“Vortex” Update 5a.18 — Mining mystery and undersea intrigue

From Disney's "Atlantis: the Lost Empire"
Mining vehicle

Fellow role-players, here are Josh C.’s and my notes for Session 5a.18 of the “Vortexspace opera campaign. Team 1 met on Monday, 6 June 2011, and is using FATE 3e Starblazer Adventures/Mindjammer, Diaspora, and Limitless Horizons.

In one future, humanity has begun to colonize the Sol system, but ecological degradation and internecine conflicts persist. Open and official First Contact with Galactic societies, themselves at war, threaten Terra’s very survival. Will heroes rise to the challenges?

Two aliens and their human allies encountered xenophobes and megacorporate intrigues on and around Earth. After visiting factionalized Mars and acquiring a starship in the Asteroid Belt from the Olvar Star League, they continued their mission of diplomacy and exploration to Titan, Tyche, and Alpha Centauri….

>>FATE 3e “Vortex” Team 1 (5a), crew of the Blackbird:

-“Syzygy” [Brian W.]-Trinoid (trilateral amphibious alien) xenologist with an organic laboratory and a pet cat named “Mr. Sniffles”

-“Tela” [Sara F.]-female Tharian (winged reptilian humanoid alien) escapee from the Encegulans, engineer

-“Chris McKee/Agent Prometheus” [Josh C.]-male Terran cyborg human sniper working for eugenicists at Black Box Security Co.

-“Aughest-vor…” [Jason E.R.]-male human from the Lemuria orbital city, onetime dilettante, solar-sail racer, pilot

-“Lt. Kevin Reese” [Bruce K.]-male Terran human, burned-out officer and explorer in the Interplanetary Patrol

-“Gombo Shisel” [Rich L./absent]-male Mongolian/Martian human, former horse rancher and wilderness survival expert

-“Dr. Bucket” [Non-Player Character]-United Earth Authority astromech robot assigned to the Blackbird

Scene 1: Now I lay me down to sleep…

>>”Agent Prometheus'” report, “23 to 30 September 2194 A.D./C.E. or 0 Terran Galactic Era:” After retrieving a space marine from gas-giant dwellers near Alpha Centauri, the Blackbird continues its journey toward Oasis Station, about 40 parsecs from Earth. Although the crew members don’t experience visions as they did during the first activation of their REM faster-than-light (FTL) drive, their sleep is far from restful.

The exploration vessel briefly drops out of Transit space near Sol to send and receive data packets. Syzygy reports to Trinoid “sharer” Solipsy near Titan about his human companions’ successful first contacts, but Tela is less happy about news of expanding Ru’ulok (heavy-gravity reptilian alien) influence.

Chris McKee receives covert instructions from Black Box Security Co., and Lt. Kevin Reese checks in with his superiors at Interplanetary Patrol. Mr. Gray inquires about Lt. Reese’s state of mind and health and is interested in data from new worlds.

Aughest-vor… learns that his cousin Raine has been busy, as megacorporation Vimeco obtains contracts from the United Earth Authority. The onetime solar-sail racer also finds that the Xox Memes, an anarchist group of artificial intelligences, has distributed Ru’ulok FTL plans. In addition, Aughest sends a polite note to Tu Han, a woman he met on Mars.

The Blackbird resumes its journey to Van Maanen’s Star, 14 light-years from Sol. Pilot Aughest-vor programs “hotkeys” for the starhip’s controls and suffers flashbacks to his days as a wealthy playboy. Kevin joins him in the cockpit, despite increasing fatigue.

Scientist Syzygy and robot Dr. Bucket take advantage of the situation to study the effects of the REM drive on their companions. Skittish Tela stays in engineering, working on a secret project. Agent Prometheus is even more paranoid, cleaning his guns in his cabin and eyeing Dr. Bucket.

Scene 2: Heavy metal moons

The crew recovers somewhat before arriving at Van Maanen’s Star, a white dwarf with an asteroid belt and two surviving planets. The Olvar Star League, a longtime observer of human culture, has named the frigid gas giants “Absolom” and “Methuselah.” Each planet has large, dense moons.

A scan of Ruhema, the innermost satellite of Absolom, reveals orderly piles of slag and abandoned mining equipment. Chris and Kevin are eager to explore extraterrestrial artifacts so close to Terran space, so they fire up the Dragonfly drop ship to the metallic moon.

Aughest again expertly avoids strong magnetic fields and lands the Dragonfly about 100 meters from a large alien vehicle. He claims the moon in the name of holding company “OPM-Pharsmor.” Syzygy awkwardly maneuvers around the piles of once-molten iron, and Tela must use her vacuum suit’s jets rather than her natural wings to glide.

