Friday, May 10, 2013

130: Stars Less Bright

ENTRY 130: Stars Less Bright

Throughout the solar system there drift the uncountable corpses, flotsam carried along by momentum and gravity, cold and dead as rocks. Some are the veterans of old wars, their suits ripped, punctured, and burnt; others have no suit, but were buried at space. Most are victims of accidents or stupidity—the unprepared, the careless, the neglected—eternal reminders of those not fit to strike out on their own into space. Then there are the murdered dead, forced out of an airlock and left to drift and die, and because of those the stars burn less brightly in the sky, and perhaps their finders realize that in a cosmic sense, transhumanity has not come very far at all.

Neugene McNeil was such a case. A splicer out of Ceres, he was captain of a small courier ship, ferrying passengers and cargo to Luna and Mars. A solid rep among the travel crowd, no truck with criminals, no family and very few friends; Neugene managed his affairs well and kept mostly to himself and his ship, the Argimenes. In time, that would be the death of him: Neugene was as like to trade in favors or barter as to demand credits, but the mortgage on the Argimenes was to be paid in credits, and those payments were long passed due. Those who held the title on it as collateral had a hard time catching up, so they hired a repo group to take possession.

They laid in wait in the Main Belt, outside the jurisdiction and distress calls of any habitat, and caught the Argimenes with no passengers, just a hold full of hydrocarbons from Titan, and forced their way inside. Neugene was read the terms he’d signed, and informed of the repossession. Then they kicked him out of an airlock and left him to float and die. He was long used to space, and knew his chances; perhaps he went for the quick death and cut off his oxygen, or perhaps he stuck it out until the end, thinking maybe they’d come back after a time. Yet they never did, and eventually, one way or another, Neugene succumbed, and his cortical stack became corrupted or failed, and the stars less bright for his passing.

Using the Stars Less Bright

Gamemasters may think of this as an extended seed for a story or adventure—the player characters come across this mystery in space, a splicer dead in his vacuumsuit, no sign of violence but reeking of foul play. They may investigate, and with scarce trouble should turn up the outline of his background—his DNA and biometrics on register at Ceres, a history of receipts and docking passes in various public databases in the inner solar system, the name of his ship. The events after that are only a little harder to track—the Argimenes leaving a habitat with McNeil as captain, and next showing up without him, having passed through the bit of space where his corpse was found; following the money should reveal the hypercorp who held the mortgage, and maybe they’ll give up the repo group, or not—and if either finds out the PCs are snooping, they might intervene. What counts as justice at that point is up to the PCs: no habitat had jurisdiction, no friends of McNeil would pay to have them killed. Maybe they’d steal the ship and send it off to the sun with McNeil’s corpse aboard, or maybe they’ll just publish the details to the Mesh and watch the offender’s reps take a hit, or maybe they’ll just take it as an object lesson and move on. Any way it goes, afterwards the stars may burn a little less brightly for them, as they remember that sad face in the vacuum suit that was once Neugene McNeil.

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