“Heart of Brightness”
Planet: Askalade (Ruins)
Location: Underground Cariet Station
An man stirred in his sleep atop his thin mattress. He struggled with his dream as though caught in a net.
A vision came to him of a spartan room made up of ever shrinking grey walls. The man saw himself close the only door to this room with his eyes cast down at the floor. At the other end of the space, grey figures sat. Faceless figures. Nameless figures, yet the man still felt ashamed to be in their presence.
There was a stillness to the room. The man reached into his simple, linen shirt and drew out a pistol with a trembling hand. He whimpered softly. At the sight of the gun, the grey figures shifted and darkened. The old man raised the weapon with beads of sweat crowning his head.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.“
The gun fired.
The old man bolted up from his dream to find himself sitting up on his mattress with the sweat still across his brow. He hopped off his bed, threw on a shirt, and ran off down hallways with floors scrubbed to a shine. He opened the door to Anjileer Chief Oopin’s room before remembering to knock.
A bearded fellow scrolling through a document on a monitor looked up and asked, “Ganzid, why are you bothering me at this hour?“
“Chief Anjileer, I had another dream,” Ganzid said shutting the door in a hurry. “I know, I know. You told me not to dwell on them, but this one felt so real. I saw the angels from heaven. The ones Photaegrin went to find. They will change everything. They will bring ruin to us all!“
“Ganzid! Settle down. These dreams of yours are not real. They are merely dreams, nothing more.“
Ganzid’s shoulders dropped, and he looked down at the floor. A buzzer sounded on Anjileer Chief Oopin’s intercom.
“Yes, what is it?“
A tinny voice said, “It’s the Photaegrin, sir. They’ve returned. And they’ve brought help, just like the prophecy said.“
Lead Ship Symous called out urgent orders to his crew as the Photaegrin descended through the opening in the planet’s surface. The large ship passed through a field of blue energy placed there to keep out Askalade’s harmful atmosphere.
Paul Cole scanned all the instruments at the pilot’s station and guided the ship through the shaft with steady hands. The walls of metal outside the bridge canopy fell down several hundred feet before opening up into a chamber several square miles in size. Light blazed from across the huge underground room. The crew of the Photaegrin covered their eyes from the intense light.
The ship swung its long form across the docking field made up of tiles that stretched on for miles. The tiles were white as ivory and carefully maintained by the people of Cariet. The docking area stretched on for several miles in this chamber some 200 feet tall and was lit up at the far end by an intense light. Though there were enough markings below to dock several dozen ships the size of Photaegrin, not a single spot was occupied as the old vessel settled down.
No sooner had the ship settled then Anjileer Chief Modak whisked the crew of Polera off to meet his people. Cariet was in need of a miracle to cure their sick, so the expectations were high for the visitors.
The crew walked nearly two miles to a series of ten enormous buildings. They were once apartments and shops that had been converted into the homes for the people of Cariet long ago. The buildings rested within this massive chamber under the planet’s surface. The structures stretched a 100 feet upwards and were made out of stone reinforced with steel. Curved balconies held gardens and nervous families, who watched the visitors approach. Water dripped down in a heavy mist from some unknown reservoir far above. The smell of soil and antiseptic permeated the entire area.
As they entered a walkway between two of the buildings, Dr. Graham made note of the linen tarps stretched out between the structures. These tarps were draped between balconies of different buildings, crisscrossing the street at all heights to keep out light. The water pooled among the tarps and formed dripping streams that one could not avoid while walking beneath them.
A small boy ran out to Catherine with plenty of questions about where she came from and what her task was. The child’s mother caught up with him and pulled him away from the strangers.
“Go back from where you came,” the mother yelled. “We have enough change without you getting in the way of the Power. Go!“
In a covered plaza in the center of the community, the crew was introduced to Coordinate De’assario, the leader of Cariet. He spoke of the intense light of the Power blinding his people and making them shield their streets with the tarps. De’assario was a strong man and sensible too, quickly recognizing that the visitors seemed fully capable of curing his people of their mysterious sickness. He explained the illness started some four months back and had taken the lives of 17 mains, the people who live amongst the buildings and maintain the station. When pressed for a reason why the people had fallen ill, De’assario said it was due to their lack of faith. The Lord was punishing them.
