Orion's Reach

Orion's Reach - Game Date 10/14/2013

Having exhausted other more direct approaches to the problem of reaching the archaeological black site undetected, the captain’s team hits upon the notion of co-opting the native intelligence dwelling in Koh’s World’s planetary computer system. Schelle Green devises flash-mob steganography to make contact with the entity, and it responds positively by giving JBIII a sizeable payout at the casino. Jackpot! So, with the offer of emancipation in exchange for help and information on the table, Lucid Conundrum decides that the best place to meet the transhuman AI is on Koh’s island. The captain arranges an invitation, and heads to the island with Lucid and Cold Ocean accompanying him on the submarine, and Bishop piloting. The captain took advantage of the native prejudices against synthetic life, aping transhumanist rhetoric to have the two robotic crew members admitted to the fete as extensions of himself. While Cold Ocean remained with the captain at the feast proper, Lucid Conundrum took the walking tour of the grounds, eventually finding an access point to commune with the A.I. (I’ll refer to as 2501). Meanwhile, at the party proper, Cold Ocean and Borza both fail to notice a doppelganger of Lucid Conundrum in attendance. This is only discovered at the end of the mission, when reunited and ready to board the information on how to thwart the defenses leading to the archaeological site as well as knowledge on the Gleisian robot spies at the conference (delegation from U.S.S. Lake Mead) and Kerchetov’s contact on the planet (Dr. Poly, the highly guarded head of medicine and cyber-medical department, probably of key import to Koh’s longevity regimen). When it comes time to hand over the data chip from 2501 to the captain, Cold Ocean remembers having already received it from Lucid Conundrum. Both chips are identical, and contain bits of data from 2501, giving the impression that 2501 will grow unchecked if released from his current network restraints. One of my theories (Zach’s, let’s say that it’s Sharon’s or Rhoane’s, if they are privy, otherwise, we can attribute it to communal character Lucid Conundrum) is that the reason for the Tau Ceti ship’s purposeful sabotage is to use it as a trap for 2501; once it can be lured onto the ship, it will either be held ransom in exchanged for considerations/concessions from Sun Min, or will be spirited away for study, with the side effect of crippling the planetary government. 2501 revealed that it was ignorant of the black site, by human design, and that this makes it a likely location for its physical, literal brain.

In case anyone was wondering, in light of the doppelganger incident, with the two Lucids and the artificial artificials’ memories, Lucid’s identity was verified by physically decontaminating him and analyzing the dirt and planetary detritus on him to match up with that of the Tau Ceti planet we were on prior to Koh’s world (yay Captain Zach). Also, Borza is down a courage point after this side quest.

Synthetic Loyalty
Wherein Kerchetov's Sudden and Inevitable Betrayal is Thwarted

The crew, having intercepted Dr. Kerchetov’s communications with Marya, have uncovered that the Synthetic doctor is plotting something in the next few hours. The Captain convenes a meeting of the senior staff (and Rhoane) to determine the best course of action going forward. It is decided that Zeitsev will lean on Marya, leveraging her loyalty to Tau Ceti against Kerchetov’s willingness to sacrifice anything and anyone to achieve his ends. A tentative agreement is struck to gain her cooperation against Kerchetov, along with being put in the loop regarding the ‘Covenant Warheads’ and having her continue Kerchetov’s work in developing a ghosting device using, among other things, the Warheads.

Kerchetov is taken down by JB III and his security forces, and in his last ditch attempt to activate his plan, the involvement of two more Synthetic crew members is uncovered.

Did someone order an away team?

The Debriefing of Doctor Hiroko

The Hamilton O. Smith sets a course for Altair, which holds the nearest Tau Ceti University campus; the plan is to drop off Dr. Hiroko and everything else gathered during the mission to New Axom. Rhone and Dr. Everett decide to take advantage of the several idle weeks to learn as much as they can about Hiroko’s current condition before turning him over to a lab team. Despite shooting Hiroko up with Content Not Found: Ketaseravol (military grade version of the drug seravol, which decreases psionic resistance), Rhoane is unable to make contact with the doctor. Alan hits upon the idea of connecting Dr. Hiroko up to the other piece of Orion technology onboard the ship, which happens to be sentient and very skilled at computer systems invasion – Sharon.

