mordicai caeli (mordicai) wrote,
mordicai caeli

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Star Wars: End of Empire: the Phantom Planet.

(Notes & doodles by Joey Ammons.)

Arriving at Kamino, our heroes's ships are escorted down to Geddon, a vast ghost town of three saucer arcologies, littered with stabilizing antenna, struts & stilts & ultimately held up by one vast spire, with transit between the pods via Aiwha air-whales, both smaller ones with Kaminoans mounted on back as well as larger breeds with communal howdahs. The PCs get a chance to describe the NPCs' behaviors as a montage sequence: Ssushaath wants to tag along with Raj's scoundrel Jax Cadderly, pulling on a poncho over his bare scaly chest, & Joey's beat-up replicant droid Jolit argues whether the fixed-up ID-9 droid Wrench is coming with him or if he is going because of Rachel's ex-imperial engineer Para Totool; either way, it accompanies them while 4-DOX & the pedigree mynock stay on the space yacht False Profit & the astroprobe Katee stays plugged into Burke's Force-sensitive felinoid Theynur Kötturinn's X-wing as an escape driver.

The clone trooper Zed knows how Eris leads a crew, so he wants to start them with a toast, pouring them each glasses of an amber liquid in the lounge of the staryacht, launching into a small speech:

"The General had a modest vice, a taste for Andoan wine; he wryly said he cultivated a flaw to keep himself humble. Then he'd do that clacking thing with his tusks so you knew he was laughing. He had a hard enough time getting a hold of it, poking around the dark corners at the edge of the galaxy far away from his homeworld in the Mid-Rim, but whenever a lucky smuggler thought to bribe him with a bottle, he always made a point of sharing it with the boys."

"This is my homeworld, of a sort, though I never came back here during the War. It was the Baron who brought me back here to get my metabolism tinkered with, after I decided to wait for the return of a Jedi. The Kaminoans are gullible, harmless...except on like, a galactic scale. They just love science. So try not to hurt anybody; just play it cool & let them make assumptions."

Before they go on, Zed wants to give the Force training thing another shot. Today's Jedi lesson: Trust yourself. Trust the Force. Don’t close yourself off from your feelings, or your friends; they are powerful allies. Search them, know them, but don’t be sucked down by their under currents. You can drown yourself in those dark waters. What do you feel? Who do you feel? Theynur struggles with what "reaching out" means, but she eventually taps into her feelings: a series of visions shot Kubrickianly, steady "camera" fixed on the terrain, with the music telling the cues as time elapses.
    Giants in the Deep, vast shapes moving in the vent-warmed waters under infinite ice.
    Melting Ice Age, a sprawling, terraced arctic mining city, fjording into a kind of petrol bay.
    “Cloners”, an Old Republic Venator...Star Destroyer, flooding with troop transports from below.
Then Theynur must choose what to see, dark or light, to confront or embrace, in a Shining-like scare-cut to the interior of the lab, to the sound of a pressurized elevator. She turns away from the Wound in the Force, to feel a sense of:
    Oneness, a slumbering feeling of potential, trapped in amber, of power, ending in...
    The Vault Door, with the sound of sharp strings, tension: pure Lynchian menace.
The landing pods of Geddon City, the first lobe of the triad of sparsely populated saucers, are retractable, pulling into sterile landing bays; As Theynur crosses over from her X-wing to the yacht she can feel a light crackle as the forcefield zaps any biomatter contaminants. The landing bays are filled with cranes & criss-crossed cables; the Xexto scramble around like monkeys, or spiders, with Pilot Tez-pok & Q7-TP, wingleader & droid companion, checking on on the escort group led by aces Pilot Hwaet-zil & Q7-HZ. The Xexto Pilots sleep in hammocks among parts & tools they've accumulated, each counter-parted with their own hovering, spherical Q7 astromech, & you won't find them deeper into the arcology. They are hyperactive & whistle in Binary half the time as often as chattering in Basic.

