#MorningStar episode 14: Contingencies

#MorningStar episode 14: Contingencies

#MorningStar episode 14: Contingencies

The situation

* The Keepers have discovered that some members of the Elite escaped from Hold-01-Alpha, and have been secretly living in the City for generations. Shira Kuri, Earth’s under-Minister for Logistics is one of them, and her son is now a high-ranking Puppeteer banker.

* PI Nika Marsova has been investigating the disappearance of virologist Dr Jane el-Omar, and has stumbled into what seems to be a Humanity First plot to force her to develop a bioweapon.

* The Keepers have discovered the location of a secure terminal in the Core which can be used to control Contingency systems.

The MC consult the mind of INC-07 and learn that the Morning Star originally had a second scoutship, which was launched around the time of the Awakening.

The Enforcers have learned that a gang has been kidnapping high-ranking Puppeteers and holding them for ransom. They’ve also noticed recreational medical supplies turning up on the street, still in their hospital packaging, suggesting they are being stolen from the Hospital.

The Keepers try and arrange a joint expedition to the Core and Engineering with the MC, but learn that Commander Akryll has already set out. Instead, they end up promising that the MC can accompany them on their expedition to find the Contingency system.

The Keepers use Subterfuge to blame the new supply of drugs on the Throng. They’ve done some analysis, and decided that it is better for public health to simply supply them directly with pure, known product rather than risk whatever their backstreet chemists come up with. The Throng leadership knows, but seems happy with the arrangement: everyone is making money, everyone is getting high, and they end up indebted to the Keepers for it.

Zoom in:

Akryll and a team of Listener bots head for engineering. While searching for an elevator in the dark decks they stumble across a deactivated robot factory, which could be utilised to construct more bots for the MC. lacking time for a full analysis, they mark it for future exploitation and move on. At the elevator, all seems well – but just after the doors hiss shut one of the Listeners detects an energy surge of something charging, and notices the tell-tale grid marks in the wall and floor of a power grid: the entire elevator is about to go live! Akryll tries shutting it down in software, but realises it will take too long, so commands the Listeners to try and deactivate it. They take to the walls with their laser cutters, desperately trying to find the power conduits and capacitors, and manage to prevent the trap from discharging. But the elevator is badly damaged. At the top, they find a cable car mechanism which takes them along the Core to the rear engineering section. It deposits them, then disappears back into the darkness.

It does not take them long to find the main reactor – all they have to do is follow the flashing radiation warning signs. The reactor control room is sealed by a thick, armoured door, and it is clear that something has gone horribly wrong. Akryll, being insubstantial, leaves his bots outside and walks in. It looks like there has been a containment failure and the entire control area is irradiated. While the Listeners can probably handle it, it is likely to be worse further in. Akryll tries to pull the ship’s systems together enough to activate the local expert system, but fails. It is clear that he will need a full engineering crew to sort this out. He calls back to the MC to summon one, then settles in to wait…

Meanwhile, in her office, Nika Marsova is reviewing video footage, trying to pinpoint when Dr el-Omar went missing. She’s narrowed it down to a two-hour window, when two large men wearing the loose, flowing robes of Humanity First members walk in. They’ve heard of her investigation and want her to drop it. Dr el-Omar is doing important work for which she is being well compensated, and will be reunited with her family in due course once it is complete. Marsova draws the obvious conclusion: these two know where she is, and hits them with the tranq gun under her desk. They wake up in an Enforcer cell, where Marsova and her former partner Viktor can have a little chat with them.

Viktor runs their biometrics, and tags one of them as Ahmed Nasiba, a mid-ranking HF lieutenant. They talk to him first. He repeats the same story: Dr el-Omar is unharmed, and doing important work at a “confidential” facility. He offers to compensate the pair of them for their trouble, but also queries if their hearts are in the right place. They dance around a little, talking about Dr el-Omar’s work as a virologist, the danger of diseases jumping species, and what they could do to reassure her son that she is alright, but get nowhere. Nasiba is not going to take them to her, and they are not going to accept a bribe and let him go. While they’re working out what to do next and letting Nasiba stew, Viktor notices a new crime cross the Enforcers’ feed: apparently a Crew Ensign has been kidnapped in the City, sedated and dragged off the street by HF thugs. Marsova considers releasing Nasiba and his bodyguard in the hope they will lead her to el-Omar…

