I was joined by Eric and Slade for a one-shot session as part of Antigen Con 2. The session was about 2:40 long.
The captain was Elias Winter, a dangerous man motivated by solving weird space mysteries. He was intensely technically minded, with no room for instinct or feelings (rating 5.)
Number One was Nyl Finity, also the helmsman and pilot extrodinaire, a reckless man driven to prove himself. His skills were honed, but he relied on passion and intuition (rating 3.)
They crewed the Space Federation Ship Terrapin. It had superior sensors, but suffered from battle damage months ago that left it so jury-rigged that it was almost impossible to repair the system without gutting everything and starting over; many mysterious system failures routed back to that traumatic event and the sub-standard battlefield repairs that ensued.
The NPC bridge crew included:
- Tactical: Dave Serrano. Big strapping fellow, easy-going and deadly.
- Science: Ruby Clemons. Attractive, taught kung fu classes, collected poisons.
- Diplomat: Drew Bradley. Older, but tough, former Collective prisoner of war.
- Engineering: Hedlog, Andorian pugilist. Eager to fight, eager to jury-rig systems.
- Medical: Vrez, Mantisaarian medic. Insectoid, unbothered by discussing living meat.
- Communications: Melanie Perry.
Finity worked with Hedlog to arrange for an array of emergency power measures to pull energy from communications, engines, life support, and everywhere else to power up the phaser banks in times of battle. Priorities, man, priorities!
The crew fitted a holographic nose-cone art projector so they could change up the standard picture of a rampant battle turtle.
Bradley briefed them on their mission. They were to go to the moon of Saguak in the Lavask system. Intelligence reported that the Collective were harvesting furry little critters called tuftmidgets (basically ewoks) for experimentation, exploiting a pre-warp culture. Their orders were to use whatever form of diplomacy seemed best and put a stop to it.
(Aside: Yes, I used the Collective from “X-Com: Enemy Within” video game and I’m not sorry.)
They arrived at the moon, and detected no ships in orbit or on the planet. Scanning more closely with the ship’s superior sensors, they not only detected a cloaked Collective scout ship, they picked up its designation (Disk Blue 38) and captain (Ethereal Marker.) This could help diplomatically; the Collective is a series of “temple ships” with many smaller ships under their control. When they misbehave, the leaders tend to disavow governed ships, even if that ship can be traced to a temple ship authority. Still, the collective was one of humanity’s earliest allies after the transthink mutation, so some caution was advised.
To set the tone, they changed the holographic nose cone art to a savage tuftmidget.
Before even hailing the ship, the captain figured it was best to have the initiative in diplomacy. He ordered Finity to snatch the scoutship with the tractor beam and hurl it, spinning, into the atmosphere below. The psychers would be busy reinforcing the shields and landing the ship properly, and then conversation could commence.
The plan worked like a charm, sending the ship into the atmosphere like a wheel of fire. The captain took an away team including Finity, Bradley, Hedlog, Seranno, and a security officer to “negotiate.” They ended up mid-canopy, one of the safest areas (higher areas and lower areas were rife with big predators, and tuftmidgets were like mice or rabbits in the food chain of this place.)
They had a crisp and unpleasant conversation with the Ethereal Marker (as his elite muton bodyguard looked on and his sectoids simpered near him.) Marker insisted they join him for dinner for further discussion. Captain Winters issued a flat demand that the Collective ship leave, and leave the tuftmidgets alone. Marker grudgingly agreed. Then the away team beamed back to the Terrapin.
But something interfered with the beam.
The away team found themselves in a more humid environment, under a red sun, with two moons in the sky. They still had their communicators, but no one answered them, and the tricorders and phasers were gone.
As they struggled to get their bearings, they heard screaming and roaring. They investigated, finding six hunters killing a big lizard (a fangstrider, apparently.) The hunters were surprised to see the away team, asking if they were from within the earth or the sky; the captain replied the sky, and they all went back to the settlement together with the hunting trophy prize.
They entered a palisade with tents and a big cook pit. Vinewise, the leader, offered hospitality if they could prove they were not spies (by stripping and showing they did not have tattoo markers of the enemy.) They all obliged, except Finity, who challenged someone to a fight to prove he was not a spy. One of the big guys accepted, and after a little dancing sparring, hurled him bodily into a tent and decided he didn’t think Finity was a spy.
Everyone got dressed again. They talked to Vinewise, who explained his settlement of 50 adults and 20 children was banished from a bigger tribe ruled by Chief Talonwise, one of several tribes in the area. They disagreed over whether there was a war between the stars or not, for example. Captain Winters said he was part of that war in the stars, but Vinewise laughed and poked him with a stick; humans cannot fight among the stars.
Vinewise offered to help solve the mystery of how they got here, but only if they became members of his tribe; those with no connection to the world would die, and he would give them a connection to the world. They were cautious, but they agreed. They then got drunk and received the attention of some of the unattached tribal women.
