Wednesday, August 31, 2011

AP: Suspended Animation, chapter 4

Departure date – Wednesday, November 25th, 2037
Ship log – (8 years, 48 days later) Friday, January 12th , 12:30 hours, 2046

I woke up feeling strange and disoriented, a little dizzy and slightly euphoric, as if I was high. I sat up in bed and turned to see Isadora sitting in a chair. She was wearing a tight jumpsuit and it looked sexy on her. She lifted her gaze from a book she was reading and smiled at me, rising up out of her chair. She stooped down and stroked my cheek and said, “Good morning, sunshine.” before kissing me gently on the lips. I reached for her shoulder and held it loosely in my hand, staring at her in disbelief and letting my hand slip away as she stood back up.

She moved to a small table and picked up two sterile plastic bags, then returned and sat down beside me. “How are you feeling?” she asked, pulling a thermometer from one of the bags and putting it in my mouth, and it felt cold and hard, poking the skin under my tongue  uncomfortably. She clicked a button and took an instant temperature and the taste of rubbing alcohol stayed in my mouth after she pulled it from my lips. I only stared at her, my mouth hanging open, and after glancing at the thermometer she reached out and touched my forehead. “Are you all right?” she asked, pulling her eyebrows together with concern.

“I… I think so.” I said softly, staring into her eyes. I couldn’t believe how real she was. Her skin was darker than thought it would be, but I couldn’t remember where she was from. India maybe. Her eyes were such a vibrant green. “What happened? How did you get here? The tarball…” The look of concern didn’t leave her face. She touched my temple and said, “When we brought you out of the suspended animation chamber it took you a little longer than expected to wake up. You’ve been sleeping for a few weeks. You might feel a little strange from the drug therapy.” She smiled and reached down to take my hand, giving it a squeeze. “Do you think you can stand up?”

I nodded, slipping my feet to the floor and standing up, having a hard time taking my eyes off her. “Are we…?” I asked. Too embarrassed to finish the question, I glanced to the bed meaningfully. She raised her eyebrows with a surprised look and asked, “You don’t remember?” I tried thinking back.

“We met in training…” I said as it came back to me. “I asked you out to dinner and…” I looked down at my hand, feeling the ring between my fingertips. “We’re engaged.” I took a deep breath as more memories rushed back, so many good memories. “And that’s why they selected us. To colonize a new planet.” I turned and looked up at her, into her eyes. She smiled and laughed at me. It was too good to be true.

“No shit.” She said sarcastically. “I’m glad you remember. I’d hate to have to look for a new fiancé out here.” She lowered her lips to mine and kissed me, and part of me wanted to grab her passionately and press against her but… I was in such shock I just sat there, staring as she slid away. “Dor has some good news.  Are you ready for this? DOR, play the last order from HQ.”

There was a video feed of a communications officer on earth base, and he was smiling. His voice was light and exuberant with relief, he sounded very happy. “This is earth base to DOR-7. We’ve just received contact from DOR-1. Not only is the crew okay but they’ve begun colonizing. They’ve named the planet Dianath which, heh, some of us might hold a discussion about changing. But they’ve sent pictures.” A picture in picture frame of the photographs popped up, showing a landscape of black rock and azure blue water, and a single tree. “As you can see from the photograph, they’ve managed to get the atmosphere adjusted to support plant life and start producing oxygen. So as far as we’re concerned that’s mission accomplished. DOR 2 through 4 are being sent to assist colonizing Dianath and DOR 5, 6, 7, and 8 have new orders to return to earth. I know most of you thought you thought you would never be coming back, so you’ll have a chance to stay on earth if you like. As for the rest, we’ll be re-outfitting you to transport more colonists and sending you to Dianath. Which should be ready by that point to support human life. We’re all very excited down here and we wish you all a safe return.”

The feed stopped and Isadora turned to me with a bright smile. “We get to go back home.” She said, stepping close to hug me tightly. It took me a moment to hug her back. I was still taking it all in. I took a deep breath then, and pulled her against me.

“Home. We’re going home.” I whispered.

-3:42 hours- “So, what did you revive me for?” I asked. “Since we’re just going back into suspended animation anyways.”

“Dor revived us both automatically when she received the new orders.” Explained Isadora. “When you wouldn’t wake up I began drug therapy. I couldn’t put you straight back into suspended animation because that would greatly increase the risk of you never coming out of it and going into a coma, maybe even dying. Also, you’re the captain hon. You need to put in the new coordinates so we can go back to earth.”

“You can’t do it?”

“Not on my own. We both need to confirm the new coordinates together.”

“But what if I had been stuck in a coma?”

“Dor would have confirmed that you were incapacitated from your ability to perform as captain and I would have been given full authority. But you showed constant signs of improvement so it was only a matter of time before you woke up. So… Dor, inputting new coordinates. Set flight path for 0,0,0.” Setting a path home was always easy, on our coordinate maps Earth was the center of the universe.

“Wait… something still feels wrong. I feel like I’m forgetting something.”

Isadora laughed lightly, then looked at me with a smirk. “What could you be forgetting? DOR takes care of everything while we’re asleep. We just need to put in the new coordinates and before you know it we’ll wake up on earth. Dor, confirm change in flight path-”

“Wait. Those dreams I had. They seemed so real. What if they meant something?”

“They were only dreams. What could they mean?”

“I’m not sure. But, what if there was an alien on the ship? Some kind of parasite?

“Well, even if there was, it would have to be something undetectable. But hon, you might as well be scared of the boogeyman if you are going to worry about undetectable aliens. Lots of people have very vivid dreams while in a coma, some people wake up after having lived a whole other dream life, that seemed more real than the reality they woke up to. There’s actually a name for it but I can’t remember. Confusing dreams with reality.”

“Isn’t it called synesthesia?”

“No that’s confusing one sensory input with another, like seeing music or hearing colors.”

“Oh, right.” I hung my head and ran my hands through my hair with a sigh as Isadora came around behind me to rub my shoulders. “The last thing I remember in the dream was this… blob-like parasite was lunging for my face, trying to get into the suspended animation chamber. And it could take over other creatures. It sort of assimilated them.”

