The Citadels

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The Travellers are at Ikutybe, after dealing with the asteroid. After their conversation with the planetary governor, they are still listening in on the Erline’s local communications. They come across mention of Looking Glass. This is something that the players have heard reference to previous, but it was their characters on the Sex Thing not their current characters who came across it. Usefully, the players check their previous notes and find some references to other things which will soon be useful.

From what they could tell, some of the Erline knew more about the asteroid than was publicly available. There was a name for it – a Citadel – which also hadn’t been used in any public documentation.

At this point, I had planned to drop some information in before they headed to the Erline home world, but decided that it would be better to drop in after the visit to the home world. If things weren’t heading anywhere, then I could always switch it back in.

As it turned out, they soon headed to the Erline homeworld, after getting some permission to visit it by the planetary governor since it was under interdiction. The world itself is covered in dark clouds, with some flashes of light in the upper atmosphere. There are a couple of Erline ships in orbit, making sure that nobody visits the world. The crew are bored, and find the arrival of an alien ship to be a highlight of their tour of duty. After some discussion, the Erline allow the Out of Options to approach and send down a probe.

The bright clouds in the upper atmosphere are caused by some form of luminescent bacteria, which seems native to the world. Most other life has been wiped out though by multiple asteroid impacts some time in the past. The probe picks up signs of the fungus Entity that the Deepnight has come to investigate. It is now dead, but there are definite bio signatures that it was active in the past.

The rest of the system shows signs of having been home to an interstellar civilisation at one point. There are small bits of wreckage still in orbit around the planet, plus deserted ruins of space stations and colonies around other worlds in the system. There are no large asteroids in the asteroid belt, and the crew wonder whether they were turned into Citadels sometime in the past.

Chief Engineer Siona McFranchester puts forward what she calls the McFranchester hypothesis, that the Entity is a multi-purpose tool. It might be designed to clean up a system, breaking down any organic matter already there in order to make way for something to come later.

After a couple of days of investigation, another ship turns up – the Unravelling of Shadows, captained by the Erline scientist Ikitata. This is the ship and scientist that the crew of the Sex Thing had heard rumours about. They had arrived at Ikutybe just after the Out of Options had left, and hearing what had happened, and come straight here to talk to the humans.

Now that they know some of the past of the Erline, Ikitata fills them in with what he and the other Erline scientists know. The Erline homeworld had become infected by some biological hazard brought to it by scouts from a distant world. To protect their other worlds from infect, they had built the Citadels to interdict home world, and also hunt down any other signs of infection. The plan had gone wrong, and the Citadels had been too enthusiastic about destroying signs of infections. The Erline civilisation collapsed for ten thousand years.

They had originally thought that the collapse had been caused by aliens from the system of Ytedu, some 16 parsecs from here. A signal has been detected from that system – a radio pulse that follows a pattern stretching out over 270 years. Further investigation makes them think that the infection probably came from a slightly closer system of Onoqusi, brought back by scouts.

The radio signals were sending out a pulse in a regular pattern. The pause between each pulse started at around a second, then doubled up until about 135 years, then went back down again. It seems to be coming from the surface of a large gas giant in the Ytedu system.

The Erline have a network of fuel depots which allow them to make much longer journeys than their Jump-2 capable ships would otherwise be able to. Along with fuel tankers to refill the depots and make multiple-jump hops, they have explored quite far. They do as much of the exploration with remotely operated probes as they can. Whilst trying to figure out the extent of the threat, they have done extensive star surveys, and provide this information to the humans.

Ikitata asks them what the actual jump capability of their Deepnight Revelation is. At this point we have a flashback. Before the players decided to split the party, they started having a discussion about exactly what information they wanted to share with the locals. I told them that rather than detailing everything up front, I would allow them to have a flashback (an idea stolen from the Blades in the Dark game) to the planning process. If a question came up in later sessions, then they could flashback to all the planning they had done, and decide then what the plan had been. This meant they wouldn’t have to plan for every eventuality. They could just wait until a question arose, and decide then what had been planned for that particular situation.

They had been keeping the Deepnight to Jump-2, to limit what the aliens knew of their technology. It was decided that now was a suitable time to come clean. Especially if they were going to need the Erline’s help to cross the Rift, they would need to share their actual jump capability anyway. Ikitata did a little dance when told that they had Jump-4 capability, since the Erline had expected that the humans were hiding something about what they were capable of.

The Erline had started plans to reach the source of the radio signals, but it would be quicker if the Deepnight could go there, and send information back (even if it was only at lightspeed). He would try to organise help though, in the form of supplies and fuel caches.

Going back to the Citadels, the Erline were tracking at least two of them. One of them was heading towards a Sovreigndom world, though it was some years away. A second was heading out away from civilized space, so was probably ‘safe’. They occasionally gave off bursts of radio signals, presumably communicating with each other.

The plan for the crew is to meet up with the Deepnight, to share the information that they now have and come up with a plan on how they will get across the Great Rift. With the new star charts, there did seem to be a possible route, though one of the problems might be food rather than fuel. It wasn’t clear that there were definite worlds where they would be able to resupply.

Samuel Penn

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