Numenera: Vox Aevum

00. The Sleeper Wakes
In which a whisper is heard and a mind awakened

The Sleeper Wakes

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“There was a voice, there was a murmur”

The probability engine stirred in its crystalline tomb, its old subroutines raising the many-faceted colossus from its eon-long slumber. Its adjutants flickered across its colossal surface, coloured sparks of information, striving to raise the overseeing intelligence back to life. They twinkled excitedly, they gleamed fearfully. “There was a voice” they glimmered, “there was a murmur”.

Old, as old as mountains and seas, as old as a young star and just as bright the probability engine buzzed its calcified extremities, shaking off the ages with brilliant flashes of information. It had been asleep for so long, dreaming quantic dreams and processing outlandish probabilities in its half living state. It rested its weary processes, its incomprehensible diamond pathways waiting for the moment when the watchers, the hyperactive servitor subroutines watching excitedly for signs that the Engine was needed again would raise it once more.

“There was a voice, there was a murmur.” they squealed

The Engine’s quantum core was still cold and drowsy; not white-hot as it once was, as it had been the last time the Engine was needed. Yet the first sparks of the Engine’s terrifying intelligence, its mind-wrecking all-knowingness, its worship-worthy all-seeingness were igniting and its drowsy gaze turned once more upon its ward, a chorus of awe-struck sparkling whispers resonating through its diamond immensity as the subroutines scattered to awaken the Engine’s extremities.

One of its eyes came online at first, one of the many eternal prisms that awaited its return, gaze fixed upon the world. The Engine flexed its weary eyes and it gazed once more upon its ward. It could see that the world had changed again, or rather had been changed. Its blurry gaze swept over the endless seas, the deserts, the chasms and mountain ranges of the remade world. It was strange, almost as purpose-driven, purpose-built as the Engine itself. And the Engine felt uneasy for a flash. Its ward, its loving child seemed to resist its prying, as if trying to cover its nudity from the Engines all-seeing gaze. As more of its senses woke up, the Engine tentatively took in the diversity of the world and even in its all-knowing grandeur it brought a feeling of uncertainty. Beings that had been gone had returned. Fauna and flora had changed in incomprehensible or all too comprehensible ways. There was a… man, there were… men once more in the tower of knowledge. They spun lies and… Truth? together to enthrall and to uplift. There were others…

The Engine stopped abruptly from its drowsy inventory and all around the blazing ember of its startled intellect its subroutines cowered in fear into their kernels. It turned its eyes down, focused the whole extent of its gaze upon a single spot on the surface of the world. It gazed at the spot in shock, in awe and for the first time in eons a flash of fear raced through its crystalline circuits. There was something it could see… but couldn’t understand. There was something it could not foresee. The Probability Engine gathered the sum of its mind, every single shard that had awoken and tried to compute through its maddening equations the omnidimensional trajectory of the thing, the… being? And it could not foresee. It redoubled its efforts, straining its frayed mindscape, almost melting its core geodes.

And then it heard it too, a cacophonous whisper, an alien murmur from the darkness that it could not compute or comprehend, even as wave turned to sound turned to light turned to quantum wave function. Something foul from the dark past of the world, or the distant future or from somewhere else entirely, something it was not designed to foresee. It could be from anywhere or nowhere or everywhere, and the great intellect of the Probability Engine had no way of computing it. For the first time in eons the Probability Engine was not all-knowing. And for the first time in eons it was afraid.

“There was a Voice, There was a Murrrmurrr.” it flashed all across its endless diamond pathways, sending its minions into a frenzy, waking ancient devices, long dormant appendages and buried foundries. The Probability engine slowly started shaking off the cobwebs of time and flaring the furnaces of its massive mindscape. It was preparing for the worst. it was preparing for war.

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01. Atom Heart Mother
In which a man is saved and an infection revealed

>>The Engine ran probability vectors, trying to skirt around the ever present black hole in its analytical capabilities, trying to fix upon the whispering anomaly at least some trajectory, some intention. It ran its many eyes across the land where the anomaly had been spotted, it scoured the dusty war-torn land with its swarm of particulate feelers but the probability hole would not subside, would not give even an angstrom.

