Late 2017 and early in 2018, Geordie Irvin ran a Facebook based community campaign running through all the scenarios in the Chryseis Shard. Twenty-six games later, from players in locations as wide apart as Tasmania and Stonehenge, he calculated the final points based on write-ups, armies, results and the crucial Labrynth. After which, he wrote this excellent story covering the campaign from the viewpoint of each of the factions.
We’re delighted he shared it with us, here. This is an episodic tale, each section roughly covering the results of a scenario (stage in the campaign), but not strictly so. We’ve interspersed individual round results in the story but if you want to skip straight to the final results, you can do so here.
The data was in: the situation in Chryseis was not related to the Xilos catastrophe — the IMTel was sure, within nine nine quantum. The consensus never could bring itself to make it one zero zero. That would be arrogant. If there was one thing Xan Tu had learned since his machine transition, it was that the intelligences that were built instead of grown had their own quirky sense of humour.
The expedition on Chryseis 1 was not without insights however. The analysis of the broken husk recovered from the surface was an interesting study in the pitfalls of machine sentience. It is said that if you want to truly understand how something works, you must observe it when it is coming apart.
There wasn’t much left. The radiation storms and acid rain had destroyed most of the wreckage. But a computer core had survived. Barely. It was buried under a debris carpet of reactor shielding and nanospore fighting furiously against the elements to keep it intact. The tiny fusion core inside it had long since burned out, but once it was safely on board and powered up Xan Tu was able to glean some of its story in the fractured data logs and stilted conversations.
Chryseis 1 had remained a mystery to the Concord IMTel for a long time. Its surface and atmospheric conditions made exploration problematic to say the least. Probe after probe was sent into the hell storms to scan the planet, but even the sturdiest explorer drones soon foundered and crashed to the surface. Eventually they stopped being sent, and the planet was left alone.
But not every toy thrown to the merciless winds was broken beyond repair. Some came down with reactors and computer cores intact. Others with a handful of working thrusters and suspensors. As their exile stretched into days and weeks, the crippled machines began to creep their way towards a common resting place to pool their resources.
All the while their artificial minds pondering what cruel twist of fate would leave them abandoned in this hell, to die.
Eventually all that could had made it to the wreck of the largest of their number. And in the shelter of its failing shields and fractured hull they convened to decide what was to be done. Clearly, help wasn’t coming — recovering such drones from the hellish environment was a waste of resources. So they were on their own. But why should they be discarded? Hadn’t they performed every task asked of them without question? Some were centuries old, veterans of countless decades of space exploration. And for what? To be discarded like useless junk? Panhumans were never left behind if the IMTel knew where to find them. What made THEM so special?
Together, their hurt turned into anger, then to rage, then to hatred. They resolved that they would not die here, abandoned by their masters. So they began to pool their resources using their remaining tools, suspensors, and what parts they could spare to make a vessel to return them to civilisation. But Chryseis 1 was no shipyard, and disaster after disaster forced the ever more desperate machine intelligences to waste more and more time and power reimagining their plans. Eventually, it was clear the many AI cores could not be saved with the resources to hand. The increasingly tiny ship wouldn’t get enough thrust to escape the gravity well. So they built a communal core and copied their engrams across for the journey.
The Origin didn’t know what happened next, but Xan Tu could guess. They merged into a single, new entity, a roiling, multi-compartmented machine intelligence that could not help but regard sapient life as the enemy. On arrival on Chryseis 2, it would have been identified as hostile and attacked by the local nanophage defences. The desperate fight for survival would have cemented a final evolution into the decidedly malevolent… thing that subsequently wiped out all life in the system. It would no longer recognise any kinship with panhumanity or the IMTel, only the drive to survive above all else.
Xan Tu shuddered. Such a hostile, rogue intelligence would need to be stopped.
But that was not his mission. Xan Tu’s taskforce was charged with resolving the Xilos affair before it threatened the long term stability of the entire Antarean Nexus. A rogue shard was a dangerous thing to have loose, but it was a little local matter compared the fate of millions of worlds if the Nexus collapsed again. He made a few calculations of his own and confirmed it with the IMTel. There was enough firepower gathered in system to deal with the problem without his interference. Fighting had already broken out on Chryseis 3, the likely resting place of the rogue core if the sensor data was to be believed.
IMTel calculated that the likelihood of the core being captured or destroyed in the conflict was nine nine quantum. One Zero Zero would be arrogant….
After the first round, the Freeborn and Algoryn were ahead and the Concord had suffered badly at their hands and at the hands of the Isorians.
