Monday, February 19, 2018

Coral Made 3: Solo Cthulhu Dark Actual Play

Harvey Mills: 
Drone Pilot
Insight 3
clues: forgot 3 days, Steve is missing, Steve’s sub is missing with all hands lost, Dr Bright did something terrible to Steve in a dream. Others have had terrible dreams. Seismic activity opened up C11, the route down the Rift where the Cyclops was lost.

The too-sweet rot of sick permeated the tiny Drone Control System room. Mills was crammed in between the large bank of controls and the wall behind him. Beside him was the trash can into which he’d vomited. He didn’t notice the smell. 

Mills focused on green screens of the drone cameras, sonar, IR and LIDAR translated to something he could see and understand. Even blurred as the images were, they were crystal clear to Mills.  

His hands flitted across toggles and joysticks. The fleas flexed their limbs and spun up their props. 

Mills had spent months laying down nodules of wired and wireless data transmitters, so the fleas could talk to each other and to him. That mesh network had been rent. Half of his work was gone. No obvious signs of what had happened.  

"In 3 days? 3 days?” Mills murmured.

He set a few drones through automated repairs of the network, and drove the rest around, looking. Headed two towards C11. In the meantime he had one zoom in on a former mesh network node.

(Investigate the mesh network through the drones roll)
M: 3,4

It looked as though something had flowed over the mesh and wiped it away. There were some smoothed-over microbolt remains where it had been attached. They were designed to come out cleanly if pulled, to minimize damage to the area, but the nodes hadn't been pulled. It was as if they’d been shaved off the rocky surface.

A glimmer on one screen drew Mills attention. The fleas falling down C11 had seen a glimmer of thermal emission. Faint, distant. He pushed the drones down, having one lay down new nodes so they could keep up their broadcast.

Down, down. The craggy tunnel became a column going straight down. 30 meters in diameter, with a faint undulation to the rock. Regular. Like it was undergoing a slow stone peristalsis. He was closer to the heat signature. The cameras cut out. 

"No, what? No!" Mills slammed a palm into his desk. "Come back. You were at double bandwidth cap. Double! Come on."

He flipped switches and the central broadcast nodule at the top of the Rift pumped more power into the mesh. 

One screen flickered on. 

The walls were covered in a smooth heat source. It flowed. Mills tried to move the drone closer to it but the prop didn't respond. Rear cam showed it was wrapped in heat. 

In front, a section of the shaft bubbled, one large swell. It unfurled, slowly, like a linen sheets underwater, sinking. Edges drifting lazily, one layer moved out of the way and another drifted upwards. So many layers. Something under them, jerking, rolling. The temperature was rising. Water began to boil around the drone. 

Alarms flashed, but Mills couldn’t hear them, couldn’t look at them. He could only hear water boiling as he numbly hit controls to swim up and away, to flee. The drone was transfixed, like Mills, robotically staring at the diaphanous veils still drifting open before him, at the spherical thing beneath them, swiveling back and forth. The heat came from it, from a circular shape upon it. It roved about and suddenly shot around to point at Mills through the screen. A lance of heat passed over the drone. Everything went white.

Insight check => 6, ++ (to 4)

The speakers crackled around him. The drone that had seen it all - XF12 - its screen faded a hair, and he could just see the outline of a human.

"Steve?" Mills said. It was the long, lean frame. The swept-back short hair.

The figure leaned forward. Closer, closer. Steve's lips. 

"I miss you."

"I... Steve. I miss you too, but this... isn't real. I'm dreaming you."

“You think you’re dreaming me?" The figure grasped the camera, Mills could see bright white teeth snarling. "He is dreaming us! We are His dreams and when He awakens -"

Insight check: 5, ++ (to 5)

Mills jerked awake, still seated in his chair. The screens were dark. He tapped a key and they hummed awake. 


All the drones gone. Static flickered and hissed through speakers. 

The door behind him slid open. 

“Mr… Mills?” A too-familiar voice asked.

He stiffened, hunching over the controls. He flicked a toggle and the screens went black.

“I understand you’re the senior drone operator here. I need someone in-the-flesh to pilot some drones for a, ah, rescue. We might move considerably beyond the mesh network’s range."

