Tower is Burning
Yint-with-Pockets was standing on the smoldering plateau that was once the capital city of Tower. About fifty feet below him, the digging robot was tunneling toward a spherical pocket in the wreckage where the Patent Office used to be. It was sending a stream of commentaries back to Yint, mostly focused on the heat of the wreckage, the fact that a nearby river had backed up, putting much of the city under the water table, and that most of the lower wreckage was severely radioactive. Yint and the robot were discussing what to do about any “survivors” which might get discovered. The driller’s cooling laser was emanating from its bore hole, making the permanent overcast of soot and snow glow dull red.
The glow was visible from orbit, where the stardweller ship hung. Robert was trying to patch together the shredded infosphere, while Yoric was looking into the state of the mechanicans on the surface. There were scattered outposts of settlement, rarely over fifteen individuals, all over the world. Every city had been destroyed. A few libraries and storehouses were buried under hundreds of feet of rubble, and were desperately trying to save their repositories. There was a lunatic in the southern hemisphere, ranting about Ragnarok or the Apocalypse, and getting his pre-Diaspora religions badly muddled. All told, about fifty thousand mechanicans were alive on Tower, out of an original population of about one hundred million.
The inspectors decided that a large stable wormhole would be necessary to evacuate the population. And that required a working industrial fabricator….
The digging robot had reached the bubble, and found a door leading in. It had been a foot of hardened composite designed to withstand anything up to nuclear assault. The digger began boring through the surviving six inches of door.
Once the door had a tiny hole in it, nanites were injected into the space beyond. They reported an atmosphere of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, gaseous silicon dioxide, and gaseous iron oxide. The interior temperature was lethal, as was the radiation. Just inside the door was the corpse of a mechanican, standing in a crouch. Its joints had melted and fused, the carbon from its brain and spinal column doping the steel of its body. Behind it were the charred skeletal remains of two humans. Two huge solid state computers occupied much of the room, the smaller one with a visible crack running down it. In a corner was an unmarked device. There was also a large box shaped device covered in scorched and illegible warnings. In small print were the words: “warranty for twenty-five years or until used”. It had a nanite interface for communication surrounded with warnings that suggested that anyone without proper clearance might be killed if they tried to interface. The box was radiating huge amounts of waste heat, apparently from a small singularity reactor supplying it power.
Before the mechanican had died, it scrawled three numbers into the ground using a high-powered laser. The mechanican was still recognizable as one of the inspectors sent to this world (the other three had been a masquerader, a disciple, and a stored).
The Disciples of the Void are people who believe that the noise of the worlds makes it impossible to hear God. They live in cloisters carved out of asteroids deep in intergalactic space, in near silence.
Yint put on his environment suit and climbed down the bore hole to investigate. Once there, he discovered that the three numbers were unit-less polar coordinates. Making a guess, Robert assumed that they were centered on the core of Tower, using the location of the patent office as the prime meridian. Yint called up to the ship to check out the location, which is twenty-three light minutes from Tower. The ship focused its sensors on that point and discovered an orbiting asteroid. If the ship had looked even a minute later or earlier, the asteroid wouldn’t have been there. Slightly below the center of the asteroid was a hole.
The asteroid fired.
A projectile the size of a paper bag came out at nearly the speed of light. In twenty-seven minutes it would hit Tower near where the madman was ranting. Given its mass (about the same as Mount Everest), it would pass straight through Tower, and fall back in on the other side (leaving a pair of volcanoes).
“Two volcanoes? That’s all?!” - Yint
Brishen ordered the ship to rendezvous with the projectile as fast as possible. The ship immediately filled with acceleration foam and launched itself at near-lethal delta-V into the projectile’s path. Back on Tower, Yint dived at the other equipment, desperate to find something which could help in this situation. The larger computer turned out to be a copy of the old infosphere, including a list and pictures of everyone who was alive at the time. The smaller computer was a solid-state frozen copy of the stored inspector, irreparably damaged by the crack running down it. The box with the warnings cheerfully informed Yint that it is a strangelet bomb, and that he would need to log in if he wanted to do anything with it.
Strangelet bombs are super-high-tech weapons used to re-start stars by converting all matter in and near them into strangelets, which then rapidly decay into hydrogen. When used on a star, this tends to cause it to go nova several times in succession. On smaller bodies, it “merely” turns it into rapidly expanding hydrogen and gamma radiation.