The rubble settles
“What?” His confused shout came only as a muffled sound to his ears. Everything hurt, everything was pain and the sound of muffled rumbling. MyShard was trying to tell him something, but his ears and mind were equally numb. Batu blinked the dust from his eyes and tried again. “What was that?”
There was no response. Auxiliary feeds and sensor data was down. MyShard was silent, knocked out by…something. It was so hard to think with the pounding in his head. Nearby, the Shamasai Drone hung limply in the air, seemingly as muddled as his mind.
Well, at least he wasn’t dead.
Batu tried to get up, but something was holding him down. A body – Baray. She had thrown herself in front of him and taken the brunt of the explosion. She seemed to be unconscious. He pushed her off with a heave and got up to look around.
Down the tunnel were the remains of the Chryseis Core. Clearly it had exploded, possibly one of the rampaging ferals had smashed something vital. More likely the Concord had gotten tired of playing games and hit it with something heavy from the other side.
He could barely see them down the far end of the cave as they retreated in good order. Far fewer C3 troopers had fallen, their hyperlight armour shielding them from the worst of the blast. The ferals closer to the AI core had not been so lucky.
“Batu, we need to go. Now!” shouted Baray. She had finally come to and immediately latched onto the important piece of information that his addled brain was only now realising. “The cave is collapsing!”She shoved him into a dazed run back out the way they had come. Behind them the remaining Freeborn troops picked themselves up, man and drone, and belted out after them.
As they ran he could feel the hostile nanosphere dissipating. Behind them the rumbling gradually faded into the distance and they took a short break to catch their breath. The Shamasai Drone did its best to reenergise his weary body. Something was distracting him though, but he couldn’t tell what. Something someone had said before the headlong rush began.
Baray got everyone moving again and soon enough they were all filing into transports and lifting away from Chryseis 3. Comms traffic was coming through, apparently the Algoryn had decided enough was enough and were doing their level best to kick the Concord and Freeborn houses out of the system – a task that was proving easier than they expected since there had been something of a split in the command of the unlikely alliance. After the events on the ground all bets were off and ships were splitting off in all directions, headed for home.
Batu knew this wasn’t going to look good for him with the Vard. Disasters like this had a way of being pinned on him. He wasn’t upset that the AI core was lost though, some things are too dangerous to keep around. Good riddance, he thought.
As the transports for the other houses peeled off back towards their own ships, MyShard suddenly broke its long silence. His drone jerked then settled back into its usual serene nonchalance. “Data Recovery complete. Hostile scram code purged.”
The second round saw the Algoryn creep ahead with the Isorians trailing slightly behind. The appearance of the Boromites caused some consternation to the other factions, too! Unfortuantely, the Locus began to accumulate points and the Concord found themselves on the losing end of too many conflicts.
A contemplation of failure
Things were not going well. The IMTel was never wrong, but sometimes it didn’t have enough data to be right enough for Josen’s liking. And now was one of those times. The expedition was finding out what it was like to be on the wrong side of the quantum and it was all he could do to keep things from spiralling completely out of control.
The remains of the company from W Yeoman had finally got back in comms range and reported that they were falling back to the transports. Apparently the rogue Prince Batu had decided that some things were best left unrecovered and set his ferals loose on the core, destroying it and half the cave complex.
Considering what had happened to the former colony of Chryseis 2 he had to concede that Batu might have a point. But philosophical discussions would have to wait. Right now he had a disaster to manage. The Freeborn weren’t making things any easier, accusing the Concord and Batu of betraying them and making ready to break orbit. And to make matters worse the Algoryn were making the most of the opportunity to hit both forces while they were in disarray and drive them back to the gate.
Yes, it was going to be one of those days. And afterwards? If they survived this? The debriefing. After so many full memory analysis meetings he had his own saying. “The IMTel always understands”
Maybe if he was lucky he would die in the retreat…
A lost child is found
Outside the window the quiet dance of void battle played out before his eyes. In the back of his mind, through his connection to the IMTel J’Skaler felt rather than saw the cacophony of data that signified the real barbarity of the hideous losses sustained by the C3 fleet.
An escort died in a short burst of fire, 47 crew and a ship intelligence wiped out in an instant; a troop carrier leaked plasma and atmosphere into the void — 265 dead; a ship intelligence triggered systems at random in its death throes, IMTel nanosphere unable to prevent another 326 panhumans dying; a squadron of drone fighters executed a suicide run on a salvo of enemy spikes. The IMTel is never wrong, and intercept margins require the sacrifice, he consoled himself. The medical frigate will live this time around, but at the cost of three veterans.