Geddon City

Identical long-necked Kaminoan...twins? clones?...named Docents Enk Gil & Ur Gil lead the heroes & their cohorts out of the tangle of the Xexto Rookery into the bone-white section of the saucer set aside for the Kaminoan domiciles. Sterile is the word that comes to mind, at least to the humans— to Theynur's cat-like eyes, there are ultra-violets visible that hint at a riot of shades outside the normal visible spectrum. Still, the place is mostly a ghost town; most of the suites are empty, apartments connected by vestigial corridors. It has the air of an uncertain university dormitory, either waiting for students to return, or to close forever. The docents are aids to the Sophist in charge, & speak of coming to Geddon City for "applied studies" & "non-standard concentrations," & they wear robes, unlike the jumpsuited Kaminoans of Tipoca City in the Prequel. Just like with Obi-Wan & "Sifo-Diyas," they seem cosmically naive, & self-absorbed in evolution for its own sake.

They lead the protagonists & their allies to the voluminously robed Sophist Lili Tu serenly dismissing an angry Xexto. An expansive intellect & slow-talking Morla, curious but with a pragmatism ultimately consumed by nihilism. She immediately detects something is amiss with Jolit, with uncanny precision; he reveals that he is a human replica droid, which, twinge of mystery sated, calms her down, & they string her along, getting her to monologue.

"Once, long ago, our world drowned, & our progenitors faced difficult choices. Many of them you see around you today; ourselves, the Xexto. There are those who selected another route, the Old Ones who decided that sapience was a failed experiment, & chose the past of monstrosity. Here we also deal in such Catastrophic Thinking, having seen the fortunes of our species tied to the rise & fall of empires & republics; each crisis presents a radical opportunity for us to choose another evolutionary path; The Benthic Stratagem, Humanoid Heterogenesis, that sort of thing."

Her aid Pazu Su escorts the group to courtesy lodging from the now distracted Sophist, leading them through the Kaminoan Chambers continuing to explain that the Geddon facility has continued the research & development on clone soldiers long after after the main production lines were shut down; they have focused on advanced & anomalous designs, from relatively simple retroengineering, like repairing Zed's metabolic sequencing, to experimental lines like the Null-class Advanced Recon Commandos or the beneficial mutations found in Clone Force 99.

Left alone, the players hatch their plans. Splicing into the city network, they find that most inter-pod travel is done via Aiwha, but there is a physical junction point for the three primary saucers, connecting the lower sections of the arcologies, an intersection of industrial access conduits. They also see...that the Geddon Citadel is occupied...strongly implying that the clone trooper training academy is Zed argues strongly for checking it out before looking for the STARKILLER information; he doesn't hide that he wants to look for any "brothers" that might be there, & eventually the players decide they can always bluff their way out of any trouble, & this way they can sneak into the genetic database from an unexpected angle, just in case there was anyone anticipating...trouble.

Down they go from the hospital-hotel decor of the Kaminoan apartments into the second class worker domiciles of the Ugnaught Mir. The mask-clad Ugnaughts of the lower city live in the industrial sectors of the city, side-by-side with their livestock, which is cloned from every corner of the galaxy. Each micro-clan is specialized; one family trades Blue milk made from their household Bantha, the next makes Blue spotchka from tanks of glowing krill (Clanspeaker Wolliw is a powerful leader of the Bluebottle sept); this clan has incubators full of Alazhi bacteria cultures for trade with the other Bacta-kin & another residence is over-run with Meiloonrun vines, or a Ghhhk to milk for oil extraction ("Ghhhk is always best when milked live!"), or cage barely holding a baying Corellian Death Hound. As our protagonists descend the semi-abandoned places of the undercity, escaped domestics run feral, & the air is filled with the frog-like chirps of Gorgs & the cackles of Kowakian lizard-monkeys escaped from food stalls (with Lowest Mrow keeping a crude order with his massive lizard-ape). Para oinks back & forth with some of the scrap vendors, gruntingly bartering a hydrospanner for a Wyyyschokk simmersilk ribbon to keep the hair out of her eyes when she's working.

Vault Junction

The physical junction connecting the arcology-pods is sparse, empty, like a clean but musty hospital basement, an internal access stairwell, a nowhere in-between place. & the Vault Door. A normal, every day turbolift, set in the floor with a scissoring aperture like the ones in Bespin...just like the one from the Force vision. A dingy, beat-up service elevator at the center of engineering access & industrial redundancy, of occasionally hissing tubing & dimly buzzing osciators.

