Thursday, September 19, 2019

Pakku Mansion

After a lovely Christmas break, it's time for a little ghost hunting! GlennMac called the group into his office, and introduced them to a new member, a Flight Mechanic named James Carrar. He handed them an address to investigate, a property that was rumored to be haunted; several people had tried to buy it, before being run off by "ghosts". The price had dropped to a mere $10,000, barely more than the property alone, even though the building was in good condition. If nothing happened, it would be scheduled for demolition soon. GlennMac had managed to get the electric company to turn on the lights, but there was no running water at the moment.

Reaching the property (with Austin's girlfriend and roommate in tow), they took a look around. The building was a very large, single-story home; they stepped inside, and started looking for ghosts. They hadn't gone far before the front door slammed shut! Shrugging, they continued their search. Every room's door was locked; they managed to break, pry, or pick a few open, but didn't find anything interesting, apart from some furniture, empty boxes, and garbage. Oddly, they kept scuffing over shards of some kind of crystal or broken glass.

Eventually, James and Will found a fist-sized glass sphere; it looked important, so they grabbed it. Out of the corner of their eye, they saw a flicker of movement! Lugging their recording gear with them, they chased the shape down one hallway and another, finally cornering it; they finally saw it for what it was - a bluish, dripping, humanoid shape! They approached, and it suddenly turned, growling, and ran for Alistair! Raising his hands in defense, he dodged aside, neatly flipping the creature over his head. It dashed off, moaning...

It was at this point that someone pointed out that the mansion sure looked like a Pac-Man map.

Gosh, really? Pac-Man? No idea why you would think that.

In the corner, they found another bobble; Alistair held onto this one. Looking through it, he realized that certain forms were clearer than before, while others were more... ghostly. Suddenly, they heard a scream from Alistair's roommate! Dashing towards the source of the sound, they ran into a figure clad in an orange jumpsuit. It slid to a stop and looked them up and down. "We-heh-heh-hell, now! What have we here?" Grinning, he fished in his pocket, and pulled out a metal plate with loops of wire - a poor man's brass knuckles. He took a swipe at James, who retaliated by swinging a heavy pipe wrench at him. The wrench slid easily through the ghost... Alistair, realizing that his glass ball might have an effect, held it out and tried to activate it. With a "WHUM", all the lights in the old house changed from flickering orange bulbs to slow-moving tongues of blue-white flame. The ball itself dripped blue light, glowing brightly. James took another swing, and this time, connected! Will, moving in from behind, pulled out his tazer-club, and let the ghost have it; shaking, the jumpsuit-clad jailbird crashed to the floor. Alistair, arriving with his glowing ball, pulled out his gun and shot the ghost in the head. The ghost's form vanished in orange smoke...

Meanwhile, someone else pointed out that the globes seemed to function like the powerballs from Pac-Man. Hmm, how strange.

Just then, they heard sounds from behind them! They turned to find... the roommate? Behind them? Huh. Searching further, everyone stuck together to investigate the rest of the house. It wasn't long before they found an oddly dead-end hallway. The wall and the end seemed to... fade in and out, almost. Alistair stepped forward and held his globe to his eye. The hallway seemed to continue on, unimpeded. Curious, he stepped through the wall! His girlfriend, already freaked out by seeming him headshot a ghost, absolutely freaked out. Screaming, she ran towards the wall, only to find herself catapulting into the hallway! She was so overcome by fear that a streak of white appeared in her hair.

Gosh, someone said. That hallway is EXACTLY like Pac-Man!

After a little exploration more, someone realized that the music I had been playing the entire time was the Pac-Man theme song. Finally, the pieces began to come together. James suggested that everyone look for the large room in the center; they did, and found another ghost - first, a pink-haired punk girl, who yelled at them for hurting her friend, Bashful. Using another globe, they defeated that ghost when James came up behind her and bashed her head in with his pipe wrench.

After defeating Pinky, they came to the center of everything. Alistair found a secret door, but no way to open it - and suddenly, the fourth ghost slid through the wall! Growling, the demonic form slashed at Alistair. James shrugged and moved on, realizing he wasn't going to be able to do much against a ghost, and reasoning that he already had proof enough of ghosts. Alistair took a good hit, shrugged it off with a chip, and decided that maybe he would NOPE out too... abandoning his girlfriend in the process. Luckily, Will got there just as the ghost entirely missed hitting her, and gave him a good taze. Furious, Alistair's girlfriend dug out a can of mace ad a set of cast's ears, and proceeded to beat the ghost to within an inch of its... death, I guess? She and Will finished it off, as well as the blue ghost that reappeared.

