“Vortex” Update 5b.17 — the “Dawn’s Retreat”

Steampunk space vessel
Steampunk battleship

Fellow role-players, here are my notes for Session 5b.17 of the “Vortexspace opera campaign. Team 2 met on Monday, 27 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?

After encountering robotic probes, regional warlords, and other horrors in an old battlefield and the Ghanki undersea station, a band of grifters and near-humans escaped to the Shepard 2 orbital city. It conducted a successful heist in the Lunar Free State and was involved in medical disasters in the Venusian colonies before returning to Earth to steal a faster-than-light drive…..

>>FATE 3e “Vortex” Team 2 (5b), crew of the “Appomattox:”

-“Hector Chavez” [Beruk A.]-male Latin American Terran human, “burned” operative and communications expert

-“ARTHERR” [Greg D.C.]-Advanced Resonance Theoretical Heuristic Exploration and Research Robot created by megacorp Vimeco

-“Jasmine” [Sara F.] female Martian Felinoid (Synth, “Uplifted” tiger), former professional pit fighter

-“Dr. Richmond Garrett” [Dave S.C.]-male Southern American Terran human, space snake-oil salesman and social climber

-“Gabriel Adams” [Paul J./absent]-male North American Terran near-human with telepathy, courier and pilot

-“Dr. Dieter Klein” [Rich L./absent]-male European Terran human, semi-retired physician, altruist and thrill seeker

-“Nero Bartholomew” [Non-Player Character]-male Terran human, former owner of the “Fortune’s Fool,” ship’s cook

-“Averki ‘Deep Dish’ Dyashenko” [N.P.C.]-male reptilian Synth (genetically engineered humanoid), onetime Venusian miner

>>”1 to 3 October 2194 A.D./C.E. or 0 Terran Galactic Era:” After stealing a Ru’ulok (heavy-gravity reptilian alien) Transit drive from the Star Shark, the crew of the Appomattox went to the edge of the Sol system, where it found a derelict warship. The Dawn’s Retreat was apparently of Terran design, but it contained strange controls and a telepathic entity in its reactor.

Gabriel translates for his companions before the being, who thinks she’s human, establishes psionic contact directly with the away team. She identifies herself as “Dawn,” a soldier and the ship’s “prime motivator.” Dawn again asks the interlopers if they can help her get home to Earth, which they confirm is relatively close.

Hector and ARTHERR eventually find power couplings and open them, restoring power. Although it takes her a while to understand that she’s disembodied, Dawn is then able to accompany individual crew members as they explore her vessel.

The derelict’s gauges, levers, and hatches resemble those of a Terran submarine from the 19th or early 20th century, but it has artificial gravity and life support at least the equal of the Appomattox, which has alien components.

Jasmine goes to the crew quarters, which are empty, except for unused space suits. The Dawn’s Retreat also still has all of its escape pods, so the boarders and Dawn are unsure of where the crew went. She recalls a scouting mission into space held by “the Alliance,” supposedly the enemy of her empire.

Dr. Garrett finds ornate uniforms and a large bed with wrought-iron posts in the captain’s cabin. He tries on a wool greatcoat and admires himself in the mirror until Hector comes to find the ship’s log, a nautical-style paper book.

Gabriel returns to the Appomattox to maneuver and look out for other salvage crews. ARTHERR goes to engineering and drills a hole in the floor for a core sample. Beneath a steel veneer is a spongy semi-organic material containing carbon nanofibers. Later testing reveals that it can act as an insulator or conduct energy, alter its gravitic profile, and regenerate!

In addition, Dawn expresses surprise and pain while chatting with Jasmine. She is unable to communicate with the robot, even though the Synth wrestler explains that she, too, is an artificial sentience.

Richmond claims a blunderbuss and an exotic-looking sword from the “prime stargazer’s” cabin, and the snake-oil salesman orders Nero Bartholomew and Averki “Deep Dish” Dyashenko to help bring the four-poster bed to the Appomattox. Dawn objects but is ignored.