“Stop the countdown!” - Yint
“There is no-” - Strangelet Bomb
“Stop the countdown!” - Yint
“There is no cou-” - Strangelet Bomb
“Stop the countdown!” - Yint
“There is no countdown. You will need to log in before you can start the countdown. Would you like to log in?” - Strangelet Bomb
The remaining device was an experimental construct designed to attract Skotadi, although even its inventors didn’t understand why they responded to it.
During the mad acceleration, Brishen thought about the situation and desperately tried to find the method behind the madness. Having heard the mechanican preaching about Armageddon on the infosphere, he put two and two together. The asteroid was created by the insane mechanican as a doomsday device, to bring his “prophecies” true.
This is Brishen’s player burning a twist through Comprehension: Method Behind the Madness.
Out of desperation, the crew of the ship fired an inversion beam at the projectile, detonating its outer casing in a flash of neutrinos and x-rays. A tiny fraction of a second later, the shielding around the anti-neutronium vanished, and the shell becomes a rapidly expanding ball of anti-neutronium and anti-hydrogen. Thankfully, the explosions had deflected the “shell” enough that it would mostly miss Tower, the anti-hydrogen only barely brushing one hemisphere. The collateral damage was deemed to be “minor” compared to what was already going on.
As the asteroid prepared to fire again, a second inversion beam from the ship hit it in the barrel, sending it careening off into space.
Thinking for a moment, the inspectors realized that in order to create the anti-neutronium projectiles, the asteroid must contain a much-needed fabricator, so they accelerated towards it. Just in time too, as the mad mechanican fired an inversion beam into the space they had just been occupying.
This was Robert’s player spending his Plot Immunity: Miagi Defense (“Best defense: don’t be there.”)
The inspectors quickly returned fire, turning the mechanican and his inversion rifle into a moderate sized crater.
Back on planet, Yint started hauling the equipment and corpses of the inspectors to the surface. In the ash of one of the skeletons he discovers a second q-bit, as yet unopened.
“I never thought this was a game where you’d want to loot the bodies.” - Yoric’s player
Robert trivially hacked the asteroid’s AI and convinced it to power down its coil gun. The ship then began clearing the barrel and slowing the asteroid’s rotation by the expedient of a military-grade laser.
Several days passed as the inspectors set up the newfound fabricator to build a wormhole to off-planet. Yoric worked with the local mechanicans and set up a temporary government (held together with the new infosphere) to organize the evacuation to Wrench.
During the reconstruction, Robert looked through the dead Stored's memories, to figure out what happened.
Eight days before the Stored was downloaded to the solid state memory, his friends and fellow inspectors were being given instructions from the Transcendentals. The T's were going to be turned off, likely permanently, in eight hours. The inspectors needed to go to Tower and do the right thing (whatever that means). To help, the T's gave them a q-bit. The T's also gave them three numbers which were very important, but the T's didn't know why they were important. More terrifyingly, the T's told the inspectors to fabricate a strangelet bomb. Eight hours later, everything went to hell. With Tower cut off, its government swiftly lost control. The inspectors retreated to the patent office, which they fortified. They desperately tried to save everything they could from Tower, downloading its infosphere into a computer. In the end, as the masquerader and disciple lay dying and the mechanican inspector held the door against the frenzied mechanicans outside, the stored downloaded itself into solid state memory in the hopes of surviving all of this.
Tower was beginning to look recoverable, when the inspectors receive an ansible-communication from Aurora.
“I, ah, we’ve been getting the network up and… ah… well… we connected to !G’niss. Well, ah, !G’niss wasn’t there. I mean, it was… just several planetary diameters from where it was supposed to be. And it, ah, we did a spectrographic analysis and couldn’t detect an atmosphere.” - Auroran University representative
The team immediately wormholed with their ship into !G’niss orbit.
As might be obvious from the name, !G’niss was a Stardweller world. The “!” is pronounced as a click.
The inspectors sent out a beacon and start looking for any signs of life in the system. The planet itself was scorched and atmosphere less, and the sun was lower mass and cooler than it should have been (it was a G2). Yint requested gravitic detection and Skotadi communications equipment from Tower. The inspectors sent a probe a light-month away from the !G’niss system and looked back, to see what had happened.
I had actually assumed that my players were going to do something like that, using lightspeed delays and FTL travel to look back in time. Yint’s player had mentioned a similar idea a few weeks earlier, so I felt even more confident that my players would invent such a solution.
