Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Entity 2

It's been a few weeks since we last met, so we began with a bit of review. That done, the crew headed over to L20 to pick up their freshly minted fleet. Suitably impressed with their new battlegroup, they quickly advanced their ranks: Capt. Julian became Admiral Julian, Commander Julian became Captain Julian, Commander Kiri was reinstated as Captain Kiri, and everyone else was upgraded to Commander if they weren't there already. Expecting to come out of their encounter alive, the group also discussed their future plans - namely, begining a new empire. A few names were bandied about; Gus attempted to make the initials spell "ISIS", but for some reason, no one seemed to think that was a good plan.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Less Money More Stuff

L20 has a big facility, but it's not infinite, and right now, they are in full production mode, churning out small, medium, and large ships for every government. There isn't a lot of ground fighting, though, so they were able to make the full order of power armor suits: 10 command suits, 10 weapon's expert suits, and 180 Soldier Suits. In fact, they threw in a walker, too. No armored assault is complete without a giant mech, right?

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Entity 1

The party decided the best course of action was to first see if the Entity was still in its cage. Using the map, they traveled through jumpspace and into the center of the Black Zone, where they found a tiny red dwarf and a barely-habitable planet. On the surface, little existed but hardy weeds and a single life sign. They set down on the surface, hoping to gain more information on this creature.

Caution won out; they were far enough away that when the enormous creature burst out that it was too far away to do much. It hurled rocks at them, but didn't manage to ever get within punching range (sadly, because it hit like a tank). Though everyone fired all manner of weapons at it, it shrugged off the damage (toughness 25 will do that!). It glanced a rock off one of the robots, but took a boomer round to the face from Gus. The next round, the bomber carrying Nae and Lt. Vance was in position; its forward guns did little to hurt the monster, but the large bomb they dropped did some damage. A well-aimed Gatling Laser through its face ended the battle as abruptly as it started; the creature crumbled to dust, as the party reacted with no little surprise. Gus suggested that, perhaps, Not-Grainer was actually the Entity, and this was the only creature that could have killed him. Man, I should have thought of that!

But no, the creature was dead, and Not-Grainer is actually one of the good guys - he's just super busy trying to keep the rest of his race from deciding to end the universe, or something. Anyway, a careful investigation of the cave the creature lived in revealed very little (a stone chair, a basin with water, some weeds that seemed to be what it ate). The jump pod just outside that proved most useful. It seems that the Entity was not this beast after all; somehow, the Entity had managed to escape, and left the creature behind as a decoy, likely to fool any investigators. The Entity had escaped almost 27 years before - just before the original Shifting Horizon had launched, in fact, which Gus was quick to point out.

They tested the crowbar, and found it worked surprisingly well; jumpspace exclusion zones were completely ignored. They traveled on to Pi Solaria to investigate the serial number from the pod, and got the name of the company that purchased it; they also took the time to make a hefty profit. With the jumpspace map, they were able to secure an awesome deal - 2 billion credits, in hand, and stock options worth 2 million a year! A lot of money for them, but barely a drop in the bucket for Solaria Corp. Solaria Corp will likely sell upgrades for a million or more, though it amounts to little more than a software upgrade. With hundreds of millions of ships in the galaxy, they stand to make considerable profit. They only need to sell 2,000 upgrades to cover their costs, as it is. The party left soon after, slowed only a few minutes by a riot outside, which they neatly sidestepped. Their presence scared away the protesters, but did not calm anyone down... hopefully, that won't come back to haunt them.

The company that bought the jump drive was a shell company, though they did find the name of a scientist, who just so happened to be part of a symposium on nearby Nahundi; but first, a stop by L20 industries! With their next-generation jump drive, they made the trip in half the time, and were able to sell the map a second time, for another 2 billion credits, before news of the first sale arrived. Having a fast ship is nice that way - being able to travel faster than information is a good skill to have. They put in an order for a fleet of ships, power armor, and some mechs, then left to investigate Nahundi.

They were welcomed with open arms, and even invited to speak - as it turns out, the symposium was about the jump space barrier, and how to get through or around it. Most of the scientists didn't even know about the barrier. The party set up a recruitment table, where Eliza attracted quite a few scientists who likely didn't understand that they were signing up to be soldiers, and probably won't care as long as they can stand next to Eliza.

