Trinity: Planning and running the game~ pt.4

In previous installments of this report, I have mentioned that I prepared short fiction to illustrate certain setting elements, such as the environment, characters or character types, social interactions, and mood. In this installment, I shall present some of those and look at how they were constructed and why they were constructed that way.

In putting the fiction (Trinifiction, I called it) together, I decided to keep everything as short and terse as possible. I decided to write them all as dated entries so that they could be easily referenced against the edited Trinity Timeline I had distributed. To give them a greater sense of familiarity, or clearer imagery, I borrowed lines and archetypes heavily from source material the group knows and loves… or loves to hate. Some of the material makes direct reference to ideas and trademarked terms owned by White Wolf, or whatever entity controls that company now, they are used without permission and the use of such does not constitute a challenge to those rights.

As you move through the selections included below, which are just some of the items which were produced, you will note how the tone shifts from one of a military nature, to one of a more introspective and speculative feel.

Fiction__________________________________________________________

short fiction 1: This was the first item the players were given. It sets the stage for what life outside ‘The Resort’ is like for survivors.

March 18, 2119

Somewhere north of Marseilles

Night

The press of cold mud and hard gravel into the remains of her cheek told her she was still alive as her fading sight vertiginously, and somewhat randomly, tracked the retreating forms of the raiders as they dragged their pilfered prizes toward their makeshift vehicle. She knew she was dying in the way she knew she was a woman, water is wet, fire is hot, and the sky – in countries other than France – is blue. She knew she was dying and she knew that there was nothing she could do except lie there and die. Well… she could also hope no one came back to rape her while she cooled. Small hopes, tightly held, are the safest.

The sound of them hauling the industrial-grade food extruder across the shattered plaza toward their ticking vehicle grated across her ears, distorting strangely through the blood pooled within. How many dead?

Her thoughts detached from reality and floated backward in time to a point when both eyes were lit with the fire of intelligence, and her body was capable of motion. Earlier this evening there had been a celebration of sorts. From hindsight, clearly such levity was just one of many mistakes they had made. Never let down your guard seems to be a simple rule to follow, but… well. Even simple things can go wrong. Even simple things like posting a lookout who can stay awake can go wrong. How many dead?

Their leader did not seem big to look at, but was insanely powerful… or was he so powerful due to insanity? She knew she would not have the time to puzzle out the truth of that riddle before her life seeped into the mud beneath her. His lead-jacketed fist was enough to break bones and shatter joints, his skill as a combatant more than outmatching any who had dared to face him. His gunmen shot without mercy and without discretion all the men, women, and children who would not face their leader in single combat. Would he really have faced them all one on one before taking what he wanted? How many dead?

A bottle shattered on the cold mud and crushed concrete of the plaza, and her senses snapped back to the present.  The swift and sickening crunch of bone against bone followed on the heels of the sound of breaking glass and splashing liquid. Slowly her thoughts gave birth to a thought: wine. One of them dropped a bottle of wine. Another thought slowly formed from the sludge which used to be the razor sharp mind of a leader. One of them killed the idiot who dropped the bottle of wine. Moments later, she realized it would have been their leader… Pierre LaRoche…   LaRoche…  A hard name, for a hard man.

Another man’s face began to swim into focus through the thick and obscuringly bloody sheen coating her mind’s eye. Her mouth moved slowly as she tried to summon forth the name she could not quite remember… the name of which he had seemed so proud when people saw it on his uniform…. The clean uniform, the stark tattoos on his face… the braid and medals on shoulders and chest… Commander… Her lungs deflated, and bloody spittle bubbled from her lips. She died trying to remember the name of the legion commander for Marseilles. Stupid English names never stuck in her memory, even when her brain was entirely encased in her skull.

short fiction 2: This was the second item provided for players. It sets the stage for an element of life inside the walls of ‘the Resort’ for the recruits.

