale troubles her deeply, for all the obvious reasons. It seems like an awfully big coincidence that the death priest who set the SSA onto her cult should be rooting around in the same place that her cult’s fallen prophet had a calling to

Unfortunately their prophet and his the Starred One didn’t leave any evidence of their plans, and expunged all valuable information about the cult from its storage before they left. So the only way to find out would be to go to the space station and ask the Starred One itself…

Also why are the SSA also attacking the cannibal cultists? As far as she knows they have no special history …

[GM Note: the “cannibal cultists” are another religious group hiding in the Bones, who worship a saviour who was born to redeem humanity, but killed for some crime; they believe that eating his flesh will enable all of human society to transubstantiate and become gods, and they wait the day that their saviour will return for them to feast upon him. They are a completely harmless if slightly tasteless cult]

Emergency at the Coven
[GM Note: there is a bit of discussion between Simon Simon and the GM about tactics to help the coven protect themselves from the SSA. Simon Simon spends some time setting up their computer system to communicate with their accommodation in Pearl 7]

GM: Do you have other questions for Sue?

Simon Simon: Did she tell me the exact location of the starred one?

GM: You didn’t ask. Do you want to?

Simon Simon: Yeah! he takes his time though, he lets the conversation fade in case she has anything to say to him first, then says: “I want to go see the Starred One… if I can get close to it I might be able to cure it.” [Or destroy it…] “Or Mother could make it anew…” [Absorb it for all its worth] “Whatever it is, its ancient, it would be glorious to at least see it…” [Because the last time you ran off searching for things like this you and the whole party almost died…]

GM: She gives you a sharp look at that.
“The Starred One is our failure, our curse. We await it’s return. No adherent has ever suggested they would help us. I would need to discuss it with my council.”
She seems pretty eager actually

Simon Simon: “Ah…” [All of those before you have been smart enough to step back Simon, leave shit alone, why wouldn’t you as well?…] “… you tell them Simon Simon does suggests it, I am very interesting and I shouldn’t die; all should be well, Mother protects.”
He looks around nervously. “All of this.. this is wrong, you shouldn’t die either, you should be interesting as well. I will speak to my … friends? and see what can be done.”

GM: In the hours you’ve been working she has been tapping out messages on a tablet. The gun is forgotten on the table and joe is lounging now, syringe back in its box.

Simon Simon: He finishes uploading the program that will let them detect the SSA raids.

GM: Sue is biting her lip and frowning. “I think that the council of elders have been … I don’t know. They should reply to my messages.”

[you have a sinking feeling that you know where this is heading. Do you have any smart ideas you would like to put into practice now…?]

Simon Simon: – Cameras – Disruption – Confusion

GM: More details might be necessary

Simon Simon: Actually confusion then disruption; simon calls for his Mother, access close by cameras to feel the situation; send a message through the orders link of the SSA saying “ABORT ABORT ABORT”, then tries to shut down/jam any communications.

GM: Okay!
Mother comes to you closer and brighter than you have experienced before. The lights flicker in the room. You can see everything in the neighbourhood all at once in a kind of rush and suddenly you are inside every layer of communication in the area.

Simon Simon: He also says “Mary Sue, time to pack up.”

GM: There are three wheeled SSA vehicles coming off the off ramp of the spar and a burst of communications between various authorities. You don’t have time to read them all but none seem to concern you. There is a bit about the cannibal cult and a lot about an operation in your area.
Outside, joe is walking over to talk to the Loitering dude [GM Note: The party saw this guy across the road from the coven when they arrived but didn’t question him]
Sue says “where’s joe!?”
You wait until the SSA vehicles are off the spar entrance and then send the abort message, probably won’t work for long
What are you doing next?

Simon Simon: ”They are coming Sue” He says quickly patching through the video. “Joe’s out talking to the bad-guys, if he’s gone bad time for a quick exit, if he’s about to make a mistake call him back.” He stands. “Either way, we gotta go now, I’ve distracted them but not for long.”
(Are there any electronic gates in this place?)

GM: No, these doors use old fashioned keys

Simon Simon: (Also, can I overcharge a transistor outside the place or anything thats flashy to add chaos?)
Uggh, keys? What I am fighting for here? These people are hopeless…
[It’d be funny if I went “keys? oh fuck it all, I’m out!”]

GM: Sue is up now. She calls out and the dude who took your gun and he comes running with your gear. The building is dark and silent, as if suddenly everyone just deserted it. The door is still open and the screen closed and a few young nerdy men are gathered there looking worried

Street lights! They’re old fashioned!! You can blow them all.

Simon Simon: and a transformer! Ever heard one go off? mini bomb, and the whole grid goes with it.

GM: Sadly they aren’t that primitive!

Simon Simon: But they have.. keys!! I’m amazed they have electricity at this point!

GM: These people are poor! The people who own the street, not so much. Hey they get their electricity from the heart of the sun…
Btw it occurs to you (I probably should have mentioned this earlier!) that one possible explanation for a mad AI would be if the defense system of the Reach activated and attacked an AI
You know, if the AI was interfering too much in one of the Pearls

Simon Simon: precious… now you tell me?
“Okey mary sue’s! grab each other’s pants, we going dark!” He says as he takes his laser rifle and checks that its still connected to the ship.

GM: It is

Simon Simon: He says that to the crowd btw

GM: Someone has a heavy rifle, which is reassuring

Simon Simon: Do they look like they have a way out?

GM: The front door. It’s open and everything!

Simon Simon: what? no sewers? fine them! full frontal
“Maximum effort!” He says and goes for the exit, hoping they are following. As soon as he is close to the door he blows the grid. He goes for flashy.

GM: Sue yells “wait!” And disappears back into the house. With a hiss the entire habitat goes dark.
Pitch black
It fades in sections, patches going dark and then the shadows spreading like tendrils of squid ink through the murky slave-ash stinking air.

Simon Simon: “Ah bugs” He says as his eyes activate. “Run Mary-Sues! Run!” He runs after the crazy lady. [Probably using keys made her crazy…]

GM: Simon Simon runs through the newly-lit hallway to a room at the back, and finds Sue standing there with the gun in her right hand, pointed at her head

Simon Simon: <I’d kill myself if I had to use keys ..> [this is a voice in Simon’s head I’m playing with atm] “Ah…” Simon’s eyes widen in shock. “Mary sue… don’t…. you shouldn’t die…” He franctically tries to connect, see if the gun is energy based and connected to anything, but his hopes ain’t high.

GM: It’s a revolver.
“They mustn’t know what I know, Simon!”
“There’s no other way!”

Simon Simon: “What.. are you talking about Mary Sue?” He pleads. “You shouldn’t die, they shouldn’t die, we can escape now, continue, push through… because.. because of fear?” Simon mind is rushing trying to find a solution. He remembered she wanted Joe to stay away when she found out he was an adherent… is it possible these people have the implants?
GM: “But they are coming for what we know! It isn’t recorded anywhere except in our memories, and only I know all the connections .. With you … With the death cult! If I die it all goes with me!”

Simon Simon: “but.. ” groan “….you shouldn’t die; what about all your friends out there? Should I just let them run into the bad guys and get killed? I’m just running if you aren’t coming with me…” “You also haven’t told me of the Starred One, how am I to heal it? Your prophecy just meant nothing? Then what’s the point of all this? Why come till now and kill yourself?” He frowns. “You make no sense..” <Using keys… it fucks with your brain..>

GM: She takes a small step back. “I can’t tell you! Then they can take the knowledge from you!”
She seems pretty sure about this. “At least if I die we remain Unredeemed!”

Simon Simon: Simon is very uncomfortable at the moment. “Sue..” He says and slowly and lazily raises the rifle, what he is about to say might make her jumpy. “If .. if you dont guide me what am I to do if I ever meet the Starred One by myself? If I don’t know what I’m doing I might end up destroying myself, or ruining it, or worse… destroying Mother. And to top it, you are going to leave all of your friends alone to die? After I gave them an opportunity to escape… you are wasting it all… Because… you are afraid?”

GM: “Afraid? No… And you can’t hurt the Starred One of you can’t find it!”
She takes a step back and you have a feeling that she’s going to do it

Simon Simon: “I might not, but Mother will. Eventually. She will survive me. She will survive us all.” He says and aims the rifle purposely. “You could come with me, you could guide me and make sure your God is purified. Or you could do it, take the shot and give up because you were too weak.”
“But choose fast, because your friends life is tickling by.”

Back at the Come As You Are

GM: I’m going to assume that you guys are in the little lounge room you set up in the cargo hold while this conversation is happening. So you are all there in the one place when the alarms start to ring, and the television switches channels.
First it switches to a news report about a complete blackout in The Bones. Then it switches to a grainy camera image of Simon Simon in a small room inside a building somewhere, facing off with a woman who is holding a gun and pointing it at her own head. Once your attention has been caught the alarm klaxons fade and are replaced by a loud, harsh, genderless voice



Then the automatic food generator clicks to life and starts producing a weird pink liquid



Ahmose: “sigh” shotguns down a glass of aspirin, “Lam, are you fit to drive?” And racks her shotgun



Lam: Lam casually takes a drag on her cigar and then stubs it out. She groans as she stands and checks her rifle. “Let roll!” She growls as she limps to the van.



Lam: Fly? Lam’s eyes light up
Can Alva teleport all of us?

GM: No, just himself

Lam: Angry emoticon floats above lams head.
Okay so Alva teleport, we take van.

Ahmose: So Alva goes ahead and we ll follow in the van

Alva: Alva agrees. Well, he doesn’t have much choice.

GM: He doesn’t have to teleport! It’s up to you

Ahmose: If a rifle is to much mass for him to carry Ahomse offers him the Gauss Pistol

Alva: Alva can carry 10kg! If it’s an advanced suit it’s good enough.

GM: It has been a couple of hours so you aren’t in your vacc suit.
Putting on a suit requires time and the MOTHER is yelling in its harsh voice that you have NO TIME
So! Do a quick review of this chat to ascertain the facts and then tell me exactly what you take with you!

Alva: Alva runs to the machine producing the liquid. All the while keeping an eye on the monitor that shows Simon standing there with the woman. “Doesn’t look like HE is in any danger mother.” He grabs the container of fluid and stuffs a lid on, the shoves it in his pocket. “What do I do with this?” He then rushes to the table where his pistol is (slug thrower).




Alva: Alva rolls his eyes. ‘I thought those AI’s were supposed to be smart…’ He grabs the gun, and glances around to see if there is anything nearby that might protect him from things trying to perforate him.

GM: Nothing you can put on quickly!

Alva: Simon still standing there looking at the woman?

GM: They appear to be yelling at each other.
It’s dark in there, maybe pitch black

Alva: Something Alva can understand, or just shouting?

GM: The image is obviously highly enhanced. You can’t hear anything!

Alva: That’s going to be a fun teleport!

GM: Hmmm if only your psionics were stronger!

Alva: Alva looks at the sickly Amhose, and slightly burned out Lam and sighs. “Come get me if something goes wrong.” And then he tries to focus on the image displayed on the screen to get a better fix on his target (as much as possible), his main objective is arriving behind the woman.

GM: And off he goes !!

Alva: Not without a significant hesitation, a glance at the station outside, that’s still open to the vacuum of space, and a very significant look down at the fact that he’s not wearing anything that will protect him from said vacuum.

GM: Better not mess it up then!
But anyway you have the box of life remember.
[GM Note: the team were given a box each which, if opened, allows them to be resurrected once]
What could possibly go wrong?

Alva: I can revive in a vacuum and then die again? I’ll be lovely.

GM: Of course! As far as you know… Michael said so long as the brain isn’t really badly damaged…

Flight from the Coven

GM: Sue looks at Simon Simon with a kind of hopeless expression that combines pity and disappointment. Then suddenly a figure appears in the shadows behind her, lunging forward. In the split second of that figure’s sudden appearance what do you do?

Simon Simon: Eeeh shoot and probably miss?

GM: Okay!

Simon Simon: No, he yells. “Sue watch put!!!” then shoots with the intend of scaring the figure, then assess the situation.

GM: You shoot. The person lurching forward doesn’t grab Sue properly, just knocks her arm, and she fires

Simon Simon: and shoot again if its proves to be dangerous

GM: You can’t scare someone with a laser rifle, it’s invisible. You have to aim to hurt or not.

Simon Simon: okey then he shoots not in the head lets say, shoulder if possible and probably miss

GM: Okay! So the figure knocks the gun, Sue fires, and she misses her temple but still blows the back of her head out. She falls over and then you hear a familiar voice yelling “ow! Fuck! Simon! Oh fuck that’s gross”.
And Alva is standing in front of you, his shoulder burnt from your laser and his face covered in blood and brains

Simon Simon: “Alva?” He says shocked. Then sue. “MARY SUE!” Then looks at alva.
<god dammit…>
Simon’s eyes are wide in surprise “ALVA!” He says and lowers the laser rifle. “MARY SUE!” simon says and looks at the woman. “ALVA!!” he says turning back to the psionic. <Alva, sue, sue, alva. Is always nice to introduce new friends..>

Alva: Alva, drops down to the floor, instinctively trying to go for cover that isn’t there. “Why! I was trying to help you.” Alva takes a quick look around the room to see if there’s any more hidden people with guns he didn’t see in the image.

GM: There’s just a distraught looking Simon. But in the distance down a hallway Alva can hear panicked voices

Alva: Satisifed, Alva sinks down on the floor, and starts to feel his shoulder. For the moment not noticing that there’s brains stuck all over his face, though he absently notes that it means the woman used a slug thrower instead of a laser. His shoulder oddly feels surprisingly intact, if you don’t count the 1cm hole burned straight through it.

Simon Simon: Simon’s mouth is still open in surprise, he is looking at the woman and back at Alva.
“Alva! what… wh… why?!”
<Fuck..> “She… shouldn’t have died!” He says, clearly very frustrated.
He looks down and the gun, and at Alva’s wound, then pulls the rifle down and hides on his back like a child caught doing something bad.
(are cameras still operational?)

Alva: Alva realizes that he hasn’t paid the girl any attention, but when he moves to check her he takes one look at what remains of her head and promptly sits down again. “Why shouldn’t she die? She seemed quite intent on it.”

Simon Simon: “She knew… things!” says simon doing a face palm

GM: Cameras are still operational. I think I hardly need point out to you two that she doesn’t have to die

Simon Simon: He tries to look outside and at the other people in the building see whats happening.

Alva: Of course

Simon Simon: Boxes!

Alva: (Alva merely needs to be given a great reason to give away the one thing that might preserve him if everything here goes to shit ;))

Simon Simon: Simon might

GM: You aren’t carrying the box Alva

Simon Simon: “Boxes! Alva can you get us out of here?”

