Saturn Ascending

It's a Trap!

The crew narrow down Madeline Yu’s location to a single rock spinning around in Saturn’s rings, packing some explosives to destroy it (and Madeline) if need be. As they get closer, they find the floating husk of the Hildegaard. There are no signs of heat or power, and there is some damage to the front of the hull. The crew decides to investigate — what could possibly go wrong?

The entry is in the front, under the cockpit, leading directly into the cargo hold. From there, there are entrance frontwards to the cockpit, backwards to engineering, bunks, and kitchen.

The crew starts their search, quickly finding assassin synthmorphs holding Madeline’s pruned forks.

The ship’s corrupted AI (“Wotan”) starts up, springing the trap: “Greetings friends. Let me start by assuring you that humanity will forever be in your debt for the sacrifices you are about to make. Blessings Forgotten believes that she has duplicated the virus (and the cure) for the Asclepius virus used by the TITANs near the end of the Fall. Focus tests have been extremely effective, and now field tests are required. An attempted field test on Mars was corrupted and had to be terminated early. However, a second test has been scheduled for Phelan’s Recourse, and you are going to be one of several infection vectors used. Unfortunately, you will have to be sedated in order to ensure that you do not inform the habitat before your arrival. Please keep calm. If you surrender to my lab assistants, they will ensure you will feel no pain throughout this process. Units alpha and beta, please clear their ship. Units delta and gamma, please prepare the patients for injections”.

Solomon and Octavius buy some time while Thessa hacks the ship, eventually taking over.

The crew studies all the forks of Madeline Yu, and all the security footage they have of her. Thessa is sure that they have enough information to simulate Madeline’s walk, voice, and mannerisms. They use some @-rep to get a steel morph just like the ones Madeline uses. They will head to Blessings Forgotten’s home pretending to be her fork bringing back Solomon and Octavius for infection and analysis.

Octavius brings the explosives on board the Hildegaard, and they set a course for the exhuman’s asteroid. What could possibly go wrong?

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Don’t Mess with [New] Texas

Solomon plots a course for New Texas, trying to keep as close to objects in the rings as possible in order to remain out of sight and hopefully undetected. Radar picks up a large ship in the area, and Solomon quickly ducks around an asteroid. The ship, called the Kepler, is a 100m long, 10 deck, Commonwealth navy ship with two large cannons meant to “disperse” smuggler bases. On its current patrol grid, Solomon thinks it won’t reach New Texas for days, or may bypass it altogether.

Nearing New Texas, the crew sees small domes, like metallic growths, on a small iceball, only about 100m in diameter. An Outsystem Skimmer painted to look like a greyish asteroid is tethered to the surface, and connected to a chain net full of 1m by 1m containers and large pieces of rock. Only about 14 workers, in novacrab morphs are visible, some loading freshly-mined rocks into the chain net carrier. The rest of the workers are probably on the nearby rocks. The Þrúðr gets permission to approach, and a tether is extended from the opposite end of the hab. The crew convinces the locals to get a novacrab to help them move the crates. Once the novacrab is near the server, Octavius convinces him that they are here to rescue the workers, and the novacrab evacuates his pod morph to be replaced by a copy of the ship’s AI. The novacrab morph brings down three boxes (Shipless Joe’s delivery plus the two crates of radio-controlled explosives from Ella Tan). The crew climbs down to the surface and towards the single large door. They pass by Bessie, a defence platform with missile launchers, cleverly hidden underneath tarps and rubble. Sewn to a smart rope that keeps it waving back and forth methodically, a tattered flag from the old state of Texas is hanging from a radio antenna by the front door.

The crew meets Mad Marcus (President of the Federation, friendly), Marcus Junior (Minister of Trade and Treasure), and Ingrid (Minister of Defence, sleeved in the hab, with control over Bessie). They invite the crew for a beer in the common kitchen. The low hum of generators is almost completely covered by the brinker drinking songs coming through the speakers. The light is low, and the heat non-existent as the crew propel themselves down the tubes. They peer into the open rooms, seeing stockpiled mining equipment, including some explosives. Closed doors with signs on them such as “kitchen”, “linens”, or “washroom” have all been affixed with a small white sign saying “Supplies – Property of Ecologene – no unauthorized access”.”

