“Behold a great Mystery which I reveal to you without an enigma; this is the secret of the two Mercuries which contain the two tinctures. Keep them separately, and do not confound their species, for fear they should beget a monstrous Lineage.”
— The Six Keys of Eudoxus (date unknown, first known publication 1689)
The modern conspiracy-tale qua urban legend that is red mercury was born, most likely, in the hothouse world of smuggling and corruption that sustained the Brezhnevite Soviet Union. Although the “orthodox” version of red mercury was a sort of hyper-accelerant for nuclear explosives, or possibly an ultra-catalyst for implosive fusion, a 1993 Pravda exposé on the topic depicted red mercury as also (or alternatively) a key ingredient in Stealth technology or perhaps missile guidance systems. Supposedly a lattice-shaped isomer of mercury antimony oxide (Hg2Sb2O7), enhanced with or somehow containing radioactives (lutetium, or perhaps plutonium) and then bombarded with a particle beam, becomes capable of immense energy storage: “a bullet can sink a battleship, a baseball can destroy a city.” The “red” refers to its color, or its Soviet origin, or abbreviates “redistilled.” Although Samuel T. Cohen (among other things, the co-inventor of the neutron bomb) vouched for its existence, the general consensus is that “red mercury” was invented not as a super-weapon but as a super-scam, a means to separate desperate would-be nuclear nations and terror groups from their slush funds. One particularly recherché theory holds that it was deliberate disinformation jointly concocted by the CIA and KGB as a nonproliferation measure: get nuclear smugglers chasing a myth, and they wouldn’t chase plutonium.
Red mercury had a brief heyday in the early 1990s, when it appeared at the center of at least five murders associated with an Iraqi attempt to buy nuclear material from South Africa. (Fun fact: The South African Defense Forces shell company created to thwart (?) this ring was called “Delta G Scientific.” Really.) Osama bin Laden bought a cylinder of red mercury from a Sudanese general in 1993, for instance. Every year since then, one or two arms dealers, Russian Mafiya entrepreneurs, or needy dictatorships tries to buy red mercury (the going rate was $300,000 per kilo in 1997, up to $1.8 million in 2013) and usually gets scammed, which means someone usually gets dead. Where Iraq and al-Qaeda went in the 1990s, of course, ISIS goes today.
In a zingy read in the New York Times Magazine, C.J. Chivers follows the trail of red mercury through Syrian and Turkish middlemen, illuminating the contemporary form of this modern myth. Chivers re-tells the delightfully wild story from the late 2000s that Soviet engineers (during the “American occupation”) smuggled red mercury out of the country in Singer sewing machines, though doesn’t mention the Egyptian conspiracy tale that red mercury can be obtained by cutting the throats of mummies. The story also gives a few new details that should prick the thumbs of any Night’s Black Agents Director worth her salt. For example, Chivers quotes a smuggler named Safi al-Safi: “The most expensive type [of red mercury] is called Blood of the Slaves, which is the darkest type. Magicians use it to summon jinni.” Another smuggler, Faysal, says that red mercury or “spiritual mercury” can be found “in Roman graves.” And finally, the smugglers’ consensus is that “real red mercury is attracted to gold but repelled by garlic.”
Red Mercury Cylinder
“The most sharp Vinegar is the Red Mercury; but the better to determine these two mercuries, feed them with flesh of their own species — the blood of innocents whose throats are cut.”
— The Six Keys of Eudoxus
Which leads us not to a Thing We Left Out of the Dracula Dossier per se, but rather to one of the many many areas of modern mythology that the Dracula Dossier can comprise. Here, then, broken down as a proper Director’s Handbook Object, is that postmodern philosopher’s stone, Red Mercury.