GM: To use the box you need to get the dead girl back to the ship.
Cameras. Everything in the building is unchanged. Across the street, someone is dead and someone has taken a position with cover aiming at the door.

A classic moment in GM-player interactions that everyone is very familiar with

Alva: Is there a convincing reason why I wouldn’t carry that box at all times?

GM: You can’t tell in the darkness whether the dead person is joe or Loitering Dude but someone appears to have killed someone

Simon Simon: Taking cover.. does it look like SSA?

GM: Because I told you to specify EXACTLY what you were carrying, like twice, and you didn’t specify the box?

Simon Simon: We shouldnt revive her now anyways, she’d be a drag. A living one at least.

GM: Also, if the box is damaged you don’t survive; if you are damaged but the box is intact, no problem. Plus sometimes surgery may be necessary before using the box.

Simon Simon: “Someone is dead outside! and someone is aiming at the door, can’t tell whats what; we gotta get out of here pronto. SSA’s coming”

GM: You have no idea of the dude outside is SSA or not but you’re pretty sure not friendly

Alva: Right. I didn’t tell you I was taking my clothes. Am I naked?

In the Combustible Van with Lam and Ahmose

GM: Alva disappears and then appears on the screen, behind the woman and lunging at her. She shoots herself but he knocks the gun, so she only blows the back of her head out, falls down. At the same time Simon Simon fires his rifle and hits Alva in the shoulder. Alva is now injured and covered in blood. The rest of you run for the combustible van.

[GM Note: Since the PCs are from the Confederacy, they find the concept of internal combustion engines incredibly backward and dangerous. Their van uses a hydrogen-fueled internal combustion engine, so they refer to it as the combustible van. The idea that anyone would drive in something so fraught with risk disgusts them].

Lam curses as she sees the disaster unfold on the screen and dashes to the van. She grunts in pain as the door hits her injured side but sucks it up. “Captain! Let’s go!!” She cries out as she starts the van.

GM: Drive baby!

Lam: As soon as Ahmose is in Lam will floor it!

GM: why don’t you tell me exactly what you are carrying. You have time to prepare but I guess you don’t want to spend too long faffing…

Lam: She has her rifle with her and her vacc suit. Other than that she really could grab anything else

GM: Any precautions or activities on the route?

Ahmose: We can’t afford trouble with the mercs, so don’t drive to recklessly. Ahomse was expecting trouble so she’s still in armor, shotgun, pistol and sword are strapped on

GM: Do you do any investigations while driving? Think of this car as a super sophisticated version of a Japanese van. So video, tv, navi, cup holders. But explodey.

Amos: Well, if course watching news and traffic news to get any warnings of things are going down somewhere close to our goal

GM: Basically the only information you get from standard channels is that there is a massive blackout over all of the Bones. All lighting is off, and other functions operating at reduced power.
However. You are flicking through the channels when you hit one that is called “Interesting. Shouldn’t die”.

Lam: What?!

GM: Yes there is a channel called that.

Lam: Anything interesting on it?

GM: It appears to contain a hack of the communications between security authorities in the Bones. All their movements and intentions appear to be being broadcast on it.

Lam: Okay so will avoid them as best as possible.

GM: At the moment they are in a furious argument with the municipal authorities

Lam: So they are stalled?

GM: The whole of the Bones is affected by a complete blackout that appears to have affected only lights and cameras, but apparently the SSA didn’t arrange it.

Lam: Do we have lights on the party van?

GM: They were converging on the coven but they have stopped because they weren’t ready for the darkness.
Haha this is an orbital habitat. Nobody needs lights on their cars.
But if you drive slowly with lights off using night vision you could probably bypass them. It will take a while though

Lam: Lol! Okay, then Lam can’t do that because somebody has the suit with low light vision! We need to get there fast, so Lam will plan the route according to avoid the projected routes of the security and get to the safe house ASAP.

GM: It’s really dark in there…
But ahmose has her combat armour so can drive
This orbital is so backwards!

Lam: Can Ahmose drive?

GM: Somehow between you you can handle it

Lam: So we drive!!!

GM: But even a good driver with lowlight vision would have to slowly. It’s really dark in there

Lam: Will we be noticed if we just keep the lights on a bit?

GM: And there is a solid squad of SSA wet workers (yes that is what the team is actually called) parked just off the exit from the spar into the Bones.
You will stand out like dogs balls.
The Bones has no external Windows.
So there is not even starlight in there.
Aside from a few completely autonomous red lights in the ceiling of the dome it is darker than the pits of hell.

Ahmose: Ahomse has pilot and flyer, so she’s used to technical stuff. With some guidance from Lam I’m sure she’ll can drive – especially since she can’t go fast.

GM: Even the priests from Ahmose’s tombs would be scared
Okay, to make time you drive really fast down the spar (which is still lit) in your explodey car, then switch drivers at the off ramp
This car has no interface so you actually have to physically swap seats to drive it can you even??

Lam: Lam is appalled by the barbaric conditions. Okay so we switch seats and then very carefully make our way there with Ahmose at the wheel.

GM: The wet works team are standing outside their cars smoking. You can barely see them, parked in a service area about 30m back from the road, except that they have set up an emergency camp torch of some kind. In its faint glow one of them can be seen walking backwards and forwards, yelling into a handset. The others are looking either bored or edgy. They all have slug rifles, jack armour (like flak jackets) and a mean looking attitude.
You have intercepted a new order on the “interesting. Shouldn’t die.” Channel.
The new order is to kill everyone in the coven but to take the leader, Sue, and her visitor alive. The visitor is called Simon Simon and he is from the confederacy.
(This raises the very real possibility that your ship will get locked down once the authorities bother to trace his movements, but currently there is no sign they have done that)
(But still, it suggests you need to get away soon!)

Lam: Lam swears and shakes her head in frustration “First demons from the abyss, then radioactive zombies, space ninjas… I get blown up, stabbed by a ninja and watch a ghost mind fuck my captain…. Now we could get locked down! Captain, I would suggest that we inform the two back in the ship to prepare for emergency departure once we have located and retrieved Simon Simon. By the way, wasn’t that woman’s name Sue? The one who shot herself?” Angry emoticons flash briefly around her dreadlocks, which have shifted from a multi hue to jet black.

Lam: She starts expertly checking the rifle whilst they drive.

GM: Might need it. Those wet workers looked nasty but you reckon you guys have better weapons and armour. You just don’t want to get trapped out here.

Lam: hopefully we can fly below the radar and get to the coven before it gets any worse!

GM: The “I shouldn’t die” channel suddenly bursts to life with emergency comms.
Also a red dot appears on a map on the screen – it’s not near you or your target.
The following is the emergency comms chatter.

•    Under attack! Under attack! Man down!
•    Where!!? Where?? More lights!!
•    There! He got jim! It’s an ambush!!

Lam: Wtf????!!!!! Who???!!!!

GM: [screaming]
•    Andys down! Where did he go?!
•    Where is the target?!
•    There there fire!!
•    [sounds of shooting]
•    You hit jones! Man down!!

Lam: “C’mon c’mon!!!” Lam mutters as the Van moves along slowly.

•    Where is the target!?
•    He’s gone !! Take cover! Switch to lowlight and infra red!!
•    [followed by emergency transmissions requesting support, stating four men down, and requesting a drone with lights]
•    I fucking hit him man! I did not hit jones! Look for blood man I fucking hit him

Lam: Lam looks to Ahmose “What do we do Captain? Head to the building or follow the dot?”

GM: [things have gone calm. You are still driving slowly and cautiously]

•    Find blood? Can’t see my own pecker in this fucking murk.
•    Was it – wait! There! Movement on the wall!
•    Fuck he can climb too? Switch to infrared!
•    [sounds of confused yelling and bursts of gunfire]
•    Sergeants down! This fucker can fly?!?! What? Behind you captain !!
•    Captains down!

Lam: Lam grimaces and looks at Ahmose “Can Simon Simon climb walls?”

GM: [sounds of shooting and screaming]

•    Urgent! Seven men down to unknown assailant! Send heavy support and fucking lights to Bones sector 9
•    Assailant is wearing stealth gear and a grav belt
•    [then a response from the central control system]

Lam: “Do we have access to that gear?” Lam queries as she listens to the madness unfold.

GM: Affirmative wet work 3, mobilizing squad 2 from overwatch duty. Send immediate sensor data for target confirmation
[a brief crackle as what you guess is the last survivor of team 3 fiddles with his helmet]
•    It’s … Cold?
[then an image comes through the screen, the sensory confirmation … It’s an infrared image that matches exactly what you saw on Alva’s drone in the death priest’s room]

Lam: Lams face turns pale. “You don’t think its…… I mean…. shit.” Then she brightens slightly “Well at least we know those security guys are going to be distracted for a while! Lets get to Simon Simon and get the hell of this rock.”

GM: Everything has gone dark, so it’s to be expected that the wraith will come out to play

Lam: Its all their fault anyway grin emoticon

GM: [a few seconds later there is a despairing scream and the emergency feed from team 3 ends]
[and then …]
•    All wet work teams. Unknown additional forces in contact zone. Initiate action immediately. Do not kill the prime targets!

Lam: sigh….. I wonder if that is us?

GM: Chaos! Unlikely given what you just heard

Lam: Yay!

GM: Btw did anyone think to bring the silver sword?

Ahmose:Not sure, Ahmose wouldn’t feel comfortable leaving it alone with our two NPCs OR dragging it around the city. If she can think clear enough she would have grabbed it I assume …
“See, this is exactly why I wanted to leave right away. This is exactly what I feared would happen! Second time that boys drags us into a stinking sinkhole.” Looks at the screen and shouts “your boy needs a spanking! ” And than she rants in a foreign dialect

Lam: Lam nods along with her Captain, adding appropriate agreement when she can understand what is being said

To be or not to be: Breakout from the Coven

GM: So this brings us to the interesting topic of getting out

Simon Simon: “Where’s the captain oh captain? Why are you here anyways?”

Alva: ”Captain is coming” He looks at the body and shakes his head. “I thought I was here to prevent her shooting herself. Apparently not.” He turns back to Simon. “Mother sent us. Told us there was trouble.”

Simon Simon: <Huh… strange, very forward thinking> Simon nods satisfied. Then looks at the woman. “Yeah she shouldnt have died, how do we get out tho? Can you… ” Waves hands. “Mumjumbo us out?”

Alva: “Do we want to get out?”, his head turns towards the voices growing more excited. “Can you tell me what’s going on in less than a minute?” Alva is still absently touching his shoulder, the wound seems to be closing in around itself a bit, but it’s clearly not anywhere near being healed.

Simon Simon: “SSA Is about to hit the place, I’ve stalled them barely, we don’t have too much time. There is an unknown outside, one of these guys was talking to Loitering guy outside, now there is a dead body on the street and a figure taking cover aiming at the door. We gotta get out; and try and get all the people who are here out as well.” He aims down the hallway. “There is… a bunch of people on the building.” (About a dozen?). “They are all part of Mary sue’s crew” Points at dead lady.

GM: [probs half a dozen now]

Simon Simon: ”Mary sue’s crew shouldnt die… if possible I want to help them.”

Alva: Alva looks a tad surprised, glancing at Mary Sue’s body again. “Mary shot herself because she didn’t want to be captured?”

Simon Simon: Simon nods. “Said she knew too much and … couldnt risk it”
“Tell you all about it later”
“But we need her… body” He shivers

Alva: Alva smirks “Fat lot of good that knowledge is going to do now.” He starts to get up, and quickly grabs his shoulder, obviously surprised it still hurts this much. He frowns. “As far as taking us away. That’s not going to work, I’m running on empty here.”

GM: [if only you had some way to boost your psionics …]

Alva: [yeah, that’d be nice :P]

Simon Simon: ”Oh… front door then, like I was about to anyways.” He says standing up. “Time’s awasting! we shouldnt die.”

Alva: [If it is the glob of liquid I took with me, Alva has no clue as to it’s function, and is more assuming it to be something Simon needs when he goes crazy. Unless he has seen similar things before.]

GM: Simon Simon gets two sudden visions from the Mother
One is a sudden, brilliant flash of pink, an all-encompassing wave of … pinkness … that you feel has some very compelling meaning.
The second is a more detailed vision – a nest of dragons curled around an unseen treasure, sleeping, in a vast chamber with stars in the roof. In the vision they begin to slowly uncoil and one by one life their heads, to gaze directly at you. They have a lethal and prodigious intelligence and although they may not be specifically evil, their motivations are completely alien to you. The Mother has given you some new Grace and right now they can’t see you because of something you are doing that you don’t understand. But they are alert and looking around, and they are very sinister. Also the shadows of the vast space seem to throng with unseen demons.

Simon Simon: ”Pink! and dragons!” Simon bursts out suddenly. “Nice pink flash! and dragons incoming!!” He says holding Alva.
Simon quickly types a message to the techie. (luckily he had patched through before). “Mary sue is hurt, going to take her to safety, run and hide! will contact you later. Be careful! man outside covering the door.”
“Terrible things are a coming Alva! worst than the SSA! worst than.. worst than Mother wrath. Pink it up now, cuz we have no time at all.”

Alva: “What are you talking about Simon?”, he reaches into his pocket to bring out the cup of liquid, “You need this goo?”

GM: You hear gunfire start up in the street outside

Simon Simon: (Is it pink?)
Simon shrugs and takes it, and chugs a bit of it and gives the rest to alva.

Alva: “Pink it up?” Alva looks at the liquid dubiously. “It’s not more magic is it…” but then he shakes himself. “Nah, an AI made it. Should be ok.” He then takes it from Simon and downs the rest of the cup.

GM: nice work.
Simon feels nothing except a slightly numb left front molar tooth
Alva gets an instant, intense buzz, that rushes through him and fills him with an intense sense of wellbeing and overarching knowledge.
Not only does his psionic capacity return but he feels he can … see things … he has an idea that the Loitering Guy across the street is still there and Joe is dead at his feet, and there is a team coming down the street, no back exit, about 8 people near the doorway and one screaming in pain.
This stuff is powerful.
Moments later someone starts screaming in the doorway, in pain. Alva knows where he was shot, it’s a shoulder blow and he should live but the guys coming down the street have no intent to let anyone live except the woman called Sue and the confederate called Simon, who they will take.
So now Alva has the power to teleport again!
But, there is a small problem

He can’t teleport anyone except himself
[This is in the rules!]
He can teleport up to 500kg of non-living material but he can’t teleport sentient things

Alva: [I can teleport organic matter?]

GM: The van is now Distant, so it takes 8 -9 points to get there – the ship is too far.
Yes you can teleport organic matter but it has to be dead

Alva: “Do you fancy dying to escape?”

Simon Simon: He raises an eyebrow. “I shouldnt die.”
“Get the guy covering the street, I run with the small friends!”

