Sunday 21 April 2024

Homeworld - Spirits and Spies

By Reiko

Previously, we discovered Convergence was the head of a secret society who had leads on where to find the items necessary to fix the ship so we can return to Earth, but we still need the TransWarp drive from Solifluction to get back in time to stop the Assassins. So we have to contact his son Raphide again and also find Astatine in Fogram's lab. The Aesthemis constellation unlocks the door to the lab, so I step inside.

Please note that this post has fewer screenshots than normal because we have many lengthy conversations in which the only image is the exact same picture of the character having the conversation with us.

Sneaking into Fogram's secret lab.

There's a lot of mysterious equipment in here, but the most interesting things are a visor and a strange device on a pedestal. I think I remember something about the visor, so I look at the device first. It sort of looks like a belt but with a piece of metal attached. I reach for it to pick it up and fiddle with it, but instead it zaps me. Ow! Then the screen on the wall lights up, and we see an Ancestor, who says, "Who are you? Do you belong here? Get out! I'm at a delicate stage in my experiments and I will not tolerate your interference!"



I'm pretty sure this is Astatine, but I don't get any option to ask him anything or say anything other than that I'll come back later when he's not so touchy. Hmm. He's located in a datastore plugged into a panel on the wall, but I can't do anything with it yet. The datastore has switches for uploading and downloading, but it's already been downloaded, and it can't be uploaded anywhere either.

Viewing the light beams in the lab through the visor.

I can take the visor without any issue, though. If I wear it, the graphic turns grayscale and I can see curved fuzzy beams of light connecting the two lamps near the pedestal, arcing around the prototype. Probably trying to take the prototype disturbs these beams and alerts Astatine. Even with the beams visible, I can't take the prototype without a disturbance, so the prototype will have to stay here for now.

Let's see if we can contact Raphide through the next lecture. Possibly I should have done that first, but I had time to kill anyway. If I can get Raphide to help me, maybe I can say something to Astatine so that he'll help me in the lab.

My next lecture begins:

You might say "Heechee nature" is very different from "human nature" but still prone to corruption in different ways.

"There are many fundamental differences between humans and Heechee. Among the most noticeable are the way the two races deal with competition. Although competition is one of the causes of conflict, and therefore war, it is also a powerful motivator.


"Heechee rarely compete with each other. You lack athletic contests. You lack awards that honor individual achievements. An individual Heechee works for good of all, not himself.


"Look at what this has done to the Heechee race. You reached a very sophisticated level of technology hundreds of thousands of years ago, but have stagnated since. Although you are still more technically advanced than we humans, we have become almost your equal in a tiny fraction of the time you've been alive. Within the next few hundred years, we will surpass you, and then will continue to develop at an exponential rate.


"We humans compete with each other. We want to be the first to do, the first to make, the first to go. And if we cannot be the first, then we want to be the best. For this reason, we will never submit to the Assassins. We won't stop until we've figured out a way to destroy, or at least neutralize, them. If we aspire to be the best, how can we be content to let another race sweep us aside and consign us to the garbage dump of galactic history?


"I seem to have run out of time. Thank you for attending. I'll speak more later."


You clear your throat and add, "I'd also like to address a question dealing with the Shield Generators. Specifically, to the Heechee who posed the question, I believe that your old associate's father is still alive. Thank you for taking an interest."


Sending that message at the end [15] wasn't exactly subtle, but it's at least not going to be obvious to the general public what I'm talking about. I check in on Astatine, but he's exactly the same as before. So I go back to my room and check my messages. Success! There's a new message: "RAPHIDE is currently waiting to speak with you. Please wait while he is notified that you have arrived." Now we have an interactive call, shown in cutscene format.

A face appears on your screen. Skipping the amenities, it says, "What do you know about 'my old associate's father'?"


This seems to be Raphide. I assure him that his father is still alive, of course for certain definitions of "alive" here. He doubts me:

"That can't be. I saw him die. I made him die." Raphide looks a little wild-eyed for a second and then regains his composure. "Have you learned something from activating the generators? Did Astatine somehow survive the explosion and find refuge outside the Core?"

For the second time, I have utterly shocked one of the Heechee.

I actually have the option to lie to Raphide here, in plausible or completely unrealistic ways, but for now I'm just going to give it to him straight. I want out of here, and Raphide is my best ticket out. When I tell him that Fogram saved Astatine, Raphide is incensed. "FOGRAM INTERVENED? I knew he was unethical, but I never dreamed... How do you know this, human? Why should I believe you?"

