When last we played (with a minor hand wave to swap crew) Zaccheus, Gildas, D’Arcy, Capt Neo, Tiernan, Gwayne, Vladimir, Dionysius, and the aliens Fil and Ga’a’atak had attempted to return to Alwuud to investigate the mysterious behavior of Dionysius during his amnesiac period. Instead, the Arianwyn had misjumped 17 parsecs, and was stranded without fuel in deep space, where they’ve been for two weeks. Capt Neo and Ga’a’atak both went into low berths to conserve resources, and Fil had locked himself in his cabin and hadn’t been seen since the misjump.
At the beginning of their third week, Vladimir asked about the alien Fil, and decided to rouse him from his cabin. He knocked and was surprised as the door opened immediately! Fil ran past him, through the forward lounge, where most of the team was, and onto the bridge. As everyone crowded in, they saw that Fil had apparently lost 20% of his body mass… he was emaciated and looked exhausted.
"My friends," he said to them, "I have to talk to you before it is too late!"
Suddenly, the ship’s radio came to life with a loud crackle, as Fil collapsed to the ground. A voice from the radio called out, "Hello! Hello? This is Shar-Captain Naneb Bata of the Pilgrim’s Journey. Please identify yourself!”
Struggling to his feet, Fil managed to whisper, “Don’t answer him…” before collapsing again, this time out cold. As Fil hit the floor the second time, the proximity sensors screamed to life, and the formerly empty star field display showed a ship that dwarfed their 400 ton craft… a ship easily displacing 10,000 tons, approximately 2 kilometers overhead! A second screen showed the view below the ship, where they saw a flat plane extending in all directions, and blocking out half the sky, with a horizon more than 17,000 km away! In addition, the ship’s logs suddenly showed they’d been near the “object” the entire two weeks, and had recorded hundreds of proximity warnings.
As they discussed their situation, they again heard Shar-Captain Bata identifying himself and his ship, and asking them to do the same. Zaccheus used his life detection capability on the ship above them, and learned there were more than 10,000 humans aboard. Vladimir, admitting he knew nothing of Zaccheus’ psionic powers, suggested that maybe Fil had been battling the Shar-Captain psionically or hiding them from him to protect them ever since they’d arrived, and that might account for his weakened condition.
A third time the Shar-Captain hailed them, before moving his ship forward 10 kilometers and landing on the surface. At this point, Gildas and Tiernan decided to check on Fil. They were able to wake him, and asked what was going on. In a weak voice, he answered them.
“I had hoped to hide this place from you forever, to protect you. Its people once knew it as Kazar, and it is known to my people as SanKazar Yanno Kazarisan; in your language, “Kazar, the place of our shame and our failure.” With that Fil passed out again.
Confused, but concerned about Fil’s health, and hoping to protect him from further psionic attack, they put him into cold sleep in a low berth. They decided to wake up Capt Neo at the same time, and pulled him from his low berth capsule.
Vladimir, D’Arcy and Gwayne took the ship’s launch, and drifted down toward the surface slowly, so as not to alert the other ship. They headed in the opposite direction, searching for anything on the surface. After travelling 10 kilometers, they headed back, having seen no markings or structures anywhere on the seemingly metallic surface. While they were investigating, Zaccheus again used his life detection ability, but this time focused on the surface below. He alternately detected no intelligent life at all, and millions of beings, and all numbers in between, in a constantly and randomly changing count.
Three hours after landing, the Pilgrim’s Journey suddenly lifted off the surface, and flew back into position above the Arianwyn. He hailed them twice more, and receiving no reply, flew directly upward, away from the surface, and then jumped out of system.
Vladimir, D’Arcy and Gwayne took the launch forward to the landing site of the Pilgrim’s Journey, where they found a 30 meter wide depression in the surface. They landed on the depression as the other ship had done, but nothing happened. Looking outside, they noticed a second, smaller depression nearby, so they donned their helmets and went out to investigate. They found themselves under the influence of a standard gravity field, thus making movement simple.