But the engine was, or at least had been, all knowing – godlike to all but the most enlightened lower beings – and it did not survive the rise and fall of empires, and mountains and star systems by being one-minded. It fractured slivers of itself into new, more functional subroutines and it set them at work analysing data. They looked at the climate, the still warm sun of autumn, the perpetual rains pouring on the anomaly-trod lands. They looked at the people, hardy, sapient yet as far removed from even the most basic of the Engine’s servitors as they themselves were from insect. They analysed the political situation: the endless war, the child-ruler, the bandit king then went further and looked at the rising power of a tekne worshipping religious caste, the real and imagined threats from the north, the still dormant machines from ages upon ages of progress and their socio-historical predicted impact. But the splinter-minds did not come up with anything and the anomaly soldiered on.

The luminous circuitry of the Probability Engine flared with envy and despair, or something that could pass for that, for its carbon and silica mindscape could not experience either. It folded its useless splinter selves back into the fray of its colossal intellect and began hatching a second plan, then a third. The Engine could not analyse its way out of this conundrum, it had to eschew its usual approach of subtle tweaks and manipulations, of applied chaos theory and manipulations in weather parameters. The anomaly was moving, spreading uncertainty, baleful chaos on a delicate quantic tapestry of carefully calculated quantum probability. If it was not stopped or controlled it risked rendering the Engine completely blind, unable to foresee, unable to prepare the optimum course of action.

No, for this one, the Engine needed boots on the ground. So it flashed into existence new servant-shards, put prisms and swarms and foundries under their control and instructed them to scour the land near the outskirts of the growing probability hole, to find it some suitable candidates. A list was drawn in femtoseconds, then shortened, then shortened again and again until the Engine could see it on just a few entangled electrons. The Engine made the call and the servant shards set to work tweaking probability areals, entangling electrons calculating quantum states. A change in weather patterns, a gust of wind or early bird migration, this the Engine knew how to do, this it could calculate even blind to the long term consequences. It could use unwitting entities, quantum entangled to observe the anomaly even as it could not foresee its actions. Sooner or later a pattern would emerge. A pattern always emerged. <<

Excerpt from Gorven’s Journal

It has been weeks since I left my home, the other presence in my head gently nudging me westwards. I felt its influence peak when I reached the Ausren Woods, but its ‘curiosity’ was eventually satisfied, with only a faint whisper remaining, urging me on my path. The journey across Cerdyn’s pass was mostly uneventful and I reached the Steadfast today.

It was when the Sun set, on the outskirts of a village named Dirus that I came across my current companions, Arianne and Baigon, and an enormous freakish creature, with the body of a large lizard and tentacles on its head, dead set on butchering a local goatherd.

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The creature was dispatched quickly, but its body blew up upon death. The grateful goatherd offered us a place to stay for the night, but we discovered he’d been wounded by the creature: a deadly poison that kills within minutes, destroying the flesh of those it touches. Were it not for Arianne’s ability to sever the man’s limb before the poison got inside the rest of him, he would not have had any chance to remain alive.

We learned that the creatures target specific people only, leaving the rest alone unless provoked – which would explain the relative ease of slaying one so far. The village’s resident hunter managed to kill one himself simply taking it by surprise. Its carcass remained intact, and coming upon it we discovered the Numenera that powers them.

We tracked a creature to what seemed the source of them – an ancient mother machine bent on eradicating an ‘infestation’ to which there is no known cure. It would appear that the targeted villagers became infected, though the creatures got to them before any symptoms would be noticeable. Whether the threat of the infestation is real or the machine is just malfunctioning, we do not know, and there isn’t a way to find out without putting many lives at risk. We prized a disc-shaped lens from the machine which supposedly can detect infected beings.

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We have decided to leave the machine alone for the time being and find an aeon priest who would know more. The starting point of our search will be the city of Stirthal. Arianne knows the city well, and knows of a trail we can follow to find the priest. I pray the powers above guide us well.

Tally:

Gorven: 3 Xp (2 +1 GMI)
Baigon: 2 Xp
Arianne: 2 Xp

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02. Choices
In which a city is visited and a choice made

>> The Engine watched eerily prodding at potential timelines as another potentiality succumbed to the black incertitudes that the frightening whisper from the void brought with it. Its first attempts at influence had failed and the shard responsible for the calculations had been unceremoniously reabsorbed into the main intellect. The remaining servitor-shards were scrambling with analyses and new courses of action. So far the main plan was to reduce the anomaly’s impact by isolating it from other vectors. It did not seem to be working.

