Bleed Out: An Ashen Stars Campaign

Episode 1.6: "Crystal Clear"
Season Finale

After viewing the most recent contract, Wild Jim had some questions about its validity. First, why would the Crysolis attack a space station in an admittedly strategic location, when their attacks thus far had only involved taking mineral-rich worlds held by intelligent races like the Missec? Well, that, and when the Shengli activated its Interociter.

In addition, Jim noted that the Combine admiral in charge of this operation, Tans Owana, was noted in the Mohilar War for his ends-justify-the-means philosophy. Jim himself had processed a materials-diversion request from Owana which supported a somewhat questionable military objective, but left a defenseless balla colony without the means to gather and process food in a hostile environment, effectively sentencing them to starve.

Fortunately, the crew had upgraded the Earwig into a capable fighting machine; when the ship emerged from translight into a chaotic combat zone, they had a fraction of a second to respond to the mines at the corridor’s event horizon. Thinking fast, Vedeg managed to overwhelm the mines’ friend-or-foe sensors, causing the mines to draw in on and detonate upon one another while the Earwig flew through the center of the ring of explosions.

Deadbeef ran algorithms to label the dozens of sensor pings out on the battlefield: The crysolis fielded two enormous Geoshe-class warships in addition to swarms of Sharden scouts; the Combine group was led by the supercarrier McMillen, several cruisers and a destroyer group which included the CS Brian Hudd and the CS Noomi Grant. Irregular ships, like the Earwig and the Egggobbler, also fought on the side of the Combine for the defense of the Bleed, and, presumably, a paycheck. Gudun’s Wild Wild West was engaged with a Sharden, and Vedeg recognized the Baloney Factor 7, a Laser ship featuring Tutit, a tavak with whom he recalled an embarrassing history.

Deadbeef contacted Owana’s battlefleet VI for a situational analysis: the VI assigned the Earwig a specific Sharden to target, advising the crew to withdraw if damaged or overwhelmed, and to reestablish contact if they eliminated their target. Seeking more information, Deadbeef managed to push through the VI to a sentient contact, cybe Specialist Attributor aboard the McMillen. Vedeg spoke with Attributor, and with some wit, managed to pull from Attributor that the crysolis had appeared after the Noomi Grant fired a directed energy beam. Vedeg moved the Earwig to engage the targeted Sharden, while Deadbeef downloaded the McMillen’s sensor data from the Noomi Grant’s energy beam, discovering that it matched that of the interociter.

Their ship bristling in glistening modifications, the Earwig crew made short work of the Sharden, while Wild Jim studied the pattern of the battle as a whole. He quickly ascertained that the Geoshe were punching a hole in Combine formations to allow Sharden scouts access to a single group of destroyers: the Combine in turn appeared to be aware of this motivation, and continually reformed to protect the destroyers. Both the crysolis and Combine fleets appeared to be maneuvering around the Noomi Grant.

The crew began discussing their role in the continuing battle when Wild Jim’s sensor sweeps revealed a nearby translight corridor about to open: a detailed scan revealed that another wave of crysolis ships would soon burst forth and overwhelm the Combine’s flank. Deadbeef located a nearby cosmic string, and with Vedeg’s careful maneuvering and the ship’s repulsors, the crew managed to guide the string onto the corridor’s opening, effectively “barring” it for a time.

Episode 1.5 "The Pleasure Bringers" Part 2 of 2

Maintaining his grip on Kevin Brazil, Vedeg convinced Brazil’s thugs that they would never get another paycheck out of Brazil if Vedeg killed him here and now. Brazil’s thugs took off, and Brazil folded, maintaining some bravado.

He revealed that Fritch had run off with Kara Canal, and, unable to find Fritch, Brazil tracked down Kara and killed her. The Lasers left him with an admonition to stay out of their way and went on to the Church of Regenerative Carnality.

At the Church’s Basilica of the Flesh, the lasers found all kinds of tourists and temple employees. Wild Jim entered the Basilica itself, and saw preparations underway for the great orgy of the Grand Conciliation. Deadbeef and Vedeg stayed outside and investigated one of the concession stands, recognizing Heather Roman from the terminal working one. While Deadbeef chatted with Heather, Vedeg hacked the Church’s network and discovered a connection between Brazil and Conciliator John Brook: pouring through wakaflops of data, Vedeg reasoned that Brazil’s organization provides security and protection for the church and steers wealthy clients to church recruitment drives, while the church keeps the government out of Brazil’s affairs.

Talking to Heather, Deadbeef discovered that she’d heard of Kara Canal through her friend Steve Moore: a facial tic was enough to inform Deadbeef that Moore and Heather were linked romantically. When the lasers reconvened to compare data, they decided to investigate Steve, whose number Mar Gravely had previously dialed.

