Saturday, April 27, 2019

The Quern War: An introduction

July 17, 2889

In 2424, the planet Melga was settled by some of the first human explorers. However, in 2463, a mere 39 years later, Melga was attacked by the Duul'Tlak as the first known act of interplanetary war in the galaxy. For the next 70 years, Earth fought a few light skirmishes against the Duul'Tlak. However, in 2533, the Duul'Tlak reached Quern, and immediately set up a blockade. Quern was the only Jump-route connecting the rest of the known galaxy. That attack and blockade began a 160 year cold war, ending only in 2693 when the Kchk'Trrs helped the Earth forces break through the blockade. By 2741, the Duul'Tlak had been beaten back to their homeworld, and the war was over.

It was not, of course, the only war; AlSec's coup, followed by the great battle of 2880 was a terrible war, but removed the subversive AlSec from Earth and the other planets, thanks largely to the crew of the Shifting Horizon. The events that took place before, during, and after that war were released under the watchful eye of Emperor Julian and the crew of the Shifting Horizon, in an effort to maintain transparency. Of course, compared to the 230-year-long war against the Duul'Tlak, the information relating to the uprising of AlSec and the overthrow of the Earth is still fresh in our minds; few remember the final salvos of the Duul'Tlak war, let alone the opening ones.

But the Quern War and the Battle of Melga may not have been all that the history books had written. There are rumors that something else entirely was at play.

Excerpt from presentation on anonymous J-Web message board, 2855:
So the Duul'Tlak discover Jump Drive technology only a few years before declaring war on Earth, right? As far as we could tell, they never left their own system - no Jump tech. However, the seven years they even know about the tech, they managed to not only start replicating the tech, they were able to fully duplicate it! It wasn't perfect, but we're talking about technology that took hundreds of years for humanity to engineer that was rebuilt in under a decade. I think you'll agree that there is no chance of that happening. In aptitude tests, the Duul'Tlak are no engineers - warriors, yes, but not engineers. How did they copy our drives? Stranger still, there is no trace of the original Duul'Tlak technology. Their assault made it as far as Quern, and held there. It wasn't until the Kchk'Trrs helped us assault Quern that we even made it that far. What happened to our superior numbers? Superior tactics? Superior firepower? You've read the same summaries I have. The Duul'Tlok are great warriors and tacticians, but they couldn't stand up to our forces! A bare handful of worlds against all the resources of Earth? Really?
End excerpt

The document fueling these rumors of conspiracy is a single transmission, received during one of the major offensives on Quern. Much of the document is redacted; furthermore, after only one more offensive, Earth forces stopped most major offences, resorting to maintaining the existing battle line, and only devoting a trickle of forces to the war at large.
Scan of a military communication, circa 2538.

Though the redacted portions of the scan have yet to be uncovered, it is believed that General Acetus, aboard the Sturmmund, had perished, leaving his troops under the command of Lieutenant Commander Lars Thawaar. LtCmd Thawaar held out at Quern Military Outpost 7, though they were cut off from the main fighting force. Any further information about Thawaar and the forces at Quern Outpost 7 has been lost to time - or, if the conspiracies are correct, hidden from the public. What really happened at the battle of Quern? The world may never know...

Friday, April 26, 2019

Burning Man

September 12th, 2019

At the bookstore, Toby applied for a job; he started right away. Mary Lynn was overjoyed to have him. Meanwhile, Will headed next door to the Hick & Frog deli for a light (though expensive) meal... hoping to find a way upstairs, and thus into the bookstore. Unfortunately, there didn't seem to be any easy way through to the roof.

Back in the bookstore, Toby asked about the door to the upstairs; Mary Lynn told him that she rarely went up there, and mostly used it for storing holiday decorations and books that weren't selling and were tagged for later sales events. Once he finished his work for the day, he asked if he could tidy up the upstairs; Mary Lynn was happy to let him, and opened the upstairs area. Toby did a little dusting - it was obvious no one went upstairs but a few times a year - and after some eyeballing, he realized the upstairs was smaller than it should be. After a little searching, he found a level hidden by a book, which opened a secret door! He quietly closed it again, and continued working. Mary Lynn called up soon afterwards, saying that she would be closing the shop soon. Toby asked if he could stick around and do some more cleaning; she was perfectly happy with that arrangement, and after locking her office, handed him the keys so he could close up.

Once she left, Toby waved Will inside. After a little more some quick work to cover their tracks, they opened up the secret entrance. The first time Toby opened it, it creaked loudly, until it was slightly open, then was completely silent; the same still applied the second time. Walking in, they realized it was because there was some sort of sound barrier, blocking all noise from going through! Handy, that. Stepping into the room, they immediately spotted a woman, crouched miserably on the floor. She quickly stood, and begged them to let her out of the chalk circle she was trapped in. Shrugging, Toby walked up and scuffed the circle. Immediately, the woman transformed into a horrifying demon! Will and Toby bolted for the door, as the creature screeched and dove for them, slashing with its horrible claws. Thankfully, it wanted to escape more than fight, and as soon as it cleared the secret doorway, it used a claw to tear a hole in the air in front of it, and vanished through it, leaving nothing but the faint smell of sulfur...

