Monday, June 24, 2019

What Does HOT Hot Mean?

Cryotechnology progressed in leaps and bounds in the last century; even so, like almost anything else, most ships use last gen tech, and the military uses the generation before that. The ship they got a ride in, though? Top-of-the-line pleasure vessel, with cutting edge cryo chambers and comfortable, padded seats. Even closets for their gear, and a pre-flight cocktail served with real fruit and an authentic tiny umbrella. Rather than a sudden sense of panic and light-headedness, the marines gently drifted off to peaceful sleep.

Just as gently, they awakened, refreshed after your long nap... just before a momentary headache. One of the marines was hit a lot worse than the others, losing his lunch. The lights in the room flickered, then turned on with a bit of a hum, revealing a sandy-haired man in a white ship's captain's uniform, his brow furrowed, his hat under his arm.

"Well, good news is, you made it home. Bad news is... you missed your interview with the president. Good news, I guess, you all got the medal of valor awarded... bad news, it was posthumous. Yeah. welcome to 2748, boys, you've come a long, long way, and you've still got a long way to go. Funny how 55 years of waiting doesn't help that we're all in a hurry... I am Captain Seth Grainer, of the - well. We'll get to that. For now... you've got some catching up to do."

The man explained that the ship was destined to be flown into the sun, but that his organization had boarded the ship and redirected it to an orbit around Saturn. The others were not so lucky; Lt. Commander Thawar and the Ghost were assassinated. The Lt. Cmdr because of what he discovered about the Duul'Tlak - wholly separate from the Kchurg - and the Ghost, because of the Ghost Initiative, and what it could have meant... The ghost technology is dead and gone. Which means no more upgrades for those with the Ghost tech in their head.

Meanwhile, defeating the Kchurg and the Duul'Tlak resulted in the Duul'Tlak surrendering and returning both Quern and Melba - which has become L20's new base of operations. The Duul'Tlak have actually joined the UEA, as have the Kchk'Trrs; between the two of them, the UEA gained a lot of new technology, and have even opened a joint research facility with the Kchk'Trrs.

"But that brings me to why I am here. You are... no one. You are 200 years out of your time, dead twice over; no one knows you exist. In point of fact, as far as the UEA is concerned, you no longer do; your biometrics have been scrubbed from every database, down to the ancient paper copies. You simply don't exist. Which means you are perfect to talking, fighting, and blowing things up - all the things you are good at. However... Alliance Security, or AlSec, is growing too bold. They have far more power than they ought. They built a new class of stealth ship, one that could signal dark days ahead. There are forces working in the background to destabilize the UEA..."

"A new initiative has begun, a galaxial survey mission. That initiative absolutely must succeed. There are, as always a few dissenters, but some seem more... entrenched... than others. Your first mission is to "convince" one of these dissenters to change her mind. Legally, I'm afraid - no disintegrations!"

After a few days of rest, the team loaded up on shiny new gear - lasers and sonic grenades and shoulder-fired missiles, oh my - and set off on their... er... latest first mission. The team experienced their first running insertion - as their dropship flew over the drop location, they were fired from man-sized cannons, along with a blast of gel; they hit the gel to slow them down, then the gel dissipated. Overall, very exciting.

After a quick firefight (resulting in one of their members gaining a few new holes in her armor), they managed to burn a hole through the door of the mansion and break in. Inside, after a quick search, they located the safe room, and quickly set to knocking on the door with their shoulder-mounted missile. After some back and forth, they came to realize that one, the senator and her husband thought that they were someone else, and that two, that someone else had taken their daughter, and was using her as leverage. Now this was something they were prepared for - assaulting a hardened bunker! The senator sent her daughter's location - using a beacon she had kept hidden from the kidnappers - to her desk upstairs. "Oh, that's a heavy desk, but I guess we can..."

"Oh, uh... check the drawer. There's a pad inside. Use that. Please... leave the desk here."

Calling for their drop ship and apologizing for breaking the senator's house and killing her security squad, the group headed towards the signal. A few miles out, the copilot relayed that the facility was heavily armed, and asked, "Do you want to go in hot? Like, HOT hot?"

