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.

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.

Episode 1.1 "Witness of My Worth" part 1 of 2
ARES-3, Aventine Cluster

Captain’s Log, Stardate 12062015. Arrived in Aventine Cluster in response to contract. Eventless journey, except for the smell in the crew quarter. Need to get that taken care of soon…

NC-17 tells us the history of ARES-3, including the story of Admiral Hudd. That shape-shifter knows a lot. Can’t reach Alpha-1 base by standard com.

Deadbeet scanned the surface – as expected 10,000’s of settlers around the city ruins, prolly scavenging.

Combine-type hauler came out of FTL near ARES-3 as we were establishing orbit – trying to intercept com but waves are flat.

lost control of helm, com, and weapons control due to a virus – ship turned to attack the hauler. recovered control and established com with hauler. Quiruk is the hauler designation, COO Redik demanded we give reason for our aggression. We told them and asked their reason for exiting FTL here. They claimed “humanitarian relief” for the illegal settlers on-planet. Seems a big coincidence with losing our ship control. We decided to reassure them that if they leave we will not be long nor report their infraction. They reluctantly agreed.

Decided to investigate the source of the virus that took over ship controls. Found space-FORTRAN code was beamed up from surface near base Alpha-1. Heading down to surface in the shuttle larva. Dealt with turbulent entry due to remnants of bombing during the big war.

Parked the shuttle on top of a razed hospital overlooking the park that Alpha-1 base is in.

Security Stanchions were hacked so our codes received with the contract were worthless. Deadbeet hacked them and we investigated the truck hastily parked outside Alpha-1. The inside is very well-kept, especially considering the mess that the rest of the planet is in.

Deadbeet noticed the door to Alpha-1 is rigged with a bomb, and NC-17, Hurtlocker-style disarmed it with a coat hanger scavenged from the truck.

On the other side of the door we found the slumped dead body of Carlo Patrick. Searching the rest of the base we found that all the Alpha-1 base personnel were murdered by blunt-force trauma or disruption fire. 3 days ago, aside from Zach who died from poisoning 2 days ago.

We discovered by hacking the mainframe that Zach was banned from going to the local settler bar. The deaths seemed to be all caused by members of the team. next step: checking the bar.