Hector makes recordings with his handheld device, relaying images to ARTHERR and Capt. Adams for translation from Esperanto. Apparently, each handwritten entry of the ship’s log begins routinely before reverting to placeholder text. The “chirurgeon’s” bay has a similar medical log.

On the bridge, Hector asks Dawn about the dates of her travel. She says that she left Earth on “5724” and that the current year is reckoned as “5955,” leading ARTHERR to conclude that the living ship somehow traveled through time or from a parallel dimension!

ARTHERR studies an orrery on the bridge and finds that Sol is not at its center. After correcting his calculations, the probe droid learns that Dawn’s destination was LP 656-38 (also known as LHS 1723 or Gliese J3323), a variable red dwarf star about 17 light-years from Earth, beyond Epsilon Eridani.

Dawn explains that her ship picked up some scouts to return to the “world city,” established by Sulla many centuries ago (in her time). In the galley, Jasmine and company find tins of potted meat, but she declines tasting them. ARTHERR tests the food and ambient dust and finds that they are made of similar semi-organic secretions. He theorizes that the ship generates a crew that it then disposes of.

Former spy Hector checks the scouts’ bunks and armory and finds more antique-style clothing, firearms, and journals. By waiting for a log entry, the group sees ink appear on a page, probably generated by the crewless ship. Gabriel notes that while the Dawn’s Retreat has been near the Sol system for months (of Terran time), it hasn’t been disturbed until now.

ARTHERR’s radiocarbon dating from the core samples and reactor indicates that the derelict is subjectively 300 years old, but even with time dilation, for it to have returned from LP 636-38, it would have had to have left Earth long before humans had developed space flight.

Jasmine examines the cannons of the Dawn’s Retreat, which are simple chemically propelled projectiles. ARTHERR is surprised when Dawn recognizes the name of the “Harbinger of the Order of Submission,” a dangerous alien probe encountered in an old battlefield north of Karachi. She says that in addition to avoiding hostile “Martians,” her orders were to not engage the Harbinger in combat.

Dr. Garrett looks for more items of potential value, and Hector and ARTHERR learn that the Dawn’s Retreat was aided in interstellar travel by “jump gates,” which propelled it like a blown bubble. This is also different from conventional faster-than-light Transit that Terrans have only recently acquired.

Pilot Gabriel takes the Appomattox to the location where the ship would have returned to normal space but finds no gravitational anomalies. Jasmine assures Dawn that no harm will come to her and that she should help the United Earth Authority (U.E.A.).

The crew reconvenes aboard the Appomattox to debate what to do next. Gabriel and Hector don’t trust “Ramon Sanchez” [Josh H./Greg/Non-Player Character], a Lisbon-based fixer who arranged for Richmond to smuggle Vatican relics to Epsilon Eridani, about 11 light-years from Earth.

ARTHERR and Jasmine first want to bring Dawn and her displaced derelict to the proper authorities. If the ship is of alien origin, its creators are unknown. Richmond would prefer to auction them off to the highest bidder, but he is outvoted.

Gabriel extends the Appomattox‘s grapple to the Dawn’s Retreat, and ARTHERR asks that the ship’s effective mass be negated once they’ve disembarked. Hector monitors communications, and Jasmine tries to explain to Dawn that even though she’s not returning to her own world, she’ll be home. The two ships return to near-Earth space.

Dr. Garret covertly contacts Gorvek Beezo, a Ru’ulok trader, who gives the grifter the name of guild member Talak Avex in return for the coordinates of the Dawn’s Retreat. Meanwhile, Hector recounts his adventures to onetime handler Max, while ARTHERR calls Adm. Wei Sihong, to whom he had given several dangerous samples in the past.

The Vimeco robot tells the space navy officer about Dawn and says that she could help the U.E.A. counter the Harbinger, which it is still trying to study. Adm. Wei agrees, and he dispatches the U.E.V. Ajax to rendezvous with the Appomattox.

Tiger-woman Jasmine sends messages to her lover, Darsil, and the Synth United Front on Mars. Dawn bids farewell to her new acquaintances. The Dawn’s Retreat follows the Ajax toward Earth. Hector later learns that Ru’ulok pirates aboard the Star Shark attacked but were defeated by the U.E.A. cruiser. Capt. Droata escaped, swearing vengeance for her second humiliation at the hands of humans.