James, meanwhile, had a very Matrix moment when he finally opened the door - there was a brick wall behind it! Alistair hurried past, grabbing crystals off the floor, and showed James how they clicked together. If this was Pac-Man, then they surely had to collect all the dots, right? And so, they did. The whole team (except for Alistair's roommate, who was rocking back and forth and mumbling to himself about walls and ghosts) gathered every last dot. As they clicked together, the perfect globe they formed began once again to glow blue, and down the hall, they heard the door click open. Quickly, they hurried into the room; there, with a skeleton draped across the controls, was an old Pac-Man game, the screen showing the movement of the ghosts and party members. Just as the ghosts materialized inside the room, they unplugged the arcade. Shadow, the red ghost, was pulled into a black abyss; Clyde, the orange ghost, fled through a wall, but the rattle and slam of a jail door echoed behind him. Pinky paced back and forth, staring as she slowly vanished, mumbling, "No, no, I can't be dead, I can't be...!"

Last, with a heavy yet peaceful sigh, Bashful faded away into nothing.

As they left the room, they realized the other room doors had unlocked; inside, they found the body of Clyde, an escaped convict, who had tried to hide out in the house and gotten shot and locked in a storage room for his trouble; Pinky, forcibly overdosed in the kitchen; and Bashful, a writer who came to the house for its ambiance, and was drowned by... Shadow, a serial killer who died playing the only game he loved more than killing, and who, through it, managed to keep on killing after he died.

Unfortunately, all the recordings they had were muffled, static-y, or overexposed; every shot of a ghost was useless, and every recording of a ghost's voice was unintelligible. It was enough that the gang knew what was going on, but they also knew no one would buy that they had been fighting ghosts...

Still, GlennMac was pleased with the footage; "If nothing else," he said, "It proves that ghosts can't be photographed by conventional means! We'll have to just keep on trying!"

Antarctic Jump: 2132

Deep in the Antarctic, scientists uncovered a thermal vent; however, after equipment started to go missing, they called in a crack team to explore the area:
James Fosse, mission commander, who volunteered for the mission and signed off on the roster
Oliva Borde, a grumpy, stubborn combat medic
Colin Burwell, a loud, brash, and slightly overweight Heavy Weapons expert
Renate Gerver, a big-ego'd soldier
Rory MacWilliams, Scottish Engineer
Nikita Zyma, overconfident Russian hacker, out on loan, because she had previously been in jail...
Indy Yonnes, a small, hyper archaeologist with a gift for languages

After discussing the area with the scientists and getting a rough map, they headed in. Not far inside, they found a strange, multi-legged creature with sharp, stabby claws! Shooting it down caused two more to clamber up from a crack. The larger of the two seemed to be trying to cause a cave-in, but after some quick work by the soldiers, and a bang-up job reinforcing the walls and ceiling by the engineer, they managed to stop them.

As the group continued on, the rough volcanic tunnel turned into a crystal clear icy tunnel; deep inside the ice, Indy could see a flash of light. Hoping to cut off any creatures following them, Colin convinced Rory to set up a tripwire, with a couple grenades on it; Rory pocketed one of the grenades, though, and Colin demanded the second to be returned. Hearing a noise behind them, they team retreated, only to find a large block of ice had been moved into the path! There was no retreat!

Hurry back, Indy kept trying to get into the front, while Colin pushed her back. He hit the tripwire, and tripped; for a heart-stopping moment, he was sure the grenade would get him... and his fear turned to a burst of adrenaline when he realized there was no kaboom. Rory got quite an earful.

Not far up the path, they heard shouting; someone was calling for help! They rounded to corner to find two good-looking scientists, one with her hand trapped in the ice. Olivia tried to examine the man, shining a light in his eyes, and he reacted by spitting acid in her face! A quick shotgun blast later ended that, and the woman hardly had time to pull her clawed hand out and attack before she was put down. The blood from the two was, like the monsters before, green - copper-based. And their bodies seemed to shift and sag, turning into strange, clawed, grey-skinned creatures... shape-shifters!

Moving on, they entered a strange tunnel, made of some leathery substance. Just inside were a number of very, very large creatures, with more claws and thicker armor! Thankfully, they were frozen solid; even so, the group chose to back off and chuck a grenade into the room first.

The next room, finally, had something the hacker could sink her teeth into; hooking into the computer systems and figuring out a communication protocol, she managed to connect to the ancient alien tech, and find a few warnings, along with a map of what apparently was a ship - a hybrid organic/technology ship, in fact. Indy helped Nikita translate, and together they mapped out the ship, and where the technology they were there for would likely be found.

After another brief skirmish, the group broke into what appeared to be some sort of control center; in the middle of the room, standing at a computer, was a large, light-skinned monster, standing on its hind legs, using its clawed hands to manipulate controls, its slender twisting horns sweeping over its head! To get its attention, Colin fired a few rounds through a terminal. Angrily, the creature turned; Indy, using her slight grasp of the language, quickly jumped in front of it, showed it pictures of the dead monsters and the shape-shifters, and demanded to know why it was trying to kill them.