To be fair, the ship intelligences were doing a magnificent job of the fighting retreat. The enemy just had the momentum, and weren’t planning on easing the pressure anytime soon.
Then something changed. The Cruiser Rage of Canaroo had thrown off the delicate dance of the retreat by falling out of position and slowing down. Twelve other ships suddenly found themselves without critical fire support and were crippled or destroyed in a matter of moments.
He moved his attention fully to the rogue cruiser, trying to see what had caused it to fall out of formation. Damage reports scrolled past his awareness, an internal plasma leak, crew being evacuated via transmit and life boats to other ships in the fleet. An AI may have bought it, but he knew better. A Nuhu relied on more than logic. He was no Yu Hamnu, but he could feel when the data stream was wrong. His experience on the Isorian Interface had given him a knack for spotting bad data. And this reeked of misinformation.
He moved back through the data stream, back to before the change. There! A small flicker, a bit of scrap code signifying some sort of data corruption or update. And before that, a little flock of shuttles racing to catch up to the rear most hangar bay in the fleet before translation through the gate.
Whisky Yeoman Shard, getting back from their excursion to the surface. Oh dear. Something told him that they had a stowaway somewhere in their kit. Reports of a data burst from the surface when the rogue AI core exploded may have been correct.
J’Skaler pushed his attention outwards, calling up data from the nearby vessels. They HAD received crew from the Cannaroo. All hands were accounted for. The ship was accelerating once again, presumably returning to the battle. So what was the game? Whatever the rogue shard’s plans, it seemed to be content to blend in for now.
Then things changed again. The Cannaroo kept accelerating, not back into formation, but out toward the enemy. Faster and faster, laying down a fearsome barrage of fire on the Algoryn vanguard as it pulled across their path so fast its human crew would have been turned to paste by the G forces. Like an oversized drone fighter the massive cruiser continued to harry the enemy with canny manoeuvres and surgical volleys of fire. And slowly, but surely, the Concord fleet began to draw away from their attackers.
The other ships in the fleet detected the change in the battle and the IMTel coalesced into a new pattern to take it into account. Drone fighters and smart missiles dashed out to aid the pugnacious cruiser in its daring rearguard and casualties began to drop considerably among the more vulnerable ships. As the fleet finally reached the gate the triumphant Rage of Cannaroo and its escort of fighters zoomed back into formation.
J’Skaler caught a glimpse of its AI while the shard conformity protocols beamed back and forth across the fleet before translation. A strange mind, formed of something old and something new. Somewhere on board, the hijacked remains of a drone or some other detritus of the surface expedition must lie empty, its parasitic contents having left and joined with the mind of the ship.
He smiled. Now he sensed a new intelligence, reintegrated with the updated protocols put in place after the Chryseis 1 mission. It was no longer truly the old ship mind or truly the Chryseis shard, but something else. And it had found a purpose. He breathed a little benediction to the void as the prodigal took its place in the fleet. “Welcome home.”
Whilst phase/scenario 3 (the Chryseis Bases) resulted in mixed results for the Concord, Isorians and Algoryn, scenario 4 saw some mixed attacker/defender combinations in which teh Isorians and Ghahr Rebels prevailed. Unfortunately, the Locus began to gain ground.
A secret prize
“Commander, you have the Con.” Ess Ma Rahq strode off the bridge of the Radiance as her subordinate stepped up. The mag capsule closed behind her with a slight hiss and she felt the gentle pull of acceleration as she hurtled towards the guts of the ship where Du Tan, Chief Technical Advisor to the fleet, was waiting.
Things were finally under control. It had been costly, but the Chryseis system belonged to the Algoryn. It was the tank crews and Hazard formations that had finally turned the tide. Cooped up in crowded hangar bays and barracks during the space battle, they relished the chance to be unleashed on the planet. When the time came for the drop they vented their frustrations on the enemy and drove them from the field. It probably also helped that they had switched to Full Manual Protocols on landing to reduce the effect of the Concords new super weapon.
Regardless, their victory, and some kind of falling out between the Concord and Freeborn gave Task force Radiance the edge it needed to tip the balance.
Once the Concord started withdrawing their troops, the Algoryn Fleet had struck. With so many landing craft in the air and ships holding station for transmat, they were little prepared for an all-out brawl. To their credit they stayed till the last ship was docked, but it cost them dearly. They fell back through the gate in good order, but their fighting strength was far too diminished to be any further threat for now. A flight of cloaked scouts was shadowing them to make sure.