The group separated and wandered through Cariet station. Doctor Graham and Coordinate De’assario went to see the sick and gather samples. The doctor had his suspicions about the air and food possibly being contaminated.
Meanwhile, Paul Cole gorged himself on local cuisine and met a lovely, young lady by the name of Reejel. She showed him some of the sights and fawned over him as a the strong, leader from the heavens. Paul did his best to avoid questions about his faith and tried to steer the conversation to where they could meet later that night…in private.
Catherine spoke to an old woman, Juliana, about the illness and gathered a sample of the water falling from the ceiling that towered above. She asked the woman to take her to where most of the sick people lived. Minutes later, Catherine was bounding up the steps to the roof an apartment building of many of the sick. Flinging open the door to the top, she had to shield her eyes from the single light blasting the buildings. Miles away across another open expanse of tiled floor the Power burned brightly. The energy beamed out from a towering structure against the far wall of this underground complex. It was a hundred feet tall made of steel girders and thick cabling. Catherine couldn’t tell its true function, but its waves of energy bathed the rooftop gardens of Cariet.
Paul and Graham met up in the plaza to compare notes on the situation. Surrounded by a small crowd interested in the strangers, Graham advised not to drink the water or eat their food for the time being. Paul mumbled in agreement with fruit stained teeth.
Suddenly, a man cried out for the strangers to go and leave their home. His words were followed by a chunk of fruit that bounced off of Paul’s shoulder. Cole’s eyes narrowed, and he parted the crowd to get to this man. The foolish soul reached out and pushed Paul yelling at him to go. The man was easily incapacitated and dropped to the ground with a wrist lock and a yelp of pain. With the doctor’s encouragement to go, Paul glared at the crowd and left the man (lovingly referred to as Captain Face Plant) behind to rub his wrist.
That night, the crew found themselves in the residence of Coordinate De’assario sitting around a large, round table with thirty of the most prominent citizens. Questions were asked about what the group did up above in the heavens and where they have been. Cathrine shared the stories of their adventures, but the guests thought them only silly tales and smiled politely.
People looking out a window to the plaza below caught Catherine’s attention. She joined the onlookers to see an parade of men approaching. They identified themselves as rhargs, spiritual men who worked below and lived their lives in servitude to the Power. An old rharg, Anjileer Chief Oopin, called for an audience with Coordinate De’assario. When the Cariet leader would not present himself on the balcony, the true leader of the rhargs stepped forward. Known only as the Wheeler, this icon called out to the gathering crowd to make a spectacle of himself.
“You see the pain and suffering caused by your lack of faith,” the Wheeler said with a grand flourish to the light burning beyond. “You need to beg the Power for forgiveness. Your souls belong to the Lord, not your Coordinate. Pray with me. Raise your hands and pray.“
The crowd out in the plaza prayed with the Wheeler while the crew of Polera and Coordinate De’assario watched from above with wary looks. Then, far away, the great light that blazed across the entire underground chamber started to fade. The streets returned to the darkened hue that the people were accustomed. The faithful in the plaza chanted their prayers with even more vigor as the Power dimmed.
“Who is this Wheeler?” Graham asked.
De’assario turned to the doctor and said, “I wish I could tell you. Not much is known of him.“
“I don’t like it. I think he’s controlling this Power somehow,” Catherine said with bitterness.
“Coordinate De’assario, I want to speak with these visitors of yours,” the Wheeler called out from the plaza. “There is change ahead of us, important changes, but not from outsiders.“
“You can see them tomorrow,” De’assario called out. “Tonight they are my guests. Anjileer Chief Oopin, take your priests down below before you spoil our dinner.“
Half of the guests at the Coordinate’s party took their leave to watch the rhargs depart. The mood of the dinner grew somber. Reejel pulled Paul to the door begging for him to go meet the Wheeler. Paul came up with excuses of seeing the leader of the priests another time causing Reejel to question the faith of this man from the heavens. Paul was adamant about remaining behind, and Reejel left with a scowl.
On their way back to the ship, a few taunts and pieces of garbage were thrown at the crew from darkened balconies. The group only wanted to help the sick so that they could get their ship repaired, and matters were taking a darker turn.