The party agreed. Twice, actually, because the pilot asked in a somewhat disbelieving tone at first. As it turns out, HOT hot means instead of firing the marines at the ground, the dropship would fire a barrage of bunker-busting rounds, then fire the marines at extremely high velocity at where they hoped the hole was. With the warning, "When you land, MOVE!" the marines started their very rapid journey. Everyone landed and moved, except for the overweight sniper, who rolled into the wall in front of him and bounced back; lucky for him, the last member bounced off the wall above his head, having not actually been fired before, and entirely unsure of what to do. She pinwheeled through the air, bounced around through the hole, and slammed into the wall, sliding down somewhat disoriented.

After killing half the personnel in the facility (not that they skimped - they only met half the facility), the team finally located the girl - Annalise - and with a few well-placed shots, took out her captors. And rescued a bulky suit of mechanized armor:
Heavy Armor 10; weapon hardpoint; pace 10; built-in targeting system. Oddly... the sonic grenade they threw had no effect on the girl. Hmm.

Returning her to her parents (and freaking out the police), they bid them farewell, refusing to tell them how to get in contact. Later, during debrief, Captain Grainer explained that he had gotten in contact with them afterwards, and offered his support whenever they needed it.

And then, for once, everyone got a real vacation - a whole week with nothing to do. What could go wrong?

Thursday, June 20, 2019

The Musgrave Poem

Arriving home from their adventures, the Musgraves (and friends) return home, where Geoffery Musgrave, with some amount of groaning, set to the mountain of paperwork that awaited him. However, a letter awaited him: his great Uncle had passed away, and in so doing, left a small amount of money to various members of his family - among them being the Musgraves. They were invited to a meeting a few days hence at the Musgrave Manor. The uncle, Reginald Musgrave, was already buried, but the will was to be read; additionally, since Reginald was quite the fan of parties, a huge event was to be thrown, and thus guests were encouraged to bring friends and family.

Bertie attempted to learn how to throw knives from Jo; he was... mildly successful. Depending on who you asked.

Desmond St. Price, happy that his nephew was enjoying his time with the Musgraves, left him in their care, though took Penelope with him. Veronica was tired from her travels, and remained at home; Frances decided to keep her company, while Jo opted to go with the Lady Musgrave.

Two days later, they were moved into their rooms (Piper, who drove everyone there, stayed with the other help in the employee housing), and at 9 AM promptly, the reading of the will commenced. The barrister, Roger M. Gently, read the will - the house and the little fortune that remained was to go to Reggie (Lord Reginald's grandson, Lord Reginald Musgrave IV) and his wife. However, there is a treasure, hidden somewhere on the property; were it to be found, its wealth would be divided amongst the family and friends, and part given to the British Museum. The treasure was connected to a poem:

Find the face that workers tread
Hook the eye and wet its head
Pull the teeth and be then lead
With other kings to buy our bread

The barrister clears his throat, and added, "In a strange turning of fate, the treasure was uncovered by Lord Reginald himself only three weeks ago, though he refused to say where it was, only that he would write down its location in his will. Unfortunately, that time never came, as his illness was very sudden. His will stands as written, if the treasure is rediscovered."

There is some discussion, in which the family agrees that apart from a small fee - "Spending money, wot wot" - the treasure should be donated to the museum. Most of the family were only somewhat interested in the treasure itself.

As the reading was wrapping up, Bertie noticed another boy his age - Humphrey Silversmith II - sitting behind one of Reggie's friends, Me. Eustace Spode. Seeing Bertie, Humphrey put his finger to his lips, then stood up, back up a few feet, and laughed uproariously, catching the attention of the adults. As Spode turned, he tripped on his shoelaces - tied together by the bratty child.

In the crowd of distant relatives and their friends, there were a few that actually seemed interested in treasure hunting, among them Mr. Rudolf "Kipper" Herring, Mr. Freddie Glossop and his friend Mr. Edgar "Bicky" Bickersteth, Mr. Cuthbert Wilberforce, and Miss Cora "Corky" Winkworth.