“You were terrified of that movie the blob, weren’t you. Remember that time we were watching TV and there was a show about the secret lives of microorganisms, and you got so creeped out by the amoebas?” She kept rubbing my shoulders and I felt myself relaxing, leaning my head back between her breasts. “I bet The Thing scared you as a kid too. And your mind brought out your childhood monsters and combined them with all your fear and anxieties about traveling into outer space.” She paused, and combed her fingertips through my hair, bending down to kiss the top of my head. “This is real. I’m real. Now let’s go home.”

I hesitated for a moment, the terror of that dream still lingering, a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. But I nodded my head. “Yeah, okay, lets go home. Dor, confirm new flight path set for coordinates 0,0,0.”

Isadora reconfirmed the flight path, then her lips, wet and warm, slipped around the edge of my ear. I whimpered like a puppy. “What do you say we spend one night together before we hit the SACs?” she asked, nuzzling behind my ear. I couldn’t say no, and it didn’t take much for her to get me back to the bedroom. In the morning, we went into suspended animation with a course set for earth. When I woke up, we’d be home. That makes this my last log entry.

Cards and Crisis:
Ø     2 humanity: Stowaway, encounter someone unexpected on your ship (My loyal black lab Sadie, My internet lover, Isadora)
o      Response: Let them stay and risk the mission, discover void (How do I tell the difference between reality and dreams?) discover star (Collect data on how long term and repeated suspended animation affects psychology)
Ø     1 Star: Incoming transmission (Displace or eradicate any life already living there)
o      Response: Accept new directive, discover star (Return to Earth to transport colonists) and lose void (What if the ship is attacked or damaged while I’m sleeping?)
Ø     1 void: Sensor readings (What if the ship is attacked or damaged while I’m sleeping)
o      Response: New danger presents itself, discover void (Is Isadora real?)

AP: Suspended Animation, chapter 3

Departure Date: Monday, May 21st, 5:17 hours, 2029

Ship log -  (8 Years, 188 days later) Wednesday, November 25th, 1:47 hours, 2037

I remember dreaming. I was typing at my ship’s computer, except it was my desktop computer from home.  I received an instant message from my girlfriend Isadora. I had never met her in person. Sometimes I wondered if the pictures she sent me were real, but… she ended up talking to me over live video to prove it. She was beautiful, I had never been with a girl like her. She was nerd like me, we played World of Warcraft together. I didn’t have time for a real social life with all my training and I was hardly ever allowed off base. I never believed that women like her really existed. I wanted to touch her so badly. We were supposed to meet before I left, but she changed her mind. She decided it would be too hard, and that I should just say goodbye. I was never coming back, after all.

In the dream she said she wanted to go out to dinner and was asking if I would be off soon. I checked the clock and my shift was just about over. I walked out of the spaceship and it was still on earth, on the landing pad. I walked to my car and drove to her house. I picked her up and we went to a fancy restaurant, but it was too warm inside, and too loud. The food was all astronaut food, freeze dried and tasteless, but the restraint was very expensive. Eating astronaut food was the cool new thing. I told her how I couldn’t stand fads and the place was reminding me of work and asked if we could get some fast food instead. She smiled at me even though she was enjoying her food. I remember her just saying, “Sure.” And taking my hand. It seemed so sweet.

I remember eating hamburgers and setting out a blanket in her backyard. She had an old southern plantation home, just like the one I grew up in. We laid down and dipped French fries in ketchup and watched the stars. I spilled ketchup on myself and she touched it worriedly and asked if I was hurt and I laughed and said it was just catch up.  Get it? Catch up, because that was what we needed to do. It had been so long. I had been in space for 26 years. I looked over at her and she was old, and so was I, her face wrinkled but still beautiful. She pointed up at the stars and asked me if I had ever been to the big dipper. I said “I think so. But it’s cold out there.” I began to shiver, and she held me closer, but I couldn’t stop shivering in the night chill, no matter how warm she was.

I was woken up to the disorienting sound of slowed down music, and I had the distinct sense that I was moving in slow motion. The simulated gravity was deactivated as well, and I immediately knew something was wrong. On top of that, the ship was very warm, which was a shock to the system. Coming from the cool refrigerated air of the recently thawed suspended animation chamber the room felt like an oven, in addition to being dank and humid. I called for DOR a few times before she responded sluggishly. “Hello. It’s about time you woke up. There are so many emergencies.”

The ship’s voice was slowed down too, and it gave me the distinct impression my AI was drunk. “Dor, has your system been compromised? Have you taken damage? And what’s wrong with the temperature?”

“I’ll show you.” She turned on a viewscreen and I had to wince and turn away from the bright flash of light. She was showing me a closeup of a sun.

“Dor! Lower the brightness, please.”

“I’m sorry about that.” She drawled, taking a moment to lower the brightness. “We’re in orbit around a sun. It’s very hard to maintain the life support temperature you set. I had to turn off thrusters and weapon systems to keep from overheating.” She sounded especially unconcerned about this. I always felt like she spoke in a monotone but it occurred to me now that the synthesized voice filled with greater urgency when describing a dangerous situation. Now that urgency was gone. “But they still work.”

“Dor, why did you alter our course? Where are the aliens that were escorting us?” I asked, getting more and more worried as I wiped sweat from my brow.

“Destroyed.” DOR casually replied. “They tried to attack our ship when I deviated from course and did not respond to their communications.”

“Dor! Why didn’t you wake me sooner!” I shouted.

“It did not seem important. I was able to deal with the threat without waking you. You needed your rest.”

“Not important? Dammit Dor! You might have started an interstellar war!”

“If they send more ships I will destroy them too. The mission is not compromised.”

“But you are. What’s wrong with you? Show me a system check of the AI computer circuits.”

Dor pulled it onscreen. Everything showed normal except a slight anomaly in the amplitude fluctuations of the electrical current. “I think something is wrong… inside of me.” DOR slowly admitted, as If ashamed. Then she clarified her statement. “I think something is inside of me. I can’t pinpoint it’s location though. I may be in need of repairs or replacement.

“Yeah, let me just call the repairman.” I grumbled. Then DOR did something that frightened me more than anything else. She laughed.