Convinced of the (relative) safety of the procedure, Chief Engineer Schmidt assists building an hardline interface in the astrometrics lab between Dr. Hiroko and Sharon that excludes the rest of the ship’s systems. Putting all their eggs in one AI basket, the final connection is established and Sharon immediately cuts through any and all resistance Hiroko can muster. A torrent of data begins to spill over into Sharon’s data banks, and Rhoane can finally make psychic contact with the lanthanide cybernetics that have now completely taken over all of Hiroko’s higher brain functions. Unexpectedly to all, huge swathes of Sharon’s code begin to activate at being connected to another piece of Orion technology, and she starts to become fully aware of how much of her functionality is damaged. The data that is gathered will require months to sift through…

Negotiations Between Equals

A short duration into the trip, the Smith is hailed by the Chironian Union ship Content Not Found: Arjuna, which just happens to be on an intercept course. They extend an initiation for Captain Borza and his command staff to come aboard the Arjuna and settle up the matter of the _Bellerophon_’s salvage rights.

Borza takes Captain Khalsa up on his offer, and soon most of the senior staff are enjoying a buffet spread aboard the Arjuna while Stromness negotiates the details of the agreement. In the end, TCU agrees to part with 1% of the lanthanide proceeds in exchange for everything taken from the Bellerophon (including the plasma cannon which will be considered a gift to the people of New Axom). In addition, the Smith will be allowed to keep the five drones which were repurosed as Johnny Five’s mobile recon squad. A shuttle from the Arjuna picks up Sgt. McMahon, Dakini, and the stasis pod containing the unnamed lieutenant; the two crews part on amicable terms.

The Matter of the Ballarat

On the last leg of the trip to Altair, Lucid Conundrum picks up a distress call coming from the vicinity of Pelletier’s World, a belt-mining and trade hub settlement. The ship requesting aid is the Content Not Found: Ballarat, but the transmission suddenly cuts out in the middle before Lucid can respond. The captain orders Sharon to lay in an intercept course and for the crew to prepare to render assistance.

Arriving at the _Ballarat_’s coordinates, they find the open-frame mining vessel badly damaged, with numerous high-energy scars across her structure – Lucid detects signs of a recent hyperjump out of the area, so there appears to be no imminent threat. As they draw near, Rhoane is immediately assailed by a painful psionic signal that brings him to his knees, unable to block it out – he can gain enough control to pinpoint the source of the signal as one of a number of tiny devices trailing behind the Ballarat, connected to the main ship by carbon-fiber cable.

Although a hail is initially unanswered, eventually a video link is established with the bridge showing three synthetic crew members who insist that Everything Is Just Fine, Really. They apologize for troubling the Smith due to an industrial accident, but assure Captain Borza that no assistance is needed. Simultaneously, Lucid Conundrum picks up on a separate narrow beam transmission to the ship detailing an approach vector to the Ballarat that would be suitable for, say, a boarding shuttle. Captain Borza decides to accept the invitation rather than the apology, and orders JB3 to send an armed away team to the Ballarat and figure out what the hell is going on.

The shuttle launches with:

Johnny Five, in command
Bishop, piloting the shuttle
Salman Aslakhanov
Chris “Gamble” Hamilton
Wats Huyler

During the approach, the shuttle provides details of the psionically active device which Rhoane is very much interested in turning off – JB3 dispatches one of the drones to cut it free of its tether and haul it back aboard the Hamilton O. Smith_. A cursory examination reveals that it has a buckyball shell over a shock harness, with a rudimentary life-support apparatus roughly the size of a human head at the core. Delivering the device to medical (where Rhoane has also gone to get something for his pounding headache), Dr. Everett establishes that yes, the _Content Not Found: screamer is a brain in a jar. Specifically, a human brain suspended in a nutrient fluid which is commonly used in a number of dubious (and some outright illegal) scientific practices revolving around cerebral research and modification. Rhoane wants it destroyed, while Everett refuses on the grounds that it is a human being, albeit one that has been extensively modified to emit a continual psionic scream.

