Last time we triggered the auto-launch sequence for the Aquila, which is supposed to take the Ambassador to the mysterious artifact that showed up in the solar system recently. We escaped a hit squad at our apartment and arrived at the military base where the Aquila is ready to launch, only to find ourselves in the middle of a full-scale terrorist attack. How do we get out of here?
|Mission Aquila is GO.|
While I'm back at the tram station waiting for the tram, I hear more chatter from the terrorists about how they're also going to be trying to get to either Mission Control or the Aquila or both, and specifically they're going to be doing it by using the tram system. That could be very bad for me, as I don't see any other way out of here. I do manage to board the next tram unopposed after a couple of minutes, but I'm not sure how much farther I can get!
|Riding the tram to the launch pad to fix the Aquila's fueling fault.|
I hop off and up to the launch pad for the Aquila. As I get there, the terrorists finally notice that the one that nearly killed me and then got iced, codename Mock Turtle, hasn't said anything for a while. They all have been using codenames from Alice in Wonderland: the base itself is Wonderland, the Aquila is Alice, the coordinating voice is Looking Glass, and some of the individual units are Duchess, Queen of Hearts, Mad Hatter, March Hare, and Mock Turtle.
|Arriving at the mechanical room below the Aquila.|
|The diagnostic can tell me exactly how to fix the problem, but not how to deal with invaders.|
That's all well and good, but I don't have a new sensor, nor do I have any idea where Base Logistics is to get one, and I might not have time to get there and back anyway. There's probably going to have to be some kind of jerry-rigged solution to this. Maybe I can just swipe one of the other sensors and switch them, since the other tanks have already been filled? Might as well try it.
After I finish with the troubleshooting console, the radio chatter indicates that since the terrorists know that Mock Turtle has been taken out, they also know that the radio frequency is compromised, so they're switching to a different frequency, called Hotel. I can't listen in on them any more, apparently, because the radio seems to have only two settings other than off. I switch the radio to the second frequency just to see if that helps me at all. It seems to be the frequency for the base's defenders.
The blue pipe is indeed the LOX pipe, as indicated by the troubleshooting, while the red pipe is for Hydrogen and the yellow pipe is for Hydrazine. I don't think the console told me anything about hydrazine fueling, so I'd better not mess with that, just in case, but the hydrogen fueling should be done. I take off the faulty blue sensor and put the red one on instead , which indeed was exactly the right thing. I was going to put the blue one on the red pipe, but the system seems to think it's fixed and has re-engaged system locks to prevent any further changes.
|The image updates to show the missing sensor and the status of the lever.|
|High vantage point on the Aquila's gantry platform|
I restore back to the mechanical room and think about this for a minute while I efficiently redo the repair. This time the gantry platform is clear. I notice that from the platform I can see the tram line. If the terrorists are riding the tram, maybe now that I'm here, I can blow it up with the grenade before they get here?
|Inside the Aquila, hiding from the grenade explosion.|
|T-10 minutes, and the tram is destroyed, ruining the terrorist plan.|
At this point, as long as I stay inside the ship, the autolaunch is completely automatic and successful. The announcements warn that crew should all be in their seats before takeoff, but again it's automatic to jump into a seat at the last minute if you don't sit down earlier, so there's no failure state here. Now we get a rather lengthy cutscene about our launch and trip into space.
You can hear and feel the dull thunder as the powerful rocket engines below you throttle up. The ship trembles for a moment as the booster engines build thrust, and then the ship starts moving. It rises from Pad Tango Three, slowly at first, then picking up speed. As the ship accelerates a giant hand begins pressing you into your seat.
The pressure builds as the ship's rate of acceleration increases. Soon the skin on your face is being forced back over the bones as you are subjected to the equivalent of seven gravities. The brutal punishment continues for what seems like an eternity. You are barely conscious when the ship's computer announces booster separation. The rocket engines stop and there are two thumps as the boosters are kicked away from the probeship by explosive charges. Your weight vanishes.
You breathe a sigh of relief and gaze outside the heavy crystal viewports in the front of the ship. The view is breathtaking. The probeship is angling across the magnificent blue curve of the Earth. You can see the rich blue of oceans, the ochre of deserts, the fractal bumps of mountain ranges, and the puffy white of cumulus clouds.
There is a brief hiatus while the probeship autonav systems compute the course to the Artifact and the fusion pulsedrive engines warm up. Then the fusion torch ignites and the acceleration is back, this time at a manageable one gee. The probeship makes one more orbit around the blue crescent of Earth, gaining altitude and preparing to head out into the far reaches of the solar system.