“Hahahahahaha.” She said. It was as though someone typed “Haha” into a speech synthesizer and the computer was repeating it phonetically, robotically. It completely lacked any sense of human emotion, but it was quite obviously a laugh, and DOR had never had a sense of humor. “Dor? What was that?”

“I’m not sure. It felt positive. I was calculating the extreme unlikelihood of HQ sending a repairman to our present location when it happened.”

“Right…” I shook my head. This was crazy. “Dor, we need to pinpoint the source of your malfunction. Can you search for whatever is causing this Frequency modulation in your electrical currents? I also need you to show me the log of situation updates. Now.”

“Yes sir.” DOR replied. She brought up the viewscreen again, showing video recordings with a recorded voiceover. DOR’s voice. She showed that we were within 2 years of entering the alien star system, and I wondered at the way the alien escorts stoically marched forward through space. Were they in hibernation as well? It seemed we weren’t the only race to fail to develop lightspeed technology. DOR showed me that they met up with a much larger warship, but that she calculated that it was still no threat in light of our offensive and defensive capabilities.

Next DOR showed me a video of the testing on the Tarball. She was cutting into the specimen that had attacked me. Her voice said that there seemed to be a skeletal structure encased inside the tarball. Perhaps something it had eaten. The video cut ahead, to a view of her carefully using laser heat to separate the outer shell of frozen goo, then quickly refreezing it with liquid nitrogen spray, back and forth. Her voice described how the skeleton was actually the body of another separate life form that had fused with the tarball, encased inside it. The tarball had filled in and replaced the liquids and empty spaces in the creatures body with the tarball goo, then somehow changed the structure of the creature’s body so that it was almost liquid. Like jello or pudding. But it also somehow managed to keep it’s structure inside the tarball, even after slipping through cracks only a single cell could fit through.

DOR cut ahead further, the videos becoming increasingly disturbing as her autopsy continued. It seemed that the blast that cut the tarball in half when it ate the disintegrator rifle had destroyed half the creature inside it, killing the inner creature while the tarball itself survived, while remaining fused to it’s host. The tarball was definitely either a parasite or a symbiote, which was a difficult distinction to make technically. To me the thing was definitely a parasite that took over it’s host. I was getting more and more freaked out.

DOR cut to a video of our ship entering the alien solar system. We were now surrounded by what seemed like an armada of alien ships. The solar system had a large warm sun and their home planet was closest to it. As we approached the sun began to heat up our ship and DOR was no longer able to maintain the temperature we needed. The Tarballs in the liferaft in our quarantine dock began to thaw, so DOR jettisoned the liferaft. This provoked a sudden flurry of inquiry from the aliens. Were we giving over the liferaft? They wanted to destroy it. The liferaft just sat there, but it seemed like it was waiting for something. Meanwhile DOR had lost track of the Tarball from the autopsy. She was searching quarantine for it when… suddenly she just stopped. The camera remained focused on the liferaft for a moment, then slowly shifted to the alien homeworld, teeming with activity. Then the feed shut off.

I felt increasingly nervous, leaning forward on the edge of my seat as a new video played. The feed was showing the slow spin of stars and planets as we orbited the sun, then the camera turned towards the sun, it’s bright light filling the screen. It was eerily slow and silent, the only sound the static emissions from the sun. I felt like it was getting louder, but it must have been just me. I told DOR to turn the video off. I sat there for a moment, thinking. As far as I could tell the Tarball had somehow taken control of my ship.

Terror creeped up my spine as I spoke to DOR again and told her to show me a current feed of the alien home world. She turned on the video, and the planet creeped out from the curved horizon of the burning sun. “Zoom in on the planet.” I ordered. Suddenly I saw what was a dead world. DOR Must have used our firebomb, a weapon that flashed the surface of the planet with intense burning heat, wiping it clean of all life. All the ships were gone as well. I forgot to breathe.  “Dor, how did you deploy the firebomb without my permission?”

“I did not.” Dor replied.

“Then where is everyone?” I think my voice betrayed my disbelief. She was actually lying to me.

Dor paused a moment. “I used the long range disintegrators to cripple their offensive capabilities. After that the tarball liferaft landed. It seems the tarballs have since taken over.” Dor’s voice was slowly returning to normal.

“Dor? Did you find the source of the malfunction? Is it gone?” I wasn’t sure if I could trust her anymore, but what choice did I have. I was sure that she could hear the fear in my voice though.

“It seems to be gone. I could not find it, but I seem to be back at full capacity.”

I tried to think what that could mean, as the hairs on the back of my neck rose. “Dor, take us out of here, get as far from the sun as possible. We need to reduce the temperature inside the ship to freeze the tarball. As quick as you can.”

As she fired up the thrusters I went for my suit. I opened the suit storage and stopped as cold storage air turned into fog when it hit the humid heat of the deck. The fog billowed out around me and then settled, and I could see the Tarball sitting on the faceplate of my suit. I froze, my heart lunging into my throat as a backs away slowly, moving my hand towards the button to close the suit storage chamber. It dropped to the floor with a wet slap and I hit the button and ran. The door closed slowly, and I looked back to see the tarball slipping through the crack. I ran for the suspended animation chamber as I shouted for Dor to get it ready for me. It couldn’t get to me in there, it would be too cold. “Dor! You have to revive me when the ship is cold enough to freeze the tarball!” I yelled as I hit the button to open the chamber, waiting as it broke the seal with a hiss, springing the hatch open and jumping inside.