Tracking the address from Gravely’s tether’s contact information to a tenement block on the edge of Joy City, the lasers spotted a figure watching them from a rooftop. Deadbeef sent up a prepared drone to snap holos of the figure and track in, but the creature ran and lost the drone in an alley. Video showed a grey-skinned, gilled creature with large black eyes and a small mouth. Abandoning the chase to find Steve, they knocked on his apartment door and eventually got him to open with their Laser credentials, which seriously impressed him.

Steve was a sweating mess, shying away from the bright hallway lights into the dark and messy interior of his apartment. The lasers immediately determined he was unwell, and convinced him to give them a blood sample, suggesting they would use it to screen him for application to their laser program. Steve dismissed his illness as a simple case of food poisoning from eating alien fruit, but Deadbeef’s analysis revealed that Steve’s cells were undergoing a radical transformation.

Showing Gravely’s picture to Steve didn’t spark any recognition, but a quick reconnaissance of the apartment revealed Kara’s holo and some personal effects: she roomed with Steve. When asked, Steve admitted he was worried about her: he hadn’t seen her in a week.

Pressing him harder, the lasers got him to admit that Kara had come home upset after being raped by her pimp, and he had “comforted” her through Church of Regenerative Carnality methods: he took advantage of her vulnerable state to pressure her into sex. He also mentioned that a doctor from Sanctuary Hospital had called for her, but he couldn’t remember the doctor’s name.

The lasers searched Kara’s room, finding a factory-fresh disruption pistol case without a vendor’s stamp: they surmised that the (missing) gun must have come from Gravely, who could get his hands on untraceable materiel through Loghos. While they searched the room, they heard Moore’s headset chirp with an incoming call.

The call came from Kara’s pocket communicator: Deadbeef intercepted it, but there was no voice on the other end. He did identify the call of the Andartan quiverbird, as well as the static hiss of a sonic fence. After tracking the call to the jungle just outside Joy City, Deadbeef triangulated the communicator’s location, and off the lasers went!

The crew took sky cycles to the edge of the chemically-cleared jungle, and found traced the signal to a morass of decaying vegetation disturbed by the tracks of a ground car matching Brazil’s SUV. They found a shallow, open grave.

Inside the grave was a mutilated, mutated corpse partially wrapped in plastic. Scales covered much of its body, and a forensic comparison of material gathered at Kara’s and Steve’s apartment revealed that the corpse was indeed Kara’s. She had signs of struggle, of sexual assault, and her face had been melted by extended exposure to disruptor fire.

The grave had been dug with shovels, but recently reopened by hand. Inhuman tracks led into the jungle: the lasers determined that whatever being Kara’s scales indicated she was transforming into could easily have been the same kind of creature making those tracks. Her communicator rested on the plastic, and in her pocket was a card for Sanctuary Hospital.

The lasers followed the tracks. En route, Wild Jim spotted jewel spiders in the trees. A quick and bloody battle ensued, resulting in six dead spiders and some wounded lasers.

The lasers made their way deeper into the defoliated forest, toward the scorched trees and broken ground of a landing or crash site. In fact, they found a small courier ship and a crater.

Several grey-skinned creatures, like the one they had seen near Kara’s apartment, emerged from the trees. One identified itself in hoarse and broken Comblish as Eldest, and explained that their race, the druath, when facing extinction, had sent its genetic material and collective artistic and technical achievements to the stars in an ark. The crater nearby contained this material, but time, the elements, and the crash had corrupted its data. Their genetic material had been programmed as a virus, set to transform suitable lifeforms into druath.

Scanning the druath, the lasers identified individuals who had formerly been Kara Canal, Steve Moore, and Mar Gravely. A scan revealed to Deadbeef that the probe in the crater would be salvageable with time and the right equipment, but in a row of sconces containing cylinders of genetic samples, two cylinders were missing.

The lasers bargained with the druath, telling them about a known planet inhabited by non-sentient humanoids which would be suitable for their viral genetic overrides. Deadbeef promised to help them recover the data in their probes, and, after much convincing, Vedeg laid down his fury cannon.

The druath revealed that they could sense humanoids “infected” with their DNA. Although the lasers’ mission was complete, having found Mar Gravely, they decided to follow up on the druath STD to make sure all Andarta didn’t become druath. The druaths’ noses led them in the courier ship to the Basilica of the Flesh, where a huge crowd showed them that the Grand Conciliation was under way.

Heather Roman stood at the center of a great mob of people in sexy ceremonial robes, sweating slightly. Hers would be the first flesh of the Conciliation, and the druath informed the lasers that she, plus a few others in attendance, were in the process of transforming.

The lasers burst into the basilica, pushing past Brazil’s guards, and announced that the Conciliation would have to wait; a deadly threat was nigh.

They led Heather and the other nascent druath into a back room and comforted them while their Combine bodies died and birthed new druath. Although the lasers couldn’t save everyone, Andarta, its sex industry, and its millions of inhabitants thrived thanks to their intervention.

