Thursday, July 31, 2014

Camp NaNoWriMo Wrap Up and The Plan: August 2014

As I'm writing this post, there are roughly 14 hours remaining until the end of Camp NaNoWriMo for July 2014. So far, I've got an estimated total word count for the month of 20,610 words, which is almost (but not quite) halfway to the 50,000 word finish line. No point in validating my word count, since I'm not going to 'win' anyway, but I'm happy enough with the progress I've made this month.

Episode 1 of my Doctor Who/Evangelion fanfiction is done, all that remains is to wait for feedback on it from my beta readers and then make any revisions needed based on the feedback I get. The outline for Episode 2 isn't quite finished yet - I've only really done the first act of it so far - but it shouldn't take me too long to wrap that up, then I'll be ready to write up the actual prose.

For the coming month of August, I'm going to start working on original projects again. I've all but abandoned my hope of consistently writing and posting an 'episode' of the Doctor Who/Evangelion fanfic each month. Besides having to wait for feedback and rewrite the episodes before posting, I can't really justify neglecting my original projects to spend the time it would take to write an episode of fanfic each month. So, as of tomorrow, I'll be going back to my alternating writing schedule: three days original fiction work, two/three days fanfic work, and one/two days flash fic work over weekends.

All of that is in addition to trying to maintain a regular flow of content here on the blog. I still haven't quite managed to build up the buffer of content I had hoped to create to keep the blog active despite any creative barriers or real life interruptions I might encounter. I'd probably need a good two or three days (if not a whole week) of solid blog writing to build up a suitable buffer, and I just haven't had that much time to dedicate purely to blogging of late.

Next month, I'm going to work on outlining for an original novel project. Maybe I'll go back to my Dream Detective concept which I'm determined to get done, or maybe I'll work on something else. I'll start brainstorming ideas for it tomorrow. I may give the 90 Day Novel method another try starting from tomorrow, but if I do that, I'll not be leaving myself much time to plan ahead for NaNoWriMo in November. That said, I already have some thoughts about doing a Gumshoe hack for NaGaDeMon and making that my entry as a NaNo Rebel as well.

Besides my writing projects, I also intend to start running monthly one-shots from next month onwards - with September being the exception, as I'll need to run two one-shots for GUGS in the first couple weeks of term - and I'm thinking about running Fate Core for it, using the Venture City Stories setting. I'm not going to think about that just yet - I'm still taking time out from GM stuff to recharge - but it's on my radar for the month ahead. I'll also write up a review of Fate Core and the Venture City Stories supplement once I've read through them and run the session.

I'm also going to try and get the Doctor Who: The SOS Files Storium game up and running sometime next month. I'm currently in the process of building up the 'world' for it, but I still need to figure out a suitable starting point for the story.

That's all for now. Tomorrow, it's likely I'll be posting a Youtube link to a session of Viewscream, which I should be playing in tonight. Viewscream is a VARP (Video Augmented Role Playing) game, designed specifically to be played over video-chat. Four of us will play as crewmembers aboard a damaged spaceship, cut off from one another in different areas of the ship and only able to communicate via the ship's communications system. Our characters will have conflicting personalities, dark secrets and may undergo transformations in play, and we'll all have problems which require the assistance of other crewmembers to resolve. It's very likely that at least one of the crewmembers will die. We'll be playing the first adventure in the book - Black Widow, Brown Recluse - and I'll be taking on the role of Bridge, who handles scene framing, which pretty much means I'll need to be on the ball throughout the session. Wish us luck.

I'll also be posting my thoughts on the Storium beta after my first month of participating on the site, so stay tuned for that.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

[Book Review] Play Unsafe by Graham Walmsey

Amazon UK: £11.54 (Paperback)/£3.07 (Kindle)
Amazon US: $16.20 (Paperback)/$5.21 (Kindle)
DrivethruRPG (PDF): £4.71/$8.00
Indie RPGs Unstore (PDF): $8.00 
In this book, Graham Walmsey takes tips and techniques he learned while taking an improv course and talks
about how they can be used to make the roleplaying experience more enjoyable for individual players, the GM and the group as a whole.

Walmsey assumes no prior knowledge of improv theory on the part of the reader, clearly explaining techniques and how they can make your play experience more fun (though he does suggest some additional reading to explore techniques further). After a brief introduction to the book's agenda and the inspiration behind it, the text is split into five distinct parts: Play, Build, Status, Telling Stories, and Work Together (which is actually mistitled in my Kindle copy as Play again).

Over the course of these five sections, Walmsey briefly explains theories on techniques, how they work in practice and gives examples of the techniques in use. The first part discusses how roleplaying can end up feeling like work, and discusses how to cut out the work aspect and get straight to the fun. The second talks about how we often shoot down other players' ideas in play, and how not doing that (through techniques such as the 'Yes And' method) can be more fun for everyone. The third gives tips on how to roleplay characters of different status, and why playing different statuses can be fun whether we're playing as beggars or as kings. The fourth part gives tips on story structure and how to apply that knowledge in play to build a story as we go. The last section talks about how to work with other players; making sure it's fun for them, entertaining and challenging them.

A lot of it sounds like common sense, and yet these nuggets of advice are things we often forget or just don't think about when we're at the gaming table. After reading this book for the first time, about a year ago, I promised myself I'd reread it at least once a week to remind myself of all these techniques, and try to put them into practice in my weekly gaming sessions. Sadly, it was a habit I didn't quite get into - I blame it on being distracted by other books - but it's one well worth getting into. The book is easy enough to read and it doesn't take that long to finish.

Which brings me to the bad point about the book. At eighty-two pages, it's pretty short. That alone isn't a bad thing, since it succinctly puts across the tips and ideas it wants to put across and doesn't ramble on needlessly, perhaps repeating certain points later on, but only to build upon it with new advice. What is problematic is the cost of the book relative to its size. The UK Kindle price isn't terrible: £3.07 is perhaps a pound or so more than you'd expect for a book this size, but it's not unreasonable. The paperback edition, on the other hand, costs £11.54 and even I would begrudge such an amount despite the wealth of advice within those pages.

That aside, I don't really have any complaints. Some of the techniques and suggestions in this book certainly won't work for everyone or be appropriate in all games, but the author himself acknowledges that in the text, suggesting players gauge their fellow gamers to be sure they're comfortable with you pushing boundaries such as, for example, introducing sexual content in games. (I have to admit, that's something I've never been particularly comfortable with in roleplaying, and I share the author's nervousness about trying out Bacchanal, which is a game all about drunkenness, sex and debauchery. However, in part thanks to this book, a personal boundary I have started pushing past is playing evil or immoral characters and it was great fun.)

Overall, I feel like this is a book every roleplayer should read at least once, if not on a regular basis. The tips and techniques given in here lay out a style of gaming that we should all aspire towards, where we cooperate and build upon each others ideas, and give up a certain degree of control in order to improve the story for the whole group. Not all tips will work for everyone, but everyone should find something in this roleplayer's improv toolkit that will be of use to them at the gaming table. You'll probably not be willing to part with the cash for the paperback edition, but if you have a Kindle or other e-reader, and can spare about three quid, it's well worth a look.

Undecim Rating: +3

Monday, July 28, 2014

[Actual Play] Tears of a Machine - Tales of the Arx Jericho 1.11: The Enemy Within

The Characters
Rick Hunter (Robert Ruthven): Son of Rafe Hunter, a medical researcher, Rick thought things couldn't get worse after his dad went on the run after his illegal experiments on humans came to light. Then the Mayzor raided the town he lived in, on the outskirts of Metro Scotia, and Rick was powerless to stop the swarm from taking his mother.
Now it's just him and his sister, and when Rick swore vengeance upon the Mayzor and decided to join the SAInt program to fight them, Serena signed up along with him to keep an eye on her brother.

Jason Reyes (David Andrews): Jason is a 13 year old kid whose stepfather is career military. First in the Royal Australian Air Force, then in the Preservation Force. Not being the most physical or athletic kids, Jason never really got on with his step father despite wanting to. He see's becoming a SAiNT pilot to be his best chance of making his stepfather proud of him.

Sarah Werner (Wolfie Fang): Sarah had as normal as a normal life could be before in the States. Her worries were on how she could get a sleepover with her friends and how to keep her older brother from bothering her. After the invasion, she had to grow up fast. Her family escaped with their lives, and they've moved to a new urban city on the east coast, New Alamo. She hoped that she could go back to normal, but life was always spent in fear with each evacuation, and it was hard to have a sleepover when you never slept.
It wasn't mandatory. She only got tested for the SAInt programs because everyone else was, and her brother kept bothering her about it, and honestly didn't realize what she had gotten into. Now she's worried she's lost what little freedom she's had left, but she's got a plan to go turn it around back to fun. She'll make new friends, work together, and she won't let her new chores stop them from having fun.

Previously on Tales of the Arx Jericho...
The pilots, still on vacation in the Bahamas, visit the hot springs on Bimini Island, which also happens to house a secret base containing three experimental aquatic-class SAInts. At the hot springs, Rick and Jason discourage Strudel and Raspberry from sneaking over to the girl's section to spy on them after Billy dares them to. When Rick confronts Billy about this he storms off and goes to peek by himself, but is caught by Sarah, who persuades him to leave before the others notice him. Later, as Rick searches for Billy to stop him from spying on the girls, he suffers a strange headache and overhears his sister's thoughts. After this clears, he finds Billy, who has stumbled upon Bala and Lieke near the location of the secret base. Tempers flare and a brief scuffle erupts between Rick and Billy, but they stop when it becomes clear the fight is a stalemate. Billy storms off, but Rick follows him to make sure he behaves himself, and Bala and Lieke tag along.