ARTHERR and Hector keep their samples for later analysis. While its crew still debates, the Appomattox sets a course for Epsilon Eridani….

Paul and Rich, we missed you at the last regular FATE 3e “Vortex” session before our summer hiatus! The Pathfinder/Skype: “the Vanished Lands” telecom fantasy group is also taking a break. In the meantime, stay in touch on the Yahoo message board, and I hope to see some of you at movies or other gatherings before our next game! -Gene

“Vanished Lands” Update T3.31 — Horseflesh and twister

"Pathfinder" RPG wallpaper
Fantasy RPG iconics

Fellow role-players, here is my update for Session T3.31 of the latest adventuring party in my “Vanished Lands” heroic fantasy campaign setting. The teleconferencing team met on Sunday, 26 June 2011, and has been using Pathfinder, Skype, and an online dice roller.

In one ancient world, there was a region where strange majicks and demihuman races thrived. After “Holy Steel‘s” journey to the distant empire of Khemet, another motley group gathered in the northwestern “Vanished Lands” to explore a world full of perils and wonders….

After meeting in the Wisalef Forest, the adventurers encountered the hostile Centaur followers of Vappu Lahja and a haunted hamlet on the Plains of Sathendo….

>>Telecom party Player Character roster, as of summer 2011:

-“Kovar” [Beruk A.]-male Half-Orc/Saganim human Paladin of Mithras, god of contracts and brotherhood; LGn, Lvl. 3

-“Asish Chen Ti” [Byron V.O.]-male Tsucharim human archer (Mongol-style Ranger), escaped from the kingdom of Gokuri; owner of Akita dog Genghis and horse Onimusha; NGl, Age 20, Lvl. 3

-“Jovinda Halflight” [Sammy H.]-female Half-Elf (Grugach/Hifalendorin) Cleric of Mekkil, goddess of nature; owner of horse Wyth-Amoi, or “Wind Spirit”; NGl, Age 23, Lvl. 3

-“Kazuo Takenaga” [Taum D’A.]-male Nezumi (Rat-kin) Monk from the Zedu kingdom in the Therud Forest; LNg, Age 20, Lvl. 3

-“Gawain Keary” [Paul J./absent]-male Saganim human Illusionist (proto-Celtic Wizard); NGc, Age 20, Lvl. 3

-“Davven ‘Digger’ Hollysharp” [Robert A.S./absent]-male Faldine Halfling archaeologist (Tallfellow Rogue) from a pipeweed farm in Tarken; CGn, Age 45, Lvl. 3

-“Favelhorn Riftbringer” [Dexter V.H./absent]-male Mountain Dwarf Summoner; CGn, Age 51, Lvl. 1

1 to 3 September 1229 B.C.E.:” While riding north from the Hifalendorin (proto-Western European) human city of Nadwi, the adventuring party defeated a band of werewolves. The group agreed to ride on for a few more hours before looking for a defensible campsite.

Cautious Kovar casts Detect Evil but finds none nearby. Sniper Asish forages for wolfsbane, and distracted Jovinda prays to Mekkil for guidance and sleeps in a tree. Kazuo’s keen Nezumi nose notices a stench from someplace nearby. Gawain and Digger happily curl up under their blankets after another night’s study.

During their watch, Kazuo and Kovar go to investigate the smell. They find the dismembered corpses of humans and horses piled up. The nonhumans wake their companions, who decide take a closer look in the morning.

Kovar recognizes some of the surcoats as belonging to knights of Otih, god of the sun and justice, who had set out a few days ahead of the party after being warned of the haunted hamlet of Alarn. Asish finds tracks of werewolves and demihumans, possibly Elves, at the skirmish site.

Jovinda verifies that the men were killed a few days before in battle, and Kazuo keeps a lookout for whomever or whatever murdered them. Illusionist Gawain detects no magic, and scholarly Digger finds little of value among the slaughtered.