Zed thinks they should stay focused on completing the mission. Back in the Clone Wars, this is where the General & the Commander & the troopers would split up; Zed doesn't think that's the right call right now, but it's theirs to make. So of course, they decide to mess with the Door. There are no ports, no terminals, no keyholes or handles— but why would the Kaminoans have a vault that can only be opened using the Force?

Theynur reaches out with the Force of Others...rolling Dark Side points, & using them. Jax gives her a hit of spice, thinking it will help— & Theynur keeps drawing on the Dark Side of the Force, ears flat, feline eyes dilated: strung out. What does it lead to? Para possessed, pulling her blaster, hand shaking, the Dark overwhelming her mind, Theynur acting as a conduit for oblivion, annihilation, as both of their fingers pull the trig...trig...trig—pew! —& gunslinger Jax shoots the pistol out of Para's hand at the last moment, sending her bolt wild as she collapses to the ground, concussed from psychic anguish.

Geddon Citadel

The second arcology houses the remnants of the ARC program; education facilities, Barracks, that sort of thing. There is room to train an entire regiment of thousands here, but it is eerily silent & mothballed now. They players were headed that way to begin with, in order to take the long way around to snoop in the gene banks, but with Para down they figure they can raid the medical facilities for stim-packs, too. Zed was trained at the Tipoca Citadel, but the basic format is the same, & he's able to help get them there. While they brain Para back to her senses, Jolit pokes around, revealing that it wasoccupied by a platoon of thirty-six not too long ago, & that at least some token skeleton crew are still here.

There is a central armory that serves four Inquisitorious-style Dojos here. Each one focuses on a unique combat style, with force pikes as the common baseline. Those basic weapons diverge into related styles; one dojo is devoted to blasters & grenades, but the others are close quarters specialists, taking advantage of the reach of an electrostaff, or the alacrity of dual electrobatons, or the punishing blows of an electrohammer: the weapons of the Purge Troopers. All four lead down, to The Squall, a dueling pit, a kind of gladiator arena suspended above a sheer drop & shaped in the form of the wheel of the Imperial Crest. Two of the spokes are entrances for the combatants; the other four each hold a weapon: twin vibro-arbir blades, a vibro-voulge, an electo-bisento, & a bilari electro-chain whip.

As Para scrounges through the explosives rack for a thermal detonator, Jolit...accidentally backs into a suit of royal guard armor, knocking it to the floor with a clatter. As the players have come to suspect, there is still one squad still stationed here...but it comes as a surprise when they are snuck up on by a group of nine kids: clones with blasters. Fast talking Jax plays it cool: he tells them they are potential clients, playing the "sheepishly embarrassed" to be lost card. The cadets don't have any reason to be suspicious; after all, these aren't the only potential customers they've seen recently.

Harlequin Squad:
    Zero: "The Lancer," Cool & Gunnery, PG-01
    Shiny: "The Face," Charm & Deception, PG-02
    Enth: "The Medic," Medicine & Survival, PG-03
    Clank: "The Heavy," Coercion & Brawl, PG-04
    Bingo: "The Ace," Piloting (Planetary) & Piloting (Space), PG-05
    Skip: "The Leader," Leadership & Knowledge (Warfare), PG-06
    Cain: "The Point Man," Skullduggery & Stealth, PG-07
    Orenth: "The Engineer," Computers & Mechanics, PG-08
    99: "The Heart," Vigilance & Knowledge (Lore), PG-09
The ARC cadets of Harlequin Squad are excited, talkitive, happy to fill the group in on all their interpersonal gossip & fraternal dramas. Zero was "intended" to be the leader, but is too laconic, & Skip just has the knack. Enth & Orenth are the brain trust "twins," preferring biology & technology, respectively. 99 is the group mom, & he saved bad boy Clank's life, who was left with a cyberclaw. Cain says very little besides "you talk too much," to the chatty second born, Shiny. Bingo can fly anything, but wishes he didn't have to fight.