First, the family went to investigate the garden, and its sundial, suspecting the "face". While Lady Musgrave and Piper spoke with the gardener, George Bingley, Bertie and Jo picked their way into the garden shed, then quickly fled the scene when Lady Musgrave wandered over. She looked over the shed, but saw nothing of importance. While she was investigating, Bertie decided to relieve himself on the shed, and was caught and firmly cuffed for his impertinence.

Hearing that Professor Enoch Bassington-Bassington knew quite a bit about the history of the house, they returned to the house to speak with him. He told them that the house itself was only 215 years old, but the stables (and attached workers quarters) were quite old, having been built in 1192, originally as a small barracks. The barracks was converted to living quarters for servants, but the stable is still used for horses. He mentioned that Sir Oswald "Pigeon" Widgeon knew more about the actual poem and associated treasure, but the party decided to head to the stables.

Bertie explored the barracks/living quarters, and tried the doors, but found nothing in the open ones. The three locked doors belonged to Emily Byng, the maid, George the gardener, and Piper, temporarily next to George. Finding nothing interesting, he joined the rest of the party. Lady Musgrave's keen eyes spotted a strange looking stone in the floor - the face of a winking fat man, with a snaggle-toothed grin. Looking closely, she realized his "eye" was actually a hole! Bertie grabbed a hook off the wall, and managed to wrestle it into the eye, as Jo poured some water from her canteen on the face. Pulling the hook did nothing, and for a few moments they were stumped. Finally, Jo and Bertie left to get some water from the well. Returning and pouring the full bucket on the stone's "head", they watched the water quickly drain into a tiny crack. A moment later, there was a clunk! Jo and Bertie gave the hook another pull, and this time, the stone tilted, and slid across, revealing narrow stairs down!

With her torch (flashlight) in hand, Lady Musgrave led the way. Inside, they found an entryway, that lead to a small workroom (with a heavy bronze hammer), and finally a bedroom of a sort. Lady Musgrave spotted a shelf, surrounded with scraps of rotted leather; as Bertie carefully put the pieces of the "puzzle" together, she took a closer look. Something wooden was kept on a low stone shelf, next to what Bertie pieced together - a bag that could hold roughly a basketball. Jo discovered a scrap of pink taffeta, torn and stuck to a loose nail in the doorway.

Whatever treasure was here... someone else had discovered it, and stolen it!

As they returned to the light of the stable, one of the youth came to inform them that lunch was prepared (The chef lived in town, and thus didn't stay in the barracks).

The adventure will conclude... next time! Whenever that is.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Nukes, Bugs, and a CRAAAZY Escape!

Two of the members of the party awoke in darkness. Quickly, they lit their flashlights (and in the case of the guy afraid of the dark (nyctophobia), lit two lighters and an extra flashing, too), and took a look around. Each was in a small, cave-like area, barely six feet wide and 12 feet long. Tentacles wrapped around the room, and a leathery skin-like covering that seemed to be some sort of doorway. A thick, slimy, mucus-like, grey sludge covered the room - as well as their sidearms, supplies, and armor. wiping everything off as best as they could, they realized their rifles were missing, as were their flamethrowers, grenades, and other high-powered weapons. They were left with their sidearm, some ammo, their (de-powered) melee weapons, and most of their gear.

After cutting and/or pushing their way past the leathery door-flap, the two upright members of the party met each other in a narrow hall, filled with more leathery doorways. The nyctophobe found one of the party's ghosts, and kicked him awake; startled, he vanished in a blink. Freaking out a little, the nyctophobe started muttering to himself about ghosts - more so when he heard footsteps behind him, and saw no one there!

After a little trial and error (and successful fear checks), the party was reunited. Listening carefully, they heard wind from one direction, and headed that way. Everyone was present except the Ghost; she wasn't in any of the rooms, and even her gear was nowhere to be found.