Suddenly, the main island comes under attack from a Mayzor raid and the pilots evacuate with their classmates to the secret base, where Rick, Sarah and Jason suit up to fight back the invaders. Having been prepared for a Mayzor assault on the island after discovering blueprints of aquatic-class locusts on Dr Donald Johnson's computer - indicating that he is in collusion with the aliens - the pilots are prepared for the fight. They take on the aquatic locusts, and later the new aquatic Magnas designated as 'Enki', and fight back the invasion with only minor systems damage. Only Rick is injured, having had to 'scourge' his SAInt's Id to stop it from going berserk and attacking his teammates. Afterward, the pilots are given medals at an award ceremony for their conduct in battle, with Sarah being promoted to team leader while Rick joins Serena and Sarah's cousin Opsie Wessel for special training with Captain Anastasia 'AK 47' Kasherov and Dr Johnson, to prepare them for piloting the new Prophet-class SAInts...


Creepy Science Adventures

Tuesday, September 2nd 2031
©2013-2014 SebastianWagner. Used without permission.
The fall term of classes has started, and tensions are heightened after the first ever Mayzor naval assault in the Bahamas last month, and further naval assaults since including islands close to Sydney and the Japanese archipeligo. Japan was not so lucky, as their nearby Arx had no naval prototypes, unlike the Arx Gallilae and Jericho. Sarah and Jason are in History class learning about the Mayzor, but Rick, Serena and Opsie are notably absent, and have been absent from classes since start of session. The two pilots are called to the front of the class to talk a bit more about their recent encounter and any special insight they might have from it. There's a pop quiz at the end of class on what they've all learned so far. Both Jason and Sarah ace it, since they've had a bit more hands on experience recently.

Meanwhile, Rick is in the CRC (Cloistered Research Council) facility deep within the Arx, training under Dr Johnson along with Serena and Opsie in preparation for piloting the Prophet class SAInts. For the past few weeks they've spent hours in guided meditation in a room that is half-classroom and half-zen garden. Dr Johnson is much calmer and gentler in these sessions than usual. The goal of the session is to create a shared dream state between Rick, Serena and Opsie.

Rick tries to conjure up an image of the campfire they sat around during their beach vacation, but instead the three of them end up in a shared dream of the AmBro51A experiments they were subjected to in Germany. He starts hearing Serena and Opsie's anxious thoughts, and Dr Johnson starts ranting at them to concentrate. Rick mutters that it's kind of hard to concentrate with him yelling, and the girls both plead with him to stop as well, to no avail. Rick doesn't understand what his problem is and tries to help the others block him out, but instead the scene changes to the Battle of Bimini Island, with Rick and the girls on the island, among the civilians fleeing the destruction. Serena and even Opsie start breaking down emotionally, and Rick's head starts pounding. Though they can no longer see Dr Johnson, they can still hear him yelling at them as if through the Metatron psychic link.

Rick suppresses his emotions as he responds, telling Johnson to just be quiet a moment. Dr Johnson is pleased that Rick is controlling his emotions and not letting his voice anger him, and there's a slightly manic sound to his voice. He commands Rick to concentrate on getting back to the scene he had in his mind originally. Rick holds Serena and Opsie's hands as they concentrate and they start hearing the birds and the waves, and then they all find themselves on the serene campsite in the Bahamas. Dr Johnson is sitting with them and calmly asks if they see what he did there, and Rick calmly replied that he does see, perhaps with a double entendre that Johnson misses.

Meanwhile, Jason and Sarah are out of class and they have a clear schedule, so they're free to do whatever they like. Jason heads back to his room to tinker with his hoverboard, while Sarah makes her way to the helipad to greet her brother.

Strudel catches up with Jason and asks if they've heard from Rick or Serena. He says he's worried about them, and maybe they could sneak in and check up on them using some shortcuts he knows about. Laurie shows up as Jason is trying to talk Strudel out of this, telling him he was great when he was talking to the class. Then she asks about Serena and Opsie. Since Jason isn't really supposed to know what they're up to, he says they're probably being debriefed about the Battle of Bimini Island by military brass from another Arx. She doesn't buy it - especially with Strudel 'helping' - and she's not happy with him for trying to lie to her, even when he tells her he can't talk about it. She storms off in a huff.

Sarah is in another corridor when Raspberry catches up to her and asks if she's free to maybe play some video games - like Shinobi Knights - later on. She tells him she's got her brother visiting so she won't have much time. Raspberry is disappointed but understands, and goes on to ask about Rick and Serena. Sarah likewise isn't supposed to know, so she just tells him someone's keeping them busy but she's not sure why. Sarah encourages him to go look for Jason, and maybe he can play videogames with him instead. He decides to go do that, leaving her alone to continue her walk to the helipad.

Sarah finds herself being followed by some shadowy figures as she takes a turn down an alleyway. There's not really anywhere for her to hide, and she spots two more shadows ahead of her. She discretely turns on the video record app on her Linc. As they come more into the light, she sees they are wearing suits and the trademark re-breather masks of CRC scientists. They approach her and tell her to come with them. Seeing no way out, she doesn't resist as they grab her and drag her away, but does manage to drop her phone without them noticing.

Jason arrives at his dorm with Strudel and, as he goes to grab his hoverboard, he notices a blank envelope on his desk. He picks it up and opens it to find a postcard-sized piece of paper with handwriting in black marker which reads: 'Find the real source. Trace it back. Not all is what it seems.' There's no identifying signature.
He gives Strudel a look, considering. It's not Strudel's style...or Rick's...and definitely not Billy's. He hacks the security cameras and within half an hour he retreives footage of Dr Johnson hacking the door controls from the hallway with a mini-Wormwood device and walking into Jason's room. Jason's face goes pale, and Strudel notices. He shows Strudel the note and the security feed. Strudel asks what it means, but Jason has no clue. Strudel says they should find Sarah and let her know, and Jason agrees, so the two of them head off to find Alpha Company's new team leader.

Back in the CRC facility, Rick and the girls are still meditating. They end the shared dream of the campsite, and dividers come down from the ceiling, isolating the three pilots from one another in their own mini-cubicles. Johnson wants the three of them to tap into each others' minds and connect telepathically. Rick has been getting used to this a bit, since he's been hearing Serena - and ocassionally Opsie's - thoughts lately. He's able to connect with Serena, and with her help he's able to connect with Opsie as well. He senses that Serena is still a bit nervous, and that she notices Dr Johnson is better than usual, but still has a bad feeling about him. He also senses that Opsie - to his surprise - is actually taking this exercise seriously, and it's unusual for her to take anything seriously.

The CRC scientists who grabbed Sarah escort her towards the CRC facility. On the way, they're spotted by Stephanie Yuzuki - one of the pilots from Bravo Company - who happens to be walking down an adjoining corridor as they pass by. Sarah catches Stephanie's eye and mouths to her to 'get help, tell Jason' making a 'J' gesture with her hand. She nods and rushes off. Sarah and her escort stop as they reach a pair of double doors leading into the facility and the CRC scientists hand her a pair of blackout goggles to put on, so she doesn't see where she's going. She tries to convince them they don't need to blindfold her, but they're not having it, so she just puts them on and is led inside.

Jason and Strudel are about to climb the stairs to the helipad when they see Alan - Sarah's brother - sitting on the steps, recognising him from the Battle of New Alamo. He looks up and says 'Sarah?' then realises neither of them is her. They introduce themselves and explain that they came looking for Sarah, and the three of them realise that she really should have been here by now. Jason tries her Linc again - having tried calling her earlier - and hears a very faint buzzing down a nearby corridor. Jason disconnects, the buzzing stops. He calls again and the buzzing resumes, so he follows the sound and finds Sarah's Linc (recognisable from the stickers she put on it to brighten it up). Alan, growing more concerned - and knowing his sister - tells Jason to check her photos in case she took any pictures that might give a clue.

Jason does so, and finds the last recorded video, and they overhear the CRC scientists telling her to come with them, and - as the phone drops - they see her being led away by the masked scientists. After recovering from the shock of this discovery, Jason asks Strudel about the shortcuts into the CRC facility that he mentioned earlier. Strudel is reluctant, but with encouragement from Alan and Jason, he agrees and the three of them head to the CRC facility. Enroute they run into Stephanie, who's distraught and tells them about what she saw. They already knew, but they tell her to go and tell Captain Kasherov (aka AK 47) what's going on.

As the blindfold is taken off, Sarah finds herself in a laboratory with a cot in the middle, mechanical equipment everywhere, tubes with chemicals, and chemistry sets; it's the same setup (though Sarah doesn't know about Rick and Serena's experiences) as the lab in Germany. The four scientists that led her there are still surrounding her, and there is a fifth masked scientist waiting with a syringe in front of the cot. Sarah tries to talk her way out of this, and when the fifth man replies, she recognises the voice as that of Rick's father, Rafe Hunter: 'Sarah Werner, approach. We're here to help. You've been selected as a viable candidate. This is the final step before you can begin your training. Please, lie down on the cot. It'll be over soon.'

Sarah assesses her surroundings, getting ready to fight her way out, but the odds don't look to be in her favour. She tries to appeal to his better nature, asking if she can't have a choice in whether to take the drug or not, since the experience was traumatic for Rick and Serena in the past. He asks her not to bring his children into this, and says there is no other way to bring her talent out without administering the drug. He claims it was not his choice to administer the drug to Rick, Serena or Opsie, but she can tell he's not being entirely truthful about that. The CRC scientists keep their distance as Rafe asks if she will voluntarily submit to the procedure. She says no. Rafe sighs, presses a button on a Linc-like device to open the door out of the room, and tells her she's free to go and perhaps Rick or Serena can talk her into it, but he won't force her. Sarah goes "'Kay bye!" and walks out. As she does, the lockdown alarm starts ringing and Rafe yells at the other CRC scientists to 'go get her'.

Lockdown
Rick and the girls start hearing a multitude of voices and Dr Johnson asks 'What's going o--'. Then they hear the alarm and their concentration breaks, the partitions retract as Rick turns to Serena and they both agree that those voices were like the static from New Alamo. They hear someone running behind them, and Rick leaps up and turns around, falling into a ready stance. He sees a shadow going down one of the exits; Opsie has run off. But another figure has entered the room, standing in the corner; it's Billy, and he's holding a pistol which he aims at Dr Johnson and tells him to get away from Serena. Billy puts himself between the scientist and the two siblings.
Rick asks what Billy is doing; he says he's making sure Serena is safe, he knows Dr Johnson is up to something and is probably responsible for the lockdown. Rick gives Serena a look as she grips his shirt in fear. No help there then.