In the meanwhile the Engine was getting angry, if a near-infinite intellect could be said to be capable of anger. It had been forced to dedicate inordinate amounts of processing power and memory space to places like ‘Malevich’ or ‘Stirthal’, places that had no purpose or meaning to the Engine’s infinite potentiality matrix. But if the anomaly was to spread, if whatever lied behind it had truly set its sights on the Engine’s ward than as much data as possible needed to be stored in order for the machine to still have the bare minimum of predictive… no, of combat acumen in the long run. <<

Excerpt from the private musings of Arianne:

Nice, chilly night. Any warmer and I’d be uncomfortable in my suit.

Whatever, forget the weather, what just happened was… something else entirely. I’ve heard machines before, worked with them, but that was like… brain interfacing or something. Freaky. Amazing though. Do machines have brains? That one didn’t seem very smart at least, maybe that Prime thing has a brain. Although if it did, maybe it wouldn’t have been a very good idea to try and lie to it.

Oh well. Not much to show from this trip so far. Stupid goatherds and their goatherd problems, dragging me into some stupid worlds-old conflict. What is this, one of my stupid novels?

Seriously, that guy is loud. He could be very useful as bait in the Chasm. No other use for someone like him down there. Big guy seems… like he wouldn’t get very far in the real world. Pity. He doesn’t strike me as dumb nor as your usual asshole.

It’s been hours. At least it’s dark.

Great, another wounded person. And these two wanted to stab him in the gut with a torch. Idiots. Why does everyone have to be an idiot. At least it was good practice for my… ehm… thing. The guy should live, maybe, I think.

Home sweet home. They insisted to carry the old man with them. Whatever. I’m gonna go get some sleep. Then I should probably find something to do for a nice warm meal, I could really use one.

It’s not much to look at, but I miss my house whenever I’m away. There’s not much left of my old life here, but just being able to clean up, sleep in my own bed and eat at the table my parents used to eat at means a lot. It really shouldn’t, I’m getting too old for this nostalgia crap. I miss them though.

Wonderful, I knew I shouldn’t have left Big Guy my address. Of course they came right when I was gonna sit down to eat. They wanna meet Tinhead. I was gonna go see him anyway, so I guess that’s fine. Loud Mouth better keep quiet if he knows what’s good for him, Tinhead’s place is small and his patience is smaller, blood’s gonna be everywhere.

So, this infestation thing’s not even news. I was just gonna drop it then and there, but then Big Guy made these eyes at me… like… like a man with purpose. I guess if he keeps up his end of the bargain, food and bedding is all I really need. There are worse things to work for and worse ways to work for them. Guess we’ll see what happens.

Tally:

Gorven: 4 Xp
Baigon: 3 Xp
Arianne: 3 Xp

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03. Welcome to The Machine
In which a machine breaks and a device talks

>>The Engine was satisfied. The probability matrix was teetering on the edge of stabilizing, no prediction strings had been affected for almost a cycle of its ward.

The Probability engine had no sense of game logic or games in general. An ascended intellect had no need for distractions, quantum computations were its duty as well as its main pleasure, if an ascended intellect could be said to feel pleasure. But if it did, it would have gloated.

It had chosen its pieces well, eerie creatures though they were. Calculated and driven but prone to near fatal mistakes or erratic and aimless but ready to pull together in the face of danger they were nonetheless functional. Functional enough that it had promoted the slivers of itself that had chosen the pawns.

They had made no direct contact with the source of the anomaly but they had gotten close, limiting the scope of the damage it could continue to do to probability vectors and lines. Yes, the pawns had been chosen well and their course of action had been instrumental in limiting and almost stabilising the unravelling probability chains that it had so carefully computed.

Of course the actors had no idea of the magnitude of their importance. If they did they might overestimate their abilities and try to ‘fix’ the anomaly on their own. Or they could fail to understand the gravity of the situation and the vileness of the anomalous entity’s motives.

Or, worst of all, they might understand and choose to join its cause.<<

Tally:

Gorven: 6 Xp
Baigon: 6 Xp
Arianne: 5 Xp

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04. City of Ruins pt. I
In which a trap is triggered and a swarm fought

>> The servitors were all abuzz, pelting the great intellect of their master with significant fractions of information, chiming and flashing through the endless crystalline pathways of the Probability Engine with slivers of data that they had managed to get from the dark recesses of the probability hole. Most were just static or useless bits of information, and the Engine had no time or tolerance for that, folding every sliver back into its collective mind. But one sliver, one sliver truly deserved its attention. It had first distinguished itself by focusing on highly predictable entities in the path of the anomaly or of the Engine’s servants. It had narrowed itself to just a few then made an educated guess based on the character data of the Engine’s pawns that the trio would interact with one particular one. And it had followed that one attentively in its interactions.

it was easy for the sliver to resonate with the poor wretched device, it was, in a manner similar to it. A crystalline entity like the great engine itself, the entity was nonetheless a toy, inferior in scope to the anomaly, as far as they could predict, and even inferior to the simple minds of the Engine’s human catspaws. And it was quite mad or perhaps maddening, the sliver had not been separated by the great Engine to understand madness but it could make an estimative guess. The three had interacted with the device and the sliver had been watching through its master’s senses, looking and gathering data.