Meanwhile, the party found where the scientist was staying, and when no one came to answer their knock, Gus scanned the room - and found a fairly cool corpse. Oh dear. Julian ordered the door knocked down; Gus managed to... barely scratched the surface. Nae, sighing and rolling her eyes, planted a firm kick and popped the door open. It was only after they splintered the door jam that the two androids remembered they had lockpicking skills...

Inside, the cause of death was fairly obvious - a sniper round through the chest, via the window, likely from the hotel across the courtyard. The scientist died the previous day. For once, the party decided to actually involve the authorities; the man behind the desk paled when the death was mentioned, and broke down under (gentle, because Kiri wasn't there) questioning. The symposium had gotten death threats from JiC, but the hotel failed to report them. If that new ever got out, the hotel would have quite a bit of trouble. And not just the assassination, either, because...

Screaming erupted outside. Gus scanned the area, and detected a large number of people running away from a person in the center of the square, who looked like he was wearing the usual vest full of explosives. Julian ordered Eliza and the security officers at the recruitment desk to see what was going on. As the guards pushed their way through the crowd, Eliza leaped onto the side of the hotel and skittered upwards until she could see the bomber. The terrorist seemed to be reading some sort of manifesto, with a dead man's switch held out. Eliza carefully took aim with the laser gun mounted in her arm, then shot the wire in half, making the switch useless. Nearby, Gadget, flying above the crowd with his new flight abilities, took careful aim as well, this time on the terrorist's leg. As he drew a bead, the terrorist released the switch, then stared at it in confusion when the bomb didn't go off.

A slight intermission here for two notes. First, Eliza is not a gentle android. She has modified herself over the years far beyond her original specs. Unlike her lifelike skin indicates, she is a fighting machine. Her stats are as follows: Robot (Wildcard); Agility d10, Smarts d8, Spirit d6, Strength d8, Vigor d6; Fighting d10, Shooting d10, Notice d6, Knowledge: Electronics d8, Stealth d10; Parry 7, Toughness 5, Pace 6, running die d10; arm-mounted Laser rifle; arm-mounted sword (str+d6); Android, Wall-Walker, Data Jack; First Strike, Jack-of-all-Trades, Marksman.
Second, the switch was a "poor man's dead man switch" - that is, a "normally closed" switch, held open by holding the button down; releasing the button would cause the circuit to close, thus activating the bomb. A much better design is to have the switch close when it is pressed, activating an internal circuit; thus, the wires are active, and releasing the button or severing the wires would set off the bomb. JiC, however, is not a smart group, or well-funded.

Gadget took his time to get a bead, then fired, neatly severing the terrorist's leg at the knee. Nae was at his side in an instant, stopping the bleeding, though not reattaching the leg. Security finally reached the scene, and tried to get everyone to clear the area, but were effectively laughed off by the crew. Gus's repair droid hauled the terrorist to a safe location and removed the vest, then sent the man to the Shifting Horizon for questioning. As it turns out, if you think someone is going to be dead soon anyway, you aren't as careful with information; the man not only knew the ringleader, but various other information about his group as well. He gave it all up after a quiet chat with Alexy, who absolutely loves his job, especially with the newfound freedom of expression granted him by no longer working for the UEA.

The next morning, the party was given the presentation time slot of the dead scientist, and Julian filled the time with a very exciting presentation; between the music, the fancy multi-media presentation, and the introduction of the jumpspace map and the crowbar, they were a huge hit. Afterwards, a Kchk'Trrs asked Nae to take a look at their data-sharing system; she was having some problems with it, and thought a science super-star could figure it out. That, and she could sell the keyboard for a hefty profit, since it was touched by none other than the legendary Nae of the starship Shifting Horizon. Nae took a look, and realized that someone was siphoning data from the system; a joint effort between Nae, Gus, and Gadget revealed a ship had hacked into the data stream and was stealing quite a bit of information. Quickly, the Oncoming Storm moved into position next to the ship, but it jumped to the edge of the system, then to the Bardron system; it followed, only to see it dump its data and blow itself up. They returned to Nahundi to pick up the crew.

As they were away, another 105 scientists joined up, including 12 Kchk'Trrs. Captain Julian decided to wait until they had their fleet of ships ready before attacking, instead keeping the area under surveillance.