Common sense and caution are quickly overtaking incredulity here. I'd better name-drop Convergence so Raphide believes that I'm telling him the truth. He thoughtfully responds:

"I've heard of this Convergence. He's currently Second Seat, but has aspirations for more. Fogram keeps him down, though. He would have access to such knowledge if anyone would.

"If this is true, if Astantine is alive, he must be erased. He has been in agony for hundreds of thousands of years. I can't do it. I have little influence in the real world. You must kill him for me."


Convergence already warned me about this, and I get why Raphide wants this, because he wants mercy for his friend, but it's one thing to want it and another to want me to do it. I get several choices of how to respond here, but most of them are expressing some amount of reluctance or refusal to do it. I suspect we're probably going to have to do it in the end, though.

I politely say I'm not really interested in murder and try to change the subject, but Raphide isn't having any of it: "You don't understand. Astatine MUST be put out of his misery. Fogram undoubtably has used his knowledge for his own personal gain while Astatine spent every microsecond in pain. Please, human. You have to help me!"

Right, so Raphide wants me to do this enough that we can get his help in return for it. That's the plot reason why we have to do it. The other factor is that, as Convergence would say, this isn't really murder because the digital version of a Heechee isn't really the original, only a copy of the personality. The original has been dead already for a very long time.

As a side note though, I don't really know what it means for a digital personality to be in pain. You wouldn't think a digital existence would allow for any pain. I suspect it's either corruption of the digital information as a result of the accident, or some kind of psychological/psychosomatic effect on the digital mind that makes it think it's in pain. You know, it would probably be easier if the Heechee thought of them as copies, because then they could keep backups. Just delete the damaged version and recopy from the backup. But since they hold them in such reverence, I'm certain they don't do that, and deleting an Ancestor would be considered equivalent to murder in the sense that you'd be losing the only way to access the knowledge and experiences of that person.

Back to the dialogue. Resigned, Raphide responds, "You're right. Altruism obviously isn't enough motivation for you. What could I possibly do for you to change your mind?" I mean, in most cases I'd help him out first and then see if he'd help me out of gratitude, but here we're literally trying to save our entire race from certain extinction, so I have little choice but to be a bit mercenary here. I ask Raphide for Solifluction's TransWarp drive theories, of course.

He seems taken aback by this request. "The TransWarp Drive? I haven't even thought about those theories in thousands of years. Why do you want them?" I go with, "It's a long story. I have to intercept a faster-than-light ship." There's no time to try to explain about what's going on with the Assassins right now.

Raphide is desperate for our help. We're desperate for his.

Now that I've agreed to help, he seems very reasonable in the deal he offers: "I guess the reasons don't matter. Here is my deal. I'll tell you everything I know about Solifluction, the TransWarp Drive theories, and Fogram if you agree to kill Astatine. Do you accept?" Of course, I don't have any choice but to accept now. He proceeds to tell me how to do it:

"Thank you, human. You won't regret it. Obviously, I have no idea where Fogram has hidden Astatine, but when you find him, he'll be stored in a security datastorage module. It looks like a dark silver box with an access port on top. Bring the datastore here and attach it to your communicator's transfer jack. I'll erase the personality. When you return, I'll tell you anything that you want to know, if I can. Please hurry."


That's the end of the conversation. I have no opportunity to tell him that I've already found Astatine. Technically I haven't confirmed it's him, but there's no reason it would be anyone else. Also, it looks like I won't be the one actually erasing him. Technically, this would be at most accessory to murder, I guess? But I don't actually consider this murder anyway, as I explained above, even though the Heechee probably do. I guess that's Raphide's problem to deal with.

So I have to go back to the lab and get Astatine's box. I fiddled with it last time but didn't find a way of detaching it. I might have to talk to him first. Maybe he'd be able to release the storage device himself if I convince him that I'll take him to Raphide to have him "put out of his misery" as Raphide said. Astatine probably wants to die anyway and Fogram won't let him.

Returning to the Place of Learning schedules another lecture, but I'm not sure I'll bother to give it. I slip back into the lab (I don't have to enter the code each time) and trigger Astatine's screen again. This time he responds, but with insults and craziness.

Astatine is amusingly cantankerous.