Episode 1.5 "The Pleasure Bringers" Part 1 of 2
Andarta, Aventine Cluster

After discussing their contract via holo with Bazuhl from the Loghos Corporation, the Earwig proceeded post-haste to pleasure planet Andarta. Their conversation didn’t reveal that anything Gravely had been working on would lend itself to suspicion, and Bazuhl, who just wanted the meeting over, insisted that they’d just find Gravely shacked up somewhere with a prostitute, his tether off for privacy. Skimming through the hundreds-of-thousands-of-words-long attachments, Jim managed to identify another Loghos executive who had recently filed insurance paperwork for travel to Andarta: a durugh named Jezhabur.

The Andartan spaceport assaulted the crew with gaudy advertising for every kind of sexual experience: Wild Jim reveled. All incoming travelers had to submit medical records and a blood sample before being allowed on the main concourse: Jim made it through and continued on to the more commercial areas, and Vedeg was waved through perfunctorily as well, but Deadbeef, still in the female Ur meatshell acquired on Tartarus, required special attention.

Fortunately, the crew had foreseen this eventually and forged medical records for “Dead Betty,” but two friendly security guards, Gerd and Lou, insisted on holding him in a security room while the lab processed a larger blood sample. Deadbeef complied, and Vedeg convinced the guards to let him accompany her and wait.

Meanwhile, on the main concourse, Jim found the spaceport crowded with pleasure-seekers of every kind, some unable to wait for Joy City proper having sex on their luggage. Only a line of dirty, bedraggled refugees being processed in an out-of-the-way side hallway marred the mood.

A sleezy pimp who eventually introduced himself as Dhez approached Jim and attempted aggressively to hook Jim up with one of his prostitutes, and he didn’t take “no” for an answer. Jim offered to take Dhez’s contact information, but the man insisted, then eventually broke down and revealed that he had a quota to hit, and if he didn’t, bad things could happen to him. Jim sympathized, but left Dhez to find other clients.

Gerd and Lou proved amiable enough company for Vedeg and “Dead Betty” as they waited for the blood sample to process. They provided information on the slums, which were overrun by gangs like the Jerks and the Squirts. The two men disagreed on the state of the Church of Regenerative Carnality, with one believing the healing side of its message was taking a back seat to spiritual ritual since the war. The lasers asked where someone would go to indulge in illegal, scary sex acts, and the guards recommended The Pink Pit, a scary club in the slums. When shown a picture of Gravely, neither recognized the man, but that was unsurprising given the number of people they regularly processed. In response to questions about missing persons, the guards said they wouldn’t know: the government does all it can to keep scary crimes out of the media in order to protect the vital sex-tourism trade. They did offer that Andarta was straining under the weight of refugees from the Mohilar War which had been bounced around from facility to facility for years; apparently, the Combine or other local organizations had recently deemed Andarta a fit relocation destination. But planets like Ares-3 rendered unlivable by the war needed to shed their citizens somewhere.

Finally, “Dead Betty’s” blood sample came back clean, and Vedeg and Deadbeef were freed to go. As an apology, Lou offered “Dead Betty” his address and the possibility of a quick threesome later with he and Gerd. Deadbeef remained politely noncommittal.

Once the three lasers joined up in the main concourse, they spotted a group of smartly-suited young men and women passing out literature. A brief interaction showed that these were representatives from the Church of Regenerative Carnality. Jim briefly flirted with one of the women, Heather, who gave him a flier detailing their tenets. She invited him to the upcoming Grand Conciliation festival.

The crew boarded a mag-lev train headed for the city: Vedeg chatted up an older man who gave him advice about pacing himself and taking performance-enhancing drugs for his first exposure to Andarta. Their conversation was interrupted by a crowd of grey-robed zealots moving down the train aisle berating pleasure seekers. The older man explained that these were Restreamers, a cult who believed that reality could snap into an alternate, “correct” path if enough people simply believed it to be possible. The Restreamer group picked a fight with some CRC acolytes, but the lasers deescalated the violence by interposing Deadbeef’s enormity, Vedeg’s bulk, and Jim’s quiet hand on his disruptor pistol.

Downtown, the lasers visited the Alachir Hotel, first attempting to flirt with receptionist Bernice, then speaking with the manager, Tal Barner, who took them into his office.

After the lasers reluctantly displayed their credentials, Barner acknowledged that the Loghos Corporation had contacted him that they’d be sending effectuators to look into Gravely’s disappearance. The hotel’s record’s didn’t reveal anything new, and Barner provided them with a key to Gravely’s room, which was still allocated to him.

Something about Barner’s eye contact in the interview bothered Straight, and after he subvocalized this to the others, Deadbeef planted a snail under the chair he was awkwardly occupying.

When the investigators proceeded to the hotel elevator, the snail picked up an immediate holo call in Barner’s office: he had a brief conversation with Victoria Fritz, updating her on the presence of the lasers, and she in turn reminding Barner to keep her updated on their movements. A quick Feed search showed that Fritz was a former heirodule in the Church of Regenerative Carnality, moved on into law enforcement, and has since acquired a nebulous, high-ranking position in Andartan government.