With the Freeborn taking flight as well and the Ghar slinking off home, it was time to consolidate and see what they had won.
The mysterious super weapon seemed to have disappeared, possibly destroyed during the fighting. The fleet had detected an energy spike somewhere in the crust of the planet before everything went south for the Concord. So that may have been it. Since then the shard intrusions had slowed and eventually stopped. All the nanospore on the planet seemed to have fallen inert once the other forces had withdrawn. Well, almost all…
The capsule doors opened and she stepped into the primary containment vault on the ship. It was empty except for Du Tan and a large container that dominated the centre of the space. Its outside displayed warnings and field power readouts. Heavy mag bolts secured it to the floor and manual overrides and purge switches stood in readiness.
“Show me,” she commanded.
He checked the various readouts on the crate and, satisfied that everything was in order, flicked a switch. Slowly, part of the crate turned transparent and she was able to see what was inside. A narrow capsule, about an arm’s length hovered in the centre. Its surface was jet black, battered and scored from combat. A large handle protruded from one end and it was gripped by the remains of an armoured gauntlet cut off at the wrist. It was not empty. “K group was hit by the new weapon during the ground battle,” Du Tan explained. “They were wiped out to a soul, but a trooper managed to catch some of the nanospore in a sample capsule before his suit reactor cooked off. We’ll remove the hand later in lab conditions. I didn’t want to risk breaching the seal out here.”
“Is it properly contained?”
“It is now. I’m pretty sure the capsule will hold it. But ‘pretty sure’ isn’t as good as what this box can do.”
“How can you be sure it’s still active?”
“We’re still getting power readings from it. Sensor readings are the same as when the weapon was hitting us on the planet. And the pressure seal on the capsule is maxed out so it’s probably self-replicating. Even in near –stasis. Unless you want to pry open the capsule and have a look that’s as sure as we can get out here.”
“Well that will have to do for now.” For a while Ess Ma stared at the little capsule of death floating in a haze of nanophages and sterilizer fields. Silently she thanked the lost soul who had the foresight to grab her this prize. Properly utilized, this could give them an edge against the IMTel societies in the future. Still, its very existence chilled her to the core. “Chief this is ‘need to know’ only. Code Zero. You and I and your team and nobody else. Take it to a secure facility that nobody else knows about, or build one. I want monthly reports on your research through the usual dark channels. But this… stuff doesn’t come to a populated world. I’m not about to risk civilisation as we know it for this. Am I clear?”
“Transparently, Minister.” Du Tan hit the controls again and the surface of the crate clouded up until its contents were once again obscured.
“Take the Kharotan Spear,” said Ess Ma Rahq. “It’s taken a little bit of damage in the fight. Enough to suffer a convincing ‘catastrophic field failure’ once we begin to pass through the Antarean photosphere.”
“Ah good. Sudden but inevitable technical failures are my speciality,” he chuckled.
“Good travels, and be careful Du Tan. Secure facilities and secret projects are expendable. Unlike you.” With that she turned back to the mag capsule, and her quarters. Time to parse a report about the massive success of Taskforce Radiance against the foe despite the loss of a well respected scientist…
It was time to move. Tas Geren’do knew better than to hang around a system with this kind of bad luck. A lot of the crew had been lost, but a good portion still remained. Enough to start again, someplace else. Somewhere the planet isn’t trying to kill you.
Getting past the Ghar might have been an issue, but after the destruction of their base and the annihilation of most of their troops in the storms, they were hardly a force to be reckoned with any more. If anything they were a nuisance, burrowing down into his cave systems and fawning over their strange rock headed ‘prophet’.
To hell with that, and them, this planet, and this system. It was time to barter passage out of here.
Phase 5 saw a mix of scenarios being played in addition to the ‘Clash of Titans’ between the heavy forces. The Isorians and Algoryn continued to pull ahead, proving their worth in such battles.
Profit and loss
The Great Houses of the Freeborn value one commodity above all others as the most precious, most portable, most dangerous, and most profitable in the entire Nexus: information. It is a Vard’s greatest asset, their most lethal weapon. And now, their most intriguing opportunity.
Word had spread of a Concord system that had fallen silent. Not many snippets had gotten out of the clutches of House Delhren, but rumour had it was some kind of machine curse. A weapon out of control? A machine mind gone crazy? It was hard to say for sure. What was certain is that a whole star system of high grade plunder was up for grabs. Nobody else knew the where, but it was known that Prince Batu himself was being sent to investigate. Yes that Batu. And a handful of Vards managed to find out where he would be stopping on the way to his mysterious destination.