Outside, they found a ruined city, obviously having been attacked by the Kchurg; after a short discussion, they returned to the cave, and explored the other direction. At the end of the tunnel, they found a hollowed-out room filled with leathery eggs. Correctly surmising that they have been left there as food for the soon-to-hatch brood, they carefully crept out again.

Those with ghost abilities were sent into the city; they found a ruined office building, which was bereft of unspoiled food, but had running water. Sending for the others - and fighting a razerdog on the way - they made it to the building and got cleaned up. Once reorganized and with working sidearms, they set out to find somewhere a little less damaged, in hopes of finding some decent food. The area looked as if it had been attacked about three weeks prior, so a lot of food was spoiled; no fresh fruit, for sure.

Heading for a stronger looking structure, they ran into a strange man who introduced himself as Crazy Jimmy. Professing to be a drifting engineer, he managed to avoid answering a single question they asked. He did, however, suggest that he had a way to escape the city.

One of the more hardy-looking buildings had some minor damage, but enough hardening to look like a decent place for supplies. Inside, they found bloodstains and shells - or rather, not shells, but rocket-gun casings. Hoping to find the owners, they searched the second floor (the first floor was a huge lobby), and uncovered a break room, with a working beverage and snack dispenser! They quickly smashed it open and pulled out any unspoiled food. Next door was a security office; there were obvious signs of a struggle, and a bloody smear of a handprint on the pad. Unfortunately, using tape to press it didn't open the door. Down a long hallway was another security door, this one with a pair of cameras guarding it.

Checking the fire escape, they found a perfect handprint; ever-so-carefully peeling it up with tape, they managed to transfer it to the hand scanner in front of the security office! The door only opened a little way - too little to enter the room in armor - and after a short discussion, "DASH" was picked to enter the room. Gagging on the smell of death, he found half of a security officer in the door, and another dead officer sitting in a chair, his oxygen tank long since run out. Luckily, he found a security swipe card on the man, and was able to pull some nice weapons from the gun safe. They headed back down the long hallway, and swiped into the room. After a tiny lobby, complete with secretary desk (empty), the room continued up some glass stairs, ending at a massive pair of wooden doors. In fact, black walnut - wood not found on Quern, as it was native to Earth. Whoever owned this place was loaded.

Inside the doors, they found an opulent home - and better yet, food! Steaks in a curing chamber, cheese, wine, alcohol (including some insanely expensive Snakebite Whiskey and some very expensive Black Label brandy), and even weapons. They also found the owner, hidden behind a secret door, having shot himself while listening to Bolero, the classical piece by Ravel. The music was playing on a loud loop.

Settling in and looting the place, everyone enjoyed a lovely meal and a good rest on the various beds (one huge "for show" bed, one comfortable king-size bed, and one rather strange round bed, that was inexplicably pink, and had fluffy handcuffs dangling off of it). In the morning, they awoke to Crazy Jimmy making breakfast: beans and sausages. They didn't complain much. Afterwards, they asked Jimmy what his plan was.

"Aha! Well, you see, here's the deal, now: before we can get off this rock, we gotta nuke something! Oh yeah, nuke it REAL good!"

The immediate response, of course, was, "Uh... wait. A nuke?"

"Well, yeah! Y'see... a bullet has a name on it, right. A grenade is more of a 'Dear Sir or Madam'. A bomb is addressed, 'To Whom It May Concern'. But a nuke? A nuke is more of a PSA."

He leaned forward and grinned toothily, while attempting a subtle wink. "Gotta nuke 'em all!"

By bits and pieces, the party unraveled his plan. He had, it seems, found an unexploded nuclear bomb, hanging in some webbing. When throwing rocks at it had failed to cause it to explode, he decided to enlist the assistance of the marines. He took them there, and after a brief fight with a detonating infested marine, managed to rig up enough flame thrower ammunition to burn the webbing and drop the nuke into the pit below it. Crazy Jimmy "borrowed" one of the nyctophobe's lighters, and handed over a box of parts, wired together. He tried to explain how it all worked, but only got as far as "the basics of radiofrequency cavities and klystron-based electron beams," before everyone was well and truly lost. He rephrased it.