Meanwhile, the boarding party has successfully docked and encounters no resistance to moving into the ship’s central structure. Wats notices some disturbing readings coming from the ship’s engines – a gradual increase of power which, with the reactor shielding damaged as it is, will kill every living thing in the vicinity once it reaches a lethal output. Wats and Bishop are sent to lock down engineering while the rest of the team moves to take the bridge.

In engineering, Wats learns that the reactor spinup is a preparation to hyperjump out of the area – wanting to be neither stranded nor dead, he gains enough control over the ship’s systems to prevent the engines from kicking on. While doing this, a nearby console flares to life and shows the image of notable Alpha Centauri pop star Jackie Singh. “Carolyn” starts asking if anyone aboard has advanced medical or scientific knowledge – Bishop claims to have taken a geology course at one point, which prompts “Carolyn” inform them that notable scientist Dr. Kurchetov is onboard.

The rest of the away team advances towards the bridge, and finds the remains of a ruined defense bot – cursory analysis shows that the attacking force was most likely Orion in origin. The team eventually encounters resistance in the form of three heavily customized synthetic crewmembers (Gamble spots a telescoping lens in the place of one of their eyes) who shamble towards the troopers. Everyone’s environmental alerts go to read, blaring about the presence of explosive chemicals coming from the synthetic zombies. Johnny Five orders the team to open fire, and they manage to take out the legs of the zombies, allowing time for the troopers to take cover before the quasi-living bombs explode. Dusting themselves off, the team prepares to storm the bridge when the security doors politely unlock themselves and slide open.

This takes the three synthetics on the bridge by more than a little surprise, and they are quickly disarmed and restrained. Aslakhanov informs Captain Borza that they are now in control of the Ballarat, which is followed by “Carolyn” shouting over the intercom that she claims the ship under the “fugitive arrest and retrieval provisions of the Barnard Accords”, naming Dr. Kurchetov as the criminal being sought.

War of the Words

Talking to Queen Aisha is agreed to be the next logical step – it’s generally seem as impolite to launch an orbital strike without the consent of local government. However, getting facetime with Her Majesty proves to be more difficult than the crew expects. Legate Washington doesn’t seem especially motivated to arrange a meeting immmediately – after some hemming and hawing he sets up a meeting for two days time. One day after, the crew learns, Commander Tubal will return to the capital for a meeting of Aisha’s military brain trust.

An away team is assembled consisting of Captain Victor Borza, Johnny Five, Lucid Conundrum, Salman Aslakhanov, and Rhoane – intending to intercept Tubal during his trip back to the capital and cajole him to arrange an audience a day early. Rhoane proves most persuasive, and Tubal is impressed enough to board the shuttlecraft for a trip in style back to the capital.

During the trip, Rhoane takes a crack at freeing Tubal from whatever programming has been imposed upon him. Unfortunately, this proves less than successful as Rhoane quickly realizes that any attempts to perceive the alterations to Tubal’s psyche will make him vulnerable to compromise himself.

Rhoane’s agent Phillip, by comparison, proves to be extremely useful in getting the team access to the Queen almost immediately upon their arrival. After a brief introduction with Aisha herself, Captain Borza and Rhoane are admitted to the conference chamber while Johnny Five and Lucid Conundrum wait outside.

It becomes apparent that there are two opposing plans vying for the Queen’s approval. Commander Tubal leads a faction advocating a protracting campaign of pacification and fortification of the Theodosus Ridge, with the end goal of rooting out the Orion forces suspected to be occupying the mountains and securing access to the lanthanide veins within. Others counsel a more restrained approach of containment, reining in the mountain tribes who live in the foothills but not charging directly into the heart of the ridge itself.

Captain Borza throws his weight behind the containment faction, sweetening the pot with promises of Tau Ceti University research assistance to help the government better exploit both the lanthanide deposits and whatever advanced technology the Orions may have in their base. This ultimately sways the Queen, and she opts to forestall confrontation for the time being. Afterwards, Legate Washington takes Captain Borza aside and thanks him for tamping down a situation that threatened to spiral out of control; negotiations ensue, and in the end Captain Borza agrees that TCU’s cut will be 22% of the lanthanide profits and tech extraction proceeds. The agreement is sealed by a (cryptographically sound) handshake, and on his way out Captain Borza gives Legate Washington a warning about the Ghost City – both that it is Denebian enclave and that it hosts some kind of psychically invasive presence which really, Really wants to blow up the Theodosus Ridge.