Paladin Kovar recalls seeing similar horrors at the “Mellow Mule” inn in Alarn, and Kazuo believes that the rending of the victims limb from limb is meant to be another message. Grugach Jovinda notes that members of the Unseelie Court could be responsible. Asish helps bury the dead.

After another day’s ride across the wide Plains of Sathendo, the travelers pitch another cold camp (without a fire). Asish and Jovinda hear Elven music, but their fellows hear only birdsong. The Tsucharim Ranger and the Cleric of the nature goddess manage to resist temptation rather than wander off. Jovinda asks Kazuo for help with mental focus, but the Monk explains that his disciplines take years to master.

The next morning, the skies darken with thunderclouds as the team approaches Alarn. Asish finds an outlying barn and proposes making it a base of operations. Apparently, others had a similar idea, because he and Kazuo find restless horses. They are the steeds of Paladins of Urda, lord of the sky, dispatched from Nadwi after their audience with the city council.

Jovinda assesses the animals and find that they have been left for a few days without fresh water or grooming. Kovar recommends setting the horses free, but fellow equestrian Asish prefers leaving all the steeds in the barn for safekeeping. However, wind and hail soon herald a new threat — a descending funnel cloud!

Kovar watches the tornado approach Alarn’s abandoned houses as Asish leads the skittish steeds away from the barn. Jovinda and Gawain say that there are spells that could affect the weather, and Kazuo joins the scramble to safety. Digger and company are relieved when the twister misses them and heads into the hamlet.

After the storm passes, the explorers survey the damage. Armored Kovar observes that the inn is among the buildings still standing. Asish places the party’s animals with those of the missing knights of Urda back in the undamaged barn. The scout then helps search for tracks of a potential spellcaster.

As they circle Alarn, the team spots scarecrows between the road and the Aspar River. Wise Jovinda and perceptive Kazuo are the first to realize that they’re the missing Paladins, strung up like the scarecrows that attacked them previously. The group backs away, toward the barn….

Paul and Rob, we missed you again! Rob, I hope that you and your entire household feel better soon, and Sammy, I hope that you and Taum have a great time together in the coming week! Beruk, it was good to see you at last night’s FATE 3e Starblazer Adventures: “Vortexspace opera, and Byron, I’ll try to telephone you soon.

In the meantime, feel free to post to the Google Groups message board during our hiatus if you have any ideas for the Pathfinder: “Vanished Lands” campaign, one-shots, or just want to chat! -Gene

Free RPG Day and space opera support

Good_Guy_Fleet_by_captshade
Starships

Just over a week ago, Janice and I drove to the Compleat Strategist in Boston and Pandemonium Books & Games in Cambridge, Mass., for Free RPG Day. The proprietors of the shops were happy to see us, although they were probably disappointed that we didn’t stay for any of their game demonstrations.

The Strat has a good selection of tabletop role-playing games and board games, while Pandemonium has used books and wargames. I wish that they and comic book shops would carry and run more of my kind of games rather than host so many collectible card tournaments, but that’s what brings younger folks in.

Of the free products I picked up, I liked the nicely retro Dungeon Crawl Classics preview, the “We Be Goblins” fantasy scenario for Pathfinder, and the Stellar Horizons space opera sample the best. Since I’ve been running my “Vortex” campaign again, I’ve been looking for science fiction support for Game Masters.

As much as I like Traveller, I’ve often found that science fiction classic a bit dry for my tastes, which veer from pulpy planetary romance to transhumanist speculation. (See recent updates for examples.) At least numerous supplements are available for Traveller.

What do I look for in a science fiction game? Simple character generation with varied development options; streamlined and cinematic combat; and rules for gadgets, vehicles, planets, and aliens. A single rulebook is nice, although it doesn’t have to be thick enough to stop a bullet, like Star Hero or Starblazer Adventures.

An implied setting is helpful, especially if a game is based on a book or movie series, but it’s not as important because I tend to run homebrew campaigns such as “Vortex.” (I have been hunting for good 2-D, hex-based maps of all the real stars within 50 to 100 parsecs of Earth that are likely to have inhabitable planets, however.)

