Thread: Eclipse Phase: This Mortal Coil
Wednesday, 23rd May, 2012, 08:36 PM #21
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Just Because You're Paranoid...
Sieran glanced at the others, frowning as he saw Raikov and Ishmael toggle their safeties over tacticalShared.
"Remember, use of weapons is a last resort. Business and gunfire don't mix."
"What if your business is shooting people?" Ishmael said, his grin revealing too-perfect teeth.
"Today it isn't," Sieran said, triggering calming pheremones to keep the seemingly trigger-happy mercenary cool.
The tram stopped and Ishmael leapt off, shimmering into invisibility as he went.
"Scouting ahead," he sent over tacticalShared before Sieran could say anything.
"Already there," AltecLansing(1) said, his swarmoid crawling out of the tram. "I've hacked all the video spimes and cameras in the area and it looks pretty tame. There's a few dozen people scattered about, mostly passing through looks like. Sphere's still pretty messed up - what exactly did she use to do that?"
"Years of training and probably weeks of planning," Hacron replied.
Sieran glanced at the Olympian with his suitcase and clunky-looking old revolver and wondered again exactly why the man was here...
"Hm... interesting..." AltecLansing(1) said over tacticalShared. There was a long pause.
"I'll bite, what exactly was interesting?" Ishmael replied. "In position by the way, not much going on here. Looks clear to approach."
Sieran grabbed a float-line and pulled himself towards the Sphere - or what was left of it. Raikov's androgynous and heavily-armed Sylph floated close behind, followed by Hacron as AltecLansing(1)'s swarm seethed along behind them in a metallic mass.
As the tunnel opened into the Sphere's cave-like 0-g chamber, AltecLansing(1) piped in again over tacticalShared. "It looks like... yep, someone else is accessing the feeds in this area too. Mesh alias WingNuts. Whoever it is just got a good look at all of us."
"Damnit," Raikov said out-loud behind Sieran.
Sieran turned to him/her. "What's wrong with that? We're just going to talk to her after all."
"Not the end of the world I guess, just don't like when people I might have to kill are one step ahead of me."
"No killing! Jeez, everyone does remember we're just trying to make contact and have a little chat, right?"
"I'll remember that as long as you remember that the last people that went to have a 'little chat' with Ridley are splattered all over the inside of that," Raikov said, pointing at the blackened, sealed-off remnants of the Sphere. "This isn't my favorite morph, but it's all I've got so I'd like to keep it intact."
"Fine. Think of those things, just don't shoot first." Sieran looked around at the people drifting by. Their expensive morphs drew some curious glances, but for the most part they were ignored.
"WingNuts just disconnected, before I could get a trace or any further information." AltecLansing(1) said. A moment later, Sieran got a message from OmniCorp:
Contact from Ridley - meet at the following coordinates...
Sieran shook his head as Archangel threw up a diagram of Extropia over tacticalShared in a swirl of virtual golden feathers.
AltecLansing(1) commented as their destination became clear. "Great. That's in a remote ventilation access. Almost no feeds - data, audio, visual, or otherwise in the area... and all the ones I can find are offline. Looks like the area where we're supposed to go is just off a three-tunnel junction next to a heavy filtration system. There could be anything there right now..."
Sieran shook his head and ordered Archangel to plot the fastest route to where Ridley is at. "Doesn't matter what's there except that we aren't and we're supposed to be. If you don't like it, I'll let you step out of your contract now."
By the time the golden beam of their route had finished tracing its way through the diagram of Extropia's passageways that spun slowly before them in VR, there was no further dissent and they were pushing their way towards another tram.
Let's just hope I'm right and they are wrong in their paranoia, Sieran thought. What profit would there be in Ridley blowing me up?
The thought comforted him until he reminded himself that they were on the border between the Inner System of Hypercorp profiteering and the Outer System of anarchist ideology where reputation was everything and profit meant nothing...
All Good Things
Bose sat in has apartment, looking at the windows of his high rise. Every pane of the window had a different view: each of the team's visual feeds via tacticalShared, his forks tooling around in Extropia's environmental and maintenance systems, and the few feeds still up near the junction where the team was arriving.
He watched Alexander's fork - Ishmael's new muse - hack into a GnatDrone that was surveying the ventilation system and send it off ahead to scout. He focused it on his feed.
He was distracted by messages popping up on his screen.
OmniCorp←Determine value of package
Sieran hadn't shared his link to OmniCorp, but Bose though it might be important to know everything that was going on, not just what Sieran was telling them.
The Gnat spotted three heavy battlesuits standing around a cheap female Splicer. A moment later, the group reached the junction where they stood.
"You Ridley?" Sieran said.
"You from Omnicorp?" she replied.
The group was fanned out behind Sieran, weapons visible but not in hand. The heavily armed battlesuits were discouraging them form that sort of thing, judging by the text "chatter" that began flying on tacticalShared. Much of it was combat prognosis and analysis, laced with dismay and profanity at the strength of Ridley's protection element.
She motioned to the 'suits. "Sorry about the precautions, you can never be too sure with business like this in places like this."
"How do I know you're Ridley?"
