#Morningstar 10: The Drugs Don’t Work
* An expedition led by 101010 of the Maintenance Collective has located and disabled Mobile Radiation Source-1, opening up a significant area of the dark decks.
* Inspired by Commissioner Mars, the MC has uncovered the location of the Astrogation Arrays. Getting there will require a perilous journey to the ship’s forward section.
* Commissioner Mars’ efforts to track down the leader of Humanity First has put him on their radar, and he is now being watched. There has been a series of low-level attacks on bots across the City, with cameras spraypainted and manipulators damaged.
* What was initially thought to be a routine siphoning operation stealing water from the Provisional Government has turned out to be something bigger: the quantities involved mean it can only be being used for one thing: reaction mass.
The MC consults the memories of INC-07 and learn that early human AI’s, including some of those on the ship, were amalgams of several uploaded biological personalities.
Enforcer patrols report more trouble: the Scavs and Porters who work for the puppeteers are organising for a strike. And a Scav by the name of maria sharp-Eyes is hawking a root-kit round the bazaar, promising it as a way of turning any bot into a slave.
Commissioner Mars arranges a meeting with Manora Wade, the leader of the Throng, getting the provisional Government to vouch for him and set it up on neutral ground. The bad blood between the Families is apparent from the beginning, with Wade responding to Mars’ vague openings with a straight out question of whether this is a shake-down. Mars finally reveals his agenda: he wants Eclipse, an entertainer tied to the Throng and the figurehead of Humanity First, to be “redirected” towards “something more positive’. And in exchange, he’ll make sure Big Ramo, the stick-up artist who has been robbing Throng dealers, stays out of their hair. Wade comments that it is a shake-down, but agrees. She’s not very committed, but circumstances conspire to change that…
The Maintenance Collective reveals that its Listeners have found a data centre out in the dark decks which could be used to harden their programming and make them immune to current rootkits. Using controls from the Bridge to disable some of the security and open a few doors, the claim it and get to work on the upgrade. Unfortunately in the process they accidentally open a few spaces over by life support, and expose a PG trade caravan to vacuum. Reparations will have to be made for the loss of life.
The Keepers meanwhile have finally come up with a solution to the Throng’s addiction problem they had been asked to solve at the call to order. They’d been asked to provide rehabilitation services to mitigate the cognitive impairment side effect caused by a wildly popular drug, and find some way of enabling the addicts to be productive members of society. But rather than come up with a rehab method, the hospital AIs have come up with a blocker vaccine, which prevents the drug from working. The Keepers use the hospital systems to manufacture a sufficient dosage, then use their control of life support to introduce it into the water supply. They try to do this secretly, but transporting the product from the hospital by trade caravan and drafting in some talkative PG bots to help with the dosing meant the secret gets out very quickly. The Keepers respond by issuing a public statement that they have treated the water supply to resolve an addiction problem. So when addicts started going into withdrawal and suffering seizures because their drugs no longer work, people knew exactly who to blame. Which means that when the Enforcers snatch Big Ramo’s gang in a SWAT raid, the Throng are suddenly eager for Eclipse to redirect his followers. The attacks on bots stop. And suddenly the Left Bank and the Hole are covered in graffiti about the Keepers and forced medication. The Keepers have done a good job at selling the necessity of their actions to the wealthy, but there are parts of the City where its no longer safe for them to go, and bigger trouble is probably brewing…
The MC invites the families to join an expedition to the Astrogation Arrays, and the Enforcers, Keepers, and PG join in. 101010, Brother Signal, an Enforcer tech called Nova and Repair Unit-57 (“Rippy”) go along, aided by a team of keeper doorbreakers head off. To assist in the task, they take an MC powerbot called NRG-21 – essentially a big floating battery who can temporarily power ship systems, but could overload. To get them there safely, they use an Automapper, a device which usually shows a safe path through the ship if the destination is known.
The astrogation arrays are in the ship’s forward section, separate from the spin habitat. But rather than leading them to an elevator to the core, the automapper leads them to an airlock, then across the inner surface of the spin habitat through hard vacuum. Everyone is prepared for this, but there’s some slight damage to 101010 and Rippy in negotiating the gap and velocity difference between the spin habitat and the forward section. While waiting at the forward section airlock, Brother Signal opens his mind to the void, and gets a sense that something truly alien is in the ship with them. But its just a fleeting sensation. Eventually everyone gets inside and reorients themselves to zero-gravity and decks laid out for thrust.
The forward section is darker than the habitat, and colder, but there is still air (though no-one risks cracking their suit). The automapper leads them up several decks, along some a maze of service corridors towards a doorway marked “astrogation control”, then announces “you have arrived at your destination”. The whole area is dark and still. Inside, the control panels are all dark – the whole system in unpowered. But in a few places they’re discoloured by frozen… something. Flashing their lights into the corners, the team finds what can only be described as egg-sacs, some old and brittle and empty, some still warm and moist and alive. The team keeps well back, with Signal examining them from a distance using his magnifying visor, and beaming the data back to the bridge. There’s nothing in the Keeper records about anything like this: its not from Earth, its no known species encountered before or during the war with the aliens. The team decides to proceed with caution. NRG-21 is plugged in, but begins overpowering the circuits, causing a shower of sparks on the other side of the room. Signal reaches out with his mind and brings everything under control, but in the distraction Nova feels something drop onto the back of her neck. She instinctively grabs it and flings it across the room. There’s a skittering noise, then silence.
Signal orders the Keeper doorbreakers to activate the bio-hazard protocols, and seal the room. They move to comply, and seal a few doors. Then Brother Locke falls to the floor, spasming. 101010 sees a skinless, rabbit-sized thing on the back of his neck, and surgically removes it with a flamer, burning it to a crisp. On the other side of the room, one of the other doorbreakers is also attacked, but Signal kills the attacker with his laser. There’s a bit of skittering as the things flee, then the remaining doorbreakers get everything locked down. The team is locked in, and safe for the moment.
The two Keepers are having some sort of seizure, but Signal (who has a fair amount of experience with neurological shocks) administers appropriate medication and sedatives and brings it under control. They should recover once they’ve slept it off, and might be able to talk about their experience. Looking at the corpses, they find the attackers had no mouthparts, no apparent sensory organs, and hadn’t breached their victims suits – they were mounting some form of electrical or neurological attack through the suit – rootkitting people. They bag up a sample, then fry the remaining eggs, just to be sure. Then they wait and try to work out what to do next.
Some fun politics in the City, and an Alien-like scene during exploration. They’ve established a breachhead in astrogation, and got it temporarily powered, but they haven’t made it safe yet. Meanwhile, they have an unknown alien threat in the forward section, and no idea how extensive it is or whether it eats bots. Things are going to get interesting.