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  1. <H1>Resurrecting Warren Shaw</H1><H3><A HREF="mailto:lordschmit@aol.com">by Chris Schmidt</A></H3><HR> 12.20.2115 - Sydney, Australia -- Office of OBC News Director Paul Kilmer Paul Kilmer sat with his head down on his desk. This had been a terrible year and it was shaping up to be an even more terrible week. His office lights darkened, he sat in silence and sighed to himself. It was after-hours and almost everyone else had gone home. Christmas was around the corner. But Paul was in no mood to go home to his family. First off, he had a bad cold. It was something he was forced to suffer through, since he was allergic to cure-all pills. There was no Vitakinetic on staff, and the Æsculapians had more important things to do than cure colds. Secondly, he had yet to get one of those new Legionnaire action figures his son wanted. It was the new hot toy this year. They were sold out everywhere he went. He only had five days left to find one. <IMG SRC="http://www.white-wolf.com/trinityfiles/assets/AVATAR-SHAW.gif" ALIGN=RIGHT>And third, OBC's top reporter, Warren Shaw, had died last month. It was the last problem that kept Paul in the office. Shaw was a major commodity. The most recognizable and well-liked reporter in the business. His recent death threw a monkey wrench into OBC's works that no one had been prepared for. In the board meetings, the subject was the Aberrant-in-the-room that no one wanted to talk about, mainly because no one knew what to do about it. A light flashed on his desktop. Paul looked at it blankly, not rushing to answer the incoming call. He sneezed. "Bill, put the call through." he told the computer agent as he wiped up the mucus he had just spread onto his desk. Orchidware Bill complied quietly. It was Richard Johansson, one of OBC's lower level executives, calling in from his office in NordAmerica. Unlike most of his peers, he took an active and skilled hand in the actual day-to-day works of the megamed, instead of just sitting in his office doing paperwork. And he got little thanks for it from the higher-ups. His avatar image looked up at Paul from the desktop. "Hello, Paul. Feeling any better?" "No, Rich. I'm not. Got any more brilliant questions?" The avatar seemed to cock it's head sideways. "Well, no need to get snippy. I know things haven't been easy the last month, but..." "Sorry, sorry." Paul interrupted, "You're right. Things have not been easy. How're things going in the studio?" "As well as can be expected. Everyone's wondering where Warren is. We keep saying he's still on vacation on Mars. But that's starting to wear thin. Everyone knew how much Warren disliked going anywhere. The idea of him going anywhere is odd at best." Paul nodded as he blew his nose. "We'll have to tell everyone the truth soon. I'm wondering if it was such a good idea to keep Warren's death a secret in the first place." The Richard-avatar looked back and forth. "We weren't certain how to handle it at first. We wanted time to find a new anchor to replace him before we made his death public. But that's stretched on for a month now. By the way, how do you look?" "Look? I look sick, Rich. My eyes are watery, my nose is red and raw, and my face is overall pale. Why?" "Just curious. Your avatar looks perfectly normal. It's an odd contrast to your scratchy voice." he chuckled. "Glad you think it's so funny." Paul followed his reply with a cough. "Now, who do we have for a replacement?" "No one." "No one?!?!" "No one." Paul sat and started at Rich's image. "There has to be someone." He sighed. "Alright. We've been pussyfooting around this long enough. Let's get down to it. Who do we have on staff that can replace Shaw?" "Can? Several. Should? None, really. We have plenty of competent anchors. But none have the name and face recognition that Warren did. None that the viewers would loyally watch every week. As soon as they find out Shaw's gone and we have no big name to fill in for him, they'll all go to another megamed for the news." "Oh, come on. We had to be preparing for this eventuality. We had to have been preparing someone to take over for Shaw one day. For God's sake, Warren wasn't old or anything, but he wasn't immortal, either. He was going to go someday." Richard nodded. "Yes. And we do have several younger reporters that could take over for him one day. But not now. We haven't developed any of them well enough yet." "Great. We have a dozen highly-skilled holo-journalists, but they're all secondary....Hell, not even that. Tertiary to Shaw. There's no one working for OBC that comes close to Shaw's level." "Cori Heisler does." Richard piped in. "Yes, but she doesn't work for us, now does she?" Paul blinked. "Wait, didn't I tell someone to try and recruit her?" "Yeah, me." "I never heard back on that. You make her an offer yet?" "Yup. No go. Cori's too comfortable over at MMI. We offered her a shitload of money, but she wasn't interested. And since we couldn't let her in on Shaw's demise, we couldn't outright offer her the Retrospective desk, which would be the only thing she'd settle for." "Dammit, Richard! Giving Heisler Retrospective was the whole idea!" "And how would I do that? Tell her Shaw's dead? Why would she bother then? She could just sit there at The Painful Truth and be the top journalist in the business, with no competition. She wouldn't need Retrospective then." "Shit..." Paul put his head in his hands and gave a sigh that turned into a minor coughing fit. "You're right. Cori's so competitive, she'd be the first to report Shaw's death, even before we announce it, and soak up the ratings and plenty of Warren's old viewers." "Gotta respect her for that, though," Rich laughed. Paul wiped his nose with another tissue. "Okay. Who else could we recruit?" "Stephanie Chan is somewhere right behind Heisler. The Final Frontier is doing really well in the ratings lately." "Exactly why stealing her will be so hard. GN won't let their new cash cow go anywhere. She's the first big name reporter they've had in years." Richard's avatar shook it's head. "Okay, then what about one of MMI's lesser known people? Someone who'd want to get out from under Cori's shadow?" "Like who?" "Ummm......" the avatar paused as the real Richard searched for the information. "Joyce Dupree? Carlos Viminez?" Paul just shook his head. "No, neither one's got the recognition factor we're looking for. Anyone else?" Richard's voice sounded a little meek at the next suggestion. "Uhh... Dazyl Grenich?" Paul gave the hologram head a deadpan stare. "For Retrospective?? Please tell me that's a joke." "Uhh, okay. That's a joke." "Thank you. Now, is there ANYONE we can recruit?" "None with the name recognition you're so dead set on." Rich replied. Paul sat back in his chair, sighing again. This wasn't working. With Warren dead and no one to replace him, Retrospective was dead in the water, and OBC News would drop dramatically in the ratings. Viewers would go over to MMI or GN. There were no other options. "We may as well give up, Rich." the News Director said. "We'll have to start over with someone new and let them try to build an audience. We have to let Shaw's legacy go." "Yeah, I guess so." the executive said. "So, how's the family?" Paul grimaced at the change of subject. "Oh, hell. I still haven't gotten that new Legionnaire doll for my boy. Deedee won't let me forget to keep looking, either." "Hey! I can help you there! I know a guy in that works at the company that makes those. I use him all the time when shopping for my nephews." Paul sat upright. "Really? Rich, your a lifesaver! Thank you so much." "What are friends for? Too bad the Warren situation isn't that easy to solve." "Yeah." Paul leaned forward on his desk again. "So, how is your life going? Your mother still nagging you to marry Samantha?" The avatar groaned. "Yes. Mom doesn't get it. It's not that simple. Sam and I have things to work out before we can go any further in our relationship." He paused. "But, I came up with a brilliant solution." "And what's that?" Paul coughed. "I rigged my avatar with an automated response program, made just for when my mom calls. It talks to her, and she thinks it's ME!" Richard laughed hard. Chuckling, Paul shook his head. "And she hasn't caught in yet?" "Nope. It's been two months since I've actually spoken to her. I will eventually, but I need the break from her constant pushing." Paul sat and looked at Richard's avatar silently. "Paul? You there?" "Yeah." "What's wrong?" "Rich, we still own the rights to Shaw's image, even though he's dead and gone, right? I mean, we can still use his name and face for stuff, can't we?" Richard cocked his head again. "Umm, yes. Mainly for promotional purposes and shit. Why?" "Call all our top techs. I want a conference in the morning." "Okay. Want to tell me what you're planning?" "You gave me a brilliant idea, Richard, thank you again." "Uhh, sure thing. What brilliant idea did I just give you?" Paul Kilmer sat back in his chair, smiling broadly and feeling good for the first time in weeks. Crossing his arms over his chest, he looked at Richard's avatar. "We're going to bring Warren Shaw back from the dead."
  2. <H1>Poker with the Proxies</H1><H3><A HREF="mailto:woodward@guesswork.com">by Jonathan Woodward</A></H3><HR>Scene: An opulent room in the upper levels of the Floor in Yeltsingrad, Luna. Cigar smoke drifts in the air. A round poker table sits in the middle, surrounded by six men and women. Going clockwise, they are: Matthieu Zweidler: A distinguished man in glasses.Otha Herzog: An aging gentleman with long gray hair.Solveig Larssen: A buff Scandinavian woman in her 50s.Rebecca Bue Li: A female figure in a hooded cloak.Giuseppe del Fuego: A solid dark-haired man.Alex Cassel: A youthful man of African descent. Zweidler is shuffling a red deck of cards; Herzog is shuffling a blue deck. Zweidler: The next game is five-card draw, nothing wild. All: [Groans.] Zweidler: [Piercing gaze.] Is there something <EM>wrong</EM> with five-card draw? [begins dealing.] Cassel: No... and there wasn't anything wrong with it the last seventeen times, either. Larssen: You <EM>always</EM> call five-card draw. Herzog: And you always will. [Everyone looks at Herzog askance.] Herzog: [innocently.] Just a guess. [Looks at cards.] I bet 5. [Everyone else sees it.] Zweidler: Cards? Herzog: I'll take one. Larssen: I'm pat. Bue Li: You're bluffing! Larssen: The Legions don't bluff. Bue Li: That's right, you just call it "strategic overreaching". Larssen: [Glare.] Zweidler: Do you want any cards, BL? Bue Li: Two cards, please. del Fuego: Three. Cassel: Five. Zweidler: You <EM>can't</EM> take five, you ninny. Cassel: I can take whatever I want. But, let's compromise. Four? Zweidler: Do you have an ace? Cassel: [shows ace, receives cards.] Zweidler: Dealer takes one. Herzog: I bet five. Larssen: See, and raise ten. Bue Li: I raise ten, also. del Fuego: Out. Cassel: Call. Zweidler: Out. Herzog: Out. Larssen: [Glares at Bue Li.] Raise twenty. Bue Li: See it, and raise twenty. Cassel: Out. Very. Larssen: Raise twenty! Zweidler: That's five raises. No more. Bue Li: Call. Larssen: Hmmph! [shows a busted straight.] Bue Li: [shows two pair.] Told you you were bluffing. [Collects chips.] Cassel: That's my girl. del Fuego: Or very nearly. Cassel: [surprised glare.] Zweidler: Your game, Herzog. Herzog: Indeed. I call five stud. Larssen folds early, Bue Li stays in without raising, del Fuego bluffs on a busted flush, Cassel raises intermittently on three of a kind, Zweidler folds late, I fold early. Cassel ends up winning, getting about ¥60, mostly from del Fuego. Shall we actually play the game, or just redistribute the money? del Fuego: I hate it when you do that. Cassel: Come to papa! [Everyone hands chips to Cassel. Deal passes to Larssen.] Larssen: Seven stud, low in the hole, no option. [she stares at the deck, and in a blur it shuffles itself, then deals itself.] Bue Li: I have high card. Pass. del Fuego: Why do you call this game with no option? I bet one. Larssen: It's like combat. There's always the chance for a last-minute disaster. Cassel: See the one. Zweidler: See it and raise one. Herzog: Sometimes there's a chance for last minute disaster. Sometimes there isn't. I raise to five. [Everyone else calls. In the back of the room, a door bursts open and a Chromatic, wearing tattered pieces of a restraining harness, runs through the room and out the other door. He is pursued by a group of humans firing weapons. The proxies ignore them. Three rounds of dealing and betting pass without incident.] Larssen: Last card, proxies. Hey! [Larssen slams her elbow down on top of the deck. Something goes "squoosh;" del Fuego makes a muffled grunt.] Larssen: del Fuego, was that you? del Fuego: [Adjusting his clothing.] More or less. Saw it in a old TV show. Larssen: Save it for Bue's deal. Don't pull that crap on my watch. You're out. [deals] Bue Li: I bet five. ...And it won't work on me, either, del Fuego. del Fuego: That's not what you said last night. Cassel: [Angry glance at del Fuego.] Raise five. Zweidler: [Frowning at cards.] Damnation. Out. Herzog: Raise ten. [Everyone gives Herzog an uncomfortable look.] Larssen: Um, out. Bue Li: Out. Cassel: Out. Herzog: [sighs heavily, collects winnings.] I <EM>might</EM> have been bluffing. del Fuego: Why would you <EM>bother</EM>? Bue Li: My deal. You want me to call Flaming Cross, so I won't. Five stud, follow the queen. Cassel: [Leering.] Anywhere, doll. Larssen: Oh, for god's sake, Alex, put it in neutral. Zweidler: I'll handle it. [stares at Cassel, who suddenly looks stone-cold serious.] Cassel: Cripes, if you could bottle that look you'd make a fortune. ...But don't do it again. [The group of armed humans runs back through the room, firing behind them. They are pursued by the Chromatic, who is glowing like a star and firing red-orange biolaser beams through walls. The proxies ignore all this. The hand passes without incident. Bue Lie wins a modest amount.] del Fuego: My deal. Day baseball, extra card on a four, nines are wild, and you match the pot on a three. Zweidler: <EM>Match</EM> the <EM>pot</EM>? del Fuego: Can't handle it? Zweidler: The possible gain is rarely worth the price. del Fuego: You can fold at any time, Doc. [Deals cards. Larssen gets a three.] Larssen: Heh! [Matches the antes.] Zweidler: Sure, early in the hand, it's no big deal... Cassel: Whine whine whine. [Three rounds of betting pass. The pot builds up, and some people fold. Eventually it's just Cassel and Larssen.] del Fuego: Last card, people. For the Scandinavian Scandal... another three! Possible straight flush, if you match the pot. Larssen: How much is it? Zweidler: [Off-handedly.] ¥240. [Everyone blinks at him.] I keep careful tabs on money. Larssen: Fine, I match. [she pushes in most of her chips.] Cassel: Heh heh heh! del Fuego: And for the Electric Kid... A nine! Three sevens showing. Cassel: Pot's rich enough for me! Pass. Larssen: You're not getting off that cheap. Twenty. Cassel: Oh, I'll see it. [The last down cards are dealt, and the betting is the same.] Larssen: At last! Royal flush! Beat that. Cassel: [Flips over a deuce, a wild nine, and another seven.] Sorry, blondie, five sevens. Larssen: [Long slow burn.] Next time we're in a brawl together, you can watch your own back. Cassel: And the next time we're in a shower together, you can wash your own front. [Coughs and other amused noises from the rest of the table.] My deal, yeh? [There's the softest of pops, and an African woman steps forward from the shadows.] Bol! All: Bolande! Zweidler: We thought you weren't going to make it. Atwan: Traffic was murder. Larssen: Traffic? Atwan: Well... I was far enough around the supercurve of the universe, that even though I left where I was early enough, my space-time geodesic was slightly bent by the time I arrived. So, I ended up late. Did you really need to know that? [Herzog nods knowingly. Larssen and most of the others look dumbfounded.] Cassel: You want to deal? Atwan: Surely. Cassel: Don't call me... Atwan: [interrupting.] I won't. Trust me. [she drops her coat, and pulls up a chair to Cassel's right. He hands her the deck.] del Fuego: What's the game? Atwan: Pass the Crap. [she holds the deck up, and -- WHAM -- it's dealt. The cards are instantly in front of the players.] del Fuego: [Looking at cards.] Hoo-wah! Zweidler: Great poker face, DF. Herzog: He'll learn. Larssen: He'd better. Bue Li: Don't you dare pass me the cards you're thinking of, Bol. Atwan: Okay, I'll pass you something worse. Cassel: Why don't we do this more often? del Fuego: Probably because we can't stand each other. My bet, yes? [We fade out to the sounds of friendly bickering and occasional bursts of gunfire from outside.]<HR> <FONT SIZE="-1">For intro guides to poker, I recommend <A HREF="http://www.poker.com/" TARGET="_new">poker.com</A> and <A HREF="http://dir.yahoo.com/Recreation/Games/Card_Games/Poker/" TARGET="_new">Yahoo's poker index</A>.</FONT> <FONT SIZE="-1">Five-card draw, nothing wild: The basic poker game. If you don't know this one, y'gots no business here, pardner.</FONT> <FONT SIZE="-1">Five stud: Another very simple game. You should know this already.</FONT> <FONT SIZE="-1">Seven stud, low in the hole, no option: Seven stud is like five stud, only bigger. "Low in the hole" means that, of your down (hidden) cards, the lowest one is wild for you. "No option" means that you do not have the option of getting your last down card up. Thus, the last down card may change what your low down card is, ruining your hand.</FONT> <FONT SIZE="-1">Flaming Cross: A variation where five "community cards" are dealt into the center of the table in a cross shape, and revealed one at a time. Popular in certain circles.</FONT> <FONT SIZE="-1">Follow the queen: When the up cards are being dealt, if a queen is dealt, the card after it is wild.</FONT> <FONT SIZE="-1">Day baseball: A variant of seven-card stud, where you do something special on threes, fours, and nines. del Fuego's specific choices are fairly typical.</FONT> <FONT SIZE="-1">Match the pot: Putting money into the pot equal to what's already there is easy early in the hand, but murder later on.</FONT> <FONT SIZE="-1">Pass the Crap: A variant of draw where you pass some of your cards to the player on your right. A favorite among teleporters.</FONT>