Marcus describes life in the mining community. Ingrid is wanted in several inner-system jurisdictions, so the family moved out to Saturn, looking for mineral deposits in the rings. Every time they find something, they set up shop and sell the mining rights to a company (often Ecologene, which is odd since they are not known for their mining operations). The company provides workers (overseen by four stunner-carrying Masters) and equipment, and give the family a small cut. New Alabama was their first mine, followed by New Belgium, New Canada, and now we are up to the T’s for New Texas. Octavius suggests New Uruguay for the next mine. Marcus loves the idea.

Thessa alters the programming of the RFID packing slip on Shipless Joe’s delivery to make it look like three crates instead of one, and addresses it to one of the masters. They mesh him, and he comes to pick up the package. He leads the crew to one of the sealed rooms, opening it with an encrypted mesh password. Inside, the team sees several crates and glass cubes containing various biological things of varying colours and consistencies, including yellow slime, blue powder that is giving off heat, and green goo. Octavius and Solomon believe the yellow slime is a extra-solar creature that digests whatever it touches. In a densely-populated hab, this creature could quickly kill all biological life. The Master talks about life on the hab, how there aren’t really any geologists here, and the workers get a shot of his stunner if they dare talk back. The Master opens Shipless Joe’s crate with an encrypted password, revealing a glass cube with some very familiar black fungus. He can’t open the other two, and says he’ll come back later and cut them open.

Thessa intrudes into the hab undetected and then sets up a secure communications channel between all 52 of the novacrabs and the crew. Octavius tries his best rallying speeches, but the indentured workers don’t think it’s worth the risk to rise up against the corporation and flee with the crew.

Thessa intrudes into the Master’s ship, catching the interest of the AI and raising a Passive Alert. She attempts to subvert the engines, tripping all the alarms and making the AI scream for the Masters. The three other Masters propel themselves in, drawing their weapons. Octavius tells Marcus that his contact, Ella Tan, will pay whatever he wants as long as they help him. They agree, and Ingrid sends a mini-missile at one of the Masters, stopping him in his tracks, but not quite killing him. They immediately suggest negotiation. They’ll take the ore, crates, and crabs away in their ship and leave the station with the crew (and the New Texan government). Octavius says they need to leave the novacrabs. The Masters say that the morphs are too expensive to just give up. Octavius says they can keep the morphs, but the egos of the indentured workers must stay. The Masters quickly pack up their crates (including the two unopened crates of explosives from Ella Tan), and detach the tether. Octavius waits until the craft is near the limit of radio connection before smiling, waving goodbye, and engaging the remote detonator on Ella Tan’s explosives, sending a bright flash of heat and light in every direction as the Masters’ ship and most of its contents are vaporized.

Solomon figures that will be a beacon for the Kepler, and if that ship turns and goes full burn towards New Texas, it will be here in 15 minutes.

The crew sets up the mining explosives and gets on board the Þrúðr. They set off, taking Marcus, Marcus Junior, Ingrid, and Bessie (clinging to the skimmer), detonating the hab as they leave. They plot a course to go through the debris (scanning for anything sizeable and picking up a singed crate) before heading for cover to avoid detection by the Kepler. The Commonwealth patrol ship shows up quickly, and the Þrúðr sneaks off undetected.

On the way back, the newly-freed workers tell the crew about the previous mines, mostly funded by Ecologene, which were closer and closer to the orbit of Titan. All the Ecologene missions left something behind – crates like the one the crew picked up, some with small propulsion systems. They also say they saw the two neo-ravens. They were dropped off in a ship called the Hildegaard. But once they were ready to leave, another ship came to pick them up: the Memorykeeper. The Hildegaard left and the Memorykeeper followed. That was the last they saw of either ship. The workers give you the exact coordinates of each mine, from New Alabama to New Saskatchewan.

Once back to Phelan’s Recourse, the crew shows Ahmadia the crate. She rents a freighter and hazmat suits and takes the ship a safe distance from the population before opening the crate. Inside is a glass cube filled with the yellow slime. It is definitely extra-solar, and she will call in some favours to get it analyzed and will tell Fletcher the results.

Ella Tan takes the egos of the 52 workers and sends them to be re-sleeved in biomorphs. She also agrees to settle Octavius’ debt by funding New Uruguay (and providing non-indentured labourers).

After being briefed by the crew, Fletcher sends Octavius the blueprints for a relatively expensive bottle of red wine with a congratulatory note on his “decisive and efficient work in the field”.