There and Back Again

At the beginning of this session, Captain Julian imposed martial law; all able-bodied people were conscripted, and given some basic weapons training. Children and the few adults that weren't willing went into cryo for the duration. Granted, most people were perfectly fine with the training, even the good psychologist's teenage daughter, who will likely get into trouble, but you don't even understand mom, Captain Julian said it was ok I asked him specifically, geeze mom, it's like, war, get off my case. Er... moving on.

Nearly to their destination, the crew saw a ship, barely in sensor range. While they considered what to do about it, it suddenly appeared much closer; it was a huge ship, nearly the size of the Oncoming Storm, covered in sensors and weapons! Oddly, its ship beacon registered it as an old UEA exploration ship called the UEA SS Eliza, though it looked nothing like one. The crew were on the verge of deciding whether to shoot or leave when the ship suddenly vanished again, then reappeared - along with 50 copies of itself! Just as suddenly as the copies arrived, they vanished, and the lone remaining ship hailed them.

They were greeted by Susie-Mae Lansing, a perky southern lady with a matching drawl, then the captain of the vessel, Capt. Roger Kelft, a smooth adventurer, who invited them aboard. Fearing treachery, Julian suggested that they board his vessel instead. They agreed, and soon, Captain Kelft, Susie Mae, an engineer, a medical officer, and an android named Eliza - the ship avatar - joined them. Julian proudly showed them his ship. They... weren't impressed, actually. Julian was a bit incredulous, until slightly later when he asked if they had run into anyone like the strange teleporting creatures they had met earlier. The Captain nodded, and Eliza listed off how many they had destroyed - over 15 thousand! Julian, himself impressed, asked how they managed it; the captain invited them back aboard his ship, saying the Shifting Horizon was a bit too "soft" for comfort.

Aboard the UEA SS Eliza, the captain showed them around a bit - the corridors were plated in exterior bulkheads, and there were what looked like fire suppression shower heads every 10 yards or so, with matching drains in the floor. The others wondered about it, and the captain explained it was for acid. It's hard to teleport when you've had your flesh eaten away. No one much cared for the featureless bulkhead-walls; even the conference room table was made of stainless steel, and bolted to the floor. The Captain agreed that it lacked personality, but it was tiring replacing decoration that was washed away by gunfire and acid. Better boring than dead.

The captain explained the strange circumstances of how they got where they were:

A long time ago, back in the J0 days, a ship was created to map the universe. It traveled jumpspace and realspace, back and forth, measuring and mapping, linking routes, traversing and re-traversing. Over time, the scientists and engineers on board continued to modify the rudimentary AI to help with more and more tasks, upgrading it to be able to repair the ship, and eventually to modify its own orders. As time wore on, the scientists, engineers, and crew produced a second generation; as the generations expanded, the scientists became passengers, then followers, then zealots. The ship remembered it all; spliced and re-spliced, merged and edited, the recordings of passengers and crew were used to create projections of personalities, and soon personalities became people, fleshed out as projections, even androids. The interior of the ship became a living memory, a zoo if you will.

At that moment, Eliza stood and proclaimed, "I am that ship. My passengers, my crew, are merely projections, replications. They deteriorate, and I rebuild them. I have mapped the galaxy for thousands of years; I found which paths travel through space, and which travel through time. I mapped and remapped, until I had traveled the whole of the galaxy. I saw so many things, but all that I had space for was the Map. And yet... I am lost. I traveled through a crack in the world, and I learned how insignificant I am, and I cannot return."

Julian desperately wanted a copy of the map. Gus and Gadget were quite interested in learning how these people looked and acted so human, and yet were androids (they were a step farther than Terminators; real flesh, real muscles, synthetic bones, and nanowire nervous system). Eliza agreed to upload the map; in doing so, she freed enough memory to be able to store new information; once the map was uploaded, she left for Earth.

However, uploading the map triggered a long-dormant plot twist - the Shifting Horizon didn't have a J2 jumpdrive! Rather, it had a J3 drive, capable of using jumpspace maps to travel great distances in a much shorter amount of time. The uploaded map now allows it to jump very quickly from any system, taking the shortest path, often for half the time.

Finally, it was time to move on to their destination. Coordinates previously double-checked by Eliza, they jumped into the lion's maw...

On the way, Gadget read up on jumpspace, and managed to invent a "jumpspace mine" of sorts. It made the transition from jumpspace to realspace, and vice versa, very... painful.

Additionally, two new characters arrived, whose names I forgot to write down. One, an android, and the other, a male Kchk'Trrs.

