They looked like fireflys. Small orange lights flaring up and then disappearing against the backdrop of stars.
Unfortunately they were pieces of our heatshield, flaking off and drifting in front of our window before they evaporated in the intense heat of the sun.
Our first Threat- Threats are handled by dice rolls. The Threat begins with a die pool. In Act I it is 3 dice, in Act II 5. Whoever decided to take on the Threat begins to build their own die pool with 1 die for free. In this case it’s Barnez.
“Doctor, what if I start rotating the ship to spread the heat out evenly around the ship, will that keep things from overheating?”
So there’s her die, and while I realize the thermodynamics is tenuous at best, it’s not like I’m playing with Neal deGrasse Tyson here. This call is for help from the Scientist. If I spend a Story Point, I can take a die away from the Threat pool by explaining something about the problem.
“I suppose so, let me figure out what kind of rate of rotation would make that possible.”
“Hold on,” Alison interjects “our cooling system isn’t designed for this, I’ll need to adjust it to flow all around the ship at the same rate as we’re rotating so it will dissipate the heat on the night side.”
Looks like Alison is trying to help. First helper is free, which adds a die to the pool. It also means that if any Harm is done in the roll, it will affect Alison as well. Our die pool is now two for us, and two for the Threat. Since it is early on, we decide to risk a roll:
So that’s 3 to 5. We lost which means those that were in on the Threat suffers one harm.
“Your rate of rotation should be- but wait, that will be able to keep the heat from destroying the ship, but it won’t do anything about the solar radiation! That’s certainly something you should be worried about, given the amount of flight time you’ve had in your past, there’s no telling to what kind of genetic damage you could-”
“All of you will get into the storm shelter, just give me the rate of rotation and I will join you once we’re stable.”
A distant echoing explosion rattles throughout the ship. The intercom rattles to life.
“VanHousen here, apparently one of the coolant tanks ruptured during the relay. Alison’s a bit banged up but alright. Things are going to be a little hot on the ship.
“That’s fine. Finish up what you’re doing and get into the storm shelter. I’ve got this.”
The next round is now one die for Barnez versus FOUR dice for the threat since the threat gains a black die for each point of Harm the Hero has. Rather than blaming it on radiation at this point, I’m justifying it by saying that Barnez is blaming herself for Alison’s injury.
Barnez mutters under her breath: “The world didn’t spend almost a trillion dollars to give me a malfunctioning heap of bolts, stick with me.”
She spends a Story point to use the Asset of Amazingly Fast Ship. Only one Asset can be used in each Threat, but at least the dice are getting more even, 2 versus 4.
“I have the rotation vectors. This should do it.” Pendragon says, handing the tablet to Barnez.
Another Story Point spent. Players have options of spending their own Story Points, or the Points in the Plan Pool. It’s always better to play your own, since the points in the Plan Pool will ultimately save the world, but you can’t do that if everyone is dead before you get there, so sometimes you have to. Dice are now 2 versus 3 because of the Scientist’s power.
Finally Shirley floats back to the MIM.
“How’s Alison?” Barnez says, the worry obvious in her voice.
“She’s fine, just some bruises. In fact, the fault in the coolant tanks were from some frozen Hydrogen clogging the lines. If it wasn’t for this stunt, she wouldn’t have found it until much later and the damage would have been much worse.”
Barnez lets out an audible sigh.
Shirley spends a plot point for her Doctor’s special ability, she can have another player ignore the negative effect of a level of Harm. Therefore that gives us another 2 vs 2 die roll.
“Where is Alison?”
“She’s still putting the finishing touches on the coolant system. The damage from the explosion is pretty well contained, but it made the rerouting a bit tricky.
Alison is willing to risk helping again for a 3 vs 2 die roll. All rolls in this game cost a lot and become awfully exciting.
8 vs 4. Unfortunately only beating it by 4. Had we won by 5, we would do 2 hits to the threat, but now only one, which means another round against a slightly weaker threat. It only starts at 2 dice, but with Barnez’s harm, that means it starts at 3 still. Had I rolled 1 higher, I would have knocked 2 dice off, and things would be a whole lot easier.
The ship begins to spin and our astronauts begin drifting towards the walls.
“Into the storm shelter, now!” Barnez barks. The other two astronauts react with a primal urge to follow the military order and head down the corridor, the strange false gravity that is slowly developing on the ship throwing their alignment off, causing them to bump into walls, tables, cables and all sorts of things. Before long, they are safely amongst the bags of water and other supplies of their none-to-roomy storm shelter, an extra-shielded space in the middle of the ship designed should a solar storm erupt during their journey so the astronauts wouldn’t suffer too much radiation.
Within moments, Alison joins the other two, filling them in on the changing coolant patterns. “It’s going to get hot for a while, but I think we can get through it.”
Then the waiting begins. The gentle pressure on the side of the shelter increases, though the small fraction of a g never feels like they are laying down back home. All three spend most of the time in silence, staring at the hatchway, waiting for Jessica Barnez to open the hatch and join them and wait for all this to pass.
But it never happens.
Jessica’s Death card reads “By Her Own Hand.”
There are 3 ways you can play your Death Card. You can “cheat death” by playing your Death card when you’ve hit 5 harm but you’re in a way that is not like your death card. This clears your harm but forces you to die in Act II by the way your Death Card says. If you do, you earn some dice for the Plan. If you don’t, some dice go into the Event Pool, which is bad.
Another way is by taking 5 harm and seeing that you’re in a way that is like your death card. If that’s the case, you bow out and die and receive some applause from the other players for getting yourself into this awesome situation. You then earn some more dice for the Plan than you would have if you cheated death.
Finally you can choose your death, which is what Jessica just did, which seems fitting for what her Death Card says. If you do that, you get the dice for the Plan like you would get for confirming your Death Card, but you also get 2 Story Points for the Plan as well.
All of these things also immediately end the Threat.
In a few days radio communcations with NASA fix the problems with the heat shield. Changes to the angles of entry on the shield itself, as well as the ship creates enough of a block that the three astronauts can finally leave the storm shelter.
When they do, they find the ship just as they left it. Yet it seems quieter and devoid of something. No one seems willing to float to the MIM, all eyes going to Van Housen as it seems that the Doctor should be the first person to find the bo- to be the first person to check.
Radiation poisoning isn’t pretty. Shirley spends almost an hour cleaning the Air Force veteran up before she allows anyone else to enter the MIM. She had lost all of her hair, and it was drifting in a halo around her slumped head. She had clearly vomited several times, sometimes with teeth exiting so fast they got stuck in the console in front of her.
Alison handled the funeral. She had a lot to say about their traveling companion. They had spent a lot of time together in training, it seemed. Tears don’t flow in zero g, which is for the best because it would be hard to message back home and explain that you’re not sure who you are crying for: Your fallen comrade? Yourself because you lost your pilot? The whole planet because now the fate of humanity lies in three people’s hands?
A quick push from Alison’s suited hands had Jessica’s body float free from the Armstrong. She clumsily saluted as best as she could, the bulky suit preventing much of the stiff gesture’s formality. She then floated back into the airlock, knowing that her shove would not be enough to separate them forever, and that Master Sergeant Barnes would be forever drifting through space beside them, like a strange moon. She blinked her eyes. Why won’t these tears just go away?