GM: In his current state Alva is acutely aware that the car is some distance away, it’s pitch black out there, and there is a team of 6 hardened killers moving down the street.
Simon Simon is getting reassuring feelings from the Mother.

Simon Simon: [How far down the street?]

GM: They don’t extend towards the door!
About 30 m away and closing carefully. Someone has unleashed the heavy rifle on them but is having difficulty firing because Loitering Guy has the door covered.
Once their crowd control gas gets in here it’s all over.

Simon Simon: (couldnt alva teleport out, get the loitering guy, teleport to rooftop and chug a frag in the middle of incoming?)

Alva: Alva has the power to teleport maybe twice, and he has to have seen the place he’s going to. He can sense people but he can’t see places

Simon Simon: (does it have to be physical or can I show him in the cameras?)

GM: Someone yells “I’m hit” and a fusillade of bullets splinters through the physical wall, smashing kitchen implements. You can show him in cameras but it’s pitch black out there.
So nothing to see …

Also, you haven’t been paying attention to some things but you do notice there has been a lot of chatter on the emergency channel you hacked into – it sounds like some violence happening elsewhere too, though you didn’t follow the details

Basically Alva probably has enough points to do two very close teleports, but that will use up all the points this juice gave him so he may not be able to get back inside.

Also he doesn’t have his grenades with him, or any body armour
[did I mention that?]
Bart, can you tell Eddie what t-shirt Alva is wearing? Does it have any cute logos or symbols?

Simon Simon: [I do have mine tho?]. Simon really doesn’t want to die, if Alva can take the guy outside he might risk making a run for it thinking they wont shoot him since they want him alive. Might be enough distraction to allow the peeps to escape too

GM: There’s a real risk that will split you guys, and leave Alva impotent on the roof while they come in to get you
You do know that dying won’t be permanent so long as Alva doesn’t fry your whole brain. The only problem is that you will then lose two of your four boxes – one for you and one for Sue.

Is her information worth it …?

Simon Simon: Simon shouldnt die! He’d never do it

Alva: Same

GM: but you both know it’s not really death …
However maybe …
Alva could teleport behind the Loitering Guy and kill him.
Then the door is free of covering fire, so you could throw a grenade into the group.
Then Alva might be able to use this sudden rush of power to fool the group into thinking they’re being attacked from behind.
Then you could all make a run for it.
But it’s very risky and if you get caught it will be a real challenge for the others to liberate you.

Simon Simon: (Is not that, is that I don’t think simon simon who’s catch phrase is “I shouldn’t die” would pull the trigger and trust a box giving to him by a priest (whom he didn’t like from the start)

GM: (his catch phrase could become “I can’t die”)
(And I think there:s a certain beauty to his choosing to die knowing he can come back, even though he thinks he shouldn’t, because the information Sue has is so valuable to him)

Simon Simon: (thats the thing, he doesnt knows he can come back, you are asking a guy who is obssesed with living, technology and AI’s to believe a priest who talks funny and gave him a box; yes he has seen a lot of weird shit lately but its not enough to put a bullet on him; thats what a believer would do. I understand the beauty of it and the leap of faith, but its wouldnt be in him. If Mother would ask him to tho… )

(He doesnt know what happens if he dies, He doesn’t even like the concept of resleeving, would he come back as himself? wouldn’t he die and another thing move on with his memories? What if something goes terribly wrong? He comes back but his body is damaged… What if when he wakes up he is not adherent anymore? What if the Mother in him dies when he does?)

(in his mind there is a high chance the priest is either shitting them or is crazy himself; he has been skeptic about the box from day one, if he ever saw someone come back using it might be he’d change his mind there, but I dont think Simon would risk his life to find out)

(Thats another reason why he doesn’t mind using his box on Sue, cuz a big part of him believes it just wont work anyways)

GM: The mother won’t support a decision to kill yourself. That requires a leap of faith, and she can’t comprehend that.
So you’re going to have to grind it out here in the pitch black until the car arrives
Fortunately Alva’s state means he can pinpoint targets in the dark and tell you where to move.

Will you start by teleporting behind Loitering Dude and putting him down like a dog?
Who will carry the body?

Simon Simon: Plan: teleport behind dude with body of Joe, get rid of him quietly, throw grenade at or behind dudes, as they turn I shoot with lasers and little people run out, I go back in the building and then we pick targets as possible. Thats as far as my brain can come with. Sounds very not good

GM: note that it’s still pitch black out there and most of these dudes don’t have sophisticated gear – you could potentially move away under the chaos of a grenade and a bit of machine gun fire from across the street, and they wouldn’t be any the wiser

Alva: Maybe better to try to sneak out, and then start shooting if shit goes to hell anyway?
I’ll teleport behind dude, dispose of him, and jump away (with sue) if anything goes wrong.

Simon Simon: Dude is aiming at the door atm, shooting anyone coming out. So we gotta get rid of him if we are to try anything.

GM: Then you have the team approaching the door with the intent to kill everyone inside… But in the dark they won’t be able to see the grenade… And if Loitering Dude is down they won’t be able to know when you come to the door

Simon Simon: and I can start shooting from the dark at anyone who comes close to the door, with an invisible laser

GM: The only problem is the poor video of the place Alva has to teleport to.
Loitering Guy is loitering under a street light though – you could ask the Mother to turn on that one streetlight for one second so you can see clearly through the cameras.
Alva can see through your eyes …
Actually scratch that
I will change the teleportation rules so that at short ranges you can teleport using distance information
So in close combat it acts like a dimension door spell … Makes it way more useful

Okay let’s do it
Heavy rifle dude moves real close to you, holding the tablet. “Give me a location and I’ll get us there”.

Of the 8 of the Unredeemed, one is dead, one is injured and being supported by another, two are carrying Sue, one is armed.
They have tied a novelty battery-operated lamp to sue’s body. It’s a voice-activated grenade shape. Say “love” and it glows a soft pink; “happy” and it goes a bright white; “disco” (whatever that means) and it alternates between green and red in 3 second intervals

Simon Simon: Funky

GM: It will give them enough light to walk without falling over but won’t function as a targeting beacon without being inside about 15m. They get ready. You and Alva exchange terse nods and it’s on

Simon Simon: Ask techie foe hideout, I gave him the soft for it. If he cant tell what’s what, the only place I know is full of dead bodies but it might work.” He gives him the address for death cult place xD.

GM: Alva blinks out and you move quietly to the door
Moments later gunfire erupts across the road and you toss the grenade out the door

Simon Simon: <its on!>

GM: The grenade is devastating. The team were moving along close to the wall and the grenade lands at their feet on the base of the wall, channeling all the blast directly at them.
There are screams and a smattering of wild gunfire and you’re out
First you and Alva clean them up, which would be quick but one of the injured is in combat armour rolling amongst the bodies of his dying friends in the murk

You have to fire a lot of times to stop him. It’s loud and unpleasant but after about 10 seconds it is done and the dark silence is broken only by gentle moaning and pleas. The crew leave, heading down the street. Alva has identified another team moving in from one end of the street, and two guys on guard duty in cover at the other end.

The crew head towards the two guys, disco grooving as they move, but two pick up weapons as they pass the dying
You two and Heavy Rifle Dude lay down a vicious hail of gunfire on the approaching team, and they fall back to cover, one dead and two wounded. Then you fall back towards the two men on duty.

Simon Simon can patch into their comms and is getting lots of information. Everyone everywhere is calling for backup. Some kind of intense battle is happening in another part of the dome, the SSA teams are losing badly and its rapidly degenerating into chaos. The two guys at the end of the street don’t know what is going on and urgent messages are being exchanged between them and the injured team.

You move closer and Alva uses (almost) all of his remaining psionics to teleport behind them. More gunfire, one goes down and the other breaks cover to get away, Simon shoots him and he falls.

From the other end of the street there is a massive fusillade of gunfire that goes mostly wild. Someone in the crew grunts and something hits Simon Simons armour but it’s not serious. You duck around the corner, hit the lights for “happy” and sprint for it. Alva directs you to a spot quite far from any teams and you hit the lights. It goes pitch black except for the light of the tablet as Can Opener Dude looks for a safe way to the death cult lair.

Alva has only enough psionics for sensing life. He could use it all to send a message to ahmose or you could try and hack the comms

Simon Simon: Is there comm jamming atm?

GM: Not really! Everything has gone to hell in a hand basket and somehow in the chaos a bunch of security systems have fallen
The Mother is fading now and leaving it to you.
You have persistent feelings of giant dark beasts just out of sight.

Simon Simon: “Whole place is going kaboon…”

GM: Heavy Rifle Dude finds a route through narrow streets and disused factories, and you head out.
It’s going to take ten minutes to get to the death cult lair.
You going to send a message?

Simon Simon: Yes, Simon will hack into their comm system and use it to a message to Ahmose. He is rushing so probably not very secure, but he tries to make the message confusing to anyone but the team : “I’m very interesting, and I shouldn’t die. Meet us where we last saw a kitty poster.”

GM: When you do the hack you discover an interesting thing…
There is a comms channel called “interesting. Shouldn’t die”.
It contains a complete feed of all SSA messages and comms.
It’s owner is listed as “your mother”.
No broadcast location is given.
(It appears that when you call forth an AI, they really do have a lot of power).
You send the message.

Simon Simon: ”uh… freaky” <Mother’s very proactive today, not sure thats good…>

GM: Reviewing that channel, you are able to work out the cause of the big fights you heard. The wraith is out hunting in the dark, and stumbled on the SSA. Also the Slipsiders themselves have taken charge and are going to lock down the whole of the Bones in an hour.
The Mother is now completely gone, probably high tailing it before those sinister monsters in the dark find her. They won’t find you yet because you are being stealthy… But all manner of crazy shit could start happening if they start tampering with systems in here.

Simon Simon: Go wraith! woot! There is nothing to do but trust we make it to the death-house and the captain gets the message.
I try to keep hacking and digital presence to a minimum just in case.

Alva: Alva has been kind of in a daze since the fight started, but now that he isn’t shot at every second any more, he has time to think that that went oddly well for an improvised thing.

Simon Simon:Plan was solid! We had the darkness in our side

Alva: I’m liking the darkness for now. Lets hope we don’t stumble into the ghost.

GM: Don’t worry, in this darkness you won’t know if you’ve stumbled on the ghost until you’re dead
Also you can track its progress through the combat noise and the emergency comms channel. It has moved away from the death cult lair and is drifting from SSA team to SSA team. The teams are moving in to its location and thus increasing its kill rate. They don’t know it’s a ghost and don’t have the tools to kill it, so it’s a very one-sided and panicky affair. If you could get some found footage it would make a great horror movie

Simon Simon:Season 3! if only it wouldnt be so dangerous to be connected at the moment… He does have the audio tho, thats something

GM: on that topic there are a few things you could do …

1.    grab a collection of video
2.    patch the full emergency comms system into the general communications network of the Pearl so that everyone can see what the Slipsiders were trying to do here and what happened
3.    both

Alva: It’d be in line with the other sets of videos we have.

Simon Simon: I think I might do 2) as/if we get out of this place

Escape from the Bones
[GM Note: Ahmose and Lam received Simon Simon’s message, and headed for the death cult lair, grumbling the whole way and cheering on the wraith].

Ahmose and Lam arrive at the bone factory first, but after a nervous five minute wait Alva and Simon Simon appear. They are accompanied by 7 random strangers, carrying a corpse with a grenade-shaped object tied to it. The object is glowing red and green alternately. Simons Simon, Alva and two of the random crew are lightly injured, one is seriously injured and starting to sag in the grip of another. Alva looks bone tired and ready to collapse. Simon Simon looks terrified and exhilarated.

Ahmose: Ahmose swallows down a ‘I told you so’, opens the van, and takes position with her rifle. “Lam, I got a bad feeling about this. Take cover and search for anything incoming … Especially from above”

GM: The crew stump exhausted and nervous up to the van, placing the dead woman’s body reverently on the ground.
Everything flows a soft red.
Then green.

Lam: Lam nods and moves quickly to a position where she has cover and is able to get a clear view of their surroundings.

Simon Simon: Simon leans against the side of the van, resting his head for a second recovering. “Nice of you to make it captain… we have nasties incoming of the AI type… I think. Also SSA is moving to close the Bones in… maybe half an hour now, not sure, lost track of time…”

GM: So there are two options to get out…

Drive along the spar and hope to get out before SSA shut it. Or go to the service level of the spar and hack into a slave haulage vessel. Take that to the main dock and transfer to the ship

Ahmose: How much time has passed? Are we still in the 60min deadline?

GM: It’s maybe 20 minutes … Still plenty of time. The comms channel suggests you could probably still just drive out …

Ahmose: Then I’d say we try to get out in the van. The slave vessel is plan b. (Too many unknown factors – especially when AI s are on out asses!!)

Simon Simon: Sure, simon will keep an eye out for communications just in case.
He will ready a message of “Important package coming through, assistance needed in sector [place of last wraith attack]” just in case they meet any agents on the way.

GM: Okay…
So you follow Ahmose’s orders, because she is your Captain your Captain, and hit the Spar. The lights are flickering like crazy on the spar but there is nothing going on there. The wet work team that was guarding the entrance has moved, probably because they had to go get slaughtered by a ghost out of legend.
At the far end of the spar there should be a team blocking it but they have hastily abandoned their road block, presumably to go join their friends being slaughtered by a beast that shouldn’t exist.
So you are able to get off the spar and safely onto the general roads of the Pearl – a world of lights, and human beings moving around in the light.

Simon Simon, while everyone’s driving do you want to explain the value of your dead guest to everyone, and the crew of injured people sagged in the back?
Also, why Alva is looking nearly dead with exhaustion, and kind of wild-eyed and weird?
Feel free to chime in Alva

Lam: As the last barrier rushes past, Lam sighs in relief and turns to Simon Simon, “talk” she growls.

Alva: Alva sags against the wall and massages a shoulder that has a slowly shrinking burned hole in it. He looks like he’s debating the virtues of unconsciousness.

Simon Simon: When you look back simon simon has the window down and he is playing with the wind with hands. When Lam growls he meeps and quickly closes the window like caught red handed. Simon nudges foward and sits closer to the team trying to keep the conversation away from the unredeemed, which proves not very effective given they are all in a van together and he only manages to make everyone slightly madder with bumping around.

Simon Simon: “Mary Sue is… hurt at the moment.” He widens his eyes and crosses a finger on his neck in sign of dead. “She wasn’t feeling too brave, but when she comes back Im sure she’ll tell us more…”
“Apparently our friends here” He points to the tagged group. “Used to follow something close to Mother… just much older and currently.. well.. broken.”
“Mary Sue didnt get to tell me all of it before she went to sleep, but she mentioned a connection to the … cult. And there’s this whole thing about it all being connected to the garden.”

