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214
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Diary of an Explorer

Diary of an Explorer

‘My ship, Morovec’s Dream, a survey cruiser design is perfect. She glides through turbulence of a gas giant as though we were in deepest space. She can pull 3.4g thanks to the hi-spec engines – no mean feat for a fifty huller. When alone on the bridge during dark watch I sometimes find myself talking to her. Not crazy stuff, more sounding off about the mission and thinking aloud. Yeah, I may throw in the odd question but who doesn’t ask questions inside their own head. Some of the crew think I’m losing it, but I’m not, ain’t that right?.... hum, maybe they have a point.’

He rose from the captain’s chair – not the original one that came with the ship, this was something that he had rigged himself. The seller called it an integrated, reinforced lazyboy. It was the recline option that sold him on it, that and flip open arm rests, chilled drinks and snacks on one side, a suite of controls on the other. With swivel settings, retinal projector and perfect acoustics he had the capability of being the eyes and ears of the ship. With vibro setting switched on it really felt like he was free-falling from space – and while sipping a cold-one to boot.

The navy may have weapons that can punch a crater a hundred kloms across and the merchants may boast about being able to pack a fleet of survey cruisers in their bays, but for Captain Pickering, nothing was ever going to compare to this, though if pushed on the subject, it was probably the freedom he enjoyed most – no tight delivery schedules or dying horribly with nobody to mourn you.


His latest task, if that is the most suitable word for the work, was to scope out one of the outer moons in the Corosin system. The affiliation were pumping quite a bit of stellars into the operation overall. Words like gold-rush and collidium grab were being thrown about. He had opted to go for one of the ice moons with an atmosphere consisting of the usual suspects, nitrogen and carbon dioxide. He could have opted for one of the pretty biospheres or even one of the active worlds – fire and brimstone and all that, but this suited him fine.

The Dream reached the world and Pickering from the mid-recline position ordered the ship into a parking orbit and activation of Geological Probability Indicator (GPI) procedures. There was an audible groan from the crew – generally pointless days changing the orbit, breaking the surface down to strips and determining its geology. It was as much fun as filing reports or sorting laundry – neither of which he did very often. Occasionally such an operation resulted in the discovery of something valuable, but so what, it was not as though the discoverers ever got a share. There was nothing for the donkeys doing the work though no doubt a big fat bonus for the people at the top.

Captain Pickering seemed to share the crew’s enthusiasm for the whole GPI’ing shenanigans as he ordered only a basic planetary scan for uncommon and rare ores, pretty much the bare minimum to avoid a reprimand. He had been through this before – some weasel hauling his ass into an office and ranting on about missed opportunities, maximising fiscal investment in outposts and some other bureaucratic crap. The captain told him straight – nobody in their right mind is going to be lugging frozen methane from the back of beyond for a measly hundred stellars per k. Time spent bean-counting is time lost looking for the good stuff.

Following the GPI’ing came a surface scan. Nothing particularly exciting – ice, mountains and a bit of open crust. Intriguing though was the discovery of tectonic activity. What could be causing this – the gravitational interactions between the giant and the other moons? This raised the question about the mountains – were they true mountains or simply the exposed regions of crust surrounded by ice? How deep was the ice? What sort of tectonic activity – a hot molten core fuelled largely by radioactive decay or simply slush continuously squeezed by tidal forces?

‘Undertake an orbital scan,’ ordered Pickering. ‘Check for a local magnetosphere and see if it lies with the magnetosphere of the giant. I want to know about ionisation in the upper atmosphere. What is keeping that atmosphere in place?’

The data started to scroll across the main viewer while the primary image of the moon broke down into multiple segments, each with colour overlays around the limb of the world. A pulled back version revealed the interaction between the moon and its primary. Pickering hummed and stroked his chin, interesting, though nothing unusual. The data was stored for further analysis but for the nightwatch he ordered the active crew to continue with a low pass scan. Despite its size the world had a thick atmosphere – no light elements though.

The next stage was pretty routine, the crew knew the drill and after a short choppy descent through the atmosphere, they were preparing in the cargo bay – such as it was – not much larger than the airlock, though substantially more reassuring for anybody not locked into their suit.

