Last time on Eclipse Phase: Clouds of a Morning Star…
Location: Sacajawea Patera caldera in Ishtar Terra, the surface of Venus.
Active Gamera Security (GamSec) Personnel: The infomorph DANAI in a q-morph, the other infomorph Wandering Ina in a Venusian flyer morph, Billy Cable Jr. paranoid terrorist in a neotenic pod morph and Hokusai Tarnungshaut – neo-octopus artist in another q-morph.
The Venusian chapter of Fastball Express, under the cover name of Gamera Security, had been commissioned by Morningstar Constellation security executive Kage Musha to investigate possible terrorist activity among the aerostats of Venus. They began operating on the orbital habitat Gerlach, then established a branch in a dirigible docked in the aerostat Aphrodite Prime. Their investigations brought to light that the orbital habitat Timothea Bush-Kennedy, also known as Timbuk3, had been attacked by TITANs during the Fall more than a decade ago, broke up and crashed into the surface of Venus, no one knows exactly where.
When the reclusive artist Marquis d’Homem-Christos farcasted to Aphrodite Prime to display the unique psycho-empathic sculptures he acquired from the aliens known as the Factors, GamSec discovered a terrorist organisation known as the Free Fall Network (FFN) were violently against the terraforming of the surface of Venus. The terraforming drive was headed by the Solid Ground Initiative (SGI), a patron of which was the Marquis himself.
Their investigations led them to the aerostat’s Aviary where genengineered avian fauna were being developed for atmospheric terraforming. They discovered that the Aviary was being renovated and expanded by a hypercorp named Ikea-Tata Constructions. The construction site hid a flexbot combiner tank which GamSec and their allies neutralised before further damage was done.
Ikea-Tata Constructions, GamSec discovered, was created by a clique of Venusian thrill-seeking skydivers who was involved in a fatal crash to the surface, all cortical stacks lost. After their backups had been reinstated in new morphs they were compelled to form the hypercorp to vie for terraforming construction projects across Venus.
The Marquis security job also led them to the FFN terrorist agent Saladin Pelita who only appeared to them as an AR projection. After the Marquis returned home, Saladin was successful in somehow poisoning all the animals in the Aviary. Later, Kage identified him as Baron Julian Robbari, the heir to Soletta Corp. Robbari had instated a former employee of Timbuk3, Shelby Cobra, from storage and set him to work in city cybersecurity. Using remote surveillance, GamSec had discovered that Shelby had been bouncing line-of-sight signals off Gerlach’s hull mirrors. The signals had been directed back to Venus, to a caldera on Ishtar Terra called Sacajawea Patera.
Under Kage’s authority, GamSec travelled to the mining aerostat Lucifer where the ursomorph members of the Teddy Bear Roadside Picnic Company salvage hypercorp where their CEO himself Mr. Snuggles decided to fly them to Sacajawea Patera to Shelby’s signal was bounced, where according to Mr. Snuggles was an area claimed by a rival salvage hypercorp known as Ladyboys Salvage and Repo. They had claimed the area, but kept it dormant for months.
What were the Ladyboys protecting and what did it have to do with Shelby Cobra, Saladin Pelita, Free Fall Network, their anti-terraforming drive and attempts to keep the Marquis d’Homem-Christos away from Venus?
At the caldera, Mr. Snuggles and GamSec discovered a large fragment of a fallen orbital habitat that against the laws of physics had survived uncontrolled planetfall. It was being monitored by a Ladyboys domed encampment. A closer inspection identified the half-buried debris as Lake Okeechobee Research Facility, a compartment from Timbuk3! Its systems still active, it scanned and identified Billy Cable Junior’s mesh ID as William Cable, confirming memories stolen from Shelby Cobra earlier that his father had been on the habitat before it crashed into Venus.
And despite Mr. Snuggles’ protests, Cable was determined to get into the fallen fragment to discover its secrets.
It took DANAI’s persuasive skills to make Mr. Snuggles agree to the plan. (Persuasion success 43/60.) He only agreed when they informed him of a possible TITAN threat. The plan was for Mr. Snuggles to fly in with the lander, jam all comms as it approached allowing GamSec to attack the Ladyboys’ q-morph guard. The universal airlock would then be used to board the fragment of Timbuk3 station for boarding from within the lander.
After Mr. Snuggles had been away for some time, Ina sneaked up to a vantage point. (Sneak success 24/65, after a -10 penalty in a cumbersome hardsuit.) DANAI jumped into Ina’s puppetsock, his superior aiming skills allowed him to lase the q-morph when the time came.
Battle of Sacajawea Patera
Hokusai spotted the lights of a number comms antennae around the encampment change from green to red. The jamming began.
Seeker missiles with HEAP warheads spammed out from GamSec’s hidden position, zeroing in on Ina’s laser rangefinder dot. Q-morphs were tough. A number of HEAP warheads impacted upon its sapphire shells but did not break. Hokusai’s missile hit the encampment but barely scratched its tough outer shell. A hatched irised open at the top of the dome and another q-morph also armed with seeker missiles clambered out just as Mr. Snuggles’ lander came into view.