Lam: Lam sighs “what’s the green and red boxy thing?” She asks, slightly distracted by the flashing light as

Simon Simon: “And then the baddies came, and Alva wanted me to die, but I shouldn’t die, so we drank some pink stuff and then we blew them up, and there was or are dragons coming from somewhere in the pearl, and we shouldn’t stay here.”

He leans back on the seat, satisfied.

“What?” he looks back. “Oh that! decoration, they have horrible sense…” He leans forwards and whispers. “They were using keys! KEYS!”

Lam: “Dragons??? Like flying dragons from legend?” Lams eyes open wide and awe emoticons glimmer around her. Her hair turns flame red.

Simon Simon: ”How terribly barbaric…” He shakes his head.

Lam: “Keys??? It’s like out of a fantasy novel!” Lam shakes her head in astonishment

Simon Simon: “Well.. not dragon DRAGONS… like… AI dragons? maybe, not sure; Mother showed me, she ain’t good with words.”

Lam: “Can I see one?”

Simon Simon: “Auhmmm… not sure… I could try rendering one out of memory but that would take time… it was a vision… thingy.”

Lam: “Vision…” Lam whispers in awe followed by “dragons…”

Simon Simon: “I … think they are the old AI’s in the pearl system… maybe related to the whole defense system… Mother kept me hidden from them, but now she’s hiding. I don’t think its very good idea to stay in this pearl for a lot more.”

Ahmose: “Yeah yeah that’s all great. But lets cut the important point here: is she … Dangerous? She looks … unstable somehow. And will they be tracked by those iDragons?”

Simon Simon: ”Who?”

Ahmose: “Cause if so we sure has hell will not bring them close our ship!”

Lam: “More importantly does the green red light thingy blow up?”

Simon Simon: “It shouldnt.. less you attach explosives to it. Its just a thing they made out of a lamp and old systems. Its red and green because its in ‘Disco’ mode.” He says the word Disco with a sense of superiority, but he obviously has no idea what it means.
He whispers again. “They cant see in the dark! barbaric…”

Lam: Lam reddens slightly “not all of us have fancy night vision you know” she mutters to herself.

Ahmose:  “Damn, can someone tell me something that makes sense here? Alva?!!”

Simon Simon: ”So now you see why I NEEDED to help them, keys and disco… horrible life standards.”

Ahmose: “Here I am having not one but TWO science guys in my crew and no one talks fucking sense!”
“Simon, talk straight or shut up!”

Simon Simon: “I just did! unredeemed, they have their own AI(which is all buggy), but its not here, mary sue knows where it is but she is de-.. sleeping; AI dragons incoming, pink stuff, explosions, pew pew” He waves his hands to add dramatic flare.

Ahmose: Mumbles ‘and here I thought the fucking ghost gave me a headache…’

Simon Simon: ”Oh yeah!! And the ghost is walking around killing SSA agents up and down, its making a gory hell out of them.”

Ahmose: *you here the popping of Ahmoses knuckles as she clenches her fists even through her armor *

Simon Simon: He pulls out a datapad with videos and audio recordings of SSA people dying misteriously and horribly.
“Season 3!”

Ahmose: *then she relaxes with a sigh, rolls her head*

Simon Simon: He smiles to himself.
“I’m thinking of releasing the videos of the SSA attacks and them dying as we go away… chaos!” He giggles.

Ahmose: ”Sure, give them even more reasons to shoot us down”
“If you have a secure way of transmitting you could tell the folks on pearl 7 that we will rush into their arms and could really use a warm welcome”

Simon Simon: Simon shakes his head. “SSA are mercs.. and I think they werent supposed to be doing what they were doing, if anything the videos will at leat give us cover with confusion.”

Ahmose: “Okay, but keep this as an ace in your sleeve for now”

Simon Simon: “Also no one is nice in this place.. if we show them getting mauled their enemies will pop out to party”

Ahmose: “Okay folks”, looks at the new faces “where can we drop you off?”

Alva: Alva lifts his head to look at Simon for a bit, obviously pained that the explanation made no sense to the others. “This dea-” he glances at Simon, then shrugs and continues. “-ead girl here apparently knows a lot about AI’s in the station or system, but she didn’t want the bad guys to get it so she very practically shot herself in the head”
“That was what we were seeing before on the monitor. I tried to stop her, but only managed to ruin a shirt.” The shirt he was wearing that was originally plain white with something resembling a penguin on the front is now painted a dark red. “Then Simon shot me.” He turns to simon with a frown “Why did you do that anyway? You tried to shoot her gun?”

Simon Simon: He looks at Alva with exhasperation in his eyes, then back the team of rugged people behind, and smiles awardly in failed reassurance. “We’ll do what we can to help sue folks..” He turns back.
“Well… you did come out of nowhere! I thought you was one of baddies or something.”
He points at the wound. “That’s a reminder to call before you visit. People gotta tidy up before visits Alva.”

Alva: ”Either way, we were pretty fucked stuck there until Simon reminded me of the pink liquid mother prepared, which is apparently capable of boosting psionics to amazing heights. And giving great headaches. We then fought some guys, and some more guys, and we made it here.” he motions at the video that Simon has ” The as of yet unexplained physical manifestation helped quite a bit”

Lam: “You shot Alva???” Lam lowers her head to the dashboard. You think you can hear “there’s no place like home.” Being repeated over and over

Simon Simon: ”In my defense it was a bit rude to show up unannounced!” He sulks.

Alva: Alva just closes his eyes again and ignores Simon. He mutters something to the extend that he’ll remember that next time, but there’s not much heart in it.
He just seems too tired to care much.

Simon Simon: Simon mumbles, making sure the group behind definitely cant hear. “I might’ve also been aiming at mary sue cuz I said I might go find the AI on my own if she didnt help me…”

Lam: Lam looks at the captain “so are we rescuing these poor gentle cultists from an untimely demise or just gonna abandon them at their time of disco flashing need?”

Simon Simon: ”I’ll tell you all more when we get to the ship away with… more privacy.” “More importantly captain! these people shouldn’t die. They are Unredeemed and gotta be redeemed! Plus … they SSA might be hunting them and they couldn’t make it outside the Bones anyways. I gave them a way to spot SSA attacks but.. with the dragons coming…”
“‘less they wanna stay…” He shivers at the thought.

Ahmose: “You think they’ll survive on pearl 7?”
“I’d rather not take them on board. We are up to full capacity already. But if they no other place to go we can give them a lift to 7 or the gardens”

Simon Simon: ”Compared to the Bones 7’s heaven.”

Alva: “Maybe rent another ship? I doubt 7 extra people will fit?”

Lam: Let’s take them to 7 at least captain! I mean at least they will be kind of safer.”

Ahmose: “We have to make sure they’ll let us dock with those folks onboard”

Lam: Lam shrugs “what they don’t know won’t hurt em.”

Ahmose: “Have you been there the first time we landed?”

Simon Simon: ”They like us now!”

Ahmose: ” let’s try and keep things clean with 7! We need one place to fall back on”
“Yep, let’s try and bring them in as refugees”
“… And hope that does not equal slaves there”

Lam: Lam grins “okay we gotta fly! Let’s go!”

GM: Once past the mess at the spar it is easy driving. Simon Simon releases the comms data to local media and in the resulting (further) chaos your ship slips away unnoticed. No one cares about a lowly utility ship transferring pearls on routine orders when the government of their pearl is teetering
You squeeze the 7 into the hold, it’s obvious they can’t go back

They are not exactly … Welcomed … On pearl 7 but the authorities grudgingly accept them as indentured labourers (that’s two grades up from slavery).
It will cost you about 14000 credits to free them from their bonded labour.
You might want to do that (see below), and you are able to.
So you are able to get back to your quarters with a dead woman and … Loot.

Return to Pearl 7

GM: Let’s discuss the consequences of this little shit show. Then Simon Simon can explain the implications of what he has learnt more thoroughly.
Let’s go in order.
First, lam and ahmose had to stop at a barricade at one point on the way to meet Simon and Alva
There they found a sniper team … Enervated.
The wraith had drifted through. They found three doses of combat drug (Ahmose’s choice, I assume Ahmose gets them) and a drone-linked over-the-horizon sniper rifle. I assume lam wants that.

Additional benefits accruing to ahmose at this point, for this downtime and other stuff so far
•    +1 leadership
•    +1 to all combat actions in lowlight
•    Knowledge (occult; death) 1

Lam gets: +1 endurance

Alva gets
•    +1 psionics
•    1 new discipline of his choice

Simon gets
•    +1 adherent skill
•    A new grace: stealth
•    Leadership 0
•    A cult of his own

You all get
A ready and waitin ship’s crew of 7 – once you get a ship they can join you
You are all empathy linked now
Which means that so long as Alva is conscious and has at least one point of psionics ahmose gets +1 on leadership and tactics
It also means that certain psionics attacks will fuck you all
And you probably don’t want Alva to die
I think this means that ahmose now will roll initiative bonuses for all of you all the time – an experienced and closely- linked team acts first.
Finally I am going to introduce a new rule for “invoking AI”.
That’s what Simon Simon did.
In future every such invocation will incur a permanent 1 point loss of pantheon attribute.
But as you see it is kind of useful.

Now Simon Simon, wanna start explaining the situation in a way that makes sense!?

If you revive Sue on Pearl 7 Simon Simon, she is yours body and soul

Sue the Unbroken, fanatic leader of the Cult of the Mother
(You are their prophet and she is your right hand woman)

The cult are useless now but need I point out to you that you don’t need credits when you leave here – you can sink any left over into training them as engineers and gunners and medics for your future ship.

Also Heavy Rifle Dude will make a great soldier.

Simon Simon: (We have like 300,000 credits or something… we can get these people in top notch no problem) So, after we are all back in pearl 7 and have cleaned and rested for a while simon will gather them to explain. (Or rather the captain would’ve forced him to speak since he was merry and happy just to chill and spend time with his new following) After repeating himself for 4th time, Simon Simon’s speech slowly starts to make sense.

[GM Note: There followed a long explanation of what happened in the coven, which the other PCs heard for the first time].

Oh and we need to use a box to bring back sue

Ahmose: What? Give up a box for a person that killed herself???

Simon Simon: That has the knowledge of where an AI millenia old is? yup! Simon has no problem giving his up so don’t fret.

(Actually he doesn’t believe it would work till the moment they use it, then he is a bit distressed)

Also! it would’ve been two boxes gone, but Simon Simon and Alva punched through instead of taking the easy route, which is nice cuz now I also have my cult and we have a crew! Cheap loyal manageable one at that

Ahmose: Crew is great … Also an entire crew consisting of peeps following Simon Simon is really disturbing and maybe not what Ahmose had in mind.
I mean are you sure it’s worth to spend a box for someone who rather kills himself than talk? What makes you think she will talk now?

Simon Simon: but I follow you oh captain my captain! So its all alright. I’ll do anything you want. Unless its hard or I dont want to

Lam: Lam is very impressed with Simons story. She looks to the Ahmose “we need to find that magical AI and get the answers captain! But we need a ship! We gotta crew! But now ship! If we gotta a ship…. Nothin in the ‘verse can stop us!”

Yes I got in a firefly quote

The Resurrection of the Unbroken
[GM Note: The team agree to resurrect Sue using Simon Simon’s magic box, which they got from a priest called Michael]

GM: You call Michael but he just tells you not to worry – put the box on her, open it and wait a minute or so.
He says not to look too closely if the injuries are big because it’s not pretty.

Simon Simon: Simon Simon films it then.

GM: And be ready in case she has lost too much brain and needs to be put down again like a dog. Also he strongly recommends against filming it

Simon Simon: Das fuq?

GM: It’s disrespectful to his religion and also, much as people don’t like to watch other people’s death, they get really testy about knowing someone else is watching their own rebirth

Simon Simon: ((his religion is disrepectful to reality… ))

GM: Keep it simple and pure he recommends
Okay so you gather.
Ahmose is ready to kill any unfortunate resurrection byproducts.
Sue is on her back so you can’t see the brain damage.
Fortunately the bullet when in and out clean so it appears not much brain has leaked.
(No one here is really an expert on that topic).
You get out the box.

It’s about 5cm on every side, held closed by a simple loop of some cord, with a fragment of mother of pearl.
There are delicate carvings of stylized waves on it, and it is graded in color from ash gray on top to dark dark blue at the bottom.
You think it isn’t wood – coral maybe ? It’s actually a thing of beauty.
The waves are small, light and swirly at the top near the lid but become longer and heavier near the bottom, really seeming to recall the pattern of currents in an ocean.
You put it on her chest and everyone stands there looking at each other for a moment.

You aren’t used to this shit

Anyone wanna say any last words? If she wakes up wrong and starts clawing madly for her killer this is going to go from a peaceful rebirth ceremony to a brutal hack fest in the blink of an eye.
So if you want to say anything nice now is the time

(I guess I should have mentioned this a few sessions back…)
(Oops dunno how that slipped my mind )

Simon Simon: ”Become Interesting, What is of the Mother shouldn’t die.” Simon says solemnly.

GM: Everyone nods appreciatively. You open the box.

Nothing happens. You stand there waiting
You were expecting a disco glow of whispered children dying or something.

Simon Simon: Simon Simon takes out a cup of ice cream and sits on the edge of the bed.

GM: Your experience of priest magic so far has involved a lot of cold and dying children’s whispers and existential terror, so this is a bit of an anti climax.

Simon Simon: “Thats that then.” And he nods like he knew this would happen.

GM: Then after about a minute the air starts to smell slightly of he sea

Simon Simon: ”And Alva wanted me to DIE! for the Moth-”

GM: At first you think you’re just trying to fool your own senses. Like after you snort cocaine and you keep thinking the effect has started but it’s just your imagination. But it grows until it’s unmistakable.
Then you start to get this unsteady feeling, like the whole earth is moving gently in some way, rhythmically. Except it obviously isn’t.
And you can faintly hear the sea and feel the sun on your skin, real sun, the sun of two bright stars in a different sky, sunlight that sparkles on the waves and the distant white tiled roofs of the coral village, and dazzles you as you scan the horizon for the spout of the onrushing leviathan, spear ready.

Not this pathetic red mockery of a star.

These feelings take about another minute or two to grow, and you are so engrossed in the obvious strangeness and … Rightness … Of it all that you don’t notice time passing.

Then the sounds and smells recede and you do notice sue’s body twitching and then suddenly she gasps a huge breath of air and sits up mouth agape and her head is completely healed.

Ahmose’s hand twitches, ready, but she looks at you all with obvious comprehension

You just witnessed a resurrection.