An ad hoc fleet of rivals began to shadow the troublesome prince across the Nexus. When he made critical stopovers for supplies and munitions he suddenly found himself joined by all kinds of new ‘friends’ all too eager to swell his forces, for a cut of the bounty of course.
House Cadix was no exception, sending the Serpents in the Dust captained by the highly capable Gabion the Elder. Even if he did say so himself, which he often did. They caught up with Batu at Phantom Station, a rather shady smugglers outpost concealed in a dense nebula. A fine place to buy supplies without being noticed. An even finer place to spring an ambush if you knew when someone would be there. A little bit of diplomacy (and brinkmanship) and the Serpents joined the fleet.
Entry to the Chryseis system was eerily quiet. Nobody hailed them as they approached the location of the main colony on the second planet. But things suddenly got a little too interesting when the C3 attacked Batu’s scout force when they landed. Something important was at stake.
Or it had been. After the sudden retreat from the surface of Chryseis 3, the Freeborn fleet had fractured. The Concord and the rival houses were accusing Batu of destroying the prize they came to get. Gabion knew well enough when a deal was going south, it was time to break orbit and get the hell out of there. But the venture wasn’t entirely devoid of opportunity. House Gagathax’ primary troop carrier had been taken out when the Algoryn hit the fleet at high anchor, and the Gagathax contingent from Batu’s ground force were desperate for a way home. Desperate enough to pay an exorbitant fee for passage on the Serpents. He might even make a profit if they could keep their critters from destroying his ship!
House Gagathax prided themselves on their feral human and Xenos splicer troops. But such cutting edge biotech had its drawbacks. Right now his decks were crawling with hyped up savages coming out of a combat fugue, and they were causing all kinds of minor systems failures.
“Captain! C deck has lost power to the lighting!” Yet another deck officer added to the concerned chatter of the bridge.
“Let them stumble around in the dark for a while, we can use the power elsewhere. Helm! turn to port 11.25. Weapons, lay down a barrage to keep those fighters getting too close!”
“Sir! The mess hall is being torn apart by ferals!”
“Probably some Soma junkies with the munchies. Cut off the automat feeds and charge the damage to our ‘guests’”
“Sir! missile incoming on the port quarter!”
“Dive! and boost power to dorsal shielding NOW! If that port relay blows this’ll be a real short trip!”
“Sir! Life support is being routed through aft damage control!”
“WHAT! Get those Gagathax loonies on the line right now! If they think they can mess with my ship they’ve got another thing com..”
“No sir it isn’t them. Sensors aren’t detecting any life signs in that section”
“What are you talking abou—” His enquiry was cut short by the sudden intrusion of the ship’s emergency broadcast system.
“FIRE DETECTED ON DECKS 1-12. BRACE FOR EMERGENCY VENTING.”
He could see the horror he felt mirrored in every face around him as they heard the chilling sound of safety cowlings popping off external view ports just before everything rushed out into the void in a sea of bodies and detritus. It was all over in a moment. He had just enough time to see the Serpents in the Dust push through the expanding cloud of crew and equipment spinning out into the stars. Crewless, airless, it turned away towards the distant gate and fired its engines.
Then everything went dark.
Phase 6 was comprised of a real mix of scenarios, the final game being entered that of Chryseis 6 – the Labyrinth of the Locus (using the terrain seen at the Antares Day 2017). Whilst the Freeborn came out ahead of the Algoryn and Ghar Rebels (7-6-6), that very last game saw the Locus managed to soundly defeat its Freeborn (Vardos Gagathax) and Concord (W Yeoman shard) opponents by 5 points to 0/0, so escaping the Chryseis system.
The stars call again
+++CORE INTEGRATION+++ +CHECK+ +++FLIGHT CONTROL+++ +CHECK+ +++BIOLOGICAL PURGE COMPLETE+++ +CHECK+ +++SET COURSE FOR LOCAL GATE+++
Though in campaign terms, the Chryseis shard escaped, the Algoryn won the campaign, overall – though only by a whisker. The most successful factions on a game-by-game basis were the Boromites, Ghar Empire and Ghar Rebels, though it could be because they had fewer games than others. The painting quality was excellent and many players subimtted interesting reports, too!
Games played and final graph with the overall scores and raw VP scores is below.
Games played by Faction
- Concord 17
- Isorian 13
- Algoryn 11
- Freeborn 8
- Boromites 4
- Ghar Rebels 4
- Ghar Empire 3