“You’re sending people down the Rift? To... rescue the Cyclops?”


Mills licked his dry lips. 

"When, ah, when do we leave?”

Bright smiled. “Tomorrow at 1000. I have some work to do. If you have any relevant telemetry from the drones, please pass it along.”

Mills nodded. Bright walked out.

He turned around and found the recorder chit under the monitor bank, backing up the drone camera feeds. What he'd seen. No, he thought, that was a dream. I fell asleep. He opened a metal desk door, stuck the chit in halfway, and slammed it shut. Again, again. Again. He cracked it against his thumb and moaned. Shards of plastic littered the drawer. 

(Reduction roll: 6. No)

The whole time the blank monitors seemed to stare at him. Like the men and women in line for alcohol from his dream of catering, bored, waiting. Like the great thing in the Rift, rolling, spinning, spearing him with a ray of light. 

(Miso check: Is the central networking nodule still up?
yes: 2
no: 3 )

It’s slagged by whatever killed the drones. It was at the top of the Rift, the lip of that dark mouth. Can’t break it to reduce Insight)

Mills emailed Bright what fragments of drone telemetry remained. She would see where they had last been, that the mesh was down, but no evidence of what he'd seen. Dreamt, he thought. Mills made his way back to Hab 4 in a daze. 

Watkins had supplied Steve and Harvey with bootleg hooch, in plastic bags. High West Whiskey, something Steve picked. Steve had always loved westerns, the machismo, the hats. The lonesome figure striking out. A love that was both ironic and unironic by turns. A few DVDs were on a shelf, and Mills had put one on.

He got listlessly, confoundedly hammered. Numb, he could pretend he wasn't in pain. He lay in their cubby, sealed in, drinking and watching Unforgiven. What Steve had called one of the greatest deconstructions of the genre ever.

"I don't deserve this, to die like this. I was building a house."

"Deserve's got nothing to do with it."

Mills raised a bag of whiskey in a toast. 

Reduce Roll: 4. Reduction

Harvey Mills, Insight 4, incredibly tired and hungover.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Coral Made 2: Cthulhu Dark Solo Play

Harvey Mills: 
Drone Pilot
Insight 3
clues: forgot 3 days, Steve is missing, Steve’s sub is missing with all hands lost, Dr Bright did something terrible to Steve in a dream

Mills found himself standing in the cantina, holding a tray of food. He didn’t remember coming here, doing this. He kept trying to recall the last thing he said to Steve. He couldn’t remember that either. 

His face was wet. He wiped at it.

Watkins and Jens were at a table; they stopped talking when Mills walked up. Watkins, Mills now saw, looked exhausted, bags under her eyes. Jens looked distracted, kept glancing off towards the tiny porthole window in the commissary, his lips pressed together. Like he didn’t know what to say to Mills.

“Any news on the Cyclops 1? Where Ste - where it was headed?” Mills’ said hollowly.

They looked at each other.

(Investigation roll!)
M: 4
(Mills learns everything possible. Jens and Watkins must have privy to higher-up conversations or data taps or something)

“You... don’t recall?” Jens asked.

Mills sat down, shook his head. 

“They were heading down the C11 shaft, one of the larger ones?” Jens screwed up his face as though remembering were an effort. “Your prior drone-mapping had shown it dead-ended, but it looks like that had changed. Something moved, probably during the last seismic event. So, it opened up, and some geologist figured seismic activity wasn’t going to happen again. Cyclops went down, everything was dull, regular. No seismic activity of note. Then we lost the signal.”

“That’s it.”

“Well, the transmission we’ve seen… Cuts a little too cleanly. If it was interference you’d expect a degradation of signal, rather than an abrupt halt. If the ship was hit or damaged suddenly, maybe the data cuts hard, but no evidence of such on the playback. It’s possible,” Jens glanced around, leaned in close to Mills, looking at him cautiously. “It’s possible what’s been released, what we’ve managed to see, was cut off early. Edited.”

“By whom?”

Jens opened his hands in a shrug. Watkins shook her head. “I’m just saying, Sally,” Jens said, defensively. “It’s possible."