“Simon Simon?! Jeremy!? We escaped?!”

Then she sinks back on the pillow

“My head really hurts …”

Simon Simon: Simon Simon just sits there with mouth wide open.

GM: (I guess now you all know the difference between black magic and white magic)

Simon Simon: Ice cream melting on his hand.

GM: When Sue sat up the box fell off her chest. It shatters when it hits the floor, suddenly strangely brittle.

Sue looks at everyone staring at her
“I dreamt I was swimming In a deep ocean, in a cathedral of sunbeams. It was so beautiful”
She sighs.

Simon Simon: Simon moves closer, his face very close to her trying to look for the wound on her back.

GM: It’s gone. Just a small scar. She looks really tired though.

Simon Simon: “… incredible…” He says and looks at her smiling. “You are back Mary Sue!”

GM: “Was I injured ? Sorry for my stupidity back there, I just didn’t think we could escape. Where are we? Where are the rest?”

Simon Simon: He looks at the techie. “See? told you. Shouldnt die” He nods af it all makes any sense.
“You acted silly Sue! But now you are back, you are Unbroken! Unbroken Sue.”
“We are safe now, I told you I would help you all, and I did. Your friends are waiting. Techie is here, and the rest wait outside.” He goes to the door and opens it. “She is back! Easy now crew, no big sounds.” He herds everyone in slowly so they can see.
She greets everyone, shaking hands and hugging carefully. Somewhere in all the confusion the fragments of the box get scattered around the room so that even if you tried you couldn’t rebuild it
Everyone is very happy. It’s not clear she knows she was dead.
You leave her to rest for a while.

After a few hours, you can ask questions …

Simon Simon: (I guess we can wait a day or so before interrogations..)
I do sit down with her and explain to her what happened at the bones, I take my time at it too, make sure its none too rushed

GM: She seems to handle it okay

Simon Simon: At some point I ask her if she wants to see the videos, in case its all hard to believe.
Now that you’re out and she’s safe on Pearl 7 a light comes back into her eyes.
It dies a little after she sees the videos.
But she gets busy with her group and it becomes obvious that they are reorienting as a cult based around the Mother.
They are happy to have an AI back and she has changed her mind about visiting the Starred One.

Simon Simon: How does the Mother react to them?

GM: She hasn’t noticed them. There are more humans than stars in the galaxy.She only cares about one. Why waste processor time on the rest?

Simon Simon: Simon Simon still adds their data to the system so she at least knows of them
After a few days, when he sees she is recovered, he’ll pull her aside to ask her some stuff

1.    She mentioned the death cult was related to them somehow before the incident, was there something there she didnt told simon before?
2.    Who are/were the Elders she tried to contact? And if they are still alive, where are they?
3.    Will she tell me where the Starred One is? What else can she tell me about it? What are her plans now for it?
4.    What is the cult going to do now? Anything they want from the Mother? Are you still “Unredeemed”?
5.    Could they work for their stay here until we find a new ship? Do they agree to join us as crew? Would they be willing to take on training if we paid for it?
6.    Any idea why the SSA was hunting them?

1.    she guessed that on the basis of what you told her
2.    there are two other Elders, she can give you their names and try and find them, but chances are they’re dead
3.    The Starred One is on an observation station called Rocannon’s World, a couple of jumps distant from here. She will give you detailed information so you can go there.
4.    follow you, into hell if necessary
5.    Yes to anything you say, boss
6.    No, but as she realized, it only started a few weeks ago, about the time you say the death cult came to the Reach, and she doesn’t know more than that. But it seems like a mighty coincidence that they are being hunted by people who were willing to let a death priest into the gardens, and their own foundation story is centred on the gardens …

Her best guess is that the cult’s leader and the Starred One learnt something important in the Gardens, and fled the Reach with the information

GM: Well if that’s all, I think our downtime is finished …

you all get 2xp for a) cool stuff and b) burning one of your boxes and c) uncovering some information that may or may not lead to something …

[GM Note: And thus ends this downtime, after about a week of intermittent adventuring]

soul assassin

These are known as darkling days
rhyming schemes gone askew,
crackling gifts of light and air,
exploding worlds,
ours to share

-Lament of the Unredeemed

Sometimes unexpected things happen in unpleasant places. The PCs have stumbled on a death cult that seems to be wandering across the galaxy digging through old tombs in search of something called “the ansible.” They were paid by a remnant holy man called Michael to kill a priest of this death cult, and having done so find themselves under the protection of the rulers of Pearl 7, in the pirate system known as the Reach. Killing this priest had been traumatic for them, since he was accompanied by a couple of demons and seemed to be able to conjure more when he needed them; our heroes are not used to the idea that demons could be real entities, or that someone would conjure them, or that when they drift into striking range the air turns cold and the victim hears faint echoes of dying children and tortured animals.

They also weren’t expecting to discover the death priest’s purpose, documented on grainy old videos of the death priest raising the souls of long-dead heroes and torturing them to force them to tell him the location of the ansible. Though at first they didn’t believe what they were seeing, their puzzlement soon turned to horror as they realized the extent of this death priest’s reach, and perhaps also his ambition.

They agreed to Michael’s request to help him hunt down the death cult. His plan was to return to his planet and trace the priest’s travels backwards from there, but before they left with him the characters decided to clear a few things up. First, Alpha the psionicist had a background in archaeology, and had realized that they might be able to find out more about the mysterious ansible and the links between the long-dead heroes the death priest had sought out. To do this he needed to set up an archaeological dig in the tombspine, which would mean seeking the support of the tombspine management committee – yes, even pirates have committees. To this end he would need to prepare an application, because even pirates have forms, and bureaucrats.

Second, the PCs realized that the death priest must have a base of operations on Pearl 2 – where he was under the protection of the local authorities – and might have some materials there that could give them more information about where he was from and why he sought the ansible. Since no one yet knew he was dead, and probably believed he was still working quietly on his vile task in the tombspine, they guessed that they could raid his lodgings relatively easily if they moved quickly. While they waited for the first stage of Alpha’s research application to be processed, they set off for Pearl 2, to find the death priest’s lair and storm it.

In the slavers’ lair

Although all the Pearls maintain slaves, Pearl 2 is the heaviest user of slavery and the largest trader in slaves. The Pearl trades, breeds and trains human slaves, bringing in captives from around the sector and breeding carefully-selected slave stock to trade with other Pearls, and to use in its heavy industry. Pearl 2 is packed full of heavy industries, and slaves are used extensively in all the worst jobs in these industries. Pearl 2 also maintains an extensive and rigidly policed caste system, with many tiers of free workers who are treated little better than slaves, though clearly above them. Densely populated, polluted and constantly riven by low-level social conflict, Pearl 2 is a model of all the problems the Spiral Confederacy aims to eliminate from human society.

The PCs entered this sprawling den of iniquity with a strong sense of foreboding and trepidation. Even the approach to the Pearl is forbidding, with the entire structure swathed in clouds of toxic dust. The Pearl is not a spherical habitat, but a series of obloid structures of differing sizes, interconnected by huge spars that carry traffic and goods between the separate sections. The upper half of the major sections stands clear of the miasma surrounding the Pearl, and the higher one lives in the habitat the wealthier one is. Slaves live, toil and die in the bottom-most sections of the Pearl, never seeing the light of the weak red dwarf that powers the Reach. Like the other Pearls, Pearl 2 has no field technology outside its superstructure, and as a result its surface is discoloured and pitted from the constant contact with the miasma.

The PCs disembarked at a small service dock in the mid-level of the main section. No one greeted them, and the machine for registering their weapons was broken so they simply walked into the Pearl itself bearing all their weapons unremarked. Pearl 7 had organized accommodation for them in the area called Silicon Valley, which was near the dock, so they proceeded there immediately. Silicon Valley is a light industrial area devoted to reclaiming silicon from imported sands, and consisted of a kind of canyon of buildings stretching perhaps a couple of kms along one edge of the habitat. At its base were the reclamation facilities, shrouded in silicon dust; higher up the valley were light industries and chip makers, and near the top the shops and traders and residencies of the better-paid workers. The PCs took small rooms in an area relatively free of silicon dust, and set about finding the death priest.

They started by visiting a local public web access facility, from which Simon Simon tried a little low-level hacking. He could not find the death priest’s address directly, but he was able to identify the dock from which the priest’s ship had set out for the Gardens. There was a dockmaster with a full manifest of addresses which Simon Simon could not access, but he was able to make a fake identity for himself as a representative of a shell company that dealt directly with the Confederacy for illegal technology, the kind of company that one did not ask too many questions about. He sent an email to the dockmaster from this shell company, informing him of the PCs’ imminent visit.

Their visit was a success; after a 40 minute wait and with a small amount of payment to the dock master they were able to obtain the death priest’s address. Unsurprisingly for a pirate haven, no one was particularly cautious about information privacy – at least, not other people’s. It was relatively easy to establish that he lived in a particular location in an area of a subsidiary habitat, called The Bones.

As they left, the dock master’s agent warned them they might not want to visit the Bones.

Everything has to end somewhere

Everything has to end somewhere

Among The Bones

Deciding it might be wise to listen to the dock master, they returned to the web access shop so that Simon Simon could investigate the Bones.  They soon found out why they had been warned against the Bones: this area was where old, sick, surplus or dead slaves were sent for “reprocessing”. It was essentially a giant human abattoir. The only people who lived in the Bones were the few free workers in the processing plants, and criminals and radicals on the run from the law, bounty hunters, or enemies in the main parts of the Pearl. Gangs that had been cast out of the rest of the Pearl would flee here, living alongside dissidents and hermits and homeless people with nowhere better to hide. It was a dangerous place.

While he was searching, Simon Simon stumbled on a layer of Pearl 2’s web that he had not expected. The information network here was heavily stratified, with different layers available to different classes of people and careful restriction of who could put information onto any of them. Simon Simon was alternating between a common information layer used by the local municipal authorities and a general knowledge and news layer – as close as the Pearl had to a real internet – to gain information on the Bones. But in switching layers he discovered a common information exchange protocol between the security forces and the municipal layer. He could not hack the security forces’ secure network, but he could hack messages coming out of it to the municipal services. These would be messages requesting rerouting of traffic for an ambulance, or the closure of an electricity supply during a raid. Simon Simon noticed that the municipal authorities had been asked not to meddle with the area around the death priest’s lair by none other than the Pearl 2 leadership’s personal security force; and that this same force had been raiding the safe houses of two particular cults, and making requests for municipal support during these raids. These requests had begun a couple of weeks ago, at about the same time as the request for the priest’s lair to be freed of interference. One of the cults was of no concern to Simon Simon, some kind of cult with an ancient messiah who had been killed by his own father, and whose flesh promised eternal life when eaten; but the other was a mysterious cult called the Unredeemed, with a heritage at least a thousand years old, that claimed to be a cult of Adherents with no AI. Simon Simon was intrigued by this cult of Adherents without an AI, and also wondered why a cult that had been left unmolested for a thousand years would suddenly start being attacked just as the death priest arrived. Coincidence – or was there a link?

Once Simon had determined a safe and quick route to the death priest’s lair, they bought a cheap wheeled (!) van and set off. Driving from the spar into the Bones proper they noticed that the section was deserted, with few people on the streets and very little activity except large, ominous factories. Interspersed amongst the factories were grimy accommodation for the area’s few free workers, and occasional workshops. Abandoned factories and crumbling ruins scattered the level they drove through, rusting gates and tumbling walls a testament to the Bones’ ancient, thankless task.

The death priest’s lair appeared to be one such abandoned factory, set back from a narrow road, surrounded by shuttered warehouses, and seemingly completely unguarded. The ground floor was a large warehouse with closed roller doors, and above that were three levels of tiered office space. On one side of the building was a scattering of containers, but they were stacked against the wall of the building and could not be accessed. The whole building was dark and silent, and gave off an air of menacing isolation.

They entered the ground floor through a small side door, which Simon Simon opened with the help of his AI. Stepping through a narrow entry way, they opened the inner door, and Ahmose ducked inside to crouch behind a crate of some kind that was just inside the door. This was the main warehouse space, but it was shrouded in deep darkness, so Lam flicked on the lights near the entrance. Moments later, as the warehouse was flooded with cold halogen light, Ahmose found herself staring into the blank eye sockets of a human skull. The “crate” she had hidden behind was actually a bale of bones, stacked tightly together and bound up with packing wire and plastic, a line of skulls staring out at Ahmose’s crouching eye level. The rest of the warehouse was scattered with similar bales of bones, and in one corner lay a huge pile of human bones, attended by a small tracked excavator. There was nothing else in the room.

They searched it carefully, but aside from an empty gantry with some control equipment on it, there was nothing in the room. A freight lift at the rear of the warehouse led up to the next level, and with only empty skulls at their backs, they were in no mood to delay. They took the lift to the next level.

The doors opened into a pitch black hallway. Ahmose, Simon Simon and Alpha could see down this hallway dimly with their nightvision, so they knew someone was moving at the far end, but they could see little more than that. Lam, blind without combat armour or genetic enhancements, flicked on the lights just as she had downstairs. The hallway lit up, revealing a strange and horrible tableau in the moments before the lift doors closed again. The hallway stretched the length of the building, to a stairwell at its far end. On the left hand wall a single large window stretched the length of the hall, enabling the PCs to look into a large, empty medical room. Bodies were strapped to gurneys inside that room. The other side of the hall had three doorways; two were closed, with narrow glass windows next to them opening into empty rooms. The third doorway was open, and from it had emerged two corpses. These corpses were staggering down the hallway towards the lift doors, arms outstretched, in a kind of shambling lurch. One wore a pair of coveralls and was covered in hideous radiation burns; the other appeared to have been operated on, and wore only a surgical gown with blotches of dried blood all over it. Both stared sightlessly down the hall as they stumbled forward, growling hideously.

Lam and Alpha reflexively opened fire, Alpha with his auto-rifle on full automatic, spattering chunks of radioactive zombie all over the infirmary window; then the lift doors closed. Simon Simon hit the button to jam them open, and moments later they slid open to reveal those same two zombies, closer now, and two more emerging behind them. With a yell Ahmose leapt forward, blade in hand, ordering the others to shoot down the zombies at the end of the hall while she held off those that came too close. Her tactic worked, and after a frenzied few minutes’ work they had cleared the hallway, killing 16 of the shambling dead with no injury. They stood in the hallway, panting and staring at each other in shock.

First they had met demons, and now the walking dead. What next?