Its missile streaked out and struck DANAI, who weathered the explosion. DANAI’s counterattack killed the first Ladyboy q-morph.
One of Cable’s missile guidance got turned around…
“Oh bother,” said Mr. Snuggles as the seeker missile arced toward him. The missile struck and Cable thanked his lucky stars that the warhead was a dud. The missile ricocheted off the approaching lander’s hull and fell harmlessly to the ground.
Hokusai fired at the ground uphill from the camp, trying to cause a rockslide. But Ina determined better where a missile should land (47/65 Demolition success, after Moxie) and landed a missile there. Extremely high atmospheric pressure resulted in a smaller blast radius, but it also amplified the explosive shockwave, a deluge of Venusian rocks swamping and burying the second q-morph behind the dome
Weapons ready, the team swept forward as the lander settled near the airlock throwing up dust and debris. Cable and DANAI turned to help Mr. Snuggles to apply the universal airlock. Ina and Hokusai ensured there were no further Ladyboys activity.
Once the airlock was connected and pressure had equalised with the interior of the fragment, Cable, Ina and Mr. Snuggles attempted to access the door. To join the incursion team, DANAI resleeved into his sheldon morph and rode on the Paul walker. Hokusai stood watch outside.
Into the Crucible
Cable stepped through first. Lights turned on automatically, revealing a lobby and transparent doors that lead to an administration area of the facility. As the others entered, words were sent to his mesh: WILLIAM CABLE, YOUR PASSWORD IS EXPIRED. PLEASE RESET YOUR PASSWORD. Cable would not know where a reset password message would be sent. He was not his father. Why did the system identified him as such?
At the administration office doors, the words ENTRY AUTHORIZATION NOT GRANTED flashed in their retinas. Ina stepped forward and deployed scrapper gel at strategic spots on the door. He failed. (Demolitions failure 60/55.) So then they took their time to place the scrapper gel properly (succeeding at 19/55 after Moxie) and the doors slid apart. The Venusian glider morphed Ina crept in, successfully scanned for a mesh network and attempted to spoof authorisation. Cable and DANAI assisted him via their VPN. The alphanumerics scrolled and locked together (Infosec 08, success) and the world opened up to them.
But the world was damaged. Upon sensing corrupted data in the network, Ina disconnected quickly but not before getting some information. Mr. Snuggles looked very worried behind his visor. “This does not look right.” Ina told him, “This used to be an Infowar Research Facility. Virus and hacks and their antidotes were created here. And just before the time of the crash, Elvis Kaspersky arrived here with a case that held a sample from Mars. Just like in Shelby Cobra’s memories.”
Cable spotted a grenade launcher. He picked it up. It was empty and its spime was totally depleted of power. He turned to the others, “Let’s smart dust this place.”
Meanwhile, outside Hokusai (upon a successful Perception roll 13/40) heard scratchings coming from the half-buried Ladyboys encampment. He sent a message to the others via the VPN and pointed the seeker launcher on his back at the dome. The rocks began to move.
Just as the smart dust was painting a picture of the final moments of the research facility, a person who appeared to not be wearing any exposure suit or hardsuit popped out of nowhere. He wore a shiny metallic full helmet. Cable realised two things: One, Mr. Snuggles did not seem to perceive the newcomer. Two, it was the Marquis’ former partner, the long vanished Thomas Bangalter!
The visual feed also affected everyone else wired to the VPN. The feeling of dread and unease came down hard on Ina (who failed a COG+INT+SAV roll with a 93.) Ina looked at its own arms and saw scaly reptilian skin and sharp talons. The hardsuited infomorph in the flyer morph began to claw the deckplate in what appeared to be an attempt to build some sort of nest.
Before Cable could help, a voice echoed in his head saying, “You’re back!”
He turned to the vision of Bangalter and replied, “You’ve mistaken me for someone else. I’ve not been here before.”
“It’s you. I can feel it.” Then Cable was frozen, his muscles immobilised. DANAI, also affected through the GamSec VPN, barked, “Release the kid and no one gets hurt.”
Bangalter moved as if he was made of shadow closer to Cable. He touched the neotenic’s helmet.
Chaos sweeps through Timbuk3’s spacious hangar bay. Alert klaxons are blaring. Between the ships and other machinery, hundreds of people are screaming. They run about in abject fear. They run everywhere and nowhere. This is no evacuation. This is a slaughter. I ignore them as they bump into me.
I look at my hands and they are made of shiny metal. I look up and a swirling black cloud moves in the bay. It spirals to the left and right seeking out prey as if it were alive. And it is. Tendrils sweeps through fleeing people. They fly apart like leaves and become part of the tendril that strikes them down, part of the black cloud. A living nanoswarm. A TITAN. That which should have been the end of humanity.
The cloud approaches me. I run. I stumble. Someone grabs me. It is William Cable. He barks, “Get out, Thomas. I need to get back to Okeechobee. I can stop this.” I start to object, but William pushes me, “Get to the escape pods.” A grenade laucher in his hand, he recedes into the distance back toward the station interior. The panicked masses swallow him. The doomed. I turn to flee and realise that I am doomed.