Rick reasons with Billy, telling him this is not the way to protect Serena, and seeing Serena cry helps as Billy can't stand to see her upset like this. He lowers the gun, and Dr Johnson does a quick martial arts move, grabbing the gun, safeties it and tucks it behind his back. He tells the three of them to stay there, enters an override code into his Linc - which Rick takes a mental note of - to stop the door temporarily, then heads out the door. It closes behind Johnson, leaving the three of them in the room.

As the alarms go off, Jason, Alan and Strudel are heading down the steps towards the CRC facility and hear an announcement over the PA of the lockdown. CRC scientists are huddled together outside the door to the facility. The threesome are able to hide in a large, coffin-like metal box. Jason berates Alex for bringing them to the front door after claiming to have a 'shortcut', complaining that he was expecting a back way or some 'Bruce Willis s*$%'. The CRC scientists run past them and head off in the other direction. They get out of the box and leg it towards the door, but it closes too fast and slams shut on them. Jason, thinking quickly, remembers seeing a ladder further down the corridor leading up into the ceiling crawlspace, and after climbing it they find a ventilation shaft that looks like it might lead in the right direction. Jason pulls off the grill and they make their way into the shaft.

Meanwhile, Sarah is on the run from the four CRC scientists, ducking and weaving through the corridors to try and shake them off her trail. She hides round a corner and the CRC scientists run past. She hears Jason's voice from further down the corridor and above. After recovering from the fright, she quietly walks backwards towards the voice chides him about watching those Bruce Willis movies. She hears one of the CRC scientists coming her way, and as she sees the figure approaching there's something familiar about the scientist's demeanor and gait. The scientist takes off her mask, revealing herself to be Captain Kasherov (AK 47). Sarah remarks that this is a fancy way to make sure she was doing her homework, but Kasherov puts a finger to her lips and says 'shh'. Sarah asks Jason to come down, saying it's okay, and when he's uncertain AK 47 softly tells him to come on down. He reluctantly opens the grate and drops down as quietly as possible, followed by Strudel and Alan, to Sarah's surprise.

No sooner have they all got down than they hear footsteps running in their direction. Sarah peeks around the corner to see Opsie running their way, and waves her down. She's surprised to see them and asks why they're there, and Jason just says he's here to rescue Sarah, to whom he hands back the missing Linc. Opsie's confused by this, but when asked she explains that she was with Rick and Serena in training when the lockdown started and ran before the doors closed since she didn't want to be stuck with Dr Johnson. AK 47 asks Opsie to lead the way back to the room she left Rick and Serena in, and she nods, leading them off down the corridor.

Back in the zen garden/training room, Serena and Billy are still a bit broken down, while Rick paces around the room, trying to find a way out besides the door. He mumbles that he could use a little help and, once he explains what he's trying to do, Billy snaps out of it a little and tries to look for a ventilation shaft or something. However, because the room is part training room and part zen garden there's a lot of stuff to check, so it takes a while.

The others make their way through the hallways, evading the CRC scientists moving through the facility on their way, and eventually reach the training room where Opsie left Rick and Serena. Rick stops as he hears footsteps head towards the door, and hears Opsie call through the door. He asks if she can get the door open, but she has no idea how to do that. He decides to try and hack the door using the code he saw Dr Johnson use. It doesn't quite work for him, and he grumbles as the screen gives him an error message. Jason hears the error code and tells Rick what it means, and Sarah offers some advice as well, so between the three of them they get the door open.

Rick is surprised to see all of them there, and the others are surprised to find Billy there. Rick briefly explains that Billy tried to 'rescue' Serena from Dr Johnson at gunpoint. Before they can discuss things any further all the power goes out of the facility and the pilots' Lincs go dead. AK 47 and Strudel both have flashlights, which they turn on to navigate the facility, which has been plunged into pitch black darkness by the power failure. Rick asks what the hell is going on, and Jason surmises that some kind of EMP has knocked out the power on the Arx, and they're only being kept airborne by the backup generators.  AK47 urges them to keep moving and asks Rick where Dr Johnson is. He explains that the doctor left them in the training room shortly after confiscating the gun from Billy, and snaps at the boy, asking where he got the gun in the first place. Billy is, however, still in a state of shock and non-responsive.

They continue to sneak through the facility, keeping an eye out for other lights. Strudel rambles on about what has happened so far today, and Rick is furious when he hears about the CRC scientists kidnapping scientists. Alan asks what they wanted her for and she just says something about 'special training' which gets Rick and Jason's attention. It comes out that Rick's father was involved and he tried to inject her with the AmBro51A. Rick is outwardly calm, but his fists are clenched tightly. Sarah tells him not to be too worried, but he's determined that he's going to kick his dad's ass when he sees him. She tells him Rafe asked for her permission and let her go (although the alarm did go off and he sent the CRC scientists after her anyway), and Rick isn't sure what to make of that.

They duck out of sight upon seeing some lights, and continue their conversation in hushed tones. Jason explains about the note left by Dr Johnson, leading Sarah and Rick to wonder why he would want them to 'find the source'. They stop short of turning a corner as a light shines on AK47 - who is turning the corner ahead of them - but she doesn't seem worried and shines her light back. Rick just reads AK's expression and knows whoever she's signalling back to is friendly, but Jason uses his Linc as a mirror and he and Sarah see that it's Dr Johnson.

AK waves them over and they join her as she meets up with Dr Johnson, who is relieved to see they're all together and tells them to follow him quickly. The teenagers are a little confused that AK and Johnson are now working together, given the intel they shared with her about his collusion with the Mayzor. Sarah realises they're being led back to the room she escaped from and stops the others to tell them. AK orders them to follow as she and Johnson head towards the room, and Billy, Serena and Strudel at least aren't inclined to disobey an officer. Sarah reluctantly follows, peeking into the room before entering to make sure it's empty. It is.

Rick and Serena find the room uncomfortably familiar, with Rick clenching his teeth and Serena stands back, not willing to proceed. Dr Johnson are heading for a door on the other side of the room which is stuck halfway closed. Rick - with help from Sarah and Jason - gently persuade Serena to come with them as they head for the room. Rick glances back at Billy briefly as he shuffles after them, worried about how uncharacteristically quiet and compliant he's being. He shakes it off, resolving to deal with the boy later.

They come to a high security door, which Jason sets to work on unlocking, fashioning a device to open it despite the lack of power. On the other side of the door is a huge hangar - like a deep pit with walkways spiralling downwards - containing some deconstructed aquatic Mayzor locusts, chemistry sets of AmBro51A and other serums, giant tanks containing test subjects from the captured Wormwood, previously unseen prototype locusts and a crashed satellite. On the walls are paintings and tapestries depicting a human woman wearing armour of glowing white porcelain, pale skin and silver hair. At the bottom of the hangar they see a figure. At first it looks like a CRC scientist, but its form shifts to that of Rafe Hunter - dark hair, similar features to Rick, tall, syringe in hand. He's just standing in the middle of the hangar, unmoving, and as they reach the bottom his form changes again. He still looks like Rafe, but he's wearing white porcelain armor, his skin is much paler and his hair is silver. He gives them a wicked smile and laughs lightly.

"Who the hell are you?" Rick breathes, shocked at his 'father's' appearance.
'Rafe' cracks his neck, "Don't you recognise me, son? Daughter? It's me. I'm your father."
He has the Wormwood flash drive in his hand, and his laugh continues to echo in the chamber as Rick whispers, "But you're...you're a..."
He uses the old word for the Mayzor, before they fled attacks by radical religious groups on Earth, "...Legulus."
Holographic screens project the words 'Operation Blue Moon', designs of the Prophet-class SAInts, references to something called 'the General', and AK 47 and Dr Johnson are looking very worried as the figure gloats, "You're too late."
Sarah says, "A gun sure would be handy right about now."
And Dr Johnson remembers the gun at his back, drawing it on 'Rafe', who just laughs at him, "Bullets can't stop the General."
Dr Johnson looks at AK 47, who nods, and he sighs, firing the gun. The bullet goes straight through 'Rafe' and he shimmers, revealing him to be a hologram.
Suddenly the power comes back on, and they hear the words 'Self destruct initiated' over the intercom just seconds before a Mayzor raid alarm sounds...

TO BE CONTINUED...

NEXT TIME...
Will the self-destruct sequence be disabled in time?
Can the pilots defeat a Mayzor raid against the Arx Jericho itself?
Is the Mayzor General really Rick's father?
And how will the Prophet pilots fare in their first combat with the new P-class SAInts?
Tune in next time, for the thrilling season finale of Tales Of The Arx Jericho!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

[Weekly Geeky Report] Firefly, Sidonia and other stuff...

Achievements Unlocked
On Tuesday night I played the Firefly board game with Martin and Peter, using the Hitting Atmo and Pirates and Bounty Hunters expansions. Unfortunately we were playing the Niska's Holiday scenario, which has just about the hardest win conditions in the game. Also, the Nav decks were not on our side. I suffered three run-ins with the Alliance Cruiser and two with the Reaver Cutter, and the other guys didn't have much more luck, suffering a lot of breakdowns and getting really hard jobs. We eventually called it a night at about half nine, since the game had clearly turned into an exercise in masochism by then. Though Martin came the closest, nobody could really be said to have won. Sad faces all around.

A new game started up on Storium, called The Dreamer's Curse. This one is loosely based on Puella Magi Madoka Magika, with some Lovecraftian influences. My character is a Veronica Mars expy called Kurosaki Mako. Her mother went missing, and her father was laughed off the police force because his investigation into her disappearance uncovered supernatural elements. Mako, along with other people throughout the city, has been having recurring dreams in which an angelic figure offers her power to fight a coming darkness in exchange for a wish. She hasn't accepted yet, but she realises it may be her best chance to uncover the truth about what's going on in the city, and what happened to her mother...