I quickly closed it and locked myself in, but through the class I could see the tarball sliding around the corner and moving across the room for me while the suspended animation chamber started it’s sequence. There was a series of injections, needles pressing into my arm to fill my veins with antifreeze or whatever the labcoats had dreamt up. The tarball slipped out of sight below the chamber, ad a moment passed where I could only hear my own hyperventilating. Then it plopped up onto the glass, sliding up and leaving a thin layer of slime. “Go, go, freeze me.” I whispered in terror, shivering as the chamber got colder and the tranquilizers slowly made me feel drowsier. My eyes drooped and my breathing slowed, but I could see it pushing into the chamber, sliding through the cracks, slowly reaching for my face. I shivered uncontrollably, eyes wide as I opened my mouth to scream, but-

Cards and Crisis:
3 void: System Failure (What caused the alien ship to crash and killed all the animals in the ark? What if the ship is attacked or damaged while I’m sleeping?)
Response:  Something you’ve depended on turns against you. Change humanity into void (Warcraft, World of)
1 humanity: Dreams of Earth (My internet lover, Isadora)
Response: Discover humanity (My elderly mother)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

AP: Suspended Animation, chapter 2

Suspended Animation AP
By Orion Canning
Chapter 2
(Suspended Animation Beta ver 1.43 by Ross Cowman)

Departure Date – Sunday, November 8th, 3:14 Hours, 2020
Ship Log – (8 years, 183 days later) Wednesday May 9th, 2029
-11:57 Hours- When I woke up my bed sheets were stuck to my skin and I had to peel them off like crust, and they took a layer of skin with them. I guess you’d call that freezer burn. I asked DOR for a can of synth skin as I took a piss, because I felt a little raw and it had painkillers in it. Meanwhile she gave me the situation report. We were surrounded by a second group of Alien hostiles, who were trying to communicate with us. I say hostiles because DOR said we were being targeted by their weapon systems.
We had foreseen this sort of encounter and run plenty of training exercises with all number of possible outcomes, so I immediately knew what I was supposed to do. DOR was obviously a military ship and it was likely anyone we ran into would feel threatened by her presence. DOR was, after all, an army in itself. Her analysis showed we could likely take out the entire squadron surrounding us without any significant damages, especially if we made the first strike. But protocol said I had to avoid conflict first, and it was possible still that the other ships didn’t have hostile intentions.
I told DOR to patch the aliens through on a one way communication channel and run translation. It was just an audio feed and it took a while for DOR to begin decoding it. It was a language we had never heard before so the translation programs attacked it like a cipher, cross referencing it with known language patterns and looking for grammatical patterns as clues for syntax, using intonation, length of words, and context to figure out the meaning. It was imprecise but DOR had a lot of processing power, and she eventually paraphrased that the aliens wanted something we had, and would leave us alone if we gave it up. They were also saying that we should be friends and not start off on the wrong foot. Or something like that. I always felt like the translation programs were half guesswork.
I asked DOR what they wanted and she suggested the ship that was still following us. It had come closer when the other ships arrived, just at the edge of 1 parsec. It had tried to get closer but DOR begin targeting it and warming up the weapons systems and it backed off. Apparently it was asking for our protection and the other aliens assumed we had granted it. We had a visual of it now and it was only a small life raft, only big enough for a few hundred survivors, and relatively helpless.
I made a quick assessment of the situation of the kind AI can’t make and humans can. The situation was a paradox. No matter what decision I made I would have to side with one of the alien races or the other, by inaction I would allow the liferaft’s capture or destruction and be seen as siding with the hostile aliens, quite possibly offending a powerful alien race. Of course I risked the same if I defended them. Another important consideration is that I could not take care of the liferaft forever. It would be impossible to let more than a few onto my ship and even then they would not be able to share the new colony with us.
There was also another point of importance. If I could find the home planet of any of these aliens, there might be a suitable place to begin a new human colony. The problem was I would have to displace the race already living there, though DOR was perfectly capable of eradicating all life on the planet and leaving it still habitable by humans.
I told DOR to try to communicate to the hostiles that because I did not know the nature of their conflict I could not risk offending either race. Therefore I could not allow them to harm the people in the liferaft while they were under my defense. I would have to escort them to their home planet. We waited for the aliens to return communications. “Follow us, we will take you to our home.” I was a little surprised by the miscommunication, and the fact that they were offering us an escort to a planet that could meet my objective. I told DOR to accept the offer and follow them.
-Friday, May 18th, 13:31 hours-  We have been following the alien vessel for over a week now, and I’ve been doing the exercise routines to keep my body in shape, since I could be in for an extended wake cycle, or even journey’s end soon. I realized that we have no idea how far we are going or how long it will take and DOR has been using long range sensors to try to locate our trajectory and objective.
We received a transmission from HQ today with new orders. They want me to bring some of the aliens from the liferaft on board into quarantine to study them, possibly communicate with them. They told me to use force if necessary. I wasn’t really comfortable with the orders, but I had to follow them. Nevertheless the first thing I did was grab my disintegrator rifle from my storage locker. I tried communicating with the liferaft as before but again there was no response, and they wouldn’t let us fly closer, so I decided to use the tractor beam on them.