"How do I know you're Omnicorp? And who are these?" She gestured at the odd mix of armed, expensive Morphs arrayed behind him.
Sieren queried jumped over to the Direct Action site and checked to see if their mercs were uniformed, having scanned their armor with the Gnat and found no distinctive markings. It seemed that "Direct Action mercs are anonymous and absolutely discretionary". Given the hardware these suits were carrying and the quality of the suits themselves, these were probably Direct Action. He forwarded the info to Sieran.
"You know I'm Omnicorp since I asked if you were Ridley. These are my equivalent of your Direct Action associates."
The splicer nodded. It was probably a cheap throw-away. It wasn't particularly attractive, stringy blond hair, plain features, no obvious augmentations. "Then we can do business."
She unslung a satchel from her side and extended it towards him. Bose noticed with interest that even Ishmael and Alexander's wide spectrum sensory enhancements coundn't penetrate the material.
"What's in there?" Sieran said, looking at it without taking it.
"It's not a bomb. If I wanted to blow you up, I would have already. There's a small air bladder inside. The air is from Earth, you can take a sample for authentication."
He took the satchel and handed it back to Hacron. The Olympian blinked at it, then took a small device from a pocket and extracted an air sample, a chemical analysis of which was immediately forwarded to Koch. He replied within seconds.
Sieran nodded at the Splicer. "So it's from Earth, what does that prove?"
"On its own? Nothing. If you play this XP recording though, it correlates nicely."
She proffered a small black box on AR, labelled "EarthWing".
Bose sent a warning to everyone over tacticalShared not to open it until he could analyze it. He downloaded it and scanned it thoroughly.
→It's clean. It's somewhat fragmentary and hyper-accelerated in places. I don't know how many gaps there are in all.
He told his forks to warn him if anything happened in meatspace and initiated the XP.
They dove out of the derelict they'd towed from the belt as it began to heat up in the Earth's outer atmosphere. Riley let her Morph fall free for several minutes before activating any electronics in case any of the satellites in orbit were targeting down into the outer atmosphere.
The others drifted into formation around her, Davin's Reaper tank-disk to her right, Panthereen's ubiquitous Swarmoid clumped up to her left, Claudia's heavily-armed Fury taking point as Riley's electronics-laden Ghost took the rear of the diamond.
A swirling cloud that had to be a few trillion nanobots swarmed over a mountain range to the north while sparkling trailers of snow drifted off the remnants of a large city ringing a massive crater to the east. South was the burned, blackened skeleton of a forest, while to the west was the pristine-looking extension of the northern range, a thick forest of evergreens still somehow existent.
Bose felt the accelerated section of the playback begin and the experience took on a surreal hyperactive feeling.
They activated their reaction packs. They landed. They traveled through the forest. They found a cabin with two skeletons with broken skulls and shotguns in their laps. Davin took a pack of baseball cards out of a backpack. They fought off a strange swarm of semi-organic killing machines that landed on trees and looked just like branches, then launched out in attempt to impale them and blend with the trees again. They spotted a sprawling yellow facility that looked abandoned. They EMPed a sentient nano-swarm that swirled out to disassemble them. They entered the facility.
Bose noted the gaps in the XP, but couldn't be sure of their durations.
Davin's Reaper was heavily damaged and Claudia was dragging it through the snow towards the launch facility, firing a rifle with her other hand at the killing machines that were tracking them. One of Panthereen's bug-bots exploded in a shower of sparks and metal as an energy round flew past her.
They fought their way through the forest. A giant war machine rose out of the ground in front of them and they expended most of the rest of their ammo taking it out. They stopped for a moment and extracted Davin's cortical stack from his failing Reaper. They reached the facility. Ridley used her morph's one functioning arm to remove the cortical stack from one of the few bugs left of Panthereen's swarm and Claudia's head that she'd stolen from the Headhunters.
She placed the yellow football-sized containment vessel into the rocket. She activated a facility bot Panthereen had directed to extract her cortical stack, load it into the rocket, and launch it. A cold metal prong touched the back of her neck and there was a sharp pain.
"You'll notice the XP has deleted itself," the Splicer said. "And just so you know, I know who all of you are thanks to your visit to the Sphere. If things go awry here..."
"Surely no threats are needed," Sieran said. "If you have whatever is in that containment device, I'm sure Omnicorp is interested."
Bose checked in to see how Bose(1) and (2) were doing with the other task he'd asked them to do before he'd immersed himself in the XP.
Coming along, your hunch might be right, but we need a bit more analysis before I can offer any solid conclusions, Bose(2) replied.
"Do you know why we picked that particular facility?" she said. "Out of anywhere on Earth we could have landed?"
"I'm sure you'll tell me."
"It's the TITAN facility. Not one of the ones they built, but the one US Command tried to hit hardest when they admitted they'd built the TITANs and the TITANs were out of their control. I'm sure you've seen the images of the Nanoswarm Nukes? When TITAN nanoswarms surrounded their facilities and consumed the energy of several nuclear blasts? The good news and bad news is I don't know what's inside the device I have..."
"You don't know?" Sieran said. "You went to the place where the TITANs supposedly originated and don't know what you stole?"