Inside Gravely’s room, the lasers found a card for an escort service called Joy Services, Gravely’s headset, medicine in the bathroom, a pamphlet for the Church of Regenerative Carnality, and a few blond hairs on one of Gravely’s shirts. The medicine represented a variety of vending-machine drugs intended to treat general symptoms. The headset showed that the last number called was Joy Services. Hacking the headset, the crew found that Gravely had also called a medical consultation number and a private number: they backtraced the private number to a Steve Moore. A Feed search showed him to be a dropout and social media douchebag.

Hacking Gravely’s private messages, the crew found several from Loghos wondering why he wasn’t answering his calls, plus a group of messages with pictures of Gravely consorting with various women with messages like, “Does she know what you’ve been doing?” The pictures were taken from the street outside the hotel; a quick records check revealed Gravely was not married.

Checking the halls outside Gravely’s room, the Lasers found no surveillance, but they did hack the lobby holos to see videos of Gravely coming and going. The final video showed him stumbling and a little bit confused as he left.

The group decided to take a cab to Joy Services next. As per “Dead Betty” and Vedeg’s conversation with Gerd and Lou, Joy Services was smack in the middle of Squirts territory. Leaving the cab, the group saw several Squirts (identifiable by the brown patch on their pants) lounging around, appraising Deadbeef’s meatshell from afar. The more dangerous individuals, however, were innocuously-dressed men acting casual, walking in pairs pretending to be in conversation, but also clearly packing heat and walking patrol.

The group tentatively approached the Joy Services building, a nondescript business with a small sign. The door locked, Vedeg tried the intercom and was told by a sultry voice to call the number from his hotel room instead. Vedeg responded that he would tell everyone how the company’s prostitutes were making their clients sick, and the voice became more concerned: she opened the door and let them in.

Inside, the group met with Hana Voltar, source of the sexy intercom voice, incongruously huge and repulsive. She was nervous at first, but eventually relaxed as “Wild” Jim Straight flirted with her. (Wingman Vedeg referred to him loudly as Wild Jim Thickcock.)

Shown a picture of Gravely, Hana identified him as a repeat customer who preferred a prostitute named Kara Canal. Kara left Joy Services, however, around the same time as her pimp, Rayan Fitch. Rumor has it they took some of club owner Kevin Brazil’s money and ran, which was so not a good idea. She also admitted that Brazil had her send Gravely’s details on to a mysterious “J,” for whom she only had contact information. She provided that information and the investigators backtraced it to The Church of Regenerative Carnality.

Hana at this point said she almost regretted alerting Kevin Brazil when the investigators threatened to spread rumors about sick clients. At the lasers’ urging, she left him a message calling him off.

Unsurprisingly, when the lasers’ left, their cab was gone, and in its place a huge black ATV. Four huge, cybernetically-enhanced men were exiting the vehicle: the bald one ran at the investigators while his dreadlocked thugs covered them with their disruptor pistols.

Kevin, the bald man, accused the lasers of being saboteurs from the Pink Pit sent to spread rumors about Joy Services, and he threatened to kill Vedeg and Deadbeef, letting Straight return to the Pit with his slain colleagues as a message. Vedeg quickly grabbed Brazil with his arms and flex arms, getting him into a lock. While Brazil screamed for his men to kill the lasers, and Deadbeef insisted they weren’t from the Pit, the screen faded to black.

Episode 1.4 "The Egggobbler Repossession"

The Earwig descended out of translight into the Krk’ith’k system, and a quick scan showed a kch-thk starbase, a strong satellite network in orbit over the planet, and the Wild Wild West imposing itself between the Earwig and the planet. Quick scans revealed no sign of the Egggobbler.

The WWW’s Stratco, Gudun, hailed the Earwig and informed them that the Krk’ith’k government had hired them out to prevent the Earwig from landing on the planet. Vedeg laughed at Gudun’s implied threat, and Gudun responded by saying they had been studying the Feed holos of their last encounter, and would not be such a pushover this time. Without warning, the Earwig opened with a salvo of energy weapons fire, and a tense conflict ensued. The Earwig crew focused on taking out the Wild Wild West’s weapons, while Gudun fully intended turnabout, attempting to take out the Earwig’s weapons and engines. After several tough exchanges, the Earwig crew succeeded in declawing the Wild Wild West, which limped to the space station, but not before the Earwig itself took heavy damage to its engines.

Deadbeef attempted to scan the planet for the Egggobbler, but the space station jammed the Earwigs scans; a close visual pass revealed an enormous planetary infrastructure, probably large enough to support 20 billion kch-thk. An attempt to contact the Krk’ith’k finance ministry was also met with static, so the crew decided to dock at the station.

Following standard docking protocol, a security team led by Sch-Zs met the crew at their airlock. Struggling with how to proceed, the crew decided to hit a bar and see what would happen there: Sch-Zs dismissed his team and accompanied the crew solo.