September 20, 2119

“The rooms are all 3x6m, climate controlled with air filtration, and outfitted with one bunk, one locker, one desk, one shelf, one closet, one bureau, mirror, sink, and a terminal. Please note that OpNet access is limited and all communications are monitored during the first phase of orientation and training, but most trainees find themselves too exhausted during that period to care – so we are sure you won’t mind either,” the warm, but somehow flat or artificial voice announced as soon as he stepped into the room. The terminal’s agent was clearly authorized to access his location data from the main security grid, or the terminal was equipped with bio and/or motion sensors, or both. He could hear other agents beginning their spiels as other trainees entered the facility and tried to get settled in their assigned rooms.

“Yeah – I get it: It’s a dorm room. Do you have anything really pertinent to relate?” he cut into the cheery monologue which was moving on to the high points of the closet organizer, and dropped his duffel bag on the bed. As he moved over to the window, the terminal’s screen lit and presented a simple menu of information options, while its agent paused, then skipped to the meal and training schedule. “Good guess,” he thought, and considered how many recruits for Operative Training there were, had been, and were yet to come. “Guess, or experience?” he mused, as he checked the time and realized it was almost time for the cafeteria to close for the night.

“Ok – is there a cafeteria to which I am required to go, or is it amenable to avail myself of the closest?” he pressed into the flow of the agent’s prepared speech. He loved to see what sort of pauses or odd reactions he could elicit from new agents when he let his vocabulary and syntax roam free. “I have a hankering to hamstring my hunger before all the sand slips away.”

After a brief pause, really only noticeable if you were paying attention, the agent responded. “Trainees are required to use the Trainee Mess Hall, indicated with a 1 on the map on the screen. Recruit Taylor is to be commended on his organizational skills and forethought. If you leave now, you should have time to complete your meal before phase one of training begins.”

He nodded and left the room without a moment’s hesitation. It was obvious that phase one had begun long before they’d left the mustering centre, and certainly before they’d boarded the transports to come to this place. Based on what he’d observed during the flight, and judging from the lack of trainees on the path to the trainee mess, he had no doubt that there’d be a lot of hungry recruits at whatever hellish hour they were to be roused for whatever hellish torture passed as physical training at this camp. He supposed he should have spoken to some of the other recruits, but in a sense, this was his last real chance to be a loner. If the others weren’t smart enough to prioritize their time and needs, it was not his problem until tomorrow.

short fiction 3: This piece was introduced mid-way into the Preludes, and was intended to give a look into what the Trinity actually does.

September 9, 2119

40Km NE of Marseilles

15:29:30

“Stop approved. Outrider 6 and 7 give the All-Clear,” the unmodified and boringly precise tones of the John Doe agent suddenly announced. This was his first shift assigned to the ‘Bookmobile,’ so he was not sure if he could tweak the agent’s settings, but something had to be done, even if it was just flipping the agent to its female defaults. It was nice the operators’ cab had a dedicated agent, and he had certainly not expected one, but once the initial gratitude for an unexpected perk had worn off, he’d been stuck with the plainest, most stubbornly dull agent ever devised to run a computer system.

A pale, holographic topographical map in tints of blue swam into focus above and beyond the steering console of the impressively large, fusion-powered transport that Aeon had converted and upgraded to be their flagship Mobile Education and Self-Development Centre in Europe. He knew that his fellow operatives assigned to driving Aeon’s portable learning centers through the wastelands of the Federated States called their charges ‘bookmobiles,’ but with one as grand and tricked out as this, that appellation almost seemed insulting. This was one hell of a vehicle! In his heart of hearts, he was starting to think of her – and despite her bulk and cannons she was a woman to him – as the Queen Mary.

“Acknowledge receipt of message,” John Doe intoned blandly from somewhere in the depths of the leather upholstery covering the expansive dash.

“You’d better answer him, or he’ll drone us to death,” pleaded a slurred voice from the rear seats of the cab. His partner, Operative Chance, had eaten expansively from the newly re-commissioned kitchens at Aeon’s new training and operations center, and this morning had discovered to his horror, that one of the many things he had feasted upon was now intent on having him shit himself to an early grave.

“Roger, stopping this time, approved location. Contact Outrider 6 and Outrider 7 – advise to rendezvous at the set co-ordinates in 5 minutes time,” he stated slowly and clearly. It would not be necessary to be so careful with diction or even making his statements distinct and obviously directed at the agent for long, but as this was their first ride in the wilds of ‘France-that-was’ he was going to do everything by the book.

