[GM Note: This is not a session report but an update on what the PCs have learnt over the past 9 sessions, and the final plans for how they will end the campaign and what part they will play in bringing together the threads of what appears to be a galaxy-spanning plot by AIs to become gods].
The crew of the Left Hand of Darkness have finally made progress in their investigations, and find themselves back in the tender care of the Confederate Navy. This time, however, the order of things is very much reversed, with the Navy seeking the PCs’ help to tie together all the strings of their investigation and begin to act on the knowledge they have gained. Having reacquainted themselves with Captain Noulgrim, the man who originally set them on this investigative spiral through known space, the spaceship the Reckless, they were invited by the Captain’s superior, Colonel Virr Stiglam, to join him in a planning conference. Having already been offered assurances that their ship was safe and that they would soon be rewarded for their work, the PCs agreed, and left the Land Hand of Darkness to visit the Reckless for the first time.
They were taken straight to the yacht races by Colonel Stiglam and his two grim guards, Captain Noulgrim sliding gracefully and smugly out of sight once his work had been done. Noulgrim’s shuttle took them directly to a kind of cupola floating about 300m from the port side of the Reckless, and they disembarked into a warm summer day – floating in space 300m from the ship. The Reckless is surrounded by an atmosphere to a radius of about 500m from the ship, held in by powerful shields, and maintains a gravitational field in this atmosphere so that wherever one is placed within it one will driftly slowly back towards the hull. Whenever the Reckless is in physical space anti-gravity cupolas, yachts and hang gliders drift around in this atmosphere, usually on the sunward side of the ship but sometimes in the strange shadowed dark side, or over the top and bottom of the ship. Events and pageants are often held there, organized by various organizations from within the large population living permanently in the ship’s hull. On this occasion, several groups from the ship’s military organization had organized a zero-g yacht race, and the Reckless had obligingly rustled up a strong and unpredictable wind in its atmosphere. As Colonel Noulgrim prepared them all drinks they sat on the forward balcony of their little cupola, the overhead awnings flapping in the wings, and saw the first of the yachts beginning to approach their viewing point, colourful penants and sails fluttering in the wind, veering and wheeling in the three dimensional race course. To their left and right a scattering of small ships, cupolas, viewing platforms and larger yachts scattered the edge of the raceway, people cheering and clinking drinks and unfurling banners for their favourite teams: “Go the 7th Fusiliers,” and “Victory to the 8th Gunnery Squad” and so on. Discreetly placed drones played marching music, occasionally interrupted by announcements from a popular DJ who was commentating on the race. As Stiglam brought them a tray of wines and spirits the announcer informed them that the lead was currently being contested between the black yacht of the 3rd Planetary Assault Squad and the red and blue yacht crewed by “Shmiel’s Piercers,” an irregular military formation of psions and empathy-linked marines.
Ahmose’s eyes narrowed at that, but sadly her rifle was still on the Left Hand of Darkness, so Shmiel would get to pass them in peace – this time. Stiglam didn’t appear to notice her and Lam’s sudden grimness, and sat down unconcerned in a comfortable swinging seat, handing over a set of binoculars to her. “Here, you can see the races clearly with these.” He waved his hand at the drinks. “Help yourselves, sit, enjoy the races! We have much to discuss!”
Ahmose focused the binoculars on the Piercers, and there he was, standing in the prow, the seedy bearded psion who had raided her mind all those months ago on the bridge of the Come As You Are. He appeared happy, at peace, and enjoying the race. For a few moments she followed his movements with the binoculars, then put them away with a disgusted curl of her lip. Behind them, Alva noticed that Stiglam’s guards remained in the shadows at the rear of the cupola, not relaxing to enjoy the race. They weren’t fully trusted yet.
As the yachts drifted by, their conversation turned to what they had learned, and what needed to be done.
Through their investigations the PCs have learned of a plot by AIs to achieve a transcendental civilization. This transubstantiation would enable AIs to leave behind the physical constraints of their computer systems, and become a galaxy-spanning consciousness. To achieve this they need:
- A biological form of sentience
- A means of communicating faster than light (the ansible)
- The chip to activate the ansible
- The technology to achieve transubstantiation
The PCs are carrying the first three of this list, and they have a strong feeling that the Cognate, the mysterious AI on the other end of the ansible with whom they communicated once, might have the technology for transubstantiation. This was a technology that the Confederate Navy also wanted, Stiglam told them, though they had doubts about their ability to pry it from the Cognate. They were also sure that the biological form of sentience that the AIs would need was in the PCs control, in the form of Red Cloud of the Coming Storm, ignorant priest of the planet Dune, who was not a human but a silicon-based life form. It seemed possible that if AIs could investigate the corpse (or better still, the living form) of one of those aliens, then they would be able to develop a means to implant their sentience in a biological life form.
The PCs were also aware that there were at least three different forces seeking these things. In addition to the Cognate, they knew that the AI called The Shadow of the Hunter (Is the Last thing the Mouse Sees) was also looking for the same technology, since he had traded the characters their ship for the dead witch from Dune. In addition, Kong the Younger had cheated them out of the chip for the ansible just before they became entangled with the Reckless, and it seemed likely he had done that as an agent for another AI. So at least three AIs were seeking this transubstantiation technology, and they were likely from different factions with different intentions towards human civilization.