On the way to the station bar, Deadbeef’s new Ur shell elicited stopped traffic and a sea of drooling kch-thk. None stopped him, though, so the crew arrived at the bar with ease. The drinks on offer weren’t to the crew’s taste; Wild Jim produced a granola bar which a nearby kch-thk eyed, sniffing the air, Wild Jim took a bite, then offered a bite to the nearby kch-thk, which devoured it out of his hand, foil wrapper and all.

Vedeg proceeded to receive two communications on his headset. The first came from the finance ministry, requesting that he attend a meeting with minister Kh-Kh in station customs in an hour. The other came from Royal Cuisine Geneticist Rkh Vqt, who promised a rewarding opportunity involving the Ur if the Lasers would meet him in the station kitchen laboratory immediately.

Deadbeef returned to the Earwig with a security escort while Vedeg and Wild Jim met with Rkh-Vqt. The cuisine-geneticist’s laboratory featured tubes, vats, and hooks all brimming with strange meats and organic matter which might only be loosely interpreted as potential food sources. Rkh-Vqt cut to the chase, offering the crew 8 bigcreds for one of Deadbeef’s limbs, with an immediately-installed, high-quality cyberware replacement installed at no cost to the crew. Including Deadbeef over the tether, Vedeg counteroffered a blood or skin sample, but Rkh-Vqt revealed that with such a rare, possibly unique source of genetic material, he had learned to collect as much original material as possible to prevent clone-iteration deterioration and allow for significant experimentation. Deadbeef refused, but Vedeg offered the coordinateds of the Ur stasis pods on Tartarus. Disappointed, Rkh-Vqt offered a 4 bigcred finders fee to the crew if that lead paid off.

The crew next made their way to their appointment with Kh-Kh, Deadbeef and his security detail meeting up with them partway there. The minister stuck to small talk until Vedeg managed to convince Sch-Zs to wait outside the office. Then Kh-Kh told his story.

When Mondine delivered the Egggobbler, Wolfram Casanova, the vas-mal sales associate attending its delivery, reported directly to the planet’s hive queen. He and the hive queen established an instant rapport, which quickly blossomed into love. Since that time, the vas-mal has not left the hive queen’s chambers for fear that her warriors would kill him; at the same time, the hive queen has not allowed her warriors to mate with her, which is causing his brood’s population to plummet dangerously in relation to the others, potentially wrecking the planet’s delicate balance of power. The queen’s finance minister refused to make payment to Mondine, both out of spite and in the hopes that this refusal would attract the company’s attention more than the formal complaints Kh-Kh lodged with the corporation.

The crew agreed to meet with Th-Krst, the kch-thk hive queen on the planet. Kh-Kh made the necessary arrangements, and the Earwig descended to a landing platform at the bio-organic palace.

After being escorted into the throne room by royal guards, the crew met the enormous queen towering over a tiny custom throne upon which a tiny vas mal reclined. The sniveling Casanova informed the Earwig crew that he and the queen were in love: Th-Krst clicked and whirred some kind of ascent.

Although the queen’s dialect was too different for the Lasers’ Rosetta chips to immediately process, Wild Jim had previously studied kch-thk queen dialects and made the crew’s offer: a delicious slurry of Ur blood and tissue surreptitiously laced with their sample of Shrawley’s F0110W-ME.

The queen greedily gobbled up the proffered gift, and immediately became susceptible to the Earwig crew’s suggestions. Wild Jim destroyed the queen’s romantic notions with a long and tedious account of the bureaucratic entanglements caused by Casanova’s continued stay on Krk’ith’k. She agreed to return the vas-mal and the ship he arrived on to Mondine.

Casanova quickly asked the Lasers for a ride off world.

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.

Episode 1.3 "Tartarus" Part 1 of 2
Tartarus, at the convergence of the Viminal Cluster and the Kraken Outzone

Note: Test audiences felt alienated by the all-alien crew of the Earwig after the first two episodes. In a knee-jerk decision, the producers temporarily pulled NCC-1701 from the program and replaced him with the human “Wild” Jim Straight. This episode aired without any explanation for the casting decision, leaving audiences to speculate what might have happened in the intervening months.

Flying into Tartarus’ system while exploring their contract, the crew wondered why Charles Shrawley, board member in perpetuity of Shrawley-Gosha, joined a potentially hazardous mission. Speaking with a S-G rep, Jenny, they learned only that Charles had been promoted under shady circumstances which he was not willing to discuss.

The Crick

In the system, the crew found The Francis Crick orbiting Tartarus. The ship had gone into standby mode, and the Earwig crew noted damage near its shuttle bay.

Deadbeef hacked the Crick’s bay doors, revealing the ship’s shuttle inside, having crashed into the far wall; Vedeg spacewalked aboard.