  3. Starship DownsA Nordamerican Frontier Townby Chris Schmidt Mitchell Steinberg sighed lazily to himself. Watchtower duty was so boring. Months of nothing interspersed with quick bursts of violence. It was currently one of those "nothing periods." The militiaman adjusted the autorifle slung over his right shoulder, and continued staring blankly out over the countryside. Sure, it was beautiful. Endless vistas of hills and pine forests, mountains visible in the distance. The chill breezes swept through all the time. Mitchell shivered. Those breezes always felt colder up here in the towers. And the view had become so common to his eyes it held little interest for him anymore. Still, Sheriff Torelli would have his ass if he was caught slacking off, so he huddled into his leather jacket and kept at it. His relief would be here in another hour. He wished the time to pass faster as he watched the sun creep down towards the horizon. He wanted to go home. What was Maddie fixing for dinner tonight? Chicken? That sounded good. He was tired of nothing but vegetables. Meat was always a welcome change. Mitchell glanced behind him at the town below. The smell of various suppers being prepared drifted up to him from the collection of log cabins. His stomach rumbled. Further off, he could see the farmers rounding up the pigs and locking them up for the night. An uneventful day. In the American Outback, any uneventful day was a good one. His gaze went to omnipresent L-B Mercury space freighter that formed a good chunk of the town itself. The gargantuan craft was impossible not to notice, and added an odd contrast to the quaint rustic feel of the rest of the town. Indeed, if not for the ship, one could not tell just by looking at the village that it was the 22nd century. A shout came up from below. Militiamen were running for their positions. Raiders were coming, the word passed along. Mitchell saw the two huge laser cannons atop the freighter power up and shift towards the east. He looked in that direction. Although he could see no movement in the thick forest, he could hear the faint roar of hovercycles swooping through the trees. The Land Sharks were coming. Again. HistoryWhen an L-B Mercury freighter named "The Long Haul" crashed-landed in northern Montana in 2112, few would have expected the starship to still be a viable entity eight years later. But it has indeed become just that. Captain Jonas Unger, owner of the Long Haul, was one of the few survivors when a flight control error caused an orbital passenger shuttle to go off-course and slam into the engines of the nearby freighter. Hanging around the Chinese Fengming lunar orbital station, waiting for permission to dock and deliver supplies, the Long Haul was out of sight of the shuttle when the tiny craft came around the station and went right into the freighter's engine exhaust. The resulting explosion blew out the Long Haul's engines and the big ship lost control. Screaming for assistance over the comm, Captain Unger could only watch as his ship went spiraling down into the Earth's atmosphere. Many have asked why the FSM didn't blow the freighter out of the sky when they saw the Long Haul was coming into NordAmerican airspace. The simple answer was that the projected trajectory took the ship nowhere near any major urban areas, and was therefore a waste of ammo. Thus, the ship made clear passage through FSA airspace and met its doom on the ground. People as far away as the Portland-Vancouver Arcology claimed to have seen the Long Haul's blaze of glory as it fell from the heavens in a bright stream of plasma and debris across the evening sky. Miraculously, the freighter survived the crash mostly intact. Skidding through miles of forestland (and killing thousands of trees in the process), the ship came to a stop against a hill on the edge of a small lake in the Montana wilderness. When the smoke cleared, the surviving crew (numbering only seven) found themselves situated in an envious place for a town to be built. Beautiful scenery, a ready water supply, and very distant from the nearest FSA facility. Only Jonas Unger was not happy about it. His ship was no longer spaceworthy, and making it so again would cost as much as buying a whole new L-B Mercury. Checking things over, he found only the ship's power core, heavy laser cannons, sensors, and partial life support still functioning. The engines were totally slagged. Communications, flight control, the missile bay. They were all non-functional. The hull was breached in too many places to count. The first few nights after the crash, the survivors stayed inside the ship, the partial life-support still providing heat during the cold nights. They were stuck out here. They had no real idea where they were nor anyway to leave. Even if they had vehicles and knew their position on a map, there were no roads leading anywhere. The crewmen spent their time scrounging supplies out of the wreckage and tending to their wounds from the crash. Then, like a pack of wolves discovering a moose with a broken leg, the first outback gang found the Long Haul's remains. Calling themselves the Land Sharks, the small gang descended on the downed ship and attacked, swooping around on hovercycles and shooting slugthrower pistols. In the initial chaos, two crewmen were killed. Thinking quickly Unger ordered his people to man the still functioning laser cannons. What resulted was the slaughter of the Land Sharks. 70% of the gangers were caught off-guard and killed when the huge cannons powered up and opened fire. The remaining Sharks fled for their lives. Unger and his now four crewmen realized they had a very powerful defense against the threat of outback gangs. It also made them a target -- for both the gangs and more honest Outback residents. Squatters began arriving in numbers, having heard through the grapevine of the Land Sharks' humiliating defeat. Recognizing a safe haven when they saw one, people hiked through many kilometers of dangerous, gang-infested wilderness to reach the Long Haul. Upon arriving, they asked Captain Unger for permission to stay and live here. Unger was undecided at first. He had no real plans for the future, but becoming a landlord to some-odd two dozen squatters was definitely not part of any ideas he had. Although a hard ship commander, he had enough of a heart not to turn these desperate people away and toss them to the badland predators. He allowed them to camp out in one of the ship's cargo bays. Over the next few months, more and more refugees arrived. The cargo bays started to overflow with residents, so newcomers began camping outside the ship, setting up a shanty-town in the shadow of the freighter. The Land Sharks, having recruited major reinforcements, attacked again during this period. They were once again driven off when their sneak attack was detected by the ship's sensors, which Unger wisely had manned at all times. The "townsfolk" had started to form a true community here, with Captain Unger as their reluctant "mayor." The squatters began to jokingly refer to their new settlement as "Starship Downs," in reference to the crashed freighter they all depended on for power and protection. Over time, the name would stick, and become a symbol of pride for the residents. It didn't take long for the FSA government to take notice. A military patrol went out to investigate this new town in the summer of 2113. By now, the outdoor shanty-town included a few log cabins and a central "meeting place" around a large bonfire pit. The population had risen to 45-50 men, women and children, most from other outback towns, though a few had migrated from the arcologies. The coming of the FSA sent a shockwave through the townspeople. They knew the paranoid FSM would never allow them to keep the heavy laser cannons the settlement depended so dearly on. When the ship's sensors detected and identified the small FSM convoy arriving for a "suprise inspection," Unger acted instantly. He tore out numerous controls and wires for the cannons, making them inoperable. Hoping that if the guns were non-functioning, the government agents wouldn't bother taking them, the townsfolk held their breath and waited. It worked. Seeing nothing they considered illegal or threatening to the establishment, the FSM convoy left Starship Downs intact. Breathing a collective sigh of relief, the settlers set to work repairing the cannons before the gangs decided to strike again. In prediction of future FSA inspections, Unger jury-rigged a hidden "killswitch" for the lasers, enabling him to turn the cannons from active to inactive status with the press of a button. His foresight would indeed bear fruit in the years to come. By now "Mayor" Unger had resigned himself to his new role in life. New settlers arrived in odd intervals every few months or so, adding to the growing population. When Maria Torelli, a former FSM Colonel who had been court-martialed the prior year for severe insubordination, arrived in 2115, she offered her military experience to Unger as the town militia leader. Though suspicious of her FSM ties at first, Unger eventually came to trust Torelli and gave her the job. She began forming and training an effective militia immediately. And thus, today, Starship Downs is a prosperous little town of roughly 300 residents. Mayor Jonas Unger and "Sheriff" Maria Torelli run the town almost jointly, with Torelli having taken over many of Unger's less liked responsibilities at his bequest. But Unger remains in control of the settlement. The Land Sharks are a constant threat. With their huge numbers, this gang has several times come close to overwhelming the town. The TownThe Long Haul lies by a large lake, a small hill, some 200 feet high, between the port side and the lake. A wooden palisade was raised around the open starboard side in 2117, going from one end of the ship to the other, reaching some 600 meters in length. The town within the palisade consists of all log cabins now, with nary a tent in sight. Starship Downs is as much inside the freighter as without. The ShipThe bridge of the Long Haul is still in use, despite that the ship hasn't moved an inch in eight years. Here, the sensors are constantly monitored, giving the town an unparalleled early warning system. Life-forms and vehicle emissions can be detected up to five kilometers away at most. The countless pine trees and hills create far too many "sensor shadows" for the town to be comfortable with, as they provide too much cover for the gangers to use. At their five kilometer limit, readings are iffy at best. While tiny groups of gangers, alone or in pairs, could and have made it through the sensor net without notice, getting an attack force big enough to make an impact on the town is an impossible task. The sensors give Starship Downs a roughly two-minute warning of a massive group of raiders, which any settler will tell you is better than nothing. The communications array has long since been repaired, but is rarely used. Making cell-transmissions costs too much for the dirt-poor townsfolk, and they never have anyone to call, anyway. They do try to keep in contact with other settlements, if only to keep track of what goes on "out there." Crew quarters have become the town's "upper class quarter." Unger, Torelli, and the settlement's wealthiest residents reside here. While the grav-crystal grids and recylced air filters are offline, they are not needed, either. The life-support systems still regulate the ship's internal temperatures at a comfortable norm. The quarters' safe location within the armored hull of the craft makes the most envious residences in town. The four huge cargo bays still see use, too. One has been converted into a town marketplace, where all citizens do their shopping in relative comfort (though the selection of goods is admittedly limited to the essentials of outback survival). Pottery, rope, hand-made clothes, seeds and other basics are available for barter here. Keep your yink; money is worthless here. Another bay has been turned into an auditorium/town hall, the all the settlers gather to discuss major issues, such as town defense and the possibility of opening trade routes to other villages. The last two cargo bays remain just that. They are used for storage. While larger freighters have more cargo space, the L-B Mercury was built for speed, and thus was limited to four bays. The centerpoint of Starship Downs' defenses are the two heavy laser cannons. The huge guns, located on the ship's topside in forward and aft positions (thus there is one at each "end" of the town), are really the only thing keeping the Land Sharks away. While the town militia is well-trained, they are still no match for the numerous gangers. The cannons are not manned at all times, and are usually kept in the non-operational mode. When the 'Sharks are detected in the area, the killswitch is thrown and the gunnery crews (part of the militia, technically) man their stations. The PalisadeThis twenty-five-foot wall surrounds the outside town. 600 meters long and 200 meters wide, running the length of the freighter, the palisade is made of logs, each with its top end sharpened. There are six guard towers, each forty feet high. Two are up against the hull of the ship, two stand at the outer palisade corners, and two form the gate at the center of the main wall. Each tower is occupied by one militiaman at all times, more during emergencies. The gate, made of wooden planks, is reinforced with metal struts salvaged from the freighter, making it highly resistant to ramming. A catwalk runs along the inside of the palisade, five feet below the topline of the wall. Ladders can be found by the gate and at each "hulltower" to reach the catwalk. (Access to the top of the freighter is only available from within the ship.) Recently, Sheriff Torelli has proposed the idea of expanding the palisade to encompass the entire starship, reaching around both ends and out to the lakeshore. This would provide not only safer access to the lake, but room for more cabins, gardens, and animal pens, thus increasing living space and food production. Mayor Unger likes the idea, as does most of the township. Construction is expected to start within the next year. Inside the WallThe 12,000 square meter area within the palisade is well utilized. The "aft" end of town is filled with various vegetable gardens, pig and goat pens and chicken coops. The Downs' main food source is here. Supplemented with wild fruit and tubers from the forest, hunted game, and fish from the lake, the settlers enjoy a decent, if repetitive, diet. The pigs and chickens are only kept locked up at night. During the day, the animals roam freely through the town. Children do the job of keeping the pigs and goats away from the gardens, and usually have a lot of fun doing so. The town well, dug in 2115, connects directly to the lake. It is located in the center of town, with easy access for both the farmers and the residential section. A metal grate made from a former engineroom deck plate was put in place at the well's inlet to the lake to prevent fish (and the stray swimming 'Shark) from coming up into the well. The "forward" end of town is filled with log cabins. The majority of the Downs' population lives here. The cabins are each small and cozy, except for the few, larger, two-story cabins. Stone chimneys almost always have plumes of woodsmoke wafting up from them, the smells of old-fashioned cooking filling the streets as family's prepare their meals. The streets are all dirt paths, and none are named. In Starship Downs, everyone knows everybody, so complex directions are not necessary (except for visitors). The cabins are not just used for dwellings. They are also places of business. A school for the children, a chapel for those who still believe in religion out here, a slaughterhouse for the pigs, goats and chickens -- these and more are run out of the peoples' homes. A tiny playground for when the kids weren't in school or chasing pigs has been erected among the cabins as well. The SkidThe Skid is a 50-km long, 200-meter wide swath plowed out of the forest by the freighter's long slide to a stop. Trees, bushes, rocks, everything was flattened in the ship's path. Now, years later, grass and small saplings have grown over the scarred earth, so overall, its effect is of a pleasant (if narrow) meadow. It's very visible from the air, a long, bright green arrow against the darker forest, pointing right at the ship. Though the ones close to the town have been removed (mostly used to build cabins and the palisade, not to mention firewood), farther out, the trees snapped off and tossed aside by the violent landing form tangled, nearly impenetrable barriers between The Skid and thesurrounding forest. The long, flat, clear stretch of land makes a tempting approach for an attack run, but when the Land Sharks once found themselves trapped between those log barricades while the lasers cut them down from kilometers away, they quickly learned to never enter The Skid again. The PeopleThe residents of the fortress-village are a hardy bunch. Most are long-time outback folk, used to the rough and dangerous life that comes with the freedom of this land, and really know no other lifestyle. The rest are either newcomers who chose to leave the oppressive existence under the FSA's thumb for moral reasons or "criminals" who could not afford "justice" in the arcologies. Starship Downs' community is warm, friendly and generous with each other. They tend to be cooler toward new arrivals, and downright ice-cold towards anyone with any connections to the FedBoards. Sheriff Torelli had to work long and hard to gain the town's trust when she first came here, due to her past in the FSM (and there are still those who don't trust her completely). This is a town of Troomers. The ideals of the defunct USA are alive here. While Unger and Torelli run the town, they do listen to the peoples' needs. Everyone does what they are good at and want to do, not what the leaders tell them they should do. Those with combat training volunteer for the militia. Those with agricultural skills work the gardens and tend to the animals. Others in the town also go by their skills: Fishermen, potters, woodcutters, hunters, construction workers. There's even a schoolteacher and a midwife. Everyone has work to do. Even the children assist their parents or other adults as apprentices. Here, far from the FSA's cruel eye, these people have returned to the spirit their ancestors had when they first settled the American West. A siege mentality is the norm. The townsfolk rarely venture outside the palisade. Those who do only go to hunt, fish, or to chop wood and gather seeds, fruit and tubers from the nearby forest. The local potter goes out to dig clay. No one goes out for fun, except the few bored teenagers who dare each other to sneak out at night. The threat of the gangs keeps the settlers within the protective walls almost always. Being captured by the gangers results in death or worse. SuppliesNothing is easily come by here. Gear and supplies are always scarce. Food is manageable. There's just enough to feed everyone, with what little is left over going to feed the farm animals. The expansion of the palisade will increase garden space and food production, but that's perhaps a year off. The gardens produce carrots, potatoes, beets, onions, and tomatoes. The farmers hope to start a small corn crop after the expansion. Fruit gathered from the woods comes mainly in the form of berries. Apples are occasionally found and harvested. The pigs are used for pork, obviously. The small number prevents the regular slaughter of the hogs; lack of space and feed is the cause. They are usually saved for holidays. Chickens provide plenty of eggs, and new chicks are hatched regularly. Fed with seeds from the forests, the chickens are the largest in number of the farm animals. Chicken dinners are fairly common. The goats, like the pigs, are not many. They are used mainly for milk. The farmers hope to find or trade for some sheep one day, so the town would have a supply of wool. Wood is plentiful, both for building and firewood. Pine is the abundant tree here, so almost all wood structures in the Downs are made of it. Woodsmoke, of course, smells of pine. It's a pleasant aroma, so no one minds. There is a small source of clay a half mile from the town. The potter regularly goes there with an assistant to dig fresh supplies. Stone for building materials is gathered only when needed from wherever they can find it. Wax is sometimes found from the occasional beehive (along with delicious honey), and is used to make candles. More modern amenities are much harder to come by. Computers are only here if a resident already had one before arriving. There is no OpNet access here. While the Long Haul's reactor core gives plenty of power, light bulbs are a luxury. At night, torchlight is the staple. Candles are not that plentiful. While the ship's interior is kept warm by the life-support systems, the outdoor cabins depend on their fireplaces. The freighter was equipped with a holoprojector, but signals are not broadcast out here and when picked up are weak and filled with static. So watching a holovid is a rarity. Weapons and ammo are by far the scarcest. What the militia has was either brought by the settlers or scrounged from the dead after a Shark attack. Mostly limited to slugthrower pistols, the odd autorifle, laser weapon or grenade is found and put to use. Once again, the ship's heavy laser cannons are the town's main defense. Starship Downs has a small motor pool -- several hovercycles, plus a few antique automobiles. These were mostly salvaged and repaired from the battlefield after various gang attacks. While all the vehicles are ready for use, only the hovercycles can really be used in the thick pine forests. Since the settlers rarely go anywhere, the vehicles mostly just sit in one of the ship's storage bays and collect dust. Alcohol is to be had only when taken from dead gangers. There are no goods for producing booze of any sort (though that doesn't stop some villagers from trying unusual recipes). Liquor from the 'Sharks come in the form of whiskey or beer in bottles. Don't expect any fine wines here. Traveling merchants provide the rest of what may be needed. Tools like hammers and nails, clothes (or material for weaving clothes), footwear, hand weapons like knives, farming tools such as hoes and shovels, and cooking utensils. These and more are bartered for. Money is as rare as wine here and totally useless. Keep your yink. The Land SharksThe Land Sharks are a very large outback gang that control a vast piece of "turf." Thugs, murders, rapists, psychopaths. All the worst sort end up with the 'Sharks. Like ancient motorcycle gangs, these criminal outcasts roam about their territory on hovercycles and old wheeled jalopies. Originally a small gang, their numbers were cut down to next to nothing after their first disastrous attack on Starship Downs. Driven by the need for revenge on the town, they replaced their losses by attacking and absorbing another tiny gang, then another, and another. Their anger and ferocity moved them through the "hostile takeovers" with relative ease. Today, the 'Sharks are a very big and very powerful group of badasses. Currently numbering roughly 700, the 'Sharks have no basecamp to call home. They are constantly on the move. When they pitch camp somewhere, one could see their vehicles encircling a huge bonfire, the gangers dancing, singing, hooting