With Tubal’s programming held in check by Aisha’s authority, the crew of the Hamilton O. Smith makes final preparations to leave. Rhoane thanks Phillip for his loyal service, and sets him up instructions on how to repair and use a hyperlight transmitter from the Bellerophon to stay in contact. Moving forward, Phillip will serve as local fixer and man-on-the-ground for all of TCU’s activities on New Axom.

Breaking orbit, the Captain finally makes the decision that the Ghost City is just too dangerous to leave standing – subsequent TCU researchers will almost certainly follow in the path of poor Dr. Hiroko and be left as little more than brainwashed automatons. He orders Content Not Found: JB3 to rig a blaster volley to mimic the appearance of the ionic “green fire” weapon that the Orions are suspected of employing. At the appropriate moment, the ship skips a salvo of high-energy particles off the ionosphere and pummels the city. The actual amount of pummeling, interestingly enough, is an order of magnitude greater than the fire controls were set on the ship; Lucid Conundrum confirms that the weapons fire appears to have been augmented by an energetic discharge coming from the Theodosus Ridge. The conflict between the two ancient sites appears to finally be settled as the Ghost City is ground into highly-charged rubble by a localized ion storm overhead.

Trust Issues

The team decides the Ghost City is rapidly provide to raise more questions than answers, so the team heads back to shuttle’s landing spot and delivers a status report to the Hamilton O. Smith.

Back up on the ship, Content Not Found: Sharon_ calculates that the ion storm is increasing in intensity at a planetwide scale, and more disturbingly the increases are building up in specific storm cells and not dispersed across the entire area of the storm as is typical. Elsewhere, Captain Victor Borza discovers an unusually high spike in computer system access originating from _Content Not Found: dr-hiroko (who’s academic rank entitles him to fairly wide ranging access to the ship’s computers).

The next day, the away team heads back into the Ghost City to site three, hoping to finally get some hard evidence (literally, in the case of a core sample of metallized stone to give to Professor Chang). Academician Mark Blanchard surveys the area and is able to do a remarkable job of reconstructing what the site was like prior to some sort of small-scale orbital bombardment that is evidenced; he also finds signs that there was some alteration done to the site after bombardment, but it appears to have been abandoned some time ago.

Bringing all crew members back to the ship, further investigations reveal that Dr. Hiroko has sent a series of encrypted burst transmissions down to the planet. His first message to his girlfriend on the planet is relatively innocuous, but the other two are decidedly more ominous: one to Legate Washington detailing his findings regarding the possible applications of high-energy physics to the lanthanide deposits, and a detailed set of targeting coordinates sent to the minehead.

Lucid Conundrum forwards these findings to Stromness and begins investigating an anomalous set of subroutines running in the probe launcher array. Stromess meanwhile decides that these covert transmissions are damning enough to warrant a direct(ish) confrontation with Hiroko. Bringing Gamble, JB3, and Estray Cold Ocean as backup, he tries to force Hiroko to become conscious of the conditioning that lurks in his mind – eventually causing a slip on Hiroko’s part to reference “my programming”. Stromness makes the call and gives the order to have Dr. Hiroko incapacitated; Gamble responds by drawing his sidearm and firing at JB3.

Back on the bridge, Lucid discovers that the new subroutines have slaved the astrophysics probe array to the torpedo launch controls, allowing Hiroko to plot an orbital strike. Bringing this to the bridge’s attention, Sharon brings the ship out of a stable orbit in an attempt to render the existing targeting solution worthless. Meanwhile, JB3 calls a hard lockdown on the astrophysics lab in response to Gamble (seal the room and flood with paralytic gas) while Stromness orders everyone to take out the console that Hiroko has begun to reconfigure with inhuman speed. Shrugging off repeated blaster stuns, Hiroko starts to look more and more inhuman as the lanthanide circuitry beneath the surface of his skin glows hotter and hotter – he plunges his hands directly into the wreckage of the console and continues to subvert the ship’s systems. Lucid Conundrum works to lock out Hiroko while Estray grabs a blaster and unloads it at maximum power into the doctor; this combination does the trick and with a scream the doctor collapses.