Watchful Chris takes his rifle and secures the perimeter, as Lt. Reese and Tela bravely enter the mining vessel, despite warnings. The nimble Tharian figures out how to work the hatches, and she and the lieutenant climb a strange shaft to an observation deck near the top of the tracked vehicle.

Syzygy maintains radio contact with his friends, who also record what they’re seeing. Tela and Kevin find rungs on all surfaces, but no obvious labels. Their companions theorize that it was used by a climbing species similar to Tela’s and not previously known to the Kharvamid Alliance.

On the next deck down, they enter probable crew quarters, but there are no furnishings behind the round doors. Occasional valves spew dust, which Tela samples for Syzygy.

When Tela and Kevin get to a large common area, Syzygy suggests that they adjust their helmet visors. In the ultraviolet, they suddenly perceive numerous characters, which Dr. Bucket eventually translates as Aquarian, the language of an amphibious starfaring species. This explains the strange corridors and rungs — the ancient vehicle was once filled with water!

On the command and control deck, curious Tela starts manipulating levers, activating the long-dormant digger! It begins drilling into Ruhema’s hard crust, spewing metal in all directions. After a few scary moments, Tela is able to deactivate the Aquarian miner, but she and Kevin have to force open the hatches to exit.

As old as the equipment is, Syzygy and Aughest suspect that the metal mounds covering the moon are older still. Some of the fragments dug up by the archaic device are mechanical. Chris follows the now-tilted vehicle’s tracks back and finds some tunnels that it had dug.

Amplifying helmet lights, the away team descends, past meters of melted metal until it finds itself surrounded by machinery of unknown origin. Syzygy and Aughest suspect that the entire moon was once covered by an exotic generator or factory damaged when the star went nova.

Chris recalls reading about Precursor races in the Blackbird‘s computers. However, Tela and Kevin soon report a more alarming phenomenon — their suits are being drained of power! The group rushes to the surface and checks the Dragonfly, which is experiencing a lesser power drop.

Syzygy believes that he has found the reason why the Aquarians abandoned a potentially lucrative operation on Ruhema. Back on the Blackbird, the team continues its system survey after Chris requests a polar sweep.

The glum moon of Elric is a pale, cold world, with ruined spires and a thin, windy atmosphere [apologies to Michael Moorcock]. Ezekiel is a barren rock, so the travelers turn their attention to Methuselah and its moons. The outer one, Whistler’s Mother, is an iceball.

Scene 3: Voyage to the bottom of the sea

The next body, dubbed “Dorian Gray,” also appears to be a ball of ice at first, but closer scans indicate oceans and life signs beneath the 100-foot-thick glaciers. Lt. Reese looks for a thinner point in the ice, and Aughest plots a diving course.

Agent Prometheus happily climbs into the gun turret and burns a path with the Blackbird‘s particle cannon. Tela makes quick modifications to ensure that the experimental scout ship can withstand the pressure, and Syzygy verifies that the water will be tolerable.

The Blackbird enters and is soon accosted by two squid-like submarines. Using Dr. Bucket’s Aquarian translations and subsonic speakers, Syzygy greets the escorts. They are suspicious that the outlanders are from something called the Corvell Unity and order them to closely follow back to Albahaven.

In the dim seas, the explorers see ornate cities made from grown crystals. Exotic lifeforms swim past a submerged continental shelf, and Syzygy infers from contaminants and transmissions that the native Aquarians are at a level of technology similar to that of 18th or 19th century Earth.

After donning suits and leaving the Blackbird, the crew meets the humanoid Gen. Qualish in a special chamber that can contain air rather than water. (It also has an examination table with restraints.) He explains that the descendants of the Aquarians have different beliefs about life beyond “Dorian Gray’s” ice. Recognizing Syzygy as a Trinoid, the general says that he doesn’t believe tales of demons, but he adds that his scientists have proposed that their origins lay elsewhere.

Gen. Qualish also agrees that his world is dying, as falling temperatures and rising pollution are aggravated by war with Queen Shulis of the Corvell Unity. He argues that Albahaven’s enemies are superstitious and belligerent. Lt. Reese and Aughest-vor manage to get Gen. Qualish (whom they trust about as much as Black Box) to let the Terrans, Trinoid, and Tharian attempt to contact the rival undersea nation‘s queen….

I hope that all of you have had a good fortnight. Please note that after David I.S., Thomas K.Y.’s, and my fun visit to New York City, the Pathfinder/Skype: “the Vanished Landstelecom fantasy game resumed on June 19, and “VortexTeam 1 (the Blackbird) meets again on June 20. Team 2 (the Appomattox) is scheduled to play on June 27. Be seeing you, -Gene

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