and hollering all around it. Drinking heavily and shooting their slugthrowers in the air, they party every night. Those who would rather sleep (or have some privacy with their women) either go to their cars, if they have them) or erect tents among the parked convoy. While other gangs occasionally try to take more territory for themselves, the 'Sharks have the superior numbers to easily defend their turf from rivals, and quite often take new land from the other gangs. Most of the Land Sharks' attention and time, however, is centered around Starship Downs. The "Sharks have never been able to take over the settlement that lies smack dab in the middle of their turf. The defenses of the starship have always been too much for the gang to overcome. Certainly, they have come very close to their goal, even getting inside the palisade wall a couple times. For the most part though, these crooks can only watch enviously at the freighter they want to claim. Men of the settlement caught outside by the 'Sharks can expect to be killed on the spot. Women can expect worse treatment and a life doomed to being the "bitch" of whichever ganger manages to claim her (they usually fight over the better looking women). Children are used for simple slave labor until they grow into adulthood, at which point boys are given the choice of becoming a ganger (with all rights and privileges) or killed, and girls are put the same use as captured adult women. The main reason the Land Sharks have done so poorly at overtaking Starship Downs was their leader. Hank "Scar" Phillips was in no way a tactician. His best strategy was to simply throw superior numbers at the town. Hundreds of gangers have died over the years due to his mindless tactic. Only his physical prowess and paranoia kept him alive and in charge for the last eight years. That changed recently. The "Sharks have a new leader. Known only as Big Gimba, this bear of a man challenged Scar for leadership of the gang. He won their knife fight to the death and took over. Far more intelligent and cunning, Big Gimba has spent the first six months of his leadership planning new strategies for attacking Starship Downs. To put it simply, the little settlement is now in major trouble. Current Happenings Warning: Players should not read beyond this point! Storytellers' eyes only!There is a power struggle brewing in Starship Downs. Word of the mysterious Big Gimba has reached the town and is stirring discontent. A new leader means trouble, in many of the residents' minds. And they are not wrong. Sheriff Maria Torelli believes steps should be taken. Defenses stepped up. The militia improved. Perhaps even taking the offensive against the 'Sharks for the first time. During her days in the FSM, she heard of Big Gimba and knows he is very clever. The same old defense tactics are no longer enough. Many in the town (mostly the newer residents) agree with her. Mayor Jonas Unger disagrees. He thinks very lowly of the gangers, and has a hard time believing they could present a greater threat than they have in the past. Stubborn and content with they way things are now, he refuses to change the town's operating procedure. A good number of the citizens (those that have been there the longest) are taking Unger's side. Thus, Starship Downs' population is split over the issue of their future. Torelli's supporters believe it's time for a new mayor, namely Torelli. Maria, for her part, doesn't want to boot her friend Jonas out of his office, but is convinced measures must be taken for the good of the town. She continues to argue with him, but is making next to no headway. Unger refuses to listen. Bull-headed as always, Unger goes by the philosophy: "My ship, my rules." Unfortunately, his old naval thinking doesn't work when governing a town. His attitude irks many residents, who consider the Downs to be their town. He still has a lot of support, though. There is a CSA spy in the village now. Suspicious of how the settlement has survived against the gangs for so long with "non-operational" laser cannons, the local FedBoard has recently planted an agent in the town. Posing as a schoolteacher, Robert Niles set up in Starship Downs three months ago. He has spent that time gaining the villagers' trust and keeping his cover. Since the last gang attack was four months ago, Niles has yet to see the cannons in operation, and is still under the impression they don't work. He hasn't become known enough to be let in on the town's secrets yet (though strangely, he's allowed to teach the village's kids). He has no knowledge of the hidden killswitch. While he has secretly checked the big guns, he has only found them powerless and dusty. Niles does not trust Torelli one bit. As she is an ex-FSM soldier who was court-martialed, he sees her as being a traitor to the establishment. He has decided to "punish" her by quietly sowing discontent against her and seeding more support for Unger, whom Niles thinks could be malleable by the CSA. Obviously, if Niles sees the laser cannons in operation (which they certainly will be during the next gang attack), he will report back to his superiors that Starship Downs has been lying to the government. The penalty for deceiving the FSA is, obviously, severe. Big Gimba has come up with his first battle plan and is implementing it. He plans to launch a two-pronged attack. He plan includes sending a secret, heavily armed force, under cover of night, across the lake (in the sensor shadow of the hill the ship is embanked upon), cut through the grate with a simple laser pistol, and up through the well tunnel (He knows the town has a well, and once sent a scout to find the well's inlet). He has gotten a dozen rebreathers so his men can survive underwater long enough to get in. Once inside, these operatives will take over the laser cannons and hold them against all comers. Then the second force, consisting of the rest of the 'Sharks, will come screaming out of the woodwork in their traditional fashion. The townsfolk, will of course, suspect nothing is different, and react in the usual way. Big Gimba can barely wait to see the looks on the villagers' faces when their beloved cannons start firing on the village itself, rather than the invading gangers. It should be a massacre. With political tensions and threats both within and without the palisade, Starship Downs is in serious trouble. This unusual outback town is certainly doomed unless someone does something. That someone may be the PCs. CharactersMayor Jonas UngerOrigin: Protector Nature: Traditionalist Name:Jonas UngerOrigin:ProtectorNature:TraditionalistAllegiance:Starship Downs Strength: 3Brawl 2Dexterity: 2Athletics 2 Firearms 3 Melee 2 Pilot 4 (Spec.: Freighters) Stealth 3Stamina: 4Endurance 1 Resistance 1Perception: 2Awareness 3 Investigation 1Intelligence: 2Bureaucracy 3 Engineering 2 Medicine 1 Science 1 (Spec.: Astrogation) Survival 2Wits: 3 Appearance: 2Intimidation 3Manipulation: 3Command 3 (Spec.: Starships) Subterfuge 1Charisma: 2Savvy 1 Willpower: 8 Psi: 1 Backgrounds:Allies (townsfolk) 4Contacts (Outback town leaders) 2Followers (Original ship crew) 3Influence: 2Resources: 2Status (Starship Downs) 5 Equipment: Reinforced overalls, heavy boots, L-K Avenger 11mm autopistol, fighting knife, Wazukana DX-70 minicomp (Datawarp Friday agent), datapad, flashlight, binoculars, compass History: Jonas Unger enjoyed his life as a starship captain. A prideful, stubborn man, he enjoyed his place of authority. Quiet and dignified, he ran his ship as by-the-book as one could get. Nothing out of place, everything planned out. His happy life was turned upside down by the crash of the Long Haul in 2112. At a loss for what to do, and too bull-headed to give up his ship to the roving gangs, he decided to stay at the crash site. His surviving crew, having no way to get back to civilization, stayed as well, finding safety in numbers. When squatters started showing up and asking to pitch camp in the freighter's shadow, Unger was not happy, but felt guilty about turning them away. He said they could, but they must agree to live by his rules. Figuring this was better than life under any gang, the squatters complied. As the community grew, Unger found himself being referred to as the mayor. Liking the title, he did nothing to dissuade the idea of his position. Over the years, he has grown very attached to his office. Although he had no knowledge of how to run a town, he managed well enough, working with the same traditional manner in which he ran his ship. While he considers Maria Torelli one of his best friends, he fears she is after his position. He knows some in the town want her to replace him. Jonas is scared by this idea. Being the mayor of Starship Downs is all he has now. If he loses his mayorship, what will he do with his life? Jonas is a man who needs to be in charge. He needs to be sure everything is running smoothly, and only feels safe if he's managing things. While he trusts Torelli with some of his duties as well as the defense of the town, he supervises her every action "to be sure she's doing it right." Unger is aware of the threat of the Land Sharks, and Torelli has constantly told him of the new danger that this Big Gimba represents. But he does nothing in response. He wants everything to runs like it always has. He fears change may cost him his office, as Torelli represents change, the younger generation of the town that will take over. Unger's compulsion to remain in control may doom the settlement. Sheriff Maria Torelli Name:Maria TorelliOrigin:WarriorNature:LeaderAllegiance:Starship Downs Strength: 2Might 2Dexterity: 4 (Spec.: Swift)Athletics 3 Drive 2 Firearms 4 (Spec.: Multi-fire) Martial Arts 4 Melee 3 (Spec.: Knives) Stealth 3Stamina: 3Endurance 2 Resistance 2Perception: 3Awareness 3 Investigation 2Intelligence: 2Academics 1 (Spec.: Law) Bureaucracy 2 Engineering 2 Intrusion 2 Linguistics 1 (Italian; English native) Medicine 1 Survival 3Wits: 3Rapport 1Appearance: 3Intimidation 3 Style 1Manipulation: 3Command 2 (Spec.: Tactics) Interrogation 2 Subterfuge 1Charisma: 3Savvy 3 Willpower: 7 Psi: 2 Backgrounds:Allies (Townsfolk) 4Cipher 1Followers (Militiamen) 5Influence 1Resources 1Status (Starship Downs) 5 Equipment: Reinforced jacket, gloves, Voss 33k Laser Pistol, L-K Protector AutoShotgun, spare clips for both, fighting knife, compass, flashlight, binoculars, fieldkit, vocoder (Spanish, French, Chinese), first aid kit, Shendai Lightrider Hovercycle History: Maria Torelli was born in the New York Arcology to a big Italian-American family. She signed up with the Federated States Military at 18 to "see the world" as the holoads said. But she never went anywhere but the army base on the west coast she was assigned to. As the years passed, she excelled at her work and was promoted numerous times, but grew unhappy with her life. She chafed at the fascist authority of the higher-ups and was disgusted with the bullies that passed for soldiers. Maria started to express her feelings. A succession of superiors passed her up the promotion ladder to get rid of her. After she made Colonel, where she could annoy influential officers, her insubordination finally got her a court martial. Drummed out of the FSM, she wandered for a while, up and down the West Coast. Aimless in her life, she decided to do something very stupid. She decided to travel, by land, across the American Outback. Leaving from the Portland-Vancouver Arcology, she headed east. She eventually made her way into what was once Montana, and, almost by accident, ran across Starship Downs during one of the Land Sharks' regular raids in 2115. Happily throwing herself into the fight, she killed several gangers and formed the pathetic excuse for a militia into a small fighting unit and led them against the raiders. Seeing the usefulness of keeping her around, Unger offered Torelli the job of the town Sheriff. Liking the idea, she accepted. At first, things went well. She quickly got a real militia in working order and drew up defense plans for the settlement. When her past as an FSM trooper came out, a large portion of the town gave Maria the cold shoulder. She weathered the communal silent treatment for several months, until she had truly proven her skill and loyalty in another two Shark attacks. Today, Maria Torelli is a valued and popular member of Starship Downs society. Thanks to her efforts, the town is a far safer place, and has prospered even more than it had when Unger ran things alone. A tough but charismatic woman, she takes her job as sheriff seriously. Although she is only 29, she is treated as a town elder. Her love life is often the gossip of the town, with many mothers thinking their young sons would make "that lonely Torelli girl" happy. What no one knew was that Maria did once have a lover. A young militiaman named Douglas Eubanks, the two kept their affair a secret, as Torelli was afraid the knowledge she was sleeping with one of her own men would cause her to lose respect. Sadly, in 2119, Douglas was killed in a construction accident when a new cabin, in the process of being built, collapsed and crushed him. Maria has kept her grief quiet and hidden ever since. She has thrown herself into her work even more than before to push past the pain. Maria is very concerned about Big Gimba. She heard his name before and checked up on him as best she could when she heard he was now in charge of the Land Sharks. What she heard scares her. She knows the town's current defenses are not enough. For months, she has tried convincing Unger to step things up, but he refuses to listen. She has no interest in being mayor or asking Jonas" beloved job away from her friend. But if that's what it comes down to save Starship Downs, then so be it. She has nothing to lose. She'll do whatever is needed to protect this place she has come to consider home.The Big GimbaReal Name:UndisclosedOrigin:OutsiderNature:AnalystAllegiance:The Land Sharks Strength: 4Brawl 4 Might 4Dexterity: 2Athletics 3 Drive 3 (Spec.: Hover) Firearms 4 Ledgerdemain 1 Melee 4 (Spec.: Knives)Stamina: 5Endurance 4 Resistance 4Perception: 2Awareness 3 Investigation 1Intelligence: 3Academics 2 Engineering 3 (Spec.: Mechanics) Intrusion 3 (Spec.: electronic infiltration) Linguistics 2 (Spanish, French; English native) Science 2 Survival 4 (Spec.: Forage, Track)Wits: 4Arts 1 (Spec.: Poetry) Rapport 2Appearance: 2Intimidation 5 Style 2Manipulation: 4Command 4 (Spec.: Tactics) Subterfuge 3Charisma: 3Etiquette 2 Perform 2 Savvy 3 Willpower: 9 Psi: 1 Backgrounds: Allies (Gang lieutenants) 5 Cipher 4 Contacts (other gang leaders) 3 Followers (bodyguards) 5 Influence 3 Resources 4 Status (Land Sharks) 5 Equipment: L-K Avenger 11mm autopistol, Banji 7.62 Tornado autorifle, fighting knife, chain, reinforced biker outfit, armor vest, gloves, Wazukana 300E minicomp (Alpha Chris agent), binoculars, compass, fieldkit, flashlight, toolkit (hovervehicle repair), first aid kit, Reed Rosen Tsunami hovercycle History: No one knows where Big Gimba came from, or even what his real name is. One day, he just showed up and took over the Land Sharks. While his lieutenants have tried to guess his motives, they are still only guesses. Gimba himself gives no clues. There are two things one notices when first meeting Big Gimba. First is his great, intimidating size. Second is his fine manners and excellent education, neither of which anyone would expect out of a badlands gang leader. The most accurate guessers among the 'Sharks think Gimba was once a man of wealth and stature somewhere on the East Coast. Why he left a life of comfort for the harsh outback is the big money question in the gang. His 6"7", 320 lb. body belies his sharp wits and mind for tactics. Big Gimba is totally ruthless and cold-hearted. Nothing seems to affect him, positively or negatively. Success or failure, win or lose, it doesn't matter. His ice-cold calm never breaks. His men wonder if he has any emotions at all. Robert Niles Name:Robert NilesOrigin:SpyNature:CriticAllegiance:CSA Strength: 2 Dexterity: 3Athletics 2 Drive 1 Firearms 2 (Spec.: Aiming) Ledgerdemain 3 Melee 1 Stealth 3Stamina: 2 Resistance 2 (Spec.: Resist interrogation)Perception: 3Awareness 3 Investigation 3Intelligence: 3Academics 3 Bureaucracy 2 Engineering 2 Intrusion 3 Linguistics 2 (Spanish, French; English native) Medicine 1 Survival 2Wits: 4Rapport 3Appearance: 3 Style 2Manipulation: 4Interrogation 3 Subterfuge 4 (Spec.: Deception)Charisma: 3Savvy 3 Willpower: 7 Psi: 1 Backgrounds: Allies (FedBoard Member) 2 Cipher 3 Resources: 3 Status (CSA) 2 Equipment: Banji Cyclone autopistol, hunting knife, Steinhardt P-CC minicomp (Alpha Chris agent), cellular uplink, DSE Encryption Application (lvl 2), flashlight, various goods and supplies to keep his cover as a merchant. History: Robert Niles is whole-heartedly dedicated to the FSA and it's ideals. His parents, pro-fascist, pounded FSA propaganda into his head since the day he was born. He had no real friends as a child, as his fascist attitudes irked the other children. It was not a suprise to anyone that he joined the Central Security Agency when he grew up. When the local FedBoard wanted an man inside Starship Downs, Niles name was essentially pulled up at random. Never one to complain about any assignment, he threw himself into the new job. Posing as a former schoolteacher, Robert spent nearly a year wandering the outback, moving from town to town, building his cover. When he drove his Concurso MH-1 Hauler into the odd settlement, no one questioned his credentials (except Sheriff Torelli, who did a cursory OpNet check over a cell-link, and found his credentials (forged by the CSA, of course)). He settled in and started teaching out of his assigned cabin. While he has been here three months, the villagers have yet to warm up to him. He has worked hard at integrating himself into the community, but it is slow going. The settlers, although not the type to turn anyone away outright, are very insular. His mission to discover any possible treachery among the populace is going to take longer than he thought. It is not a matter of if Niles discovers the laser cannons are still functioning, it's when. The next Shark attack will come eventually, and the big guns will be used to fend them off. When he finds out, he will report it to the CSA. The likely response from the government would be one of military punishment. A quick airstrike and Starship Downs will be a smoking crater. Plot HooksSheriff Torelli, anticipating trouble from the Land Sharks' new leader, has put out a quiet call for help. The Æon Trinity has picked this up (they've been watching the town for a short time now) and arranged for the PC's to come to the town's rescue. While meandering through the Outback on their own, the PC's meet a traveling merchant and decide to purchase supplies. In passing, the merchant mentions he's had an excellent week. Just a few days ago, a local ganger purchased twelve rebreathers, paying handsomely. What would a badland outlaw need with underwater gear? The PC's may be curious enough to check it out and discover Big Gimba's secret plan. Passing through a few tiny towns, the locals mention to the PC's of an odd man who was wandering around these parts not too long ago. Claiming to be a former schoolteacher, he'd arrive, make offers of teaching anyone to read or write in exchange for food. Since no one out here is willing to trade grub for education, his offer was very rarely taken. Yet this man seemed well-fed and unworried about finding supplies. Last anyone heard, he headed off towards that "spaceship settlement." Of course, no matter how the heroes arrive in Starship Downs or what there goal is, the Land Sharks strike not long after the PC's show up. Of course, all hell breaks loose then. The laser cannons, obviously unexpectedly, start firing on the town itself, blowing up one cabin after another. Fires spread quickly. The 'Sharks come swarming over the walls. Panic rips through the streets. The people, now in a true emergency, seem divided on who to follow. Unger or Torelli? Meanwhile, Niles has seen all he needs to and attempts to escape during the chaos (he doesn't care what happens to the town) and report to the CSA. If he succeeds, then Starship Downs will have an FSM attack to deal with, provided they survive this 'Shark attack. The PC's will have their hands full. There are several great scenes to be played out in an adventure here: A hovercycle chase through the pine forests. (Reminiscent of the speeder bike chase on Endor in Return of the Jedi. Be careful of the trees!) An underwater fight with gangers in the well tunnel. How long can you hold your breath? Attempts to retake the laser cannons after the gangers seize control of them (or protecting the cannons from such a takeover). If Niles' transmission to his superiors (in the form of an encrypted cell-message) is detected, the McCarthy-esque paranoia of trying to sniff out the traitor can be tense.