"The pointy tube in the box makes the tiny lightning balls in the air all sing together so loud it makes the big dumb space-bag go quietly insane because it can't hear the voices in its giant head, and that lets you yell at it, an' hopefully it'll listen better'n you dumb lot. Here, this button makes it go whoosh. Now git, I gotta warm myself up for my PSA."

Hurrying to another tall building (this one with four of the fleshy, floating creatures hanging in the air above it), they managed to toss a rope up and climb inside. It was a rather unenjoyable experience. Inside, they pushed the button, and the creature shook and moaned; it called for a pilot. The pilot stepped up and found that the "controls" were, in some way, familiar, as long as he closed his eyes and pretended he was wearing meat gloves.

Up they went! After a few minutes, the nuke dropped, and the city and surrounding hills were blasted sky-high. The creature they were riding in rocked, but they managed to gain altitude and head into space. Once there, they were fired upon by another ship - a friendly one! They managed to contact it, and left their rather disgusting transport behind.

Once aboard the damaged battle-cruiser, they introduced themselves, and learned that they were on fairly equal footing with the crew - after a battle with space-borne Kchurg, the ship was damaged, and the entire bridge was destroyed. They had been keeping the ship and minimal power levels, as the creatures seemed to sense energy.

Alarm bells sounded! From below, a shuttlecraft rocketed towards them, pursued by the ramming Kchurg; some quick firing managed to blow them out of the sky, and allowed the shuttlecraft to land. Inside were the Lt. Commander, and Ghost, as well as a few other survivors! They had used the distraction of the nuke to flee the planet, promising to return for the others once it was safe to do so.

The ship, however, was in no state to fly down, and the other battlecruiser - and its captain, General Acetus - were destroyed. They decided to flee into jump space, to give them time for repairs...

Unfortunately, they had forgotten about the Duul'Tlak blockade! Dash was quite surprised - "What, what? Who are these guys?! I thought the Duul'Tlak were those bugs we were fighting!"

The blockade immediately opened fire, as the navigator, with the assistance of the aces, dodged as best as they were able. After only a single barrage, however, the firing shifted to new targets - the Kchurg! As if the battlecruiser were dragging them from the planet below, huge creatures sped towards the stationary Duul'Tlak. Most of the creatures were shot down, but the few that made it through tore through the Duul'Tlak ships.

The battlecruiser, with only a lone Duul'Tlak still focused on it, sped beyond the gravity well of the planet and made the jump into jumpspace. Once again, the party got a bit of a break. There weren't steaks, but at least they didn't have to worry about anything eating them or burning holes in their brains.

Finally, the ship dropped out of jumpspace. The navigator began taking bearings to determine where they were, but none of the star charts were lining up; puzzled, he started doing calculations. They ended up in a solar system, with at least one habitable planet... And judging by the absolutely massive ship that approached the battlecruiser, the system had a pretty good amount of tech, too! The navigator took that moment to inform the crew of their current location: Omega Parada.

The other ship hailed them, and nervously, the comms officer opened the channel, filling the secondary bridge's screen with... bugs! Multi-eyed, carapaced, bugs! Though... not like the Kchurg. Oddly, the bugs were wearing... uniforms?

Through their translation software, the crew were greeted by Lord Dappled Sunlight of the Kchk'Trrs, who welcomes you to the Omega Parada system, his home. After some back-and-forth with the Lt. Cmdr, the lights suddenly dropped to red alert! Multiple targeting systems locked onto the battlecruiser, and the other ship immediately fired, blasting the rear engines!