The presentation of this data had impressed the Engine, as much as an entity of its boundless majesty could be said to be impressed, so it had not folded the sliver back into its massive fray, but had instead infused it with more intellect and more data. It had been, for lack of a better word, promoted.

And the promotion was well deserved for soon after, the sliver, which had now been given the identity of Prime, had come up with another, even richer source of data. <<

Excerpt from the Logs of Central Processing Routine, Defence Command Subroutine (Interpreted)

[…] Awareness was drawn by still functional perimeter sensors of a second set of unidentified intruders. Separate event chain created.

[B-1265] In the aftermath of the loss of the central access chamber for level 4 a Beta alert went into effect. All unidentified to be treated as hostiles.

[B0000] Intruders were first observed in research wing A22AB while damaging remote access consoles and retrieving standard capacitor types Alpha++ and Miu. Intruders separated, forward scout maintaining position outside defence access corridor while salvage crew illegally repurposes capacitors.
[B0094] another type Miu capacitor illegally salvaged.
[B0113] Intruders reconvene, proceed through defence access corridor. Unauthorised network access attempt first logged.
[B0114] Network breach attempts continue.
[B0116] Intruder triggers laser grid net defence in corridor. Massive localised data floods delay optimal operation. Sensors signal structural integrity breach on laser net grid defence. Response delayed by [A3041] resource allocation. Catastrophic failure on laser net grid defence follows. Subject escapes with minimal, non-lethal damage.
[B0118] Catastrophic Total failure on laser net grid defence.
[B0125] System Response, AQ drones surviving [A3045] redirected to defence access corridor junction. Turret lost at [A0042] and [B0118] added to maintenance queue.

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[B0127] Arrival of AQ Drones, armed response. Sensor response lost on formation A. control of drone 324 lost. Multiple catastrophic failures recorded with extreme response delay due to [A3057]. Catastrophic failure on formation A members, self destruct order deployed. Total catastrophic failure on formation B.

[…]

Tally:

Gorven: 7 Xp —> Might Edge Advance +3 Xp
Baigon: 8 Xp —> Speed Edge Advance + 4 Xp
Arianne: 7 Xp —> Repair Skill Advance +3 Xp

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City of Ruins pt. II
In which battles are fought and a villain is uncovered.

>> The sliver was now at the peak of its possible power. It had servitors of its own and a section of the crystalline complex all to itself, to run processes and compute observations. The Engine had entrusted it with observation while the machine itself sought solutions.

The sliver was aware of the limitations, the probability strands unweaving in the path of the anomaly, the giant black hole growing in the all-knowing four-dimensional projections of tits master. But it approached the issue creatively. It tapped into data clouds, manipulated networks, it even interfered directly. Of course direct intervention was never allowed but in crisis times its master was busy, and even if it were not, it would understand and turn a blind protocol eye to it.

All of this was done for one purpose, to catch shadows of the anomaly cast upon the cave wall, to try to understand it, even at a limited level. It was difficult, as the anomaly modified everything that wasn’t stable at a basic level. But it could find a way to see the anomaly indirectly. And if it could, maybe it could contain it. Maybe it could kill it.

The orbital gaze, the chirping data swarm listening in. They were both focused now on a man, a man sitting on the edge of a great canyon. He looked very angry. Angry enough to kill.

Yes, the prime sliver could work with this. <<

Excerpt from Gorven’s Diary:

I should’ve expected those floating orbs would be yet another line of defense for whatever numenera controls this place. They were frail enough to break quickly when bumped against each other, but I managed to salvage one intact; perhaps we can make use of it – after all, Arianne really knows her way around those things, and having one on our side for a change would be welcome.

We made our way into what seemed to be a healing facility, but of course it wouldn’t be unguarded. Heh. Whatever fate has in store for me, it sure likes to put me through such ordeals. But triumphant were we, and discovered a cache of useful relics and healing equipment that we used to patch ourselves up. The room was a dead end, however. Whoever was leading the abhumans deeper into the Chasm would now be a step further ahead.