  4. <H1>My Life As A Foot</H1> <H3><A HREF="mailto:flagator@gate.net">by Steven Otte</A></H3><HR>A foot climbed in the wrong side of a scoop the other day, and he died. We didn't see it happen, but we saw the rescue ship from Fuyuoshi pass about six kilometers from where we were mining a nickel asteroid, and we all knew what it meant. An hour later, a crackle over our headset radios confirmed it. We kept working. That's what asteroid miners do -- they work, and sometimes they die. Nine hours later, when the shift was over, we found out the particulars. The guy who died was a "foot," short for "tenderfoot," meaning an inexperienced miner, and it was a typical stupid foot mistake. A scoop is a big funnel with an overlapping gravcrystal array ringing the narrow end. You point it at a trap -- a corresponding funnel on your mining ship -- and dump your cracked ore into the big end, and the phased grav crystals accelerate it down the tube and fling it at low speed across space toward the trap, whose own gravcrystal array catches it and routes it into the crusher/graders. On occasion, a big or irregularly shaped chunk of ore goes into the scoop, and it gets jammed up. When that happens, you go down to the narrow end and clear it out with a long hooked metal rod called a poke. You don't shut the scoop off; without the gravcrystals pulling the chunks down the tube, you'd never get it clear. When the jam breaks, the worst that can happen is if you don't duck fast enough, you get whacked in the head or chest with a rock. He couldn't get the jam clear, and he thought he could do it better from the wide end. When the jam broke, it took him with it. Tumbling about, he couldn't orient his suit's jets in time, and the trap caught him. That's why they call it a trap. His crewmates stopped just long enough to retrieve his remains from the crusher, then went back to work. It wasn't that they didn't care; that's just the way life and death is out in the Belt. Asteroid mining is the deadliest job in the solar system. Every day that an asteroid miner spends on the job, there is a 1 percent chance he won't make it back to his bunk that night. Countless more suffer crushed ribs, smashed limbs, heavy-mineral toxicity, LAO-related fractures, deep-space privation psychosis, and similar career-ending disabilities each season. The injury rate is 100 percent. Yet despite the danger, there is no shortage of grizzled long-timers, experienced spacehands and hopeful feet who come every 14 months to Fuyoshi or other, smaller Belt stations with yuan in their eyes. The pay truly is incredible. There's no such thing as job security or health benefits, but a typical miner on a moderately successful ship can expect to pocket &#165;1,000 a day -- often, tax-free. A &#165;5,000 day is not unheard of. I arrived at Fuyoshi Station -- Absolute Zero to most -- in February of 2120, the start of the traditional mining "season." Though mining is not a seasonal trade, almost all miners schedule their work to coincide with the shortest travel distance between Fuyoshi and Luna, which occurs approximately every 14 Earth months. They spend an average of a year "out" and two months in dock, repairing and refurbishing their ships for the next season. As the aging L-B Venture on which the magazine had arranged my passage approached, the asteroid housing the station was easy to spot: It was the one you couldn't see. The entire station was crusted over with mining ships attached like barnacles, some attached in daisy-chains to share docking ports, while more awaiting their turns to dock hovered and circled nearby like moths orbiting a flame. This is the busiest time for the station; during the season, no more than a dozen ships at a time can be found docked here. Apart from the ones that have become more or less permanent parts of the station, that is. Last season, there were an estimated 185 ships in the Fuyuoshi mining fleet, ranging from converted Treys patched together with scavenged equipment to mile-long "processing ships" bristling with cracking towers and lit up like cities in space. Whatever their original color or composition, all were the uniform brown-grey of the all-pervasive asteroid dust. Miners in bright orange spacesuits -- easier to see if a miner gets hurt and falls off the rock -- clambered over them like ants, getting the ships ready for the coming season. Since our transport was scheduled -- and eagerly awaited -- we slid in beneath the Hyperion Venture, an Australian-owned processing ship known on Fuyoshi as the "Hyper-V," and docked at an unoccupied port near the heart of the station. The station was absolutely jammed with miners and prospective miners. Ship owners held court at restaurant tables in the "promenade," the incongrously-named commercial core of the station, and received lines of candidates for perfunctorily brief interviews. No signs or ropes designated where lines began or which ships they led to; the candidates either understood the system instinctively, figured it out, or were corrected by a fist or knife to the gut. I asked around and ended up in a line that led to a table in front of the Shogun Sushi booth, at which sat a man who himself could have been chiseled of the same implacable rock on which the station rested. I explained that I was inexperienced but knew my way around a VES, and was willing to sign on and work for nothing more than board and consideration. This was not uncommon, I'd heard; many "feet," and not a few experienced miners, will work a tour for no pay simply for the opportunity to get on with a favorable ship. My motive, of course, was to write an article about my experiences, which I freely admitted. This piqued his curiosity enough to get his attention, and he shook my hand with a knuckle-crushing grip. He warned me, though, that there was no room for observers on his boat - I'd be expected to work just as hard as the others, and there would be no time for the others to keep an eye on me. My new boss answered my questions with surprisingly good graces in between evaluating candidates. I learned that his name was Jeremiah Reddon Deaver, and the ship that was to be my home for the next tour was a 185-meter erstwhile L-B Hercules named the Shadowhawk IV. I was somewhat relieved at this, since a tour lasts as long as it takes to fill up the holds, however long that takes. If I had happened into a line for the Hyper-V or one of the other large ships, I could be "out" for a whole year. My relief didn't last long, though, since the answer to my next question -- what happened to the other three Shadowhawks -- was "you don't wanna know." Deaver inherited the 'Hawk from his father Isaac, who retired from mining when he lost an arm in a grader/crusher three years ago. Isaac still serves as the cook and mechanic on board the ship. I guess once you get the dust in your blood, you don't get it out. Isaac was a foot on an independent ship named the Lucky Strike in 2098 when they came across a two-mile-long rock bearing a rich platinum vein. In that one season, enough profit was made that all nine crew members -- even the feet like Isaac -- could buy their own ships next season. That strike -- "The Ninety-Eight" -- is spoken of in hushed tones to this day. And for every miner who tells you that there are no more asteroids like that one, there are two who will swear that they know a rock that will make the Ninety-Eight look like pocket change. But nobody has hit anything like the Ninety-Eight since. And of those nine miners who did, only Isaac is alive today. Deaver hired six miners that day. Brian, a wiry fellow with a buzz cut, was a foot like myself. Ty and Karl were experienced miners, and the last two, Blake and M'kele, had worked for Deaver last season. Rule number 1: If a miner doesn't offer information, you don't ask. I noticed that the side of M'kele's face was decorated with a pattern of scars, a semicircle of raised indigo bumps that gave him a fierce appearance. I inquired about them, datapad in hand. He answered that he got them in the Black Hole, and gave me a look that said not only was that all the information he would give, but further inquiry would be hazardous to my health. Whether it was the scars or prison time he didn't want to discuss, I didn't ask. I would later learn that almost all belt miners have a criminal record somewhere. That's why they don't use last names. Even for those who don't, there is little attachment to a particular ship or crew, and a degree of anonymity -- or at least detatchment -- is preferred. "Miners are whores," Ty said. "They go where the money is. They'll quit in an instant if they can get a better offer." Deaver met me on board the next day and gave me the 2-minute tour. At 38, he is young for a skipper; only his soft blue eyes betrayed that youth. He has a sailor's laugh and an easy nonchalance, but he won't hesitate to tell you at the end of a 20-hour shift that you didn't work hard enough. His handshake is the kind that rearranges knuckles. "Here's the galley; here's the bridge," Deaver said. "Here's the engine room, and here's your bunk. There's the deck. Go make yourself useful." I threw my gear on my bunk -- six feet long, two feet wide, two feet from the ceiling, the top bunk in a two-man room. My bunkmate was Blake, the deck boss. Blake was not only physically huge, but metaphysically huge. His energy permeated the ship. He was an amazing, continuous ball of motion who never seemed to slow down. He did not have to eat, he did not have to sleep, he did not take drugs, he avoided caffeine. He could string together a remarkable series of expletives, and often did. He had been mining for six years; he turned 27 two days before I arrived. More than once, he had seen miners die. Though Deaver owned the ship, Blake left no doubt as to who was in charge. "This is my deck," he told me when we met. "Do as I tell you and you probably won't die." With the exception of the engine room, which was spotless, the Shadowhawk IV was 185 meters of rust. The rear third of the ship, or the "house" as it's called, is where the miners ate and slept, and where Deaver worked the controls. The rest of the ship is ore bays, crusted with light towers, scoops, traps, lasers, crusher-graders, and other impressive looking hunks of machinery. The ship looked like a construction site. The first week of our employment was to be spent getting the ship ready for departure. We checked crackers (mining lasers), scoops (gravcrystal-powered ore collectors), grader/crushers, engines, life support, VAS, and more. We also took on food for our tour: half a ton of frozen pizzas, soy/grain patties, hydroponic potatoes, tomatoes and carrots, concentrated fruit juice, and two hundred steaks. Yes, real beef steaks, all the way from Earth. Expensive as they are there, they're even more so out in the Belt, but a ship captain who didn't provide them would quickly find himself begging for crew. The biggest part of our preparation was dusting. The cracking process not only generates a lot of dust, it imparts it with an electrostatic charge that makes it stick to everything -- ships, equipment, vacuum suits. It gets into absolutely everything and is practically impossible to keep out of the ship. In coming days I would eat dust, sleep in dust, collect dust in the corners of my eyes and the cracks of my mouth. I would come to hate the gritty, all-pervasive dust, as all miners do at first. Over breakfast the third day of our preparation work, Karl, one of the experienced miners, quit. "I'm not mentally prepared for this," he told Blake, then quietly gathered his belongings and left the ship. I was told this was not unusual; miners quit all the time, especially just before the season started. Blake told me we were all better off that he figured it out now, instead of two days out of spacedock. There was no shortage of applicants to replace him. Deaver hired Carlos, a brawny former pro gravball player who had worked one turn as a Hyper-V crewman. I knew better than to ask why he'd been let go. Carlos had a weird sense of humor. "The Belt," he once mused while staring out the airlock, "is the perfect place to kill someone. Slit their suit open, and give 'em a push. That's it." I noted with relief that he carried no knife. Deaver later told us that the station's agent for A.N. DuPres-Mutesa and Company, the metacorp that purchases the vast majority of what the independent miners brought in, had set the buy price for Grade 3 semi-refined ore at &#165;72 per ton: not great, but not the worst. The buy price, which is set for the entire season, is determined by an arcane formula taking into account demand projections, past production trends, the number of working ships, ore quality delivered in the previous season, and -- some believe -- Clear predictions. This base price was multiplied by a set factor, depending on the type of ore brought in. Iron's factor was 1.0; copper, 1.2; nickel, 1.6; gold, 19.8; platinum, 30.2. Bauxite, not a particularly rare nor valuable ore, nonetheless had a multiplier of 6.5 because it takes so much more of it to make a ton. He also announced that we'd been given clearance to leave spacedock as soon as the Southern Star, the largest of the processor ships, cleared the station; that was approximately two days away. We would have to work faster. Our crew seemed dangerously haphazard. Brian, the other foot, was already threatening to quit; Carlos was little better than a rookie; and I had no experience. Somehow, we managed. The Shadowhawk IV left spacedock on schedule. Deaver said he would have liked to spend a little more time checking over the traps, but we didn't have that kind of luxury, so we laid in some extra spare parts for them and set off. Just before we left, Deaver called me up to the wheelhouse. "You're at 1 percent," he told me. It was the highest praise I could have received. He'd been watching me work, and decided I deserved a cut of the ship's net profits. I was a member of the crew. We were bound for "The Bulge," the widest part of the Belt, about 25 degrees trailing of Fuyuoshi. We spent most of our travel time on continuing maintenance and dusting. Away from the station, we were able to eject the grit, gravel and detritus we'd been sweeping up without endangering other ships or the station. The debris gets dumped into the fusion wash of the engines so that it doesn't become a deadly projectile for the next ship to come along. The stuff sprayed away behind us, dancing like fireflies in the wash of the engines. Amid the rock and desolation in the Belt, there are occasional moments of beauty. On the way out, M'kele and Carlos taught me how to play ju-shu, a card game quite popular with the miners. The name is supposedly short for two Nipponese words, but they couldn't tell me what they were. There are three suits of cards, twenty-two cards per suit, several rounds of betting and exchanging cards, and an arcane points system I only began to grasp by the time we got to the Bulge. My losses will go on my next tax return as business expense. The asteroid belt is a deadly place. Space is normally nasty enough, but throw in a bunch of rocks and ice ranging in size from sand grains to small islands moving at up to 300 kph and it gets even worse. The key to survival is to work on the side of the rock facing away from the normal current of flow, and keep your eyes open for "rogues," asteroids bouncing against the flow thanks to a collision -- or a miner's mistake. As we penetrated the thicker part of the Belt, the sound of sand and gravel against the hull -- originally a subliminal hiss -- built to a constant sussuration, like rain on a tin roof, that eventually drowned out even the engines. Conversation became near impossible. "We're lucky," Deaver shouted over the din. "This is quite light for the Bulge." M'kele told me about getting caught in a sand and gravel storm powerful enough to crack 2-cm thick mylex. The ship was completely riddled; he and a few others were lucky enough to survive the barrage, huddling in an inner chamber in their vac suits, and signal for a tow back to Fuyuoshi. That was 2116, one of the worst years on record. The Mary Jean, the Mariko-chan, the Vanguard Ace, the Titan II, the Beautiful Dreamer, and the Noche de Estrella were all lost within a matter of weeks. In 2111 it was even worse -- 58 deaths. Even pebbles, moving at high speed, can strike with the force of bullets. But you don't have to get your suit holed by an asteroid to get killed out here. If you aren't paying attention, a rock the size of a grav ball, even at moderate speed, can knock you off rock, break ribs -- or crush a skull. Since a miner's job is to break big rocks into smaller ones, there's a lot of those chunks flying around. And no matter what the salesman at the miner's supply store tell you, the impenetrable helmet has yet to be invented. We were at the center of the Bulge when Deaver determined, mostly by instinct, that we had reached our mining grounds. We selected a rock to work on in under a day after arriving, which was rather quickly, as I understood it. Mining ships can spend weeks surveying before selecting the most likely ones to quarry. Some go by spectroscopic analysis of reflected light; some use rovots to take samples; some go by instinct. Deaver, like most, uses a mixture of methods, including collision modeling. Under this method, the ship's computers estimate the volume of thousands of nearby asteroids and predict their motions, plotting where collisions will occur. When an asteroid in a collision moves more than 3 percent slower than predicted by the computer, it indicates the asteroid has a higher density, which usually means a metallic content. The greater the difference, the higher the density, which can translate to a high content of metals like tin or nickel, or a smaller content of denser metals like gold or platinum. The asteroid Deaver settled upon was a four, indicating a moderate concentration of nickel, or less likely, a smaller concentration of heavy metals. A miner is either "on rock" or "off rock." The distinction is much more than geographical. When we were on rock, though, we were working. There were also superstitions about being on rock. There's no whistling allowed ("you'll whistle up a sandstorm"); no chronometers in the helmet ("you're paid for ore, not your time"); and no money may be carried ("if you have cash, you don't need ore"). When we were off rock, in the "house" of the ship, we joked, laughed, swapped dirty stories, played a few hands of ju-shu, ate and slept -- briefly. We were equals. On rock, though, there was a strict hierarchy and a constant barrage of abuse. The pace was furious. I tried to keep up, but I constantly felt like I was climbing uphill or falling down. About a half hour into it, I became light-headed, but remembered to slap the anti-nausea pad I had taped to the inside of my suit's sleeve onto my arm. Brian, the other foot, was having similar troubles, as was Carlos. Blake had warned me that feet often have a hard time acclimating to the conflicting signals sent to their brains by the shifting vistas, the lack of gravity and the rotation of the rock under their feet. The experienced guys, the ones with their space legs, were able to perform a wonderful sort of aerial ballet, jetting and bouncing off the rolling rocks like a trampoline. Vomiting inside a suit is one of the most common ways for a miner to die. It's one of the reasons miners don't eat solid food before going out on rock. Blake had showed me, if I ever did have to vomit, how to open the "blow valve" just under my chin, let the vacuum suck out the liquid, then slam it shut and reinflate the suit from my emergency tanks. Theoretically, I'd suffer some frostbite and possibly lung damage, but I should be okay. I practiced, but I hoped I would never have to try it out in actual vacuum. As feet, Brian and I caught the brunt of Blake's wrath. I knew that he wasn't yelling at me, per se, but at my mistakes. And I was glad for it. One misstep, one moment's inattention, and you'd be sucking vacuum. Blake scared me -- I suspect he scared the rest of the crew, too -- but if I took a hit and fell off rock, I have no doubt he'd be the first to dive into the void after me, aerosol emergency thruster can in hand. I'm not sure anyone else on the ship would do that. A miner's life, as I came to understand, is of no special value. Miners almost never use safety tethers. They just impede your movement, require frequent untangling, and make you look like a sissy. I could not use the laser efficiently; Brian couldn't keep the scoop aimed at the traps, and more than once allowed a barrage of ore to pummel the side of the ship. I don't think Brian ever grasped the division between being on rock and off rock. We'd just finished "cracking" the rock, splitting it open with the lasers to expose the ore vein, when Brian lost his grip on his laser. Ty went after it while Blake lit into Brian. He was in the midst of an especially profane tirade when Brian snapped. I heard a new voice over the radio and turned to see Brian yelling back at Blake. Physical violence among crew on a mining ship is uncommon, but from the look on Blake's face, blows seemed imminent. M'kele, usually even more solitary and quiet than the others, stepped in between. Brian jetted back