“Acknowledged. Message sent.” John Doe stated.

He guided the enormous 20-wheeled vehicle toward a rise on the outskirts of the holding the Outriders had identified. According to the Clear, the family groups which were trying to create some form of permanent holding, had withdrawn to a fortification of sorts too close to one of the innumerable radiation hotspots in the area. Before leaving last night, the two Outriders had sketched out a rough map of the area and they, in coordination with the Queen Mary’s crew, had decided to set up shop in this highly visible, but easily defensible position. If attacked by modern weapons and tactics they were sitting ducks, but if the reports they had gotten from the Legionnaires formerly assigned to this region were at all accurate, they would be well defended. It was a new dark age out there with bandits, hand weapons, walls, and… dragons – if you counted the Aberrants. He did.

“We’re here!” he commented into the intercom, but also to the groaning and still reclined form of Chance. “Time to play, ‘I’m OK, you’re OK’ with the locals.”

“Gotcha, Operative Milne. The projectors and orientation materials are prepped and ready, we’ve got the bad weather rigging, and if you can spare Operative Chance, we think we can have the center ready for visitors in an hour,” a mildly Greek-accented voice purred from the hidden speakers.

“Roger Wilco, Operative Giannopoulos.”  Her name still made him want to giggle, despite all the cultural sensitivity seminars he’d attended growing up and especially since joining Aeon. Maybe some things are just funny, and Panagiota Giannopoulos was definitely on the list of ‘truly funny things it is not okay to laugh at and keep your very cool career.’

“Two small hover-vehicles approaching at high speed. Parking break engaged, perimeter defenses activated. Rear passenger door is ajar.” John announced apropos of nothing.

“Identify hover vehicles – confirm: Outrider 6 and 7?”

“Confirmed”

“Tag sensor readings and learn to refer to them as Outrider 6 and 7. Confirm driver ID with each contact.”

“Understood”

“Chance, haul your leaking ass outside and help the others set up the lights and the coffee makers. If the wind keeps up, the smell of coffee wafting across the wastes might go along way toward easing initial relations.”

“Alright… gawd above I wish you were a Rex, or I were either dead or a biokinetic… got a cork for my ass about?” Chance blathered as he straightened his sleep flattened hair and moved to exit the spacious command cabin. “I’m likely to shit myself hollow trying to get down the ladder.”

“Have fun,” he muttered, as his mind occupied itself with the minutiae of settling the Queen Mary in for a protracted stay. Sensor patterns, automatic defense responses, perimeter alerts, power regulation, programming the drones… so many bits of shiny new technology for him to control and guide. If the locals living in this hellhole were to have a chance of reclaiming any parts of their heritage, it would take effort to learn on their part, and efforts to defend them on Aeon’s. “Let’s do some good…”

short fiction 4: This piece was written to work in tandem with the previous one, while also further reinforcing the nature of the struggles – internal and external- facing the Orders and Aeon.

April 13, 2119

Wreckage of Mazat Station

16:30 GMT

Recovery and clean-up operations were nearing completion. Only five days had passed since the tragedy, but already the news channels and commentators were moving on to other, less intense stories. They neither knew nor cared that for Orgotek, the horror was still an everyday thing.

The members of several field teams had spent the last few days in armed and armored EVA suits, alternating shifts between recovering the dead or capturing debris. If they had ever needed a reminder of why the Orders were needed in the fight to defend humanity, those days were over forever. It was one thing to know from lessons that a single Aberrant had sunk Florida, or that they could bend space/time with a mere thought – warping in from lairs a galaxy away, or that they could live unaided in the depths of space, float up to a ship or a VARG and tear it apart with their bare hands. It was quite another to drift in the ruins of what had been an enormous orbital station, and not be able to recognize it for what it was.

The forces of some being calling itself the Colony had destroyed the production facility, the research facility, the ship yards, the hulls under construction… and the lives of all those who had made Mazat Station their home. They had done it in moments, and then just vanished. Behind them, they had left nothing but objects in space – no life, no hope.