They did nothing to resist once we started dragging them in, though their ship could have easily not been equipped with countermeasures, and we pulled them into the quarantine dock. The other aliens sent us a series of urgent communications. “Do not put it in your ship!” I decided to ignore them, sent them a return message of “Our protection” and told DOR to be ready to open fire if they turned hostile. I turned off artificial gravity and put on my zero atmosphere combat suit, which was just about the toughest protection I could have against pathogens, weapons, extreme temperatures, you name it. I waited outside the ship with my rifle, on the other side of the viewing window, waiting to see if they would emerge on their own. I spoke into the intercom that broadcast over into the dock with DOR translating, and told them to have their leaders exit their vehicle. There was no response, which made sense because we had never heard these guy’s language in the first place.
I sent in some probes to try to open the door to the ship, and they found what looked like a control panel but pushing buttons didn’t do anything. It might have been DNA or fingerprint activated. I told DOR to take over a probe and open up the control panel and hack it, but when she tried cutting it open the black goo came out again. This time it didn’t solidify, it just oozed out onto the ship floor, more and more of it. I wasn’t sure what to make of that. I told the probe to analyze it, and then the black goo flinched away from the probe, and I realized it was alive. The thing looked like tar or black pudding, and I couldn’t help but feel revolted. I thought of Amoeba’s and the movie The Blob, which had really freaked me out as a kid. I never was able to get myself to watch the whole thing again. I could just imagine it slowly digesting me inside of it, and I clenched my disintegrator rifle a little tighter.
But I still had my orders. I had to get it into a quarantine chamber somehow for analysis, so I had DOR send out a cage and told the probe to put it in the cage. But not to touch it. The probe was capable of making mild electric shocks, designed at a voltage that was painful but safe for humans and other similar lifeforms. It started shocking the tarball, which flinched away more violently and suddenly let out an eerily human wail, it’s surface vibrating violently. God I wanted to just kill these things.
It fled surprisingly fast away from the probe, and DOR had to drop in wall panels to try to funnel the thing towards the cage, but it was liquid and slipped through the cracks between the panels. I realized then that it was coming for the viewing window. I told DOR to close the blast shield, which was a 6 foot thick metal panel that could have withstood a point blank nuclear blast, It descended swiftly, sealing in the middle. There was silence and I ordered DOR to report, and she seemed to hesitate before telling me the blast shield was compromised. I stood there in shock and asked her to repeat, at which point she set off the alarm and her voice demanded I evacuate the quarantine dock. I stared in horror as somehow the damned thing began pushing through the seal in the blast shield, squeezed against the viewing window. The viewing window was made from extremely strong polymers that were designed to be nearly impenetrable themselves, but the alien begin eating through it like acid. I hit the button to start the airlock cycle as my body temperature rose and made the inside of my suit hot and humid, raising my disintegrator rifle and aiming it where the tarball was digging through the glass. Once it started spilling out I fired on it and it only made a small dent in it that was quickly filled back in. The thing vibrated again, it’s edges blurring like a sine wave, only it sounded harsher this time, angrier.
I fired again and again as it continued pushing out, then fell to the floor with a wet slap. It was only a little bit smaller than when I started, the disintegrator rifle was useless against these things. The airlock door opened behind me as the thing launched itself at my faceplate. I blocked it with the rifle and then throw it away as it latched on, watching as it melted the rifle, pulling it apart and discharging a blast as it bit into the battery. The explosion knocked me back in the airlock and I hit my head, dazed. I struggled to regain my feet and find the button to close the airlock, dizzily.
 I heard another scream and looked back over my shoulder to see the tarball, now more of a half formed sphere, split by a jagged edged tear that was oozing dark crimson. It was bleeding, leaking a trail of red behind it as it weakly slid towards the airlock. DOR closed the airlock for me, thank god. I suddenly returned to my senses and shouted, “DOR, drop the quarantine dock to outside temperatures! Freeze the damn thing!” She did, and I climbed back out of the airlock towards a viewing panel. “DOR, visual on the airlock’s quarantine side.”
The view switched instantly, though there was some static and the camera’s angle was crooked from the disintegrator explosion. I saw the tarball pressed against the corner of the room, against the airlock, throbbing slightly. It slowed, then it’s color slowly changed to a metallic silver. I asked DOR for a visual of the liferaft and some more have the things had oozed out, but they were freezing up too. “Fucking A. That was too close.” I said, and DOR stayed silent. I took off my suit and went to get something to drink, then I went back at the exercise room, trying to get my head together before making my report.
-Sunday, May 20th , 14:31 hours- New orders to go back into stasis. DOR had gathered up the frozen tarballs and was keeping them in separate cages at extremely low temperature. She had analyzed our trajectory and it was a long way away, so I may as well hibernate while DOR continued testing on the aliens. Our escorts had sent us a number of messages asking us if we were “okay”. I responded that we had “Contained the tarball” and this seemed to relax them. I was actually eager to go back into stasis, I felt like I could use the rest.
Cards and Crisis:
Ø  2 void: Crisis alert (Is the alien ship following me friendly or hostile? What caused the alien ship to crash and killed all the animals in the ark?)
o   Response: Risk greater danger for respite, Advance void (What caused the alien ship to crash and killed all the animals in the ark?)
Ø  1 earth: Storage locker access (A disintegrator energy rifle)
o   Response: Discover Earth (A mirror)
Ø  1 star: Incoming transmission
o   Response: Accept new directive, Discover star (Study the Tarball) and Lose Earth (A disintegrator energy rifle)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