Vedeg’s search of the shuttle bay revealed that the hatch leading to the Crick’s interior corridors had been modified with a series of nozzles and bio-sensors, and a gelatinous substance coated the doorway. Scans revealed Vale’s DNA. Vedeg searched the Crick’s shuttle before venturing further into the ship and discovered the hand of a crysolis. The hand had been severed by the closing shuttle door.

Vedeg also discovered Vale’s tether inside the shuttle. Decrypting it, Vedeg discovered that Vale had been attempting to hack the Crick to activate a fail-safe which normally only Shrawley would have been able to initiate: this failsafe would have sent a neutron missile to specific coordinates on the surface, vaporizing a significant area of the planet.

Vedeg’s search of the rest of the ship revealed sensor logs pointing to a Shrawley installation on the planet, as well as a trail leading from that installation by a convoy of vehicles.

The Installation

The planet’s atmosphere was rough, but Deadbeef landed the Earwig’s larva-shuttle atop one of the prefabricated installation buildings: the planet’s crust just didn’t seem likely to support the weight and shock of the shuttle landing.

Inside the installation, the Lasers found a loading bay with transport bikes, one of which sported claw marks. The installation rocked as the planet’s crust shifted; Vedeg returned to the Earwig and piloted it just above the installation, setting the tractor beam to stabilize the buildings as the crew explored.

The crew explored another building, a conference room which could convert into an emergency shuttle. In the conference room, they found crew medical records, including Dr. Vale’s notes that she didn’t understand why she had to conduct so many tests, but those complaints eventually gave way to unadorned reports.

They found a holo record of another expedition member, Iler, studying carvings in a strange alien complex. Checking his suit readings, he declared the air breathable and took off his helmet. Another piece of footage shows Iler screaming, “I’m infected! I’m infected!” until two other crewmen restrain and sedate him.

The Earwig crew also found a containment chamber which had been breeched from the inside: examination revealed that the chamber was designed to hold crysolis specimens. A bioscan revealed a huge cluster of crysolis a few kilometers from this location, as well as a couple of arguably crysolis lifesigns in a nearby building.

Moving to the final building in the installation, the Lasers cautiously opened the hatch, having read crysolis lifesigns. Inside, they found a wrecked biolab containing two creatures, both a horrific combination of human biomatter and crystaline strands. One creature was a bloated human head on crystaline spider legs, the other a torso flailing crystal-lattice intestines about as razor-sharp tentacles. The Lasers suffered some pummeling from these creatures, but their suits stayed intact and they were later able to identify the creatures as expedition members Iler and Stricker.

The Trail

The Lasers grabbed two of the trikes from the installation’s loading bay and followed the trail they had detected from orbit. Vedeg drove one due to his tavak weight; Wild Jim and Deadbeef rode the other. Maneuvering around potential fissures in the thin crust was tricky, but Vedeg had it down to a science.

Along the trail, the Lasers discovered an exposed lake of organic goo, and a human body floating on a chunk of crust. The body belonged to Dorrie Haslett; cause of death: head twisted 180-degrees.

As the Lasers grabbed a sample of her DNA for their client, her hair flailed upward, reinforced by organic crystalline compounds. He body stayed still, but her eyes opened and her mouth let out a horrifying scream.

The Lasers interrogated her: she continued screaming throughout the conversation, but her calm language contrasted the horrific sounds. She praised Shrawley as a great, self sacrificing leader and denied the presence of Crysolis. The group didn’t believe a word of this. She also said that Shrawley was looking for the fountain of eternal life, but the expedition was riddled with mistakes, and others went crazy and attacked her. She said she felt fine, but tired, and the Earwig crew decided to let her rest.

Continuing along the trail, the group spotted a bulge in the crust ahead of them just before the fused remnants of four expedition crew exploded from the ooze underneath as a single organic-crystalline entity. Brin, Kwong, Krd-Drk and Vatak scuttled and jumped toward the trikes, screaming, “All hail the god-king Shrawley!” as they attacked. Vedeg stood his ground against the unfortunate creature, but Deadbeef turned tail and ran, with Wild Jim shooting off the back of the trike. Their combined firepower took the creature down, and the crew gathered the DNA samples.

Episode 1.2 "Carrion Crew" Part 2 of 2

NCC-1701 piloted the shuttle safely into the Shengli’s now-abandoned shuttle bay; the Missec scout ship picked up its unmanned shuttle and made haste for a translight corridor.

Scans revealed a half-dozen Missec aboard, heading their way. The crew prepared for the attack, but it never came. Instead, two of the Missec did something at the hatch leading into the ship’s interior from the shuttlebay, then the Missec made contact with the Lasers via Combine radio frequencies. The two groups parleyed a mutually-agreeable plan to help each other: the Missec would help the Lasers find what they came for, and the Lasers would shuttle the Missec off the ship before the gas giant crushed it.