Our Misspent Youth game seems to be in trouble; Martin (the Authority player) couldn't play this weekend, and another of our group, Judith, will be unavailable over the first half of August. She also wants to be free to play in another game after that, so it's uncertain whether we'll actually be able to have a second session, let alone finish the campaign. Hopefully we'll work out some solution to this, because I was really looking forward to seeing where things went after the first session. That said, I kinda don't want to be in Glasgow over the next couple of weeks, until the Commonwealth Games are finished, so it's probably for the best that it's not happening this weekend.

We had an abortive attempt at running the Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space finale on Friday night, but Maggie wasn't able to interact well enough with the group over Skype, so we decided to postpone it until a time when we could all get back together in person. So instead, we watched the first episode of Speed Grapher which was...interesting. Still not sure I want to watch more of it or not. Alex also gave us a brief glimpse of Kill La Kill, which I'm definitely not going to be checking out any further. We also watched the third episode of Supernatural season 9, and Zeke still isn't endearing himself to me, driving a wedge between the Winchesters (or more accurately, Dean) and Castiel. Jerk.

Last but not least was the first episode of Knights of Sidonia, which we watched on Heather's Netflix. I liked it a lot, and went on to rewatch the first episode and the next seven on Saturday night. I like the visual style of the series, the setting is pretty neat and it's got just a touch of hard sci-fi to it. Not to mention it's pretty dark - not quite as gruesome as Attack On Titan, but the characters have a similar survival rate. The only issues I've had so far are that, at first, it's difficult to tell some of the characters apart (though given that the culture is perpetuated to an extent via human cloning and genetic engineering, that's not all that surprising), and the subtitles sometimes drop in mid-speech or - in the case of subtitles for written Japanese - go by at blink-or-miss-it speed. These issues aside, I'm really enjoying the series and I wish the second season were out already, because the remaining four episodes won't take long to finish. I'll probably rewatch with the English dub on and do a review when I'm finished the second viewing.

Works In Progress
I didn't manage that flash fic after all, spending much of the writing time I could have done it in to write up the Tears of a Machine AP instead. I got some of the outline for episode 2 of my Doctor Who/Evangelion fic done, but I'll need to finish it next week.

So I'll be working on finishing the outline, and hopefully get started writing the second episode by the end of the week. Probably won't manage a flash fic this week either, but I'll see what I can do. Still working on prep for the Doctor Who: The SOS Files game on Storium, so I'll do some more on that next week as well.

That's all for now, I'll be back tomorrow with the next AP from the Tears of a Machine campaign.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

[Actual Play] Tears of a Machine - Tales of the Arx Jericho 1.10: Hot Springs Invasion!

The Characters
Rick Hunter (Robert Ruthven): Son of Rafe Hunter, a medical researcher, Rick thought things couldn't get worse after his dad went on the run after his illegal experiments on humans came to light. Then the Mayzor raided the town he lived in, on the outskirts of Metro Scotia, and Rick was powerless to stop the swarm from taking his mother.
Now it's just him and his sister, and when Rick swore vengeance upon the Mayzor and decided to join the SAInt program to fight them, Serena signed up along with him to keep an eye on her brother.

Jason Reyes (David Andrews): Jason is a 13 year old kid whose stepfather is career military. First in the Royal Australian Air Force, then in the Preservation Force. Not being the most physical or athletic kids, Jason never really got on with his step father despite wanting to. He see's becoming a SAiNT pilot to be his best chance of making his stepfather proud of him.

Sarah Werner (Wolfie Fang): Sarah had as normal as a normal life could be before in the States. Her worries were on how she could get a sleepover with her friends and how to keep her older brother from bothering her. After the invasion, she had to grow up fast. Her family escaped with their lives, and they've moved to a new urban city on the east coast, New Alamo. She hoped that she could go back to normal, but life was always spent in fear with each evacuation, and it was hard to have a sleepover when you never slept.
It wasn't mandatory. She only got tested for the SAInt programs because everyone else was, and her brother kept bothering her about it, and honestly didn't realize what she had gotten into. Now she's worried she's lost what little freedom she's had left, but she's got a plan to go turn it around back to fun. She'll make new friends, work together, and she won't let her new chores stop them from having fun.

Previously on Tales of the Arx Jericho...
Following the Battle of New Alamo, Rick, Sarah and Jason break into Dr Johnson's office, suspecting the psychologist of having something to do with the mysterious static heard over the Metatronic psychic communications net during the battle. They learn about the new P-class SAInts which Opsie and Serena are being trained for, and discover that Rick, Serena and Opsie have all been treated with a drug called AmBro51A to assist in achieving the zen-like state necessary for piloting the P-class. They also find coded documents on Johnson's computer, which - when decoded later while the pilots are on vacation in the Bahamas - indicate that Johnson is in collusion with the Mayzor, and that he is responsible for the Metatron static and the diversion of Bravo Company to California, denying Alpha much needed backup during the battle. Furthermore, they discover blueprints for two new aquatic-class Mayzor locusts and a list of islands and coastal cities the Mayzor plan to attack. They share these findings with Captain Kasherov AKA AK-47, and she tells them to keep it secret for now. Later, she takes Alpha Company and twins Bala and Lieke to a secret base on Bimini Island, where there is a hangar with three prototype aquatic SAInts and a Mendicant-class SAInt designed to be run by two pilots (Bala and Lieke).

All that aside, there's some more normal teenage drama on the beach. Joanne challenges Rick to a kendo match with the intention of publicly embarrassing him in revenge for beating her previously. Rick accepts the challenge, and wins by catching her off-guard with some casual flirting. Meanwhile, Opsie stirs up trouble between Jason and his girlfriend Laurie, telling the other girl he tried to kiss her after a surfing competition which Jason won. Jason is able to patch things up, warning Opsie to stop spreading lies about him, telling her he doesn't like her and never will. Finally, Billy and Serena have a break-up for reasons unknown, causing Billy to storm off and take it out on Miguel - the youngest of the pilots - by kicking over his sandcastle and yelling at him. Jason and Rick are so disgusted with Billy that they rally the rest of the kids to cut him off from dinner that evening, and Billy finds himself ostracized from the group...

Hot Spring Hijinx

Sunday, August 17th 2031
The pilots and their classmates are still on vacation, visiting the natural hot springs on Bimini Island (where the secret underground hangar is located). The hot springs are, of course, seperated into boy and girl areas. The twins, Bala and Lieke, are at the base, training to pilot the Mendicant SAInt, while the rest of the pilots enjoy their own private areas of the hot springs.

The male pilots are all hanging out together in their part of the springs. Billy is sitting alone, sulking after being denied his dinner the previous night and being pointedly ignored by (and pointedly ignoring) the other pilots. The rest of the guys are all chatting away when Strudel - who hadn't got into the springs yet - rushes into the water without realising he still has his Linc in his swimming trunks' pocket. When the Linc inevitably starts going haywire, he panics and asks Jason to fix it. The best he can do is suggest putting the Linc in a bowl of rice, so Strudel rushes off to the food hut and gets some rice to do that.

When he eventually gets into the pool, Strudel apologises to Raspberry that they 'can't go through with the plan', but Raspberry tells him it's okay, he still has his Linc. This draws Jason and Rick's attention to the two of them, and Jason turns Strudel around in the water, asking what plan they're talking about. It soon becomes clear that the two boys were planning to sneak to the girls' hot spring and take pictures, and - after grabbing Raspberry's Linc from him when he brings it back to the pool - it turns out they've already taken pictures of the girls in their beachhouse and back at their dorms aboard the Arx. Nothing explicit, but enough to raise Rick's ire, especially as there are pictures of Sarah and Serena in there.

The boys reveal that Billy put them up to it, which he denies, but Rick is able to see past the lie and suggests that Serena would be very interested to hear about this. Billy threatens to beat Rick up if he tells her, but Rick makes it very clear he's not concerned about Billy's threats. Billy storms off, leaving Strudel and Raspberry to face Rick's wrath alone. The boys say that Billy threatened to kick their asses if they didn't get pictures of Serena as well as the other girls. Rick chews them out, telling them they need to learn not to listen to Billy, and that if Billy did do anything he'd have both Rick and Serena to answer to. When the boys promise it won't happen again, Rick adds that it had better not, or it won't be Billy who'll be kicking their asses. After the two boys cringe at this warning, Strudel wonders where Billy has gotten to...

Meanwhile, at the girls' spring, Sarah and the others are chatting about the boys - Laurie about Jason, Joanne about Rick (just a little bit), etc - with Opsie trying to give them all advice because she 'knows these things'. AK and Dr Harris are just relaxing and letting the girls chat away. While this is going on, Sarah notices movement in the trees out of the corner of her eye. A few birds flutter out of the trees, and she sees Billy watching them with gleaming eyes and a drooling mouth. She excuses herself, telling the others she is just going to use the restroom, and leaves to sneak around behind Billy, who is too focused on Serena to really notice her leaving.

She picks up a big stick enroute, and manages to sneak up behind Billy, just barely. He notices her shadow and starts to slowly turn his head, but he shrugs it off as nothing and keeps watching.
Then Sarah taps him with the stick and he spins around, rendered mute with shock. He tries to deny what he was doing -claiming to be looking for his lost Linc - but Sarah knows better. She tells him he should leave, before AK 47 catches him there, implying she might draw the captain's attention to him if he doesn't. Billy doesn't believe her at first - because she's always been one of the 'nice ones' - but Sarah just starts slapping the stick against her palm, commenting that a loud noise would probably alert the others. Billy scowls and tries to claim Strudel and Raspberry dared him to. Sarah's pretty sure if anyone was doing any daring that it would be Billy, and once again advises him to leave before the others notice and subtly threatens to hit him with the stick. He stalks off, grumbling to himself, and Sarah returns to the hot springs, complaining about the flies she encountered on the way there.