“And what, nothing, no one sent down yet?”

“Seems like Bright and Lieutenant Dima are arguing about that. Dima doesn’t want to risk more personnel. ‘We don’t know what we don’t know.’ You know.”

Mills nodded. Jens stared at him and then looked away, clenching his jaw, blinking. Wanting to ask something, not doing it. Watkins leaned in.

“What - what happened to you, Mills?” Watkins asked.

“I don’t know. I’m, I mean,” Fine? Steve is gone, I’m not fucking fine. A tear welled up and Mills wiped it away, another. Jens glanced over at him. Watkins reached out and put a hand over Mills’. “I was asleep, I had… nightmares, about Steve. I don’t… I didn’t think I was in our room for three days. Lost track of time in there.”

“We’ve been having nightmares too.”

“You have,” Jens said, staring past them. “I haven’t had nightmares.”

Watkins ignored him. “It’s been awful. It’s… something to do with Bright. I saw her,” Watkins shook her head, rubbing her face. She had a worn, tiny New Testament clutched in her other hand, Mills saw. She rubbed the pages absently while she talked. 

“I think something terrible is happening here. Maybe it’s what happened to the Argos 1.”

(You always want to imply that the horror happened before.)

Jens sighed wearily.

“You can believe what you want, Jens,” Watkins said, quiet with anger, letting go of Mills to hold the tiny book in both hands. “Something bad is happening here. Something we shouldn’t be around for.”

“Look, Sally, I’m sorry... I’m not trying to go at you. But nightmares... don’t make people disappear,” Jens said.

“Well, Steve is gone,” Mills said, almost whispering. “Disappeared into the Rift.”

Jens and Watkins just looked at him. 

“We’re so sorry, Harvey,” Jens said, his eyes bloodshot, watering. Watkins nodded, biting her lip.

“Me too,” Mills murmured.

Harvey Mills: 
Drone Pilot
Insight 3

clues: forgot 3 days, Steve is missing, Steve’s sub is missing with all hands lost, Dr Bright did something terrible to Steve in a dream. Others have had terrible dreams. Audio and video cut off really fast on the cyclops 1, not clear if it was edited by someone in the Argos II facility or if the vehicle was damaged. C11 shaft used to be closed off, opened by seismic activity is the guess. 

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Coral Made 1: Cthulhu Dark Solo Play

Harvey Mills stood in crisp black clothes at the outdoor bar, gleaming bottles before and behind. Beyond this parapet of glass, a line of smiling, laughing guests in suits and dresses stood, waiting their turn. They stood beneath a canopy of leaves and outdoor lights, harsh and bright. Just beyond the curve of the line, Mills could see a corner of a freestanding veranda.

Above the sibilance of scattered conversation, a tone rang out, glass sounding hollowly.

The hum of conversation dimmed and died down. The couple before Mills turned smoothly, as though standing on wheeled platforms. Silence fell and still the tone came again, pause, again, pause. Again. Mills' ears began to ring, a lower pitch than the glass, until that sound drowned out everything.

Suddenly it ceased. The line parted just slightly, and Mills saw a familiar face staring out, severe and serene, under the lights of the veranda. 

“The festivities are about to begin,” she intoned to the silent crowd, which emitted a polite applause and abruptly, as one, stopped.

A squeak came from behind Mills; from the building where some of the other catering staff was working. It repeated and repeated, gathering tempo. A wheelchair came into view, rolling on the brick path between ferns, pushed by a caterer Mills couldn’t make out. Speak-squeak, squeak-squeak.

The wheelchair had a figure upon it, bound, hooded, half-familiar. Squeak-squeak. Pulling arms and legs against restraints, fingers clawing at the armrests. Sqeak-sqeak. All this went right past Mills and to the woman in white, who he could now see as the crowd parted.

No, he saw because Mills had left the bar and pushed into people, through them, numbly, as they muttered angrily at his rudeness. The woman smiled triumphantly and yanked the hood from the bound man.

Steve. Mills’ heart raced. Steve, whose firm hands and lean frame had been wrapped around him just before, before... There was blood all over his face. Wounds all over his face, bored in. Mills began to run towards him.