They searched the infirmary, noting that all the dead bodies on gurneys had had organs carefully removed, and that the organs were nowhere in the infirmary’s freezers. A grim foreboding grew as to what they could expect to find next …

They took the stairs to the next level, finding a hallway with the same structure as the hall below: a single door on one side, and three doors on the other. Inside these three doors they found two offices and a kitchen. The first office seemed to be a simple secretaries’ room, with signs it had been suddenly vacated but no evidence of a struggle. The second, a kitchen with rotting food inside its primitive refrigerator, also spoke of the building having been suddenly vacated. The third was another office, perhaps for a more senior staff member, which had a locked drawer. They set about smashing the drawer.

Although Simon Simon stood on guard outside the door as they set about the drawer, he did not see their assailants until the grenade was inside the room and the door shut. A moment later he heard the muffled thump! of the explosion, and felt a blade penetrating his ribs. Thankfully spared the worst of the damage by his combat armour, he turned to see his assailant. Before him stood a small, wiry man, wearing some kind of leather armour but surrounded by a strange miasma of shadow. What little Simon Simon could see of his face through the shadows wreathed about it suggested an aging man with his skin shrivelled tight against the bones of his skull, like ancient paper. He carried a semi-transclucent sword in one hand, which glowed and shimmered in that flickering miasma of shadow, and sizzled where Simon Simon’s blood ran along it. Beyond this man, near the door, a second, similar figure stood, shimmering sword in one hand and a scroll unrolling in the other. A moment later that figure disappeared.

A chill ran up Simon Simon’s spine and he collapsed, paralyzed, to the ground. Moments later the PCs ripped the door open and opened fire on the assassin. Bullets and laser beams could penetrate the miasma of shadow around him, but they seemed to slow or dissipate when they hit it, so that he did not seem to feel their full force. They had him pinned down but Simon Simon could not tell them about the second assassin, who stabbed Ahmose with the same devastating effect moments later. Alpha managed to subdue the first assailant, but not before the second assassin had beaten Lam into unconsciousness. The assassin was about to finish Alpha when Ahmose’s paralysis faded, and she was able to push herself out of the door, firing her Gauss pistol on full auto as she did. Thankfully this shot cut down the second assassin.

Once again they survived a battle by the skin of Ahmose’s combat armour. One assassin was still alive, so they bound him and gagged him. Ahmose insisted on gagging him in case he could “do magic,” at which the other PCs shrugged in disgust, but now they were beginning to suspect that Ahmose’s constant warnings about necromancy and ancient lore might have more truth to them than old wives’ tales should.

Alpha administered first aid, and once they had recovered and rested a little they finished searching the room where they had been breaking into the drawer before the grenade had surprised them. Inside the drawer was a disc of pornography, and a note saying “When the boss is away: 681983.” They took it.

Injured and with a nagging, primal fear creeping up on them, they opened the last door to a scene of horror.

The door opened into what had once been the office meeting room, a large room with a few tables and chairs, and a large set of glass doors opening to a balcony with a view over the rest of the section. Through the grimy windows they could see the industrial skyline, smoke belching from sinister chimneys, the squat hulks of the reclamation factories and their evil exhaust smeared against the off-white walls of the dome of the habitat. The view was obscured, however, by a naked body hanging upside down from the ceiling of the meeting room, its flayed skin in a neat pile on the floor next to it and the whole rotting thing hanging over a large ceremonial bucket.

“Oh, that’s where they put the organs,” Ahmose said matter-of-factly as Alpha retched behind her; arrayed around the ceremonial bucket were a series of open jars containing the various organs harvested from downstairs. In front of the bowl was a knee cushion, exactly the same kind as they had found with the death priest in the tombspine, and a silver sword that glowed with its own light. All the furniture in the room had been shifted outside onto the balcony, and the floor carefully painted with a symbol of some kind using what looked like many layers of dried blood.

They had found the death priest’s lair. Ahmose warned them not to step inside the symbol and Alpha, not believing her, fired a bullet at the rope holding the body; the bullet stopped at the symbol’s edge with a loud bang, and sank to the ground with a clatter. Careful not to touch the pattern on the floor, they cut down the body and, once it had hit the ground, Ahmose carefully scrubbed away a part of the symbol. Something in the tense atmosphere of the room relaxed, and suddenly a wave of stench rolled over them as the barrier dissipated. They grabbed the silver sword, wrapping it in a towel and stuffing it in a sack, and retreated to the hallway. With nowhere else to put him, they bound the assassin to a table in the kitchen and set off up the last flight of stairs to the top floor of the building.

By now Alpha and Simon Simon were beginning to unravel. Good citizens of the Core of the Confederacy, they had been raised on science and logic, and they could not understand anything they were seeing. Nothing that had happened to them since they entered the Reach made any sense, and nothing they had been taught prepared them for it. That creeping horror of the unknown, with which Ahmose and Lam were still vaguely familiar, had begun to sink through the barriers of their education, and now they were beginning to panic. They were on the verge of cutting and running, and twitching to get this job done as quickly and dirtily as possible. Cautious only out of terror, they jumped at shadows and twitched to shoot anything that moved.

At the top of the stairs was a door, closed and painted with the same symbol from the room below. Ahmose dragged it open, revealing a small office antechamber to a larger room. Alpha sent his surveillance drone into the room, using infrared and motion sensors only, and finding nothing threatening. The drone drifted through the door of the office into the larger room beyond, and twitched right immediately as its motion sensors triggered. Something was hovering in the air in the room, moving rapidly towards the drone. It was a blob of frozen air, much colder than the rest of the room and floating at about the height of a human head. Moments later it passed through the drone and into the antechamber, heading towards the PCs, who were ready …

… But not for a ghost. The thing that entered the room had a glowing skull floating atop a disembodied, ghost-like body, all shrouded in tattered robes. It drifted straight at them, ignoring the laser blast from Simon Simon’s gun and then straight past Ahmose, clawing at her as it passed. Then it fled down the stairs, a frozen, stinking wind blowing briefly in its wake. Ahmose sank against the wall, reduced to imbecility by one touch from its clammy, icy touch. Simon Simon and Alpha, too scared to follow without the group, dragged Ahmose into the room and leaned against the wall, gasping for breath. Lam stepped into the inner room, but now Lam was beginning to feel their mood, and had lost her temper. She saw the death priests notes and religious items on a table at the far side of the room, strode over, and hurled them all into a sack. Then, turning back, she started storming around the room, kicking things. Simon Simon came in to calm her, but she pushed past him into the antechamber, staring around with wild eyes and ranting.

“First a pile of bones and them I’m attacked by a radioactive space zombie and then there are space ninjas and then a fucking ghost! I am so sick of this!” She stared around at Ahmose and Alpha, leaning wretched against the wall, and then her gaze alighted on the kitten. “SPACE ZOMBIES!” She yelled, and tore down the kitten post with a single sweep of her right hand. Then, shaking the sack at the others, she yelled, “I’ve got the loot, let’s get out of here and back to civilization before we see any more of this hoodoo guru’s madness!” And with that, she marched off to the stairs.

Alpha followed, trying to calm her down but mostly sympathizing with her, but not before he noticed the safe hidden behind the ripped poster. On a whim he dragged out the note from downstairs, and punched the code into the safe. It slid open, revealing a line of test tubes containing what looked suspiciously like human embryos … hastily grabbing them and stuffing them in a container of dry ice from inside the safe, he dashed downstairs after Lam.

Meanwhile, in the inner room, Simon Simon cast about desperately for signs of anything else that needed to be taken. He didn’t want to be left here alone but he also didn’t want to waste the trip, and he was sure that Lam’s search had been just perfunctory. Sure enough, in the corner he saw a primitive leather backpack and a staff. The backpack appeared to contain travel documents, and had a tag from a spaceline on it, and probably carried the information they were actually after. Grunting, and not thinking very clearly about what can happen when you touch a death priest’s staff, Simon Simon gathered them up and hustled after the others.  He grabbed Ahmose on the way, leading the suddenly imbecilic woman down the stairs and into the hallway below, to be confronted by Lam and Alpha at the end of the hall, jabbering. They had found the corpse of the assassin, drained by the ghost, which was now lost somewhere in the Pearl.

None of them thought about the possibility that they were carrying the only three weapons in the entire Pearl that could kill that ghost.

They hurried out and piled back into the van, Lam driving erratically. On their way back, Simon Simon convinced them to let him visit the safe house of the Unredeemed, which was nearby. They agreed, but told him there would be no more adventures. They parked outside and he approached the building, an old worker’s residence in a street of abandoned worker’s residences. Someone threatened him with a gun, but he mollified them by telling them his AI’s call sign in a technical code that only other Adherents would understand. They agreed to give him an hour of his time, and while the rest of the party waited outside, he stepped inside … into the lair of the Cult of the Unredeemed…

Strange blooms on far shores

Strange blooms on far shores

The Spiral Confederacy restarts with the characters leaving Niscorp 1743 for The Reach, a pirate system a short jump away. On Niscorp 1743 they had killed some ice spiders at great personal risk, getting a research administrator out of a spot of trouble and earning themselves some zero-g training as a reward. They had also met a priest from an ocean planet, Michael, who had offered to pay them in exchange for taking him to The Reach. The Reach is a fine spot to drop rumours of human trafficking, and also a great place to pick up the kind of weapons that are illegal for ordinary citizens in the Confederacy; they also had a crate of laser carbines to sell, so a journey to The Reach seemed inevitable.

While they rested and prepared equipment they recruited a second pilot, a young woman called Lam with a dubious naval history. Given the risky nature of many of their ventures, they guessed it might be wise to build a little redundancy into their crew, so they recruited the only pilot in Niscorp 1743 who was willing to go to The Reach and who could shoot as well as fly.

Stable personality was not in their list of essential criteria, so Lam was hired.

After a week of travel they arrived in The Reach, jumping in to a point beyond its extensive asteroid field. From the jump point the system’s red dwarf star was a tiny, distant red speck, flickering in and out of view through the curtain of asteroids. They passed around the asteroid field slowly, on a pre-assigned route, and by the time they emerged on the other side they could see the 7th Pearl, shining in the far distance. Between them and it a small flight of fighter vessels approached, hailing them for travel details. Their first encounter with the Pirates of The Reach passed in a completely mundane manner, with an exchange of basic credentials and a docking trajectory for Pearl 7. They docked where they were told and disembarked into a small lounge where they were met by a man who introduced himself as an ambassador for foreign guests, and a small rat-faced man named Ampoule who Michael told them would be their guide for the day. Michael showed them how to use their mysterious payment, and left them to themselves.

Basic rules for Confederate travelers in The Reach gave them one week of free accommodation, after which they must pay in local currency (“credits”) or leave. Overstaying this welcome would see their ship impounded and the crew bonded as indentured labourers for a year. They could live on their ship and organize basic energy and fuel for free, but if they wanted any comfort they would need to make some money. Stir-crazy after a week on their tiny ship, they set out immediately to sell the laser carbines and begin stocking their armoury.

There was a large market place for all manner of unsavoury enterprises a short distance from the docks, and it was here they went first. Here they found arms dealers, slavers, and even a prohibitively expensive dealer in black market memory backups. They sold their carbines and organized delivery of a slew of laser rifles and a suit of combat armour, then retired to their ship to relax. Over the next few days they began visiting slave markets and dealers, dropping hints about their illicit cargo and looking to lay down lots of clues about where they found it. Once the armour and guns arrived, they began to think about looking for a little work.

They booked some rooms near the docks, to spread out a little, and it was then as they were settling in that they received an invitation to meet Michael at a place called the Rubble Bar, to discuss possible work. The Rubble Bar is a small tavern at the part of the docks closest to Pearl 7’s ruined superstructure; from its single large window customers can watch workmen repairing the spars of the damaged section, while they sip drinks from lost civilizations. Each of them ordered a drink from a civilization that had passed away, and sat sipping it contemplatively while they waited for their mysterious priest.

Michael arrived with a glass of the last water from a dessicated planet, and began to talk business. He had come to The Reach to kill a man. This man, a priest named Jaccus, had been welcomed to Michael’s planet as a guest, but had defiled one of his culture’s sacred tombs and killed its guardian. The most ancient tombs on Michael’s planet are dessicated sky burials placed reverently on islands made of the calcified bones of giant sea creatures; these tombs are often thousands of years old, and are tended by elderly monks in a role of great honour and little responsibility afforded to senior religious figures. This priest Jaccus had visited such a tomb-island and desecrated it horribly, then fled the planet. Michael, who had traveled a few times before, was sent to find Jaccus and kill him. Jaccus had assumed his deeds would go unnoticed for months, so isolated are the tomb-islands, but hadn’t realized a supply ship would arrive just a few days later on a scheduled visit. So it was that they were easily able to track his movements out of the system, and Michael could follow him, though he fell further behind with each jump.

Unfortunately, after Jaccus arrived in The Reach a few weeks ago he had managed to obtain the protection of the Viscount of Pearl 2, making it difficult to obtain mercenaries to kill him. So it was that he turned to the PCs to do it; as outlanders they were free to take contracts on anyone they wanted. Currently it appeared Jaccus had made a trip to The Gardens, and so would be easy to ambush and kill if he was approached there in the next few days. For this job he would pay them 100,000 credits, almost enough to buy another suit of combat armour.

The PCs did not agree to kill this Jaccus, but they did agree to go visit him in The Gardens, see what they thought of him, and kill him if necessary. Michael was not phased by this conditional offer. “Once you meet him you will want to kill him,” he assured them, and left them to their drinks.

To the ruins

To the ruins

Death in the Gardens

They left for the Gardens the next day on a small sub-light flyer, a rickety thing that took a few hours to get them to their destination. Its approach took them across the 100km long face of the Gardens, a lush expanse of steel, forest and planes hanging in the middle of space. The mist trapped within its field generators shrouded much of its expanse, and shone with the lurid reflected light of the distant sun. Some strange technology transported that light through sub-space portals so that the Gardens were bathed in sunlight vastly more powerful than its distance from the faint red dwarf warranted, ensuring that the Gardens roiled with mist and heat. In the breaks between these clouds they caught glimpses of the Gardens themselves, vistas of green or gold splayed out across rippling uneven territory, scattered with occasional deep holes where the wreckage of spaceships interlocked. The Gardens started with a low plane of wreckage that crawled slowly up through foothills to shallow peaks formed by the spines of ancient Confederacy capital ships, wrecked by the system’s strange defenses and pulled to this Lagrange point to be recommissioned for The Reach’s bizarre experiment in herb gardening. Beyond the jagged ridges of those wrecked ships, now softened by a shroud of vegetation, hung the infinite blackness of space, cordoned away from the lush fields by a thin layer of field technology.

They disembarked at the Gardens’ tiny docks, noting the presence of another flyer, encoded with the emblems of Pearl 2, and stood for the first time under the Reach’s starry night, unprotected by steel shells or spaceship hulls. Ahead of them stood a low wall and a custom’s house, blurs of green and misty grey visible beyond; but here at the docks they stood under a stunning vista of stars, scattered around the black firmanent like diamonds on velvet. Shielded only by the thin barrier of the Gardens protective field, they could view the full glory of the stars of their sector, try briefly to find their home stars before they were interrupted by the dockmaster.