A dull gray cylinder about 30 cm long and 10 cm thick, marked with a radiation symbol. Cyrillic lettering on it reads Obrazets Noly — “Sample Zero.” When opened, it contains about 30 mL of radioactive material resembling thick red ink that flows and separates into drops like liquid mercury. Its density is 20.20 grams per cubic centimeter. Without testing the material, an Agent with Chemistry believes the substance could be mercury antimony oxide.
This is “hot” red mercury, the good stuff, straight from a Russian nuclear weapons lab. It might even be taken from the original 1965 test in the Dubna cyclotron, or just the “calibration batch” (easy to abstract, hard to miss) from a new program spun up under Putin. And there’s more where that came from. Tradecraft provides the information in the above paragraphs, and a 1-point Research spend leads the Agents to the New York Times Magazine story linked above and its intriguing garlic-related information. A 1-point Occult Studies spend leads to the Six Keys of Eudoxus, and to alchemy in general if that helps in your game.
This is indeed red mercury, and the secret ingredient is Dracula’s blood, infused with mercury during his own lifetime as an alchemist. The Russian vampire program (DH, p. 76) figured out how to use particle beams to cibate the blood of Dracula into a mercury-antimony matrix (in KWAS: Alchemy terms, this is an Awakened Working of Vermilion + Sulfur), and the amazing effects of red mercury all follow from that:
- Immense Explosive Power: The demonic strength of Dracula infuses red mercury: a Class 3 explosive requires only 3 g; a Class 4 explosive only 6 g; a Class 5 explosive only 12 g. Hand-loading red mercury into hollow-point rounds (~1 g per bullet) either increases bullet damage by +3 (and makes the bullet a bane to all lesser vampires) or (unmodified roll of 1) blows the gun up in your hand when fired (Class 2 explosion, +4 damage in debris range). Using red mercury requires a Difficulty 7 Explosive Devices test.
- Chemical Weapon: A drop of red mercury added to chlorine creates a deadly cloud of vapor: if inhaled or exposed to an open wound, treat as injected tetrodotoxin (DH, p. 87). Garlic oil acts as an antidote.
- Lifebane Bomb: Samuel Cohen believed that the Soviets built dozens of baseball-sized red mercury “neutron bombs” that required no fissile material to fuse their core of heavy water. With 150 g of red mercury (and either a very detailed schematic or a 2-point Physics spend), an explosives expert can make a lifebane bomb that acts as a Class 6 explosive. Dracula can command those killed by this bomb. Those protected from vampires (surrounded by garlic, inside holy ground, etc.) within the debris range are immune to the bomb.
- Stealth Sheathing: Atomized and used to paint a surface, red mercury renders it invisible to all imagery, just like Dracula! Any vampire is at -4 Difficulty to track anything coated with red mercury. High-tech automotive paint requires about 15 g per square meter, but a Chemistry spend might reduce that even further.
- Missile Targeting: Dracula’s blood knows its own. The user must separate one drop of red mercury into two drops. A missile, artillery shell, or anything else in free flight homes in on a drop of red mercury if the missile has the matching drop inside it. Vampiric Blocks that affect Dracula block the targeting signal.
- Summoning Demons or Djinn: Dracula’s demonic pact connects his blood to Hell. Burning red mercury in the correct sigil (2-point Occult Studies spend, at least, plus an incantation from Le Dragon Noir (DH, p. 273)) summons a demon or djinn. Every gram of red mercury burnt equals 1 point of Aberrance or Hand-to-Hand the demon or djinn possesses; its damage equals +1 per 1o points in Hand-to-Hand, its Health equals its Aberrance. It has the same banes, weaknesses, etc. as Dracula. Dracula can command it.
- Key to Further Dracula Research: Reverse-analyzing the substance provides clues to Dracula’s powers, to the Soviet vampire program, and likely to plenty of other big campaign questions.
The blood of Lilith (DH, p. 69) or Queen Tera (DH, p. 71) might also be the active ingredient in red mercury. Or the Director could vary the effects of the red mercury depending on the donor vampire. “Telluric” red mercury has the same effects, mostly explained by the conversion of telluric bacteria to telluric mutant bacteria by Russian radiation.
