Friday, August 7, 2015

Rifts Misadventures: Session 17

TOOT TOOT goes my own horn: This session was awesome. Everybody, myself included, had a great time. (I say this because players were still talking about how much fun it was the next morning.) Unlike last session, where I felt like I was scrambling at least two-thirds of the time, I was laser-focused and driven. If anything, I probably rushed through some stuff that could have used a bit more time to breathe. I could have taken a little more time describing some of the surroundings and action. But I can't complain too much.

The Solutions @ Gun Pointe Roster (with ICONS "high concept" qualities, followed by traditional Rifts O.C.C.s)

Arisis Solstice, Radiant Daughter of Atlas (female Titan Cyber-Knight), played by Felix
Kat, Mutant Psi-Stalker P.I. (female mutoid Psi-Stalker), played by Chris
Maximilian Park, Runaway Teenage Mystic (male human Mystic), played by me
Valerie Cain, Amazon Cyborg Wildchild (female Praxian Headhunter), played by Kent

Karen Cray leads Solutions @ Gun Pointe through the wire-choked labyrinth of her home, to a room that contains a bed-like medical scanner, which she instructs Arisis to place Max upon. As the machine examines the young mystic, our heroes explain how they came to be in Center, and how they were duped by Hard Repo operatives. They also ask Cray about the film she apparently shot of "the Champions of Light" in action against the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. She claims responsibility for distributing the footage, but adds that it has taken on a life of its own since, having been "chopped and screwed" into a multitude of unauthorized derivative works, which have made S@GP -- and many others that fought alongside them in Africa, including Nahar -- celebrities, after a fashion.

A hornet-like drone begins to photograph and film the ailing Max. Cray mentions that Hard Repo also have something of a following in the Three Galaxies, and urges S@GP to strike first -- with a media blitz. Kat's drone recorded much of their conflict with Hard Repo and Naruni Enterprises, and Cray suggests that although it might feel exploitative, they could intercut it with images of Max suffering and with interviews or testimonials from the other members of S@GP. Nahar approves of this strategy, pointing out that Tetka's use of lethal force (the deadly toxin she injected Max with) violates the terms of the Bastille Impenetrable-issued contract on S@GP that HR had taken on. Valerie, flustered, agrees that the idea makes sense but is more concerned with Max's diagnosis and survival. At that moment, the scan is completed, and Karen Cray groans in frustration: whatever was injected into Max's bloodstream is at least partially magical in nature, and so the examination has yielded very little of use.

Kat decides to astrally project her consciousness into Max's in an attempt to better understand the nature of his affliction, with Arisis accompanying her. After leaving their bodies and entering Max's mind, the pair find themselves in startlingly real surroundings: an idealized version of the pier behind S@GP headquarters in Serendipity. At the end of a long boardwalk, they notice the silhouettes of a couple sitting on a bench under a parasol. They approach, and after an unusually long time, find Max and Valerie happily chatting with one another. Max seems surprised (and not especially happy) to see his comrades. Arisis loses her patience and forcefully explains that the idyllic scene Max has apparently constructed for himself is an illusion -- that the real Max is in the bowels of Center, dying. Max is annoyed, claiming that "we haven't seen you guys in two years" and insisting that Arisis and Kat have little right to order him and Valerie around. "Valerie", for her part, encourages Max to "just ignore them." At that, the pair simply get up and walk away, the pier suddenly extending in front of them. Kat and Arisis can do little but watch as Max and his companion settle under another, even more distant canopy.

Kat returns to her physical body, bringing Arisis back with her. Arisis contains her fury over being dismissed by Max, and the psi-stalker suggests that the dream-world they entered could be part of his affliction, or might be a "safe place" constructed by Max in order to shield his psyche from attack. Kat opines that it would be too risky to try and wrest him from his astral domain either way. A frustrated Valerie insists that something has to be done to help Max immediately, and asks Karen if she knows anyone that could. She muses that she might, and makes a video-phone call to a shop in the Warlock Market. A young-looking dwarf girl answers, and excitedly agrees to aid "the Champions of Light" as soon as she lays eyes on S@GP.

Nahar points out that they'll need better disguises before heading to the Warlock Market, which is located on Level 4. Karen provides her and S@GP with cheap holographic disguises, which she likens to Halloween costumes and says won't hold up to close scrutiny. (I let the players describe each other's costumes: Kat is a stereotypical anime catgirl, Arisis is a cartoonish-looking dragon, Nahar is a bumbling Promethean alien, and Valerie ends up in some sort of plumber's outfit.) Arisis bundles up Max, bringing along his inert techno-wizardry suit of armor at Kat's suggestion, and the ridiculously disguised S@GP head out. Strangely, just before closing the door behind them, Karen advises Valerie to "watch out for those other biker chicks."