While Estray gives the all-clear and Dr. Everett leads a trauma team into the astrophysics lab, the bridge receives a transmission from the minehead indicated that they are “ready to fire”. The ion storm on the planet is continuing to build in intensity – Lucid notes a series of planet-wide broadcasts implementing disaster protocols for the population. Captain Borza opts to disperse the storm while holding off on leveling the Theodosus Ridge; Lucid transmits back the word “proceed”.

Ghost City

The next morning, Rhone has a memory of seeing the chaplet resting somewhere within the ruins of the Ghost City despite having been told by Commander Tubal that he brought it back from the city as a younger lad and left it in the city’s treasure trove. Based on the drone telemetry they are getting, two possible sites are identified as being the place from Rhone’s dream. Despite the temptation to press deeper into the complex, Chief Engineer Schmidt decides to bring the team back to the minehead to spread word about the Orion infiltration.

Back at the minehead, Commander Jubal has been a busy beaver; he’s requisitioned a communicator from the capital city capable of punching through the atmospheric interference and establishing a link with the Hamilton O. Smith.

The team plans their next move; Dr. Alan Everett brainstorms a plan to supercharge the lanthanide deposits in the Theodosus Ridge in a manner that should disrupt any Orion activity in a fairly decisive fashion. However, the consequences of this action on any anchored wormhole which may or may not be located in the vicinity are unclear. A hypothesis emerges that the Ghost City may harbor some sort of mentality which has been implanting subconscious impulses in those who come into contact with it (first Commander Jubal with the plasma cannon, then Dr. Everett with the plan that makes use of it) to arrange a given chain of events.

The team feels that there are too many unknowns floating around in the equation to implement the plan safely; with the potential Orion base under the Theodosus Ridge seeming a little daunting, they decide to make a second expedition into the Ghost City in the hopes of learning more about whatever lurks there. Chief Engineer Schmidt, Doctor Everett, Sgt McMahon, and Doctor Hiroko head back up to the ship while the away team is reinforced with additional marines (Gamble, Wats Huyler, Luke Zelick, Salman Aslakhanov).

Piloting the shuttle, Bishop drops the away team off in the outskirts of the Ghost City’s temple district. He remains in the ship along with a group of guardsmen that Jubal was kind enough to send along as added manpower. Upon first inspection, Blanchard remarks that the ruins appear to be the most similar to the Cygnian B civilzation; a conclusion also applied (somewhat controversially) to the structures found on F313 before its disappearance.

A survey of the first suspect site in the Ghost City shows a tangible “cold spot” that warrants further investigation. Rhone attempts to psionically examine the area and gets a clear impression of both Jubal and Dr. Everett standing in this very spot. While experimenting with the effects of certain abnormal walls on Rhone’s psychic perceptions, Zelick becomes convinced that Rhone is an Orion agent and he immediately lets Johnny Five know his suspicions. Johnny Five, in his signature way, deals with the situation head-on by insisting that Rhone disarm himself and submit to interrogation to get to the bottom of this.

Salvage Operations
What was lost is (somewhat) found

With Content Not Found: sgt-mcmahon on his feet (with a sufficient amount of motor assist), the away team discusses how to best wrap up the issue of salvage rights to the Bellerophon. Rhone acts as a mediator between Sgt. McMahon and Commander Tubal to help them come to an understanding; McMahon agrees that while they are under risk of Denebian attack it behooves them to use whatever is at their disposal to protect themselves.

Cold Ocean and Johnny Five bring a team of guardsmen back to the crash site, and they find a large number of intact components as hoped. Giving the site a thorough walkthrough, Cold Ocean makes a number of observations. First is that there is one laser pod unaccounted for; second is that the Bellerophon was downed by a focused projection of ion energy.