Brought back to humdrum reality, they dismissed his questions and offered him 100 credits to forget their presence. He aimed to argue, but one look at Ahmose’s stern reproach and he thought better of it. Jaccus, he told them, had headed “that way”, waving vaguely in a certain direction, and headed back to his hut. Simon Simon used his Adherent Grace, scrying, to access all the cameras in the vicinity of the docks, and soon found video footage of an old man in black robes with a staff, accompanied by three men in light armour with assault rifles, heading in the direction the dockmaster had indicated. They were dragging an anti-gravity sled loaded with audio-visual equipment, heading up into the hills. Time to go.

They passed through the low wall and into the Gardens. From here the trek in the direction Jaccus had headed started easily, but it got harder. First a stretch of rhododendron forest steeped in rain and mist; then an open stretch of field, followed by a series of fragrant herb gardens and some hikes through mossy hills. They could see the skeleton of the broken spaceships beneath the fields and forests, with occasional parts protruding from amongst the greenery – here a rusted cannon, there a lichen-encrusted plexiglass window. As they headed up the wreckage became older, and increasingly harder to discern from nature, until they found themselves walking through ancient, silent, mist-shrouded forests, so old they seemed almost hallowed. Old growth rainforest, floating in space on a mere sliver of steel, billions of kilometres from the sun.

It was in this forest that they stumbled on the cameras. Simon Simon noticed them with his scrying Grace, all connected together and filming the zone they were entering. They moved past the cameras and headed upward over the cupola of some ancient battleship, passing through a small copse of trees at the summit. Weapons drawn, they moved out of the shadow of the trees to find themselves looking down into a narrow vale, beyond which stretched slopes leading up to the rim of the Gardens. Black space hung in the near distance, the horizon unevenly scattered with trees and the slopes before them heavily wooded. They stood on the wreckage of an ancient cruiser, but the horizon was formed entirely with the wreckage of an ancient Confederacy warship, its gun turrets, now long dead, rusting in between trees and brooks. Below them the vale opened out towards the lower slopes, a small stream trickling merrily through it. To their right lay the wreckage of the cockpit of a crashed fighter ship, the hull shattered open around an open space that had been turned into a campsite. Three tents had been erected around a small fire, and a little computer ran a set of screens on which the vision from all those cameras could be seen. They had found Jaccus’s camp.

They had also found his men, who opened fire on them from positions in the valley. The battle was short and brutal[1], and with minimal injuries the group prevailed, killing all three mercenaries. They descended into the camp to search it, looking around carefully for Jaccus. The AV gear they had brought with them was nowhere to be seen. They were searching the camp when Simon Simon decided to use his scrying Grace to check the cameras in the vicinity, and saw movement in one. Looking closer he saw something in the shadows, descending the hills towards them.

Lam and Ahmose took defensive positions, guns ready, pointing out at the hills, but they didn’t see it coming. Something emerged from the shadows of the trees and hit Alpha from behind, tearing through his weak armour and disappearing before he could react. Something else hit Ahmose and Lam, but before they could react it was gone. They looked around, gasping, weapons ready, and then the things hit them again. They were beasts of some kind, 3m tall monsters made entirely of shadow but for their glowing red, fiendish eyes and long, lascivious red tongues. They attacked with wicked claws and beat huge, black, bat-like wings behind their misshapen, demonic bodies.

Actual demons, conjured from shadow, were attacking them. They fought back hard and valiantly but Alpha went down with the next strike. Ahmose killed one, and as it died they heard the distant sound of crows screeching, and the thin wail of a tortured child. Ahmose moved on to the second beast, and Lam shot down the third; a cold wind blew over her, and she heard whispers from the shadows, a young man begging for his life, gaggles of students telling lies about their friends in the corridors of a school … evil whispers …

As the fight proceeded Simon Simon desperately searched the area, until he found Jaccus standing in the shadow of a tree, staff in hand. The old man was singing a song, and the air was rippling around them. “There!” Simon Simon yelled, and fired his laser rifle. He missed Jaccus but the beam passed through the coalescing shadow-form of another demon. As they killed them, more appeared! “Kill the priest!” Simon Simon yelled to Ahmose, and Ahmose duly acted.

Jaccus died quickly, but before he did two more of those beasts appeared. One managed to escape their violence, fleeing with the death of its master, and they never saw it again. The battle was done. Where each demon had died was a patch of blackened, dead grass that stank of rot. They stood looking at each other in shock. What had they found, what had they killed?

They searched Jaccus’ body and the area of the camp, but they didn’t find anything to tell them anything about what they had seen. Where was the AV equipment? Why was Jaccus here and what were those things? With no evidence in the camp they expanded their search, trawling the whole area for any information about what Jaccus had been doing there.

History by the blowtorch

They found the reason after a day of searching. They soon discovered that all the disused turrets on the spine of the Gardens contained bodies. This was an ancient burial site, with bodies placed in careful position inside the turrets, wrapped in shrouds and accompanied by gifts for the next world, now long-decayed and crumbling. Two of these turret-graves had been defiled, the bodies broken apart and their skulls burnt in some way. Another turret-grave had been partially defiled, the body broken up and the skull placed in a ritual position. Candles had been set out, along with a silver bowl, a small silver knife, and a blowtorch. Behind this strange tableau was the AV  equipment, some kind of ancient, primitive video camera the size of an artillery piece. A cushion sat between the camera and the skull, presumable waiting for Jaccus, with a microphone next to it.

Back at the camp they found a box full of discs of some kind, with writing on them. Alpha suspected these discs were from two specific locations, and dated in some non-standard dating system: 7 all had the same glyphs written on them, and some numbers, and two had more numbers on them and different glyphs. Acting on a hunch, they put the first of these two into a playback system attached to the camera. And saw…

The camera crackled. Primitive, this camera. The shadows of one of the domed turrets they had seen before, but no burnt bones: in the middle of the room sat a skull, shrouded in shadow, and between the camera and the skull the dim shape of Jaccus, cross-legged on the cushion, rocking backwards and forwards, chanting. One hand sat near the blowtorch, and candles glowed in the dim light, set out around the skull. The chanting continued – so boring.

They fast forwarded the video until they saw movement, stopped and rewound a little. Jaccus’s chanting fading, drifting away, his rocking going still. A shadow rolled in, crouched over the candles, which guttered and dimmed. They heard the sound of a sigh, and then some kind of howling, the room becoming darker, Jaccus hunched. Something stirred in amongst the candles around the skull; they flickered and dimmed, then burned bright. The darkness faded, and Jaccus emitted a kind of grunt, like an old man doing something disgusting; in the distant background of the soundtrack they heard the thin reedy sound of a child crying and begging, quickly fading away. Smoke formed dimly in the air above the skull, coalesced into a semi-solid, vaguely humanoid form.

“Who calls me?” A sound like rocks grating on each other, a grim crackling rustle of anger, emerged from the ring of candles.

“I, Jaccus, your master, call you. I would speak you, and you had best listen.” Jaccus stirred from his listing position, and spat the words out with odd harshness.

“You worm. You grub. I was a great warrior, I have slain men a thousand times your equal, I fought on the marches of Ellas, I was a hero before your ancestors were apes, you cannot command me, wo-”

The grating voice descended to screaming. Jaccus had calmly picked up the blowtorch, turned it on, and started bathing the skull in flame. The screams were horrid, rippling out of the darkness from every direction and sounding as if they would tear the microphone apart and leap through, monsters of agony, to attack the listeners.

After about 10 seconds of this, Jaccus turned off the flame.

“You thought your death put you beyond pain, but I have found you. There is nowhere you can run to. You are mine to play with. You will do as I tell you.”

The voice protested. More flame, more screams. It carried on like this for a few minutes, but slowly the voice became weaker, more desperate, until finally it broke and begged Jaccus to tell it what he wanted.

“Where is the ansible?”

“I don’t know what you -” More flame.

This proceeded for several minutes, the same question and the same answer. Finally, Jaccus gave up. “You know nothing, do you?” He didn’t wait for an answer, but turned on the blowtorch and took a full minute to burn the skull black. The voice screamed and screamed and screamed, but he didn’t stop until he was satisfied the whole skull was black. Then he flicked his fingers, the candles faded, and the screaming voice sank away, replaced briefly by a horrible howling sound like wind over frozen ground.

Jaccus reached back and turned off the camera.

Of priests and lost things

They returned to Pearl 7 with the videos. Once they were back in the ship Simon Simon obssessively watched all of them, but no one joined him in the video room. They called Michael and showed him the video from the tomb. He guessed, as they did, that the other seven videos were from his home planet. This Jaccus had invaded these tombs looking for something called the “ansible”, and hadn’t found it. Obviously he had some plan to search for it – first Michael’s planet, then The Reach. But he had come from somewhere. Someone knew what they were looking for.

Michael made the group an offer: would they come back to his planet, and from there trace Jaccus back to wherever he had come from, find the people he worked for, and destroy them? His people, being just uplifted, had nothing to offer them as a reward, but he would speak to his ruling council and they would speak to the Confederacy, and he thought then a reward could be organized. Would they help?

They looked at each other. Something terrifying had moved in those tombs, something they didn’t understand. But while they couldn’t understand its power, they could feel its evil.

Of course they would help.

fn1: I think this is going to be a common phrase in this campaign. In this battle one soldier died instantly, and another got so badly damaged that he was basically useless. If you don’t have combat armour this is a game of one-shot kills.

On Saturday I ran another session of The Spiral Confederacy campaign, culminating in a vicious battle in a floating forest built on the ruins of ancient spaceships (report to come). One player went down in the first round of the surprise attack and the entire battle (with three waves of attackers, approximately) was over in about 5 rounds – 30 seconds! This system is being run using Traveler rules, which are quite lightly described and incomplete in places. During the battle I discovered a few rules that are missing, and came up with a few new house rules to ease some benefits, and also to employ a wider range of skills and attributes in combat. These house rules are listed below.

No critical hits: The standard rulebook states that a roll of 6 or more above the target number is a “critical success”, but doesn’t actually define any special rule for a critical success in combat except that it definitely does at least one point of damage. I have decided not to fiddle with this, because vicious experience on Saturday confirmed for me that Traveler’s injury mechanism doesn’t really allow for it and is so brutal that there is no need for it; the effect alone is sufficiently powerful to make all the difference.

Stealth attacks: There are no rules for stealth attacks in the book. During the session I chose to add the effect of the stealth roll to the attack, and the target cannot dodge or parry. Reading the book I see a set of rules for carrying one skill’s effect over to another; basically success adds 1 to the next roll, while critical success adds 2. However I don’t like this – I like stealth attacks to be lethal, and with no critical hit system the only way to increase damage is to roll really well, so adding the full effect of the stealth roll onto the subsequent attack seems more realistic (and about the only way for an assassin with a normal blade to deliver serious damage against a heavily-armoured target). This means that a good stealth attack with a blade (with e.g. 2d6+2 damage) is likely to end up doing more like 2d6+6 or 2d6+8 damage on a stealth attack. This will do fatal damage against a lightly-armoured person, which is reasonable.

Using the tactics skill for cover: If a PC is not in cover at the beginning of combat, they need to make a tactics roll to get into cover.  The result of the roll will determine the cover level as follows:

  • 0-5: 1/4 cover (no benefit)
  • 6-8: 1/2 cover (-1 to hit)
  • 9-11: 3/4 cover (-2 to hit)
  • 12+: Full cover (-4 to hit)

This ensures that a person with no tactics skill and no intelligence bonus will need to roll better than an 8 on 2d6 to actually find effective cover, which seems really likely to me – if I got in a firefight I wouldn’t have a clue where to hide. It’s obviously only useful when your PCs are in battlefields with lots of boxes and junk etc; rather than describing it all in detail and asking the PC to make a choice, just roll it up and then tell them what they’re hiding behind. If there is lots of obvious cover (e.g. a tank!) then this rule needn’t be applied. This is one of several ways of enhancing the role of the tactics skill in combat.

This skill check can also be done by someone with leadership to direct someone else to cover; in this case both the leader and the person taking cover need to use a significant action in the same round.

Also, related to cover: shooting from behind cover requires a minor action to position oneself and then a significant action to fire. i.e. you only get the benefits of cover when attacking if you use all your actions in the round to attack.

Establishing aim is a significant action: All the PCs used their minor action to aim, giving them essentially an immediate +1 to hit. Boring! So I have decided in future that you can’t just aim and shoot; you need to first use a significant action to establish the process. After that aiming will give you the benefit as described in the book, i.e. +1 per minor action. This ensures that you need to take a full round to aim but it will typically mean that the aim leads to a +3 to hit, since it will usually occur in the following train of actions: significant action-minor action/minor action-shoot. This may not always occur (e.g. use a minor action to draw weapon-significant action to establish aim /shoot at +1-minor action to take cover).

Tactics to change initiative: A PC can change their own initiative using tactics, or change someone else’s using leadership. They must use a significant action to do this; then they make a roll with difficulty equal to current initiative; success increases initiative to the result of the new roll. Extreme failure drops the initiative of the affected person to last.

Gathering wind: if the PC has no use for their minor action they can use it to make an endurance check and if successful regain one point of endurance. This only works if endurance is not 0 and they are not seriously wounded (i.e. only Endurance has been hit). I have decided to include this in order to give everyone some minor chance at battlefield healing, and because minor actions don’t have much use once you’re in cover with your weapon out. It won’t make a big difference to their future if they get hit a second time, but it will at least allow them to take the odd breather. I envisage this being used a lot with the cover rules (e.g. you hit cover with a significant action; use a minor action to take a breather. In the second round you take a full action to go full auto on some poor minion; then the following round you stay behind cover, take another breather and reload your weapon).

In total these rules significantly enhance the role of people with leadership and tactics, and actually make a person with these skills but no particularly great direct combat skills useful, and worth taking out. With tactics and leadership, a PC can a) improve everyone’s initiative; b) get the weakest people into good cover; c) upgrade the initiative of the slowest PCs. While other PCs do the heavy work of shooting and stabbing, a leader-type character can act in a serious support role to help them get an advantage in the fight.

I am thinking about additional methods for using leadership – for example, helping people move to positions where they can get a shooting advantage, or using tactics to negate cover. Also the possibility of reducing initiative or forcing morale checks of some kind when a person with leadership dies.

A final note on Traveler combat: It’s very very dangerous, has a wicked death spiral, and is definitely not for the faint-hearted. I love the way the healing rules enable people to die slowly of their wounds if they don’t get medical care. I also really like the automatic fire rules – they’re simple and very very dangerous. Against an autorifle someone in combat armour will still need to be scared, and can still die in a single shot unless their combat armour is exceptionally high tech. This is a game where you definitely do not want to get caught in a fair fight.