As readers may recall, before my current Boston-area groups chose Fantastic Adventures in Tabletop Entertainment (FATE) Third Edition for “Vortex‘s” latest iteration, we also considered rule sets including Basic Action Super Heroes! (BASH) Sci Fi Edition, D20 Star Wars: Saga Edition, and Generic Universal Role-Playing System (GURPS) 4th Ed.: Space. Any one of these systems was a fair contender.

Even after coming to a consensus for FATE 3e Starblazer Adventures, I’ve incorporated other FATE sourcebooks, including Mindjammer for psionics, Diaspora for some skills, Limitless Horizons for occupations, Strands of Fate for some gear, and soon, Bulldogs (formerly D20) for aliens. I also routinely consult my GURPS, D20, Serenity, and other references when trying to stay ahead of two Player Character parties.

Following my recent interest in retro-clone games, I’ve picked up several for space opera, including X-Plorers, Forgotten Futures (more retro than clone), and Humanspace Empires. Although neither is a true retro-clone, I’m a big fan of Star Frontiers Remastered, and Galaxy Command is based on D20 Future. Stars Without Number is one of my go-to references, partly because it’s so helpful for sandbox campaigns.

The rise of Internet self-publishing, open game licensing, and niche games has been a boon to role-players. I confess to having “gamer attention deficit disorder” — looking at lots of systems for ideas. While I wish that more systems were as polished as Star Wars or Traveller, I still appreciate the effort that went into Ad Astra, Astral Empires, Dead Stars, Frontier Zone, Fspace, Galactic, Space Rage, Star Mogul, and Terminal Space.

In addition to FATE, I’ve been favorably impressed by rules-light (and often pulpy) science fiction games such as Danger Patrol, Lady Blackbird, Rogue Space, and Vanguard. By contrast, noteworthy longer and more polished indie games include Icar, Imperium Chronicles, Star Quest, Stellar Winds, Terran Trade Authority, and Valence. I’d put StarCluster 3 in this category, and its random-generation tables are as useful as those in Stars Without Number.

I’m looking forward to still more space opera games, such as Thousand Suns Revised, Ashen Stars, Cthonian Stars/Void, and Infinite Futures (for Pathfinder). Beyond nostalgia and wanting cheaper and easier games to run and play, I have a wealth of options for speculative fiction!

Green Lantern movie review

Green Lantern movie poster
Green Lantern movie poster

On Saturday, 18 June 2011, Janice and I went into Cambridge, Massachusetts, for Free RPG Day (which I’ll blog more about soon) and lunch at Four Burgers. We then picked up my comic book subscription at New England Comics in Norwood and went to Legacy Place in Dedham, where we screened Green Lantern. Despite mixed reviews and middling box-office receipts, we enjoyed the movie almost as much as the similarly cosmic The Mighty Thor a few weeks earlier.

The latest live-action adaptation of a comic book superhero shows how hotshot test pilot Hal Jordan (played by Ryan Reynolds) overcomes his fears to join the intergalactic Green Lantern corps. Fans of space opera literature will recognize the similarities to E.E. “Doc” Smith’s “Lensman” series, and Janice and I once met GL creator Martin Nodell at a convention.

I thought that Reynolds and Blake Lively (as Jordan’s boss/love interest Carol Ferris) delivered better-than-expected performances, if not quite on the level of Thor‘s Oscar-winning cast or script. Jordan and Ferris are not only both attractive but also bring a human dimension to the star-spanning tale.

Other notable actors in Green Lantern include Geoffrey Rush voicing bird/fish-like Tomar Re, Michael Clarke Duncan as drill sergeant Kilowog (who pleases fans by using the epithet “poozer”), and Mark Strong is spot on as Jordan’s superior and potential rival Sinestro. If you liked all the aliens in Star Trek and Star Wars, there are some cool crowd scenes on Oa, headquarters planet of the Green Lantern corps.

On the Earthling side, Peter Sarsgaard plays mad scientist Hector Hammond; Tim Robbins is his smarmy father, Sen. Hammond; and Angela Basset portrays government agent Amanda Waller. As with Thor, the hero and villain both struggle with daddy issues. The younger Hammond is infected or corrupted by Parallax, a soul-sucking entity mistakenly created by the blue-headed Guardians. The tentacled horror isn’t the best villain in movies, but then, it’s not the most compelling one in the comics, either.