The debris was drifting at an astonishing rate and posed a significant risk to shipping lanes and military control zones, not to mention the possibility of raining death on a variety of orbital and planetary population centers. The bodies… well, they had to be recovered regardless of where they were going. It wouldn’t be human to leave them out here forever.

Earlier in the week, he’d been pulled from that grim duty and reassigned with two others and a real treat of a commanding officer-cum-overseer to prowl the wreckage on the express orders of Alex Cassel himself. The boss wanted something found.

With a thought he checked the remaining power levels in the suit, and then returned to his visual and sensor sweep of the big chunk of blasted rock and twisted metal before him. What he was looking for might be somewhere in its shattered and pitted shadows. The computer verified that the ruined structure on the far side matched the crane foundation superstructure of Dock 6 with a probability of 87%. The fragment was large, and was still radiating energies from the attack.

“Monsters,” he said, as he mentally triggered maneuvering jets and moved to intercept the fragment.

“Cut the chatter Red-2,” was the instant reply from his absolute cock of a team leader.

Things like that really made him wonder about those who rose to positions of power over others. He would be the first to admit that the orders for avoiding transmissions were sound, and he would be willing to face whatever administrative punishment came his way as a result of his inadvertent broadcast of a single word. He would not, however, ever be able to fathom how a direct and suspicious-sounding response to his error could be counted either as following orders, or displaying leadership.

He put it out of his mind with a practiced shove, and returned his focus to searching for the item the Prexy wanted recovered from the wreckage… after an athletic flourishing of both middle fingers in the general direction of Red Leader’s supposed position.

Activating the magnetic ‘cleats’ of his EVA suit with another semi-conscious flick of his thoughts, he concentrated on the data flows within his array of scanning devices. As long as he followed the slag runs which crisscrossed the surface of this rock, he would be able to walk more or less normally. The last fragment had not been so accommodating.

His suit warned him dutifully about the radiation levels and Taint levels, and then lapsed back into passivity. His HUD responded quickly and efficiently to his whims, showing ambient temperature, indicating the distance to the next metallic object within the right parameters, and flashing every now and again to his mission clock.

Easing himself down into a jagged and still-glowing crevasse, he suddenly realized he’d been looking at the object of his search for almost two minutes. Pitted and scarred by the enormous energies to which it had been subjected, and cocked crazily against rock fragments demarcating the beginning of an even deeper and narrower crevice, the metal plate was sitting right in front of him.

UN/AT-H1138 HORUS

Turning Back the Darkness

He considered sending the coded pulse he’d been instructed to send, but then decided to add a twist of his own to his orders. Red Leader would just have to deal with it.

“Eureka – we are delivered,” he sent, then triggered the pulse.

Fuck’em if they can’t take a joke.

short fiction 5: This was the last of 12 pieces written for the two completed Prelude episodes. It features atrocious ‘regional dialect,’ but gets at some of the themes which were coming up in play relating to the opportunities open to Psions, how cultures could clash internally and externally in a single individual, and the imprint left upon each of us by those who raised us.

January 31, 2120

Aeon Trinity Mars Orbit Planetary Research and Support Center

“The PoD”

02:30 GMT

The reddish brown orb below filled the lower observation port like a spatter of blood fills a lab slide, but full of mysteries no mere blood drop could lay claim to any longer. Leaning against the wall, arms wrapped tightly around her waist, doubling the layers of white lab coat, but doing nothing to improve her heat retention, Regina took a deep breath and tried to let the tension seep out of her shoulders. It had been a long day, and after 20 or more hours in the lab, she was no closer to understanding the course material than she had been before she had started.

“Are you sure about this?” she whispered to her reflection in the view-port.

Her eyes shot guiltily toward the door, and by extension the hallway leading back to her studies, but she did not move. All she wanted to do was sleep. Sleep… and then give up. She couldn’t do it. It was too far a jump from semi-literate farm girl to with no dreams to Gifted, all in the span of 2 years. There was just too much to learn, too much the others already knew, too much she could not keep in her memory, too much that would never make sense.

“Your Mama didn’t raise no quitters, Regina – and I didn’t neither, leastwise, I don’t expect I did.”