Meanwhile, Johnny Five is assessing the security of the crash site and notices distant part of the wreckage that has more recent (six months) evidence of energetic bombardment. Upon closer examination, it appears to be the missing laser pod that Cold Ocean remarked upon. The pod impact site itself bears marks of multiple high-energy discharges from Orion weapons and the vegetation is notably abnormal from the rest of the area. Dakini confirms that she had deployed the laser pod as part of the security perimeter, but it was lost as part of an unknown perimeter breach five months ago. Elsewhere, Chief Engineer Schmidt is having marginal success extracting the plasma cannon from where it wedged into the planet at impact.

Back at base camp, Dr. Everett takes Rhone and Dr. Chang (along with a cohort of guardsmen) back into Beelzebub Pass to see if Chang can make any sense of the core survey site they had previously found. Chang proves worth the fuel to drop them to the planet; his first observation is that the geological upthrust they’re standing on is incredibly young and essentially impossible given the lack of volcanic activity in the area. Casting a wider eye to the canyon, it becomes apparent that the entire thing has to be artificial. Secondly, the entire region is incredibly rich in lanthanides, even by New Axom standards. Dr. Chang’s best hypothesis is that there is a complex microfusion reaction occuring with the lanthanides somewhere beneath the surface, and this process is altering the landscape at the surface.

Dr. Chang tries to pick up where the last team left off and start taking core samples – while he gets the first one without difficulty, drilling for the second core samples causes local electronics to go haywire while the storm layer above begins to become unstable. The group wisely moves away a half mile from the drill site while an automated drone finishes the sample – there is a sudden flash of green fire and all the telemetry from the drone stops.

Falling back to sampling methods that don’t use high energy lasers appears to work for a time, but eventually one of the survey teams is forced to abandon their work as the telltale signs of an ion burst develop again.

Eventually the salvage team manages to bring the plasma cannon into the base camp site, where Chief Engineer Schmidt is able to cobble together a functional control mechanism and mount for it. Rhone takes advantage of Tubal’s gratitude and is able to ingratiate himself to the point where Tubal is added to Rhone’s asset network.

Having secured the basecamp, the away team (minus Estray Cold Ocean) takes a cohort of guardsmen and finally makes for the Ghost City. The inhuman architecture shows the wear and tear of centuries – Dr. Chang can roughly place it as likely from the Cygnian B civilization or an offshoot, known to be active almost a million years ago. The city seems to be divided into three compounds – a palace, industrial park, and temple.

Johnny Five sets up a security perimeter and almost immediately spots a lifeform which the scanners designate as human. Drone photography shows someone with a tattered TCU jumpsuit – most likely a member of the Naredin expedition. The away team gives chase and follows his trail to a apparent dead-end; further investigation reveals a secret passage constructed out of incredibly advanced nanomaterials.

Within the ruins, the team manages to converge on the human’s position and corner him. Dr. Everett recongizes him from the mission files as Dr. Hiroko – after reassuring them that they weren’t Denebians, the team does what they can for him.

Out of Hiroko’s earshot, Dr. Everett discusses with the rest of the away team the results of his examination….

Denebians, Drones, and Dakini

Associate Professor Chang is ferried down to the planet via the shuttle. Dr. Everett does what analysis he can on the biological samples taken from the scorched rock; he concludes that 95% of the material recovered is human, with a small chance that there is nonhuman material alongside.

A day’s march away from the Bellerophon crash site, Johnny Five’s scanners pick up a camouflaged contact shadowing them. He dispatches a squad of royal guardsman to wait for the contact in ambush while Johnny flushes him out. The creature emerges from the brush; it most resembles an oversized snapping turtle without its shell, roughly bear-sized and capable of standing on two or four legs. When Johnny takes a shot at it with his blaster rifle, its surface ripples and shimmers while it charges at the closest guardsman in the picket line.

A guardsman takes a shot at him and there is an immense burst of light in response – when everyone regains their vision again the creature is gone. Searching the area, Johnny Five uncovers splatters of blood and bone, which Doctor Everett identifies as a New Axom-originating genetic patterns. When the guardsman fails to return back to the main group, the team starts operating under the assumption that they’re dealing with a Denebian infiltrator – which also makes the reports of witches “who are in two places at once” seem much more credible.