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Crouching Assassin, Flying Daitya

Around 3am, the crew’s muses informed them that there were several newscasts about the detachment that they visited. A hovertruck carrying liquid fuel had a major mechanical failure and slammed in to the detachment, creating a fireball that could be seen and heard for kilometers. The building and squad cars were incinerated. Luckily, the lone officer on duty had just left the building to assist a tourist who had asked her to help change a tire on his buggy. The officer and the tourist were just far enough from the explosion to avoid any serious injury, and were treated at the scene for minor burns and bruises. After sunrise, the crew went to meet Fletcher for breakfast. He had chosen a Korean restaurant with several private rooms, one of which he had reserved. Fletcher, and the food, was waiting when they arrived. He smiled, stretching the sheen of new skin on the right side of his face and on his right hand.

Fletcher wanted the crew to head to the Saturn system and track down Madeline Yu. Zimmerman tracked the payments to the Mars flats back to an account that has seen some use on a collection of ships and habs in orbit around Saturn called Phelan’s Recourse. There are several Firewall contacts in Phelan’s Recourse, and he put the crew in touch with Ahmadia, who can help arrange for morphs and transportation.

The crew prepared for a trip to the Saturn system. Solomon decided to try a bouncer, and Octavius tried a takko with Thessa in a ghostrider. Upon their arrival, the team met Ahmadia, who was sleeved in a 2 metre, thin, female ghost morph with two extra arms, and pale blue skin like a hindu deity. “Welcome to the rings, children. May you have a blessed stay.”

Solomon’s contact, Shipless Joe, had a ship waiting for him, so the crew wound their way through the maze of Phelan’s Recourse, often relying on the hab’s ever-changing maps. As they entered a poorly-lit 20m x 20m shipping container that connected two sections of Recourse, there was a flash of light and a shot rang out, ripping open a hole in Octavius’ morph. Octavius’ enhanced vision barely made out the shape of a chameleon-skinned humanoid holding a rifle. It meshed a quick speech, “I apologize on behalf of my patron. She says that your handlers must be given a message. I pray that your backups are recent”. Solomon distracted the assassin with a freezer burst while Thessa hijacked an unattended Daitya, which she sent careening into the foe, crushing him against the wall. Octavius, held together with nothing but duct tape and a prayer, was quickly assisted by Solomon, who found some repair spray to help undo some of the damage.

Heading back to more populated sections of the hab, the crew were inundated with multiple newscasts of the attack in the cargo container, including one first-person account from the cameras on the Daitya. The crew were quickly gaining local celebrity status.

The crew found their ship, the outsystem skimmer named the Þrúðr, and received Shipless Joe’s request to simply deliver a sealed box of goods to the mining operation called New Texas. The mine is situated on an asteroid that the Titanian Commonwealth incorrectly thinks is within their jurisdiction, so Shipless Joe suggests the crew stay low and not attract the attention of the navy. The ship is stolen, but will be Solomon’s to keep if he pulls this off.

Octavius then led the crew to a bar called the Swing State, where he met up with his old friend, Ella Tan. She asks him for a favour. She wants him to stop a hypercorp-run mine that uses indentured slaves. She’ll provide a portable server, and if he can get all 52 egos out of New Texas, she’ll re-sleeve them out on the brink. It has to look like an accident though, otherwise the hypercorp, Ecologene, may get suspicious and look for their missing employees. There’s some @-rep in it for him, but no cred.

Thessa looks into the whereabouts of two missing persons, finding out that the two neo-ravens left a couple days ago on the Hildegaard, a short-range ship captained by Maya Nelson, an @-rep legend in the area. Octavius and Thessa try to visit her at home, finding out from her partner that she hasn’t returned, and was only supposed to be out for a quick day trip. Back at the docks, Octavius uses his new celebrity status to convince the dock foreman to give him access to some cameras in the area. Thessa and Octavius analyze the footage of the two neo-ravens before they went missing, finding that a case was shadowing them. Analysis showed that according to body language and the gait, the case probably held a fork of Madeline Yu.

The crew strapped in and prepared for travel.

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Road Trip

Fletcher sent the crew back out into the great red outback to track down Michael Murza. Going back to the access hatch, they traced his steps to where they met up with some tire tracks. Following the tracks, they found that the driver must have known the area well since they avoided all the rougher terrain. After a couple hours, they saw the dust cloud of an approaching hovercar. Pulling over, Octavius slunk out of the vehicle and blended into the red rocks. The hovercar turned out to be a Martian Ranger by the name of Nancy Cho. She was looking for two men, one of them Michael, but the crew feigned ignorance, pretending to be lost. She let them know that the other missing person was her coworker, a Martian Ranger by the name of Eli Kim, and to let her know if they see either man. Nancy directed them to Starlight, a nearby town that was near a relatively busy trucking route that could get them back to the highway.