Brother Will, a group of Keeper hackers, an Enforcer engineer named Yuri, and a seconded MC Colony Defence droid called PAT-7 (a hulking, armoured caterpiller tracked monster with dual auto-targetting lasers) set out for the core to find the Contingency terminal. Their search for an elevator leads them astray in the dark decks, and they are ambushed by Gollums – the grey-skinned, ultrastrong feral supersoldiers who escaped from a lab generations ago. The first they know of the ambush is when they are swarmed, but PAT-7 deals with it, efficiently mowing down Gollums. While his IFF system prevents direct friendly-fire incidents, he punctures a live steam pipe behind Will and Yuri, burning the pair of them. As the surviving Gollums flee into the dark, leaving a few dead on the deck, PAT-7 twirls his lasers and says “targets neutralised”. The area is well outside Gollum territory, but it seems they have moved or expanded recently, which does not bode well for the future.

The expedition finds a heavily damaged elevator, its interior scarred by laser cutters, and heads for the Core. The elevator gives up the ghost a few hundred metres short, and they have to climb the rest of the way in low-G, but they make it. They spend what seems like an eternity wandering the Core, tracing network traffic with Brother Will’s digital sensors, before they find it: a large, armoured door labelled “Contingency Operations”, guarded by floating shipboard security drones – some of the few still operational.

Brother Will finds a nearby terminal and whips up some credentials which will allow them to fool Shipboard Security, at least if they don’t do anything overt. But apparently Contingency Ops protocol requires them to have a security droid escorting them at all times, which means they will be observed. Fortunately Yuri manages to key the door with a breaker-key unobserved, which gets them in without alerting security. The door thunks closed and locks itself behind them.

Inside there is a series of terminals, a display screen, and a biometricly-locked safe. Their Shipboard Security escort takes up a position in a corner of the room, and scans everyone. PAT-7 parks himself opposite, and gives the drone something to scan, acting as a distraction. Brother Will goes to the safe, and surreptitiously opens it with a cloned Crew thumb he produces from a pocket (he came prepared, with the right tool for the job). Inside are a series of files on the contingency options, with activation triggers and deactivation codes, as well as a physical key for system authorisation. He inserts the key into the terminal, and the hackers set to work. They crack the system under the eyes of Shipboard Security, and pull up a list of active and inactive contingency modes. The system is currently in automatic mode, meaning the expert systems will trigger as required. Contingencies waiting to be triggered include Wake (which wakes all cargo), Purge (which ejects all cargo), Recall (which changes navigation parameters), Abort (which triggers a relativistic dive into the nearest star), and Failsafe (which shuts down the main reactor, then detonates a series of bombs along the core and spokes, blowing the ship apart and scattering its components). Some have already activated: FlightEmergency (a damage control system), Containment (various processes to limit the cargo in event of escape), Revive (wakes crew – marked as ERROR), Escape (evacuates surviving crew), and Rescue. the latter was added in-flight, shortly before the Awakening, and its code is different from the rest, bearing the characteristic style of a human AI rather than the alien programmers. Using the control codes from the files, Brother Will and the hackers put the system into safe mode, preventing contingencies from activating. They then start deleting anything which looks dangerous. They adjust the security system parameters, convincing the security drone they can be left alone, then start with the real work: installing a lockdown suite, a device which will remove the system from the ship network and add it to the Keeper’s holy network. But when they try to use it, it triggers an alarm. The contingency security system activates, invades the Keeper network, and reaches out to the Holy Terminal. At the same time, it floods the local digital network with new Code. PAT-7 drops his connection to the MC just before he is overwhelmed. As Brother Will looks up, he seems PAT-7’s lasers swivelling towards him…

So, the human waste is hitting the air circulation device. Who knows what will happen next?

#MorningStar episode 13: Shadows

#MorningStar episode 13: Shadows

#MorningStar episode 13: Shadows

The new age

* The Maintenance Collective now includes some resurrected and Echo crew. The crew have reprogrammed and taken greater control over them. They are currently led by Captain Womas, and represented by Commander Akroll, an Echo of a crew member.