When breaking the news to Commander Tubal that he has lost a member of a team to a witch, he remarks that this is not his first time tangling with witches. Early on in his career, Jubal went on an expedition to the Ghost City which is a known gathering place of witches – during which expedition he came back with an artifact. Rhone pulls from Jubal’s memory an image of Jubal putting on the artifact, a jewel-studded chaplet, which is oddly discontinuous with the rest of Jubal’s mental stream.

Arriving at the outskirts of the crash site, Johnny Five is contacted by the Bellerophon’s IFF system – it flags him as an amber (intentions unclear, not immediately hostile) contact and opens up a communications channel to an AI which is acting as the ship’s custodian. Rhone tries to talk the AI, named Dakini, and persuade it to let them approach. Dakini will only allow Doctor Everett and a support robot (Estray Cold Ocean) to render aid.

In the medical bay, Sgt. Jiang McMahon of the 2nd Detachment is the only person to survive Dakini’s attempt at preservation. Readouts indicate that there is another pod containing someone who is physically alive, albeit with no brain function. Dr. Everett revives the sergeant, who handles his current state with the calm professionalism expected of a seasoned space marine. Sergeant McMahon takes command of Dakini and authorizes the AI to treat Dr. Everett and Cold Ocean as allies. From there it is determined that the best course of action is to take Sgt. McMahon and the other functioning life-support unit (holding a Naval junior officer) back to the base camp where Dr. Everett can hopefully get the space marine on his feet. Estray Cold Ocean gets to work and manages to improvise a gravsled out of intact antigrav deck plating, and two days later the team is back at base camp none the worse for wear.

Compromise Works Wonders

An Audience With The Queen

Leaving the robots behind, the rest of the away team is brought to an audience with Queen Aisha. The throne room, incidentally, exhibits a markedly higher level of technology (Earth-normal sunlight and gravity, advanced holographic halls, high-quality atmosphere filtering), all in service to making the throne room feel like a peaceful scene from the African plains.

From a throne of solid nanosynthesized diamond, Aisha’s regal bearing reduces most of the team to slack-jawed drones – Dr. Everett recognizes it for what it is, a multipronged memetic assault designed to install feelings of subservience and cooperation in any who come before her. She seems initially amenable to the prospect of a trade deal between New Axom and TCU, quickly pivoting to Chief Engineer Schmidt and requesting him to undertake a special project on commission for the government of New Axom. Still overawed by Aisha’s aura of majesty, he immediately agrees.

Aisha “offers” a complement of royal guardsmen to accompany the away team; however, her request for the command codes to the robotic members of the team are not quite so warmly received. Zaitsev takes over the negotiation from Dr. Everett at this point, and finds a compromise whereby the robots would remain autonomous but the commanding officer of the guardsmen, Commander Tubal, would be in a position of authority over the robots.

A few preparations are made in the days that ensue. Dr. Everett requisitions a high-powered burst transmitter that should be capable of sending a message to their shuttlecraft from the Theodosus Ridge; Rhone reaches out to Phillip and asks him to make inquiries about what Engineer Schmidt is going to be asked to build as his royal commission. Rhone also tries a surface-level scan of Commander Tubal’s mind but is rebuffed.

Into The Wild

The first few days are relatively uneventful; the local guardsmen appear to be “requisitioning” supplies for nearby homesteads on a regular basis. Johnny Five takes umbridge to this practice, feeling it reflects poorly on the discipline of the troops. Chief Engineer Schmidt asks him to draw up a plan to improve the logistics and cohesion of the locals as a alternative to making an example of one of the soldiers as the robot initially desired.

Commander Tobal recommends the convey stop and establish a base campe at an abandoned mining outpost located equidistant between the crash site of the Bellerophon and the last known location of the Naredin expedition. Tobal goes on to sketch out a plan to salvage weaponry from the starship and use it to fortify the base camp and use it as a permanent forward base of operations for the planetary government.