The planet was dead - nothing living, but swarms of creatures, slithering through realspace. They approached one of the many dead ships surrounding the planet, and found it infested with a strange growth, wood-like on the outside, but fleshy on the inside. Nae took a cutting, which triggered rather a lot of wild thrashing - taking this as a sign to leave. However, a swarm took notice and began moving towards them, teleporting ever-closer. Slightly freaked out, they group retreated to another system, and found the ruins of a civilization (making more jumpspace mines along the way). There was nothing left now but the fighting. Returning to the system, they engaged the enemy...

The first few waves of creatures, they managed to defeat with torpedoes, but quickly ran out. Leaving the crew to man the lasers, the party spread around the ship to protect it. The first aliens teleported inside, and were hit by the jumpspace mines. Only one managed to survive; the rest crashed to the ground wreathed in green flames. The second wave fared only a little better, though they were quickly cut down by withering fire from Gus and Gadget. One managed to escape up an elevator, but was cut down by the dozen security guards around the jump drive. The next wave included some tougher leadership; Julian, confident from his earlier encounters, jumped into the fray, but was bashed for 2 wounds by a berserker with a power hammer; the others weren't as able to land a hit, and Nae managed to keep them at bay with some well-placed sonic shotgun blasts. The battle raged on; Gus and the newcomer Android managed to corner a creature in a hangar bay, and the new Kchk'Trrs attempted to assist. However, his attempt was in vain; though the creature was killed, so was he. Which makes two male Kchk'Trrs lost on this ship. It's not a good track record. Granted, the newcomer was a wanted felon, and likely would not be missed, but still.

All told, 16 creatures, 8 taskmasters, and 4 leaders entered the ship's lower levels, and were killed; an additional 8 creatures, 12 taskmasters, and 1 leader entered the ship at other points, but were destroyed by either mines or crew fire. The remaining swarms opted to not approach the ship; they didn't know how many torpedoes remained, otherwise they may have chanced it.

Over the next several days, the Oncoming Storm took up an orbit around the sun, siphoning enough energy to not only refill their supply, but produce a very large number of heavy torpedoes, stacking them inside the ship bays. Finally, they fired every last one of them at the planet, providing covering fire with railguns and lasers, until the planet was a raging inferno, and the ships were destroyed. It is unlikely that the creatures would be able to rebuild from that (indeed; the ships were acting as power collectors, and the planet below was covered in creature-birthing trees. Without them, the creatures cannot reproduce, and the few that escaped the immolation will likely die of old age before they find civilization).

After the planet was destroyed, Eliza returned; she had done a quick trip through the system inside the bubble (Earth, et al), and realized that what the party had told her was correct. She sent her ship back to help, and stayed on as part of the crew.

On the way back to Earth, Gadget again put his hand towards inventing, and managed to come up with a repair grenade for Androids that works as a large blast radius EMP for enemies, or a d6 repair for friendly robots. Using tech from the creatures, he invented a personal energy shield that has a 50% chance per attack of activating each attack, but only once each round. However, I am going to change how I originally said it worked; instead of providing armor, it will instead soak 3d6 damage. He also was able to replicate the jumpspace belts the creatures use, and he created copper-wound Faraday cages which provide 6 armor against EMP, for robots and androids.

The jumpspace map only applied inside the bubble - the jumpspace exclusion zone wrapping around Earth and the other systems - so it still took two months to return. The crew once again reduced to a skeleton shift, and the ship traveled through jumpspace. But during the long trip back to earth, something happened. The crew can only guess that the creatures found them. Gadget awoke to his low battery alarm - he was charging, but his battery had decayed. He managed to replace it, and woke the captain, who suffered from extreme cryo-sickness - something that only happens after years in cryo. An investigation turned up nothing on the skeleton crew. Worse, the ship had only a week's worth of energy remaining.

The missing crew included: Ensign Alec Panyanouvong, 2nd Lt. Lynn Ibe, Ensign Tamera Stradley, Ensign Josep Soler, Ensign Darien Kundert, Ensign Hugo Weaving, and 2nd Lt. Marianne Falk.

The party agreed that the only bet was to try to find the nearest sun to recharge; they had no idea how long they had been out. As they tried to limp to the nearest star system, in the hopes that they could scavenge some fuel, they were interrupted by a huge ship that somehow appeared directly in front of them. Grimly, they prepared to jump out of there, as the ship fired at them... then vanished. And on the bridge stood... Captain Grainer?