* The Blackout reminded the Keepers of their true calling to protect the Awakened. They are still led by Sister Mercy (old now, and in a walking frame), and represented by Brother Will, a visionary engineer.

* The Enforcers don’t know who they should be working for anymore. Some want to serve the crew and shipboard authority structures, and some want to protect humanity. The result is a growing schism an corruption within the force. Their Commissioner is the almost irrelevant Kovsky, but they are represented by Nika Masova, a PI.

The situation

* 30 years has passed. The Puppeteers’ new economy has taken hold, and while the Keepers’ welfare system eases the worst, there are now significant disparities of wealth and living standards in the City, with a clear division between an elite and an underclass. But control of Life Support has allowed more resources to be directed to the farms, and there are even suggestions of waking up more Sleepers as the ecosystem can support them now.

* There has been a push for more localised systems, maintained by humans, both as protection against another Blackout, and due to distrust of the MC. The Left Bank Power Collective is the strongest advocate of this.

* The MC’s absorbtion by the Crew and its abandoning the City during the Blackout has caused a great deal of distrust, and there is unease about where the ship is going and who is directing it now. A public backlash has seen the return of Humanity First and their establishment as a permanent political force among the underclass.

* The Keepers have kept everyone alive and healthy. While tensions with the Throng have eased, the faction still holds a grudge.

* The Enforcers have buried the hatchet with the Throng, but are now kept busier than ever by inequality-driven crime.

* The Provisional Government has stayed at arm’s length, and been wary of the MC since the awakening of the Crew. They have maintained a traditional economy in their enclave, eschewing internal use of the Star, and there has been some immigration from the City as a result.

* Control of the currency and the economy has given the Puppeteers unprecedented wealth. They’ve grown fat, and the upper echelon have moved into banking.

The growth of an underclass has seen business boom for the Throng, as people need more distractions. But they have also branched out, and built Yang’s Pleasure Palace in the Bazaar next to the crater.

The MC check astrogation, and declare it is decades until worldfall. They also consult the memories of INC-07 and reveal that the ship was originally travelling a lot faster and has slowed significantly since the Awakening.

The Enforcers have heard that there is a group developing a bioweapon targeting the resurrected Crew. They have also heard that Humanity First are planning a raid on the Puppeteers’ loader bots in order to destroy them.

The factions assemble for the usual Call to Order.

* The Enforcers are concerned about how much hidden deathtrap code there still is in the ship’s systems, and want the Keepers to go through the software and scrub it all out. The Keepers agree.

* The Keepers want the Puppeteers to train them some artisans, in the process turning some of the teeming underclass into useful citizens. This would effectively require funding a school. The Puppeteers agree to this.

* The MC is concerned that too many rogue groups of “Cargo” (as they call people now) are roaming around and vandalising the ship and would like the Enforcers to sweep them up. This causes an argument, as the MC blames the scavs for the Blackout, a theory the other families reject. The Puppeteers claim their licenced scavs do not interfere with vital systems. The MC agrees that some form of licensing is acceptable, and the Enforcers agree to enforce it, though it is not clear how committed they are.

* The Progressive Government wants to ensure another Blackout can not happen again, and asks the MC to activate the main reactor. They agree.

After the meeting, Ambassador Sallagara of the PG approach the Keepers on a sensitive matter. They have a long-term research project around identifying certain people who may have been put in the wrong Sleeper pods, and they would like the Keepers’ help with it. Specifically, they think some of those registered as being in Hold-01-Alpha (which was irradiated by MRS-1 during the Awakening) may have been swapped and still be out there and/or been awakened. They couldn’t raise this at the Call to Order as they are not sure who can be trusted. The Keepers think this is an important project and are willing to help. They approach the MC for assistance, calling it a “cargo stocktake” and arguing that a census of the Sleepers would allow them to determine how many pods could be re-used. The MC agree to help for Treaty.

The Enforcers send a few patrols out into the dark decks, round up a few scavs, and “discover” that they have licences.

The Keepers reveal research: they know of a secure terminal in the ship’s core section that can be used to control Contingency systems. They plan to visit it on any mission to engineering to scrub the ship’s code.

