Bleed Out: An Ashen Stars Campaign

Episode 1.3 "Tartarus" Part 2 of 2

Tartarus, at the convergence of the Viminal Cluster and the Kraken Outzone

NCC1701 woke up from deep freeze and rocket-jumped to the surface, meeting the rest of the team.

A dome rose from the crust ahead of the lasers: beneath the dome, the lasers read the life signs of a massive number of Crysolis. Vedeg circled the dome first and found a gaping entrance, revealing a short hallway and disturbing techno-sexual friezes covering the walls. As the rest of the group converged on the same location, they discovered three statues of humanoid heads, one with a severed human arm attached to the tongue. A Combine medkit lay open and scattered on the floor.

The group determined that the statues’ tongues must be levers to gain access further into the dome, so they attempted to use stone phallus cut from the friezes, as well as their own batons to move the tongues. The tongues did not budge.

Eventually, they propped the jaws of a statue open with a stone phallus, then used the arm (whose DNA they identified as Vangel Snow) to pull on the tongue, successfully, and a 3.33m-diameter iris opened in the ceiling, dropping four cables down into the hallway.

Vedeg climbed up first, and saw more friezes around the walls, as well as six suspended-animation caskets and the rest of Vangel Snow lying on the floor a short distance from the iris. The rest of the crew joined Vedeg just in time for Wild Jim to stop him from disturbing the corpse, which looked somehow wrong to the accountant. NCC1701 attempted to vaporize the corpse with his disruptor, but only succeeded in disturbing it, sending a column of beetles out from the deflating suit. The lasers attempted to disrupt the beetles with their weapons: NCC1701 took an alternative approach, transforming into a spider wearing huge boots and stomping on them. The gun-toting lasers failed to disintegrate the bugs fast enough: bugs swarmed everyone except NCC1701, biting and nipping, terrifying the lasers by tearing their suits and penetrating their skin. Afterward, the bugs dispersed into tiny cracks in the floor and walls.

After catching their breath, the group surveyed the room. Wild Jim noticed that the friezes in the room formed a narrative, and set about translating them; NCC1701 approached the caskets; Vedeg examined Snow’s tether; and Deadbeef descended back to the entrance way to pull another statue-tongue.

Wild Jim’s study revealed that this installation almost certainly belonged to the legendary Ur, and discussed their species-wide philosophy at length: To transform a new species, you must first understand it. To understand it, you must first learn to kill it.

Vedeg found an audio file Snow’s tether: “We’ve done everything wrong. Made every mistake. I thought Shrawley had recruited the galaxy’s biggest complement of cretins and fools. Then I started to do it, too. Why did I touch that slime? Why did I stick my arm in that face? He dosed us, that’s why. He changed our brains. Made us more obedient—more reckless. He hired a team of experts, then turned us into a pack of idiots.”

Downstairs, Deadbeef pulled another lever which opened into a lab containing a tangled mass of wires and tubes connecting Combine technology with Ur instrumentation. In the middle, connected to dozens of said tubes and wires, Charles Shrawley’s torso hung suspended, his lower half a wriggling Crysolis worm. Fixing on Deadbeef, he attempted to address the verpid-clad icti, but his lower jaw fell off, trailing behind it strings of mucous. Mandibles quickly burst forth from Shrawley’s head, and the old man invited Deadbeef to bow down and take the sacrament of Shrawley.

Deadbeef politely declined, exited, closed the door behind him, and returned to the upper level.

NCC1701’s survey of the caskets revealed five depowered cryo-bays containing mummified beings which could only be the Ur, and one working bay with a live, female specimen. When he revealed this to the group, Wild Jim came running, and using his decrypted Ur pictogram algorithm, hit the controls to wake her.

Wild Jim’s sexual adventure was thwarted by the Ur woman’s attempt to “understand” him, lunging at him and throwing him across the room. The lasers’ combined their efforts against her, but their batons, fists, and disruption shots barely scratched her: NCC1701 entangled her with a bola he had luckily prepared for the mission, and Vedeg engaged her in a full body lock, but she broke free from both with her tremendous strength, nearly killing Vedeg in her escape.

Wild Jim reactivated the cryobay (to which she was still partially attached), and it flash-froze her legs; she tipped the bay over and crawled after the fleeing lasers as they retreated down the hole to the entrance hall. NCC1701 planted explosives on the hole as he went down, and when she appeared over it, he detonated. Her lifeless (yet otherwise intact) form slammed to the floor.

Deadbeef immediately vacated his verpid form to inhabit hers; after some initial disorientation, he determined that her form could be used to safely move the levers to open the irises to the various parts of the dome. He pulled the final, un-explored lever to reveal an iris in the floor, leading down a pit to an enormous mass of Crysolis life forms. A quick scan revealed that the iris was set to close should any Crysolis manage to climb high enough to reach it. The group closed the iris and prepared to engage Shrawley.

Opening the iris to Shrawley’s chamber, the group flanked the door so that he wouldn’t see any of them. He called out to the little verpid he’d seen earlier, again requiring him to accept his sacrament.

The Shrawley-worm monologued that he intended to unveil the secret of life everlasting; reading archaeological reports, he surmised that Ur, or at least their technology, might be found on Tartarus. He tampered with the Crick’s med supplies to include a proprietary virological treatment called F0110W-ME: this treatment would encourage obedience and suppress critical thought.

The lasers turned their guns toward Shrawley, who was in the process of unhooking himself from the various tubes and wires sustaining him. the movement of the tubes revealed two dessicated corpses underneath: Juana Jaxon and Sunny Roane. Seeing the last of the required DNA samples in front of them, the lasers unloaded on Shrawley, then opened the floor-iris and sent his mostly-dead form tumbling to the unseen Crysolis-horde below.

Vedeg and Wild Jim started noticing strange adjustments to their physiology: smaller hands, expanding foreheads. Apparently, insects had infected them, and the lasers’ need for medical attention was urgent.

All samples accounted for, including a spilled medkit containing samples of F0110W-ME, the lasers traveled back to their shuttle. A quick scan of Dorrie on the way back found her beyond help, so they returned to the Earwig and used the Crick’s neutron bomb to cook the alien dome from orbit. In their medbay, the lasers arrested Vedeg and Wild Jim’s mutations, returning them to normal.

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