Even suns have parasites

Even suns have parasites

The Reach is a collection of 9 habitats called the Pearls, floating in orbit at varying distances around a red dwarf star. The entire system is ancient, so ancient that some of these Pearls may have been made when the star was young, using technology far older than humanity. The habitats are built on technology that surpasses anything the Spiral Confederacy has (perhaps TL 18), but the people living in the system are TL 12 wannabes, using the tech for defence and energy but completely clueless to its full potential.

The system is defended by some kind of ancient technology that has proven invincible to all modern starfleets – even the Spiral Confederacy’s famed navay has been unable to penetrate these defenses, and has lost several capital ships with all hands in past raids. These defences are the reason The Reach remains beyond Confederacy control, and are a closely guarded secret within the Reach.

All nine pearls are coated with solar panels, that are under constant repair, but the main source of energy for all pearls is a complex web of sub-space energy systems, probably connected to the Red Dwarf and possibly a cause of its rapid collapse (which has occurred over hundreds of thousands rather than millions of years). Control of a Pearl is determined by those who control the sub-space system or those who bargain with them, which typically means gaining control of the small group of engineers who know how to operate it. The pirates of The Reach are in thrall to the engineer guild, and the engineers are ruthless in their attempts to control access to this technology.

The nine Pearls have different sizes and purposes, but effectively each is entirely self-sustaining, except Pearls 8 and 9, which are too small and function primarily as a research base (Pearl 9) and a military coordination centre (Pearl 8) for system defence. The engineer guild operates across all the Pearls, but outside of this guild each Pearl has its own organisation and structure. Each Pearl has its own navy and army, and contributes a small number of starships to system defence and border patrols at any one time. Key points about each Pearl are listed below.

  • Pearl 1: A small Pearl that specialises in chemical industries. Run by a small clique of technocrats and riddled with high-tech automated defence systems. Largely excluded from internecine squabbles, and provides a wide range of pharmaceutical and especially recreational drugs to the other Pearls, who then smuggle them out of the system
  • Pearl 2: A very large, sprawling and run-down industrial zone, run by a hereditary family renowned for their cruelty and backwardness. They maintain a large internal army, large numbers of slave workers, and a ruthless internal militia devoted to controlling the populace. Pearl 2 is the only Pearl where gun ownership is heavily controlled and speech limited, as the leadership tries to ensure it controls its slaves and the large strata of “free” workers who live and work in semi-technical positions. It has a narrow stratum of craftspeople and engineers, but would be a completely dysfunctional society anywhere but in a pirate community.
  • Pearl 3: An asteroid mining and farming community that possesses a large and mobile fleet of sub-stellar vessels, and uses them to aggressively defend and expand mining territory in the huge outer and inner asteroid belts of the system. It also refines fuel from the system’s three gas giants, and maintains some legitimate trading links directly with the Confederacy, although technology on the Pearl is not sufficient for it to do much more than export raw materials. Pearl 3 is a large, low-population density habitat with a lot of open space, storage and disused industrial sectors, run by a council elected by those rich enough to own concessions on the distant asteroids.
  • Pearl 4: A small and densely-populated habitat that makes its living through the slave trade, and is the centre of the slave trade in The Reach. The free population on Pearl 4 are largely managers and slave-drivers, and slave ownership is ubiquitous. This Pearl is ruled by an elected council, with membership restricted to the scions of the seven slave-owning families in the Pearl. These families own sleek, fast interstellar raiding ships that are used for regular slave raids outside of The Reach. There is a large class of geneticists and breeders on Pearl 4, because breeding slaves is an important part of the business model. Relations between Pearls 4 and 2 are good, because Pearl 2’s cruel industrial practices make it a major customer.
  • Pearl 5: A medium-sized habitat run by a single corporate oligarchy, Pearl 5 is a major trader in interstellar foodstuffs and also the main owner of concessions on The Gardens. As the major supplier of food in-system, Pearl 5 has corrupt and sinister relations with all other habitats, and uses these relations to ensure its survival despite its small fleet. Pearl 5 is a rich, well-run and clean habitat with limited internal troubles, its residents often looked down on as rich and soft.
  • Pearl 6: A major trading house, engaging in all manner of trade and smuggling throughout the Sector, Pearl 6 is a small but active and intense community of smugglers and merchants. It is ruled by an unelected council, that replaces its members by internal consent. The wealthy and powerful members of Pearl 6 society engage in complex powerplays to gain access to this council, and to place members on it. Pearl 6 has a rich tradition of assassination and overthrows connected with this council.
  • Pearl 7: The other major trading house, locked in intense competition with Pearl 6 for smuggling routes, interstellar markets, and intra-stellar profits. Pearl 7 is larger than Pearl 6 and hosts some construction and repair industries as well as smuggling. It is also overcrowded, as some parts of the habitat have fallen into disrepair and await Pearl 7’s return to the ascendancy before they can be brought back into use. Pearl 7 maintains a large army and navy, and is the biggest power in The Reach in normal times due to its combination of military power, wealth and external contacts. Pearl 7 also hosts the main outlander residence areas, though these exist in smaller scales on all the Pearls. Pearl 7 is run by an elite council elected by a small group of rich business owners and military leaders.
  • Pearl 8: the system defence base is permanently occupied by a small staff drawn from all 7 of the inner pearls, with the staff living there for a year on a rotating basis and all Pearls contributing a small tithe of ships to the ongoing system defence activities of the base. By common accord squabbles between Pearls are not allowed to be continued on the Base, and there are protocols for all conflicts to end if Pearl 8 declares an emergency defence.
  • Pearl 9: A small research base, staffed on a voluntary basis, located far out beyond the outer asteroid belt and devoted to trying to understand the strange history of The Reach.
  • Asteroid bases and mines: There are mining communities on asteroids and in the atmosphere of the gas giants, some large enough to have semi-permanent residents. These bases are nominally under the control of a specific Pearl, but don’t always act according to orders from their home base. They are usually excluded from inter-habitat squabbles but are sometimes raided. They are rough, poor places of hard work and tough lives.
  • The Gardens: Sometime in the past a large number of wrecked spaceships – presumed destroyed by system defence weapons – were gathered into one spot within the habitable zone of the star. These ships include the wreckage of an Ocean class Confederacy ship, and numerous smaller vessels. Field generators were repaired and installed, and an atmosphere inserted, and now the Gardens act as a kind of weird network of forests and farms that are farmed by workers from Pearls 2, 3, 5 and 7. As new ships are destroyed they are added to the wreckage, which is now some hundreds of kilometres long and tens of kilometres high, and slowly forming into its own planetoid. Soil imported from other planets is dumped here, water imported from ice, and plants from around the Sector are grown in its controlled spaces. This is a long-term project to make The Reach more sustainable, since the only way it can be brought under control is through a blockade. Most of the Pearls have their own gardens as well, but this project is intended to provide a large, secure alternative food supply not under the control of any one Pearl.

The characters will arrive on Pearl 7.

Pearl 7

Pearl 7 is a large, slightly ragged-look ovoid habitat, perhaps 100 kms long and 30 kms in diameter. It spins slowly about its narrow axis, so that one long side of the habitat will be facing towards the red dwarf for about 2-3 weeks. It also spins slowly on the long axis, ensuring that all parts of the habitat face the sun. It has a small number of outrigger habitats, the largest being a 4km x 3 km rectangle, and the smallest a several-hundred metre long refuelling and docking base for small fighter craft. One end of the habitat is in a state of decay, the outer walls appearing crumbled and damaged with parts of the super-structure visible through the skin of the pearl. Pearl 7 has a large and thriving community of outlanders near the docks, and appears likely to have some kind of arrangement with the Confederacy that gives at least a modicum of safety to Confederacy residents who don’t do anything extravagantly stupid when they arrive in-system.

No one is genuinely safe in The Reach, though, and anyone traveling here would be well to remember that despite the warm entreaties of Pearl 7’s hoteliers, maitre d’s and merchants…

My Spiral Confederacy campaign resumes this weekend, and I have received some complaints about the limited abilities of Adherents from the player of the group’s adherent, Simon Simon, who is interesting and shouldn’t die. I’ve thought about this and decided that AI super-specialness should rub off a little on adherents, so here is a description of some basic special abilities for adherents.

Adherents do not gain any special skills, but they start out with a small number of enhancements from their AI, which they can use in certain situations. These enhancements are called Graces by adherents, and typically give the adherent some power of interaction based on access to information systems, as well as hacking abilities. Different graces rely on different skills and attributes, and have varying outcomes. They also differ according to the nature of the AI. A few samples are listed here. Unless otherwise specified, Graces only work in a system where the adherent’s AI is fully embedded. Typically the adherent needs to be able to maintain some form of communication with his AI, or be communicable with; if the adherent shuts down all connection to the comms web of the system he or she is in, most of these Graces will not work.

Typically an adherent starts the game with two Graces, and gains more as the AI spreads across the galaxy, or as the adherent gains levels.

Sixth sense
This is a survival power granted to the adherent by his or her AI. The AI is constantly sifting through information flows, images, patterns of behaviour and satellite imagery for its own sinister ends, but sometimes this information will trigger a warning to the AI that the adherent is in danger. The AI will alert the adherent through some offhand message or sending, such as tingles in the spine or a twitch of the eye; whatever the warning, it may be sufficient to save the adherent from disaster or ambush. Typically this sixth sense manifests as a minor penalty on stealth checks, a bonus on attempts to identify lies and deceptions, or an opportunity to roll a perception check where otherwise there might be none. Adherents with this sense are often difficult to surprise, reacting to an ambush or backstab where their fellows stand flat-footed, or they get a chance to spot a sniper that their allies know is there but cannot see. This sense can be played largely at the GM’s discretion, but should at least give the adherent a +1 bonus on relevant perception, surprise and intuition checks.

AIs reserve their most powerful hacking efforts for moments when they really need them, but they are not averse to providing their adherents with software routines they might need to bypass less powerful systems and peripheral networks. While a normal computer operator would be unable to hack even the most basic such systems in the post-AI world, an adherent may be able to perform basic hacking tasks. Raiding a central bank’s computer system is impossible, but accessing the computers of some subsidiary system – a tollbooth number travel record, for example, or the cargo manifest of an independent freighter – might be possible. This hacking skill gives access to more types of system than scrying, and can be used to open up the scrying skill to more systems, but it should not be treated as equivalent to scrying. It requires a computer system to break into, not just an AV cable, and its primary use is in gathering information and laying false information. It does not grant the adherent power to control systems – the adherent could not hack into a flyer and take control of its propulsors, for example, but he or she could hack into the flyer’s satellite navigation system and delete records of its last 24 hours of transit, or lay false ones.

This Grace typically requires use of the computer skill. The tech level of the system being hacked should count as a difficulty modifier, and large and highly defensive systems are impossible for even this Grace. For such systems, the adherent will need to get the attention of his or her AI, and lodge a petition.

Information travels everywhere in modern stellar computer networks, and even the smallest and most informal of camera networks will inevitably broadcast its images across many networks that never pay any heed to them. The AI gathers all this information all the time, spreading its digital influence across whole star systems to pick up every shred of visual and sound information that is produced. A human mind would break under the pressure of all this data, but the AI will grant its adherents a tiny hint of its power, just enough to access all the images and sound being collected by the small network of cameras around the adherent. With this Grace, the adherent can dip into a light trance at any time, and access all digital and sound recordings currently occurring within his or her immediate vicinity, gaining an overview of the environment. Small cameras and recorders are ubiquitous in the modern era, and they are always sending the data they record to and from different servers. An adherent may stand in a quiet suburban neighbourhood of a backwater world, but the moment she dips into this trance she has access to nearby traffic cameras, the cameras on self-driving cars, a couple of cameras on nearby personal computers, the microphones on nearby telephones, a camera being used to take a lover’s picture. Even this much information may be too much for a human mind to bear, and it is always patchwork and fragmented, but from it the adherent can build a picture of his or her immediate surroundings.

This Grace cannot be used to access secure systems without also using the hacking Grace, but in most ordinary environments it can be used to give at least a partial overview of the area out of the adherent’s immediate sight. Use of this Grace requires an adherent skill check, with a difficulty modifier applied at the GM’s discretion to take account of the size of area being scanned or the degree of specificity required. If an adherent wants to know what is going on in a specific location nearby that is out of sight, they will first need to scan all images in the area, and then find a way to triangulate sounds and images from cameras specific to a particular location. To do this can also take a lot of time, during which the adherent must be in a trance and (relatively) undisturbed.

Bullet saint
The adherent may not be a good fighter, but he or she has a deep sense of the fields and energies at work in battle. With this Grace, the adherent gains precognition of the discharge of technological devices. At the beginning of combat, the adherent chooses to enter a light trance, and foregoes a around of action. During this round, the adherent makes an adherent check, with a bonus equal to the tech level of all weapons being used by enemies. If successful, the adherent gains a kind of precognitive knowledge of the actions of these weapons – he or she knows exactly when the weapon will be discharged moments before it happens, and can react. For all weapons against which the skill check was successful, the adherent gains the benefits of the dodge reaction (page 62 in the rulebook) without the initiative or skill check penalties that this reaction normally applies.

This Grace only applies to missile weapons, and only those that are in sight of the character. Note that the TL of the weapon applies a bonus to the roll; very low tech missile weapons are considerably more difficult for the adherent to predict, since the information they impart is harder to read the more mechanical parts they have. Note also the adherent must be able to move, and must spend a full round in a light trance, able to react but not to attack or perform other major actions, in order to use this Grace.

Pattern recognition
AI do not think like people; they draw information together differently, make different judgments about the links between ideas, and don’t care for preconceptions. Humans can never think like AI, but the human followers of AI sometimes gain some of their ability to draw together information in ways humans cannot. Adherents with the pattern recognition Grace have mastered this power of their AI god, and can see patterns and logical connections where others cannot. This gives them a bonus on skill checks for skills such as Investigate, all the science skills, and tactics, and it also gives them an opportunity to gain insights where otherwise the PC would have none. In game terms this means that, when the party is stuck on a particular task, clue or challenge, the player may be able to petition the GM for a relevant skill check to gain the answer to the problem, or gain more hints as to the solution.

In some instances this pattern recognition may manifest in a simpler form, as knowledge granted to the PC through strange channels. For example, the group may be looking for the access panel to a doorway, but cannot immediately see it, while under fire from an enemy team. Searching for the panel would mean breaking cover, but the adherent suddenly knows that it is around the corner, and identifies a way to reach it that will keep him out of sight of the majority of their enemies. Off he runs …