Continuing down the trail, the crew arrived in Starlight. The town is built into a cliff face, and the façades of buildings are carved right into the rock, someone even carved what looks like bricks and siding into the stone. An aluminum and plastic elevator clings to the cliff face, connecting the four levels of metal catwalks bolted into the rock. Above some of the doorways are signs, including, “The Downtown Bar and Grill”, “Pharmacy”, and a dollar store called “Last Chance Leon’s”. Four beat-up hovercars are parked out front, but you don’t see anyone.

The crew started with Last Chance Leon’s on the second floor. A steel door with a red L logo led in to a 4m wide, 20m long room filled top to bottom with dollar store goods. There weren’t even aisles as much as pathways. A desktop cornucopia machine was bolted to a steel table in the middle of the room. As they entered, the lights turned on and hidden speakers started playing big box store muzak. A beefy pod shuddered and looked up, “Welcome to Last Chance Leon’s – he’s on break now, but I’m his trusty AI sidekick – let me know if there’s anything you need. If it isn’t here,” he made a sweeping motion with his hands, “I can make it in a jiffy”, he pointed at the cornucopia machine.

The crew didn’t find anything overly interesting, so they went to the bar on the fourth floor. A sliding steel door opened into a bar 3m wide by 10m long. Two muscly ruster morphs sat with a fury with silver hair, each with a plastic bottle of beer in front of them. A group of four loud flats in black Ecologene uniforms sat together with a growing pile of empty beer bottles between them, singing (poorly) to the newest Martian independence dance song playing on the radio. A case stood at the back next to a fabber. The moment the crew entered, its AI meshed a menu (mostly different types of open-source beer) to them along with a jukebox playlist (mostly Martian independence songs of varying quality). Everyone was armed but the case. The crew noticed that the seams of the patrons’ clothing was deteriorating, and their eyes were slightly red, suggesting Michael had brought the infection here.

Solomon chatted up the Ecologene employees, finding out that they were just four locals that had been hired by Professor Madeline Yu to clean out the nearby lab. Thessa broke in to the bar’s system, and tracked down the Ecologene employees credit payments. She was able to get some information on the e-wallets they were using, hoping it would lead a trail back to Madeline.

The fury and her two ruster friends didn’t take too kindly to cephalopodic strangers, and told Octavius to leave. When Thessa tried to intervene, the locals told Solomon to tell his robot to quiet down. Even though he wasn’t the most popular person in the room, Octavius convinced the fury to talk about Michael. She was more than happy to, describing in detail how she saw through Michael’s synthmask to the clanker inside, and how she and her friends took him outside and disassembled his fingers joint by joint before putting a steel rod in each eye and then sticking the remains in the back of Last Chance Leon’s cornucopia machine. The crew asked Fletcher what to do now that they knew what happened to Michael. Doctor Kim responded that she had a nanoswarm ready that could clean up the fungus spores in limited areas. She sent the blueprints to Last Chance Leon’s. Fletcher suggested killing everyone in the room just to be safe.

The crew decided that was a good time to leave the bar. They fabbed up some nanoswarm hives, and cleaned the bar and Last Chance Leon’s. They opened the intake chamber of the cornucopia machine, seeing the only thing left a cortical stack (which the machines are programmed not to disassemble). A quick check confirmed it was Michael Murza’s. Thessa built a simulspace and used a bridge to boot up his ego.

The team tried to talk to him in the simulspace, but he could only repeat that he needed to get to the city, any city. The team eventually broke through to him, and he was lucid long enough to say that his ego was altered to make him want to spread the infection. Unless the crew can fix him, they have to kill him. Lacking in psychosurgery skills, the crew left him in the simulspace. Octavius added cities to the simulspace, and Michael’s ego quickly headed to the city, wandering in circles around large gatherings, such as sporting events and the downtown core. The team shut down the simulspace and put Michael’s ego into storage until they could find someone to fix it.