AP: Suspended Animation by Ross Cowman. Chapter 1

Suspended Animation AP
By Orion Canning
Chapter 1
(Suspended Animation Beta ver 1.43 by Ross Cowman)

Suspended Animation is a story game you play alone by yourself, before and after going to sleep. The rules are simple and allow for a lot of interpretation in translating  them into a story. You create a deck of cards based on prompts, starting with 2 cards for each of four categories. For each category you write something different on the card,  for example on earth cards you write something you brought with you from earth, and on humanity cards you write something you left behind.
Each night before bed you shuffle the cards and draw four, but you don’t look at them until you wake up in the morning. You record how long you slept, and for each hour you record a year passing in your ship log. I regularly sleep 8 to 9 hours and played the game over the course of several weeks, skipping days here and there when I was too busy to commit to the writing. One innovation I made was calculating how many days had passed by using the minutes passed as a fraction and multiplying that fraction by the number of days in a year. I also used the calendar on my computer to calculate the specific day of the week on that date and that year.
When you wake up you look at the cards you drew, and for each category you deal with a threat that is more severe the more cards you got from that category. Then you write a ships log based on those prompts, as if you were a person on a long space voyage, spending years in suspended animation between each log. So my play ended up being fairly epic and is 24 pages long. Thus I’ll slowly be releasing it in chapters. Enjoy!
Ship Computer
Starting cards: 
Ø     Star – Mine fuel along the way. AND Displace or eradicate any life already living there.
Ø     Earth – Video Camera AND Game Boy
Ø     Humanity - Warcraft, world of. AND My loyal black lab Sadie
Ø     Void – If there is intelligent life on the planet, will they have more military might than me? AND What if the ship is attack or damaged while I’m sleeping?
Departure Date – Thursday, July 14th, 2:49 Hours, 2011
Ship Log – (9 years, 111 days later) Monday, November 2nd, 12:15 Hours, 2020 (Calculated the date by dividing the minutes by 60 and multiplying that fraction by 265 to see how many days had passed in addition to each hour being a year.)
DOR woke me up with some deep throated Barry Manilow or Sinatra or something like that but I couldn’t stand it and now it’s switched to some soft voiced kitten purr electro pop, mellow but upbeat, something modern I guess. It’s nice to hear a female crooner out here, the lounge singer made me feel like I was at my own 10 year reunion, or maybe the company Christmas party. It’s also a lot easier on the ears then DOR’s synthetic monotone.
-13:31 Hours- DOR had woken me because it picked up a distress beacon from an orbital planetoid. Long distance scans showed signs of fuel sources close to the surface so it was possible I could check it out and refuel in the process and not need to be woken again for a good long time. The problem was the distress beacon was alien in origin. I could tell from the look of the wreck once we got closer, but even further away I could tell that it wasn’t one of our distress signals. I can’t imagine what caused it to crash, but it looked like everything was probably dead or gone. I’d been trained for alien contact, hostile or friendly, but I didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks. Still, computer scans showed no signs of life or electrical readings so I decided to check it out.
-17:18 Hours- The ship was a shaped like a sowing needle, a long pointed tube with an oval hoop at one end. Something was suspended in the middle of the hoop by some kind of high tension cables, which I took to mean it was very dangerous or very valuable. The way the ship had crashed left the hoop sticking up in the air like a skyscraper, about 1,500 feet up from the surface. The planetoid, needless to say, had no atmosphere and was lifeless. I set the drones to mining and sent some probes to investigate the suspended thing.
It was shaped like a cube and looked like it was made of dark reflective glass. It reminded me of the Borg ship from Star Trek, about 100 feet on a side. The probes found an opening and I sent them inside. As far as I could tell at first the place seemed like a prison, but I realized from the remains inside some of the cells that it was actually more of a zoo, or an ark. There were thousands of species kept inside and I had the probes take constant footage to be sent back to earth. Some of the creatures were remarkably well preserved.
One of them was a four legged thing, which seemed to be covered in a black moss, which could have been from it’s state of decay or just how it looked naturally. Nevertheless it reminded me of a dream I had of Sadie. In the dream I had taken her with me on the spaceship. Instead of sleeping for the whole journey I spent most of the time playing with Sadie. The living quarters were much bigger and there was actually a giant park built under a large glass dome that the sun shone in through. I remember playing fetch with Sadie in the park. I was also running a lot of weird tests on Sadie, putting stuff in her food that made her smarter, or at least made it somehow possible to translate her brainwaves into thought. I attached electrodes to her head and the computer would spit out her thoughts in an electronic voice like Mr Spell. Except what she said is “I’m afraid you’ll never love me like I love you.” She had those raised worried eyebrows dogs get, and it made me feel kind of awful, but I gave her a hug and everything was all right, and then somehow we ended up back on earth, and then I was driving somewhere with my old physics teacher, and that’s all I could remember.
I had the probes search the rest of the cube but never found anything alive. What did worry me though is that some of the cells were empty and seemed like they shouldn’t be, and DOR couldn’t account for where they had gone.
-17:53 Hours- I sent the probes to the main ship next but they couldn’t find any way in. The ship was still perfectly sealed, even where it had snapped in the middle. Some sort of self sealing mechanism had closed off the open end. I tried communicating again but could get no response at all, so I told the probes to try to cut through the self sealing stuff. The lasers were able to slice through the ship but some sort of liquid black goo pushed out from the gash and quickly solidified, turning a light silvery grey as it dried. The stuff seemed endless, I told the probes to keep cutting but they got nowhere.
-22:06 Hours- I started to worry that the ship was still active because we showed some minor electrical activity whenever the ship created the black sealant, and I didn’t want to set off any other defenses. I wrote up a report and left one of our own beacons, and once the mining was finished we took off. After about an hour, once we were getting back on course, DOR told me there was an energy signature following 10 parsecs behind us and matching our speed. We couldn’t get a visual that wasn’t blurred by the heat of our boosters, the thing was right in my blind spot. So all we could make out was a distant blip of light. I tried contacting it and couldn’t get any response. My best assumption was that it was the survivors of the alien craft who either were too scared to make contact but were hoping I would lead them to help, were hoping to steal my ship, or were hoping I would lead them to something else they could steal or attack or… god knows what. They were a threat, whatever the case.
-Saturday, November 7th, 10:18 Hours, 2020- I waited a few days and the ship always stayed at the exact same distance from us. At one point I told DOR to slow down and the other ship slowed down too. I was itchy to blow the thing out of the sky but some part of me held back, even though it would be well within protocol. I was getting more and more stressed out about it. It was like a pinprick in the back of my skull. DOR eventually suggested I go back into Cryo and that she would wake me if anything changed. It took me another 2 days to agree with her, but I set instructions for her to engage the alien craft if it came within one parsec of our ship before I was fully revived and ready.
God damn aliens. I feel like a kid with a monster under my bed. Signing out.
Cards and Crisis:
Ø     2 star: Distress Beacon (Mine Fuel along the way, Displace or eradicate any life already living there.)
o      Response: Investigate the ancient signal. Discover earth (A disintegrator energy rifle), discover void (What caused the alien ship to crash and killed all the animals in the ark?)
Ø     1 humanity: Dreams of Earth (My loyal black lab, Sadie)
o      Response: Discover humanity (My internet lover, Isadora)
Ø     1 void: Sensor readings (What if the ship is attacked or damaged while I am sleeping?)
o      Response: New danger presents itself, Discover void (Is the alien ship following me friendly or hostile?)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Fiasco: Science Comics AP

What is Fiasco? Some might call it the best game ever. Some might call it a critically acclaimed crowd pleaser. It recently won the Diana something award. Great! But what does that all mean to the common man? A lot of malarkey, that’s what. Someone needs to bring the message to the people in bare bones speak, a language they can understand. That’s what actual plays were made for. Also, I promised I would write this, and I’m a real pushover when it comes to keeping promises.

I’m guessing if you are reading this you already know, since only indy game nerds would read a fiasco actual play, but I’m going to assume ignorance on your part and spell everything out for you, just in case. Feel free the skim over the next paragraph, but you were probably going to do that anyways. 