Before opening the door, the Missec disarmed Combine grenades they had planted inside the hatch, then joined the Lasers. They were dressed in Combine military armor, wielding Combine assault rifles: they had clearly already ransacked much of the ship’s stores. The leader of the Missec boarding party introduced himself as Ganglia, and he kept as wary an eye on the Lasers as they kept on him.

The laser crew proceeded with the Missecs to the Shengli’s power plant, to which the Interociter was attached. Deadbeef pretended to be fixing the engines while he detached the Interociter; Deadbeef and NCC together repaired the engines.

The Missec went to explore the rest of the ship and set off an explosive booby trap: Ganglia survived mostly unharmed, another Missec was critically injured, and all the others were killed.

Vedeg and NCC proceeded to the bridge to recover mission data; they encountered corpses and internal damage along the way, all consistent with a Crysolis attack. At the bridge, they discovered that they needed more power to run the consoles and download the mission data; fortunately, NCC was able to jury-rig a battery from dead Shengli-crew sidearms. The data recorded revealed that the Interociter had been powered on but never tested; the Crysolis ship arrived just before the test was to begin, and it demolished the Shengli’s defenses, boarding it and taking some material from the cargo bay, as well as making a sweep of the ship, slaughtering crewmen. The Combine crew had been completely overwhelmed.

Once the Interociter was detached, Deadbeef transformed himself partially into a wheelbarrow and dragged it back to the shuttle. Vedeg give the ship enough thrust to escape Psi Parada II’s orbit, and he and NCC prepared to return to the Earwig. They discovered life signs along the way and found four surviving crew members hiding in the galley, in a relatively scan-proof area of the ship behind several redundant bulkheads. The Lasers convinced the Shengli crew to join them in departing the ship.

As everyone boarded the shuttle, a remote proximity alarm from the Earwig sounded: the Missec scout ship had returned from a translight corridor, this time with a massive fleet in tow.

The crew raced back to their ship, and Vedeg and one of the Shengli crew hurriedly installed the Interociter onto the Earwig while Deadbeef stalled in negotiation with Captain Spaller, who was offering to drop the crew off at the nearest semi-inhabitable planet in exchange for the Earwig. Once the device was installed, the crew fired an incredible, one-time blast of Interociter-powered alien fury, a warning shot through a gap in the Missec fleet, which turned tail and ran, leaving Ganglia and the other wounded Missec in the Earwig crew’s care.

The crew activated a secure Combine beacon to alert the military where to salvage the Shengli. Then they returned to Bleed space to collect their reward and spend their hard-earned bigcreds.

Episode 1.2 "Carrion Crew" part 1 of 2
Psi Parada, the Charybdis Outzone

A new contract takes the Earwig out to the Psi Parada system, in the Charybdis Outzone, the very edge of explored space.

Falling into normal space, the crew finds they are not the first to discover their objective, the Shengli, which itself is heavily damaged and falling into the atmosphere of a gas giant. Another scout-sized ship of a design unfamiliar to most of the crew orbits safely high above the falling destroyer; NCC1701 recognizes it as a Missec vessel. The Missec’s shuttle has docked in the Shengli’s bay.

Scans of the Missec ship reveal that it’s packed to the gills with life forms: missec, animal, and plant in abundance.

Scanning the Shengli revealed that its damage couldn’t have possibly been dealt by the missec ship: rather, the damage looks consistent with Crysolis weapons. Emergency power was engaged, so any areas not open to space should have had life support. Bio scans detected a handful of missec onboard. The destroyer’s shuttlebay contained a single slagged shuttle and the missec shuttle, with no room for another shuttle to dock. NCC1701 realized that his scans might not be penetrating the ship’s deepest redundant bulkheads, and that he could spend an hour reconfiguring the scanners to do so, but the Shengli’s deteriorating orbit convinced the crew to move quickly.

The Earwig hailed the missec vessel, and after letting the Rosetta chips adjust to the unfamiliar language, they established communication with its captain, Spaller.

NCC1701’s recollection of the missecs’ reputation was that of a proud, stately race unwilling to negotiate with the Combine. The viewscreen showed a different story: a crowded bridge, a dirty captain, strange animals flying across the screen and defecating freely.

Negotiation revealed that the missec homeworld had been invaded and razed by the Crysolis three months ago; the scout ship was part of a ragtag fleet of the remaining missec people: Spaller would not reveal the fleet’s location, though Vedeg requested it in order to inform the Combine of the need for humanitarian aid.

Spaller requested supplies, parts, and food from the Earwig, his requests becoming gradually more unreasonable. Eventually cutting off communication, the crew attempted to move in close to the Shengli, but the missec scout intercepted the move.

In a brilliant display of electronic warfare, Deadbeef took control of the missec shuttle onboard the Shengli and propelled it out into space as the crew took the Earwig’s shuttle in for a quick-and-dirty docking procedure.

Interlude: Wild Wild West

Shortly after leaving Ares-3, a Runner-class ship, the Wild Wild West hailed the Earwig crew. Its captain, the tavak Gudun, acknowledged his former classmate Vedeg, then got to brass tacks. He sought a verpid matching Deadbeef’s current host’s description.

