ENTRY 172: The Neptunium Skull
Distance impedes nearly all communication; both the physical distance measured in kilometers and the conceptual distance between one ego and another, or one community and another. Information comes through various channels and becomes distorted or misinterpreted in passing from one receiver to the next, rumors growing as they are told and retold, and even the most diligent wiki on the Mesh cannot perfectly control all of what its members post. Space gives birth to legends.
One such legend regards the Neptunium Skull: 59.88 kg of neptunium-236, cast or carved or otherwise shaped into the semblance of the skull of a human female. Those are the facts; the rest is mostly conjecture. Its likely first appearance was a line on a security report from Rhea, when an “irregular near-critical mass” of neptunium was listed as among the missing following a break-in at a radioactive materials storage facility. A few weeks later, a Ruster yegg fresh from a “honeymoon” on Saturn died of radiation poisoning, mumbling about a skull—her partner/wife escaped custody and was never seen again. The first “official” sighting was when the St. Catherine Tong handed over the Skull to the administration of New Quebec, in exchange for the release of sixteen of its members from various forms of incarceration or service. The accepting official, Davier Jose Cheecha, was later indicted in scandal when the skull disappeared from its secure vault, and fled for the Outer Rim.
So the tales go, on and on—the Neptunium Skull crops up here and there throughout the solar system, an objective of inestimable worth and danger, leaving a trail of broken lives and contamination in its wake.
The Neptunium Skull is radioactive. Any unshielded exposure to the Neptunium Skull results in radiation poisoning for biomorphs (see Eclipse Phase, p.201); synthmorphs tend to become contaminated and may suffer flawed and corrupted backups, as well as passing the contamination on to others by exposure. Currently, due to shape, density, and mass the Neptunium Skull is subcritical and will not create a sustained nuclear reaction. This can be easily overcome however, so there remains the possibility that under the right conditions the Neptunium Skull can be converted into a nuclear weapon. The effects of this happening are left up to the gamemaster, but should probably involve “BIG BADDA BOOM” and radiation poisoning and contamination for any nearby morphs that survive.
Using the Neptunium Skull
A deadly sort of MacGuffin, the Neptunium Skull represents an object of nearly incalculable worth and danger all rolled into one. The industrial effort required to synthesize and separate that much neptunium-236 is tremendous, the idea that it is running loose in the solar system-wide grey market frightening. While not apparently designed for use in a nuclear weapon, the mass is sufficient that it could easily be used for such a purpose. However, the greater appeal of the Neptunium Skull is: who made it, and why? The shape and properties of the Neptuniun Skull also make it easy to transfer legends of real-life “cursed” and apocryphal objects like the Hope Diamond or the Crystal Skulls to the Neptunium Skull; some deluded individuals may even believe that the Skull contains the ability to enhance psi powers in some fashion. NPCs may play up this and other reputed powers of the skull, but the very real threat of carrying a massive ingot of refined radioactive isotope should be more than sufficient threat for most players.