What is he even on about? Secret police? Nevermind. I tell him I'm a human, not a Heechee, and he says, "Humans must not use their brains for much, then. Look at you. You stuck your hand into a lethal frequency light beam. That's not exactly a brilliant maneuver." Lethal? I mean, it zapped me, sure, but I didn't die.

I might as well verify that he's Astatine first before I mess around with him, but he's definitely cracked in that big head of his, because he says, "No. Why? Who wants to know? Maybe I am. Wait, that was last week. Today I'm CORTEX, the thinking machine! Ask me again tomorrow. Maybe I'll be Astatine for you then." That's as much verification as we're going to get, but it's good enough for me.

I assure him that he's Astatine, Solifluction's father. That gets his attention, a little: "Solifluction? What's he up to nowadays? He never writes. He never calls. Too busy for his old man, eh?" Uh, sorry to break it to you, but Solifluction's been dead for a long time too... In fact, the time scale on Heechee history is rather mindboggling. I have the option to say, "Yo, Astatine. Get with the program. Solifluction died about five hundred thousand years ago." I don't want to remind him of how long he's been trapped by Fogram, so I just remind him carefully that Solifluction died in the same accident that was supposed to have killed him also.

Oops, even that isn't gentle enough, though. He says painfully, "I...I remember now. Fogram took me away. Away from my son. Leave me alone! You make it hurt again!" And that's the abrupt end of the conversation.

I've screwed up the conversation, but fortunately, if I talk to him again, he starts back at the beginning of the conversation, as if it never happened. I guess he has very little short-term memory? Even if I remind him that I talked to him before, he just denies it and insults me. Well, I can use this to play with some of the more amusing options if I want, and also figure out what to tell him so that he'll want to let me take him.

Instead of mentioning Solifluction, I can do the equivalent of smile and nod and ask him about what he's been working on. Then he'll tell me more about the prototype, which works on invisible frequencies of light, but not visible frequencies. Okay, but what does it do with them?

"It bends light, of course, around anything attached to the prototype. It's useless, though. It only bends the lethal invisible frequencies. The only good use of that property is to guard the prototype. If I can make it work on the visible, but less dangerous frequencies, it could hide the user from view. Fogram wants it to do this so one of his secret police can infiltrate some group called the 'White Hand'."


That makes sense. Fogram wants Astatine to essentially make an invisibility device so he can deal with Convergence's group (although I don't think he knows that it's Convergence running it as Exegesis). Fortunately the device doesn't work that way yet; it only protects against non-visible radiation.

I ask a few more questions and find out that the device has a battery that lasts for several minutes and can regenerate itself. Also, the light projectors by the prototype emit varying frequencies of light to test it. Currently they're set on one of the invisible lethal frequencies, but there's a demonstration mode for the projectors which ends by shifting the light visible. That might be interesting. I ask him about it and he gives me the code to run it. He also says that the visor allows seeing outside the visible spectrum, which I'd basically already figured out.

The light won't zap me if it's visible!

When I run the demonstration, over a few turns, the light beams gradually narrow and start to become visible and end by being completely visible but not deflected from the device at all. At that point, I can take the device without being zapped by the lasers [15].

I should really finish talking to Astatine before I take it, but he's so loopy that he doesn't seem to notice anyway. Maybe this is why he's not getting anything done? I play with his dialogue for a little longer and eventually restart the sequence after trying some of the sillier responses.

After tracing back through the dialogue about the things in the lab, I ask him what's stumping him about the device, and he says:

"There's something I just don't understand about visible light. My son would know, but he's not here. He did such marvelous work on the Shield Generator project. This is basically a miniaturized version. Sooner or later, I'll have it though. Fogram promised that I could die when I've finished it."


Right. Fogram's such a weasel. How long has Astatine even been working on it? The way the Heechee are such fossils, it might well be hundreds of years, who knows? But even if he did finish the thing, probably Fogram would never let him die.

But we're here to help him. What gets Astatine's attention the fastest is pure compassion, telling him we're here to help end his pain. Of course, he doesn't believe me at first, but I mention Raphide, which helps. Like many very old people, he seems to have little short-term memory, but he remembers things that happened a long time ago, so he remembers Raphide.

I ask him why he didn't destroy himself, but of course Fogram set up ways to prevent that. Fortunately, it sounds like Fogram won't notice for some time if Astatine is just gone, as he's often left alone for weeks to work on his projects. While he can't destroy himself, he can indeed disengage the locks on the datastore, so now I can take his datastore [10]. I use the new code (it's randomized each playthrough) to take the prototype again, and I think we're done in the lab.