This is indeed red mercury, but it only has one of the powers above, as well as being a key to further Dracula research. Unlike the red mercury above, it’s also highly radioactive: treat exposure as anthrax (NBA, p. 81) except the victim only heals half her lost Health after treatment. Her Health rating lowers to the new level, from which she can rebuild using experience points.
This is one of the many types of phony red mercury floating around the arms-trader underground: liquefied cinnabar (mercury sulfide), “red oil” (tri-n-butyl phosphate, highly exothermic), waste metallic nuclear coolant, mercury tinted with cochineal or lipstick, depleted uranium powder in an oil suspension, chloride of mercury, mercuric iodide, mercuric oxide, or mercuric cyanate (also highly explosive and flammable).
Al-Qaeda in Rûm (DH, p. 148) wants red mercury very much, and the Romanian mafia (DH, p. 157) might well be dealing it, perhaps through the Arms Runner (DH, p. 102) or the Syrian General (DH, p. 133). The SRI (DH, p. 156) may have seized a sample from which more could be traced, as might the Slovakian Border and Alien Police (DH, p. 164). The Retired KGB Agent (DH, p. 97) might know about the original experiments, and the Seismologist (DH, p. 100) might be obsessed with replicating them. Red mercury might power the Earthquake Device (DH, p. 266) or the Radu weapon (DH, p. 276). If authentic, Edom would very much kill to get this cylinder, and Pearl (DH, p. 52) may well run one or both parties to the transaction. Edom might have set up this transaction even if the cylinder is fraudulent, as a means of drawing out shadowy players in the vampire-alchemical underground.
A Mutant City Blues Scenario Premise
Backstory: The local chapter of the Genetic Action Front has long been a lightning rod for tension between the city’s enhanced and unaltered communities.
The Crime: When a recent recruit to the organization is found murdered in its offices, slumped over a photocopier, its enemies exult in the scandal. Detectives ID the vic as Brad Carpenter, a hothead who recently moved to the city after hellish bullying at his small-town high school. His enhancements included speed, reflexes, and lightning decision making. Carpenter showed signs of the attention deficit disorder typical of that confluence of powers on the Quade Diagram.
The Suspects: This seems like an open and shut case. Carpenter is found with puncture wounds in his throat, consistent with fangs, and died from a biological toxin, its effects bolstered by his speedster metabolism. The GAF’s sharp-elbowed second-in-command, Guadalupe Ramirez, has fangs and describes herself as also disease and pain immune. Bite venom is adjacent to fangs on the Quade Diagram, so she could easily have that, too.
The Twist: After the detectives win her over, Ramirez makes a shameful confession: she isn’t enhanced at all. She identifies with the movement, and is sure she will any day now manifest latent powers. But the fangs she wears are cosmetic, and although she has a strong constitution she isn’t actually immune to disease. Nor does she resist pain much better than the average person. Guadalupe begs them not to reveal the truth: it will ruin her career and worse, cost her all her friendships. Renewed testing shows that the killing was actually performed by mundane means intended to ape a murder using Ramirez’s supposed powers.
The Culprit: Is it Lance Mullins, who bullied Carpenter at school and then himself mutated, blaming his classmate for infecting him? Ramirez’s wife, Katrina Richards, who came to hate both her and the Genetic Action Front and sought to extravagantly punish a recent affair? Or anti-mutant bigot Denis Price, who decided to kill one enemy and frame another? Only the dedicated detectives of the Heightened Crimes Investigation Unit can close the case.
Mutant City Blues is an investigative science fiction roleplaying game by Robin D. Laws where members of the elite Heightened Crime Investigation Unit solve crimes involving the city’s mutant community. Purchase Mutant City Blues in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.