Back at the boys' section, a couple hours have passed since Billy left. Strudel's Linc has dried out but it still isn't working right. Jason grudgingly agrees to look at it and gets the screen working again. While this is going on, and the others are talking about football, Rick is worried about what Billy's up to. He decides to head off and find the older boy, with the others staying behind. The taciturn Kazuhiro wishes him luck and asks him to give a scolding from him if he does.

Rick decides to follow the path to the underground hangar, thinking Billy might have gone to higher ground to look down on the springs from above. His head suddenly starts pounding, then the pain mellows out and he starts hearing Serena's thoughts inside his mind. She's filled with anxiety about skipping the training with Dr Johnson, and he hears her memories of the training. She hears Dr Johnson yelling at her over the Metatron, telling her to concentrate, focus and not being very helpful. Rick tries to use this apparent connection to send Serena calm thoughts, but it doesn't seem to help, and then he stops hearing her.

He continues his search and finds Billy in conversation with Bala and Lieke, asking what they're doing there. When they tell him they can't talk about it he gets mad and insists they tell him. Rick steps out and chides Billy for annoying more people. When asks what Rick's doing there, Rick says he's making sure Billy isn't doing anything dumb...well, dumber than usual. Billy says he's had it with Rick and starts advancing on him, and Rick just repeats his earlier point about not being scared of him. Billy takes a swing, and a fight ensues, with Bala and Lieke pleading with them both to stop. The two of them exchange a few quick blows, but it's a stalemate and Billy pushes off, then storms away.

Rick goes after him, making sure he's on his way back to the boys' area. Bala and Lieke come up next to him as he stays several paces behind the other boy, and Bala asks if they can go to the hot springs with him. Lieke, however, is worried about getting punished for leaving training early. Rick assures them that if they've put in enough work - as Bala claims they have - AK will be understanding about them taking some leisure time. This puts the twins at ease and they head back with Rick. And Billy.

They're still about twenty minutes away from the hot springs when a boom of thunder splits the air. All the pilots look to the sky as a giant flash of lightning lights up the sky, hitting the water, and a tidal wave travels outward from the impact point as a huge shadow falls over Bimini Island.

The wave crashes against the rocky shore, but doesn't cause a flood. AK47 rallies the girls at the hot springs with Sarah's help, while Jason rallies the guys. Rick, meanwhile, tells the twins to head back to the hangar and take Billy with them. Billy asks what's going on and what Rick's talking about (he never visited the hangar with the others), but Rick just forcefully tells him to just trust him and follow the twins. Billy takes off running with the twins. Rick, meanwhile, runs towards the hot springs to help the others get away.

The Battle of Bimini Island
The boys and girls rally together after leaving the hot springs and lead an evacuation to the top secret hangar (which is no longer quite so secret), with Rick meeting them all halfway. Before long, they all reach the bunker and the three marine prototype SAInts and the Mendicant are prepared for launch. There are only three marine prototypes, so only three pilots will be able to fight, in addition to Bala and Lieke. Rick, Sarah and Jason are designated as the pilots for this mission, and all suit up for launch.

All the underwater prototype SAInts are fitted with lights and heat sensors to allow pilots to see underwater and turbines on the soles of the feet and on the back to aid with underwater movement. Jason's is set up with a rapid fire micro-harpoon gun and a super-levitating torpedo launcher. Sarah's rig includes a Giant Clam Killer (assault rifle) with 'Arc bayonet, SAM aquatic shield, and a Tiamet Multi-torpedo system. Rick's SAInt is set up with two 'Arc swords and a backup pistol.

According to radar, as final launch prep commences, there are four big blips and sixteen smaller blips coming out of the Wormwood that has landed in the water. AK opens the pressurised hangar, flooding the compartment with the water from outside and letting the SAInts out, ordering them to destroy the locusts and protect as many civilians as possible.

The four large blips turn out to be a cannon-class of locusts; Juggernaut, whale like locusts with powerful energy weapons built into their backs, which are hovering above the water, arranged around the Wormwood in a square cover formation. Eight of the smaller blips are squid like robots officially designated as 'Constrictors' (but the kids just refer to them as 'squiddies'), with many tentacles which seem to be able to shoot lasers from their tips. The other eight are aquatic modified Soldier-class resembling lobsters, crabs and other kinds of shellfish, which are shot out like rockets toward the shore, carrying swarms to send out to capture civilians.

As AK47 works to get the twins onto the island with their Mendicant to provide groundside support, Jason and Sarah open fire on the soldiers with their torpedoes, destroying three of the soldiers furthest away from the SAInts. Rick engages his SAInt's turbines, shooting towards the soldiers advancing on the island's shore, slowing down and floating up behind a lobster-like locust as he draws his twin swords and slices it into thirds which float away from him and explode.

The remaining soldiers are almost on the shore at this point, and Sarah fires off another salvo of torpedos at the soldiers, cutting through two more locusts, the two of them exploding a second or two apart. Jason stops to reload his rocket launcher while Sarah covers him with her shield as the squiddies tentacle lasers slash through the water at them both. Back at the hangar, the other pilots are cheering them on, and AK47 is complementing them on their performance.

The two remaining soldiers reach the shore and release their swarms, which start moving towards the city. Meanwhile all of the constrictors start moving toward the shore as well and the Juggernauts all fire their cannons upon the city, destroying buildings as civilians running screaming. The constrictors also fire their lasers on the buildings, causing even more destruction.

Seeing this, Sarah and Jason decides to engage a Juggernaut each, leaving Rick to take on the soldiers groundside. While Sarah fires off her turbines to enter close quarters with her target, Jason's rocket shoots past and tears a giant hole in the other Juggernaut, splitting it apart into a mess of fiery explosions.

The swarms spread out into the city and the Constrictors close in on the shore, whipping out their tentacles towards anything close enough to attack. The remaining Juggernauts continue firing their cannons on the city. Rick jumps out of the water and lands on the shore between the two remaining soldiers, stabbing out to both sides with his swords and skewering them both simultaneously. Both soldiers explode as he pulls his blades free from them. Meanwhile, Sarah stabs into the Juggernaut, trying to find a way past the tough armour, and eventually focuses her attacks on the weapons, causing enough damage that it jams. Jason notices how the Squiddies are converging on Rick's position on land and engages the closest ones at firearms range to try and take some of the pressure of Rick.

As the Juggernauts fire their next barrage on the city, the one that Sarah damaged explodes as its cannon jams. The Squiddies continue attacking with their laser tentacles, with the ones closest to land spreading out to cover more ground, while the others move in closer to shore. The remaining two Juggernauts spread apart a bit. Jason rapid-fires his micro-harpoon rifle at the central mass of one of the nearest Squiddies, causing it to explode and sending its tentacles floating through the water. Sarah goes back to help Jason whittle down the Squiddies, closing to firearms range with the nearest ones. Meanwhile, Rick attacks one of the Squiddies, sticking his two swords into the water and spearing it, lifting it out of the water and tossing it over his head to explode behind him.

Meanwhile, Dr Harris alerts the pilots that more locusts are coming out of the Wormwood: another Juggernaut rises up from the Wormwood to the surface and three more constrictors flow out of it. Rick stabs another of the Squiddies as it rears its 'head' out of the water and slices through it, sending it down into the water where it explodes. Jason targets another Squiddie with short controlled bursts from his micro-harpoon gun, breaking up its tentacles and hitting its core, blowing it apart. Sarah unleashes a volley with her Clam Killer rifle, tearing another Squiddie apart.

As the Mendicant reaches the main island and stomps away at the swarm, the sky turns dark and there's a crash of lightning that hits the newly released Juggernaut. As the lightning clears, and silence falls, broken only by AK47 muttering 'Bozhe moi' as a tall Magnus appears, seated atop the Juggernaut's cannon like a throne, with eight jellyfish-like tentacles for wings on his back, four massive arms, three heads, two legs and a massive crown on the central head that resembles a trident. The water seems to rise up around the juggernaut and Magnas, which are now surrounded by a school of robotic fish which seem to form some kind of defensive barrier. This new Magnas, which has never been encountered before, is designated Enki.

Jason engages the reload mechanism on his torpedo launcher, with cover once again provided by Sarah with her shield as he does so. Rick orders Bala and Lieke to clean up the swarms that are still on land, and they acknowledge, telling him they have it covered. Meanwhile Rick, desperate to clean up the remaining Squids so he can rejoin his teammates and aid them in battle against Enki, sheathes his swords temporarily to draw his backup pistol and fires into the water, shredding the constrictor nearest to him as he races along the shore. However, his desperation and haste cost him as he dives into the water and redraws his swords between the two nearest Squiddies. They converge on him and he sustains major structural damage as they both grip around his limbs with some of their tentacles, with some of the tentacles tearing at his armour with sharp appendages.

Sarah asks if Rick needs help, but he tells them to concentrate on the Magnas, stubbornly claiming that he'll be fine, even as the sensors on his SAInt fail. Jason and Sarah coordinate their attacks on Enki, penetrating the protective screen of mechanical fish and hitting the Magnas, destroying the crown and leaving only part of one of its heads on its body. Rick yells at the Squiddies to get their damn dirty tentacles off of him as he slices himself free and slashes them apart, causing them to explode around him. Jason tries to close to firearms range with Enki, but it fires lasers out of two of its arms at him and Sarah, dealing damage to both pilots' SAInts, causing both their lights to short out, forcing them to rely on sensors.

Meanwhile, the Juggernauts are still wreaking destruction on the city with their cannon fire. Jason pulls back to engage one of the Juggernauts and fires a barrage of harpoons at his target, destroying it. Sarah locks onto one of the Squiddies closer to the Magnas with her Clam Killer and fires bursts at it, blasting it to pieces. Rick sheathes his swords and shoots forwards with his turbines, drawing his pistol on another of the Squiddies as it closes to firearms range with him, and empties a clip into it, shredding it. He then stops and engages the self-repair system, and the force of his SAInt's Id rises to dangerous levels, putting it on the verge of going berserk.