Pickering’s instructions as always were simple – check out the high ground, valleys and any generally scan anything that seems unusual or interesting. It was actually a bit more professional that the orders would imply. The group of nine quickly split into three teams of three. Teams of three was seen as the optimal number for dead worlds. One to do the testing, another to handle the equipment and generally give advice, solicited or otherwise and the third was on point. While the likelihood of something carnivorous appearing out of the dust on a toxic moon 200 degrees below freezing was less than slight, landslides, explosive outgassing, storms and even pirates were not unknown. It always paid to have someone watching the horizon. It was also their task to keep chatting to the others on point. Pickering encouraged chatting between points. He thought it better than scheduling in check times as by that time the entire team could have been knocked unconscious by some hazard with only minutes to save them. Better to have continuous feedback and communication between the teams and the ship especially when interfering ground rock meant that direct communication between a team and ship was intermittent. This exploration’s topic was socks and how despite hundreds of years of advancements, finding a pair when in a hurry was impossible and speculation as to who may be nicking them from the scrub room. This of course moved onto the grooming habits of Pickering – though as he hadn’t worn socks or in fact any footwear for years ruled him out as a suspect. Rumours that his last pair had to be air-locked were still doing the circuit.

By this point, having completed a basic exploration and moved onto specific investigations, the teams had spread out over a twenty-five kilometre baseline with the ship in the middle. It was therefore over the headsets that those on the opposite side of the ship heard the initial rumble, feeling it as a gentle shove underfoot less than a second later. Communication ceased for a moment then exploded in a burst of questions directed at those that encountered the quake first. That was when the dust struck – moving at over two hundred kilometres per hour and due to the density of the atmosphere, hitting like a tidal wave.

One group down and the one close to the ship running back like they were being chased by Pirate Large and a tub of petroleum jelly – this survey was definitely turning sour. With just over seven minutes before the storm reached the last team there was little time to find cover.

Point ran a short distance to an outcrop and scanned. On the horizon in the direction of the ship a wall of grey spread from horizon to horizon though the thick murky atmosphere meant that it was without detail. Shit, shit, shit. The other direction was downhill and terminated in a fault, the edge of a deep ravine which judging from the far side was about six kilometres across and over four down. There was also nothing to suggest that the near side was any less precipitous that the far side. In both other directions there was only dust and gritty ice. The other two were screaming, asking which direction. Less than two minutes till impact. A quick glance back over and point was pointing and moving towards the ravine. Gravity was low and maybe they would get lucky. The other two turned from looking at point and though slower to react already had considerable ground. The low gravity and dense atmosphere hampered them as each step sent them into a slow arc, wasting valuable seconds before they could get the next foot down. It wass like running in a nightmare. Point saw one dig their heels in close the edge, sliding towards it while staring back. The other, more panicked misjudged their last step, maybe hitting a frozen lump or rock rather than the gritty sand that compressed under each step. The unexpected boost sends him, arms cartwheeling, out over the void – a good ten metres out before disappearing out of sight.

Point took a desperate gamble and veers slightly to the right, taking three steps up a large broken boulder and leapt, crossing the last fifteen or so metres to the edge. From this extra height the first one over the edge was be seen slowing disappearing into the fog below – poor bastard. For point however the situation looked more promising, there were some outcrops and the descent, was only around thirty metres. Low gravity and a tough suit should do the job.

That’s when it hit. Point saw the storm front sweep overhead – dust, snow, ice and clouds like a jet exhaust. It’s was going to miss. Then it descended in front, heading down into the ravine but also eddying back on itself. Point stared down in horror as the dirty cloud suddenly came up from underneath.

They found one survivor wedged a few metres below the edge of the cliff, having found a narrow recess in the rock and used explosive pitons as an anchor while the storm blew itself out. Of the five missing members there was no trace. The landscape has also changed – new dunes more than sixty metres existed were it was flat ground before.

Pickering formed the entire crew up in the cargo bay. The extra room in the normally cramped space was a reminder of the perils faced by explorers. He gave a few words of consolation – trite even to his own ears. Nobody looked up or moved when he finishes. He felt he should say a little more, ‘Fuck it, we can stay here for a few days and give them a send off we will never remember. Break out the Hanf Tequila. I call first dibs on their socks.’ It was as though the air returned to the bay, animating the crew. As they dispersed, the names of the lost were on peoples lips and laughter erupted as anecdotes got shared – a temporary dressing for the pain they all felt. The anaesthetic would be soon be being applied.

‘It has its rough spots being an explorer, but like I said, no schedules and the occasional bloody good wake are reasonable compensation in a hostile universe.’


Features of the Story  [Recruit]

Generally surveying a planet for the first time is broken down into three stages.