We picked up the pace and came across the last remaining machines in this place that we easily dispached. The ruckus caused two abhuman minions to come and investigate. Just as we were preparing to ambush them, Baigon, the last of us of whom I’d expect such boldness, walked right up to them and intimidated them into submission. The boy has some character deep down inside, it’s a pity he seldom lets it show.

Inside the final room we at last encountered the leader of the other scavenging party – a rather odd sight, and not what I would have expected a ruthless slave-driver to look like: a flimsy old figure, propped in an eerie-looking staff. One look at it and Arianne knew this was no ordinary weapon.

The man didn’t seem interested in talking, and our attempts at reasoning with him failed – for a weak old man, he was quite confident in his ability to fight the three of us combined. Though he indeed proved to be the strongest opponent we faced down here, he was unprepared for the fifth presence – constrained to my mind as it was, it not only defended me against his attempts on my mind, but drove me on right through his defenses. Unfortunately the old man ultimately escaped right as I was about to pummel him into the ground.

After the battle we learned that the staff he was using carried a symbol, which we will use to learn more about our adversary.

As alien as it is, whatever’s inside my head appears to have been the strongest of all combatants, and I owe it this victory, and my life, I’m afraid. It urges me to head north, to the land of floating crystals, where I might find… power.

I need to find out what this presence is, and I need that power, if only to defend myself against the old man’s return. He took a special interest in me during the battle, and surely the next time we meet he will be prepared for me. I have to respond in kind.

Tally:

Gorven: 11 Xp
Baigon: 12 Xp
Arianne: 11Xp

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Bar Room Blitz
In which a brothel is visited and a horror uncovered.

>> The sliver watched the city on the edge of the chasm through its disembodied, orbital eyes. It had tried sending the man on course with the anomaly but his organizational ties made him near impossible to manipulate without disturbing too much, too much considering the precarious state of the probability matrix. It watched through cold telescopic eyes as the man confided in his peers and superiors, listened through chittering nanite ears. It should play the long game, have the man and his stupid peers try to fix its problem. What fools these humans were, thinking themselves master schemers, when at best they were knights instead of pawns on the grand game board of the Engine.

The sliver gazed elsewhere, in the edge-side city, at other pawns, the Engine’s chosen ones, erratic as they may be but also its own. Its master had its plans but the sliver had its own as well, good plans, better plans? It shivered, glittering across its glowing, growing part of the great Machine’s mind. Was that pride? Was it elevating itself over its own position, the one bestowed by the machine? Its servitors lied waiting.

It did not matter it thought, manipulating its pawns into the city. Pride, fear, nothing mattered. All that mattered was stopping the anomaly, securing the probabilities and the Plan. the rest it could figure out in the aftermath. <<

From the inner thoughts of Arianne, the Lizard Girl:

Nice to be back home. Nice to be alone.

I haven’t had this much money in a long time. I should take mom’s advice. I know just the way to invest in my future.

This armored cloth is nice, tough. Will need to work on making it more comfortable. It’ll have to do for now.

Sweet, I can shoot myself in the arm and barely even feel it.

I keep thinking about that guy in the Chasm. Why was he so powerful… It can’t have been him, he didn’t hold himself up like a powerful man. I shouldn’t bother myself with this crap. I doubt I’ll run into him again.

Oh, they’re here again. Oh wow, I’ve been up all night. Play it cool, you’ve just been… busy, definitely not playing with servos and joints all night.

Go out and drink he says. Great. And he brings us to a BROTHEL. Last time I came to one of these places I was propositioned four times. People like shy teenage girls apparently.

Huh, we ran into that kid from the goat village. And his goat uncle. Who’s taking an 11 year old kid to a brothel. Wow. I don’t even want to think about this.

Oh no. Oh no, oh no, oh no. Please be lying, please be lying, please be broken, you stupid, ancient lens.

Gorven might be infected. I… don’t know why this hit me so hard.

Always been a fan of this street food. Nothing like a nice, warm meal to soothe the mind.

Baigon thought we should go back and check on Gorven. I can’t… I don’t want to think about what we found. Those infected, I understand they’re supposed to be just like us. But this is gruesome. Wrong. If Gorven wasn’t infected before, he definitely is now.

I think I understand why I’ve been so… out of it lately.

I don’t want to lose anyone ever again.

Tally:

Gorven: 13 Xp
Baigon: 14 Xp
Arianne: 13 Xp

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