Insight: 1, no change

Mills pushed through the crowd and left a wake of startled yells and inhuman growls. The woman, who looked just like someone, someone Mills knew, but not from this time in his life, not from catering. Dr Bright. From where he knew Steve. From working in Argos II. From under the ocean. She locked eyes with him and smiled. Mills moved towards Steve as she lapped blood from her hand.

“You… came for me,” Steve said weakly.

There was a tunnel of red gore bored into Steve’s chest. It was too deep to see all the way down, and too full of dark blood, which drooled out slowly. Broken chunks of rib and sternum glinted sharp white around the edges. Mills had a towel in his hand and pushed it to the wound, trying to apply pressure, and his hands slipped inside the wet warm wound. Steve gasped.

“Dreaming me,” he muttered.

Insight: 6, ++ to 2

Mills woke up. The coffin sleeper he and Steve shared was cold. The alarm dully stated 6:22 in red, and the sleeping bag they used as a blanket was soaked with sweat and churned about. Steve was gone. Had some 0500 shit he had to be at, Mills remembered. He crawled to the end of the sleeper and cranked open the hatch.

He could smell himself: sour, like piss after too much coffee. He grabbed a towel off the hatch’s built-in rack and padded off to the showers, trying to shake the unreal fear from the dream, trying to remind himself that Steve was ok.

Sally Watkins found him in the commissary, drinking coffee, eating voraciously.

“Micah wants to see you,” she said, looking nervous.

“What, is it that bad, Sally? I've never seen you look spooked.”

Watkins shrugged, not making eye contact. “I got to run and check some atmo scrubbers; just head there real soon, you hear? I don’t want to get it in the neck from her.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll make you look good.”

Watkins snorted, shook her head. “You’re going to go, yeah?”

Mills held out his hands. “Of course. Why wouldn’t I?”

Micah’s office was as far from general quarters as it could be and still be in Hab 4. It was right next to the access way leading to the military spire, its drone control rooms and moon pools and machine rooms. Her office smelled faintly of the oil and grease running through the veins of the spire, and it was as clean as some of the labs in the science center, from what Mills had heard.

Micah gestured to a chair, so Mills sat, leaned back. “How’s things, boss?”

“OK… How are you, Harvey? How are you holding up?”

“I’m fine, you know. About to head to drone control.”

Micah nodded slowly, looking slightly perturbed. “Yes. We need you to get back to work. It’s been three days since you.. shut yourself in. I understand - I really do.” She held up a hand. “I know we have rules about fraternization on the books, but I’m not interested in enforcing anything like that. I just need you back in the saddle.”

Three days? I went to work yesterday! Yesterday! I… I know I did. And fraternization? What on Earth does Steve have to do with this? He had some piloting to do with some researchers...

The steel decking seemed to sway under Mills feet. The chair he was in seemed to rock. He kept his eyes on Micah, and tried not to react to feeling lost at sea in a swell. His mind raced to come up with some way to ask without tipping her off, getting a trip to the company shrink.

“So is there any, ah, news?” Mills asked slowly.

Micah shook her head. “The Cyclops is still missing, all hands as well. I’m sorry.”

Steve’s boat. Steve was gone.

Insight: 6 ++ to 3

Roll to seem normal!
M: 5
F: 1

“Thanks for, for giving me time to recover.”

Micah nodded.

(Micah didn’t seem to suspect that Mills couldn’t remember the last three days, at all. Mills’ heart raced, he was sweating. He felt numb all over.)

“If that’s all, I’ll let you return to your work. You’re cleared through to the spire.” Micah was already looking through a stack of papers, work requisitions from the military or the scientists.

“Thanks Micah.”

It felt like groveling. The words tasted like ash in Mills' mouth. Thanking her. For 3 days in a fugue, while Steve was probably dead or dying. And now back to work like everything was fine. Mills numbly stood and tried to cry quietly as he left the room. If Micah noticed she didn't say anything.

Harvey Mills:
Drone Pilot
Insight 3
clues: forgot 3 days, Steve is missing, Steve’s sub is missing with all hands lost, Dr Bright did something terrible to Steve in a dream