As in Superman Returns, Thor, and the Incredible Hulk, the action scenes were well choreographed and took place in daylight. Only now are the visual effects of the ring-slinger’s will-powered constructs even possible. Green Lantern may not be considered to be as good as Batman: the Dark Knight or Iron Man, but it was entertaining nonetheless, and Disney/Marvel and Warner Bros./DC are to be commended for trying to tackle cosmic and second-string heroes again after many were disappointed by Fantastic Four 2: Rise of the Silver Surfer.

I’d give Green Lantern, which is rated PG-13 for violence and language, a solid B, three out of five stars, or a 7.5 out of 10, only slightly less than Thor. While I haven’t yet seen X-Men: First Class, I’m looking forward to more movies based on comic books this summer, including Captain America: the First Avenger and Cowboys & Aliens. I also recently picked up Green Lantern: First Flight on DVD.

Coming soon: Animation reviews and space opera games!

“Vortex” Update 5a.19 — Aquarian summit

Hellboy's Abe Sapien
Steampunk amphibian

Fellow role-players, here are Josh C.’s and my notes for Session 5a.19 of the “Vortexspace opera campaign. Team 1 met on Monday, 20 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

>>”1 to 3 October 2194 A.D./C.E. or 0 Terran Galactic Era:” The intrepid crew of the Blackbird explored the system around Van Maanen’s Star, finding ancient technology on one moon and civilization under the ice of another. After meeting with Gen. Qualish in Albahaven, the diplomats head to the Corvell Unity on “Dorian Gray,” a satellite of gas giant Methuselah.

Syzygy is surprised that the Salvorain, as the descendants of Aquarian colonists call themselves, have reacted so negatively to his appearance. Apparently, their folktales view three-armed Trinoids as demons, perhaps based on encounters (Terran) millennia ago. Tela is busy maintaining the Blackbird against the pressure of being submerged.

Aughest-vor… pilots the experimental scout vessel just beneath the glacial sheets and then down toward the Corvell Unity. In comparison with the city-state of Albahaven, the crystalline structures here are more angular and less ornamented. While Gen. Qualish had sent squid-like submarines, a “school” of armored escorts now swims closely around the ship.

Aided by Syzygy and Dr. Bucket’s translations, Lt. Kevin Reese hails the sentries. They have difficulty believing that the visitors come from beyond the ice, but they bring the Blackbird into their city. Chris McKee recalls the general’s recommendations for a show of strength, but he is overruled on taking target practice on civilians.

At a plaza, the Terrans, Trinoid, and Tharian come to a full stop, and several Salvorain draw a strange bubble over the starship. Syzygy’s scans indicate that it’s made of a unique polymer, and Tela is the first to step outside. She is suspended in a low-gravity field and is happy to stretch her glider wings.

Civilian Aughest is less graceful, and Lt. Reese finds that the air in the biological bubble surrounding the ship is cold but breathable. They take off their helmets to prove that they’re not Albahavenite spies. The gathering Salvorain gasp when Syzygy appears at the airlock, muttering that his arrival was not prophesied.

The amphibious guards are joined by members of the religious caste. Kevin observes that the Corvell Unity appears to be closer to nature than the residents of Albahaven. Priest Valkon replies that it is Albahaven that has polluted the ocean, devoured scarce resources, and perpetuated war. He also asserts that there is no room for compromise with the “nonbelievers,” just as Gen. Qualish had complained about the “superstitious” Covell Unity.

Aughest-vor, “friend to all,” suggests that as their world cools, the technocrats of Albahaven and the faithful of the Corvell Unity will need to find a balance to survive. Syzygy offers to help reconnect the colonists with their long-lost Aquarian brethren, but royal adviser Selora is skeptical.