Cable’s eyes snapped open, his body still immobilised. Thomas Bangalter’s shiny helmet hovered close to his own. It said, “The one called Kay. He can fight it. He is fighting it now.”
“Fight what?” Kay was not even with them on Venus.
“Do not take it away, or I will fight you. I have been containing it since the crash. It has been difficult, but I now have allies.”
“When they fell from the sky and died, I rebuilt them and sent them back. They now work for me, organising people and resources.” Cable realised they were talking about the Ikea-Tata founders. The Solid Ground Initiative group! Bangalter continued, “They must not uncover what I have been trying to contain. If they do, then the apocalypse will begin once more.”
“What have you been trying to contain all these years?” Cable asked.
“Don’t you remember? It’s in the data. The data in this structure. It must not leave.”
“We have to get this sorted out without Mr. Snuggles looking over our shoulder,” said Cable through the VPN.
Hokusai immediately transmitted on the open channel, “Mr. Snuggles. I track movement from the Ladyboys camp. I need you out here.” (Deception success 09/40.) The massive ursomorph told them to stay put while he went outside. After the airlock door sealed, Cable and DANAI tried to calm Ina down. Then, they began setting charges.
Just as Mr. Snuggles stepped outside, something climbed out of the rock avalanche at the Ladyboys’ dome. It was a person in a hardsuit with a seeker launcher aimed at them. (Hokusai gains the initiative and rolls a 14/40 for Seeker Weapons.) Hokusai, already mentally worn by Bangalter’s presence in their VPN, spun and loosed a missile. The HEAP warhead struck. The hardsuit imploded.
“We’re done here. We have to leave now,” Cable announced over the VPN. Hokusai informed Mr. Snuggles, who refused to leave. He said, “We have to ensure no one survives here. The Ladyboys can’t know we were here.” He advanced and fired into the debris and the dome some more.
Ascent Into Madness
Cable had just finished detaching the airlock when Mr. Snuggles and Hokusai returned. DANAI secured the near catatonic Ina in a seat. The q-morphs climbed into their transport bays as the ursomorph remote-connected with the lander systems and blasted off the surface of Venus. External cameras fed them the view of the receding Timbuk3 debris husk.
Altitude brought no comfort. As the lander rose, there was Bangalter sitting right across the aisle from Cable. Cable stuttered, “We-we’ve been basilisk hacked. Have we been basilisk hacked? Why are you leaving with us?” Bangalter looked at Cable silently, beaming a faceless smile. Mr. Snuggles rushed past them as if Bangalter was invisible.
Bangalter’s helmet display began counting down in French. Cable was unable to handle the dissonance and the dread, and he froze.
Hokusai (rolled a 99, critical failure on a sanity check) began to sway in his q-morph rack, and started shouting, “No! This shouldn’t be. It’s this morph! These things I’m seeing!” A panel on his q-morph limb slid open and a circular saw sprung out. Hokusai started cutting his own limbs off. “This tentacle is not thinking with me. It’s not my brain. It’s not a part of me. It’s lying to me! It’s eating me from the inside! GET IT OFF!!!”
DANAI was the only one able to function, but although he could see them all, he was secured in his bay. Mr. Snuggles roared from the pilot seat, “What the hell is going on down there?”
At four, Bangalter countdown stopped. “I must go. Something’s wrong,” he said. Then he disappeared. The camera feed showed the Timbuk3 structure undulating like a biological living creature. Then the charges detonated. Black smoke swirled out of it, but it circled and was attracted toward a figure in the centre of the mass: It was Bangalter. The nanoswarm enveloped the lone figure standing in the atmosphere that was more than 700 degrees Kelvin and 90 bars.
There was a burst of light and the camera feed ceased.
Unbeknown to the others, Cable in his moment of utter despair, opened up a channel to the other Billy Cable Jr. on Mars, and he began to silently confess to everything that he’s done on Venus. His contact with terrorists, his lies to Kage Musha, his dalliances with Gretchen Ambelina, deaths and kidnapping, his new discoveries… Everything was sent on an open channel toward the red planet.
As altitude increased, the q-morphs began to succumb to low pressure and stopped functioning. Hokusai was completely paralysed, unable to further harm himself.
When they reached Lucifer, although they had stopped a massive TITAN resurgence on Venus (or had they?) it was time to pick up the pieces.
Behind the Scenes
Note: This session gave me nightmares in bed that night. I dreamt of being alone and cut off from everyone else on the surface of Venus for years. Queensrÿche’s Silent Lucidity played all throughout the nightmare because it was the last song playing in the car on my way home from the game. Only the next morning I realised that the song was really about Cable:
There’s a place I like to hide
A doorway that I run through in the night
Relax child, you were there
But only didn’t realize and you were scared
It’s a place where you will learn
To face your fears, retrace the years
And ride the whims of your mind
Commanding in another world
Suddenly you hear and see
This magic new dimension
Thanks for an awesome campaign, guys. This was the first time a game’s Sanity Loss affected me in the real world.