Sarah and Jason recombine their efforts against Enki, getting through the fish barrier and doing minor damage to the Magnas, taking out six of its wings. Rick, barely reining in his SAInt's rage, unloads another clip to destroy the last remaining Squiddie as he continues rocketing forwards to help the others defeat Enki. Sarah and Jason are able to close to firearms range with Enki and get into position on his left and right sides.

Rick, meanwhile, is losing control of his SAInt, and desperately scourges his SAInt's Id to stop it going berserk; disabling the trauma buffers that filter the SAInt's senses to him, and translating the sensory overload into painful sensations in an attempt to cow the SAInt into obedience. Unfortunately, this harms him physically as well, sending him into a seizure as his neurons misfire. As Rick's screams of anguish carry over the metatron, AK47 yells: "Rick, no! NOOOOOOO!"
He's able to reduce the SAInt's rage somewhat, but it's not enough to stop it going berserk, and his conscious mind is pushed aside as the SAInt takes over.

Jason and Sarah concentrate fire on Enki, tearing through the school of fish and hitting Enki, destroying the last of it wings and its attacks are growing noticably weaker now.

Rick's berserk SAInt lashes out with the two swords at the Juggernaut, slicing it apart and causing it to explode. Luckily, Rick is able to rein in his SAInt before it can attack the other pilots, and instead falls in with the others for a final assault against Enki. The first volley of fire from the three SAInts is absorbed by the school of fish, but the second tears through the barrier; Sarah blast off the remaining head, Jason shoots up the body, and Rick takes out the whale Enki is mounted on with his pistol. The Magnas' core is exposed and starts blinking as it prepares to explode. Jason gets clear, while Sarah uses her shield to protect herself and Rick from the huge tsunami wave that bursts forth from the destroyed Magnas. A flash of lightning hits the Wormwood and it disappears. AK47, Dr Harris and the other pilots cheer at the victory.

The city is more or less destroyed, but civilian casualties were kept to a minimum. As the pilots return to the hangar, the other pilots help them get out of their suits. Rick is bleeding from his nose and eyes, and Serena holds his head in her hands, worried about him. He feigns nonchalance, saying he's feeling 'a little rough'. Jason is approached by his girlfriend Laurie, who's proud of him, and Opsie tells her cousin Sarah she did good out there.

Rick spends most of the remainder of the vacation in hospital. AK47 visits him and commends his bravery, but tells him she's decided to promote Sarah to team leader and that maybe it was too soon to make him team leader. She doesn't want him to think of it as a demotion, because she thinks he'll need to start focusing on his Prophet training and Sarah should be team leader in case he's not available due to training. Rick is saddened by this, but he understands. Sarah is told of her promotion, which -while good news - does mean she'll need to do extra training with AK.

Back aboard the Arx Jericho there is a ceremony and feast in the three pilots' honour and they each receive medals for their conduct in the battle. The pilots from the battle of Bimini Island are now celebrities among their fellow pilots and classmates. Sarah is publicly promoted and it is implied Rick will be receiving special training.

After the ceremony, Rick asks Serena if she has been hearing any voices in her head. She's shocked by the question, but admits that she has occasionally heard his thoughts, and she's been having more nightmares about Rick and Opsie in medical cots, receiving their AMBro514 injections. Rick also warns her to be careful of Johnson's intentions. If he knew the attack would happen, why did he want her to stay behind? Serena thinks he wanted her out of the way, in case she saved them like she saved the survivors in Chicago. Rick isn't so sure, and when Serena asks what else it could be, he says he doesn't know and that's what scares him. Serena tells her she's scared something will happen to him. He tells her he's scared too, and the two of them hug.

TO BE CONTINUED...

[Book Review] On Basilisk Station (Honor Harrington #1) by David Weber

I'd heard the name 'Honor Harrington' a few times before, but I'd never been curious enough to check it out. It was pitched to me as 'Horatio Hornblower in Space', which didn't really grab me because I assumed it would be Space 1889-esque 'sailing ships in space' silliness, which isn't really my cup of tea. However, after hearing them talk about it on the Sword and Laser podcast I decided to look it up - in part because I discovered the titular character was female, and these days I find myself more drawn to female protagonists than male ones - and I found that not only was it not of the 'Space 1889' variety, but I actually rather enjoyed it.

After embarrassing her superiors during fleet maneuvers, Commander Honor Harrington and her newly assigned ship HMS Fearless are exiled to Basilisk Station, an important yet undervalued posting within the fleet. Resented by her crew for their exile to this backwater region of space, Commander Harrington must not only earn their trust but also make up for the Navy's neglect of its responsibilities in this sector, little knowing how vital her efforts will prove to be in the long run.

So, that's the summary of the book, now let's get the bad stuff out of the way first of all. There's quite a bit of exposition in this first book to introduce readers to the universe. There's technobabble to give an idea of how space travel and space combat works and historical background to explain how the society came about. If you don't enjoy reading a lot of that sort of stuff, then this is going to be a hard read for you - I don't like that stuff much myself - but I would argue that it's well worth persevering. In terms of hard to soft SF, I'd say it's hard-ish, in this regard. I don't know what my more scientifically minded friends would make of the Honorverse, but it certainly seems plausible enough for casual readers.

Other elements are more definitely space opera fare. For example, some readers seem to have balked at Honor having a symbiotically bonded animal in the form of her treecat companion Nimitz, but I didn't mind all that much. I even like the fact that Honor has such a furry companion, because we see her softer side through her interactions with him. That said, the technobabble and historical background do help to explain why an otherwise futuristic setting has such similarities to late second millenium Europe and the naval warfare of that time period (with the obvious addition of a third dimension to ship movement).

Plot-wise, it's a bit of a slow-burner, which is mitigated by a prologue which reveals early on the motives - if not the exact details of their nefarious plot - of the Republic of Haven, and throughout by cutaways to both the antagonists working behind the scenes and political machinations back in the Manticoran home system. We know who our bad guys are and we know - even if our protagonist does not - that they're up to no good. This knowledge provides a vital underlying tension to the story which makes it more compelling than it would otherwise be. Instead of watching our protagonist plod along with her (supposedly) unimportant duties of her new post, we're watching in anticipation of her unearthing the dastardly plot going on behind the scenes. The scenes depicting the Navy brass taking on the political ramifications were of less interest to me, but they do provide further context to events unfolding at Basilisk, demonstrating that - as insignificant as her work appears on the surface - Harrington is making a difference of some kind.

The story is sadly a bit light on characterization, which is a potential pitfall of a naval adventure of this kind, giving us snippets from different crew-members' perspectives to give us a wider snapshot of the crew for whom our main protagonist is ultimately responsible. The most spotlight time overall is given to Honor and her XO, Alistair McKeon. Even then, we don't get much sense of McKeon or Honor herself as characters beyond their military lives. Honor, we find, is a very motivated, duty-minded and - as indicated by her name - honorable woman, cool under pressure, a born leader and brilliant tactician, and not to be angered. McKeon is career-driven and bitter over being passed up for command of HMS Fearless in favor of Honor, yet deep down he is also dedicated to his duty and cares deeply for his ship and crew, which conflicts with the barrier his bitterness puts between himself and his new captain.

That said, even though we don't get a sense of Honor's character beyond her military persona, I still really dug her as a character. Why? Not only is she cool under fire, tough, and competent, but she - and her ship - are also an underdog from beginning to end. She's scraped her way to a command role despite her not being of noble birth, her first task as captain is to pull off an impossible task despite lacking the necessary resources, and then she is saddled with a career-threatening posting, and a responsibility nobody expects her to be able to pull off, yet still she rise to the challenge and doggedly strives to do what duty and honor demand of her. I can't help but love her for that.

Overall, I really enjoyed this first installment in the Honor Harrington series. It could do with some deeper exploration of the central character, but the little that we do discover about her makes for a worthy protagonist indeed. Hopefully later installments will dial back on the technobabble a little, but I'll definitely be reading the second book in the series.

If you like the sound of it so far - or even if you're not sure - and you have an e-reader, go check out it out on Amazon's Kindle store, where you can download On Basilisk Station and its sequel, The Honor of the Queen, for free. At that low price, you might as well give them a look, right?

Undecim Rating: +4

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

[Actual Play] Misspent Youth - The Protection Corps, Episode 01: Runaways

Gemma Hastings (Me) - Daughter of the local head of the Protection Corps' Enforcement Division, Gemma is a model straight-A student at the local high school and moonlights as a teen detective. She also has psychic powers, which she has managed to keep secret from her dad until now.
Natalie Nairn (Heather) - One of Gemma's classmates who possesses the power to control the elements. She and Gemma became friends after Gemma was assigned as her student mentor to help with her classes.
Sarah Wilbourne (Judith) - An escapee from the Protection Corps' nearby re-education camp with molecular manipulation powers, rescued from the Seeker Hounds by Gemma - after she found the fugitive hiding out in her backyard - who concocted an impromptu herbal mixture to confuse the Seekers' senses. They've been friends ever since.

The girls are hanging out at Gemma's house, listening to Sarah's stories about what happens in the re-education camps, when their conversation is interrupted by the TV issuing a mandatory news report announcing the capture and execution of the terrorist group calling themselves The Resistance. Shortly after the announcement, Gemma's father – Captain Mark Hastings of the Protection Corps' Enforcement Division - barges in, about to say something to her when he notices that she has Natalie and Sarah with her. When he recognises Sarah as an escapee from the camps, Gemma tells him he must be mistaken and tries to use her psychic powers to throw him off. This is the first time she's used her powers on her father – who is an empath – and he struggles against it. Sarah panics and takes Gemma and Natalie 'hostage', grabbing them both and using her molecular manipulation power to phase them through the wall of the Hastings' bungalow home, and the three of them flee before Captain Hastings can call for backup.