Stage One
A quick pass, looking at the map on Nexus and sending a ship there to perform the basic scans:
Scan Planet
GPI Planet
Scan Planetary Economy (if sentient life present)
Scan Planetary Population (if sentient life present)

Stage Two
If GPI'ing the world reveals anything interesting, it is worth GPI'ing small areas. There are a couple of ways of undertaking this. The first is a few overlapping squares using the GPI area order. This is handy for large worlds for narrowing down where rare ores may be present as rare ores tend to exist as only a few deposits.
If time is available, simply GPI'ing entire rows, essentially looking at the mineral composition of every single sector on the world. Make sure that the ship has as many sensors as possible.
If it is something of a dead-world or out of the way, it may not even be worth scanning for basic ores. At the end of the day, shipping metals, basic elements and hydrocarbons is often not worth it as they are relatively abundant throughout the Peripheries.
Deposits have a central maximum based in a specific sector, though they can often be exploited at lower yields from adjacent sectors. The higher the dispersion of the mineral deposit, the lower the yield degradation with distance from the central point.
Once you have narrowed down some sectors through the rise and fall of the yield across a world that have reasonable ores, the last stage is to land in sectors where the yields are high and prospect. This will give you the unique mineral resource ID which can be used by outposts and strip-mining vessels to tap the ore.

Stage Three
GPI'ing will only account for minerals that are associated with recognizable geology, in many cases minerals will form under anomalous conditions such as meteor strikes, hydrothermal intrusions, quakes and deep underground. In these cases, the GPI will not reveal them. This is where the player has to get hands on. This is also the stage where the player issued surface exploration and investigations (using the 'Surface Exploration' and 'Special Action' orders). These orders require the personal services of the Game Master. As such they have to be paid for per action (See Game Mastering in this issue if IGN).
Each sector type on a world will have a unique description – this can be determined through the use of Surface Exploration order. Once you have this, you can then perform all manner or investigations. For example, on the world in the story above, having got the description of the thick atmosphere, gritty icy surface, orders are given to investigate the rock. This could be a simple instruction, send the crew out to sample the icy grit from numerous locations and report on its composition and whether there are any minerals worth exploiting.
Generally speaking, a player will perform the following actions using the :
Surface Exploration (while landed in each type of sector)
- this gives a basic description of the sector
Special Action (while landed in a type of sector) - Subsurface Scan
- reveals information about the geological history of the sector and may indicate the presence of anomalous minerals
Special Action (while landed in a type of sector) – Investigate XXXX
- where XXXX is something that piqued the interest of the player from the surface exploration text.

More advanced are the use of special actions to look at the world as a whole before venturing down:
Special Action (while still in orbit) – Orbital Scan
Special Action (while still in orbit) – Low Pass Scan

These will give global information such as the interaction of a moon with its primary, the seasonal weather patterns of the world and maybe even revealing the occasional anomaly. Again, features revealed by these actions can be further explored. While theoretically a player can investigate forever on a single world, always finding something new, it is almost always the case that each level of investigate is less likely to reveal a new resource or if it does, the resource is likely to be either smaller or in some other way less valuable. Simply put, big resources stand out.

Dangers
Investigations do not always run smoothly. On hostile worlds, that are those with extreme environments (often with an orbital message indicating that bases on the world will be subject to damage on a regular basis), it is probable that the crew will be at risk during the course of the investigation. This is because investigations generally require members of the crew to leave the ship, possibly exploring tens or even hundreds of kilometres out from the vessel. Storms, quakes, hostile creatures are all dangers to be aware of. Many of these can easily be countered by the presence of an experienced exploration officer, though the more hostile the environment the better the officer should be.

 
News
GTT step forward to control protection and peace in the Stellar Empire.

With the retirement of Jack Johns and various lower-level IMP officers from public life, the Imperial Services were left on the verge of being unable to fill their role as protectors of the Stellar Empire. Due to the serious nature the Imperial Services found itself in, the Emperor recently travelled to GTT HQ to attend a board meeting with the directors of the GTT.

With Galactic Trade and Transport being one of the few remaining loyal Imperial Chartered affiliations, who also supply well over half of the war material to the Imperial Services, the Emperor sought the position of the GTT with regard to the Imperial Services becoming overburdened with bureaucracy and lacking effective leadership. Effectively the Imperial Services were at the point of collapse. A position highlighted when an opportunistic supposed ally subverted four Imperial Outposts in the Inner Empire, thinking their asset grabbing would go unnoticed.
 