After a few tense moments, the comms pinged again. It seems that a Kchurg had stuck on and made the jump. Obviously upset, Lord Dappled Sunlight immediately took the entire ship hostage - for their safety, as much as anything. The party received a hurried advancement, becoming officers, just so they would get better quarters. Which were actually really nice, even if they were bug-shaped. The Kchk'Trrs had obvious high-tech laser weapons and stung guns, far outstripping the tech of Earth, which provided quite a bit of diplomatic encouragement not to die like an idiot by trying to fight them.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Ghost Initiative

Outpost 7 is a carefully hidden base, blended into the foothills of a nearby mountain range. It was one of the original bases on Quern, and as such, is stocked with weapons, ammo, and armor is available. Because of its out-of-the-way location, not only was Outpost 7 not a target during the original Duul'Tlak invasion, but it managed to survive the first wave of the newest threat. Over the next two weeks, stragglers pour in from all over Quern. Some troops were fresh as a daisy, and confused as the the sudden panic, while others were just as war-torn as the party. News filtered in; the Duul'Tlak were tough, but these monsters are far, far worse. Cities were wiped out by the rampaging monsters. It's a good thing most of the civilian population were pulled out.

Apart from a few patrols to keep everyone from going stir crazy, the party decided to invest in the surgical facilities, and upgraded themselves with countless cybernetic enhancements. A few decided to try out for this new, secret UEA program... the Ghost Initiative. After a major surgery, where complicated tech was implanted in their head and body, the newly-reformed characters found themselves having attained new powers...

And of course, new weapons. The UEA Fireteam grew by one member, and more than one marine decided to grab a sniper rifle and a pile of grenades.

After the two weeks of "R&R" elapsed, Lt. Cmdr. Lars Thawaar called the troops to one final all-hands meeting.

"Men and women of the UEA, we've been getting reports of these creatures - we're calling them Kchurg - moving this way for a while now, but it looks like they are gearing up for a scrap. As animal-like as they are on the battlefield, something intelligent is controlling them; they've got us cut off from any other way out... except for a path through the mountains. It's tough, but it's the only way. That said, we simply can't get through just yet. We've got excavation clearing a path, but it's going to take at least 48 hours, and intel suggest we've only got 30 before those creatures come charging in. We've got the tank sandbagged in, plus two mechs we managed to get running and souped up, plus whatever equipment you can get your hands on, but that's still not much."

He takes a slow look around the room. "Your orders are this: survive. Keep everyone here safe for as long as you can. You are our last, best hope of living through all this."

The battle was a long, drawn-out fight, as the waves of Kchurg washed up against the long-guns of justice. Only a few of the creatures managed to make it all the way to the front lines, and those were quickly dealt with. Carefully chosen shots eliminated the large Fleshies, and the rocks they hurled were no match for the tough armor of the mechs. They gained an unlikely companion - The Ghost, the original member of the Ghost Initiative, and one of the most famous UEA army. Her likeness was plastered on all manner of recruitment posters and bunk walls. Not that she cared. Her nigh-on robotic sniping abilities were legendary, but she lived only to end the next enemy.

Finally, the main wave of the Kchurg arrived. The wave of razor-dogs was still held at bay, as the troops retreated back into the main building. The last marine in the tank decided to stay, to provide covering fire until everyone was inside. It took a little convincing for the last mech pilot to not die heroically, but he stepped inside the blast doors as they closed, safe and sound. They kept up radio communication with the tank as they moved through the base. She ran out of bullets, first on one mini-gun, then on the other, and finally on the heavy cannon, but the smaller razor-dogs couldn't crack the tough tank's armor. She spent her final hour reading the tank's manual and learning how to crack the reactor, so she could send whatever larger creatures came for it skyward.

The route through the base was much longer than the party expected; after nearly five miles of trekking, they finally made it to the tunnel. Behind them, the last marines moved through the tunnel. Taking a moment to reload and attempt to fix the mech (unsuccessfully), the party were the last to exit the tunnel system. As they stepped into the narrow ravine beyond, they heard a thrumming sound overhead... Fleshies! The mech fired, but didn't manage to bring down the great floating beasts. Each dropped a load of razor-dogs and needle-snakes, as the uncomfortable thrumming sound got even louder in their brains.

The ground creatures were, for the most part, dealt with swiftly, in a burst of fire and bullets, but the sound in their brains grew louder and louder until they could no longer stand it. One by one, the party fell unconscious, even the Ghost...