Cautiously, the two returned to investigate. They found a few things on the shelves, all carefully organized and labeled. Some seemed to have degraded over time:

  • A dark smear in a jar, labeled, "brain (rabid fox)"
  • An empty, cracked jar marked "Blood, demon"
  • A pile of rust sitting on a label: "hinge, rusted"
  • A scoop of dirt marked, "grave dirt - expires 8/1/1986"
  • A jar labeled "Crypt air" with a broken seal

However, there were a few other items that seemed intact:

  • A kitten's tooth in a tiny vial
  • A skunk pelt, wrapped in a ribbon
  • A dried rattlesnake rattle
  • A cardboard box, with a glass vial inside, marked morphine, 20cc
  • A folded paper with "hair, female, 100 years old."
  • A paper packet marked "Rhino tusk powder"
  • A dried gorrilla's paw

There were also a few tomes on the shelves. On the floor, a large, brass circle was permanently mounted, obviously a ritual area. Prominently hung on the wall was a map of Gregg County. Intersecting lines of different colored string cross the county. All the lines converge on an area outside of town, which a little investigation using Google Maps revealed as within the present-day Burn, a charred area of forest just out of town. Finally, a framed photo rested upon a small table; the three men pictured are the same three in the office: Morgan Dragic, Crayton White, and Rodya Kuznetsov.

October 10th, 2019

After midterms, Will saw some signs about a camping trip to The Burn, hosted by a professor, Dr. Barton. After gather some supplies, they and a group of other students head to the burn.

October 18th, 2019

The students included Kyle Lawless, a Biology major (who happens to be Toby's roommate); Ariel Summers, a Math major that flirted relentlessly with Kyle; Matt Meranda, a shy, lanky Computer Science major; Derek Ward, a boisterous country boy that joked with the guys and flirted with all the girls - a mechanical engineering major;  Journee Deering, bright, selfless, extroverted Biology major; the flirty Roza Gabriell, Biology; the self-important, typical-rich-kid Clara Beaufort, Chemistry - who was obviously crushing on Joe Jordan, a decisive, laid-back Electrical Engineering major. Finally, Jeong Song, an unadventurous, introverted, task-focused chemistry major, who only brought some snacks and a light, indoor-only sleeping bag.

Arriving in a van, the group were given various pieces of equipment to help carry, and together they trekked the hour into the woods. Close to the Burn, they could see the trees were looking unhealthy; the closer they got, the more dead the landscape grew. Finally, the trees were nothing but charred husks, and ash drifted on the still air. Dr. Barton pointed out various markers, showing the Burn seemed to be growing, and drifting slowly towards town. They set up camp at the edge of the Burn; after a short lecture, Dr. Barton said that he had a headache, and went to lay down, telling the students to feel free to look around, but to be back at camp before sundown.

Toby decided this might be a good place to try his ritual, and with the help of Will, managed to complete it. The two felt themselves suffused with joy; after the initial high wore off, they still felt confident - the somber nature of the Burn didn't weigh on them as heavily.

Joe Jordan suggested finding the epicenter; as the students wandered off in 2s and 3s, Toby and Will used the map from the bookstore, and found the center with little difficulty. Once there, they discovered a sliver of metal, poking out of the ground - a badge! It read, "The Agency", and had a badge number: TX13-02. Pulling it out of the dust and ash seemed to lower the strangeness a little. Wondering if there were other badges around, Toby and Will began carefully searching; an hour later, they found Badge #4 - and, weirdly, they heard what sounded like a terrible car accident, complete with screeching tires and shattering glass! Of course, there were no vehicles there; the students nearby were as confused as Toby and Will were. However, they began helping the two look for badges. Over the next few hours, they found twelve badges; only #6 was missing. They also found a small, gold pin... the same pin that Morgan Dragic had been wearing! Had he been present here, and perished, along with the Texas 13?

Right at sunset, Will got a headache, with a vision of a strange, gray beast attacking Kyle Lawless. They returned to the camp, where Joe and Kyle managed to get a campfire going. Toby, hearing noises, investigated Dr. Barton, and found him restless and running a low-grade fever. There was no cell phone signal in the area; the last signal they had was an hour away, before their hike. The students agreed that as long as Dr. Barton was ok, they would wait until morning to send someone down the trail.

Eventually, most people go to bed. Toby stayed up with Derek, Kyle, and Ariel by the fire, and Will headed to bed. About an hour after everyone went to bed, Dr. Barton staggered out of his tent. As he loped into the firelight, Toby could see Dr. Barton's eyes had gone black, and his skin was a dark grey! Before anyone could react, he reached out an arm, and with a quick movement, ripped out Kyle's throat! As Ariel screamed, and Toby lunged forward, he shouted in a gravelly voice, "What comes cannot be stopped! The Convergence is only delayed... We will ravage your world!"

Derek jumped up as well, and together, he and Toby fought the monster back. Hearing their shouts, Will and Joe Jordan woke up and charged out to help as well. Will and Toby managed to get a good taze in, and after several back-and-forth rounds of fighting, finally managed to put the crazed Dr. Barton down. As they fought, the man kept repeating, "Power Grows... Convergence Returns!"

Joe volunteered to run down the road and call for help; about an hour later, a military helicopter (the only kind that could make it through the electrical interference) landed nearby, picking up the bodies of Kyle and Dr. Barton. A number of off-road vehicles arrived half an hour after that, administering medical assistance and helping the students gather their belongings. Early the next morning, everyone was returned to campus.

Toby, Will, Joe, and Derek - the four that fought off the crazed Dr. Barton - were regarded as heroes by some of campus, and reckless vigilantes by others. Legally, they were cleared of any wrongdoing; there were plenty of people who witnessed Dr. Barton's attack. His obituary said that he was affected by a rare brain tumor that affected his behavior, and that even without violence, he was on the edge of death. His body was cremated by his family's request.

Individually, many of the students on the trip came to Toby and Will and thanked them, volunteering help if they ever needed it.

Since Kyle Lawless was Toby's roommate, he's going to get a +1 on his next academic roll out of scholastic pity...

This should put everyone at Sophomore, just after midterms.