Back at the ship, Bill showed the crew all the incredible maintenance equipment and recharging capabilities that Cariet station was capable of. The people had maintained the systems for generations without any outside ships to ever work on.
The Polera’s medical computer finally printed out the the results of the tests from all the samples: radiation poisoning from the Power.
“I told you that’s what is was!” Doctor Graham cried out to no one in particular.
The doctor devised a method to synthesize medication to prevent and cure the radiation, but it required keeping the energy levels down. He left the next morning to get the medicine process started (aka start another Cariet checklist).
Paul, Catherine, and Bill took the opportunity to head below the chamber that the mains called home. Several hundred feet further underground, the rhargs maintained the Power and clung to their prayers. As the three visitors walked towards a freight elevator, a small mob of locals, including Reejel, trailed them. The mains who followed yelled at the trio to go back to their boat and leave them be. They threw debris, making the situation all the more tense. Paul turned around with a puffed out chest to confront two men brandishing knives. The pilot quickly had one man down on the ground and the other in his clutches when the loud crack of a gun shattered the scene. The mob screamed as one of their members stood defiantly holding an old pistol. Catherine looked back at her friends in shock. She pulled her hand away from her shoulder and it was covered in blood.
It took just two seconds. By the time Catherine dropped to her knees and gasped out for help, Paul’s charge pistol was already in his hands and had fired a single shot back into the mob. The shooter within the throng took the bullet in his left knee and spun halfway around in agony. The crowd screamed again. Several panicked and ran while others grew even more enraged.
Paul’s eyes narrowed, and he holstered his weapon. He ran towards Catherine but then raced past her heading directly at the crowd.
“Paul, no!” she yelled grabbing for him in vain.
“What the hell’s he doin’?” asked Bill as he helped Catherine up to her feet.
Paul Cole thundered across the tiles towards the wounded shooter in the middle of the crowd. Suddenly, an enraged Cariet threw a crude grenade in the air. The sphere tumbled in an awkward arc towards the pilot running at the mob full bore. The explosive went long and landed past him…next to Catherine and Bill.
The concussion grenade hit the tile and spun slowly for a moment. Catherine’s eyes grew wide with terror. Behind her, Bill panicked. He pushed Catherine at the grenade and leapt back just as it went off. The concussion tossed Catherine violently through the air. She hit the ground hard gagging in pain.
Seeing that Catherine was still alive, Paul grabbed a hold of the shooter in the crowd. The man looked at him in terror. The pilot simply let go, reached to his belt, pulled out his first-aid kit, and started to patch up the man’s knee. Minutes later, Paul was at Catherine’s side helping her as well.
“Bill…” she gasped.
Paul comforted his friend but found the trouble was not over. Behind him, Reejel stood with one of the pistols used by the crowd. She pointed it at Paul and yelled at him for being a heretic. Paul continued to kneel next to his friend and look at the woman with the gun with disappointment. Reejel hesitated, dropped the weapon, and ran off.
The echoing explosion drew Doctor Graham with Coordinate De’assario. Graham attended to Catherine and took her back to the ship, while the Coordinate did his best to placate his people. He pulled Paul away from the crowd and suggested he go back to his ship.
“No,” Paul said. “I need to meet this Wheeler. Now.“
Paul walked to the freight elevator and punched the button pointing down. The lift descended as he reloaded his pistol.
Down below, the rhargs lived and worked amongst massive generators crossed by catwalks and cabling for miles. Paul walked past the priests until arriving at their dormitory deep beneath the surface of Askalade. There he was met by an odd priest named Ganzid. The rharg took him within the holy chambers to meet with Anjileer Chief Oopin.
Paul reluctantly left his weapon behind and was left sitting in a spartan room made up of grey walls. Ganzid returned to the room closing the only door with his eyes cast down at the floor. There was a stillness to the room as Paul sat there waiting to see what was going on. The man reached into his simple, linen shirt and drew out a pistol with a trembling hand. He whimpered softly. At the sight of the gun, the Paul shifted and his eyes narrowed. The old man raised the weapon with beads of sweat crowning his head.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.“
Paul inched his way closer to the gun pointed at him. After staring Ganzid down for a few moments, he dove forwards at an angle and took hold of the weapon. He wrenched it free of the priest and pressed him up against the wall.