From the probe, the drive plumes of Stardweller ships were visible, as was !G’niss. It appeared that the locals were mining the outer asteroids, shifting their economy for a long stay cut off from the other civilizations. Then the stars started to move. It was as if there were an invisible diagonal line across the background stars. The stars above were slowly sliding right, while the ones below slowly slid left. All of the moving stars were getting slightly redshifted. Then a second line formed crossing the first, and the drive plumes went out. The transmission cut off in static. By sending other probes various distances from !G’niss, the team determined that the !G’niss star went nova several days after this.
Yint went over his memories of past Stardweller conventions, trying to remember anything that was similar to these discontinuities. The closest he could remember was a discussion once about shifting objects between conventional matter and dark matter. The spatial distortions described were similar to the ones he was witnessing, but they would cause the nearby star to shrink under the increased gravity. And once the distortions were reduced, the star’s fusion would suddenly decrease, setting off a nova.
Yint’s player burning a twist through Comprehension: I Saw Something Like That at Convention.
The gravitic sensors were detecting unusual concentrations of dark matter in system. The inspectors turned on their Skotadi communications equipment and begin a slow conversation with the aliens.
Skotadi are the dark matter aliens from the core book. They are intentionally not fleshed out, so GMs can fill in the details for themselves. Communicating with them is exceedingly difficult because you have to do it through gravity waves (which is very slow), and because they are… well… alien. When the inspectors would talk to the Skotadi, what they were saying would be translated by an AI into something that a Skotadi AI could understand, and it in turn would talk to the Skotadi. Since talking to the Skotadi was so slow, I decided to write everything that anyone said down. As a result, I have excellent records of this conversation.
“What caused the nova?” - Brishen
= Curiosity Response =
= Removal of Shift =
“What is causing the gravity constants to change?” - Brishen
= Nonstable Waveform =
= Grand Shift =
“Did the Skotadi cause the Grand Shift?” - Brishen
= Causal Loop =
“Will there be other gravity explosions?” - Yint
= Within Duration of Stasis =
“What is the duration of the Grand Shift? What is the duration of Stasis?” - Brishen
“Grand Shift origin point?” - Yint
= Causal Loop =
“Spacial origin if applicable?” - Yint
= Grid Coordinates: (coordinates follow; it was two galaxies away) =
“Wavefront velocity?” - Yint
= Speed of Thought =
“Known trans-temporal entities; query?” - Yint
= Grand Shift Cause =
“Do you know if this is the first Grand Shift or if it has happened in the past?” - Yoric
= Grand Shift Singular =
“Good, just one.” - Yoric
“Paradox?” - Yint
*error: Skotadi AI couldn’t understand the question.*
“Grand Shift stable?” - Yint
= Yes =
“Duration of stasis?” - Brishen
= Stasis Causal Loop Eternal =
“Reciprocal queries?” - Yint
= Request: Resmelt Stasis, Break Stasis =
“Advice on accomplishing?” - Yint
= Thermal Meme =
“Repeat prior two significant rephrase.” - Yint
“Oh, repeat the…” - Robert
“Triangulate meaning” - Yint
= Introduce Heat =
= End Thermal Equalibrium =
= Break Stasis =
= Terminate Causal Loop =
“Causal loop equals stasis?” - Robert
= Causal Loop Enforce Stasis =
“Thank you” - Robert
“Is the origin of the causal loop known?” - Yoric
= Skotadi Technological Singularity =
“Technological Singularity!?” - Robert
“Request: No further experiments: (a list of system coordinates is included) Experiments cause loss of life. This system graveyard.” - Yint
= Stasis Lock Intent =
= Thermal Meme Here =
= Stasis Seek Thermal Meme Elsewhere =
“Is the stasis an actor?” - Yoric
= Stasis Is State =
= Stasis Is Effector =
“Stasis effect observations… method of identification?” - Yint
= Stasis Lock Intent =
= Stasis Lock Meme =
“Prior experiments, query?” - Yint
= Unknown =
= Stasis Crystal (Meme) Pattern Blocks Information =
* Aurora attempted to send a message, but only static was received. *
“Thermal meme and causal loop? Different or similar?” - Yoric
= Different =
“Grand shift necessary for Skotadi technological singularity?” - Brishen
= Technological Singularity Cause Causal Loop Cause Grand Shift =
“Human technological singularity stopped working. Same cause?” - Brishen
= Cause: Grand Shift Stasis =
*static from Aurora*
“Ah, we have a problem. The transcendental we were downloading is just getting static. It’s not downloading its new operating system.” - Aurora scientist
“Which one is it up to?” - Brishen
“Ah, twenty-seven I think.” - Aurora scientist
“Oh… oh my. You should see this.” - Aurora scientist
* A static blurred image of the stars in the Aurora system appears. There is an invisible line. The stars above are sliding right, the stars below left. *
“System coordinates: (Aurora’s coordinates) Cease and desist! Cease and desist! Cease and desist! Death! Death! Death!” - Yint
= Stasis Crystal Pattern Blocks Information =
“Aurora, tell the Skotadi to cease and desist! Tell them ‘Experiment unsuccessful: Alternate Location: coordinates (coordinates for a different system)’!” - Yoric
“Scientists say if *ksskgzz*oes awa*kggerzzzssssiiissssssgghk*un not stable.” - Aurora scientist.
