Lena’s old friend Ram Kulkarni from the Kepler sends her a message- it takes about a few days to reach her, and seems to have been about a week old when sent (triggered by a “dead man’s switch” when Kulkarni didn’t enter a code at a certain time). The Kepler has been continuing its outer system comms monitoring, and picked up a weak signal from some debris spiralling out of the solar system, which seems to have been intercepted by a comethauler named the Istari. The Istari then dropped off their scheduled course, and has been exhibiting signs of engine distress. So, the 6 scientific staff from the Kepler backed up and headed out in a shuttle to lend aid. Being worried of pirates, Ram set up the dead man’s switch message.
Lena, fearing the message-emitting space debris after her recent TITAN encounters, nominates this as a Firewall op, which some of the team goes along with, although many of them think it is more likely accident (common on old outer system salvage haulers) or pirates. The message included an override code to farcast in, bypassing the station security provided by the AI Hans. They prepare to head out, calling in a large favor to farcast the Rim.
Awakening in their medbays (except for Lena, who is loaded into a synthmorph), their muse’s tell them it has been a week since they were supposed to have arrived, causing them some distress. Also, an unsteady voice (which Lena ID’s as Hans, the station’s AI) warns them that all wireless enabled devices should be assumed compromised and that they should not access the mesh, and that a crucial server needs to be reconnected to the Ops Center. The voice is emitting from a nearby Dr. Bot. Other than the ominous warning, the medbay looks standard, as does the research lab off the back end- it seems like everything was closed up about 2 weeks back, when the crew left. They begin searching the rest of the station, and find that one of the exterior airlocks has been welded open, causing a fairly rapid loss of interior atmosphere.
They defeat some servitor and mechbots trying to defend the airlock, and close the airlock into the maintenance bay, stopping the leak. Lena ventures back in to retrieve the vac and hardsuits they saw there, and they all suit up. They also find some small arms and a variety of useful tools. They continue checking the dark, eerily silent hab, and eventually find the ops center, where they manage to finally engage with Hans, who seems to have lost his mind, and is slipping in and out of lucidity. He says that he jettisoned the farcaster to prevent the infection spreading (he thinks he has been contaminated by an airborn sickness, hence venting the air). There seem to be a number of components missing in the adjacent computer bay, suggesting that he has removed other bits as well. Lena also spots an incoming craft on the station exterior cams after getting them running. They ID it as the Istari, and Wong says it is about 30 min out. They are hailed, and Frank answers. The message begins with a burst if static, and Frederik begins hallucinating, although he was also attempting to hack into Hans’ systems, so the team doesn’t know which was the issue.
The crew of the Kepler says that they are coming back to the station, and that they are worried about Hans’ instability, and will dock shortly. While the team tries to decide what to do, Wong also starts hallucinating after coming under attack while accessing a quantumn computer he found. Frederik recovers, with Wong soon following suit, just as the Istari docks, 10 min ahead of their expectations. They access exterior cameras again as Hans begins shouting and moaning about “intruders”, and see some distressing looking exsurgents crwaling along the exterior of the connecting airlock tube, seemingly able to survive the vacuum unassisted. They look like they were once human, and are clothed in shredded scraps of skin and vacsuit, while their bodies seem to have erupted with chitinous growths, bony protusions, and unnatural hair-covered spider-like limbs.
The team decides to assume they are hostile. They head back towards the maintenance bay to intercept anyone coming aboard from the Istari, and end up surrounded in the hall by 6 of the monsters. They manage to slay them all without any casualties, but some of the team takes some major injuries and Frank is starting to feel a little… off, first with delusions of power, followed by paranoia. He decides to head back to the greenhouse, following a hunch, while the rest head onto the Istari. Frank finds the missing server mentioned earlier by Hans, and drags it off to the Istari to meet up with the others.
Meanwhile, they begin exploring the other ship, and find that much of it is covered in bizaare, incredibly sharp, spiny protrusions, which Frederik promptly wounds himself on. Him and Lena both hop into hardsuits they find there, although Fred injures himself once more, as some of the bony spines have pierced the ankle seal of his suit. They explore the ship, and find a room filled with ore and salvage processing vats and equipment, many of which are filled with writhing masses of hair, and half-glimpsed scurrying limbs, moving seemingly independent of a body and sticking to cracks, corners and shadows. They find missile pod with 2 missiles, and another exsurgent, who they kill. They shut down a healing vat filled with more writhing hair, hoping to kill it, and reach the ops center, where they kill another exsurgent, and Lena comes under cyberattack, until she fries the computer core there, which is broadcasting more incapacitating inputs, sending Fred into seizure.
They also find and search the Kepler’s shuttle, killing another exsurgent, though the shuttle otherwise seems clean and usable. Frank seems to be getting stanger and stranger, so Lena has Wong force him into the medbay and runs a diagnostic, which quickly reveals that he is growing burn spurs under his skin, distressingly rapidly. They hold him down and kill him. They decide to check Fred, too (who is still seizing), and discover that he was also infected, and kill him as well. They communicate with the Istari’s simple AI, Lila, who seems normal and very helpful, once they shut down the computer system in the ops center. She agrees to turn up the oxygen % in the atmo mix, making an explosive environment, while they take the shuttle out to retrieve the Kepler’s discarded farcaster.
They retrieve it, with Wong skillfully piloting, while Lena finally figures out the in-joke password to bypass the encryption on the server Frank found. It contains mayn comms logs, Hans’ logs entries, and a lot of other data, but is also infected- Lena comes under another hacking attack. However she gets some useful info off of it- it seems that Hans was infected via a message sent back by the Kepler crew, shortly after they were scheduled to intercept the Istari. He recognized the infection, and began pruning pieces of himself off to try to contain it, with some success, although he lost his mind in the process (a decline already evident in his increasingly rambling and paranoid logs), before deciding to jettison the farcaster after the team’s surprise arrival, when he also chose to remove this server to prevent it’s destruction.
They head back to the Istari and Wong manually bypasses the “safe distance” trigger on the missile, and programs them to target the Kepler and then the Istari, and tells Lila to run the program as soon as they finish egocasting away. They jury-rig the farcaster to the shuttle’s comm systems and send all the intel they’ve gained to Firewall, and then hook it back up to the ego bridge system and farcast back to Parvarti. The whole team gains some i-rep, and Lena and Wong try to figure out what to tell Frank and Fred when they get resleeved. Ben Johanssen also informs them that this was an Exsurgent Virus Stain that they are calling Chrynalus, and thanks the team for their useful intel and self-sacrifice.