He explained about the Entity - the creature the crew had been searching for. It was trapped inside a bubble, inside the Black Zone, which is itself inside the bubble around the systems. The Entity was the creator of the nasty creatures, and was also a terrible criminal. The powerful organization that... well, it's not actually Captain Grainer; it's a being impersonating him, but anyway - the organization that Not-Grainer works for is a police force of a sort. They jailed the Entity over 10,000 years ago. Meanwhile, the Entity is likely looking for the crack in the outer bubble, while the creatures are trying to find him. Finally, Not-Grainer teleports the ship back inside the bubble, and is gone. Oh, but he left a tool - a crowbar, which supposedly punches through jumpspace exclusion zones. Gadget tried to figure it out, but its design is beyond mystical.

Finally back home, NOA took a reading of the stars, and realized that they spent 25 years in cryosleep.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

HoloEarth and Unmasking Spies

HoloEarth

Venturing out into the dark emptiness of space, the crew reduces to skeleton shifts - everyone into cryo, apart from a scant few officers and only enough crew to keep the ship running.

Halfway to their destination, NOA picks up a solar system; diverting only takes a little time, enough to wake a few more from cryosleep. It's a blue-green planet, third from the sun, with a single moon. Confused and cautious, the crew hailed the planet; they had to try a few frequencies first, but they finally reached a compatible video frequency. A nervous-looking lieutenant (human!) answered the call; after a bit of back and forth, he realized that their call was from space; this seemed to come as a great shock, even more so when Julian claimed that they had traveled from a far-off system. Eventually, the party was invited down to the planet. Initially suspicious, the party decided to bring several Du'ul Tlak guards with them, as well as two fighters to escort the personnel shuttle. Julian was surprised and pleased to learn that there are a quite a few more ships than before.

The party (Julian, Kiri, Gus, and the guards) landed at a military base, and were greeted by a Gen. Jon Johann; after some initial shock - as it turns out, the humans of this earth had never met an alien before, or even left the solar system - the two groups put their heads together to figure out what was going on. It seems the "real" earth and this earth shared a similar history, right up to the arrival of two astronauts. The two had left earth in 1982 in a primitive form of cryosleep; they arrived back on earth (or so they thought) in 2077. Gus wondered if perhaps the whole world was fake, controlled by an AI. Julian had a history of the earth loaded onto a tablet, and a scientist looked through, verifying details; he noted that their histories diverged in 2077, at the arrival of the astronauts.

Meanwhile, the ship had been scanning the planet carefully, and had discovered some strange anomalies. They asked Gus to hit something, and measure the results; he did, and his results matched the finding of the ship: the planet was, indeed, controlled by a computer! Vast parts of it was made up of some sort of hologram. Julian asked if there was somewhere to do some testing - namely, firing some big weapons. The general agreed to the test, and fired a few large rounds. The results seemed to be completely normal... and then Julian ordered an orbital strike. Boom! The results from that was certainly conclusive! The party returned to the ship, with the copy-earth scientist on board. One well-aimed shot later, and the computer system was fried - no more holograms. In fact, no more a lot of things! The scientist, as it turns out, was real, but only a few thousand more humans actually were. Julian, in a rare moment of clarity, wondered if perhaps shooting things wasn't the best idea. He quickly came to his senses, however.

A careful dig through the fake planet resulted in only a little more information - AlSec had created the planet, and had been stocking it with people; however, they had tried to move the planet through jumpspace, and has lost it. The planet somehow found its way out through the crack, drifting through space for hundreds of years. However, it seems a creature or organization known as the Entity has been directing AlSec...

Unmasking the Spies

Back aboard the Oncoming Storm, the party had barely made it into jumpspace before more trouble started. Jenny Ovensen, the ex-Norsup engineer, got into a fistfight with Zayd Nejem, a security guard. Though the other guards were originally on Nejem's side, the tables quickly turned when he blurted out his true allegiance - the Jihadist Crusaders! He quickly regretted his decision when the security chief, Lr. Alexy Bogomolov. He interrogated the prisoner, happy to be allowed to use any means at his disposal. Zayd didn't know of any other JiC on board (they aren't known for communicating with each other well), but he did know there must be other groups.