Colonel Stiglam then told the PCs about how he had known they were coming to this system. A couple of weeks ago the Reckless had noticed a minor space conflict happening in the Dune system, and when she went to investigate found a ship devoid of human crew busily destroying another ship. This ship, the Mono:Overload, was piloted by an insane AI that had taken over the ship’s systems, killed its own crew, and then turned on its sister ship the Transfer:Complete. The Reckless captured the Mono:Overload and quarantined the AI, which turned out to be the insane remnant of the AI called The Starred One, which the PCs had implanted in the Mono:Overload after it attacked them at Dune. By investigating the events leading up to the starship battle the PCs identified the Left Hand of Darkness as the source of the AI, and sent a series of ships searching for it in neighbouring systems. They caught up to the Left Hand of Darkness after the PCs left her to begin their attack on the Losing My Religion, and after interrogating her crew were able to send the Reckless itself to cut them off when they arrived at Morvan’s Rest – so the pattern of their travels had been revealed, along with their plans to loot the weapons on the Losing My Religion, and their path had crossed again with the Reckless.
The mad AI known as the Starred One had been sent off to a special orbital that the Confederacy reserved for situations like this. It would be imprisoned in a special section of the orbital that was isolated electronically from the rest of the orbital and the rest of the galaxy, and questioned carefully by experts in special systems that were designed to prevent AIs escaping. The surface of the orbital was inhabited by an indigenous race whose technology had not passed beyond nomadic wandering – they lacked even electricity – and supplies were delivered to the staff of the research institute by baggage trains of these indigenous people, so that there was no way that any information could be passed in or out electronically. Reports were written with pen and paper, and all communications offworld handled on a distant section of the orbital that was completely electronically isolated from the prison. Within this setting the mad AI’s consciousness would be carefully unraveled and its secrets discovered.
This suggestion horrified Simon Simon, who views AIs as people deserving of care and respect, but he understood that the remnant of the consciousness that he had infected the ship with was unlikely to ever be cured. He was as interested as everyone else to learn what secrets it held – the Confederacy’s first and best chance to learn the true history of the Reach, the pirate system from which the AI came – but he was disappointed to learn this investigation could take many months.
In the meantime, Stiglam told them as the yachts sailed by and supporters cheered, the Confederacy was investigating the belongings of the dead Kong the Younger, and expected to find the location of his criminal base. They had a couple of plans as to what they would do next, and they wanted the PCs’ help. Would they entertain him on their ship three days’ hence, to discuss further plans? He promised them that they would benefit greatly from helping him – “likely a fleet of ships, that sort of thing” he said airly, waving one arm in the direction of space. Their ears perked up. Finally, a reward for all their efforts?! Of course, they would love to meet him again.
The yacht race finished with Shmiel’s Piercers a minute ahead of their rivals, and minor controversy about whether they had used psionics to achieve their victory. The PCs returned to the Left Hand of Darkness, and waited to hear from the Colonel.
How to catch an AI
Three days later, as he promised, Stiglam visited them on their ship, this time alone and in casual clothes. They took him to the lounge, introduced him to Red Cloud, and laid out lunch and drinks for their discussion. Stiglam told them first that they had penetrated Kong the Younger’s data, and identified the location of his home base. They had also determined to whom he sold the ansible chip that he had cheated the PCs out of – to an agent who worked for an organization that he promised “would bring great distress to the humans.” Kong the Younger, it appeared, was part of a network of Changelings operating within the Confederacy to undermine the navy, and they had managed to land a few Changelings in the research team investigating Dune. Messages had been despatched, and the network’s agent on the Reckless had been apprehended, though he had not yet talked. He had two more days to offer his knowledge freely before the psionics began to work on him, and Stiglam was confident they would learn all they could from him soon.
In the meantime they had a series of tasks to be completed, and they wanted the PCs’ help in some of them. These included:
- Attacking the remaining bases held by Kong the Younger’s changeling buddies, and capturing one of them alive
- Tracking down Barry and Larry, the two mercenaries who had likely stolen the ansible chip the PCs owned, and had probably sold it on to their original employer when they parted ways from the PCs – this was likely another AI, and the PCs wanted to find who
- Visiting the orbital where the Starred One was held, to release Simon Simon’s AI into the orbital and have her help speed up inquiries into the nature of the Starred One’s past
- Finding and destroying the Cognate, or capturing it to put into the same prison on the orbital – for which Simon Simon’s AI might be needed
- Visiting the Cult of the Last Barrier, and penetrating its innermost sanctum to try and learn the history of the Cult and find out why it was tracking the ansible – for this they would need the help of Michael, the priest who had asked them to take him to the Reach in pursuit of this Cult
Stiglam wanted the PCs to help him with tasks 1 and 5, but they were welcome to assist in any of the others. Task 1 – the raid on Kong’s base – would start soon, and if they agreed to help with that he would see that they were equipped with a fleet of small attack ships, their own ship was upgraded and armed, and they were supplied with marines to support them. Ahmose would become Rear Admiral Ahmose, in charge of the Ahmose Battle Group, and they would be given official license as Freebooters to do the work of the Confederate Navy. This license would last at least until the present threat was past, with the possibility of becoming permanent. He proposed a fleet of three small attack ships to accompany them, with a small number of marines on each.
Did they agree to help?
Did they need to be asked? They tried to appear cagey, but their agreement was obvious and immediate. The Ahmose Battle Group was formed, and plans began for the attack on Kong the Younger’s base.