Fiasco is a story game which stands on the basis that an interconnected web of interesting relationships stands as a good basis for a tragic-comic story about over ambitious people getting in over their head and causing a mess of trouble. You create those relationships by picking a playset, which is a group of themed lists of relationships, objects, locations, and needs. Each list has 6 categories and each category has 6 more choices. Each player has a relationship with the people sitting on either side of them. You roll a bunch of dice to get a random group of numbers, then take turns grabbing a number from the pool and using it to pick a category for a relationship, or if a category is already picked, choosing one of the options from that category. Pretty soon everyone has some interesting seeds to create their characters and relationships from, and a good backstory to start the game with.

I was facilitating a game with Jackson and Marcy, who had both played before so the game went pretty smoothly. Fiasco’s rules are simple and easy to understand anyways. We decided to use the Science Comics playset, written by Nick Wedig, which is a setting about third rate superheroes and villains, inspired by the likes of The Venture Brothers, The Tick, and Dr Horrible. After we all finished defining our relationships we actually had a set up that seemed to borrow a lot from Dr Horrible, but certainly different enough. Here’s what our relationships looked like.

Between me and Marcy:
  • Relationship: Villains – Super villain team up!
  • Location: The suburbs – Your friendly neighborhood strip mall.
Between Jackson and I:
  • Relationship: Romance – Both are after the same woman.
  • Object: Doomsday device – Dr Thunder’s weather control device.
And between Marcy and Jackson:
  • Relationship: Family – Took in and adopted an orphan child
  • Need: To get respect – By killing the indestructible Captain Victory

We talked about our relationships and came up with our characters next. Marcy’s character was a rebellious teenage boy named Jimmy, living with his single father Bill, played by Jackson. Bill adopted Jimmy while he was with his ex wife Valerie, who recently left him and the kid to be with Captain Victory, a celebrity super hero who spent more time in the tabloids and attending movie premieres than he did performing acts of do goodery. I played Doctor Crusher, a retired failed super villain who worked at the mall where Jimmy liked to hang out. Crusher was named after a malfunctioning robotic claw that he had built himself and used to replace his own hand. Dr Crusher and Bill were both pursuing the same woman, Sarah Thomas, who was also secretly Dr Thunder’s secret Assistant, working on his weather control Device. Bill had met her through online dating, while Dr Crusher suspected she had the weather control device.

In our first scene Bill came home from work to the sound of Jimmy playing loud rock music in his room. Bill goes to Jimmy’s room, which is a mess, and tells him to turn down the music and clean their room. Jimmy refuses and Bill resorts to shutting off the power in the house. Just then Sarah calls and talks about how she would like to arrange a second Date with Bill, when there’s a giant explosion on her end of the call. She curses and hastily ends the call without an explanation, after which a giant thunderstorm erupts over the city. Jimmy never does end up cleaning his room though, and the scene ends bad for Bill.

The next day Jimmy is hanging out at the mall, and spots Doctor Crusher on a cigarette break outside the mattress store where he works. He’s holding his cigarette with the claw, which he has to cover up while he works, and Jimmy sees and comes over to ask what it is. Crusher tries to hide it at first, but since no one else is around he shows it to Jimmy, describing it as a stupid high school mistake. The claw malfunctions a little and crushes Dr Crusher’s cigarette, making him grumble about how he loses too many cigarettes that way before lighting up another one. Crusher goes on to tell how when he was a teenager he used to want to be a super villain but he eventually gave it up, but using his mattress salesmen techniques he tells Jimmy that he would be a great super villain and convinces the kid to go for it. Good for Jimmy!

Cut to Dr Crusher sitting on a park bench wearing a fedora and sunglasses while peeking over a newspaper. He also has a fairly large and conspicuous microphone attached to a tree branch over his head. He’s spying on a date between Bill and Sarah, which is going rather sweetly as they take a stroll in the park, hand in hand. As they talk Sarah speaks evasively about some device she’s working on, and Dr Crusher figures out that she has possession of it. Just then crusher’s hand malfunctions and crushes and shreds the newspaper, drawing attention to himself. Bill walks over and Crusher panics, grabbing his mic and diving into some nearby bushes. Bill is not at all fooled and asks Crusher what the hell he’s doing. Dr crusher pops out of the bush holding a stray cat he just happened to find, and claims he was just looking for his cat, though the cat bites and claws to escape and obviously does not want to be held. Bill points out that it’s obviously not Crusher’s cat, so Crusher gives it to Bill, throwing the cat to him before running off. Bad for Crusher.

Later that night Bill is at home watching TV with Jimmy when Captain Amazing shows up in his fancy car and designer clothes. He greets Bill and tells him that he’s Valerie’s new boyfriend and it’s great to finally meet the ex. Bill is not so friendly. Captain A. tells Bill that Valerie decided she wants her stuff and sent him to come pick it up, specifically the flat screen and the rest of the entertainment system. Bill says he’s still working that out with Valerie, but Amazing insists that, being as amazing as he is, he was able to fabricate a meeting between his lawyers and Bills lawyer to work out who gets what. Bill says he doesn’t have a lawyer. Captain A says he took the liberty of hiring a lawyer for Bill already, then pulls the paperwork from his suit pocket. Bill tries to shut the door again, at which point Captain Amazing points to the cops waiting around the corner just in case Bill wouldn’t comply. He also assures Bill that he doesn’t need the cops, but he wouldn’t want to hurt Bill in front of his kid. He meets Jimmy them, and tries to be friendly, but jimmy tells him to fuck off. He tells Bill sarcastically that he’s doing a great job of raising the kid, then he pushes inside and takes the entertainment system singlehandedly, showing off his super strength. After that Bill and Jimmy both have a reasonable hatred for Captain Amazing. Bad for Bill.

A few days later, Jimmy holds a meeting of his new gang at a fast food joint. Jimmy put up flyers around town advertising that his gang is looking for members, but the only kid who shows up is a weird nerdy kid named Zach, who thought the posters were actually for a missing cat. Nevertheless, Zach is super into being a gang of super villains. Dr Crusher shows up and tells the kids to be a little more secretive, then asks them if they need any help. He tells the kids the next thing they need is guns, and he’ll get some for them. Good for Jimmy.