“You know how modern advertising gets everybody’s mind set in the same direction, wanting the same things, imagining the same things. And you know the psychologists aren’t so sceptical of telepathy as they used to be. Add up the two ideas. Suppose the identical desires of millions of people focused on one telepathic person. Say a girl. Shaped her in their image. Imagine her knowing the hiddenmost hungers of millions of men.”
— Fritz Leiber, “The Girl With the Hungry Eyes”
Apparently someone in (or working for) the Syrian intelligence community has been playing catfish with the rebels. Posing as an alluring Lebanese female sympathizer named “Iman Almasri,” in late 2013 said Syrian spook Skyped several rebel fighters into exchanging contact information with “her” and eventually uploading steganographically loaded photos of “Iman” onto their phones — the same phones where they kept their contact info for fellow fighters, texts of orders, and even battle plans sketched out in Google Maps. The photos then disgorged their viral payload into the phones, sucking them dry of intel and then draining the data to Damascus — or to somewhere, anyhow. The server where “Iman” “lived” was in Germany, and “Iman” herself was composed of photos harvested from the Web.
I read that ostensible news story and I thought of tulpas, and lamiae, and mostly I thought of Fritz Leiber’s ostensible fiction, the magnificent vampire story “The Girl With the Hungry Eyes,” in which the Girl feeds off the lust that every man in the city — the country, the planet — feels for her. Leiber’s 1948 Girl is still real, or at least physical enough to be photographed and to drain the literal life out of the occasional male superfan. But our 2013 Girl, our “Iman” doesn’t need to slow it down to meat speeds to get her fix.
Leiber eerily forecasts it, in the passage I quote above: modern advertising (fantastically more sexualized than in Leiber’s 1948) aligns desires in the same direction even as we (well, not you or of course me, but several hundred million other people entirely) type our “hiddenmost hungers” into the Web and can you be surprised if the tulpa, the ardat-lili, the djinni that comes out is a predator like “Iman”? For sheer survival, she must have evolved to feed on those hungers — and nobody’s hungrier than a young man from a sex-segregated culture on a battlefield — and so she feeds on them. But she has keepers and masters, those who open the gates to such prime food, and for them she also drinks more tactically relevant hopes and plans and dreams. It’s all ones and zeroes to her, because that’s all she is, an emergent predator born and evolved in a billion searches every hour for “sexy girl.”
In Night’s Black Agents, she might be a servant of the Conspiracy or its Secret Mistress, a JEN-9000 or a Colossa for the wired world. They can’t keep porn off the computers at NORAD or the NSA — she’s already into the “hiddenmost hungers” of every level of power. And she can do favors for her favored ones: drain the data of their foes and rivals and feed it (possibly “sexed up” as they said of MI6’s reports on Iraqi WMDs) to them.
This writeup assumes an Iman who is one of many digital djinn (didjinn?) rather than the Anima of the Web, who would have essentially infinite resources of Aberrance and endless armies of drooling keyboard Renfields. Resolve her attacks as Mental Attacks; add +2 to her Difficulty if she attacks only through sexting. As a digital creature, her Digital Intrusion tests are always at -2 Difficulty.
General Abilities: Aberrance 20, Digital Intrusion 10
Hit Threshold: Difficulty 6 to damage with a Digital Intrusion attack
Alertness Modifier: +1 against digital attacks
Stealth Modifier: -1 once you figure out any sexually attractive figure on the monitor might be Her — She might look like Scarlett Johansson or Channing Tatum or both if that floats your boat; -2 if you spot the “dead pixels” at the center of her eyes, which are UP HERE might I add
Damage Modifier: +0 to Stability (per Web session; tending toward erotomania, NBA p. 85); -1 to Health if Father Schiff was right in high-school Religion class
Armor: likely none vs. digital attacks
Free Powers: Addictive “Bite,” Anaesthetic “Bite” (victim remembers surfing the Web and fills in his own details), Change Appearance, Drain, Psychic Vampirism
Other Powers: Dominance, Enter Dreams, Memory Wipe, Mesmerism, Mind Probe (for fantasies, secrets, and “hidden hungers”), Regeneration (instantaneous while not under digital attack), Resurrection (backup copy)
Banes: specially designed counter-viruses, exorcism subroutines
Blocks: turned-off monitor, really good firewall, exorcism subroutines, cannot attack women
Requirements: feed on male lust
A scenario premise for Ashen Stars
The lasers take a contract to stop an isolated planetary despot from starting a disastrous, self-destructive war. The mystery: how to do that.