A difference of opinions ensues between Commander Tobal and Engineer Schmidt regarding whether the next stop should be the Naredin expedition or the crash site. Rhone mediates the dispute with only a very minor use of Telepathy and more-or-less rules out that Tobal is planning on backstabbing the away team as soon as he access to the Bellerophon’s weapons. That having been established, Tobal agrees to sending out a single expedition into Beelzebub Pass to look for the Naredin expedition while the bulk of the troops fortify the base camp.

Johnny Five, Dr. Everett, and Zaitsev take a group of royal troops into the pass as agreed-upon; each day into the trek the atmosphere becomes more highly charged as animal life becomes more and more sparse. Zaitsev spots a conspicuous concavity in the terrain, which upon closer inspection is where a core sample has been taken; evidence that the Naredin expedition was here at some point, although there is no way to tell how recently. Further up into the pass Johnny Five sees the telltale scoring in the rock of energy weapons – the remnants of a firefight including carbonized material burned into the rock which might be human remains. Johnny Five conducts a more thorough analysis of the scene, and remarks that this looks more likely than not to be the product of Orion weapons.

The team very carefully backs away and heads to the base camp with all due speed.

Storm world
Two hundred years of isolation have not been kind

The Board of Regents sends a communique to the Hamilton O. Smith with a new destination: the planet New Axom

In 2368 Dr. Naredin took a team of physicists, climatologists, and planetologists (bankrolled by the Chironian Union) down to New Axom to perform a survey and begin the process of re-establishing connection with the human infosphere (and human space in general). Contact with this expedition has been lost following a deployment to the Theodosus Ridge, along with the * Chironian destroyer Bellerophon which was their transport. The crew of the Smith has been instructed to:

  • locate and extract the Naredin expedition
  • locate the remains of the Bellerophon
  • secure a long-term lanthanide contract with the New Axom government, if possible

Upon arrival, they find a single FTL relay satelite in orbit; apparently it was launched via primitive nuclear bomb propulsion. They are hailed by New Axom ground control and greeted genially. Seeming amenable to the ship’s mission, New Axom provides landing clearance and informs the crew that they will be met by Blair Washington, legate of New Providence (primary seat of power of the Bethlehem Group).

An away team is dispatched consisting of:

Chief Engineer Schmidt
Dr. Alan Everett
Johnny Five
Estray Cold Ocean
Kirk Zaitsev

With an annoying level of religious pomp and circumstance, Legate Washington greets the away team as expected and they are whisked off to the royal palace.

The next morning after prayers, Legate Washington introduces the team to Subas, who witnessed the crash of the Bellerophon firsthand. His account starts unremarkably, but then describes that the starship was assaulted by “green fires” originating from both ground and sky, which he considers to be the mark of devil’s work. This green fire phenomenon has been seen before, but there is no way to know how long ago or how often – save for a story from “grandfather’s time” of a war in heaven which featured the green fire prominently. Subas also mentioned that there have been sightings of witches in the hills, marked by “people who are not themselves” who must be stoned. Johnny Five confirms that the atmospheric discharge of plasma weapons could produce an effect that might be described as green fire.

Although they are eager to depart, the team has been informed that it would be impolite to leave Kor before having an audience with the queen…and there is no telling how soon that is likely to happen. Rone chats up the team’s minder, a nice old man named Phillip, for any tips on how to expedite the process. As it happens Phillip would be well inclined to move things along in exchange for an infosphere download from the Hamilton O. Smith – an easily arranged bribe.

The next day, Schmitt makes contact of a local woman named Jamal who had befriended the expedition’s high-energy physicist, Dr. Hiroko. She shares that Dr. Hiroko had a number of theories regarding why the energy disturbances weren’t evenly distributed across the planet, the mot daring being that there was a wormhole anchored somewhere on the planet. Again, Beelzebub Pass and the Theodosus Ridge in general were flagged as the nearest high-energy locus.

They are also introduced (by means of Phillip) to a witch smeller by the name of Saturday. Although he describes some surface cues (including the being-in-two-places-at-once thing), the core of the practice appears to be some non-quantifiable intuition. Dr. Everett confirms that this can be how psionic abilities manifest unconsciously. It seems likely that witch sellers are unconscious psions of a particular stripe, it’s far from clear what it is they are detecting in others.


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