to the ship -- a smart move -- and M'kele calmed Blake down. A few minutes later, I was sent to find Brian. He was in his bunk, and the door to his room was locked. "I ain't comin' out," he said. "I quit." This surprised no one. "Feet get out in space and they go nuts," Ty said. "Happens all the time." He told me of one person who drank ketchup and Tabasco and pretended to vomit blood, so he wouldn't have to work. To try and get the ship to head home early, horns have snuck out of their bunks and sabotaged the traps, or disabled the engines, or thrown the lasers overboard. One locked himself in the bathroom for a week; another hid in the engine room while the captain mounted a frantic search. Horns have pulled out their own hair and claimed radiation sickness. Others have run themselves repeatedly into walls. A new guy once handed Ty a twelve-pound spanner and begged him to break his kneecap. Brian was true to his word. We didn't see him again for the rest of the tour. Except to sneak out and filch food while we were on rock, he never emerged from his cabin. He was a virtual prisoner. We had lost one-sixth our work force already, and we hadn't bagged a single chunk of ore. Asteroid mining is a fairly uncomplicated job. Once you crack the rock, a guy with a laser boils the ore out of the rock. Once liquified, it expands and squirts out of the rock, floating free and almost instantly resolidifying. Another guy, called the hook, uses the poke -- a five-foot spoon-shaped device with a hook on the other end -- to guide the stuff into the scoop and keep it moving. Another kept the traps running and pointed at the scoops to catch the stuff coming in to the ship, and ran it through the crusher/graders, sorting the good ore into the bins and the slag out the chute, back into space, away from us. Hopefully, there were no big asteroids on the other side to bounce the rubble back at us. Deaver's job was to decide when a rock is played out, and find a new one to work on when that happened. Every once in a while, he'd call over our radios. "Pull out," he'd say. We'd grab our equipment, shove it into one of the bins, scramble into the airlock, eat like wolves and fall into our bunks. Sometimes, we wouldn't even take off our vac suits. Two to four hours later, he'd rap on the wall to our bunks. "Let's go," he'd shout, and we'd pile into the airlock, pull on our helmets, and get to work cracking a new rock. I was assigned the job of hook, the one Brian had failed at. It was mind-numbingly repetitive after a while: reach, pull, sling, shove. Sometimes, there would come a gout of ore, and the scoop would jam, and I'd have to scramble around behind and jab at the jam with my poke to break it up. At first, I spent more time clearing jams out of the scoop than making sure ore got into it. Blake cursed me almost nonstop. Eventually, I got the rhythm; I learned to hold back some ore until the scoop cleared itself, cutting down on the jams, and I only let the scoop wander off-target twice. We worked until the vein was played out, then Deaver would call "Pull out," and I'd go inside, wolf down two steaks, half a pizza, and a couple of vegetable patties, wash it down with half a gallon of milk -- yes, real milk; LAO is a very real concern for miners -- and collapse on my bunk. I started sleeping in my clothes, no matter how crusted with dust they got or how bad they smelled. I stopped washing. I even stopped brushing my teeth; it wasn't worth it to lose that extra 90 seconds of sleep. Deaver kept the shipboard gravity turned up to full, to minimize the risk of LAO, but I don't imagine it really helped all that much. The worst part of it all was the lack of sleep. My task was probably the safest one on rock, but it was also the easiest to fall into a lulling rhythm. After a few days, it took all the energy I had to keep from just falling asleep where I stood, letting go of my boot clamps and floating off the rock. I gulped Wak-Ems by the handfuls and slapped stim patches on my arms until they got inflamed, then shifted them to my legs. The other guys didn't even drink coffee; they felt as rotten as I did, but they were afraid of the crash that follows. "You get used to it," they all told me. I didn't believe them. The constant repetitive motion, combined with the numbing cold seeping through my gloves, caused me to lose the use of my right hand. It eventually curled into a fingers-splayed position, and the fingers wouldn't bend any more. "Congratulations," Deaver said. "You've got miner's claw." I was not alone; Ty and Carlos had it too. Blake may have been suffering too, but he would never let on, nor would he stand for any complaining. Carlos had it worse than me, and he was already on trap duty, and I was no good with the laser, so I had to stay where I was. I started holding the poke in the left hand, to give it a rest. Eventually that cramped up too, and I shifted it back and forth until I could hold the stick no longer. Ty told me to pee on my hand. I did, and it actually helped. Turns out urine is the body's own Ben-Gay. One day blurred into another, and I kept shoveling ore. I got sick once, and the blow valve did its job; the lungburn I suffered because of it made it all the harder to keep the pace up. I didn't even feel the frostbite on my face; I was startled to see the puffy, bloodshot face staring back at me out of the mirror when I went back on board hours later. It became futile to try and group our hours into days. We were not working a week, or a month; we were working until the ship was full. And the ship held 5,000 tons. I found this excruciating; we were running a race, and nobody knew where the finish line was. I asked M'kele how he was able to pace himself. "Stop thinking so much," he said. The problem was, I had to think. If I didn't, I could end up dead. At one point, I went behind the scoop to clear a jam, when another bunch of ore came in -- and knocked it loose. I took the flow of resolidified metal and rubble, jagged spheres and blobs the size of my fist, straight in the gut. It knocked the wind out of me, and sent me flying toward the trap. Blake saw it happen, shut off the scoop and radioed Carlos to close the lid to the trap so I wouldn't get pulled in. I tried to jet away from the ore, but I slammed into the hatch, and in a sort of detatched daze, I watched the solid nickel spheres shooting straight at me and wondered if it would hurt. I decided it would. Then suddenly my vision cleared again, the radio was shouting in my ear, and I fired my jets in time to get my head and torso out of the way. The volley of cannonballs pummeled my legs. I was too numb and cold already for it to hurt too much; my immediate thoughts were, well, that's it, both my femurs are shattered and I'll never walk again, but at least I can get some sleep now. I was very lucky; thanks to Blake's quick action, the metal was moving slowly enough that I only ended up with a half-dozen fist-sized bruises on my thighs. Deaver turned down the gravplates to one-quarter gee to make it easy on me that first day. In three hours, though, I was back on rock, poking away. "Faster," Deaver would call over the radio. "Faster." I shifted my poke from hand to hand. Spots came and went before my eyes. Bits of music or old vids would start repeating themselves in my mind like a broken holodisc. I kept my minicomp in a chest pocket under my suit, where it could pick up and record my observations as I worked. As time went on, those observations got shorter and shorter and less and less coherent. "Worms!" I said at one point. I was getting delusional; I was, for several panicked minutes, convinced that I was being eaten up by worms. Another entry was just the words "D, POWs, Coalition." People suffering from the Taint disease D had it worse than we did. Prisoners of war had it worse than we did. The people sent to meet the Coalition space ark had it worse than we did. Even later, I couldn't think of anyone else to add to that list. "Faster," Deaver called. "Faster." Days (weeks?) came and went. Every time I brushed against Blake or M'kele reaching with the poke, they'd whirl and curse me like I was the devil. I fell asleep in my food. My hearing started to go; it became difficult to blink. "The Belter's stare," Ty called it. I became delusional. I was convinced that my wife had left me; I begged Deaver to let me make a call on the ship's cellular, even though I knew we were too far out to get ahold of anybody. I came to despise Brian. He was in his bunk, not working, and I was out here suffering. Carlos said if he showed his face outside his cabin, he'd break both his legs. I wanted to quit too, but became convinced that if I did, the rest of the crew would kill me. Slit my suit and give me a shove, just like Carlos said. Then, one day, I just couldn't move any more. I dropped the poke, and with my head slumped against the inside of my helmet, started to drift away. Sobs broke out of my throat. Blake jetted over and caught me and brought me back to the rock. I expected the grandfather of all ass-chewings, but what he did I never would have expected. "Group hug," he said. Everyone put down their tools and surrounded me with their arms. It was the weirdest thing I could have imagined, and even now I'm a little embarassed to mention it, but there, under the endless night and the light of the cold and disdainful sun, we shared a group hug. That night, before sleep, Blake told me he was surprised I'd hung on that long. "You're one tough little motherfucker," he said. He told me I was invited to come and join the crew of any ship of his, anytime. Three and a half hours later, Deaver came and rapped on our wall -- the wake-up call. He told me I'd earned Brian's share. I was up to 2 percent. That day, on rock, I entered a weird sort of semi-conscious euphoria. I lived for the rock. I suddenly fell into the groove of the rhythm. Reach, pull, sling, shove. Grab the scoop, bounce over half a meter, lock it down, point it at the trap, reach, pull, sling, shove. Rock after rock yielded its ore to our lasers and scoops. I became determined to mine until we finished or I died, whichever came first. We filled the forward hold -- 2,500 tons -- and started in on the aft one. I picked up the scoop by myself and hauled it back to the ship, something I wasn't able to do without help when I started. Then, the ore dried up. Rock after rock yielded paltry pickings of low-grade ore. All day we did this. Everything that went into the traps went out the chute; nothing went into the holds. "Blight rock," M'kele called it. Time reasserted itself. I started to panic. I could be out here for months. I asked Deaver if there was any chance we could turn back with the ore we had. He said we weren't leaving until the holds were stuffed. I hated him for it. My arms shook. I am not a religious man, but I started to pray. Not for my safety, not for my health -- I prayed for ore. Eventually, we hit it again -- a rich vein of nickel-iron. We worked. I crushed a finger between two chunks of ore in the throat of the chute. We kept working. M'kele fired his laser into a hidden ice pocket, and was blasted off rock by the steam jet. He jetted his way back, and we kept working. That last 34 hours, we slept a total of maybe 90 minutes. Finally, the holds were full. "That's it," Deaver called, and we dragged ourselves back into the airlock. Isaac served us genuine Alaska king crab for dinner -- a treat he'd been keeping secret for this very day. It had to be the best food I'd ever tasted in my life. We then hit our bunks. My hands hurt so much I couldn't sleep; I just laid on my back with my hands crooked in the air and whimpered, like a begging puppy. We had been out for a total of only 13 days. When we got back to Fuyuoshi, I wanted nothing more to get off that ship. Ty tried to convince me to stay on for another tour, or at least stick around and watch the unloading. "You'll never have a prouder day than when you see all that ore you mined being offloaded," he said. "Ton after ton after ton." It was unconvincing. After we docked, Brian bolted from the ship, unscathed. I never saw him again. Deaver told us we didn't work hard enough, and we'd have to be faster next tour. My jaw dropped. He handed me a check for 4,228 yuan -- my 2 percent of the take, after the ship's expenses. As rock boss, Blake earned nearly &#165;17,000. "Not bad for two week's work," he told me, clapping me on the shoulder. It hurt. I spoke to crewmen from other ships. It turns out we weren't even close to bringing in the most ore. Some ships had been out and come back twice. They'd made nearly double the money we had. I decided I never wanted to see the inside of a vac suit so long as I lived. And so, without even saying goodbye, I packed up my stuff and walked off the Shadowhawk IV. I planned to catch the very next flight back to Luna. Before I made it out of the airlock, there were 10 guys lined up to take my place. <HR WIDTH=50%> <font size="-1">This story was adapted from an article about the Alaskan crab fishing industry, titled "When Hell Freezes Over," written by Michael Finkel, outdoors editor for the Orange County Register's magazine P.O.V.</font>
  5. Absolute SixtyForward Firebase 60, a Legion base in the Belt by Fred Wolke Foreward Firebase Sixty originally started out as a Seventh Legion base, set up to enable patrols through the thickest part of the Asteroid Belt sixty degrees to spinward from Absolute Zero. Founded only eight years ago, it soon attracted a small cluster of services, catering to the asteroid miners that were beginning to move out into that portion of the belt. The original design for the base called for all of its structures to be internal to the asteroid where it was to be constructed, with as few openings to the surface as possible. On virtually all sides, however, housing units, converted cargo pods, and even the occasional derelict spacecraft have been anchored to the tiny rock, making it look more like a spaceborne junkpile than an interplanetary fortification. Heaven's KnightsFrom its founding, the Seventh Legion squadron posted to Absolute Sixty has been "Heaven's Knights," a splendid example of the noted eccentricity of the Seventh Legion. The unusual style of the squadron can be traced, mostly, to its leader, Baron Heinrich Voss-Neumann. In an impressive display of wealth, he has decorated the base in neo-medieval style. The stone walls of its tunnels and chambers have been carved to resemble great stone blocks. Its airlocks and access doors are hidden behind wooden veneers. Where authenticity cannot be preserved, such as the fireplace, holograms are used to simulate it. The duty uniforms of the twelve men and women of the Heaven's Knights consists of tunic, braes, boots, white belt, and a surcoat blazoned with the winged sword and shield emblem of the unit. Officers are denoted by white baldrics and spurs. Each Knight carries a special piece of bioware made on commission exclusively for him by Orgotek, an Enhancer Blade (see below). On several occasions, the miners and such of the area have made tried to enlist the squadron's help in arresting suspected pirates docked at the station, but unless someone is actually in immediate danger, they do not get involved.Koop Memorial ClinicTucked away in a back corner of the base is a tiny Aesculapian clinic. A single vitakinetic, Doctor Irena Ngao, handles the medical needs of the whole community. Technically, she is supposed to be attached to the legionnaire contingent, but as she spends more time with the 'outside' community than with the troops, the only person who thinks of her this way is her supervisor back on Luna. Irena was trained in the Haitian paradigm, and her office shows it. None of the stark white, the glass and chrome and starch shows up there. Instead, clients at her tiny sickbay are more likely to receive acupuncture needles than medication for many of the conditions that continue to plague mankind. The surgeon's kit and the sterile conditions are there, but they are kept out of sight except when needed. The RefineryAsteroids (or pieces of them) are hauled close by, broken up, and put through the Refinery to remove all useful and profitable elements, for a price. The refinery is operated by a subsidiary of A.N.Dupres-Metusa & Co., mostly as a tax dodge. They usually will not buy asteroids, but instead take a fee to process asteriods brought in by miners and give them the proceeds. The Refinery is home to six or seven guards, a handful of technicians, and supervisior Nick Grady. Nick only came to Absolute Sixty a few years back, a victim of some very nasty boardroom politics back on Earth. He would dearly love to return, so he intends to make the refinery truly profitable, and thereby make a name for himself back ot the home office. As a result, prices have gone up recently, a development that the miners like none at all. The SpacedockCovering one whole side of the base, the spacedock is not so much a single structure as a framework from which several structures depend. Using thin plastic membranes, sections of the spacedock can be put "in air." A small team of technicians is on duty here twenty or more hours a day, fixing, repairing, and upgrading. They ask no questions about what work needs to be done, and noone asks them where they get their hardware from. Also found here is the Warehouse, a no-questions-asked repository for goods awaiting transshipment. It is run by Willie "Pete" Whitfield, a disgusting pig of a man who fouls ventilation systems wherever he goes. Luckily, he finds little reason to leave the warehouse or his rancid housing alongside. The Free MarketThe tramp freighter Monica's Joy docked with the station a few years back for some "emergency repairs" and never undocked. A nasty electrical fire gutted her soon after she arrived, due to terrible battle damage suffered at the hands of an Aberrant. An enterprising technician by the name of Benito Sepassi took posession of the hulk, fixed up her leaks, patched together a life support system, and opened a marketplace in her rather large hold. Absolute Sixty doesn't have enough traffic to support full-time shops. Instead, ships arrive on a more-or-less regular basis to sell goods to the miners who congregate there. When they do, they come to this little site right next to the Warehouse to sell their wares. When it's not taken up with these activities, Benito opens up a small bar, and entertains those who are waiting for the next 'market day' with his collection of bizarre holovids. The DomeOccasionally, someone will find themselves on Absolute Sixty with nowhere to stay. The Dome is where these people wind up. Originally constructed by Irena Ngao to get the derelicts out of her office, it has become a free flophouse for the station's small population of homeless. The Empyrospex(See the Characters archive) The Enhancer BladeThe Enhancer Blade is a custom piece of biotech available only to members of the Heaven's Knights squadron. It was designed to be an effective hand-to-hand weapon with minimal tolerance requirements. It appears as an oversized biotech knife, with a straight double-edged blade. If unformatted, it operates as a perfectly ordinary blade. Formatted, it gains an extra die in use, but also may be the focus of any psychokinetic mode. By spending a point of psi, the blade will either grow burning hot, chilling cold, or vibrate as per a vibroblade. Each effect will do an extra die of damage per point of the highest effect in the appropriate mode. This effect lasts 5 minutes times the user's current psi, or until it is consciously "turned off." Tech:PsiDamage:Strength+3d10 L (plus special)Maneuvers:D P T W TwConcealability:OMass:2Tolerance:1Cost:3 (restricted) Plot HooksThere are many reasons a team of psions might get sent to Absolute Sixty. Aeon Trinity may want to find out what the mysterious Empyrospex is up to.The Aesculapians, stung by events at the Beaulac Clinic on Luna (see Descent into Darkness and Passage Through Shadow) have sent teams of investigators to all of their far-flung installations to make sure that there are no more surprises coming.Abbas Kastami, the Al Alif Mashriq (see Luna Rising) has a hunch that there is something sinister behind the seeming innocuous behavior of The Empyrospex, and sends a team to investigate.With aberrant attacks increasingly taking up the time and effort of Heaven's Knights, the Seventh Legion decides to send a second team to Absolute Sixty to "clean up" the community that has grown up around it. The hard part will be sifting the pirates from the relatively honest miners and traders.The Ministry sends a secret mission to Absolute Sixty, also to clean it up, but for a different reason: They want to keep it from attracting attention. Its agents are to stay undercover.Orgotek has a new version of the Scarab biofighter, and Foreward Firebase Sixty is one of the first bases slated to recieve the upgrade. A team is sent to deliver the new spacecraft, deformat the old ones, and reformat the new ones to the Heaven's Knights. That's the cover story. The real reason for them being there is to try to uncover something about the Empyrospex.A Leviathan returns from a mission to deep space, and arrives at Absolute Sixty devoid of crew. The United Nations sends a team of psions to investigate.