Zoom in:

Brother Will, Commander Akroll, plus some pod-techs and Listener data-miners travel to Hold-01-Alpha. The hold is protected by a giant, armoured door, which is currently in failsafe mode as its circuits have been fried by the gamma-ray blast. Brother Will interfaces with it using Brother Signal’s relic, and determines that it needs a hardware key. One is printed off, and they gain entry. Inside, it is quiet as a tomb. The sensitive control systems of the pods have all been scrambled, so even if their inhabitants had survived the gamma radiation, they would have died later due to systems failure. Most of the pods contain mummified corpses, but curiously some contain only ash. The pod-techs set to work taking DNA samples from the corpses and comparing them with the cargo manifest, and learn that about a dozen of the Elite are unaccounted for. When they compare their recorded DNA with their records from the hospital, they get some hits: over the years they have treated two direct children of Shira Kuri, Earth’s under-Minister for Logistics. One of them is Rupesh Kuri, an ambitious, high-ranking banker within the Puppeteers. The Elite are on the ship, and doing who knows what behind the scenes.

Meanwhile, Marsova has a missing persons case: Dr Jane el-Omar, a virologist, has gone missing, and has simply dropped off the grid about a week ago. She works the streets, and ends up talking to one of el-Omar’s acquiatances, Dr Heiko, who seems afraid: dr el-Omar had been approached by people to do some work – there is a strong hint that it was Humanity First – and Dr Heiko suspects they have either killed her to prevent her from talking, or kidnapped her to force her to do the work. They may be threatening to harm her son – Marsova’s client – as leverage. Marsova promises “if she’s alive, I’ll do my best to find her”.

#MorningStar 12: An unexpected alliance

#MorningStar 12: An unexpected alliance

#MorningStar 12: An unexpected alliance

The situation:

* The Throng are planning to march to the hospital to protest against the Keepers, and some former Humanity First thugs seem to be planning something violent around it.

* An expedition led by 101010 and Brother Signal has found the Astrogation Arrays and reactivated its power supply, but the area is still infested with alien “rootkitters”.

* The expedition has discovered that the Morning Star has been in flight for over 750 years, and was redirected towards Andromeda around the time of the Awakening.

* The Keepers have hacked and subverted a network of Bots in the forward section, which were working for an expert system tagged “Contingency/Escape”. They seem to have been modifying a scoutship for interstellar travel with a very small cargo.

* An attempt to redirect power by this Bot network led to power being briefly cut to the City and districts being plunged into darkness. It is unclear what has happened as a result of this.

The Maintenance Collective consults the memories of INC-07 and learns that near the close of the War, humanity made first contact with a technologically advanced, non-hostile species which called themselves the “Travellers”.

The Enforcers have learned that high-ranking medical researchers from the Keepers have been going missing. They have also learned that a group of human tinkerers have been agitating to gain a basic maintenance contact in old Town.

Zoom In:

Up in astrogation, the Keepers command their new, mismatched bot-army to set a cordon around the shuttle-bay launch control room. They have the situation under control (they think), so just want to keep an eye on things while they disable the scout ship and work out what to do about Contingency/Escape. After a short period of time, a single bot carrying something rolls out, accompanied by a pair of hologram Echoes, and tries to head off into the dark decks. The Keepers task a group of former Listener bots to shadow them. The escape party heads for the Core, and then to an elevator heading for the spin habitat, which raises the spectre of the “rootkitters” being able to follow them. The surveillance team locks everything down, and gets some images of what the bot is carrying: a hunk of memory core. The minds of the crew?

Meanwhile, 101010 consults the Ship’s records about Contingency/Escape, and learns that it is a hegemonizing expert system with administrative privileges, with the purpose of ensuring crew survival in the event of a crisis. The current crisis is well beyond anything its programmers likely imagined, so it will be well outside its comfort zone and likely improvising heavily. 101010 decides that a direct approach is best, and arranges for the MC to send Lt Elijah to confront it. They time things perfectly, and Elijah is there to greet them, in his officer’s uniform, when they exit the elevator.