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  Star Date: 221.30.5

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RAGNAROK COMES

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A Forlorn Hope

The seat of Dewiek Government has fallen. What began as a small group of Architect ships picking up retreating DEN forces, amalgamated into a much larger force. The bombardment fleet comprised dozens of Adult ARC ships plus several Planet Killers. The force made short work of the impressive fortifications of the planetary orbit of Newstart. Multiple heavily armoured and maximised deflector shield platforms crumbled. They did so only after releasing their volleys of antimatter and nova weapon batteries. Any DEN warships that remained from earlier encounters also stood the line. But within the week, the last defence was gone.

Bombardment of Wolf Lair starbase proceeded without further resistance from the Dewiek. ARC Plasmas ripped through starbase shields. They demolished tens of thousands of factories and research facilities. The ARC demolished the huge military recruitment and training facilities on the planet. Over half a million trained troops evacuated from deep bunkers, leaving a token ground defence.

The ARC were not satisfied to burn the facilities and murder the workers. They deployed repeated salvos of their Virus Bombs on the wider population. Reports began to arrive of civilians of the world regressing. Leaving settlements and returning to nature. Much as the Dewiek found themselves some decades ago when they started to recover from the First Great ARC-DEN War. This time there was no High Lord Magnus willing to obliterate the world to save a remnant of the people. Newstart was already lost.

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Newstart is lost

 
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  Star Date: 221.27.2

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RAGNAROK APPROACHES

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End Game Lost

A short-lived period of peace followed the Dewiek Elder Nation’s historic and Saga-worthy defence against the Architect Planet Killers. A handful of the more typically encountered ARC ships were spotted picking off DEN support ships in Forlorn Hope before more than forty of them appeared back in End Game.

While the ARC “Adult” class ships, as the DEN had previously classified them, were eight times smaller than the “Planet Killers”, they were still as big as the largest ships any other species has managed to produce. Including the otherwise technologically advanced Dewiek.

Forty-four of these Plasma armed organic vessels smashed through the DEN forces left circling the orbit of Beacon, End Game. The mass of ARC weapons bombarded the DEN Shipyards at Ragnorak with their superheated ionized gas, razing the entire outpost to the ground.

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ARC Plasma weapons devastate End Game

 
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  Star Date: 221.22.5

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RAGNAROK BECKONS

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Assault on End Game

The ancient Architects have declared war on the Dewiek Elder Nation. The first sign of the conflict was subspace transmissions in a remote system in the Pocket Periphery. This followed reports that the ancient Ragnarok shipyards on Beacon were malfunctioning. In response, the Wolf Mother sent urgent orders to several Dewiek scout ships to patrol the End Game system.

The Konungr Smidamadr was the first to encounter the gigantic, “Planet Killer” class ARC ships. Measuring in at thirty-two hundred heavy hulls and armed with a hundred ARC plasma weapons, the ship was more like a mobile armed platform. It is certainly the largest vessel ever recorded. The scout ship was vaporised instantly.

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ARC Planet Killer dwarves largest DEN warships

 
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  Star Date: 221.11.4

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Caste Apart

The Flagritz Republic is (very nearly) no more. In its place, a single Hexamon and Flagritz power has arisen. The new Collective has absorbed much of the Flagritz holdings with only a handful of Clique-caste Flagritz systems choosing instead to align with the other Elder species, the Dewiek.

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Flagritz and Hexamon Hybrids - A hope for the Future?

 
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  Star Date: 221.3.3

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Meklanmania

Meklan scout ships continue to be seen around the Orion Spur periphery. These cyborg creatures in service of hidden ancient masters appear to be terrorising the Wimble Nation in particular. Despite public lamentations against the hardship of defending themselves, the Wimble leadership have not yet responded to our request for comment.

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Artist's impression of a Meklanised Wimble

However, Xavier Fox, CEO of Galactic Transport and Trade, did give us the following statement:

“We have engaged several Meklan ships, although currently the source has not been identified. GTT Directors have been running patrols and have engaged and destroyed numerous ships that have attacked outlying outposts belonging to different affiliations. The pattern of ships encountered leads us to believe there is a central source, but until that is found we would suggest any affiliation with assets in the area provide adequate defences.”

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Doomsday On Pause

At the site of the Thete anomaly, the Dewiek Nation has sent media sensation Sharon Aleman to the scene. Aleman, whose cybernetic enhancements allow her to directly interface with her ship’s sensor array, led her hardened crew into a dive of the outermost “edge” of the anomaly. After spending several days collecting and analysing data (mere minutes to the rest of us outside the anomaly), Aleman reported her shocking discoveries.