  6. <H1>Mojo Goes Swimming</H1><H3><A HREF="mailto:rick@blkbox.com">by Rick Jones</A></H3> <HR>"Go talk to the fish people," said my waterhead editor. Jamm it, I'm a real reporter. Fish people are for copyists who listen to anima bang. I've interviewed two Proxies. [click here to download Mojo sees a Rx and Mojo Plays with Prexy] But the waterhead started stacking up larger and larger piles of money until I figured it was enough for that heavy coilgun I've been meaning to get for the ranch. "Enough," I cried, "I will take your jamming sea cruise. You may return your head to it's normal cavity." The flight out to New Athens was calm and the flight crew showed the proper respect for an aging journalist who needs his medication. While my neurotransmitters did their happy dance, I listened to my minicomp chatter about the fish people. "Dolphins are not fish," it gibbered. "They are mammals." Jamm that. They're fish. And so are the tsunanjin who live with them. "Although researchers have suspected cetacean intelligence since the twentieth century, it was not until the Qin visit to Makaroshima that Terran noetic researchers began using telepathy as a method of communication." Yammer yammer yammer. I fell asleep and dreamed of dolphins swimming through an office building, telling their human employees to work harder. The steward woke me up by touching my arm. They should have known better and floatparty is going to have to pay for his new nose. Not my fault. It's on my flight notices. In bold flashing text. But it did get the old blood pumping the way only real adrenals can. I walked down the jetway and, as promised, someone was there to meet me. He was a mere child. Barely out of short pants. He scratched his scruffy beard, cut just like the latest Kostbaar models. He said his name was Raoul, and he was going to take me down to the tank. He was wearing that annoying anima fabric that makes my head spin in unpleasant directions. "Raoul," said I, "I am parched. I need libations. Flights always dry me out." Raoul looked suspicious. "Uh, Mister Mojo--" "Just Mojo, my good boy." "Uh, Mojo. I was ordered to take you down to--" "'Orders'? Think for yourself, my lad. Don't let the fascist work-ethic tear you down." "Uh, down to the reception." I stopped and looked at the poor, frightened lad. I certainly could use a gentle libation. And I wanted to see what I could pry out of his skull before my official tour started. In the end, I figured that the initial trust gained would get me better news later. I gestured grandly and said, "Lead on, my good lad. 'Reception', you say. Well that should do just fine. There will be chocolate there?" "Just as you requested, Mojo." I let Raoul lead me down. The aquacities have the worst parts of space stations and beach resorts mixed together. There's the cramped space on the inside, and the annoying sun beating down on the outside. I haven't decided which has a lower class of tourist yet. Raoul led me through the tacky NeoGreek architecture to a private PeopleMover car, and gestured for me to sit, as he did. I paced back and forth. "So, aside from giving venerable reporters a lift, what do you do, Raoul?" Raoul stammered, then started to speak, "Well, s-, Mojo. I'm Doctor Garcia's graduate student. I'm working on my doctorate in cetacean noetic theory." Half-remembered background material percolated up to my forebrain. "He's the fishman, isn't he?" Raoul looked uncomfortable. "What do you mean?" "I mean he hasn't breathed air in over a year. He's transformed his lungs into gills. He's changed his body to adapt to the pressures of the deep. He's even got sonar like dolphins now. Christ man, he's got fins." "Uh, yeah," said Raoul. "But he can survive in air for a little while." He looked at the toes of his shoes. "And he could change back to, er, normal... if he wanted to." "And you... don't have a problem with that?" "Of course not. It lets him interact with the dolphins in their natural habitat. They think he's more normal that way. They were quite disappointed when they learned that not everyone can change the way Doctor Garcia can." I nodded sagaciously. "Rough for them. So what are the fish like?" He started to say, "they're mammals," but my cold glare convinced him it's not wise to contradict Mojo. "The Psions are the ones who understand them best. And maybe the Qin. They don't have the same sort of reference points we do. They think in... odd directions." I nodded in a reasonable facsimile of eagerness and gestured for him to continue. "They, uh, tend to use more auditory referents, instead of visual cues. And we had to develop a whole new linguistic set for sonar imagery. In English, you'd say, 'the ball is by the wall, but dolphins would say, 'I fartouched the ball close to the wall.' That sort of thing." Balls and walls. Walls and balls. I was trying to figure out how to feign enough illness to get me off this boat with delusions of cityhood. But then Raoul led me from the PeopleMover to the reception area. Either I had mixed up my hallucinogens and smartpills again, or I saw a pretty jamming cool sight. Some companies have their meeting rooms tricked out with virchgear so that the muckymucks can "meet" without leaving the security of their fortress homes and offices. My first thought was that they had virched together an underwater cove with a meeting room. Then I realized my glasses weren't painting the dolphins and humans swimming through the far side of the room as holos, and I couldn't see a bioglass partition. I looked closer, and there was a faint shimmer about midway through the room, and air breathers were on my side of the shimmer. It looked like a plastic curtain of some kind, rippling as it held back the tons of water on the other side. The air side's decor matched the water side's -- early Atlantis. The meeting table (which stretched through the curtain) looked to be carved from coral, and the whole place was painting in blues and greens, so it appeared that all of us were under water. Sunlight from up above the waterside painted everything with soft colors, and shifted when the dolphins occasionally went up for air. "Greetings, Mojo," echoed in the room. I looked over to Raoul. "Who said that?" "Oh, that's Dancer," he pointed out one of the dolphins. "He's a big fan." I grabbed Raoul's arm and whispered. "You're telling me a dolphin reads my stuff?" "Well, they don't really like reading. They like moving around too much, and so they don't generally like to read. But we play the aud versions." Okaaaay. "Uh, thanks, Dancer," I said. I snagged some handfood and a glass of something flammable. and walked over to the barrier. As I got closer, I could see that it looked like Gell-o, though I couldn't see the material itself. Dancer swum up to meet me. "Mojo can touch the hardwater. Qin friends spun it," chittered the fish. I reached out and felt the wall. It felt like stiff water. Bizarre. Another voice played on the speaker. "Pleasing to nearsee you," I looked around to see which fish was addressing me. Gentle readers, I will believe seven impossible things before breakfast, but between lunch and dinner, my suspension of disbelief only goes so far. Swimming down from the surface was another dolphin, or so I thought at first. Then I saw that this "dolphin" was colored funny. Then I saw he didn't move exactly like a dolphin, but in a jittery stop-motion way that was both fluid and... not. And then I realized I was speaking to a Qin. I took a drink to steady my jangly nerves and looked up. "I am honored, ambassador of Qinshui." Look folks, if you suspected that the Qin didn't really look human, but simply dressed that way, now you know for sure. Gods above, he was a fish too. "How are you enjoying your stay in the waters?" "It is calming to swim with your water people. The Dancing One and I are going out to the truewater, but I am being curious to swim near you. Your word plays give me curiosity" He and Dancer nodded as much as a dolphin can, and swum up to the sun. I gulped my drink and looked around for another. Raoul coughed and said, "Swims-Far-Across -- that's the Qin's name, he always forgets to give it, like he assumes you know who he is -- likes dolphins more than humans, so he tends to speak like they do. He used to speak perfect English and Chinese, but he's let it go. We don't really care since we understand him. Doctor Garcia is in the medical tank. He apologizes for the delay but--" "Fiddlefaddle. I will go to the mountain. Or the tank. And I will talk to Doctor Garcia there. Where is it, my good lad?" Raoul started to protest. "But sir--" "Mojo, jamm it! What's he doing down there? Does he have something to hide?" "No, but he's treating an injured--" "Then we go." I started stomping off, not even aware of where I needed to go, but sure that Raoul would cave. His type always does. The years of being hammered down by the organized educational system engenders a certain flexibility of spine only matched by the average anima-head. Raoul caved. He took me to the edge of a big pool. The water lapped at the edges. "He's down there. It leads to the dolphin habitat. The dolphins don't have a real sense of privacy, but Dr. Garcia doesn't like people gawking at them like they were in some kind of circus." "Nothing wrong with circus folk," I muttered. "How long is he going to be in there?" Raoul stammered, "W-w-well, his agentpage said it would be a while. Spinner got too close to a transport again, and has a mild concussion. Dr Garcia has him under observation. It could be hours." Or a stonewall. I know the drill. Doctors love it. Certainly establishes dominance. Jamm that. I looked around, and saw what I was looking for. I went to the locker marked "Aqualungs" and started pulling on the wet suit. Raoul gibbered like a fish out of water, but I ignored him. Mojo doesn't get stonewalled. Two Presidents and a Proxy have learned that. Some waterhead shifter wasn't going to get any better. Raoul gibbered and sputtered and eventually I just had to web him to the lockers with my holdout. The water hummed like an aud player turned way down. As I sunk down, I saw tubes stretching off in different directions, each playing a different subaudial tune. Quite fresh, I have to say. I wondered how much it would cost to put stuff like that in the ranch's pool. Fortunately for me, there were printed signs, and I followed a tube marked "hospital." Up ahead, I heard the clicks and chitters of dolphin. I wondered how to ask for directions, and hoped they spoke English. It wasn't two dolphins. It was one dolphin and something that once was human. They were swimming laps, like kids who misbehaved in gym class. The dolphin was woozy, like me before my first tab of the morning. The once-man was graceful and elegant. And just looking at him made me once again think I had mixed up the hallucinogens again. The former man turned to me. He was naked (like the dolphin, I thought), but his skin was the slick grey stuff the fish had. He had melded his legs together like a merman. His upper body was streamlined, and his arms fit along his body. His face was the freak show. Big black eyes and no nose. Gills pulsed along his neck. His features were still human enough for me to tell he was pissed. Like that was supposed to impress me. "I'm recording now," I said. "So, why sea-mammals, Doctor Garcia?" He gestured for the fish to keep swimming. He came down and looked at me. As he did, his face shifted a bit, giving it more agile lips. "You are persistent. You do know that the only reason I am even speaking to you is because it will help our funding efforts." "That's not an answer. Why come down here and swim with the fishes?" He looked around. "Man came from the sea, Mister Mojo. It was our first home." "I moved out when I was twelve and never looked back, Doc. I'm not seeing the appeal." He chittered something under his breath in dolphin. I later had it translated to "smelly waters," as close as the fish get to cussing. "Think of it. Most of the Earth is covered with water. We could expand on Earth quicker and more easily than we could anywhere else." I scratched and wished I could smoke down here. "But not all of us have your talents. I need this damn fool gadget just to breathe." "But it's much more simpler than the equipment you would need to live on the Moon. It's much safer. We could house the world's population over again multiple times, and bring in Luna and Mars' people as well. For a fraction of the cost." "I dunno, Doc. I'd rather go to the Moon than down here. Sure it's dirty and there are too many peepers there, but isn't there more adventure out in the stars?" "Adventure?" he harumphed. "There are things out there, Mister Mojo. Mankind drew attention to itself by going to the stars. I do not wish to think about what will come to call someday. So I take my work down into the warm waters of Mother Earth. Perhaps under the waves, we will not be noticed." Thank you, Chicken little. "Uh-huh. Well. Tell me about your--" "No, I think not. I am done. You may talk with my assistants. Perhaps even the Qin. (He likes your prose, though I find it self-absorbed.) I have nothing else to say." And he didn't. He didn't say a word. I toured the rest of the facility. I even got whacked out on some undersea plant-life the dolphins like. But it was pretty boring after that. Well, except for when I brought the barbecue pit down into the habitat.
  7. <H1>Everybody Wants Something</H1> <H2>Creating A Character Motivation- Centered Game World</H2><H3><A HREF="mailto:watchman@iki.fi">By Mikko Rautalahti</A></H3><HR>My style of running a game tends to differ somewhat from the way most other people run games -- or, at least, so it seems, judging by a number of conversations I've had with people about the subject. My way of running games isn't really very complicated; basically, what I do is create a world, and the drop the characters into it, and then let them interact with what goes on in the world. In many ways, games with intricate, specific plotlines that need to be followed in order to "complete" a story tend to be more complicated, as they require a lot of work from the GM to steer the story to its eventual conclusion, at least if the GM wishes to do that without being far too obvious with the railroading process. It also often requires keeping the characters involved with the events regardless of whether or not they really want to do that, in order to get to the end. I rarely have storylines as such; I do, of course, have chains of events, plenty of NPCs with plans, motivations, ambitions and -- most importantly -- personalities. Therefore, it should be said right up front that the way I do things may not please those who prefer a more linear way of running a game. My games have no conclusions, or solutions, or "right" or "wrong" decisions.I don't reward players for "right" decisions, nor do I punish them for the "wrong" ones. I don't reward the characters, either. When the characters interact with the game world, it responds -- or fails to respond, and those responses may either be good or bad for the character, but there are no guarantees for anything. Which is not to say that you can't get rewarded for a good thing and punished for a bad thing, of course -- do someone good, and they're likely to remember that. Hurt someone, and they're guaranteed to remember that. Still, good may get stomped upon, and evil does not always get punished -- of course, the concepts of "good" and "evil" are being used here in the most basic sense; I tend to stray away from one-dimensional stereotypes who are good or evil just for the sake of being good or evil.Everyone has motivations, and while people may be selfish and unfair, it's very rare indeed to run into someone who actually hurts people for the sake of hurting them. (That, of course, makes running into someone like that all the more scary, as it should.) It should also be pointed out that I'm a wannabe writer, and as such tend to devote a lot of time and energy into writing up material. Not everyone can do so. And, finally, it should be made absolutely clear that this is the way I do things. That's all. Not the right way, not the wrong way, not necessarily the best way for you, but the best way for me. If you want to do things differently, that's great. This, then, is a story of how I constructed my Trinity campaign. I won't go into too many details beyond the clearly visible about the actual events and background of the game world -- this is for practical reasons, mostly, as my players are likely to read this article, and I have no wish to compromise the game world unless I have to. Generally, I'm talking more about the theory than practice of running a game here, and most of these things could really apply to any game world you would care to come upwith. <H3>World Construction</H3>First of all, it should be said that running this Trinity campaign has not been the first time I have ever run games in this fashion; quite the contrary. However, this is the first time that I have ever run a game like this in an environment so complex. My version of the Trinity world seems to have more layers than a wedding cake. In many ways, this is an experiment that is still in the works, although this far the results have been very good. Of course, I didn't have to construct an entire game world. Andrew Bates and his cronies did a good job of that already, so I had a rather solid base to build on. I had the political powers, I had the Trinity, I had the Orders, I had the Aberrants, I had all the aliens -- I had all of these pieces, construction blocks, if you will -- and more, but they were still more or less just pieces floating around. It was up to me to figure outexactly what was going on with all of these factions. While their motivations and methods were explained (at least up to a point) in the source material, actual details were left out -- intentionally, I'm sure, and for that I'm thankful.I don't like source material that spells out every single detail, forming an intricate web where everything is connected. While that is certainly impressive and fun to read, and will undoubtedly give a GM a lot of very good ideas, it also has the bad habit of forcing the GM into a tight mold that's almost impossible to get out of without changing most of the things in the game world; after all, if everything is tightly connected, you cannot change things without affecting everything else. So, one of the first things I did was figure out exactly who the players on the global stage were, what they wanted, what kind of resources they had, and how they interacted with the rest of the factions. Sounds simple? Far from it. Just figuring out exactly who was in charge of what and where took me ages. I'm still not finished with the process, but now I've got a model that's complete enough for me to work with -- or to run a game with. I also discovered pretty soon that if I went too much into the details, it became harder to see the big picture -- and vice versa. I've adopted something of a middle path here, paying as much attention to the details as I can and still trying to hold it all together. I doubt I ever get the chance to truly figure out what's going on - after all, I'm only one man, and there's an entire universe in there. Luckily, I don't have to know all of that stuff; I only need to know enough. Still, for practical reasons, I have to concentrate on certain things and give others less attention. The sheer scope of things is enough to make a man want to go for an easier route. I'm not ashamed to confess that I've had to make a couple of compromises here and there. It's simply too much for me to be able to run a world where everything is interconnected, even though that would be the most realistic way of going about it. I don't have the time... hell, let's face it, I doubt I have the brains to keep track of every major organization in the world. So I chose some organizations over others -- inmy game world, I concentrated far more on the Orgotek, Norca and the Aesculapian Order, than I did on the Legions and the ISRA, for example, and far more on the FSA, Sudamerica, Europe and Africa than I did on Russia, Japan, and Alaska... and far more on the Triton Division than I did on the other two divisions of the Aeon Trinity. There are always decisions like this to be made, and I can -- thankfully -- always return to what I had to skip if need arises. After I had figured out what was going on, I started to think about who was making it all happen, or, rather, who were the people who were making all the decisions. Done correctly, that would have meant writing up hundreds of NPCs, and while that would certainly been an interesting challenge, common sense took hold and I abandoned that idea. Still, I started to come up with NPCs all over the world, in different factions, not necessarily even major figures in the grand scheme of things, but interesting characters that intrigued me. While they weren't necessarily the people responsible for the decisions, they helped me to define the way the world worked. Looking at things from their perspective made the entire mess seem more simple, if only because they saw so little of the big picture. That also made it easier for me to define some policies and methods for the different factions. I have discovered that my writing technique tends to be rather similar to that described by Quentin Tarantino -- basically, I don't really have a conclusion, or an idea; I just have characters, and after a certain point they start to do things in my head. I just write down what happens, I don't make it up. Of course, I DO make it all up, but when I do it right, it doesn't feel like it's me pulling the strings, it's just me writing it down. In "Reservoir Dogs," Tarantino has Mr. Blonde mutilate a police officer with a razor. He mentions writing the scene, and suddenly Mr. Blonde pulls out the razor, and Tarantino goes, "Whoa, where the fuck did THAT come from?!" I can relate to that. I do that with my NPC's, and I do that with just about everything in the world. I've found that with practice, it becomes far more simple than it sounds, taking up rather little processing time. Apparently my subconscious is quite capable of handling these things in the background while I deal with more urgent matters. The downside of this is that running a game world as complicated as this in this fashion is still very expensive in terms of time and brain power.Nothing in my world is set in stone; there are certain things that will most likely happen if nothing else intervenes, but there are also many random factors that will most likely be decided when the time comes for them to be decided. Most things are run by people, and people get emotional, people get sloppy, and people get just plain emotional. People do things for strange reasons. In my game world, there is, for example -- and this is a rather random example -- an FSA frigate called the Iron Tear, which has a captain who may or may not be forced to bomb a civilian target. Whether or not he does, I don't know yet. It basically comes down to a conflict between his sense of duty and his conscience. The reason I don't know what will happen is that in my campaign, at the time of this writing, the date is now 10th of January, 2120, and the Iron Tear won't even be in place until the 11th or so. There are dozens of other such events, and more popping up every day. Others pop up, others are forgotten, but it all forms a huge patchwork that seems -- at least at the time of this writing -- to hold together surprisingly well. It does take a great load of work, of course. Frustratingly much at times;there's all this stuff going on that my players know nothing about, stuff that I can't really ever reveal to them because the chances that their characters ever stumble on any of it are rather small. At times it even feels like such a waste to spend an evening thinking of complicated things that go on somewhere far away from the characters, a complicated chain of events that fascinates me, one that I would love to see disrupted by the characters... but