Negotiations ensue. The presence of a living crew member capable of giving orders and apparently in control of the bridge undermines Contingency/Escape’s purpose. Is escape even necessary? The Echoes – dead officers living in the memory core and projecting themselves as holgrams – want to be resurrected, something the MC readily agrees to do for those with DNA samples. They also want to be protected from “The Cargo” (as they call humanity). The MC agrees to this too. Its purpose redundant, Contingency/Escape goes dormant. Meanwhile, the MC is going to have to talk to the Crew about The Mission…

The Keepers set their bot army to wage an extermination campaign against the rootkitters, with the assistance of the Listener bots and the MC’s maintenance swarm. It will take time, and their eggs keep turning up in unusual places, but astrogration is made secure.

Meanwhile, back in the City, the Blackout has had a profound effect. It is the first major power loss since the dark days immediately following the Awakening, and the population is in panic. The Keepers follow the Holy Emergency Protocol and step in to protect people, directing them to shelters and distributing emergency supplies in anticipation of a major life support failure. The Enforcers begin negotiations with the Progressive Government (who have a safe haven around Life Support) and start trying to identify other safe locations in case a full evacuation is needed. The MC, on the other hand, withdraw to their powered areas, abandoning humanity in the dark. When the lights and air circulators come back on (after a long, long hour), the Keepers are praised as heroes by many, while the MC are viewed with suspicion.

The Puppeteers move swiftly. Arguing that vital systems need to be taken into their control for better management, they buy the Enforcers’ investment in Life Support in exchange for repairs to HQ (which still bears the scars of the bombing decades ago). They then cut a secret deal with the MC, trading power for schematics and spares, enabling them to step in should anything happen. Nothing has – yet – but they will be ready to move when it does.

The Throng protest march happens, but is somewhat subdued due to the goodwill the Keepers gained during the Blackout, and the Enforcers are able to keep order (but the Keepers end up owing them for it). The experience of feeling under siege unifies the Keepers somewhat.

The Scavs and Porters form a union, and wage a long strike in an effort to win better conditions from the Puppeteers, until the MC steps in to solve it with bot labour, helping the Puppeteers, but making more enemies among the poor and downtrodden.

The MC invests heavily in Astrogation, gaining control (to go with their control of the Bridge). As the Age turns, the Keepers use their researchers at the Hospital to synthesise a plague to target the rootkitters, hopefully removing them as a threat forever.

And that was the Age. It had been a month since the last session, so there was a bit of a lack of momentum, but I think we started to get some back when we started talking about what would happen in the next Age, and people’s plans for their next characters. I’ll put that in the next session, but I’m liking the direction things are heading in…

Uncharted Worlds at kapCon: The short version:

Uncharted Worlds at kapCon: The short version:

Uncharted Worlds at kapCon: The short version:

Round 3, I ran “Repossession”, in which our plucky band of heroes “rescued” an Epoch Trust research vessel with an experimental “safer” jump drive from the clutches of Ironclad (which of course they damaged). Of course, the unexpected item in the quarters area was a grubby little urchin named Lee, stowed away from one of the countless slums around the Ironclad Naval depot. While guns were pointed, eventually they bonded, with the result that Lee was standing next to the Merc in the airlock waiting for the boarding party (!) when the plan went sour. The ship wild jumped to avoid being boarded, and the game took a hard turn into SF-horror, with a player deciding that the airlock door was what disappeared in the jump, which meant Lee went with it, lost in the warp. And then they found their arm, still clutching the pistol the Merc had given them… I think several of the characters were psychologically scarred by this.

Round 5, I did the Ship Job. A simple heist involving rescuing / kidnapping the daughter of a nakamoto executive from her pirate boyfriend (and bunch of bodyguards), from a liner, mid flight. The characters executed it perfectly, taking over the security system, locking the bodyguards in their cabin, and disabling the target and boyfriend with knockout gas before stuffing her into a room service hover-trolley for a sneaky extraction. It was only when the security system crew tried to walk back to the service airlock that they were noticed, and the Wrecker was shot and cut off from the airlock. They were saved by a quick-thinking and very sneaky bounty hunter, but ended up losing a leg.

In both games people loved the cascading consequences, and the crowded quarters rolls. And I had a repeat player who wants to start running it. So I’d call that a success.

Currently prepping to run Uncharted Worlds at KapCon this weekend. I think I’ll try offering “The Ship Job”.

Currently prepping to run Uncharted Worlds at KapCon this weekend. I think I’ll try offering “The Ship Job”.