"We intentionally deleted the memories. Look at it this way: if we knew exactly what it was and revealed it to the Hypercorps, they'd either decide they wanted nothing to do with it, or kill us to take it. I get nothing or dead. If it's an unknown, it's not worth going through the hassle of killing us and our backups and finding the thing with the risk we'll destroy it or try to get back at them, but they know a small... investment... might pay off in massive dividends. The fact that I don't know what it is means they can't know and that doubt is all that's keeping me alive."
"That makes a strange kind of sense," Sieran said, nodding. "I have their authority to make a judgement call and an offer."
She hesitated and bit her lip. At that moment, Panthereen contacted Raikov, who admitted him to tacticalShared. The NovaCrab spread its arms dramatically.
"I found her! I pieced it all together because I'm brilliant. She's meeting with Omnicorp agents right now!"
Raikov shook his head on AR. "I know, we're standing right next to her-"
Bose(2)'s message blinked on Bose's AR and he nodded, forwarding it to everyone else on tacticalShared.
"That's not Ridley."
"What?" The message came from several of the others simultaneously. Sieran continued to talk with her, but even he wasn't entirely listening to what he was saying.
"Oh!" A blue teardrop appeared over the NovaCrab in AR. "How do you know?"
"I ran biometrics, voice patterns, personal analysis, and pieces of that XP that I was feeding live to my forks, comparing this 'Ridley' in front of us and the one from all the records we have. This isn't her."
"Our hacker is way better than you," Raikov said to Panthereen.
"Oh, so what do you do now?" Panthareen said, ignoring the jab.
"Well, I wanted to shoot her in the head, but the others have been telling me that's a bad idea. For all we know, she's under the control of whatever she took from that pre-TITAN facility," Raikov said.
Bose scanned their chat log. He'd been focusing on other things and missed most of his companions' discussion. He sent a message privately to Raikov.
Bose→Was saying there's an easy score here out on the underground Mesh channels the best idea?
Raikov←Just stirring the pot. Didn't take anyway.
"So just sell it right now, I'll have OmniCorp transfer the funds. Just give me the location of the containment device."
Not-Ridley hesitated. Bose knew Sieran's pheromones and precisely engineered persuasiveness and charisma were having their effect. She had to know she was going to be dealing with a Sylph, so why did whoever it was come in a Splicer and not some bio-free CASE mod?
Something didn't feel right.
Sieran extended his hand in the universal sign of "I want to help, trust me."
Whoever it was inside the Splicer made their choice.
Took me 3 months to get it posted (seemed longer than that actually) but it's up.
That's as far as we've gotten. There's a minute possibility that we'll play again, but I'm not holding my breath.
The good news, though, is that I now have a blog that one of my friends - Bose's player - and I are using to write (mostly) scifi/fantasy short stories on a couple times a week. If you're interested, check it out here.
I too am really enjoying this. Beautifully evocative and very entertaining.
I have only read as far as the second page, I shall save the rest for tomorrow. I particularly enjoyed the sidebar conversation. I didn't understand a lot of it, but get the feeling that neither did the people having the conversation - which made it all the more amusing.
The image attachments to each chapter are a very nice touch.
And damn. What a way to end a story.
Well, here's to hoping that you get to play this again, and we get to find out what is in the sphere and who survives the fallout.
Thanks for posting this SH. When I get some more time, I'll wonder over to your blog and have a read.
Thanks @doghead , glad you enjoyed it.
If my RL gaming group came apart I might be able to get this going again, but as is just finding creative time for myself can be a challenge sometimes much less trying to get any of these guys in any sort of consistent game across half the country with everyone's different schedules, jobs, commitments, and relationships forming an imposing web. The stars pretty much aligned for the game to run as long as it did and that was before I was in a relationship too.
There's also a few issues I have with the game since my initial fairly glowing review; namely that the characters start extremely powerful and advancement is, by default, extremely slow and doesn't have very far upwards to go. The high starting skill seems to result in the equivalent of critical success on every-other skill roll right off the bat...
It also takes me a while to re-grok everything when I sit down to run it and I always feel like I'm just barely keeping track of everything that is or could be going on between AR, VR, pure Mesh, and Meatspace interactions and trying to figure out on the fly how intrastellar Megacorps, post-scarcity anarchist collectives, and the free agents in-between would realistically behave. It's mentally exhausting even if the system itself is pretty simple (basically, the characters succeed with flying colors on almost everything they try).
Hope you enjoy the blog, starting to figure out what I want to write so getting some more long-term stories going amidst the scattered ideation of random inspiration and picture challenges.
I know what you mean. I haven't done any actual tabletop gaming in years. PbP has been pretty much my only means of scratching the itch. PbP has the advantage that you don't have to coordinate schedules. But it is s.l.o.w. And game tend to implode a lot.
From the story hours it seems like your 're-grokking' Fu is pretty strong - the world seemed really coherent and seamless. I know that I would consider that a win.
Good luck with the writing. I like the idea of picture inspired short stories. It seems like a really good opportunistic way of getting some words under the belt. I shall have to put some time aside and have a go at it myself.
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