The crew went to find Nancy Cho, fearing that her colleague had been infected, and maybe infected her and their police station too. They met up with her at her station, finding it to be a small one-room outpost, with minimal staff (mostly AIs). Nancy said she had located Eli’s car (she had brought it back), but no sign of Eli. Octavius crept out to Eli’s car, finding a pile of fungus where Eli should have been, and he fished around, finally finding the cortical stack. He returned it to Nancy, who learned of the infection that had killed Eli. She sent out an all points bulletin to find Michael, fearing that he was still out there infecting others. Fletcher suggested killing everyone in the room just to be safe. Doctor Kim suggested trying the cleaner nanoswarm. The crew tried using the nanoswarm to clean the station and area, but it had limited effectiveness in the open. The crew headed back to Elysium.

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Working in the Lab

Octavius and Solomon adjusted their respirators while Thessa’s creepy scuttled closer and closer to the TLF research station. Assessing the local topography, Solomon suggested an approach vector that had a bit more cover, so they approached from the east. Octavius broke the silence by talking about coming here to find his brother. Solomon said he was here as an insurance adjuster to check on the damage.Thessa remained aloof. The area 30m around the facility was smooth, finely manicured sand. The building was squat, flat roofed, white, 20m x 10m, and had only a single story above ground. In front of the entrance was a 2m high, 5m wide, 10m long reinforced canvas arch. A flag of TLF’s logo, a yellow flower with 10 long thin petals, waved from a flagpole just outside the arch. Two rovers were parked under an open sided canvas tent, and there was space for one more. There were large cameras with zoom lenses and infrared sensors at every corner of the building. Thessa sent her creepy to take a closer look while meshing with the public section of the building. As the creepy got closer, 1m hexagonal stone pads rose up from the sand, spun to shake off the sand, and then resettled in front of her. They led to the door. Solomon and Octavius followed, taking a slightly different path that eventually led them to the same pads. At the end of the archway, the building door slid open. Inside, a holo-projection of a handsome salesperson bowed hello. An AI greeted Thessa in the mesh: “Welcome to TLF’s horticultural relocation lab. TLF is a leader in feeding the minds and mouths of tomorrow. Our stock has consistently outperformed four out of the six other companies in the same market space, and our research facilities were recently awarded contracts by two leading hypercorps. Our latest annual report is being meshed to you now, along with two complementary passes to our botanical gardens located at our head office on Luna. Please, come in and see how we are growing life and growing profits.” The company, Ecologene, didn’t list TLF in its holdings. Solomon used a rep check to survey his scientific friends for information on the company. Troublingly, none of the eighteen scientists (including agent Michael Murza) were really scientists at all. If the purpose was research, they had quite a poor research team. Octavius reflected on the situation, slightly troubled that his memories of training with agent Michael Murza on Titan included memories of being in a bouncer morph… even though Octavius had never been in a bouncer morph and had never been to Titan. The projection, Argo, mimicked Solomon’s clothing and complexion when talking to him, and tried its best to look more cephalopod when talking to Octavius, and reverted to his original handsome salesperson form when talking to Thessa. The entry room was 8m wide and 12m long with a door on the wall to the left and a reinforced double door on the far wall. The crew noticed bumps in an arc across the reinforced door, and quickly deduced that it was from kinetic weapons bullets fired from the other side on the closed door. Argo noted that another AI, Circe, controlled the secure lab. There had been a security event, but he said the company security team had come and gone without any issue. He asked Circe to open the door, but got nothing but silence. Solomon scanned the area behind the door, finding an 8m x 10m wide area with a large console station and many monitors. A clear glass tube 1m in diameter went from floor to ceiling in the far right corner. A turret with a machine gun hung from the ceiling, pointed towards the door. He could also make out three motionless synthmorph forms. Octavius, well versed in infiltration, snuck out to the roof, finding an access vent big enough for him, slid down, and into the secure room. The room was brightly lit, and very clean except for a patch of black mushrooms growing on the console chair. Octavius snuck along the ceiling, and skillfully cracked into the turret, spilling the chain of bullets to the floor. He then went to the console and opened the door for the rest of the crew. They inspected