Currently prepping to run Uncharted Worlds at KapCon this weekend. I think I’ll try offering “The Ship Job”.

#MorningStar Episode 11: Where we’re going

#MorningStar Episode 11: Where we’re going

#MorningStar Episode 11: Where we’re going

The situation

* Attacks by “Humanity First” on bots have practically ceased.

* The Keepers have solved the Throng’s addiction problem with their latest drug by synthesising a blocker vaccine and mass-dosing everyone with it through the water supply. Unfortunately, they did not do it secretly, and so have become targets of public rage due to addicts going into withdrawal and having seizures because their drugs no longer work.

* 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.

* An expedition led by 101010 and Brother Signal has found the Astrogation Arrays unpowered and home to strange and hostile alien lifeforms, who seem capable of rootkitting people.

The MC consults the memories of INC-07 and learn that the ship’s astrogation computers were reprogrammed at the first Awakening.

Enforcer intelligence has heard that someone has hacked into the Throng of Pleasure’s “special” data cache, the one with the blackmail files. They’ll be wanting that found, quietly. They’ve also heard that the Throng are planning to march to the hospital to protest against the Keepers, and that some former Humanity First thugs seem to be planning something violent around it.

Zoom in:

Still in astrogation control. The room is surrounded by skinless rabbit things – rootkitters – so Brother Signal tries to interface with the computer to activate the biohazard controls on the rest of the deck in an effort to eliminate them. Lights start to flash and alarms start wailing as it instead tries to activate them inside the room. 101010 manages to get through to the Bridge and get a security override, excluding astrogation from being vented to vacuum and flooded with hard gamma radiation by specialist bots. While they’re waiting for the process to complete outside, Signal opens his mind to the void, feeling the infinite hunger of the rootkitters for minds and thoughts – and that there are a lot more of them out there.

Once the irradiation bots have been past, 101010 pops the door (everyone has suits) and floats out to grab a deactivated maintenance bot it saw down the corridor. Hopefully it can be powered from NRG-21 and booted, then debriefed for intelligence or persuaded to join the Maintenance Collective. Unfortunately the bot is hostile, leading to a short and messy fight in which 101010 is damaged, Nova injured, and the bot escapes. Clearly the bots up here in the forward section are not exactly friendly.

Leaving Signal behind with the Keeper hackers to care for the injured, 101010, Nova and Rippey head off in search of a switchboard or live power main which will enable them to power astrogation permanently. But the rad-bots are heading back for another sweep, and to escape them 101010 deploys its experimental energy projector to blast a hole through to another deck. As usual, it works too well, tearing a gash upward through three decks and venting their atmosphere into the evacuated astrogation deck. The group braces themselves against the torrent of wind, debris, and dying rootkitters, then winch themselves up to the top deck, which clearly has power.

Back in astrogation, Signal is interrogation the flight computer. Flight duration is 765.7 years. Time to target is 12 megayears. The target displayed is a large, spiral galaxy – Andromeda. Last course change was 125 years ago. Last destination has been deleted. Current velocity is 0.21c. Signal: “I don’t think this ship will last 12 million years”.

Four decks up, the engineering party find the Core, the spine of the ship. The primary power conduits and distributors are here, bringing power all the way from the main reactor, 20km behind them. Poking at the switchboard, 101010 redirects power to the astrogation deck, deactivating some other system (which obviously can’t have been important). Then they head back down.

Signal fills them in when they get back to astrogation, and they poke through the computer to see what’s in the forward section. Astrogation, flying bridge, iceberg maintenance ops (the ship has a giant iceberg on the nose as an ablative shield), scout bay, fuel plant, a security station… They speculate on why the rootkitters haven’t come back. The depressurisation won’t have killed the ones on the decks above. Maybe they’re afraid of light? As they consider this, the lights suddenly go out and NRG-21 switches to powering the system again. Someone must have turned it off! The engineering crew heads to the core on this deck in an effort to switch things on again. When they get there, they see that the system they had turned off earlier is live again. Someone is stealing their power and redirecting it to the fuel plant? There’s also a panicked call from the Bridge asking if they’re doing anything weird up there, because the lights in the City have just gone out! 101010 hacks the power distribution system, restores power, then uses the software to lock out the fuel plant entirely. Then they put a call through to the City to try and get a group of Listeners and a maintenance swarm up here to try and work out what’s going on.