Geddon Complex

Taking their leave of the boys & heading out through the Citadel tunnels, as they come to the biological factory hub they look for a surreptitious way in. Neither Jolit or Jax's keen eyes, nor Theynur or Para's expertise, can find a secondary access hatch...until a familiar-looking Ugnaught pops up through one excitedly, brandishing the hydrospanner Para traded earlier. Noticing her ribbon, the porcine little friend waves them in to the Gene Farms: alternatingly calm & splashing tanks filled with weird double splices or exaggerated single traits; cages in various nutrient goos filled with sports, freaks & mutants; vast segmented aquariums with gangplanks above where the decontaminant suit wearing Ugnaut workers clamber & harvest, overseen by robed Kaminoans on pristine catwalks above.

Slowly, stealthy ramping upward through the perches & walkways of the farmers & supervisors, they come to realize that they are traveling through the complex in reverse, having come in the "backdoor." They pass through through an active Egg Lab & Para grabs biological samples of a creature called the "rancor" from the frozen zygote bank before they they move on, coming to the full operational Embryonic Cloning Chamber. The next gen pods are all occupied; a squad is nine plus a sergeant, platoons have four squads, a company is four platoons, & a regiment is sixteen companies & this is an army's worth of who knows how many companies: a birth matrix with potentially tens or hundreds of thousands of clones, once the accelerated growth process finishes.

Departing quickly from there, they find their way up, to the Genetic Records Hall, stacked with HAL-9000-like banks of datacells, full of extensive biological information on every clone produced on Kamino & a data back of lifeforms catalogued by the Kaminoians. Scomping in & digging through the databanks, they find copious records, but nothing on Project: STARKILLER; but, changing tactics, they are able to identify holes in the records of various kinds: around the inhibitor chip specs, for instance, & around this STARKILLER project. The bad news is that the data cells are physically gone; the good news is it looks like it was done locally, & that the tele-tapes are still "present," having never left the facility.

Vault Junction

This time, when our heroes inevitably pass back by the Vault Door again after slinking out of the Complex, Theynur feels as if the "Darth eleVader" is singing blasphemous hymns to her, a knocking at the door, as if destiny, or whatever the opposite of destiny is, is calling out to her with the sickly sweet smell of decay, the portal pounding, doom doom doom, shaking, as if it was always meant for her to open. Doom, that's it, that's the opposite of destiny. & of course, down there is where the scanner says the missing STARKILLER datatapes are. The Force is strong in this moment, offering an extra die, & Theynur easily taps into it, into herself, skating across the night within her…opening up the aperture with a pneumatic scissoring.

The number of smaller "stilts" coming down from the triumvirate of city-pods are actually stabilizing pylons, as the mega-structure is un-anchored & in fact, floating. Similarly, the large central support is a submerged spire, an inverted version of the Grand Republic Medical Facility, a reversed reflection of the Ivory Tower from the NeverEnding Story, hanging like an upside-down technorganic rose, a sheathed bulb ringed by petals, down which the turbolift descends, as the power of the Dark begins to rise to meet them. There's always a Dark Side point available for use in the Observatory.

The Observatory

The elevator deposits them in the middle of a ransacked Cybernetics Lab. There are operating tables with blades & armatures strewn crooked & twisted, stasis pods & bacta tanks rent inside-out, thoroughly smashed 2-1B surgical droids & FX-6 assistants. The windows outside show dark water, occasional bubbles &, when their backs are turned, vast monstrous shapes moving in the water. The bits & pieces of devices & implants here are as much black market as state of the art; this was a skunkworks of outlaw tech & ancient alchemy. Things like the Sith pain harness, X-C33, or the experiments of the science criminal Cornelious Evazan. A lot of it seems themed around life extension with no regard to suffering: things like Vader's life support system & the puppetry of an Ommin exoskeleton to the millennial agonies of Sarlacc venom; all paired with a lot of intravenous injection systems. There are references to other "Observatories" with parallel research; Mustafar, Nevarro, Pillio, The Maw, Jakku...