the bodies. A steel was laying by the left wall, two medium pistols with flux ammo next to his body, his front riddled with bullets. A slitheroid was slumped over one of the chairs, a few large holes in his skull casing. The last was a synth at the door, with several bullet holes in its back. Octavius took the pistols. Solomon took samples of the fungus. The team crawled 30m down the elevator shaft into a room 3m x 3m at the intersection of three corridors. The corridors went 50m in each direction, each ending in a reinforced glass door, 1m x 1m glass vestibule, leading to a 50m x 50m x 10m tank. The first tank was filled with lush green and red plants, mostly ferns. There were a couple empty areas where it looks like some plants were ripped out and taken away. There were three orange lumps covered with black mushrooms. Thessa broke through the mesh’s security with a critical success, invading the system without Circe’s knowledge. She then subverted the doors, and sent in a drone to check. The orange lumps were the remnants of uniforms with all the biological parts eaten away, leaving just the synthetic. The second tank was a collection of green and red cacti, with ten orange lumps covered in black mushrooms. The third was completely filled with water and green and red kelp. The water was very murky and they saw an empty hazmat suit swaying slowly back and forth in the artificial current. Solomon took samples. Whatever ate away at the uniforms did not eat away at the ferns, cactus, or kelp. Thessa subverted the security cameras and replayed the recent events. It showed Michael Murza and two other individuals in the tank, collecting samples of the green-and-red kelp. There is a dim red flash of light, and then the three start moving frantically as the organic parts of their suits start to melt away. Two swim towards the vestibule, while Michael swims straight up and wrenches open an access panel in the ceiling. He hauls himself up a ladder and out of the water. The other two never make it to the door, their skin and bones quickly eaten away by a growing black cloud. Back to reality, Octavius and Solomon check their suits – the joints and seams are quickly wearing away while the synthetic parts look good as new. A quick scan of the air shows the black spores that attach to anything organic and quickly produce a black fungus. The party evacuated and looked for where Michael’s crawlspace emerges. They found the access hatch wide open, but no trace of Michael. Scanning the air, they found trace amounts of the fungus have already escaped onto the Martian soil. They closed the hatch and contacted their client. “Get back here as soon as you can,” he said, “We need to assess the infection and then plan next steps.” As they regrouped, the team talked about Michael. Interestingly, they all had the exact same memories of training with him on Titan. The memories were faked, and not well-integrated. Back in Elysium, they returned to the same skyscraper. The boardroom was dimly lit with black walls and a table made of fabricated cedar. Three people watched an animated projection on the far wall of Saturn, highlighting several moons and larger objects in the rings. The image faded to black as the crew entered and the individuals turn to face them. The menton morph in green synth-leathers and red LEDs bowed, “Let me start by apologizing for so abruptly recruiting you for this mission. We can explain everything and can reverse any negative effects you have suffered. My name is Fletcher, and this is Zimmerman, Doctor Kim, and Angel,” he gestured to the plain synthmorph, a female morph with hands for feet, and the screen behind him which now showed the faces of three women quite similar in age and appearance. He explained that they are representatives of a highly skilled, cross-factional group that fights threats to humanity. They have been watching each of you for months, weighing the benefits of recruiting you. Your egos were redirected when you egocasted in, and implanted with a memory that would give you more incentive to join the mission. You all performed admirably, and they have informed their superiors of your actions. David offered his samples, and the crew is rewarded by +10 i-rep. The three-faced Angel disclosed her research on TLF. It is not run by Ecologene at all. Instead, they suspect the exhuman Blessings Forgotten. She was a leading biologist before the Fall, conducting critical research into countering TITAN biological threats, but her current motives are unknown. We believe she operates out of somewhere in the Saturn system. Doctor Kim mumbles, “But why would she put an expensive research station on a planet so far from any of her other facilities?” Zimmermann replies casually, “Why would you put your suitcase on a plane you never intend to board?” Fletcher looks grim as he turns to his colleagues, “Now we must find our old friend Michael. If he is infected, we may have no choice but to eliminate the risk.” He turns to you, “Head back out to the desert and try to find him. We will try to locate him from here. Good luck, agents.”