Wary Agent Prometheus and Dr. Bucket stay inside the Blackbird for communications and security. Kevin and Aughest sense a telepathic scan or probe but manage to resist it. Tela receives an alert of an energy anomaly near the sensors. The engineer finds a crab-like automaton attached to the hull. With help from Syzygy, she temporarily deactivates the ship’s sensors and removes the clockwork surveillance device.

Queen Shulis descends into the plaza in a nimbus of light and elaborate robes. She greets the aliens and acknowledges the heresy of beings not being under her rule. Lt. Reese and Aughest-vor describe themselves as explorers and invite the queen to negotiations aboard the Blackbird. Valkon and Selora reluctantly join her.

Syzygy entertains the three Salvorain in his humid quarters by showing them images of Hydronicus 2 and their more advanced Aquarian kin, former clients of the Polarians. Some of the Kharvamid Alliance files, however, are sealed. Tela puts the crab droid in a container with one of the Blackbird‘s spider drones. The bug from Albahaven is quickly destroyed by the superior spider.

Aughest stays behind to reassure the citizens of the Corvell Unity of his team’s goodwill toward their queen. He regales them with tales of his many relationships, his family’s business pursuits, and his travels. The Salvorain are especially interested in the onetime dilettante’s emotional connections.

Kevin pilots the Blackbird back to Albahaven, where he invites Gen. Qualish and Col. Bijar of the Ministry of Observation aboard. Syzygy prepares to stay behind with his laboratory, but the Albahavenites are more interested in satisfying their curiosity than some code of honor. They are put into Gombo Shisel’s flooded cabin for takeoff.

Chris blasts a hole in the ice with the particle cannon, and Kevin flies the scout ship into orbit. Tela confronts Col. Bijar with the remains of his surveillance automaton, impressing Gen. Qualish with her assertiveness. They and Queen Shulis’ retinue are amazed (separately at first) to see “Dorian Gray,” Methuselah, and Van Maanen’s Star for the first time.

Lt. Reese and Syzygy arrange for Gen. Qualish and Queen Shulis to meet in the Blackbird‘s lounge. The rival leaders exchange pleasantries, and the determined Interplanetary Patrol officer tries to keep them focused on their common interests rather than their differences.

Syzygy requests samples of the bubble material as he studies the local biosphere. Tela catches Col. Bijar trying to access the ship’s systems, but Kevin has better luck talking reasonably with Selora in the cockpit about loyalties and their people’s interests.

After a few hours, Syzygy and Tela allow Col. Bijar, Valkon, and Selora to join the discussion. Kevin takes turns monitoring the summit with his crewmates to get some sleep, and Chris looks out for any other vessels in the area but finds none.

In the Corvell Unity, Aughest-vor finds that the Salvorain are losing interest, so he introduces them to the concept of peaceful competition through sports such as solar-sail racing. He is relieved when the Blackbird returns safely to retrieve him from the undersea city and drop off its guests.

Queen Shulis and Gen. Qualish announce to their peoples that they will try to work together for all Salvorain. Syzygy and Tela offer technical advice on reducing pollution, and Lt. Reese and Aughest pledge friendship on behalf of humanity and note that the Sol system will be interested in trade.

Chris obtains one of the crystal-tipped tridents from Col. Bijar in Albahaven, and Aughest presents Selora with a sports trophy that Tela made from the destroyed crab robot!

Syzygy later unlocks the Olvar Star League records on the Aquarians and finds that they are threatened by something called the Zarkonian Armada. The scientist wisely refrains from sharing that information with the miners’ descendants on “Dorian Gray.”

Aughest-vor takes the Blackbird back into space, and Syzygy sends a report on the humans’ diplomatic efforts to his Trinoid superiors. He also asks for word to be sent to the Aquarians, even though they likely have more pressing concerns.

Tela drains Gombo’s quarters and tinkers with the drone spiders. Chris settles back into his turret as Lt. Reese helps set a course out of the Van Maanen system….

Please note that the next Blackbird session won’t be until August. Jason will be running his Darkpages one-shot on Monday, July 25. In the meantime, the Pathfinder/Skype: “the Vanished Landstelecom fantasy team meets this coming Sunday, and the last “Vortex” Team 2 (Appomattox) session before our summer hiatus is on June 27! -Gene