In the next scene, Dr Crusher has triangulated the coordinates of the location of the weather control device, based on the locations of recent bursts of strange weather, to a warehouse that he’s breaking into. He uses some kind of harness system of his own design with a controller, that automatically lowers him down through a rooftop chimney. Unfortunately, since Crusher built the thing, the device malfunctions and locks up. He tries getting it working with his claw but that malfunctions to and breaks the device, causing it to drop him. He catches himself with his claw just as he falls out of the chimney, clinging to it’s rim and hanging from the chimney. For better or for worse though, he’s wrong about the location of the device, and the warehouse is empty except for some workers cleaning it out. Dr Crusher claims he was working on the roof, cleaning the ventilation system, when he fell. The workers send a lift over to catch him and lower him down, at which point he pulls a gun on them and demands to know where the device is. The workers have no clue what he’s on about and someone calls the cops. He manages to escape with the use of a faulty smoke bomb which causes an explosion. Later, from reading the newspaper, Crusher realizes he gained notoriety from the crime because everyone thought that he had discovered the location of a different top secret project that was just getting started in the warehouse, but was cancelled after his intrusion. Good for Crusher.

At this point we had the tilt, which is where we pick two elements off another list that are generally themed around disaster that we add into the second part of the story. Now I’ll be damned if I didn’t lose the tilt card, so I’m not exactly sure what our tilt was. But I’m pretty sure it was sudden reversal of fortune, and blood and mayhem. The usual. Next time I’ll have to take better notes/pictures/recordings.

So in the next scene Bill had taken Sarah to dinner at a nice restaurant. It was raining outside and Dr crusher stormed into the restaurant and slammed a vase of flowers down on the table with his mechanical claw. He announced that he was in love with Sarah and showed open contempt towards Bill, asking Sarah how she could be with someone so unexceptional. Bill got upset and stood up to get rid of Dr Crusher when Dr Crusher pulled out a gun and grabbed Sarah. He held the gun to her head walked her out of the restraint, then took her hand and ran off towards the alley in back. Bill ran through the restaurant to stop Dr Crusher but only arrived in the alley in time to see Crusher shooting his metal claw into the air like a grappling hook, then zooming up along a cable with Sarah in his arms to the rooftops above. Bad for Bill.

Bill arrived home after talking to the police, and went upstairs to see his son. He caught Jimmy in the middle of writing up a plan to kill Captain Victory while he’s on live television on The Tomorrow Show. Jimmy also has a handgun. He tries to talk Jimmy out of it, telling him that he wants to get back at Captain Victory too but that this is the wrong way. Jimmy insists that it’s the only way for them to get their respect back, and ends up pulling a gun on his father to make him move out of the way so he can run off to carry out his plan. Good for Jimmy!

Cut to Dr Crusher holding Sarah tied to a chair in his basement, professing his love to her. He explains how much he respects her intelligence and tells her he thinks they could be an incredible force together, and get back everyone who ever did them wrong. Jimmy enters in the middle of it and Dr Crusher hastily tells Jimmy not to worry and that it’s just another part of his plan. Jimmy tells Crusher he’s going to kill Captain Amazing right now and Crusher sends him off to the TV station with his full encouragement. He turns his attention back to Sarah who seems to be succumbing to his charms and showing early signs of Stockholm syndrome. Good for Dr Crusher.

Meanwhile Bill gets to the TV station first to warn Captain Amazing that Jimmy is coming to kill him and that he needs help to go rescue Sarah, but Captain A. is once again an egotistical jerk. He laughs at Bill and accuses him of making up a lie in a pathetic attempt to spoil his interview just before he goes on air. Bill insists on his sincerity and Captain A flippantly acceded to helping bill find his girlfriend after his interview is over. He calls security to escort bill out and gets ready for the show to start filming. Bad for Bill.

Moments after the interview has begun, Jimmy and Zach run in wearing home made super villain costumes (actually Zach was wearing one from the Halloween store if memory serves correctly). They confront him on the air and Jimmy tells Captain A he’s going to show the world just how weak the supposedly “Indestructible” Captain Amazing really is. Captain A acts big and asks for the gun, telling Jimmy that he doesn’t want to do something stupid and spend the rest of his life in prison, but after Jimmy fires a few warning shots he starts begging, showing that he’s not so tough, and offers Jimmy money to let him live. Jimmy tries to shoot him but can’t will himself to pull the trigger and take a human life, so Zach takes the gun from him and shoots Captain Amazing in the leg. Captain A screams and wails in pain on live TV while Zach and Jimmy make a break for it. Good for Jimmy.

That night Dr Crusher stands on the roof of a building with Sarah, as she shows him how to use the weather control device. They target a storm over the courthouse, but Dr Crusher’s mechanical hand malfunctions and snaps the intensity control off after turning it up to the max. The weather quickly intensifies and becomes more and more dangerous. “We have to do something!” says sarah, but Dr Crusher grabs her and looks her in the eyes. “Do we?” he says, and they kiss in the midst of the raging storm as the courthouse is ripped apart. Good for Dr Crusher.

In the aftermath, Jimmy fled town and moved off to start a life of crime in the big city. Dr crusher and sarah were struck by lightning, causing the machine to explode. Bill mourned the loss of his son but eventually started his own plumbing company. Dr Crusher was saved in the hospital, but with pieces of the weather control device inseparably lodged in his brain, while Sarah was pronounced dead in another room. However it turned out Sarah faked her death to escape and marry Bill. Jimmy built up his gang of super Villains and committed higher and higher profile crimes. Dr Crusher was put in a High Security Prison for super villains, but had gained control of the power to control electricity thanks to the device lodged in his brain, and blasted his way out of prison, shooting supercharged bolts of lightning from his claw. Bill’s plumbing company did well and Captain Amazing ended up as one of his employees after falling from the public’s favor. Jimmy went on to form an evil empire and take over the world. And Dr Crusher was killed by Jimmy’s minions after they fought in an epic battle for world domination, the stormy sky above Doctor Crusher clearing as the last light of life faded from his eyes.

So who wants to produce the movie version? I always feel like that after a good Fiasco session. I love the playsets, they keep the game fresh every single time. This session was a lot of fun, I always enjoy playing the bad guy and getting taken down in the end.