Finding a place to hide out. Gemma wonders if the reports of the Resistance's annihilation are true, and thinks maybe they could seek the Resistance out if they still exist. It seems the Resistance has found them though, when they are approached by a man who claims to be McCallum, the leader of the movement. He tells the girls to 'come with him if they want to live'. However, before the girls can agree, the sound of Seeker Hounds can be heard nearing their hiding place, and McCallum vanishes before they arrive. The girls try to escape, with Sarah phasing them through the walls to get them out of the building quicker. The Seeker Hounds are soon hot on their heels and about to spit their venomous darts at the girls. Natalie tries to use her elemental powers to put up a shield of flame around them, but the concentration slows her down, and they're knocked out by Seeker venom before the shield is in place.

The girls wake up in the back of a van, handcuffed – with Sarah restrained with special cuffs made of phasium, a metal that is resistant to the molecular manipulation power – with Captain Hastings sat across from them. The van is presumably on its way to a reeducation camp. Gemma pleads with her father to help them, but he claims that he is helping them and that this is for their own good. Sarah starts ranting at him about the crimes committed against fledgling supers by the Protection Corps, just before the van lurches to the side and Captain Hastings is knocked unconscious in the crash. The van doors open and [the resistance leader], assisted by his super-strong associate Martha, undoes the girls' restraints. They get out of the van to find themselves surrounded by Seeker Hounds, which Natalie hold at bay by forming a bubble of ice around the other two girls and the two resistance people. Captain Hastings recovers, threatening the resistance leader with a gun. Sarah is able to use her molecular manipulation power to phase herself, and the others through the ground and into the sewers below.

As McCallum and Martha guide the girls through the sewers towards a nearby safehouse, he explains that they are really after Gemma, because she is the only known true psychic they've discovered, and potentially a very powerful one. Captain Hastings and his Seeker Hounds enter the sewers and continue the pursuit. Natalie is able to use her elemental power to manipulate the sewer water and hold them back by sending waves of sewage along the way they came, blocking up the passages, but it doesn't keep the pursuers at bay long. When Captain Hastings and his lackies break through the barrier, Sarah uses her molecular manipulation power to phase him and his team through the sewer floor, effectively killing them. Gemma screams and goes into a state of shock as the resistance members guide them through a hatch into the safehouse.

However, as the door locks shut behind them, they find themselves surrounded by a dozen Protection Corps guards armed with tasers, in a room lined with phasium, and 'McCallum' reveals himself to be the shapeshifting head psychiatrist of the reeducation camp, Dr Johan Schmidt. Schmidt reveals that Gemma's father had actually gone rogue, and really was trying to help them escape the Protection Corps. Sarah phases one of the non-phasium bolts fixing a strip light to the ceiling, bringing it crashing down on top of Martha and knocking her out cold. Schmidt orders his troops to fire, but Natalie summons up a shield of water, diffusing the electricity. Schmidt then transforms into a bear-like monster, and advances towards them. It's at this point that Gemma snaps out of her state of shock and psychically dominates all of the guards, ordering them to fire upon Schmidt. The number of guards firing - and the fact that they just don't stop - means that the normally non-lethal taser guns fry Schmidt to a smoking crisp on the floor. With that done, she then orders the guards to kill themselves with their service pistols, to Natalie and Sarah's dismay.

Searching for a way out of the facility, the girls stumble upon a holding area where they find the real McCallum and his people have been held captive. The reports of their execution were a lie. After knocking out the guard on duty, the girls release the prisoners, at which point an alarm goes off. With no time to waste, they decide to double back the way they came in and hope to find a way to break down the sewer access door. On the way, they encounter a guard patrol with seeker hounds on their way, and Gemma influences some of the freed prisoners to keep the patrol busy while the rest of them escape, sacrificing their lives to save the majority. When they reach the sewer door, Natalie uses her elemental powers to melt the door to slag with a fireball and they escape through the sewers with the freed resistance members.

After they have all escaped to one of the Resistance's safehouses that wasn't compromised during the previous assault on the movement, Gemma grimly notes that the Protection Corps will not stop hunting them or others like them...unless they make them stop by taking them down. Sarah agrees with this assertion, while Natalie remains horrified by the actions of her friends. McCallum reveals that he's been listening to their conversation, and indicates that he can help them with that...

Post-Game Reflection
We had a good first game, though it took us a while to get used to the scene structure and struggle mechanic. Martin did a decent job as the Authority, though the Authority's objectives in struggles could have been better and more varied, with the majority of them being 'the chasers catch you'. As such it felt more like a session of Psi*Run at times. The other players also had complaints about Martin arbitrarily throwing in phasium and the fact that electricity could harm Sarah even when she was out of phase, essentially devaluing her power. It was a bit heavy, I'll agree, at least at such an early point in the story. Power-nullifying stuff like that would be more appropriate for the second or final episodes, I would have thought. Still, we all had fun, and we're looking forward to hopefully having our next couple of episodes at the end of the week.

Note: I couldn't remember the resistance leader's actual name, except that it started with an M, so I've used McCallum as a placeholder for now. I'll fix it when Martin gets back to me with the actual name.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

[Weekly Geeky Report] Honor, Kingdoms, and other stuff...

Swag
I used the last of my unspent Audible credits to purchase Andy Weir's The Martian. It's one of the Sword and Laser Bookclub's picks for this year, and seems to have been a big hit with the SF&F community this year. I've been behind on reading the S&L picks, but I'll see if I can catch up to where they're at and join in again once I'm up to date.

I also ordered a copy of Ben Robbins' RPG, Kingdom, which arrived on Saturday morning. More on that shortly.

Achievements
On Sunday, after last week's report, I played the second part of our latest Timewatch: Team Indigo adventure. It was a bit shorter than the GM had planned, as he had put in a further plot hook which would have required us to cross our own characters timeline in order to pursue it. None of us decided to go for it, though if the GM had wanted to, I'm sure he could have leaned on a couple of characters with their Drives to get them to do it. Still, the Colony infection was thwarted and the pleasure planet was saved, so yay for us!

We were to have our second Misspent Youth session on Monday, but the Authority player couldn't make it because his flatmate was ill and he didn't want to leave her alone or risk spreading the infection to us. We attempted to go ahead with him participating via a Skype video call, but the connection was poor and he kept dropping out. So instead, we watched Airplane! and then the second episode of Supernatural season nine. There's some interesting stuff happening this season with both Sam and Crowley, but I was sad that Castiel was absent from episode two. I'm not sure I trust this new angel - Ezekiel - much, though Heather insists that he's 'lovely'.

Things picked up quite a bit over on Storium this week, with progress being made in all three of the games I'm currently participating in, so I've been getting more into it. At least one game (In The Drift, the Pacific Rim game) has been running at a faster pace than I imagined, so I've fallen a little behind in my participation. Also, they've updated their TOS to clear up the issues with IP rights that have had people worried of late. That makes me a bit more comfortable about using more original ideas for Storium games I might narrate in the future.

We also had our tenth session of the Tears of a Machine campaign, Tales of the Arx Jericho, on Thursday. I'll have an AP up for that sometime soon, but in the meantime if you want to see the session you can check out the recording of our Hangout On Air session.

I finished up On Basilisk Station (Honor Harrington #1) by David Weber yesterday, and I have to say that I really enjoyed it. It was a bit of a slow burn for the most part, but once the excrement hits the fan all the build-up to that point really pays off. I'll go into more detail about my thoughts on the book in a review later this week.

The Saturday GUGS picnic ended up being less of a picnic and more of an impromptu meetup in the first floor of the nearby Starbucks on account of rain. Still, people seemed to enjoy themselves playing a Lord of the Rings deck-building game, after which I got a group together to play Kingdom.

Since I had only had Kingdom for a few hours and had only barely done a full read-through of the rules, I can't be sure our session was completely representative of the game as written, but we did enjoy ourselves. A couple of players felt that the rules got in the way of the fun at some points; they felt having to mark off five boxes for the Crossroads was a bit much, especially as we had essentially addressed the Crossroad decision in play already.

I think this was partly my fault, to be honest. The Crossroad I came up with wasn't really a 'decision' to be made as much as a challenge to be overcome, which isn't the point of Crossroads. The question isn't supposed to be 'do we address this issue', the question - as far as I understand from my brief skim of the book - is more about how they do so, and is usually a moral dillemma. Even then though, the players are still sceptical about the Crossroads timer; if anything, they think that seems like something that's more likely to be resolved before the five ticks are up, and so it makes even less sense as an arbitrary timer than before.

Still, we muddled through well enough and had fun playing out the Lost In Luxury Space seed, with half of us playing the crew of a luxury cruise ship adrift in space struggling to resolve a power systems issue which threatens to leave them without life support, while the passengers are more concerned about the cooler being offline and protest at the crew requisitioning materials - jewellery for metal and crystals and taking apart certain leisure facilities to salvage parts - to effect repairs. I was a bit dubious about this setting seed, but it actually wound up being good fun. I'd definitely like to give this another go, once I've had more time to properly go over the rules.

Works In Progress
The first episode of my Doctor Who/Evangelion fanfiction is now more or less done, the only thing I haven't finished yet is the 'Coming Soon' teaser at the end of the episode. I have some ideas for scenes from future stories in the fanfic that I can use for the teaser, it's just a matter of putting in enough to give a taste of things to come without giving away too much. I could use some feedback from beta readers on it, so I can make any necessary changes or corrections (particularly regarding any plot holes or characterisation issues) before I go ahead and publish on Fanfiction.net. I could also use some help with brainstorming the season arc I have in mind. It's fairly heavy on the Evangelion side of things, dealing mostly with the state of Shinji and Asuka's relationship after The End Of Evangelion as well as with the origin of the Angels, which were never really revealed in the series.