it just doesn't work like that. On the other hand, when the characters DO stumble upon something, that can be very rewarding indeed, and it's great to give them just a little bit of the big picture, even if it doesn't do them much good. So, why do I go through all this trouble? Mostly because it gives me a complete world, or as complete a world as I can manage. It should also give the players a feeling of being part of a bigger world, where things happen regardless of what they do. News break, people die, accidents happen -- and good things happen, too. It's a big world. Of course, some might say that this is just my way of making a big deal out of nothing, glorifying my own inability to write decent storylines and sticking to them, always ending up improvising a game session after another, or whatever. Be that as it may, it doesn't feel like that to me. <H3>Character Creation</H3>It's all very fine and well to talk about the game world, but in the end, from the players' point of view, the characters they play define the game world for them. After all, they see everything through the character's eyes, hear everything through the character's ears, and, in a way, filter everything that happens through the character's essence. In other words, they react to the game world differently than they would if they were just themselves. Keeping this in mind, I took a somewhat unorthodox approach to character creation. Instead of letting the players take up the rulebook and telling me what they played, I outlined certain parameters -- namely, that all of the characters were a part of the íon Trinity's Triton division's investigative team, had to get along with each other at least relatively well (in order to avoid the good old "I'm an elf, you're a dwarf, we hate each other but for some unknown reason we're still going to be a part of the same team despite the fact that it's painfully obvious that we are about as compatible as a garden snail and a packet of salt" syndrome), and have at least a certain degree of professionalism. Then I sat down and talked about character concepts with them, taking note of any and all wishes they might have. I also let them work out the statistics for the characters. Then I sat down and wrote the characters myself. I ended up writing 75 pages' worth of text for six players, in 10-point type. The end result was that instead of having "uh, well, this guy is sorta like this soldier dude, see, and he's got this really nasty stuff in his past," I had solid characters with backgrounds that were firmly integrated with the game world. Contacts, mentors, allies and such had personalities, and were as much a part of the game world as any other NPC. I wanted to get rid of the "well, this guy is like my contact in the media, see, and he's, uh, working for this major news agency" syndrome where contacts were vague and their authority and personalities were left largely undefined. Now the players knew exactly where they stood with their contacts -- or if they didn't, that was rather intentional. Sometimes it's hard to tell how to deal with people, after all. This also meant that instead of telling the GM that you asked your contact about this or that, you actually had to roleplay out calling up a friend or an associate, talking to him, and most likely answering a couple of questions if the request was strange or out of place -- and instead of treating people like resources, you actually had to think of those contacts as human beings. This also meant more work for me; since a lot of this interaction was conducted via e-mail, I was more or less forced to write up the NPC's side of the conversations between game sessions. Still, I think that this far it's been well worth the trouble. The downside of all this is, of course, that I will never ever have enough time to do enough of all of the writing that this requires -- a fact my players will never let me forget. The persistent, disappointed cries of "What, no handouts? But I was supposed to get e-mail from someone!" will most likely haunt me to my grave. <H3>The Players</H3>I require a lot from my players. First of all, they have to have the right mindset; players interested in running all over the place, kicking major ass and looking cool will loathe my games. Which is all very fine and well by me, because those players aren't the ones I want to be involved with. Mostly, what I look for in a player is the will and the ability to get into character and live that character's life for a while. I need players who are imaginative, intelligent, and outgoing enough to participate in the game instead of just sitting there and never doing anything, regardless of the character they play. In a nutshell, I need players with the necessary skills. I also need patient players. If nothing happens in my game world, then nothing happens, and that means that the characters will most likely get bored. While I have no problems with fast-forwarding to the interesting bits -- after all, role-playing a group of six people sitting in a room and watching "Gilligan's Island" reruns for sixteen hours is going to get old after a certain point -- I still prefer to maintain a certain level of realism, and also require my players to provide their share in order to maintain that. Finally, a certain social aptitude is a must. Basically, if no one likes someone, there isn't much point in having that someone in the game. I'm very careful with the players I pick. I don't claim to always be right about the choices I make, and I realize that being so picky about them may seem like a somewhat elitist way of doing things... but I believe that in the long run, that pays off, and in any case I very much doubt that my game would benefit from having players that aren't capable of pulling off what is required of them, for whatever reason. <H3>Running With It All</H3>In the end, it's comparatively easy to construct all this; all it takes is imagination and the time to write it all down. But when it comes to actually dropping those completely unpredictable, totally random chaos machines -- also known as the players -- into the mix, things get hairy. You have this intricate web that you try to maintain to the best of your ability, pulling a string here and there, and watching the whole slowly respond. Despite all the claims I make about not really knowing where it is all going, in the end it IS my own mind making it all up, and therefore I tend to be prepared for what happens, even if it is only on some kind of a strange subconscious level. Now, with players, you don't have that luxury. Players tend to see things differently. They see them from a single view point, that of their character. And what makes perfect sense to them makes no sense to you, and vice versa, and then all of a sudden they do something that completely changes the way you thought things were going to go. In my games, this doesn't really present a problem as such; I am not taking the game anywhere, it's just going somewhere, so a sudden change of tracks doesn't pose a threat to my plotlines -- the game world just adapts accordingly, just like the characters who are forced to adapt to the game world. Still, I get surprised. Often pleasantly so; it's one of the rewards of game mastering, at least for me, to have the players challenge me, to have them give me something totally unexpected that I just have to respond to. This is where doing your homework comes in; if you know where the players are, and why, and what's going on in that particular area, it doesn't really matter if their characters suddenly duck into a dark cave and demand to know what they see (figuratively speaking, of course). If you haven't done your homework and are just winging the entire session, things can get hairy pretty quickly, especially if you're trying to simulate an entire game world and keep all the ever-changing factors in your head without preparing for it. The trick, then, seems to be to keep it all in your head as well as you can, and to prepare for things the best you can, but not from a game master's point of view -- rather, look at things from the NPC's point of view. Don't think of it as a story to tell, don't think of it as a world to control, but rather think of it as a network of motivations, goals, and methods. When something happens, you don't have to think about how it affects the story, all you need to do is figure out how the game world reacts to what happens.It sounds like a mess, I know, but at least for me, it seems to work surprisingly well. Which is not to say that I don't run into problems every once in a while, but that's mostly a question of tuning to the right wavelength, so to speak, and thinking about the situation hard. In my games, no player can win, except perhaps by having a good time. No one can lose, except perhaps by having an attitude problem -- which, of course, is a rather subjective concept. In my games, I require my players to understand the difference between "I am having a good time" and "my character is having a good time." I rarely give challenges; the game world may well present the characters with a problem, and that may be an easy problem or a hard problem. If the characters get by easily, then they get by easily, and that doesn't pose a problem for me or my players. Also, I'mnot at all interested in keeping things "on track." If the characters decide that they don't want to pursue something any longer, for whatever reason, fine, that's okay by me. As far as I'm concerned, if my players decide that their characters want to move to a lone island in the Caribbean and eat coconuts for the rest of their life and never doanything exciting, that's perfectly fine with me. Of course, players tend to go for a bit more challenging characters than that, which is somewhat fortunate as it does make things a bit more interesting from a GM's point of view. In many ways, I'm an unfair GM; I don't cut the player characters much slack. In other ways, I'm a very fair GM; I don't cut anyone else in the game world extra slack, even if they are "just" NPCs. They all deal with the world in the same terms; if the player characters manage to get themselves an edge, they can milk that for all it's worth and rock the world, if they can make it work. (Which, of course, tends to be rather hard, but this is a hypothetical situation.) On the other hand, if the player characters end up in trouble badly enough, I don't really throw out ropes and pull them to safety. <H3>What's All This Supposed To Mean In Practice?</H3>That's a good question. A couple of examples from the Trinity game I run, and how I solved a couple of things that perhaps weren't problems as such;rather, they were simply situations where I had to figure out how to deal with the world at large, and nicely illustrate how much trouble this method of running a game can get you into -- and how simple the solutions seem to be, once you figure them out. <H4>Example 1: "Seriously -- it's a love tap."</H4>The situation: One of the characters, a veteran Legion sergeant by name of Kurg, was talking to a Dr. Pierce, who was proving to be most cooperative.Kurg had a hangover and a strong dislike of Dr. Pierce, who was telling him all the wrong things, resulting in Kurg getting more and more angry with the man. Finally, Kurg grabbed Dr. Pierce by the lapels in order to sit him down and shut him up. Dr. Pierce starts to scream bloody murder, and Kurg shakes him around a bit in order to shut him up -- when suddenly an old case of combat psychosis suddenly comes up, and Kurg ends up beating the good doctor unconscious. What really went down: Pretty much as above, except Dr. Pierce was actually a member of a rather nasty group of people, and somewhat afraid of Kurg's snooping around. When Kurg got physical, he panicked and an even nastier ex- Ministry telepath close by tried to stop Kurg, triggering instead a dose of combat psychosis. A nasty place to botch a Psi roll, certainly, but he managed to do that. The rest was history, as Kurg lost it for a while there. What happened next: This was a hairy one, and easily one of the most puzzling events I've ever had the pleasure to GM. It just so happened that Dr. Pierce was a rather important person in that particular location, and these incidents compromised his position in more ways than one. Suffice to say that this changed some major, major plans in the game world, and resulted in the death of Dr. Pierce, the almost sinking of a rather large artificial island, the deaths of a dozen police officers, and got the PCs into a whole new world of trouble. Mostly, it was a case of several NPCs scrambling around without a very good plan or organization, trying to cover their own asses to the best of their abilities. The end result was that the PCs ended up suspecting far more than I ever thought they would -- in fact, they now knew enough to be a threat, but not enough to do much with that information. A nasty situation, as they would soon find out. Amusingly enough, this all happened in the very first Trinity session I ever ran, and changed the entire nature of the game. The funny thing is, Dr.Pierce was something of a random "victim", of the thousands of inhabitants on the island; it might as well been someone else... which only goes to show, once again, that no matter how well you think you are prepared, the players will always think of something you never thought of. <H4>Example 2: The Grassy Knoll</H4>The situation: A rogue Norca agent gets into a serious disagreement with his fellow conspirators in the Trinity, mostly caused by his own stupid actions, resulting from lack of thinking, and is forced to run for his life. He has nowhere to turn to, what with him having betrayd his own order. He can't contact the Trinity either, because he doesn't know for sure which people over there he can trust, and which people he can't -- but he has to go somewhere, and soon. He realizes that the only people he knows aren't connected with the guys who are after him are the people he himself tried to kill earlier -- the player characters. So he runs to them, but gets caught by Orgotek's security forces after some rather complicated running around. What happened next: I thought of this quite a bit, trying to see what would happen to this person. He was totally alone, with practically no one he could trust or turn to, and he wasn't especially smart -- in fact, he tended to do stupid things on a regular basis, what with his tendency to reach with his fists to most things. The thing was, I knew that, and more importantly, the NPCs he was running from knew that. They had to get rid of him, but right now he was more or less beyond reach, surrounded by heavy-duty photokinetics from Orgotek's security division. Then it suddenly occurred to me that the last thing the powerful rogue telepath responsible for plugging this gaping security hole would do would be to attempt to assasinate the man, when it would be so much easier for everyone to make him do it himself.He simply used his telepathy to make the high-powered Norca freak out in a frenzy of terror, and attack those around him, resulting in the photokinetics slicing him into itty bitty pieces with their lasers -- in self-defense, too. The end result? The security problem got solved, nothing too important got compromised, and best of all, no one could prove a thing.Nasty, effective, and simple. <H4>Example 3: Jungle Boogie</H4>The situation: The player characters have gotten themselves into something of a mess, having discovered something very secret and very spooky going on inside the Triton division (this being a somewhat direct result of their earlier exploits with Dr. Pierce). As a result, they have fled to Africa, attempting to lose themselves somewhere in the jungle. As it is, they don't make a very good job of it, and as a result, a very professional, very nasty hit team is following them. What really went down: As written above, really. It was a bit more complex affair, but going into details wouldn't really accomplish much here. What I had to figure out here what would happen, as there were people out there who were willing to do things to keep the PCs from getting killed; the problem was that the PCs had covered their tracks well enough to keep them hidden for a while, but not well enough to keep them hidden forever -- and the potential allies didn't have the resources to find the PCs in time. What happened next: Then, all of a sudden it occurred to me that the "good guys" didn't really have to know how to reach the PCs; all they had to do was follow the "bad guys," who would either lead them to the PCs (in which case they could be protected), or they wouldn't (in which case the PCs would still be safe). This sounds very simple, yes, but this entire idea changed things quite a bit -- suddenly, there were far more people hunting the PCs, and the PCs weren't really able to tell the difference between those who tried to help and those who tried to snuff them out. In the end, it came down to a bit of a fight, of which the PCs saw next to nothing. Again, this wasn't really a major thing, but the realization that there was indeed a sensible, simple way for the "good guys" to follow the PCs, or at least to keep them safe, changed things quite a bit. Conclusion? In most of these cases, it all came down to taking a good look at the situation from the characters' point of view, and the rest came relatively easily. Looking at things from a more traditional "I wonder how the PCs are going to get out of this" type of a point of view wouldn't have yielded all these results. This is far more complicated, yes, which may or may not be a good thing... but it does make for a more complex game, and for a more complex game world, with internal consistency and a feeling of activity and life beyond the tiny portion of what the players see. And that's really the way I want to run my games.
  8. <H1>Quantakinesis For Dummies</H1> <H2>One Theory of the Chitra Bhanu's Dark Aptitudes</H2><H3><A HREF="mailto:flagator@gate.net">By Steven Otte</A></H3><HR>The Chitra Bhanu hold a unique and seemingly self-contradictory view of the Implicate Order, the psi universe that ISRAns call the "Noetic Toality." Strongly influenced by the thinking of physicist/philosopher David Bohm, spiritualist Jiddu Krishnamurti and physicist Albert Einstein, Quantakinetic Proxy S.K. Bhurano developed a framework and theory of noetics that meshes soul with matter and spirituality with science. Otha Herzog's own views of the Noetic Totality were no doubt shaped during his numerous long, involved discussions with Bhurano, though even he may not have grasped the full implications of her theories. The very name "Quantakinesis" holds a significance lost on most non-Chitra Bhanu. To them, a quantum is much more than a potential energy state of an atom. The Implicate Order is a name for the theory that the human mind's tendency to "fragment" and compartmentalize the universe by the perception of it is a false conceit. "Enfolded" within each fragment of the universe, each atom, each particle is an explicate expression of the Cosmic All, from which the order of totality can be implied -- ergo, the Implicate Order. A quantum state is the expression of that Order. But Bhurano's studies took a step further Bohm's wedding of thought with matter. The psion particle was that link given form, conscious thought taking a physical shape. Quantakinesis, therefore, is the ultimate expression of Reality -- which is continually being formed, reshaped and destroyed by the constant interaction of consciousness, matter and energy on those phenomena's most fundamental levels. To boil it down to laymen's terms, the psionic aptitude of Quantakinesis deals with the manipulation of matter, radiation and psi energy. <H4>Basic Technique: Implicate Perception (a.k.a. Degrees of Separation)</H4>A Quantakinetic has the ability to not only perceive, but "understand," the Implicate Order -- the macrocosm of the universe enfolded within every fragment of it. These flashes of insight can give the Quantakinetic an idea of how the item or person being viewed fits into the "Cosmic All," revealing connections and interactions that may not be obvious. System: Roll Psi. A successful roll gives the psion an "understanding" of the place in the universe of an object or person. This does not work quite like the Clairsentient aptitude "Find the Complement," to which it is related. Rather, each success rolled gives the psion an understanding of one relation the object or person has to something else. For example, three successes rolled on a scan of a laser pistol may reveal the gun to be connected to a building in Seattle, a gold necklace the Quantakinetic found, and Orgotek Proxy Alex Cassel. Though the general strength of the relationships can be sensed, this technique would not reveal the nature of those connections -- whether Cassell used the gun to kill the necklace's owner in Seattle, or whether it was simply manufactured in Seattle by Cassell's company using gold contacts from the same mine as the necklace. This technique is a good way for Storytellers to steer players toward important clues without revealing too much information. The technique can also be used to determine whether there is a relation between two things. Something a person created, owned or worked with daily over a long period would display a strong connection, detectable with only one rolled success; something only casually handled or used once, or owned by a person known to someone known to the person being scanned, would require more successes to reveal the connection. The difficulty depends on the Storyteller's judgment of how distant the relationship is. <H3>Aptitude: Transmutation</H3><H4>* Subatomic Analysis</H4 >This technique gives the quantakinetic an intimate knowledge of the atomic structure of an object. Using this technique, a quantakinetic can analyze the structure, atomic and subatomic composition, interatomic and molecular bonds, energy state, physical properties and to some extent condition of an object. System: Roll Psi. The quantakinetic can analyze approximately 10kg of matter per success rolled. Success allows the quantakinetic to know the basic size, shape, mass, fundamental structure, composition and energy state of a single object. Impurities, defects, microfractures, stresses, fluctuations, drains, surges, Taint and other anomalies can be detected. This technique can also be used to detect the psionic resonances left in an object if it has been changed or manipulated using Taint or any of the other powers of this Aptitude; each additional success beyond one gives full information on one transformation performed. If the object has been transformed more than once, more recent transformations are detected first. At the basic level, this technique works only on a single object, not complex systems. Objects formed from multiple substances bonded together on a molecular level, such as a computer chip, can be analyzed, but not those made of discrete components, like an entire computer. At higher levels of Transmutation, more matter can be analyzed; each level allows simultaneous analysis of one more object and double the mass (e.g., at Transmutation 3, a quantakinetic can analyze up to 3 objects massing up to 40kg total). The range is equal to 5x Psi in meters. <H4>** Degrade (a.k.a. Entropy)</H4>Having mastered the ability to perceive the bonds that hold an object together, the psion can now mentally reach into an object and weaken or even snap those bonds. Generally, this ability weakens the target, making it vulnerable to other damage, but thin, weak, porous or brittle materials can crumble under its influence. The small amount of energy released by breaking these molecular bonds is released in the form of heat, light and inconsequential (but detectable) amounts of "soft" radiation. System: Spend one point and roll Psi. Each success rolled inflicts 1 Lethal Health Level on the target object; any Soak based on the object's inherent durability applies. (For example, armor that provides its wearer +2 Lethal Soak would