Access to the elevator to Level 4 turns out to be controlled by gangsters affiliated with an organized crime outfit called the Society of the Knife. Nahar makes a point of paying everyone's way and makes some ill-phrased comments about wanting to help S@GP even though Max has "no business being a mercenary," which earn her some icy stares. Soon enough the group arrives in the Warlock Market, where the air is filled with strange fumes and the footpaths are crowded with techno-wizards hawking their inscrutable (and impractical-looking) gizmos. As advised by Karen Cray, they weave their way through the market to the place of business of Embrar, Royston, and Rhian, which resembles a squat, intricately mechanized clock tower, and enter through its face.

Solutions @ Gun Pointe are greeted (as "Champions of Light") by Embrar, a shrill elven "alchemist of the fifth degree." He advises them that Royston, the shop's most adept healer, is waiting for them, and directs them to an adjoining room. Rhian Cinder-Mud, the exuberant young dwarf that spoke with Karen earlier, sarcastically compliments the group's disguises and then relieves Arisis of her burden. She and Embrar begin attaching a number of whimsical (and ineffective)-looking contraptions to Max's quivering form. (Valerie, who has a quality called Me and Magic Don't Mix, makes a point of looking away, unable to stop herself from observing that "even if this works, it looks so dumb.") Royston, a serious, elderly human in a wheelchair, soon joins them, and before long is able to pronounce his diagnosis: the poison which Tetka introduced into Max's system is a heretofore unknown blend of rare venoms, magical compounds and hallucinogens, and some sort of nanotechnological element (possibly techno-wizardry). Royston points to the magical phoenix tattoo Max has on his left upper arm as a potential cure, as it should be able to cleanse any impurity, but with Max apparently catatonic, it's impossible for him to activate its healing powers... and without doing so, he likely has less than two days to live.

Arisis and Kat briefly consider another astral jaunt, but discard the idea. Embrar brings the deactivated giant gauntlet that was once Max's armor to Royston's attention, who is quite impressed that S@GP has been carrying what he refers to as "Prysma-Knight" technology around. He says that these mysterious suits of armor have adaptive capabilities designed to protect their wearers from any conceivable form of peril, and that if it were reactivated -- and if Max was then drawn out of his astral coma -- Max's armor might be able to stabilize him enough for him to regain consciousness and then use his tattoo's healing magic to purge the toxin.

The issue, Royston says, is that it would take "a charge of potential psychic energy 20 times that of a dimensional rift" to fully restore the armor to working condition, and the only place he knows of that might fit the bill is the planet called Gemini 2, the atmosphere of which is charged with the most powerful dimensional storms in the Megaverse. A restricted world guarded by the Consortium of Civilized Worlds, Gemini 2 will be difficult to reach without being detected, but Nahar says she knows a smuggler that should be up to the task. Rhian informs "the Champions of Light" that there will be no charge for their consultation despite Embrar's screeched objections, and S@GP quickly depart.

Nahar reminds S@GP that they still need to film their testimonials for Karen's proposed viral video. A brief elevator ride back down to Level 7 later, Solutions @ Gun Pointe and Karen Cray get to work. Arisis, Valerie, Nahar, and Kat each say their piece into Karen's drone cameras, stressing that Hard Repo has crossed a line by luring S@GP to Phase World with subterfuge and deceit and then poisoning their comrade Max. Each of them takes a slightly different approach (Nahar's, in particular, talks about herself and why she left Hard Repo more than anything else). Kat's message is perhaps the most direct and to the point:

"We are here to set the record straight.

Hard Repo are a bunch of lying punks. We kicked their ass, so they come back and try and kill us rather than capture us. Bull shit.

Next: We are not the Champions of Light. The Demons needed to go down - hard - so we took them down. ‘Nuff said.

Who we are is Solutions @ Gun Pointe. If you need us, come find us.

And… FUCK THE COALITION!"

Karen Cray speedily (and skilfully) edits the footage, weaving together glimpses of the group's interviews, Max's suffering, and S@GP's confrontation with Hard Repo and Naruni Enterprises. As she does so, she volunteers a bit of background information, perhaps inspired by Kat's anti-Coalition tirade. Cray says that the Four Horsemen video she shot was originally intended to be distributed on Coalition data networks -- "I wanted their people to see what real heroes look like" -- but she was forced to go into hiding in Center before she was able to do so. She peppers this with a discussion of something she calls "Mobius resonance," a pet theory which proposes that actions taken in one reality create ripples of similarity in others, and says that in fighting the Coalition, she hoped to disrupt the activities of a similar organization in her own world. (Thus, she is apparently a native of neither Rifts Earth nor the Three Galaxies.)

As Karen works, Arisis and Nahar grudgingly bury the hatchet ("I can't believe I'm working with an ogre"), and Valerie tries her hand at cybernetically accessing Three Galaxies-style computer networks. Surprisingly, she is fairly adept at interfacing with IMJN, and she soon finds what she's looking for: the whereabouts of the real Mian and Reez. She learns that the bounty hunters are on the job, hunting a notorious draconid criminal in the Free Worlds sector. Valerie's concern is somewhat abated, but not entirely dispelled.