Gudun forestalled and hemming and hawing on the Earwig crew’s part by pulling broadcasting a to the Earwig’s display Feed video from Ares-3 bar prominently displaying the crew defending against Derek Streets’ attack. Then, the window displaying that video paused and shrank and focus shifted to video of a verpid in a lab trying out forms of various races. When it tried on its human-shape form, the video paused, and the computer performed a quick imaging analysis of the verpid vs. Deadbeef. They were the same.

Gudun explained that his Laser crew had a contract to recover the verpid, and he intended to honor it. The Wild Wild West opened fire.

An exchange of fancy flying, electronic warfare, and intense weaponry proved the Earwig’s crew superior. They crippled the Wild Wild West, towed the ship and its abashed crew to the nearest station, and uploaded holos of the Gudun’s humiliating defeat to the Feed, where it became an immediate hit.

Episode 1.1 "Witness of My Worth" part 2 of 2
Ares-3, Aventine Cluster

Parking the shuttle just outside the settlement, the effectuators approached the open-air bar to hard stares and reticence.

When asked about the Ev-base settlers, the bartender dismissed them as “suitfruits,” but seemed surprised to hear about their deaths.

Checking out one of the barflies, Vedeg approached a human woman bristling with broken-down cyberware and turned on the charm. The woman, Lora Vasquez, was more than receptive, running her fingers along the rough fleshy jointures between skin and shell while she spilled what she knew.

She was surprised about the massacre at the EvBase. Nobody around here much liked the suitfruits. The only EvBaser anybody liked was McClung, who could hold his liquor. But he stopped coming here lately, and relations between the base and the community deteriorated even further.

The ringleader in the campaign against the base is a guy name of Derek Streets. There’s no one more respected than him among the salvagers. The ringleader in the campaign against the base is a guy name of Derek Streets. There’s no one more respected than him among the salvagers.

She sadly added that if there were Mohilar secrets to be uncovered here, they’d have been found already.

Conversation was interrupted when a truck barreled into town, driver and passenger firing shots toward the bar. Townies scrambled for cover, and the Lasers took cover to return fire. The driver stood on the steering wheel, his torso fully out the sunroof while he steered with his feet; a woman leaned out the passenger side; both fired disruptor rifles at the bar. A third man clung tightly to the truck’s grill.

The Lasers return fire stunned the driver, and the out-of-control truck slammed into a freestanding concrete-and-rebar slab, a section of ruined building. The man on the grille was impaled and crushed, and townies descended upon the Lasers, a few headsets recording the entire incident.

The Lasers talked the townsfolk down and took the surviving attackers, Derek Streets and Berta Cordo back to their shuttle for examination. Using an espresser to wake Streets revealed only madness. He yelled variations on the following:

“Blood! Blood! Always remember martial glory!:

“With proud down-smashing fists he saved Ares-3.”

“Stand up against the treacherous durugh! Stand tall against the [inaudible gibberish] Mohilar!”

Sedating him, they woke Cordo, who retained no recent memory. The last thing she remembered was approaching a destination to the northeast of the settlement. Derek told her he’d taken some unexplained atmospheric readings after an ashen stars manifestation a few days back, and that it might lead them to an interesting scrubber technology or something.

Upon closer examination, NCC1701 noticed scorch marks where Streets’ and Cordo’s headsets meet their temples, as if the devices had somehow delivered powerful electrical shocks. Their injuries from the shock effect were severe, but looking back at the readings he’d taken from the Ev-Base crew’s autopsies revealed similar, subtler effects.

Downloading the data from Cordo’s headset, the Lasers identified the probably destination to which Derek had led Cordo, and they decided to investigate.

They took their shuttle to the coordinates and found the Brian Hudd Museum, dedicated to the famous Admiral of the Mohilar war. One wing of the museum lay crushed under a toppled skyscraper.

The Lasers took the precaution of turning off their headsets. Opting against the clearly open front entrance, the investigators made their own entrance with explosives and disruptor fire. Inside, a calm, disembodied voice greeted them. Scanning the facility revealed that the Museum’s generators had been running for three days, but atmospheric scrubbers on top of the building had been going for much longer, presumably to protect the artifacts in the museum.

The Museum AI greeted them in a garbled message, urging them to go to the Combatorium. Digging into the Museum AI’s files showed that a large contiguous group of files was corrupted and inaccessible. Eventually entering the Combatorium, the AI urged them to fight, but the Lasers refused. Instead, they decided to blow the building and the AI, which they determined was somehow scrambling people’s brains through their headsets.

Planting explosives throughout the museum, the Lasers succeeded at leveling it. However, when they boarded their shuttle and power up their comms, the AI’s message continued; it had been uploaded into Ares-3’s ionosphere. Eventually, Deadbeef transformed into a passable likeness of Brian Hudd and ordered the Museum AI to shut down, and it did so.