I go and give the lecture, just to see if it's a different one, and it is:

"I'd like to address the issue of continuity. The technology behind your institution of the Mass Minds has some amazing implications. In a way, your people are immortal. When they die, they don't die. They merely make a transition into a different, equally accessible state. They live on in dataspace as Ancient Ancestors.


"Knowledge is never lost. Students can learn from the very people that originated important ideas thousands of years ago. Nor will the Ancient Ancestors forget, as long as the storage that holds their memories remains stable.


"This also eliminates one of the fundamental reasons for the existence of religion. If someone doesn't die, then there cannot be an afterlife. If there isn't an afterlife, what need is there for religion?


"I also must wonder how this affects the reproductive drive. Without the threat of inevitable death, the need to continue one's bloodline is reduced, if not eliminated. Why make an imperfect copy of yourself to live on after you, if you are never going to die?"


"Humans are not so long-lived. We have a finite time in which to learn, to do, to teach, and to reproduce. Perhaps this is another reason that humans feel driven to accomplish so much. We will die, so we must do what we can before we go. Heechee continue on forever, so there is little rush.


The way that the message to Raphide was added on to the end of the previous one makes it clear that it could have been added to any of the later lectures. I think it might be mildly amusing if Raphide chastens me for giving another lecture rather than returning right away with Astatine's datastorage, as he seems to have been watching all my lectures, but he doesn't mention it when I return to my room. He just gets right to the point: "Do you have Astatine?"

Fulfilling Astatine's and Raphide's wishes.

I confirm I do, and he instructs me to connect the datastore to the communicator. I thought I was going to have to do it as an action, but it happens automatically, triggering a lengthy conversation:

You take the datastore and attach it to the communicator. In response, Raphide's visage disappears. After a few moments, you wonder if he's tricked you, but then his face fades back onto the screen. "Astatine is now at peace, after so many years. My thanks to you human, but I must admit I misled you. I know nothing about the TransWarp Drive Theories, only that they existed. I will fulfill my part of the bargain, however. I will tell you all I know about Fogram and Solifluction."


"When Solifluction rebelled, Fogram knew the problems he could create. Fogram approached me. Initially, I refused to speak to him. He persisted, and eventually I agreed - but only to persuade him to erase Astatine. That was always my intention."


"Fogram told me a terrible story. He said that Solifluction had gone insane, and that he was going to betray the entire Heechee race by sabotaging the Shield Generator Project. Fogram had solid proof, or so I thought at the time."


"I didn't want to believe it. I rejected the idea and sent him away. Surprisingly, Fogram left graciously. He asked me to think about it, and told me that he would contact me later. I had a duty, he said, to protect the Heechee people from the insane 'Traitor'. From that point on, he never called him by his chosen name, only the Traitor. I believe he did this in order to desensitize me to his plans for him."


"Once, while those horrid thoughts were mulling around my mind, he said the words I needed to hear. If I helped him stop the Traitor, he would allow Astatine his death. I believed him. The Elements help me, I did. And I agreed."


"Fogram abducted Solifluction. One day he was working at a Shield Generator site, and the next he was gone. Workers asked questions, but I covered for his absence. Two days later Fogram contacted me and told me what I must do. I was in too deep to refuse. He said that they had Stilled the Traitor, and I was to take care of the remains. 'He died in an accident,' he said. 'Make it so.'"


"Fogram delivered Solifluction's body and his personal pod containing Astatine to me. Here was my chance to kill the Traitor's father, he said. So I did. I placed them at a Shield Generator location and ruptured its power core. The resulting explosion eliminated all remains."


"The absence of Solifluction allowed Fogram to seize total power. He controlled the council with an iron grasp. His plan to flee into the Black Hole was implemented and the Shield Generators were left inactive. Shortly after the exodus, I died and was Lifted. Ever since, I have hidden from everything. I couldn't live with what I did. My only consoling thought was that I had put Astatine out of his misery. And now I learn that Fogram lied about even that. Get Fogram, human. Crush him."


That is quite the story. As an outsider, I kind of don't really care about the Heechee's internal politics or how terrible people can be when they're desperate, but...I still don't have the TransWarp information I need. That makes me kind of desperate, I suppose. Don't tell me I have to erase Fogram too somehow? I'd better get as much information from Raphide as I can.

