God’s Timepiece

We’re coming up to our usual Christmas break for our Traveller campaign, and over the last few sessions I’ve had very little time or energy to put into figuring out where things are going next. Fortunately I’ve had some sketched out notes I made some time back which I’ve been able to use as a basic for making things up as we go along. I could probably continue this all the way over to the other side of the Great Rift, but I’m hoping to get some time over the break to sit down and plan some details.

Last session ended when the Deepnight Revelation came out of jump around the system of Onoqusi at 2324 in Last Prospect sector. The Erline claimed that this system was where the original infection that wiped out their home world came from, and the crew of the Deepnight wanted to check to be sure.

Other than the gas giant, there were two worlds of interest – a Bathy Pelagic world with a thick carbon dioxide atmosphere and 300km deep ocean, and an Eo Arean world with small oceans and lifeless deserts. Their first encounter though was with a small Erline vessel with a crew of three. They were scouts, stationed here to keep an eye on things, and were rather bored.

Since they’d been here for six months, they hadn’t actually heard about the Deepnight, but were soon convinced that the ship was a friendly alien vessel and jumped at the chance of going aboard. They were also happy to share what information they had about the worlds here. They were invited to a game of Zero-g Lob Ball, but their limbs were a bit on the fragile side for that. Lob-Ball is a game that the Deepnight crew have been playing for a long time. It’s a high contact sport, but gives everyone good practice in both zero-g and athletics. There have been a number of accidents, and some people have suffered broken bones because of it. However, the Captain thinks keeping the crew fit (and also allowing an outlet for grudges) is more important.

The larger Pelagic world had life in the oceans, and the Deepnight sent probes down to investigate. The first probe was lost though – the ocean surface was over 100°C, and only kept from boiling by the high pressure of the atmosphere. The second was suitably protected, and managed to get samples from the extremophiles that lived here. They were vertebrates, and unusually resistant to heat, but the range of species was small, suggesting they had been introduced from offworld.

The smaller world showed signs of heavy bombardment from about 10,000 years ago. There was no life here, but plenty of organic material that could one day be life, or may have been life in the past. Some of the molecules matched that of the fungoid Entity, and the final conclusion was that the world had once had a extensive biosphere, which had become fully infected by the Entity. By the time the asteroids hit, the biosphere was probably on the verge of collapse anyway.

So they had proof that the Entity had been here, plus also evidence that another world had been seeded with life from elsewhere. There were no signs of Droyne here though, and no signs of infection beyond the world.

A couple of jumps further on they Deepnight reached the system of Tunu, where the Erline were preparing a fuel cache. The next stop was six parsecs away, so the Deepnight would need to make a two parsec jump to where the fuel cache was, refuel, then jump onwards to the system of Ytedu from where strange signals were coming from.

There were a number of Erline vessels here. They had been given instructions by their chief scientist to help the Deepnight in any way they could, so not only was there a refuelling station in place, but there were food supplies available as well. The crew had been warned that the Erline here were a bit odd. They were scouts, and used to going on long trips alone. An invite was put out to see if any of them wanted to go along with the Deepnight, and to their surprise four did.

The four Erline were all female (randomly rolled), and means I need to come up with four new characters for the crew. Given that they’ve lost a number of crew members, having new ones will help fill in – but it will take some time for them to become used to Imperium technology.

So the Deepnight Revelation makes the first jump out across the Great Rift, arriving at the fuel depot with a great deal of accuracy. Almost a bit too accurate – they could have landed on top of it if it hadn’t been for being forced out of jump 100 diameters from it. The bridge crew actually see this as a good sign, and morale is given a large boost.

