Previously: Gradient Descent new campaign handout.
Computer terminals start to beep. Overhead lights flicker on. Heating systems stir up the layer of dust that covers everything. After 55 years in cryosleep, the crew of MHI Falstaff begin to wake up:
The company android is waiting for them on the bridge of the ship.
Stacker is standing upright, covered in dust. He did not move once in the whole journey. The Falstaff is two hours away from making contact with the mercenary Blockade that surrounds the abandoned android factory known as ‘The Deep’. The crew decide to record an SOS broadcast saying their ship’s damaged, and backdate it to decades ago so it’ll seem as though everyone aboard is dead. To make the ruse more effective, they smash up the cryopods and trip the ship’s radiation alarm, setting off a klaxon and plunging the Falstaff into darkness except for dim red emergency lighting. Stacker abruptly ragdolls onto the ground so he’ll look like a corpse, frightening the shit out of the others.
Critical fail on Dean’s fear save meant Banjo picked up on his fear.
For the next hour, as their ship drifts through space, the organic crew members huddle under one emergency blanket from the ship’s survival kit. It’s dark. They don’t talk. All they can hear are alarms and a looped recording of Matherson’s panicked SOS. Banjo the dog keeps whining and scrabbling. At one point, the ship is hailed by a Blockade ship. Just when the crew start to think they’re safe, Banjo freaks out, barking and trying to fight his way out from under the blanket. Dean is barely able to keep his grip on Banjo’s collar for long enough to drift out of the blockade’s reach.
Eventually they make it through, and the crew restore power and navigate the ship over to a safe haven called the Bell, a makeshift station orbiting The Deep that serves as base camp and hub for Divers to rest and trade between expeditions. There they meet Arkady, an old Russian guy who runs the place who says he’ll pay them handsomely for android logic cores; a cyborg Diver called Ghost Eater; and Noriko, who tends a garden in the Bell (including matchstick shrines for dead Divers) and who keeps talking about something called ‘The Minotaur’. Noriko says she met the Minotaur in the Deep. All she wants is to share the Minotaur’s message with the world.
‘The sacrament’ removes Bends in exchange for an equal amount of stress.
Noriko offers to share a ‘sacrament’ with the crew, but only Dean accepts; she gives him a little shred of meat to eat. As soon as he puts it in his mouth, Dean’s eyes flicker back into his head for several seconds. Afterwards he seems shaken but strangely elated. After this, the crew make up their beds for the ‘night’ at the far end of a huge, empty cylindrical chamber.
After a few hours of sleep, the team decide they’re ready to go into the Deep. Arkady shuttles them in on the Acheron. They decide to go in through the front door, through the Visitors’ Dock.
The first thing the crew see when they step into the reception is a hanged man and the words ONE WAY OUT sprayed on the wall behind him. Slowly, team starts to explore the rest of the floor. Dr. Matherson is the last to leave the room. He stares at the corpse for a few seconds and then points his cybernetic scanner at it. Then he follows the others.
Exploring, the crew find another Diver’s old backpack and help themselves to ammunition and a torch. Further along, they hear something scuttling into a meeting room. Following the sound, they find a Forgotten Android — or rather, two androids fused together back-to-back. Matherson says they must be escaped production rejects. One of the androids thinks he’s a human, and begs the team to help him; the other asks the Divers to tell him he’s a robot. The team excuse themselves into the hallway to talk it over.
Logan says they should just kill them both and take their logic cores. Dean agrees, but Dr. Matherson is less certain; the androids are scared and clearly pose no threat. To everyone’s surprise, Stacker speaks up: he says it would be kinder to put them out of their misery. Stacker says the worst thing he could imagine an android being is useless. It’s an unsettling speech, but it convinces everyone, and they push the door back open.
The room’s empty. The robots must have heard everything. Dean and Logan dive out of the way in the nick of time before the fused androids drop from the ceiling onto Matherson and Stacker, biting and clawing at their eyes. The marines try to open fire on the androids, but nothing happens — the bullets from the backpack are all duds. Logan is the first to recover, using his gun as a club to kill one of the androids. The other drops to the floor and starts crawling away as fast as it can, dragging the corpse fused to its back. To everyone’s shock, Stacker pulls out a revolver and domes the android in the back of the head as it tries to escape. Nobody even knew Stacker had a gun.
After the team harvest the logic cores, Matherson takes them back to the lobby and makes a confession: he thinks the corpse hanging from the rafters is actually an android. If they open its head, he says, they’ll find a logic core. Dean doesn’t believe him; Logan doesn’t know what to think. Matherson passes him a wrench to open the corpse’s skull. Logan passes it back. Matherson is getting ready to swing when Stacker politely offers to do it instead. The android takes the wrench and stoves the corpse’s head in without even winding his arm back to swing. Bone shards and soft tissue spill out. Matherson looks inside. For several seconds nobody says anything; then, the scientist pulls out a logic core. It’s the most humanlike android any of the team had ever seen.
Bends all round.
Pressing on, the team meet another Diver in the old cafeteria; Tom Dyatlov, a twitchy lone-wolf. There’s a tense standoff; Dyatlov insists on having Matherson scan everyone, himself included, to prove they’re not androids. Afterwards, Dyatlov leaves in a hurry and tells them to do the same; there’s supposed to be a team of Troubleshooters, the Blockade’s marines, heading back to their ship soon.
The torch from earlier was a tracking device all along!
The crew ignore the warning and keep exploring. Dr. Matherson, investigating a janky retina scanner, sees a bright flash of light, but nothing else seems to happen. As they head back through the cafeteria, the doors burst open and a squad of figures in black exosuits burst in — Troubleshooters. They kill the lights and sweep the room with gun-mounted lights. Tactical spider-goggles glow red in the dark. The team hide very, very quietly behind upturned tables. Then the torches circle in and the Troubleshooters light them up.
Bad roll on the Wounds table.
The crew run like fuck. Matherson and Logan are in the lead; Stacker squeezes off a few shots and then follows them. Gunflashes light up the rooms and hallways like strobes. Dean’s in the rear; Banjo’s sprinted into the midst of the Troubleshooters. The others can hear, but not see, Banjo barking. There’s a single gunshot and the barking stops. Dean stops running for a second and turns around. Then he gets shot through the throat and drops.
The remaining crew keep running; they decide their best bet is to try and kite their perusers through one of the old automated security checkpoints and hope it still works. It does; Stacker, Logan, and Matherson hurriedly drop all their weapons and scramble past through the gate. Seconds later, they hear the robotic turret open up on the heavily-armed Troubleshooters charging after them. A minute or so later, silence falls again.
Very, very slowly, the survivors take another path back to the dock, and wait for Arkady to shuttle them back to the Bell. Their first ‘dive’ is over.