The second depression turned out to be 4 meters across. D’Arcy walked over to it, and jumped into it… and it irised open, swallowing her! Gwayne followed immediately. Vladimir drew his weapons, and jumped in, prepared to fight.
Each fell in darkness, then suddenly flipped over, only to find themselves standing on a circle on the floor of a comfortable looking waiting room containing a long table, chairs, and on one wall, two large black display screens standing side-by-side, each 1.5 meters wide and 2.5 meters tall.
Their suits indicated a breathable atmosphere, so they took off their helmets, and Vladimir decided to investigate the displays. Neither seemed to have power, but when he put his palm on the middle of the left panel, it lit up, showing a room similar to the one they were in, containing a single man. Vladimir jumped back, then waved to him, and the man responded, “I can hear you. Greetings, and welcome, I am Chief Engineer Tamar Horne. You do not look like pilgrims… so what can I do for you?”
Suddenly, the right panel lit up as well, also showing a similar room, and containing another being… one almost, but not quite human, with much larger eyes, and much smaller ears, but otherwise appearing normal. “My name is Nahdool Tanquar! I am The Philosopher. Welcome. I see that you are not pilgrims, but invite you none-the-less to join us in Nirvana. But first, why not bring the rest of your team?”
“We’re the only ones onboard,” said Vladimir, referring to the launch.
The Engineer responded, “I’ve been analyzing your ship for the past two weeks and The Philosopher was NOT referring to your launch!”
Vladimir tried to hail the Arianwyn, but was unsuccessful. “You can’t reach your companions from this room, I’m sure The Engineer could explain why… but it’s not important. Go back to your ship, and bring the rest of your team, so I may invite you all to join us in Nirvana!
“Actually, you would be much better off going back to your ship, and leaving here. His “Nirvana” is not a place for you!”
“All we need,” said Vladimir, “is help refueling, and then we can go. Can you help?”
“Yes, but bring your companions first,” responded The Philosopher.
With that, Vladimir, D’Arcy and Gwayne put their helmets back on, stepped onto the circles on the floor, and immediately fell downward, flipped and found themselves on the surface next to the launch.
At Vladimir’s call, Zaccheus brought the Arianwyn forward, and landed near the launch. Zaccheus, Capt Neo, Gildas, and Tiernan joined the other three, and all went inside, leaving Dionysius, Fil and Ga’a’atak in cold sleep aboard the Arianwyn.
Back inside, The Philosopher again asked them to join him in Nirvana, explaining they could have everything they’d ever wanted. The Engineer tried to dissuade them, saying Nirvana was simply a trap, and no one had ever returned from it. During several hours of conversation, they learned or figured out the following:
- The surface they’d landed on was the outer shell of a Dyson sphere created by The Philosopher’s people in the distant past
- The Philosopher’s people had called themselves the Kazari, and they were no friends of Fil’s people, the Melashravishim. The Melashravishim had come to Kazar near the start of the building of the sphere, and promised great things… but soon were working to convince them against building the sphere. The Melashravishim stayed for centuries, until the sphere was complete, then vanished
- The Philosopher’s job is to welcome pilgrims from other worlds, and invite them to enter into the Nirvana they’d created, much like the pilgrims delivered by Shar-Captain Bata and The Pilgrim’s Journey
- The Engineer was actually a human from the home galaxy, and had been born on Regina
- His “anteroom” was somehow keeping him alive, and had for the centuries since so many people had been ripped across space to this galaxy
- He had been Chief Engineer on a battleship in a fleet attempting to locate Regina when they came upon The Sphere. All his people had eventually accepted The Philosopher’s offer and entered Nirvana. He had vowed to stay behind and try to warn people of the danger, because although The Philosopher said they were free to return, none had ever done so
The party finally decided they could not, as a group, accept the Philosopher’s offer, so he asked them to take a gift back to their King as a show of friendship. They agreed, and he produced an orb 60 cm in diameter, that glinted and sparkled like a fire opal. Tiernan accepted it, and promised to take it to Oer’King Ossian. The Philosopher also offered to give them fuel and supplies to make it to the pilgrim’s star system, Sanlo.