When the tribes faced a mystery, they went on a quest to a local volcano. There, in a secret temple, they received wisdom. So, off to the temple they went, escorted by some of the tribal warriors (including the women they bedded.)
To make the journey easier, they went to a nearby swamp and summoned some massive centipedes to kneel upon and ride. Both Winters and Finity tried to control centipedes, who knocked them over and mauled them a bit, squirting them with mild poison. The patched-up explorers contented themselves to ride as passengers.
The bushcraft of the native guides kept them out of the path of local dangers, in spite of some close calls.
After a long hung-over day of pain and irritation, the away team held a hushed conversation around the campfire that night. It turned out Bradley had once been a prisoner of war of the Collective years ago. He was concerned that they could be sharing a hallucination; the Collective had psychers, after all, and they had no way to know whether the stimulus into their mind came from information fed to their mind by their bodies, or fed to their mind by their captors.
Why? Well, the Commune was known to have harvested humans before the incident leading to the transthink mutation. These humans had not been exposed to the virus bombing. The Collective may have used clones to sow dissent and split one group off to be used as test subject, by provoking them to interact socially with explorer class humans. What might they learn about the transthink mutation, about communication, and about the gap between baseline and evolved humans? After a sobering discussion, they slept on it.
The next day they reached the base of the volcano, and found the many carved stories of former quests. People came here to look for answers to sickness, answers to lights in the sky, answers to leadership decisions.
Meanwhile, a strange metal and meat hybrid creature decloaked and was strangling Lela, Winters’ new girlfriend, a strapping Nordic woman. Finity quickly adjusted his communicator to transmit a painful squeal on the floating cyborg’s neural channel, distracting it so Winters could find an opening and shiv it in its head, tearing it off the victim whose death it was savoring. Lela lived, the seeker died.
Finity and Hedlog hunched over the corpse, wiring it to a communicator, figuring out it was communicating with a base and other seekers. They also saw that it had a patina of lichen and such, the chassis was scratched, it had been here quite a while. It did not recently come from a ship. So, it was likely attached to the temple as a guard rather than pursuing the away team specifically.
The barbarians were not interested in going further, unsettled by the attack; they set up a base camp. Meanwhile Vinewise led the away team up the long steep path to the temple in the volcano wall.
Captain Winters succumbed to his injuries and the centipede poison. Finity dragged him up as far as the entry to the temple, but then Vinewise intervened. He gave the captain drugs from a centipede and some other local wildlife, to revive him.
The drugs interacted weirdly in Winters’ mind, and for a moment he had enough rudimentary expansion of his consciousness that he felt the psionic trigger to open the back wall of the temple. He triggered it, and they found that beyond the basalt stone of the chamber there was a powered inner sanctum of alien technology.
Searching the room, they found what might be a psionic communications array. Hedlog worked on jury-rigging it to operate on speech instead of psionics, and Finity dubbed the methodology “psysonic.” Meanwhile Winters looked for other sensor equipment and found a way to interact with another holographic display channel to see the location of the other four seekers, two of which were monitoring the base camp.
Winters managed to use the psionic interface, issuing a clumsy “return” order to the seekers. Then the explorers searched for weapons, finding some wrist-mounted plasma weapons of the sectoids and figuring out how to use them.
As the seekers returned, Hedlog slammed one in the door, killing it. Then the explorers attacked, blowing the other three away (and Finity’s weapon overheated.)
Once the communication array was working, they finally hailed the Terrapin. Clemons was acting captain, she was relieved to hear from them. The Terrapin had been searching for them for two weeks! The ship zoomed to orbit their planet, following the beacon, and when the explorers left the shielded temple the ship could beam them up.
Turns out Marker had kidnapped the away team and bought time by putting a corruption in the transport beam so it built clones with embedded behavioral routines (which fooled the crew for about six hours before the away team ended up in the brig.)
Meanwhile the real explorers were kept unconscious and shipped to the preserve, then beamed down, unaware any time had passed.
While the away team got their parasites cleansed and their wounds healed, then bathed and in new uniforms, the crew was busy. Orbital weapons cut the temple out of the ground and burned it. Seranno went down as an emissary of the Fedaration and invited people to join them in the sky (about a third of the banished tribe accepted.)
Also, just for fun, Seranno found the mighty predator that lumbered by while they were travelling. With the captain supervising, he cut it down with orbital phasers, and beamed the head up to the shuttle bay as a trophy.
Winters and Finity had a brief and unsettling chat with their clones, then ordered them deeply scanned, and beamed into space. (Winters toyed with the idea of keeping his for spare parts, but the paperwork and cultural questions of ethics and regulations got daunting, so he abandoned that direction.)
Resolved to keep an eye out for Ethereal Marker on the spaceways, the explorers returned to their duties.
“They watched in stunned, naked silence.”
“Captain, I think YOU should psychically interface with it.”
“That’s us: always reckless, never tasteless.”
“Time for some blitz negotiation.”