I've also started working on a draft of a Storium World in Word that I'm thinking of narrating for Misha, Lizzie and anyone else who might be interested in joining. I'm basing it on the Doctor Who: The S.O.S. Files idea I mentioned in an earlier blog post. I reckon I'll narrate it so that each 'chapter' equates to an episode, though that might mean the chapters themselves have a lot of scenes in them, so we'll see. The Redshirts game I'm in is taking a similar approach, with each chapter being an 'episode' in the TV show which the characters are unwittingly a part of.

I didn't get around to doing the Terribleminds flash fiction challenge for last week, but this weeks' is one I'll make more of an effort for. The challenge for this week is to do a superhero story mashed up with another genre. I'll need to have a think about what genre I'd mix mine with, but I feel like giving a superhero story a go, so I'll probably take a shot at it.

For the week ahead I'll need to outline and start writing episode two of Doctor Who/Evangelion. I also need to edit episode one and get it out to some beta reader so they can help me tidy it up for FF.net.

I'll be back (hopefully) tomorrow with the first AP from our Misspent Youth campaign, and I'll try to finish off the next couple of APs from the Tears of a Machine campaign and post a review of On Basilisk Station later in the week. I'll see you then!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

[Actual Play] DWAiTAS - The Exiles of Time: 'The Warrior Pact'

Unfortunately, I'm probably not going to post the actual play reports from 'season two' of my DWAiTAS campaign. Not only has it been too long since the sessions themselves for me to recall enough details to write up an AP, but my external hard drive seems to be buggered, so I can't access any of the files on it and all of my session notes for the campaign were among them. However, Luke (who plays Mal) did write up an AP of the special one-off where I swapped RP groups with Blair and he ran a crossover episode for my group. So here is the write-up from that session (which is, chronologically, the second episode of season two):

THE CAST
Robyn Dalton (played by Heather W): A UNIT researcher for the top-secret Project Broadsword, Robyn is haunted by a shameful past, but her history gives her knowledge and expertise that make her a valuable asset to UNIT. She is dark eyed and has dark hair cut in a bob style with green or blue highlights depending on her mood. (Kinda like Claudia from Warehouse 13.)
Howard Phillips (played by Alex H): A fiercely loyal, by-the-book agent for the Temporal Security Agency.
Malik (played by Luke): A Silurian from a time when his species' reign on Earth, displaced in time by the Cardiff Rift, Malik has been living in a TMNT-style pad in the sewers of the Welsh capital, feeding on criminals and becoming the subject of urban legend, the 'Lizard Man of Cardiff'. He wears a hessian cloak and cowl to hide his features when he walks among the apes that have taken over his homeworld.
Pan (played by Maggie): A student of Archimedes, and the real inventor of Archimedes' screw and the fabled 'heat ray'. Possesses technological knowledge beyond his time, owing to his precognitive abilities. Pan is tall and has messy 'mad scientist' hair, dressed in a Grecian tunic and sandals.

Guest Starring
Captain Ashlan - Andorian captain of the U.S.S. Kirk

Special Mention to:
Sister Ian: A former Sister of Plenitude who has joined the Temporal Security Agency as their chief medical officer in order to atone for her part in the Flesh/New Human experiments on New Earth.

EPISODE 2.02: 'The Warrior Pact'

The TARDIS is hurtling through the time vortex from adventures past, the events of which are slightly fuzzy… None of the crew members are entirely sure when they are, as if they have been deposited outside of regular space-time for a short period of time in some kind of temporal limbo…

The wheezing of ancient gears, and the TARDIS lands. Pan notes that that wasn’t normal, and in fact none of this is normal, but Robyn - insatiably curious as ever - simply pokes her head out of the the door. They all join her, and find themselves on the bridge of a sleek starship from the future - decked out entirely in retro 80s keyboards. The captain, a blue woman who Robyn identifies as an Andorian, raises her eyebrow.

“State your names and intent. Just how did you get aboard this ship?”

Roll an… unusual credits:

“Space. The final frontier. These are the voyages of the U.S.S. Kirk. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”


The Exiles are just about to open their mouth, when a man at a desk shouts a warning - he has picked up something on their scanners, and immediately they can all see exactly what it is.

The prow of an enormous spaceship approaches them - recognised by the crew, and some of the Exiles as a “bird of prey”; a Klingon war ship.

“They don’t look friendly..”

A scuffle ensues, the Kirk is reluctant to fire on the ship given the tense political situation and attempt to move up out of the way of their fire but then, a laser slams into the underside of the hull.

Sparks fly out of the panels on the console - “We really need to design panels that don’t do that, why do they do that...” - blinding and incapacitating three of the crew members.

The Exiles leap into action! Diving over the crew to get to the spots.

Mal grabs a joystick and eyes a touch panel. “Ah. I have… no idea what I’m doing.”

The Exiles make a half-decent job of piloting the ship out of trouble, with Robyn, Pan and Howard managing to use their background knowledge to make use of the controls. Piloting the ship out of trouble and dispatching the Klingon bird of prey, the Captain agrees that without the help of the Exiles they would be in trouble, and leads them away to a conference room.

She divulges that they have records of meetings with the blue box they travel in - showing holograms of the TARDIS, which then shimmers to form different bodies the Doctor has occupied; notably the Eleventh, who they all recognise instantly. Unfortunately, Captain Ashlan seems unable to tell them anything about the Doctor’s current whereabouts - nor the spatio-temporal anomalies which have been plaguing the universe, of which she seems to be oblivious.

She explains the situation the U.S.S. Kirk finds itself in; in the Bajoran sector, with two empires on the brink of war. In this conflict, the Klingons are technically a neutral force, but Ashlan tells them that previously they have acted with hostility.

Mal butts in. “By previously you mean, earlier than five minutes ago?”

Ashlan grits her jaw. “They have been behaving, peculiarly. I understand that you are time travellers. I believe that you must be here for a reason - perhaps, you could get involved in helping us end this conflict. They have a mysterious benefactor working with them, a race we have no prior knowledge of.”

The hologram shows an image of a Klingon, which fades to show…

Mal snorts. “A baked potato man.”

Robyn gulps. “They’re a clone race. The Sontarans. And they’re extremely powerful if you don’t know how to fight them.” She divulges the weak point in the probic vent on the back of their necks.

Two crew members enter - identified by Robyn as Vulcans - giving them comm-badges to pin on their shirts to keep in contact.

They move to the holo-deck, where Robyn downloads her service records, and Mal witnesses the death of his species. Robyn appears furtive while watching but Mal is too busy to notice. After that, the Exiles ask them for a chip containing the program for the holo-deck, so the TARDIS can engineer its own, and the Replicator creates a phaser for him, and attempts to construct psychic paper without knowing exactly how it works - producing an imperfect copy with only three cover stories.

Finally, the holo-deck shows Scarlett Johansson bringing peace in the Middle East.

The ship comes out of warp above a medium-sized red planet: lava flows lining its surface like red veins, entirely inhospitable. This is a Klingon pit-stop planet. The U.S.S. Kirk slingshots it, and discovers the Sontaran and the Klingon ships. The Captain regrets to inform them when they instruct that in fact, they cannot turn their ship invisible - and do not have a zig zag plotter, when Mal will not stop telling them to just spam that. The U.S.S Kirk takes refuge in the shadow of the moon, and opens a comm link to the Sontarans.

Mal puts on his best Sister Ian impression. “COMMANDER OF THE SONTARANS THIS IS GENERAL SISTER IAN OF THE KLINGON FLEET WE HAVE FOUND YOU IN VIOLATION OF TREATY NUMBER 9996475. YOU HAVE DISHONOURED YOUR CLONE BATCH, WE WILL NOW FIRE UPON YOU.”

He then contacts the Klingons, pulling the same terrible impression. “THIS IS GENERAL SISTER IAN OF THE SONTARAN BATTLE FLEET, WE HAVE COME TO DISRESPECT THE KLINGONS AND THEIR COWARDLY WARFARE - WE WOULD NEVER FIRE UPON AN ENEMY BY SURPRISE SO WE ARE STUPIDLY ANNOUNCING OUR PLANS TO BETRAY YOU. PREPARE FOR WAR.” He then coughs up a huge, fake “potato ball”.

Neither fleet falls for this, however, the Captain lands the U.S.S. Kirk on the surface of the Sontaran ship, goading the Klingons into firing on their allies. The Klingons are convinced they cannot miss such a large target - but as they fire, the Exiles enter the TARDIS and materialise around the U.S.S Kirk. The Kirk appears in the TARDIS hangar, finding it turned upside-down - the coordinates had been fudged a little.

The Sontaran general appears on the Klingon bridge, beamed up before his ship exploded. They commandeer the TARDIS, bringing it to the bridge, and force the Exiles to give themselves up.

“You!” he points at Mal. “You were the one who hacked into our intercoms!”

Mal notices the Klingon general is carrying a sword, and proposes they end it in an honourable duel - which the Sontaran general must be forced to watch and feel shame for not being involved in. If Mal wins, the Klingons agree to self-destruct their warp gate, and if the Klingon general wins - the Exiles will self-destruct the TARDIS.

The fight begins - Mal makes the first move, a wild overhead slash with a huge battlecry!

And with his other hand, he phasers the Klingon general in the gut (Editor’s Note: Chekhov’s Gun. That is all.)

The Klingons refuse to yield to their end of the bargain, but the honour-bound Sontaran forces the warp gate to detonate. The Exiles pour into the TARDIS, but before they can do anything else the ship explodes and the TARDIS is sent flying into space with the thousands of other tons of debris.

“We’re lucky the TARDIS is indestructable,” says Pan, running a quick diagnostic check.

Finding themselves back on the bridge of the U.S.S Kirk, the Captain gives them a quick salute. “I’m still not entirely sure what you were all doing here, but without you - we’d have been in hot water. Starfleet thanks you for your efforts, and wishes you a fruitful journey.”

And then, in a contortion of Euclidean physics that would tear the mind apart - the U.S.S. Kirk flies out of the TARDIS door and sails off to its next mission.

The TARDIS hovers, silently in the depths of space for a moment, then two, and then, with the sound of ancient wheezing, it excuses itself from reality, and moves on to the next adventure...