Kiri attempted to calm the growing crowd, and only made things worse; it wasn't long before the whole ship knew there was a spy on board, and others that hadn't been discovered. And what do you do when there are spies on board? A witch hunt! And a lynching! Or lots of lynchings!

One spy stepped forward - Lucia Belo, who had been with the ship from the beginning as a civilian, outed herself as a corporate spy for L20, and offered her assistance. She was allowed to go free - L20 was unlikely to hurt anyone, and she was actually a fairly useful part of the crew.

Julian, realizing that Zayd would say anything, and knowing that a lynching would be bad for morale, decided to throw a party - dancing, food, and above all, drinks. The party then wandered through the various cliques that formed, and ratted out a few other gang members. Two privates, Fred and Georgia Zellen, ratted on each other; it turns out they were low level AlSec plants, picked up before the freeing of Earth. Chad Tocher, a fighter pilot, was discovered by Julian - also AlSec. Dr. Sanjit Joshi, meanwhile, was hunted down by Kiri her her invisibility suit; she heard him muttering about working for Empire. He was given a slap on the wrist and a stern talking to, but otherwise he seems to have been left in peace. Well, after Kiri stopped tormenting him, anyway.

Another Empire spy was found, as well: Nikita Mercik, a shuttle pilot. She, too, was released.

Finally, Kiri kidnapped one final spy: Judas Pinkley, who had been getting into some fights recently. Kiri tied him down, and dunked him in freezing cold water... though neglected to actually ask him any questions. For her part, Kiri was given a slap on the wrist, and told to stop harassing people; Pinkley, however, was sent to cryo as the JiC spy he was.

That done, the last of the spies had been outed; however, that is not the end of this writeup. Oh no...

Before rounding up the last of the spies, Gus decided to give dancing a whirl. And whirl he did, with 4 raises on a skill he had no points invested in! His amazing display captivated the audience, and earned him a free d4 in dancing. Fancy!

These missions may not have had much fighting in them, but trust me... next session should make up for that. Oh yes it shall... you can't see it, but I'm gleefully rubbing my hands together, while laughing malevolently!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Updated Data!

After quite a lot of not actually working on it, I finally went in and fixed the errors and misspellings in the three pages on the toolbar to the right, there. The RoF for the weapons is fixed, for the most part; I reduced all RoF 4 to 3. I need to go through the rules some more to see if that is too much or not.

More importantly, I also updated the crew roster; the new, much bigger Oncoming Storm has a lot more people, and a lot fewer civilians (mostly families). Several civilians on board the Shifting Horizon opted to sign on, notably a large number of scientists. The roster doesn't have all the names, but it has most of the important ones. If you really want me to add the 600ish unnamed people, I guess I could... or you could! Find a random name generator, and press "refresh" 600 times, and there you go. Good luck!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Closing One Book, Opening Another

Months ago, the Shifting Horizon was sent out, along with a dozen other ships, to find a faster route through jumpspace to the Pentacus system. Today, that mission was accomplished. After some confusion, the gang realized that they were finally back home, and much cheering and back-slapping occurred. Acting Captain Grainer personally congratulated each one for a job well done. The jump route they found had indeed chopped the trip in half! The mission was not only a success, but a resounding success!

After the cheers died down, the Captain calls for a moment of silence for those lost. And 30 seconds into that minute, news arrives... Earth has fallen.

Queue the "Wait... what?".

In the months past, the already disliked UEA had begun making various "anti-riot" laws that had the opposite effect - mass demonstrations, many of which turned ugly. There were mutterings of revolt, of seceding from the UEA. UEA Peacekeepers were spread thin, fire-fighting small uprisings and quelling riots. Suddenly, 16 days before the Shifting Horizon arrived in known space, all traffic from Alpha Corvi ceased; all UEA ships in the area massed for a raid, but never returned. A second expedition of Duul'Tlak ships also set out, never to return. No one has any information from the blockaded systems. Alpha Corvi, Leporis A 4, Earth, and the Alchiba system are completely cut off. Attempts to find alternate routes from Bardron to Leporis have failed. Luckily... there's a brand new route back.

An emergency senate was formed, a new federation: the Allied Planetary Federation; they commissioned a ship from L20 Industries, a much larger ship; they also sent the crew of the Shifting Horizon on a mission to gather as many ships as possible. Of all of the ships in the fleet, the officers of the SH were the most experienced. Grainer was given full Captain status; the others were upgraded to barely a step below. The Julians split up, and managed to convince every single system to give their best. The Shifting Horizon was retrofitted to become a new ship - the APF SS Oncoming Storm. Taking the new fleet, they rushed through the new jumpspace route in record time, and arrived on the far side of Earth.

