On Friday night, once both characters were finalized, the first session of the Eclipse Phase game got underway; it started with me listing off suggestions of things that the would-be Reality XP Stars might want to consider for their first show and first effort at gathering fame in Venusian space. Among the ideas listed were ‘skydiving’ from the axis of rotation – either during a competition or out of the blue – using a rocket boost to essentially jump across the habitat with intent to land on the same building on the other side of the rotation, jousting while riding drones in space outside the habitat, and exploring one of the habitats recently declared to be scuttled by the hypercorps.
Among those options, they selected the most dangerous one: go poke around an abandoned and off-limits research habitat. A little research on orbital paths got them telemetry for three small habs – one owned by Cognite, one owned by Somatek, and one owned by Skinthetic. Or, in more direct terms, one owned by mind-hackers, one owned by uplift specialists, and one owned by morph designers. They decided to go for the Cognite habitat.
Getting out without revealing their purpose was fairly easy; Roth, the octomorph shock jock, brazened his way out with a fantastic degree of success, enough to keep the local control off their back as they wandered across the hull, making sure to cross hab windows so that people would start speculating as to what these two idiots were up to. At the appointed time, and with a bit of extra fanfare, they launched into space to make a rendezvous with the abandoned habitat.
Roth had no trouble with the trip, spending the time in the void smoothly gliding along as he took in panoramic shots of Venus. Sveta, on the other hand, had a little difficulty at first and had to make a few course corrections with her thruster pack to bring her in a little roughly on the side of the torus. Oddly, given the rotational gravity, the hab had an airlock on the outer of the two rings.
They gained access through Sveta’s infosec skills and a few tweaks to the circuitry of the airlock, cycling into an unusually cool and quiet hab, half the lighting shut off with the other half dimmed into low-power emergency mode. Roth’s enthusiasm only flared up higher, as he kept talking about how easy it would be to give the production a ‘Blair Witch’ kind of vibe with the spooky lighting, while Sveta started having an unpleasantly familiar sensation crawl up her spine.
Pushing into the habitat proper, the first area they hit was the common room/dining hall, which had windows set in the floor; Roth climbed to the roof using his octopus skills and control jets, feeding the visual to Sveta. She, while Roth was enthralled with the view of Venus sweeping past and his own stylish reflection in the windows, realized something was amiss.
All the food trays were sitting around as if everyone had been mid-meal and no one had gathered them up; but even allowing for two weeks of sitting out and station controls, the trays themselves were conspicuously clean.The uncomfortable sensation crawled a bit farther up her back, prompting a Sanity check that she blew. Luckily, it was only a little stressful to observe. There was certainly some rational explanation right?
Along they went; crew quarters, all clearly vacated in a hurry. Personal effects strewn around, and Roth finds one person’s stash of vintage porn from before the days of the Fall, which he happily tucks away for resale. Sveta digs around on the local mesh, finding several devices connected, including one containing the video/XP diary of one Stephanie Danz.
The clip opens with Stephanie staring in a mirror. Her eyes are hugely dilated, her heart rate is up, she’s sweating and breathing hard. “We have to evacuate. The experiment’s gone wrong. We have to get out before it-” She cuts off as a crinkling sound comes from behind her, whips around, and nearly collapses from relief when it’s one of her coworkers, motioning her to hurry up.
Roth feels a very subtle vibration in the habitat at this point, but doesn’t bother commenting on it. They copy the XP and move on, passing to the ‘public’ server room and command center, where Sveta gets access to get a proper map of the habitat. The rest of the outer ring is marked as a Green Zone – restricted access in case anyone from outside Cognite comes visiting. The inner ring is split up -the four spokes that go from the outer ring to the central spindle pass through the two Yellow Zones, areas restricted to researchers from the facility and higher-up Cognite executives.
And then there’s the two Red Zones, isolated from the spokes. One labelled ASI, which does nothing to calm Sveta down. The other is EWM, which means nothing to either of them.
Roth cracks the door into the Green Zone open just as Sveta queues up all the camera feeds, nearly giving her a heart attack as she sees the door open on a feed, followed by the octopus popping through. At his request, his muse digs around the available info on the server and Sveta pushes for access to the other Zones’ cameras.
Roth’s muse, Jeeves, informs him (in a stuffy stereotypically British Butler fashion) that the accounting on the system is completely awry, with large amounts of materials and funds disappearing. He blows it off on the assumption that a higher-up has been living it up on the company credit.
Sveta, on the other hand, gets access to the Yellow Zone cameras, and finds corpses. The closer Zone has a few bodies split open and left to rot, with a synthmorph slowly rocking in one corner. The octopus jets off to check on the synthmorph and gets Sveta to lend him a hand while she tries to ping the synth’s muse, and pulls the synth up on habitat logs as one Sylvester Dal, a cognition engineering specialist.