 
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  Star Date: 220.50.5

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Veil Lifted on Flagritz Home Space

As the Hellcadium ISR field continues to fluctuate, one of the newly exposed systems is Junista inside the previously hidden and inaccessible home periphery of the Flagritz Republic.

Over the past few weeks Flagritz Republic patrols and platforms have dealt with a number of scout ships from the Human Empire as the IMP wasted no time in exploiting this opportunity to poke around in their old enemy’s backyard. It is understood that at least one of these unarmed scouts was destroyed with no one willing to estimate how many more might be buzzing around.

Coincidentally, suspected IMP lackey, SSL TOAD, has also been overheard showing an obsessive interest in the Flagritz periphery. However, we have received no reports of this being anything other than his usual drug-fueled, barely decipherable mutterings at this stage.

Either way, this sudden, uninvited interest in the Flagritz Periphery has left the FLZ leadership muttering darkly about appropriate measures being taken. Defensive fleets and supporting structures are being deployed in the Junista system and beyond in expectation of further uninvited guests.

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When You stare into the Flagritz Periphery...

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Thete's Timey-Wimey Tease

Investigation into the Thete anomaly continued in the Dewiek Pocket Periphery. The anomaly was scanned from all angles by a number of the Dewiek Nation’s best sensor ships and officers. The data, collected over several weeks, was sent to one of the DEN’s most advanced scientific laboratories for analysis.

What they found will shock you!

 
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  Star Date: 220.45.1

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Perfidion Reached

Long speculated by theoretical Stellar Cartographers, Perfidion Reach finally opened in the last few weeks. Immediately, the Detinus Republic boldly staked a claim on the first accessible system, Hellcadium. Only time will tell the true value of this strategic move but their much-taunted bureaucracy may have finally proved its worth.

Early reports from scans of the system reveal a wildly fluctuating ISR field. Rumours suggest that at least one ship was destroyed as it was forced into an asteroid belt chasing a stable jump field attempting to exit the system. Casual travellers are warned away from the system at this time for their own safety. Leave it to skilled explorers and navigation officers.

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Mathematical model of Hellcadium ISR Field.

We spoke to Captain Zakiyah Ummahi via subspace link. Zakiyah led the first DEN expedition into the Perfidion Reach. "Spirits remain high but this is largely down to the extended R&R we were all forced to take immediately prior to jumping into this hole. Initial scouting reports show at least one planet with plenty of forests and grasslands which might help if we're going to be stuck here for Folkvar knows how long waiting for this damned ISR field to stabilise."

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Valhalla Stargate Reopens

Dewiek engineers and scientists have finally managed to re-enable Stargate Valgrind this week and the protective Exclusion Zone is to be lifted. If DEN investigators discovered who caused the gate to malfunction, or why, they were not willing to share it with us. Military sources, however, have announced a project to provide a significant boost to the already formidable defence platform in the stargate’s orbit.

 
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*** Inter Galactic News ***

Empire - DEN action grinds to a halt

After months of tension relations between the Empire and the Dewiek Nation, which rose to several large scale fleet actions ending in the DEN losing over 60 Direwolf warships in Solo, things appear to have moved from antagonistic to unfriendly. With the Solo system being a particular issue an agreement has been reached between the Wolf Mother of the DEN and Xavier Fox of the GTT. Since this things have become very quiet, not just because the shooting has stopped, but also because my reporters have been on their summer holidays.
 
News For Discerning Naplians!
---- Special Galactic Edition ----



(The Host sits at his desk as the studio lights dim, and a single spotlight bathes him in light. He looks straight into the camera and begins to speak: )

Host: Naambta!
Good Greetings, and welcome to the show.

This is News for Discerning Naplians, and i’m sure you are all showing much impatience to see this week’s Panel Discussion. We will be discussing religion with the Lady Ghadir of the Temple of Ya Zoon, renowned neo-naplian spiritualist Chairman TonTon, and a very special guest from our imperial neighbours, Bishop Samantha Porteus of the Brotherhood. But before we get to that...

(Looks demonstratively at his digital wrist watch. )

... it is time for a word from our sponsor.
 

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I’ve played on and off for approximately 10 years, over a 20 year spell. After some interesting debate on the in-game forum, I did wonder what, exactly, has kept drawing me back to the game, when for so many others I’ve generally lost interest after a few months.

Ultimately, I think it is a combination of automation (that allows the game to handle thousands of positions to interact on a daily basis) coupled with Special Actions (that allow the story arc to develop in a way that could not be catered for by a set of predefined list of available orders).
-Zigic