In less than an hour, Karen has uploaded the completed video package to the interstellar hypernet. Mere minutes later, the Intergalactic and Megaversal Justice Network (or IMJN) and Phase World news media are abuzz over the video, and not long after that, Bastille Impenetrable formally rescinds Halcyon Reacquisitions' exclusive contract on S@GP due to unauthorized use of lethal force, something which the punishment-obsessed Bastille strictly forbids. In response, Halcyon Reacquisitions/Hard Repo post a public video on IMJN requesting that S@GP agree to meet with their public relations liaison, one Jujube Yusuf.

S@GP have no time to consider HR's overtures, instead heading to the spaceport on Level 2. With Hard Repo apparently out of the running, the group dispenses with the flimsy disguises Karen earlier provided them. Level 2 is spacer territory -- a rough-and-tumble place catering to hard-living people, yet Nahar leads S@GP to a jarringly well-lit cafe with gaudy, candy-like decor. Called Minor Entanglement, this establishment caters to a decidedly younger crowd; as in, one not old enough to drink. It is here that they find another of their old allies, Faramon-makar, better known simply as "Fay": pilot, smuggler, genius, and teen demigoddess daughter of the Egyptian crone-deity Amon, barely entertaining herself with a chess game against four other youths.

Fay instantly finishes her game with an effortless checkmate and welcomes her friends, then gets down to business. She confirms that Gemini 2 is a demon-infested dimensional nexus torn apart by rift maelstroms even more powerful than those on Earth. Gemini 1, its counterpart world in what should be an impossible "binary planet" system, is a sort of nature preserve for otherwise extinct species, and home to the dinosaur-like and formidable Seljuk race. The group hatch a plan to use Fay's Horizont dropship, which has a unique techno-wizard drive allowing it to dimensionally teleport, to bypass Seljuk security entirely. Fay and Valerie will pilot the ship and skim the upper reaches of Gemini 2's atmosphere. Then, Fay will open the loading gate of her ship's cargo pod, where Arisis will recharge the Prysma-Knight armor and help Kat and Nahar fight off any marauding extradimensional entities. Once the armor is recharged, it will be placed on Max, who will then (hopefully) restore himself. With a strategy in place, the group hurries to the Horizont and takes off into outer space.

The plan to recharge Max's armor in the middle of a aerial demon-horde is madness, but it works: Fay teleports the ship into another dimension for a split second, and then back into that of the Three Galaxies, practically on top of Gemini 2, and concealed from Seljuk sensors by the interference of the dimensional energies bleeding from the planet's ionosphere. Valerie "rides the cosmic lightning" with expert ease, smoothly guiding the Horizont into the storm-wracked skies of Gemini 2. In the open hatch, Arisis stands amid the howling winds and streams of bizarre radiation, armor-fist upraised, bolts of dimensional energy streaming into it. Nahar, teeth gritted, blasts away at flocks of unspeakable flying predators with her railgun-revolver. Kat, unlike her companions, is only partially strapped in, using a single cord as a tether while she leaps in and out of the cargo hold to slash at the demons. Though everyone involved -- including the ship itself -- suffers some degree of damage, it takes only a few minutes for the armor to recharge thanks to the group's strong teamwork and tactics.

The cargo bay door slams shut, and Valerie takes sole control of the dropship, climbing away from Gemini 2's surface as Fay rushes down to the hold to join the rest of the group. Arisis moves to the back of the cargo pod and places her hand, clad in the re-energized gauntlet, on the young mystic's chest, and the crystalline armor flows over him, encasing him completely. It pulses with a soft glow momentarily, but Max does not show any signs of having been roused from his fugue state. As anticipated, another dive into Max's dream-domain proves necessary. This time, Kat and Arisis are joined in the astral plane by the intelligences bound to their respective rune weapons, Akuma no Shushi Ken and the Sword of Baragor, as well as Fay. Under Fay's leadership, they launch an immediate psychic assault as soon as they "arrive" in Max's mental realm, focusing their attack on the Valerie-construct. Arisis summons her psi-sword and squares off with Max, who summons his own blade -- a talent the titan cyber-knight taught him -- and the instructor and student clash violently. "Valerie" pleads for his aid as Fay uses the mesmeric, psyche-shattering gaze-curse that is her birthright on the doppelgänger. Max, realizing that Arisis was intentionally drawing him away from "Valerie", lashes out at his assembled comrades in confusion and fury, fighting for what he believes to be the love of his life. As a psionic and practitioner of magic possessed of remarkable power even without the psychotheric effects of the toxin boosting his abilities, Max nearly overcomes them, but a second gaze attack from Fay seals his astral companion's fate. "Valerie" is destroyed, and all of the mental combatants are instantly thrust back into the physical world.

Back on the Horizont, Max silently raises his hand to his magic tattoo, and the crystalline plates of his armor part to allow him to activate it. The phoenix's cleansing eldritch flames surround him and purge Tetka's toxin from his body. His friends celebrate, with Valerie's jubilant cries ringing from the intercom, but Max merely cradles his head, momentarily reeling from the loss of a false, happy life that never was. Fay gives him a nod of recognition before heading back to the bridge, but clutches her arm as if in pain. For a moment her companions can see that it has grown ashen and withered, writhing as if maggots squirmed beneath the skin. Max has survived, but at an awful cost.