You rise from your seat and head back to the cabin. You flush the gas mask out of the ship, put the radio in the cabinet above the cryo capsule, and take some time to relax after your ordeal at Romeo Delta Two. Then you contact the Gateway Corporation, tell them of your intention to complete the Ambassador mission, and prepare the cryo capsule for use. There is nothing left to do but enter the cryo-sleep capsule for your four month trip to the Artifact.
|Sleeping the trip away.|
You climb into the cold, high-tech coffin and drift off into an uneasy slumber. The slumber turns into the deep trance of cryo-sleep, a state that is one small step above death. While you sleep the probeship rides a radiant blue plume of star fire. The methodical mind of the autonav system controls the ship's course as it speeds away from Earth and towards the mystery waiting for you outside the orbit of Pluto...I’m quoting all this because I just love the turns of phrase in the description: “a radiant blue plume of star fire” and so on. At this point we get a very brief video of the probeship flying around Earth and toward deep space.
You wake from the deep, dreamless cryo-sleep trance with the annoying chirp of the proximity alert in your ear. After pulling yourself out of the cryo-sleep capsule, you head for the flight deck.
When you get to the flight deck, you shut down the alert and take stock of the situation. The probeship is hanging in the majestic black void of deep space. According to the instruments, the ship has been decelerating for the last few days and has killed most of its motion relative to Earth. You are 3,000 Astronomical Units (446 billion kilometers) away from Earth. The space around you is empty except for the object that triggered the proximity detector: it is dead ahead, a few hundred kilometers away.
You ask the probeship's computer about the target. The answer makes you shiver. The object is six kilometers long and half a kilometer across at its widest point. It has a mass of more than three million tons. Its shape is too regular for it to be a natural object: this thing is artificial, an artifact of some kind. The Corporation was right.
Over the next few minutes your ship approaches the Artifact using the Hydrox maneuvering thrusters. The object comes into view first as a long, dark sliver. Details begin to appear as you get closer. The thing is not only artificial, it is a starship. A starship as big as Gateway itself. The probeship closes on the huge alien ship, preparing for a flyby at close range.
|Cutscene showing the relatively tiny probeship approaching the huge artifact.|
Before you can finish gawking at the mind-blowing starship, a lance of blue energy spears out from the aft section of the alien vessel. It connects with the probeship, and all your ship systems fail instantly. Screens go dark. Instruments freeze. The protective filters over the flight deck windows activate automatically, blocking your view outside. Blue arcs of electricity play over the control consoles, frying the electronics.
There is a moment of silence, and then you are thrown backward by a violent jerk. The probeship is being pulled towards the alien behemoth! You feel more than hear a subsonic rumble, which escalates until it becomes a bone jarring vibration that shakes every corner of the probeship.
You sit in the darkness, eerie blue light playing over the view screen, your guts resonating to the terrible, low frequency reverberation as your craft is reeled in by the giant alien ship.
Eventually the vibration stops. There is a series of gentle bumps, and then the back-ups for the power systems kick in. You scan the instruments. The news isn't good. Maneuvering thrusters are down. So are the pulsedrive engines and the navigation systems. The lightband communication systems detect no carriers. Life support is failing. The filters for the windows seem to be stuck on, and you can't look at what is happening outside.
Even though you can't see out, you have a feeling you know where you are. With a growing sense of dread you look at the consoles. The few working instruments confirm your suspicion. The first clue: there is a breathable atmosphere outside. The second clue: the proximity detector can no longer tell the difference between the mass of your ship and that of the alien starship. You are inside the alien vessel!
|Time for more exploration!|
Next time, we get to explore the Artifact! I hope it's less dangerous than getting here was. How many times did we almost get killed? I’m not even talking about the actual deaths the player can trigger. I mean, there was the hit squad, the soldier that got iced while literally aiming a gun at us, the nerve gas, the bomb we detonated, and the rocket launch. What’s next?
|Caught by the terrorist squad on the tram after starting the autolaunch. (#5)|
|Caught by the terrorist squad on the gantry platform. (#6)|
|Hanging out on the gantry platform until the ship takes off. (#7)|
|Exploding the grenade up on the gantry platform, destroying the ship and killing yourself. (#8)|
Inventory: white badge, tuning fork, slip of paper
Session Time: 1 hours
Total Time: 2.5 hours
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