The synth responds when Roth spams it with the name, while Sveta’s ping of the muse prompts a half-destroyed forest sprite with a thousand-mile stare to show up, hovering on Roth’s AR at the synth’s shoulder. Before anything else happens, Roth pops the synth’s stack and powers it down, then fishes through the gore of the biomorphs to pick up a couple more stacks – including one that, improbably, had been snapped in half by some unthinkably large amount of pressure.
Meanwhile, Sveta’s trying to get some sense from the Red Zone cameras, which are throwing errors and feedback sprays.
sparking flash of half a frame (something sort of visible)
half-frame glimpse; something humanoid?
Roth drops back down, maybe starting to feel a bit unsettled by the carnage and the broken stack in a pocket of his vacsuit; he’s suited back up at Sveta’s nudging. Her camera drones get sent up, surveying the disaster and then going through the door into the EWM Red Zone. It’s clean, amazingly so. A couple healing vats sitting to one side, a massive airgapped quantum computer on the other; Sveta recognizes it from her old job as the kind of thing countries go into debt to acquire. She carefully doesn’t mention this to Roth, and leapfrogs the drones onward; they can’t make it through the door into the other Red Zone, and get called back to try the other side, with one left in the EWM area.
She closes the bulkheads in the spokes, while she’s doing this.
The habitat vibrates subtly, and there’s no discernible source; the vibration’s a lot worse at the inner ring. No matter, push on, that’s Roth’s method here. What looked like corpses at first glance prove to be all the food that should have been moldering on the trays in the common area, in this part of the Yellow Zone. Why’s it up there? Who knows?
Sveta’s ready to fake a failure at the other Red Zone door – but it opens without her prompt, revealing the kind of server system that uses liquid nitrogen for cooling purposes. Sveta, at this point, needs to see nothing else; the station was being used for Seed AI research, and she wants off. There’s an escape pod left, after all.
Roth insists on her waiting; he wants to go check out the airgapped system, and the bulkheads in the closest spoke retract – clear up to the spindle, with blinking green evacuation system lights blinking next to them. Only…
Sveta didn’t do that. Roth doesn’t take the time to question it, launching himself up the shaft and heading for the EWM red zone – with the Yellow door shrieking shut behind him, and refusing to respond to Sveta’s efforts to get it back open. Sveta’s taking the time to transmit the contents of the station mesh – the parts that aren’t reporting that they’re experiencing an unsourced 95% load – to a secure location off-station. It’s as much to keep herself calm as to get a backup of what went wrong if they suddenly die.
The EWM zone, seen through Roth’s eyes, proves to be quite a bit different than the drone’s view. The healing vats have some murky green liquid filling them, rather than the usual translucent goo, there’s a medical table with a morph strapped down on it that apparently died in agony, and the server has – to him – some looming presence to it.
Roth goes to interface with it at the same time that Sveta picks up another anomalous vibration event; his brain starts feeling like it’s vibrating and buzzing, but he can’t find anything on the quantum server and pulls out, pushing down the corridor with Sveta’s drone in tow.
The door to the spoke obligingly opens, then gusts of pressurized air blast drone and octopus both down the shaft before the bulkheads all slam shut behind him. Taking it as a cue, the two of them meet at the open spoke and hurriedly climb up, emerging into the spindle – completely dark, other than the blinking green lights of the escape pod. They don’t dare risk turning on suit lights, and push across the space toward the pod.
Sveta’s still half-watching the cameras and gets a split-second frame from the EWM cameras of a close-up of an eye, staring straight into the camera from point-blank range.
Something slaps against Roth’s suit and bounces away, startling him but not doing much else; the pod obligingly opens as they arrive and launches itself, a course already programmed in to take them back to Gerlach.
Sveta, still hooked into the mesh as they blast away, gets another snapshot – this a full frame, nearly a full second in length, of an impossibly detailed eyes looking into the camera.
Roth hasn’t seen either eye, and agrees that they’re on the creepy side when she shows him, but he’s busy recording their departure when the station, unexpectedly, explodes in a fusion fireball, sending a good 95% of the debris in a burning arc toward Venus – but a few pieces are boosted up into a larger orbit.
They return to Gerlach without any real incident beyond some harassment about their stunt; no one seems to be interested in connecting them or the escape pod to the habitat that just exploded. They decide to work out what to do with the material they collected after getting some sleep and perhaps a little muse-delivered psychotherapy.
And that wrapped up the first session of the campaign, which was a bit wilder and a bit darker than expected for a first session.
And it certainly sets up some questions for them to poke at in future sessions.