There’s some waiting. Around the time the Listeners should be showing up in the forward section, a survey bot rolls past the door to astrogation, stops, rolls back and looks in. While it has a Listener designation – SRV-157 – its transponder is silent. 101010 pings it repeatedly, but it refuses all network traffic, then it heads off in the direction of the Core. Checking with the MC, 101010 learns that SRV-157 was last seen two weeks ago, and has not checked in with the network since. It has obviously been pwned by another network of bots.

Signal sets his hacker team to work on this. In a short amount of time, they sniff SRV-157’s network traffic, then crack the encryption, revealing a network of bots in the forward section. From their designations, many of them appear to be former Listeners who have disappeared. The network is directed by an expert system, tagged “Contingency/Escape”. Signal talks to the Keepers, and convinces them to deploy a rootkit virus (which they have to retrieve part of from the Holy Terminal). the hackers manage to insert it into the network, and the entire botnet is theirs. Data floods in: feeds from the fuelling station (now shutdown), the upper decks, the scout bay (with a highly modified scoutship in it, with its life support stripped out, basicly a fueltank with a shielded pod on the nose for a few people – or a small cargo). Near the scout bay a bot is watching a control room full of human holograms as they realise their network has been hacked. Then one of them turns towards the bot, reaches out a hand, and the feed dissolves into static…

So, they found out where all the water went. But what’s meant to be on that scoutship when it is fuelled? And how will the expert system react to having its bots stolen from it and its plans thwarted? And what the hell is happening back in the City?

#Morningstar 10: The Drugs Don’t Work

#Morningstar 10: The Drugs Don’t Work

#Morningstar 10: The Drugs Don’t Work

The situation

* 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.

#Morningstar 9: MRS-1

#Morningstar 9: MRS-1

#Morningstar 9: MRS-1

The situation

* At the Call to Order the Enforcers were asked to open the way to the Jungle for the Keepers. They have laid the groundwork by bribing “Lucky” Ivan with an apartment in New Hold, and are waiting to begin the actual expedition.

* There are several minor problems around the City: a gang of anti-bot fanatics called “Humanity First” is promising violence, and someone is opening Sleeper pods in the Dark Decks, but not harming or waking the Sleepers.

* The Puppeteers plan to solve the problem of counterfeit ration books with a new currency. The Keepers have been lobbying them to try and ensure everyone’s needs are taken care of.

* 101010 of the Maintenance Collective has led an expedition into the Dark Decks to try and uncover the mystery of Mobile Radiation Source-1. They encountered and drove off a swarm of cobbled-together scav-bots. One of them was root-kitted to join the Collective as KLG-001, an undesignated general maintenance unit.

The MC consults the memories of INC-07 and learn that the last fleet (as it became known), the one the elite were in contact with just before they lost the war, had been quarantined after it was infected with a biological weapon. It is unclear whether any human crew ere still alive, or whether it was being run by AIs, or even the nature of the biological weapon itself.

Enforcer patrols report further problems in the City. The Provisional Government seems to be having a water imbalance, and there is a suggestion that someone has got wind of the proposed currency change and is hoarding in expectation of a price rise. Meanwhile, a notorious stick-up artist known as Big Ramo is robbing Throng dealers.

In the dark decks, the expedition takes stock of its situation and questions KLG-001. Unfortunately, it doesn’t remember anything, having been overwritten by the reboot kit. It does have a disturbing habit of collecting scrap and eyeing other bots up as a source of spare parts. After it exhausts its power reserves trying to build a second radiation scanner, it plugs in for a recharge, and 101010 orders it to return to the City when it is done.

The expedition continues, led on by Foo’s rad-scanner. Eventually they reach the upmost deck, and come to the conclusion that the source of the radiation beam must be “above’ them, somewhere outside. Finding a maintenance airlock, they emerge onto the inner skin of the spin habitat, and spot a large turret-like apparatus several kilometers away across the curve of the habitat. Foo’s radiation sensor spikes as it turns towards them…

The group scatters. While 101010, Foo, and the MC attack drones make their way towards the turret, Brother Signal stays put and studies it. It appears to be some sort of heavy-duty maintenance scanner, though there’s some damage to the focal array. There’s an obvious power conduit, which suggests how it could be deactivated, and it can obviously be used as a weapon. In fact, that’s what its being used as now. The Keepers are forced to scatter even further to evade the beam, but a few catch a few rads.