Her father’s voice…

She turned in disbelief, catching sight of the grey ship-suited back of one of the station’s support staff vanishing through the other exit, as he or she left the two of them alone.

Even in space, his devotion to his children awed and silenced her. Here he stood, farther from home than he no doubt felt he’d ever have a right or reason to be, standing in a place with a view unrivaled by the most ostentatious orbital resorts, and his eyes were squarely fixed on her face. The line of concern between his brows was etched deeper than she remembered, but his face was not much older-looking than when she’d left home just over two years ago.

“What’s on your mind?” he asked her simply.

“I’m failing my courses, Daddy, and I can’t work as a lab technician without them…” her voice trailed off. She didn’t know how to explain how her new dreams conflicted with her old obligations.

“And I expect you think you have to be this here technician to honor me, and our ways, is that the way of it?” he pressed.

She nodded, saying nothing. She recognized the expression on his face. He had more to say.

“You think I will be disapprovin’ of your other options with these Aeon Trinity folk, and you think it’d be a-wastin’ your gifts if you came home, I expect.” He paused, but did not really stop. She loved him for the way he did that. “And you are not wrong – on either score.” He sighed. “I hate that this has been placed before you, Regina. No father wants to witness the suffering of his children, and be powerless to lend them aid.”

She did not try to interject, but she led him to the small row of seats, and gripped his rough, workman’s hand tightly as they sat. She was shocked to see the glimmer of tears hiding behind his pale lashes.

“You cannot resist evil with evil. You cannot take up the tools of the devil and expect to do God’s work. What you take into your hands as a means, you take into your heart as a way. I know you know this. I raised you, and your Mama raised you, and you grew into a strong woman of our community,” he stated firmly.

Her own tears slipped free at last, and spilled freely down her face like children sliding down a wintry hill. She was still so cold, even next to him and his solid heat.

“So I cannot now follow the fool’s path of mistrustin’ the decisions you’ll make, or how you come upon ‘em, now that you are grown.” He stood, and pointed at the angry red planet below them as if seeing it for the first time, “If you feel a call to be out here among them, out here far from the community, I will not gainsay you.” He turned back to her, “But I would remind you that we are your family, and your place will always be reserved among us, if I could.”

She saw him try a smile on and find that it mostly fit on his weathered face, sad as he obviously was to lose a daughter to the strangeness of the Aeon Trinity, PSI, and the greater universe of which she was now a part.

She herself found a smile somewhere and put it on for him, and found the truth of it once it was in place. In his own way, he’d given her the answer she had been searching for, and she had to wonder – not for the first time – about these people with whom she had come to work. To have brought her father here from their enclave on Earth… to have persuaded him to come… all to help her learn to surrender to the truth of her own heart… what does that say about them?

“I’ll remember. And I will enact all that I have been taught, Daddy. I will not fight evil with evil, and my hands will be the tool of God, if that is what lies before me.”

“I can ask nothing more, Regina,” he said, then paused.

“Except for directions to the outhouse,” he finished with a wink and a tilt of his head.

______ _________________________________________________

Each entry was entitled with just a date. The dates served to place the tales in the context of the tale we were telling, separate them in time while connecting them to the altered Trinity Timeline I am using, and – I notice now in retrospect- make it harder for me to find the story I want when I am in a hurry.

As has been mentioned, each piece was written to illuminate an element of the setting. Some detailed the life of the common person, some showed the effects of the coming war with the Colony, while others looked at life in the Orders or life as an Aeon Trinity Operative. Some were used to demonstrate a particular revision to the timeline that I felt needed attention, such as an earlier return point for the Upeo, or my expansions to the material on how, where, by whom, and for what the jumpships were made.

Even a cursory read will reveal how much the pieces borrow from used and abused archetypes, cliches, and familiar situations. I felt that this was a more effective means of communicating the mood and idea I had in mind, than writing more expansively from a more original palette. Player reaction would indicate that this was not wholly successful as only a single tale elicited comments, outside of the ones used directly in play which detailed certain NPCs or settings. While I like the idea of using short fiction to expand the shared awareness of the group setting, and hope to encourage players to contribute their own more often, I will be using a different approach in the next series – whatever it may be.

___

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