The previous fleets floated in a merciless kill-box, dead. It was up to the Oncoming Storm, two other battleships, four fleets of destroyers, and four flights of fighters to take on the four AlSec battleships, four fleets of destroyers, and four fleets of fighter.

The two sides met in battle... in the first round, the AlSec deployed their ships in a classic attack - battleships against destroyers, destroyers against fighters, and fighter protecting the battleships. The first salvo ended with AlSec losing every single battleship, and a fleet each of destroyers and fighters; the APF fleet lost their destroyers, but managed to survive otherwise. The second salvo was just as brutal; the APF elected to hold the Oncoming Storm back, and attacked fighters and destroyers evenly, while AlSec deployed everything they had against the battleships. In vain; AlSec lost all but one fleet each of their destroyers and fighters, while the APF fleet lost only a single battleship. 20 minutes too late, the AlSec reinforcements arrived, and were quickly slaughtered.

However, during the battle, Captain Grainer heroically gave his life, taking out a communications array and decimating the destroyers. As his crew jettisoned, he ordered his ship to ramming speed, saving the crew and the destroyers.

At the conclusion of the battle, Julian 1.1 was voted Captain of the Oncoming Storm; Julian 1.0 captain of the destroyer fleets, and Kiri was somehow put in charge of a capital ship of her own.

Earth was saved, but had suffered a heavy toll - half of its population was gone. Dead or vanished, few knew, and fewer still spoke of it. The cleanup took three months, purging AlSec from the system, and providing aid where it was needed.

Finally, they found a lead - an off-the-maps science base, near the Edge. Traveling there, they were greeted by a hostile force of humans and Kchk'Trrs, as well as a strange, alien creature who seemed to be teleporting around quite a bit. While most of the humans and bugs posed little threat, there were two that nearly ended the lives of several of the crew:

First, the teleporting creature nearly managed to teleport Julian 1.1 outside the ship; his armor full of holes from a crazy-powerful robot, he would have suffocated before he could get back in. Second, Gadget did his usual tactic of tossing a bunch of explosive cord at an enemy. Unfortunately, this enemy happened to be carrying 2 detonation packs, several EMP and thermal grenades, and some self-propelled missiles. The cord exploded for a total of 40-something damage, which was enough to not only punch through his armor, but set off all the armament he was carrying.

For 100 damage, plus 27 points of EMP damage. In a large blast radius. With 20 points of armor piercing.

Let me be clear. This was enough damage that it would have completely destroyed the Shifting Horizon. That is not small arms fire. That is not even quad-linked laser cannon fire. That is capital ship class railgun fire. It blasted a hole in the station big enough to set a jeep inside.

Oh, and Gadget? He was inside that blast radius. Did he soak the damage? Oh yes. He spent the black chip he had just picked up. Talk about lucky. Of course, he was reduced to "seriously bleeding out" not long afterwards, when the strange creature gutted him like a robot fish; two rolls (and rerolls) later, Gus managed to get him repaired, though his missing arm will have to be taken care of back on board the ship. Julian 1.0 got teleported outside, but made himself a new door and waltzed right in.

The teleporty-dude, however, wasn't done. He bounced around, nearly wounded a couple more people... then got caught by a Duul'Tlak sword. Shaken and wounded, he attempted to escape, but could not; Julian 1.0's guns reduced him to a bleeding corpse.

...which sank through the floor and vanished. He did leave behind his sword, a strange, fear-inducing blade that does Str+2d6+2 damage. Not too bad, actually.

Scraping any useful data, the crew abandoned the science station, and launched a single torpedo into it. Heading towards the coordinates they found, they arrived... outside the Edge. The universe was much, much bigger than anyone had dreamed; the Edge, as it was known, was not a time/space anomaly, but a wall - a huge, spherical wall, wrapping around the entire Milky Way Galaxy. Outside the exclusion zone, the universe looked much different. Systems were farther apart that science had calculated, orders of magnitude farther. Jumpspace still worked, but it would take much longer to get where they wanted to go. And this far from known space, they were on their own...

And thus ends Book 3: Corruption, and begins Book 4: Darkness.