Or at least... that's what she planned. In actuality, she waved pictures of the bloody corpses of the creature's friends and pets in front of it, pointed at the shot out screen, and shouted something like, "Why you? My friends trying to do!"

Understandably, it did not take that well, and picked up Indy, chucking her into one of the others. Renate chucked a grenade, which missed, but the engineer managed to toss his pilfered grenade perfectly, damaging the creature and the computers behind it. After a combined effort, they managed to bring the creature down. Meanwhile, Nikita hacked into a side console, and managed to trigger the self destruct sequence. As the battle raged, she hacked furiously; just as the battle ended, she got around the countdown and cancelled the detonation.

Rory, eager to find the new tech, located the containment for The Device. With Nikita's help, he freed it from its containment, and loaded it up for transport.

Looking for an exit, the group followed the map to another important location, one that Indy translated as being both advanced technology, and some sort of weapon. They found a sealed room, with a strange vat in the center; hacking into the terminal, Nikita opened the vat, releasing a swarm of nanites! The nanites bored a tunnel through to the surface, then dissipated into the atmosphere. Behind them, the ground rumbled; the self-destruct reactivated, and blasted the ship apart. Or mostly apart; there was enough of the ship left to study...

The device itself was incredibly important, however! Further research revealed it to be some kind of advanced interstellar warp technology, one which scientists dubbed a Jump drive. Within five years, the first ships with J0 drives were launched...

A Tale of Two Captains

Everyone has gathered near the launch platforms, according to status and function. You can each see the colors of the other officers around you: blue for navigation, orange for engineering, green for science, white for medics, yellow for comms, and far to the right, black for security, as well as a sea of crewmen and women in gray uniforms behind you. There are about 300 officers present, and more than 3,000 men and women total.

Meanwhile, it's been a long morning. Admiral Ackilo has been droning on for the last two hours, and he's the third speaker of the day. Thankfully, he seems to be wrapping up, so you force yourself to tune back in, in time to hear: "...make... us all... proud." He peers out at the crowd from under his bushy eyebrows, and a tired but hopeful smattering of applause breaks out.

From his seat on the stage, Captain James Montegue Harrison III, Earl of Shaftesbury, steps forward, salutes Admiral Ackilo, then replaces him at the podium. There's a bit of a groan as everyone realizes they have to sit through yet another speech. He begins: "Welcome, Officers, crewmen, and passengers. As you well know, we are journeying into deep space, on a mission to map the stars. If we are indeed successful, we will be the first of many to cross Dark Space. Our mission will face grave danger, and untold wonders."

He clears his throat again, raises his fist in the air, and shouts, "Greatness awaits!"

There is a moment of uncertain silence, but the confusion is quickly discarded when everyone realizes they don't have to stand through another two hour droning lecture. The applause is deafening.

After the ceremony, the gang was sent on an escort mission - bring a large number of citizens to a covert base in the middle of nowhere, to protect them from the upcoming crisis. The trip there was largely uneventful; their ship landed in one piece, and the citizens were entirely unharmed. That was only the beginning, however. The next part of the mission required driving the civilians in old, beat-up hover trucks a good few hundred miles away. For the most part, the mission went well, and they avoided anything too nasty - or, things that were too nasty got the hot end of a flamethrower. After finishing off a few creatures, they ran into a pirate barge; their highly skilled sniping managed to finish off most of the crew, and the few left died when the ship fell out of the air, courtesy of a couple missing engines.

After fighting off a trio of multi-legged lizards, they finally got the civilians to their base. After a quick escape, they made their way back to earth... only to learn that Smooth Criminal's girlfriend had been captured!

Free from their mercenary responsibilities, they rolled up their sleeves and did a bit of investigating. In the girlfriend's apartment, they found a jack-booted Al-Sec agent, one Captain Daneel Kaspar. He, of course, turned out to be a hologram. Somehow managing to stay legal, they shot up an automatic turret, stole a car, and left most of their illegal gear in a parking garage. Later, they returned to collect their stuff - after the cops had left - and headed towards their next lead.

Finally, they made it to a black-ops bunker, built inside a warehouse of some kind. After fighting a few goons (and a turrent inside a polie car), they pushed farther inside, splitting up to cover more ground. The West crew found a tech, manning some monitors, and decided to save his life; the East crew surprised a room full of goons, and left a grenade behind. The tech, of course, ended up being one of the bad guys, and after nearly killing one of the West Crew, was laid to rest in pieces. The East crew, somewhat perforated by a minigun nest, finally met up with the others to face a large robot and another hologram of Kaspar. Though one of the crew died in the mission, Smooth Criminal's girlfriend was rescued, and Kaspar's plans were once again foiled.