Coming around the corner, Theynur sees a clinical theater still intact, with a blue, teenage girl in medical scrubs restrained on it. (Yes, that's definitely young Eris.) Droids with cruel appendages & whirring saw-hands assist another blue-skinned individual, a little older with a brain implant less like Lobot's & more like Ochi of Bestoon's, in a sort of lab coat tunic. The way the camera cuts to the figure & the scene to a close up of the ominous markings on her perfectly healthy arm, it is clear they are preparing to remove it & about to attach something very much like a prototype of Vader's E-3778Q-1 limb. Outside the windows, there are vast lava fields, &—

—& the catlike alien snaps out of her trance as Jolit snaps the fingers on his exoskeletal roboarm, getting Theynur's attention as they all get back on the lift, heading down to continue investigating. Down below the cybernetics lab is the Cloning Center. These are not the pristine instruments for mass manufacture of the Kaminoans above— the paramedical blues have been replaced with sorcerous yellows, the sulfuric hues sickly & unnatural. This seems to be the center of the Observatory's devastation, with the areas around each cylinder a spherical crater, tiers of pods violently destroyed from within.

These are the infamous Spaarti cloning cylinders, forbidden relics from the past. There are tons of remnants of data to be gleaned from here; attempts to modernize the Arkanian records on the creation of Offshoots & vague references to the failures of JEK-1 through JEK-13, the research focuses around Strand-Casts, mutations & alterations, & while you don't know what Project PHOENIX is, you see it linked with the Dandoran group's Project: BLACKWING, which Para's remembers via her old security clearances was working on indefinite life immortality experiment that went so horribly wrong that every trace of it was erased, except, it seems, here. There are persistent references to "specimens" & "M-count."

Para's scar starts aching, dragging her to the Force vision in as klaxons sound, accompanied by the grindingof gears, as if something is keeping the emergency bulkheads from closing. Water is rushing in below, but more pressingly...they hear familiar laughter. No, not laughter, for there is no joy in it, no life; this is a cackling, a chittering even, hollow & mocking. & then, dropping down from the ceiling where it had been scuttling, lurking like a cockroach, is the "Frankensith," the Sithspawn monster from the Star Destroyer & the Palace Moon, looking about at its surroundings curiously. It paralyzes Para with the Force, freezing her motionless as it lumbers up, clearly out of proportion with a human, to touch her wounded throat, veins throbbing black.

When the camera snaps back to reality, Theynur has her clawed hand on Para's neck in the same pose. It is disconcerting to say the least, with the others confirming watching Para freeze in terror as Theynur crept up on her. Wanting to get out of her as soon as possible but not without what they came for, they descend. The bottom-most chamber is large, with a few narrow causeways criss-crossing between enormous cracked crystals with tubes & wires connected to them, plugged in somehow, shadows dancing in their facets; the floors & walls are all slicked & slippery with hard, black frozen obsidian leading down to the Carbonite Freezing Chamber at the heart of the tower's depths: ruptured, everything fossilized forever in time.

There is a lot of strange occult paraphernalia here; those big broken crystals look like synthetic kyber, & while this place too has suffered outrageous destruction, they can make out Protobesh remnants of the Cycle of Darth Noctyss & Darth Sanguis from the Rammahgon, fragmented images of The Brother from the Mortis Heresy as a sort of anatomical Vitruvian Man, mostly indecipherable Massassi runes that seem to mention something called the Muur Talisman, & a toppled statue of Sistros Nevet, one of the Four Sages of Dwartii from the founding of the Old Republic.

There is also a thin, faintly glowing sort of "vergence scatter" pattern connecting the blackness of the crystals & gems, like crimson curves of celestial calculus with diabolically wrought knots in it, a negative-image of the dark center of the galaxy, a void between the worlds, something like astro-navigational code written by pre-technological nihilists...all converging on the mangled carbonite hibernation chamber itself. This was not a controlled entry into stasis; nothing organic could have survived this. There is, however, an intact droid completely covered in the black stuff, which Theynur recognizes from her earlier Force vision. Everything here is quite well protected, trapped solid stasis, but this is where the pings from the sensor say the tapes should be. It should however be hypothetically possible to trigger a melt of the carbonite in a chain reaction that dissolves the whole thing…
Tags: end of empire, rpgs, star wars

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