“What the hell is going on?“
“I’m sorry,” Ganzid cried. “I had a vision. This was all in my dreams. You’re going to bring an end to everything. You’ll ruin Cariet!“
Paul shook the man to his senses and demanded to be taken straight to the Wheeler. Ganzid reluctantly agreed and brought Paul to the private chambers of the new leader of the rhargs. The Wheeler relaxed in a cozy room, as far as priests go. Though there were plenty of comforts surrounding him, the Wheeler wanted more.
Cole quickly cut to the chase and learned the Wheeler was actually just a man named Lawrence Wheeler. Lawrence came across as a gifted conman out in the Ruins who was lucky enough to find an untouched community to prey on. He drew Paul into a feeling of ease suggesting they work out a deal before crying bloody murder to bring help.
The rhargh priests ran to the chamber and tried to save their leader. Cole bolted the door to the private room and held a knife to the throat of the Wheeler. He threatened to slice the man’s throat unless he revealed the secret to controlling the Power. Wheeler pulled out a hand-held device that controlled the stations reactors remotely. He explained that worming his way into the rhargs was easy enough once he displayed more knowledge of their systems than any of their masters. However, he wanted more. He wanted control over all of Cariet. He wanted power and access to all the luxuries the mains had above: good food, comfort, and even women.
As the priests outside started to cut through the metal door with their engineering tools, Paul radioed his friends to help bring De’assario to a meeting. Wheeler agreed to pack up and leave Cariet if Paul let him. With his ship hidden on the surface above, he wanted to be anywhere but held at the throat by a knife.
Paul opened the door out of the chamber and forced his way back up to the mains community above with his hostage. Everyone gathered near the plaza. The Polera crew, the Coordinate, Oopin, and Wheeler were there underneath the burning light of the Power. Paul tossed the remote device to Catherine and had her demonstrate how to control their deadly source of energy.
“You see,” Paul said as the Power dimmed and brightened on command. “Faith doesn’t control your Power, this remote does. There’s no magic here. This man is a liar. He is no prophet sent from the heavens. He made your people sick. Tell them, Larry.“
Wheeler’s head hung low, and he said not a word.
Suddenly, Coordinate De’assario rushed the fallen icon and grabbed him by the throat.
“You killed them!” he said seething with rage. “17 of my people died because of you. They believed in you. You’re a monster!“
The Coordinate tossed the man to the ground and tried to gather his composure. Paul stood close and asked what the plans were for Wheeler.
“He must pay for this,” De’assario whispered harshly. “I need you to finish him. He needs to die.“
“Me?” Paul asked. “You do it.“
“I cannot. My task is to lead…to inspire…to give hope. Killing him would destroy what I am to my people. You are from the ‘heavens’. You can deliver justice.“
“This doesn’t seem right,” Doctor Graham said.
The crew discussed the situation yet could not come to an agreement. They knew Wheeler could not stay. They had killed before, but never an execution. They also knew De’assario needed closure. Catherine and the doctor came up with a simple plan.
Graham stood Wheeler up and held him from behind. Catherine handed her laser pistol to Paul after tampering with its lethality. The doctor secretly injected the condemned with a drug to shut down his system for a short time. Paul took careful aim with the pistol and fired. The diffused beam hit Wheeler whom the doctor then dropped to the floor. The man moaned a bit and went unconscious from the drugs.
“There,” Paul said with confidence. “It’s done. Wheeler is dead.“
Catherine handed the remote device to Anjileer Chief Oopin and made him swear to keep it safe. De’assario thanked the crew for their help. Paul convinced the assembly that it was best to take the “body” of Wheeler with them to their ship and back to where he came from.
With that, the crew hauled off the unconscious Wheeler as word about the incident spread throughout the community. The rest of Cariet was just finding out that their prophet had been killed by the outsiders.
1) Chris: (pre game chatter) “I forgot to tell my story about snowmen peeps in Iraq.”
2) Thomas (GM): (as NPC) “The angels will bring Chaos and Suffering!”
3) Thomas (GM): (catching himself midway through a conversation) “Symous says… Symous says? ... Damn!”
4) Thomas (GM): (as Reejel in as seductive a voice a man can get) “I think you are filled with the power.”