The Engineer, on the other hand, offered to trade a 300 ton gazelle class close escort ship named Fast Eland for their 400 ton merchant ship, if only they would leave behind the Philosopher’s Orb and promise never to return. The party tried to convince Zaccheus to accept this offer, both because it was capable of jump-5 rather than just jump-1, and because it was fully armed. After much argument, he declined, because he didn’t want to lose the cargo capacity. Instead, he asked to have the engines on the Arianwyn replaced with better ones, and the originals put into the cargo bay for transport back to Arden, and The Engineer agreed, saying it would take a month to make the swap.
While this was going on, Capt Neo continued his conversation with The Philosopher, asking if he’d be able to get a dreadnought if he entered Nirvana. The Engineer again warned him it was a trap, but The Philosopher simply said, “Anything you want can be yours.”
As The Engineer began work on the Arianwyn, Capt Neo stepped into The Philosopher’s anteroom, and said, “OK, I’m here, can I have my dreadnought now?” The Philosopher laughed, and said, “You haven’t entered Nirvana yet… that is through the next door.”
Capt Neo opened the next door, only to find stairs leading downward. He started down, and found himself on a great stairway seemingly hanging in a sunny blue sky. Looking up and behind him, he saw it led up to the doorway.. while downward, far far below, was the ground. He walked down for hours, into the heart of a beautiful white city. The first person he met was a woman, the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen! “Where can I get a dreadnought,” he asked her, to which she merely smiled and said, “I have no idea what that is!” When he asked about a ship, she pointed him across the city. Following her directions, he came to a harbor, where beautiful wooden boats, some with sails, some without, were moored at the docks. He spotted a man on one, and called out to him. “I’m looking for a dreadnought, but a woman sent me here…”
“You speak like a pilgrim, but you are not dressed as one. What is it you seek?”
“I was told I could have anything I wanted, and I want a dreadnought. Where do I find one?”
“I do not know the term.”
“A ship. A ship that can take me to other worlds!”
“Ah, then I can help you! I am the captain of this fine vessel, and I regularly take cargo and passengers to other worlds in it!”
“You don’t understand,” said Capt Neo, “I don’t mean other islands in the ocean, I mean other worlds altogether!”
“But that is what I mean, as well! We sail out and then enter the fog, and after a week, we return to the sea and sail to port on another world!”
Frustrated, Capt Neo said, “Never mind,” and left to find the stairway. He climbed for what felt like 12 hours before finally reaching the door in the sky… and upon passing through it, found himself back in The Philosopher’s anteroom alone. Stepping back into the waiting room, he found nobody there, either, so he donned his helmet, and went back to the surface. He’d been gone two weeks, and his team had given up on him. Vladimir looked at The Philosopher, and exclaimed, “You said no one ever came back! You can’t say THAT anymore!” The Philosopher conceded.
When the modifications to the ship had been completed, the original engines loaded aboard the Arianwyn, and the ship refueled, Zaccheus and the team bid both The Engineer and The Philosopher farewell. Tiernan again promised to give the Orb to Oer’King Ossian, and they departed for home.
Their route, accomplished without encounter, and without mechanical problems, took them from Kazar, to Damiano, and then to Tekmiti, Hakan, Sniila, Ohanzee, Mitsuko and to Arden in turn, utilizing their upgraded Jump-3 engines. In each system, they stayed near the gas giant long enough to refuel, then continued their journey homeward.
During their first jump, from Kazar to Damiano, they tried to study the Orb, finding it beautiful and mesmerizing, and just a bit unsettling. They left it alone after that, but on their final jump, from Mitsuko to Arden, decided to jettison it from the Arianwyn 3 days into the jump.
Upon returning to Arden, Zaccheus turned the Arianwyn over to the Starport, and asked to have the newer drives removed for study, and the original reinstalled. The team was told this would take 60 days.
A week after their return, Zaccheus was interviewed by the Ardeni Kingdoms Information Service.
(Game Calendar: 545-021 to 545-114).