They refuel much faster than expected, and make their second jump to the system of Ytedu, arriving there on day 209 of year 1115. During the jump, a gambling pool is setup, with everyone betting on what will be found there. The actual prize isn’t clear, but the betting becomes the subject the main discussion point during the jump. The choices, and the proportion of the crew who voted was each was as follows:

  • Ancients – 15%
  • Fungus – 9%
  • Mega Structure – 11%
  • Black Hole – 1%
  • Black Cuboid Objects (side ratio of 1:4:9 optional) – 2%
  • Deep space fractal fungus construct – 18%
  • Dread Droyne going ping – 18%
  • God’s Time Piece – 10%
  • Something natural and boring – 16%

They come out of jump 100 diameters from the outermost planet. It is a Super Jovian world, some 160,000km in diameter. The next signal from it is due in about 60,000 seconds after they leave jump – just under a day. I rolled randomly rather than trying to figure out what it would be based on when the last signal had been received in Erline space, and I’m pretty certain that the result is inconsistent with what I said before, but the players didn’t seem to notice.

Since the signal pattern follows a four billion second cycle (with the gap between pulses doubling, then halving, each time), I rolled to see which power of two was next, which biased it heavily towards being really soon. I didn’t think of that until afterwards though. However, this meant that things would be more interesting that getting here and nothing happening.

They set up some probes around the planet, then hid behind one of the icy moons. At the expected time, a powerful radio signal burst out from the surface of the Jovian. The signal itself lasted about two seconds, and allowed them to pin point the location of the transmission.

A radar scan of the Jovian detected something down on the core. The atmosphere was about 60,000km deep, with a 20,000km radius core. Most of the core was flat (to within the accuracy of the sensors, which was tens of kilometres), but a tower seemed to rise up out of the surface. It was about 100km across, and about 1,000km tall. Fortunately my players didn’t ask too many questions about the science here, since I was pretty much winging it. If I’d had time to prep, I would have tried to work out the pressure down at the core. Such details are rarely that important (other than it’s high), but I like to know them well enough so that I’m roughly in the right ballpark. Knowing the actual science for some of the basic stuff also helps me make up the rest.

The next broadcast was due in about 30,000 seconds, so more probes were placed around the source of the transmission, and when it broadcast they measured it in some detail. It was definitely coming from the construct, which was mostly smooth, except for the bottom 100km or so which seemed to have some roughness to the surface.

They were also picking up activity in the radiation belts – the transmission was adding energy to them, which took some time to die away. As the frequency of the transmissions increased, so the radiation around the planet would also very probably increase.

Some of the crew (NPCs) were getting over excited, and came up with a plan to send down one of the shuttle crafts. Even at the top of the cloud layer, the gravity was about 6g, so there was no chance that the shuttle would be able to return. It also wouldn’t survive the crushing pressure that deep in the atmosphere, so they would need to put holes in the hull and protect the most important parts of the shuttle as best they could. They weren’t able to get permission to start tearing apart one of the shuttles to do this though.

It was decided that they could spare some of the probes though, so kept them in close orbit even though they would probably get fried in the radiation.

Over the next few hours, the time between pulses kept halving, until it hit a 1 second delay. With the pulses overlapping, the radiation belts were visibly glowing. Before they had failed through, the probes had managed to send all the information they could to the Deepnight.

As the clock began ticking upwards, the delay between pulses increasing, it became safe to approach the planet again. The scientists believed that there was something hidden in the individual pulses, though they hadn’t yet been able to figure out exactly what it was. The scans of the core’s surface pointed towards the core being metallic hydrogen, with the tower being constructed from a solid hydrogen metal – impossible at even the stupidly high pressures near the core, but that didn’t seem to have stopped whoever had built the thing.

Eventually, the deck crew got permission to send down their shuttle. It would be a one way trip, but they hoped to get some close up pictures of the structure.

So the shuttle was sent down, and managed to send back pictures of a smooth tower hidden far beneath the cloud layers. Before the shuttle was simultaneously melted and crushed, the video feed showed patterns around the base of the tower – giant 100km tall embossed images of Droyne.

I figured that this would be a good place to call it for the evening. My players seemed to enjoy the session, especially trying to guess what they would find here. It’s an alternative to something which is in The Crossing chapter of the official campaign, which I changed because I wasn’t too happy with the details. I’m going to change around some of the things from the main book, partly to fit the randomly generated systems the players are going through, and partly due to GM whim.

I’m hoping that the Crossing itself won’t take too long, so that we can quickly move on to the Far Side of Nowhere, but player actions are always difficult to predict.

Samuel Penn