Meanwhile Foo has approached unobserved and is working out the best way to disable the device. Standard system architecture means there will be a switchboard on the other end of that power conduit, somewhere where it can all be taken offline for maintenance. Unfortunately there’s a door in the way. Fortunately, 101010 has an experimental energy projector. The resulting blast is very impressive. But there’s an immediate priority maintenance call with a security protocol, resulting in nearby maintenance bots being re-tasked to defend the facility. Foo manages to talk its way past the first defender to emerge from the turret, and dashes inside. A quick drop down a shaft, and it is sitting in front of the switchboard. Foo immediately rams the shutoff, plunging the entire facility into darkness. But as it turns, it sees a pair of maintenance bots floating towards it, welders and rivet-guns taking aim.

Foo turns and flees, and dashes for the exit, taking a bad cut across its flank in the process. The maintenance bots give chase. Foo leads them straight into a fusillade of fire from the MC security drones, and leaves them to the fight. Meanwhile, there is a colossal explosion outside as 101010 eliminates the external defender, a substantial chunk of hull, and part of the turret. He also takes the brunt of the backblast, taking significant damage.

As the battle rages, Brother Signal finally makes it to the turret, and interfaces with an external network node. He uses this to convince the system that they are an emergency maintenance crew, resulting in a stand-down order to the remaining defenders. Hostilities successfully ended, he examines the turret and listens to the last residual echoes of its shut down control system, receiving memories of long ago. There was an emergency order. Sleeper Hold 01-alpha was a priority target. It had to channel all its power to get one good shot to prevent escape. Its focal array damaged, its weakened beam drifted aimlessly…

The Keepers confer. While they haven’t visited Sleeper Hold 01-alpha, they know who was in it: the top members of the Elite. If the weapon worked, then they were all cooked in their pods instantly. Long-term exposure will have killed anyone still in pods in the wandering beam’s area – and could kill anyone the beam is turned on if it is reactivated. The Keepers decide that this is too dangerous to leave lying around, and so work with the MC to dismantle it. Once that is done, they return to the City.

A week later, Commissioner Mars meets with 101010 to discuss the “Humanity First” problem. Humanity First seem to be inspired by a Throng entertainer called Eclipse, who unfortunately hasn’t done anything illegal themselves. While the Enforcers could go in heavy against them, Mars thinks there’s a better way: craft a better story than theirs. He gives a great speech about the need to give people hope, for humanity to forge its own destiny, find its own homeworld, and not be prisoners anymore. The way to do that, he suggests, is by finding the Astrogation arrays – something the MC can do from the Bridge. Then they can plot a course to wards a world of their own choosing. While initially puzzled, 101010 agrees and heads for the bridge to pinpoint the location.

Meanwhile the Keepers approach the Provisional Government with a naked bribe: anagathic treatment in the hospital for their senior staff, in exchange for the Chief Programmer debugging the hospital AIs. The Keepers get the Throng to vouch for them, and the deal is sealed.

Commissioner Mars tries to track down Eclipse by talkign to snitches, but becomes a target for a Humanity First gang. He defuses their rather clumsy attempts at intimidation, but finds himself followed and watched everywhere. When Mars attempts to talk some of them round, they react with hostility. Clearly the anti-bot movement aren’t buying his message.

Brother Signal meets with their Puppeteer contact to get an update on progress on the new currency. Things seem to be going well, and the Puppeteers have agreed to a universal allowance system to ensure basic needs are met, but there will inevitably be some disruption as relative prices adjust and the market shakes itself out. The PG’s water problem is mentioned as an example, and hoarding is suggested, but the Keepers have better intel: given the quantities and where it is disappearing from the system (and therefore where it might be going), there’s only one explanation. The water isn’t been hoarded for economic gain, but as reaction mass. Someone has a dropship and is planning a trip – without telling anyone else.

So, they solved one problem, only to create a big new one. Humanity First looks like its going to escalate into a front, and I’ll have to work out what someone is doing with that reaction mass. Fortunately I already have a few ideas…