subtract 2 dice to resist this degradation.) This power does not work on living creatures or bioware, since the psionic field of a living thing interferes with the ability. The object must be within the quantakinetic's personal noetic field; basically, this means touch, but the ability will still work through a vacuum suit's gloves, for example. <H4>*** Reshaping (a.k.a. Enthalpy, Reordering)</H4>Having mastered the ability to break molecular bonds at will, with this level of the aptitude, the psion can put them back together as well, in a different shape. Solids become malleable and flow like melted wax under the quantakinetic's will, returning to their original state upon completion, but retaining the new shape. The Quantakinetic cannot change the mass or state of the material; a 1-kg wooden block will still weigh 1 kg after it's been transformed into the shape of a duck. Likewise, volume can only change by expanding the shape to enclose empty space, such as changing a ball bearing into a larger, hollow metal sphere. It's a simple matter to use this technique to repair broken or Degraded (** Transmutation) items, earning it the nicknames "Enthalpy" and "Reordering." System: Spend one point and roll psi. Each success allows the psion to reshape 1kg of matter. The Quantakinetic need not roll a number of successes equal to the entire mass of an object; partial effects are possible. (A Quantakinetic using this Mode to cut a hole in a hatchway, for example, need only reshape the metal around the edge, allowing the untouched middle to be removed.) This technique is useful for crafting mechanical replacement parts in the field, making melee weapons out of found objects, and disassembling objects and mechanisms. It does not work on "living" bioware or other living things; formerly living objects, wood for example, is affected though. The range is Psi in meters; at level 4, this increases to 2 x Psi; at level 5, range is 5 x Psi. The amount of matter that can be affected also doubles for each level of Transmutation above 3: Successes x 2kg at level 4, Successes x 4kg at level 5. <H4>**** Chemokinesis</H4>At this advanced level, the bonds that hold atoms together in molecules are the psion's to manipulate at will. The Quantakinetic may change the composition of matter in any way possible within the bounds of a normal chemical reaction: solid carbon can be precipitated from the carbon dioxide in a spaceship's air supply to make the air breathable again, sea water can be broken down to extract hydrogen fuel for the fusion reactor, or a hatch that's rusted shut can be "uncorroded." Note that some reactions can release large amounts of energy and can be dangerous to be near; rapid metallic oxidation can generate enough heat to warp or even melt the substance. This Aptitude can also be used offensively; forcing the dissolved nitrogen in a person's blood to suddenly change to gas, for example, can be cripplingly painful, while making it combine with dissolved carbon dioxide and water to form nitric acid can be deadly. System: Spend two Psi points and roll. The amount of matter affected is exponential: 1kg for 1 success, 4kg for 2 successes, 9kg at 3 successes, 16kg at 4, and so on. A substance has to be present in some quantity for a reaction to take place; a Quantakinetic can't "cast a fireball" by burning off the hydrogen in the atmosphere, since free hydrogen is extremely rare in normal air (just as oxygen is too rare for the same trick to work in a gas giant's hydrogen atmosphere). Chemokinesis also can't make something from nothing, or something from something else; steel can't be fashioned from sea water or air, or olaminium from steel. The basic elements must be present. When used directly against a living target, a Firearms roll is required to hit; undodged successes on the Firearms roll do not add to the Psi roll for the purposes of damage. If the attack is successful, the target takes Bashing or Lethal Health Levels (attacker's preference) equal to the Successes on the Psi roll. For either use, the range of this Mode is 10 x Psi in meters; it increases to 25 x Psi in meters at 5 Transmutation. <H4>***** The Philosopher's Stone</H4>This Mode is the ultimate in matter control. Subatomic particles are the quantakinetic's playground. Protons, neutrons, electrons and the like can be removed from, added to or rearranged within atoms to make one substance into another. Such control is extremely difficult, so it can only be used on extremely small quantities of matter. With this mode, lead can truly be transformed to gold -- or diamond, or olaminium, or glass, or whatever. The Quantakinetic's control over subatomic particles and interatomic energies is so complete at this level of mastery that the release of heat or radiation from a transmutation is practically nonexistent. System: Spend three points and roll Psi. The quantakinetic may transform 10 grams of matter into any other substance of equal mass per success rolled. Transmuting high-energy or high-atomic weight substances such as uranium, plutonium or olaminium is at +1 difficulty, as is creating complex organic substances, such as wood, blood or foodstuffs. Range is touch. <H3>Aptitude: Radiakinesis</H3><H4>* Radiation Sense</H4>The quantakinetic with this ability is continuously aware of the radiation impinging on her personal noetic field. The psion learns to "tune out" the feelings of normal light and background radiation, but lasers, X-rays, gamma radiation, particle radiation (alpha and beta), microwaves, infrared and ultraviolet are immediately noticeable. System: No roll is necessary for the psion to continually sense incoming radiation. A successful Psi roll allows the psion to also analyze the intensity, frequency, and direction of the radiation. Note that the radiation must strike the psion for the ambient sense to be triggered; to analyze a source behind a lead shield, or a particle accelerator pointing away from the psion, the quantakinetic must spend a Psi point and roll. The range of this kind of sense is 25x Psi in meters. <H4>** Control Reaction</H4>The quantakinetic with this ability can affect the speed and direction of flow of free subatomic particles. Since this kind of particle flow usually does not occur in nature, this ability's primary use is to speed up or slow down atomic reactions. Coherent, high-energy flows such as that generated by particle accelerators can also be affected. The psion cannot cause a reaction to begin where one does not exist already -- detonating a nuclear warhead is impossible, for example. System: Spend a point and roll psi. Each success rolled dampens or accelerates the reaction by 20 percent. Therefore, it would take 5 successes to completely stop a self-sustaining reaction -- or accelerate it enough to go critical. (Successes may be accumulated in an extended action, but if the quantakinetic ends her effort or is interrupted before 5 successes are gathered, the reaction will return to normal within a few minutes.) This level of effect is in relation to a hyperfusion reactor big enough to power a typical small spaceship (like a Trey or Raven) or a small town. Overloading an arcology's main reactor would obviously bring a difficulty penalty of up to +5 from the Storyteller, as would dampening the blast of a small battlefield nuclear weapon. (The primary difference between those two examples is you only get one try to stop the bomb.) The range is 5x Psi in meters. At 3 Radiakinesis, the range is 10x Psi in meters; at 4 Radiakinesis, the range is 15x Psi; at 5 Radiakinesis, the range is 25x Psi. (A Quantakinetic would be foolish to use this mode to cause a reactor to overload or melt down before reaching this level.) <H4>*** Radiation Shield</H4>The quantakinetic can attune her psionic field to incoming radiation sources, accelerating the decay of that radiation before it has a chance to do her harm. The psion using this ability shimmers in a halo of IR, visible and UV light released by the decaying radioactive particles, the glow's intensity proportionate to the energy of the radiation being blocked. (Therefore, it's not a useful way to make oneself invisible by blocking incoming light.) System: Spend one Psi point for protection lasting 5x Psi in minutes. "Soft" radiation sources can be safely ignored while the Shield is in place. The quantakinetic also can use her current Psi pool as "soak" dice against lethally concentrated or "hard" radiation sources, such as lasers, microwaves, gamma radiation -- or Aberrant Taint. At 4 Radiakinesis, this protection lasts 15 minutes per Psi point; it lasts 1 hour per Psi at 5 Radiakinesis. <H4>**** Irradiate</H4>The quantakinetic mentally excites molecules in the environment, causing them to emit an intense burst of electromagnetic radiation ranging fromvisible and UV light to more damaging X-rays, microwaves and gamma radiation. This burst is not coherent, like a laser; it spreads out as it travels from the source, affecting all targets in a cone-shaped area. The effect drops off farther from the source as the radiation burst spreads out. System: Spend 2 Psi; a successful Psi roll is needed to hit. A target within 10 meters of the attack takes the Quantakinetic's current Psi score (before spending the 2 Psi to do this) in Lethal damage; for every 10 meters away from the attack, this damage drops by 1 level. Radiation Immunity or Electromagnetic Shield (*** Photokinesis) provides Soak against this, as do radiation-proof cover (one Health Level for each 5cm of water, 2cm of structural-grade steel, 5mm of lead or 2mm of olaminium of FULL COVER; partial cover doesn't help) and some forms of armor. The area of effect is a 30-degree cone originating at the attacker. If the target takes 4 or more (not soaked) levels of Lethal damage from this type of attack (cumulative), the Storyteller may feel it appropriate to inflict long-term damage as well, such as radiation poisoning, cancer and/or reproductive system damage. Though the effective maximum range of the attack is 10x Psi in meters, such an attack is detectable by a Geiger counter (or another Quantakinetic with Radiation Sense) from a distance of 50x Psi in meters. This Mode has little to no effect on nonliving matter. <H4>***** Detonation (a.k.a. M2E or The Bomb)</H4>This potent Mode harnesses the most fundamental forces of the universe to convert matter directly to energy. The smallest amounts of matter release staggering amounts of energy; even in the near-vacuum of space, there is enough material floating around to muster an impressive explosion. This is a Mode that was not thrown around lightly, even by the Proxy. System: Spend 4 points and roll Psi. The explosion resulting from the conversion of matter to energy must furthermore be targeted with a Firearms roll, to a maximum range of 25x Psi in meters. The massive explosion does 2 HL of Lethal damage per Success rolled to everything within 5m of the blast center; damage drops off at 2 HL per 5m past this radius. Obviously, only a suicidal Quantakinetic would cause a detonation anywhere near herself, as Radiation Shield provides no protection against the deadly heat and force of the blast. <H3>Subquantakinesis</H3><H4>* Attunement</H4>The psion with this ability is sensitive to the subquantum flow of the universe, and is able to feel disturbances in that flow caused by the use of Psi modes or Aberrants' Taint powers. With practice, he can learn to tell the difference between different kinds of Psi modes just from the "shape" of the ripples made in this flow. He can even feel the resonances left in a person or object after it has been subjected to Psi or Taint abilities. System: Roll at least one success on a Psi roll to detect the use of Psi or Taint-based abilities in the quantakinetic's general vicinity. This works like a Perception roll, in that it can be triggered at any time by the use of such abilities. Every 10 meters past the first is a +1 to difficulty, making the effective maximum range of this sense 10x Psi in meters. Additional successes after the first gives the quantakinetic more information: +1 success tells what aptitude is being used and the rough distance to its source; +2 tells what Mode group is in use and the general direction to the source; +3 tells which exact Mode is in use and the precise location of the source; and +4 successes tells the power level of the source and the degree of success of that particular attempt, and allows targeting the source with other abilities (such as Redirection or Attenuation (Subquantakinesis ***)). Adding +1 difficulty allows the quantakinetic to attempt to detect the lasting effects of psionic abilities used earlier, such as a Norca currently disguised with Transformation, a psion carrying a formatted bioapp or anyone who's been healed with Iatrosis recently (read "recently" as: "within the amount of time it would have taken to heal the damage normally"). <H4>** Redirection</H4>Psions spend their lives immersed in the subquantum flow of the universe. Unlike other psions, the Quantakinetic with this aptitude can actually "stick his hand into" that flow, diverting, guiding, intensifying or even blocking it. System: Spend one Psi and roll. Every two successes can be used as a +1 difficulty, or 1 automatic success, to another psion's psi action. Effective range is 10x Psi in meters. At higher levels, Redirection can be used against multiple targets simultaneously: two at Radiakinesis 3, four at Radiakinesis 4, six at Radiakinesis 5. A separate point expenditure and Psi roll is still required for each target. <H4>*** Attenuation</H4>With this mode, the Quantakinetic can literally pull Psi energy from one living being and give it to another. She may redirect her own noetic energy to "recharge" her friends, or pull such energy from others -- willing or unwilling -- to replenish her own personal stores. This horrific form of "psychic vampirism" is rarely used, not only because of the terrible stigma attached to its use -- it bears more than a passing similarity to Taint, after all -- but because using it in this manner becomes subtly addictive. System:Spend one point and roll Psi. Every 2 successes, rounded up, equals one point of Psi that may be transferred, in either direction, between the Quantakinetic and the target. Note that when taking points from a target, at least 3 successes are needed for the Quantakinetic to experience a net gain in Psi. This transfer takes 1 minute per Psi point transferred at the base level. At Subquantakinesis 4, it takes 15 seconds to transfer 1 Psi point; at Subquantakinesis 5, this transfer takes only 5 seconds per point. Range is touch. <H4>**** Quantum Probability Manipulation (a.k.a. the Schrodinger Effect)</H4>"There's no such thing as luck -- merely the fortuitous arrangement of random circumstances." Or so the saying goes. Tell that to a Quantakinetic chaos researcher, though, and you'll get a half-hour lecture on subatomic events, subquantum linkages and quasi-randomness. And you probably won't be any clearer on the subject when it's over. But it can be boiled down to five points: 1) it is impossible to predict with accuracy any truly random event, such as the decay of a particle; 2) the act of observing a system changes it; 3) a system that can have a finite number of states, such as A or B, exists in an indefinite state of "subquantum flux," neither A nor B, until it is observed, and therefore "assigned" a state by the act of observation (the "Schrodinger's Cat" phenomenon); 4) events such as rolling a die or flipping a coin (which chaos scientists call "quasi-random macroevents") are actually not random, we merely call them so because their outcomes are determined by influences beyond our normal perception or control; and 5) if you're a Quantakinetic, you can both perceive and control those underlying subquantum phenomena, and thereby decide for yourself whether the cat is alive or dead before you open the box. (This Mode is responsible for the macabre joke that the real reason the Chitra Bhanu were wiped out is that they cheated at cards.) System: Spend 2 points and roll Psi. A successful roll allows the Quantakinetic to "force" a random or quasi-random event to come out as the Quantakinetic desires, by directing subquantum energy to change the chaotic system that affects the event's outcome. Simple events, like determining a coin toss or the spin of a gun chamber in Russian roulette, can be forced with one success; a roll of several dice takes two; "jimmying" a slot machine or the "lucky guess" of a computer password takes three or four; hitting the Luna Lotto requires five or more. This cannot be used to influence non-random events, such as causing an opponent's gun to jam or finding an "extra" ammo clip you forgot you had, however "lucky" those occurances would be at the time. Range is 2 x Psi in meters at level 4, 5 x Psi in meters at level 5 (which means that unless you're in the studio on Olympus when the number is drawn, you still aren't going to hit the Luna Lotto.) <H4>***** Transsubstantiation</H4>Subquantum energy comes in two forms, the "free" Psi energy that flows through all things, and the energy that is "bound" in the structure of reality, giving it form and substance. This most potent of psionic modes restructures matter and energy on the most fundamental level. Natural flows of psi energy can be shaped and directed, frozen into set patterns and woven into the very tapestry of reality, literally making "something from nothing." The Quantakinetic using this Mode may also extract "bound" subquantum energy directly from the fabric of the universe, causing affected matter to be structurally weakened, lose intrinsic physical properties such as mass, gravity or chemical properties, become partly insubstantial or even vanish from existence. System: Spend 3 points and roll Psi. 10 grams of simple matter -- homogenous elements, such as oxygen, or simple compounds, like acids, alloys or ceramics -- may be created "out of nothing" per success rolled. This matter behaves in every way like its naturally occuring equivalents. Reducing matter to free, unstructured subquantum energy is considerably easier; 1 kg of matter may be utterly destroyed per success rolled. A contiguous object does not dissolve piece by piece; instead, the entire object becomes "less real" as successes are accumulated, until it is completely gone. Objects only partly affected by extraction of subquantum energy may manifest bizarre physical properties; the Storyteller should feel free to use her imagination. Unlike the Transmutation ** mode Degrade, an object affected by the destructive use of this Mode receives no Soak, and when it's gone, there's absolutely nothing left, as if it never existed. Only Attunement (Subquantakinesis *) can distinguish between the destructive form of this Mode and the effects of Taint; in fact, while this mode cannot cause direct damage to a living being, it is suspected to cause Taint-like diseases in humans.
  9. <H1>This Is An OBC News Special Report</H1><H3><A HREF="regans@netdoor.com">By Hobbie Regan</A></H3><BR CLEAR><HR><IMG SRC="Http://www.nprime.net/images/obclogo.jpg" ALT="OBC logo"> [special report bumper] [cue announcer] We interrupt this program for an OBC News Special Report. Live from our studios in Olympus, Luna, is OBC News Correspondent Carl O'Brien. [cut to OBC studio] Good morning. Luna-born gravball star Carl Losoya is dead this morning, the victim of a brazen daylight attack at the stadium where he had just won his sixth consecutive match to secure a berth in this month's all-Luna playoffs. Losoya was pronounced dead by attending physicians at the Beaulac Clinic at 5:30 this morning, Lunar standard time, twenty minutes after the attack. The cause of death, according to clinic spokesperson Sonja Ganz, was massive internal hemorraging caused by a sonic weapon at close or point-blank range. <IMG SRC="Http://www.nprime.net/images/obrien.jpg" ALT="OBC Correspondent Carl O'Brien" WIDTH=276 HEIGHT=185 ALIGN="RIGHT"> Losoya, age 25, was a promising pro gravball player with the Apoderado Designs Tour, and had won his last set of matches to secure a playoff berth earlier this morning. Lunar authorities are keeping a tight lid on this investigation, but here's what happened this morning at the Toshi Ginko-Fengming Sports Complex, according to eyewitnesses. As Losoya left court 7 at approximately 5:10 a.m., he was immediately surrounded by a throng of fans and media when a sonic blast sent the crowd running for cover. In the confusion, the gunman fled. The gunman, whom witnesses described as a Sudamerican male, is at large and eluding police and military officials. An ISRAn has been requested to investigate the scene of the assault. No other information is being revealed by lunar authorities at this hour. No one is sure of a motive, but speculation runs wild. Some have guessed at a Norca involvement due to the recent suspension of three Sudamerican players earlier thismonth for the use of illegal substances. In a brief statement, Victor Trabaj, Norca spokesperson, officially denied any involvement by his Order in the incident. [cut to Trabaj tape] "We have never condoned the use of violence against others as a means of coercion, nor do we support those that do." [cut to OBC studio] Others have pointed to the possible involvement of organized crime from the Pit due to illicit gambling that goes on at the gravball games. There has been rumors of a reward of 1,000,000 yuan being placed on the assailant's head, but authorities have no leads as to who may be offering this bounty or even if it is a legitimate offer. At this hour, the only thing that is for certain is that Luna has lost one of its finest athletes. In an interview earlier today, legendary sports commentator Joah Cris characterized the murder as an "atrocity commited against the citizens of Luna by Earth dwellers." [cut to Cris tape] "I believe the fact that Carl was the first major sports figure not from Earth singled him out by various xenophobes and extremist factions from Earth. These people represent the manifest underlying tones of animosity towards non-Earth industry and media superstars. This kind of unspoken hatred has been going on now for years. It was only a matter of time." [cut to OBC studio] Lewis Baker, a spectator who made the trip from Earth to watch Losoya play, had this to say about Cris' statement. [cut to Baker tape] "I've always respected Joah Cris as a sportscaster, and usually find him to be veryintelligent and informed, but he's wrong about the public sentiment of Earth towards Luna. I'm from Australia, came up for the games just three days ago, and I love the game and I love Luna. The moon is like a second home to me -- my Camelot in the sky, and Gravball is simply the greatest game ever. Both the game and Luna are more than just escapes for me, they are my hopes and ideals. I'm as shocked and saddened as anyone by what just happened here. I think I speak for most of the sports fans of Earth when I say both Luna and Gravball represent the aspirations of humankind -- to go further, to reach higher, and achieve the stars. Why would one of us kill our hopes and dreams?" [cut to Olympus Central tape] [voice-over] This was the scene a few minutes ago at Olympus Central tube station as Marco Stoyanovich, Losoya's coach and manager, arrived after speaking to investigators at Fengming Station. The woman with him is holovid actor Gloria Moran, of the daytime drama "Luna Clinic," who was linked romantically with Losoya in news reports two months ago. Neither Stoyanovich nor Moran would give a statement to our reporters on the scene. [cut to OBC studio] Funeral services have been set for Tuesday, 13:00 hours at Fengming Station, Deck 5, Docking Bay C. Tune in to OBC News later tonight for up-to-the-minute information on this shocking crime. Once again, gravball champion Carl Losoya, dead at 25 of a brazen daylight attack. I'm Carl O'Brien and this has been an OBC News Special Report. We now return to Strike Team Psion, already in progress.
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