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Pre-game Intro
Welcome to Mars

It feels like waking from a beautiful dream.

The software boots up, bringing your Ego to life in an expansive simulspace built to look like a Martian paradise. The smell of fresh-cut grass and the feeling of the sun on your skin immediately put you at ease. You stand in a wide canyon between two towering red cliffs, the tops slightly obscured by swirling red dust. In front of you, a red-haired woman with a brown dress with a crimson belt – you guess the AI’s avatar is supposed to resemble Mother Mars – stands between two flags. To her right is the laurels of the Planetary Consortium, and to her left is the red and gold flag of the Tharsis League.

“Let me be the first to welcome you to the planet Mars,” she smiles warmly, “Do you have anything to declare?”

“No. Let me through,” you send the message without bothering to make your avatar mouth the words.

“You have been cleared for a thirty day visitor’s visa,” the AI smile doesn’t crack, “and if you’d like to stay longer, please mesh with our Immigration Office. Please enjoy your stay.”

The simulspace abruptly goes dark, as if the sun set in a second.

It feels like being violently woken from a deep sleep.

As your Morph boots up and your senses come online, you get a painful whiff of bleach and harsh cleaning fluids – you guess the last person to sleeve into a Morph here wasn’t quite able to keep their cookies down. Your limbs feel heavy and slow as you fumble around to pull out the cords stuck at the base of your skull. You hear the clatter of the cords on the ground as a plain AI’s voice states “Morph activated. We know you have many choices of Morph rental, and we thank you for choosing us.” You try to open your eyes, and the bright fluorescent lights of the facility force you to close them again. Taking three more breaths of astringent air, you try again, straining to focus on anything in the bright white room. Your muse chimes in, “Diagnostics complete. Looks like they got it mostly right – they didn’t get the eye colour you ordered, but they are willing to change it now for a modest fee.”

“Don’t bother,” you sit up and sigh, “we’ve got to get to a meeting.”

Within minutes, you are cleaned, dressed, and in a hovercar half way across Elysium. The city is a nest of lights and music at night, trying to live up to its nickname of “New Los Angeles”. The inhabitants’ hair seems to defy gravity, and their clothes are sometimes not much more than strategically-placed holo-tattoos. Your car’s AI weaves through the flyways, eventually stopping on a landing pad sticking out of the side of one of the many downtown skyscrapers. No one is there to greet you, so you casually walk inside.

A Menton Morph in a green leather suit with red LEDs around the collar stands in the waiting area, surrounded by rows of empty red chairs. “Not quite what I was expecting, but it will have to do,” he says more to the walls than to you as he turns to lead you into an adjacent room.

He pulls out an AR clipboard. To you it looks like a glowing piece of red glass, but he runs his finger up and down as if scrolling through a dossier. “I asked for an agent with twenty-three specific skills,” he frowns at clipboard, “of which you have four.”

He taps the clipboard and you are surrounded by a ring of eighteen AR faces. “Agent, you have been chosen to assist me in researching a disturbing series of events,” he flicks his wrist and the holographic faces start rotating around you, “These were the inhabitants of TLF Incorporated’s Research Station Alpha-5. Two days ago, there was an explosion at the station, killing all the inhabitants. TLF retrieved the workers’ cortical stacks and re-sleeved them in fourteen new Morphs, sometimes with generous upgrades.”

“But there are eighteen of them.”

“Observant. Obviously they sent me a top-of-the-line agent,” he sighs, sounding a bit annoyed at the interruption. Fourteen of the faces dissipate, leaving four. “TLF stated that four of the inhabitants’ cortical stacks were too damaged, and had to be re-sleeved from week-old backups.” One of the faces stops in front of you, and you recognize it immediately.

“This was our agent, sent there to infiltrate the TLF compound. Anything that he found out would be on that cortical stack. Damaged or not, we need it back. The compound is about four hours out from Elysium. Since you are traveling as a tourist, I have arranged for a desert tour. Once you get near to the station, simply depart the tour vehicle, and retrieve the cortical stack – or as much of it as you can find. Are you ready to depart, or do you require me to explain it to you again?”

“Nope, all good,” you say as you walk back to the hovercar.

The next morning, you are in a four-person hovercar, speeding along the surface of a never-ending red desert. The dust storms blot out a lot of the morning sun and fill the car with a slight smell of sulphur. Three other Morphs are in the vehicle with you. None of them look like typical tourists.

“Almost there, kids,” the driver’s Ego sounds a bit too happy so early in the morning, “TLF Alpha-5 is just up ahead. I can slow down so you don’t have to jump out.”

Everyone looks a bit surprised. “Who said I was going there?” you stumble.

“Come on, four different bookings – and the only thing you each have in common is that you requested getting as close to these coordinates as possible. You are all going to the same place. So what is it? Treasure hunt? Scavengers? Rival corps looking to pick up the pieces of TLF’s research? What do they research out here anyways? I heard they were testing some alien plants that loved Martian soil. That true? Ah, never mind – here we are. Get out. I’ll keep the meter running for a few hours, but I’ve gotta get back before sundown. Terraforming ain’t stuck yet, so it gets darned cold out here.”

You all strap on your respirators and step out onto the cool red sand.
d20_Map_-_Mars.jpg

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