At this point, Brishen pulled strings in the Logician spy network and got one of the local spies to contact the Skotadi and convince them to freeze. After all, if the Skotadi stop what they are doing and return it to normal, the Aurora sun would go nova.
And that was Brishen’s player burning the three twists I gave him at the beginning of The Fall to take over the Logician spy network, and to write into his own backstory that he had been helping them with their espionage for some time, which in turn gives him some rather permanent contacts.
Once things calmed down (if for no other reason than that they were completely cut off from Aurora and could no longer do anything to help it), the conversation with the Skotadi continued.
“Value graph gravity: internal experiment” - Yint, sending a graph of the current gravitational constant in !G’niss
The Skotadi returned a graph for the events in !G’niss. It showed a huge peak during the events. They also sent a graph duplicating the one Yint sent, with some adjustments.
“Stasis crystal blocks information but we can work around. Partially. Messages to relay?” - Brishen
= Relay This: Thermal Transfer Requested. Coordinates: ( !G’niss coordinates) Request Discontinuity Event =
= To Humans: Once Message Sent Leave System =
“Coordinates of preferred recipients?” - Brishen
= Experimenters =
“Understood, but experiments may block information.” - Brishen
Over the next few hours, Brishen began to haltingly commiserate with the aliens over the damage to the universe. During this time he learned that they do not actually intend to cause humanity harm, but causing harm causes other things.
This was Brishen’s player spending a twist through Empathy: Commiserate, in order to understand the Skotadi better. It was a little awkward, as he didn’t really know what to commiserate about (and I didn’t want to explain it, as he was spending his twist to learn if the Skotadi were trying to kill humans, not what they were unhappy about), but we worked through it anyway.
The team sent the Skotadi graphs to Buon/Napoleon of Overworld, who returned it with writing in the margin. Two small pulses near the end are marked “Nova event” and “2ndary shockwave”. The large pulse in the middle is marked “What the hell?!”
“What does this do?” - Brishen, as he turned on the experimental Skotadi “attractor” from Tower.
= Vibration Instability =
= Thermal Transfer =
“Isn’t that what you wanted?” - Brishen
= Acceptable Source =
The team destructively scaned the attractor and printed two more of them.
“Does this still work?” - Brishen, as he tested a new attractor.
= Yes =
“We’ll leave shortly. Leave activated indefinitely?” - Brishen
= Yes =
The team tried to contact Aurora but got nothing but static.
“Cannot currently contact experimenters; system unavailable.” - Brishen
= Contact When Able =
“Understood. Activating device. Leaving system. Good luck. Out.” - Brishen
The inspectors fled !G’niss as new lines started appearing all over the system. Yoric contacted Sunset and asked the Union to go over the logs in the hopes that they could figure out what the Skotadi were talking about.
Yoric’s player burned a twist to get Sunset to help him figure out what was being said.
I handled Skotadi by designing their psychology and resultant culture as being as alien as physically possible (although still internally consistent). At the time, it would have been difficult to explain them in /English/. Part of the communication problem was that the Skotadi were trying to explain common, simple Skotadi concepts that didn’t translate into anything humans had ever experienced. The AI’s were forced to communicate through metaphors which really only made sense to the Skotadi.
At this point, the inspectors’ speculations about what “thermal meme” meant ranged from contagious supernovas to the return of the Big Bang.