About the datastore:

"It is a portable data processor. It can carry a living Ancient Ancestor while it is functioning, unlike a datafan which can only store a personality in stasis. The access port is universal. That's why we were able to connect it to the jack on your communicator. The datastore you have now is empty. I've erased all information contained there."


About contacting the authorities:

"Oh no. I can't. You have to do it without me. I've gone forever without any contact with anyone. I can't confront Fogram now. No. I can't."

You're talking to me. But I guess a human doesn't count? Boy, this guy is cowardly.

About the TransWarp Drive:

"I'm very sorry. I wish I could help you, but I've told you all I know. The TransWarp Drive was going to be Solifluction's crowning achievement, but now it is only legend."


About giving up his friend to Fogram:

"He...he was my friend. He was the most brilliant Heechee I'd ever known, and his loss was the loss of the entire race. I've never gotten over what happened."

So Fogram wanted Raphide to think that Solifluction was the traitor, but actually Raphide turned out to be the traitor, somewhat unwittingly, because he believed at the time that Fogram had good reason to take out Solifluction. I mean, I could keep accusing Raphide, but there's little point in that when Fogram started the whole thing and manipulated everyone involved. I mean, it's not really my fight here, but if I can help bring Fogram to justice on behalf of Raphide, that might be worth it. After all, Raphide has already suffered plenty for what he's done, while Fogram got off scot-free and got to run the Council as if nothing was wrong this whole time.

About forgiveness and dealing with Fogram:

"My apologies again, human. I can't help you, but you must bring Fogram to justice. While he remains in power, the Heechee will never help the other intelligent races in the galaxy. Even if it is too late for Earth, there must be others. Do it for them. Goodbye human."


That's the last I hear from Raphide as I automatically remove the datastore from the communicator [10]. It's rather disappointing to have helped him but not gotten the TransWarp information though. I only have a couple of loose threads left.

Next time, we'll return to Convergence to see if he has any other leads. I should be able to wrap up the rest of the plot in one final post. I know this was a lot of plot and talking, and we're not quite done yet.


Shredded by lasers in the lab, controlled by Astatine, after having provoked him. (#24)

I first got this death by telling Astatine I was Fogram, but it can also be triggered by being too cruel, like joking about being there to help him with his pain, or being too hostile, like claiming to be one of Fogram's secret police who has come to take him in. In other words, just be kind to the really ancient digital personality who's been in pain for an unimaginably long time, and he won't vaporize you.

Score: 1175

Deaths: 24

Inventory: pouch (wearing: blue coverall, Heechee pod, science badge)

Session Time: 2.5 hours

Total Time: 20 hours

Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: There’s a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no points will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one. Please...try not to spoil any part of the game for me...unless I really obviously need the help...or I specifically request assistance. In this instance, I've not made any requests for assistance. Thanks!


  1. "deleting an Ancestor would be considered equivalent to murder in the sense that you'd be losing the only way to access the knowledge and experiences of that person"

    That's the crux of the matter, isn't it?
    This part of the game is very interesting, since it touches (even if very briefly) on philosophical issues such as what constitutes a person? If a mind is immutable, is it still the same as a living being (that by definition change and possibly evolve with time)? and so on.
    Not very many videogames manage to breach this kind of topics (the original Deus Ex probably, I don't recall any other right now).

    1. A definite plus to the game I agree. I also like that they add conversation that Astatine wants to be put out of his misery, so you're not left feeling ambiguous about it and it becomes a mercy death instead of murder. In the end it is Raphide that does the deed, but you're free to consider the implications.

      Another thing the game does well is to keep the plot comprehensible. A lot of these conspiracies end up being so complex that you're left struggling to remember who is doing what and have to reread the whole thing (sometimes multiple times) to make sense of it. The treachery sub-plot here is easy to follow at least.


Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: There's a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no points will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of the reviewer requiring one. Please...try not to spoil any part of the game...unless they really obviously need the help...or they specifically request assistance.

If this is a game introduction post: This is your opportunity for readers to bet 10 CAPs (only if they already have them) that the reviewer won't be able to solve a puzzle without putting in an official Request for Assistance: remember to use ROT13 for betting. If you get it right, you will be rewarded with 50 CAPs in return.
It's also your chance to predict what the final rating will be for the game. Voters can predict whatever score they want, regardless of whether someone else has already chosen it. All score votes and puzzle bets must be placed before the next gameplay post appears. The winner will be awarded 10 CAPs.