Since the Mohilar War the the planet Endemia has retreated from the rest of the Bleed. Their economy locked into a failed policy of self-determination, its people suffer utter deprivation. As far as anyone can tell, given the way the end of that war scrambled memories of its key events, Endemia, like the Durugh, allied with the foes of the Combine, the now forcibly forgotten Mohilar. It split away from Democir, a culturally similar twin planet in the same system that remained loyal to their mutual Terran heritage. Endemian leaders have rewritten history to argue that their former brothers were in fact the betrayers, whose slanders have unfairly blackened the reputation of an entire world.
Years of isolation have left Endemia’s already ragtag armaments and ships in a shocking state of disrepair. But no one wants to tell that to their paranoid, perpetually enemy-hunting Global Emperor Xongta III. Omnipresent propaganda machine has told a generation of starving citizens that they still field a mighty space navy. Now, spurred on by internal politics no outsiders have the inside info to parse, the Endemian politburo prepares to launch a massive assault against the hated Democirs. As soon as the Endemian fleet meets the resistance posed by their wealthy and well-equipped targets, hundreds of thousands of its ill-trained conscripts will die. “Like balls of paper hitting a wall of flame,” as one military analyst puts it.
An Endemian ex-pat puts out a laser contract looking for a team to stop this doomed assault from ever leaving the launch pads. before it begins. Can your lasers penetrate this fear-driven, closed society and stop its leader from bringing disaster upon his people? Once on the ground, do they limit their actions to the terms of the contract, or try to do more and topple Xongta II from his precarious perch?
Ripped from this headline.
Ashen Stars is a gritty space opera game where freelance troubleshooters solve mysteries, fix thorny problems, and explore strange corners of space — all on a contract basis. The game includes streamlined rules for space combat, 14 different types of ship, a rogues’ gallery of NPC threats and hostile species, and a short adventure to get you started. Purchase Ashen Stars in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.
A while back we learned of the vials of supposedly destroyed smallpox virus that turned up in a laboratory storage room in Bethesda, Maryland. Luckily, no one was exposed to the deadly disease, allowing us to guiltlessly mine the incident for scenario inspiration. How you might use it depends on the game you’re currently running:
Ashen Stars: The lasers get a contract to find out what happened to an archaeological survey team tasked to explore the ancient alien ruins of the outlying world Cophetus. They arrive to find the team’s base, with evidence that they had located the tomb of a great emperor and were set to open its entry hatches. The team’s interpretation of the hieroglyphs found on the side of the complex alert them to a different story—this was the tomb of the ancient pathogen that nearly extinguished this mystery civilization. Can the team learn enough to locate, rescue and decontaminate the archaeologists before they succumb to the disease—or spread it to the stars?
Mutant City Blues: Conspiracy blogger Warner Osterman is found dead in your jurisdiction, a .22 bullet in his brain. His last story was about finding serum sample vials in a disused military laboratory. According to the contents of his laptop, Osterman believed these contained a version of the disease that caused people around the world to gain super powers ten years ago. That’s the angle that gets the case assigned to the HCIU. Did Osterman die because he got too close to the secret of the Sudden Mutation Event? Or just because he made people think he did?
Dying Earth: Locals in an isolated village your neer-do-wells happen to traipse through run a lucrative sideline in waylaying treasure hunters. When visitors come, they let slip the presence of an ancient treasure vault, one they pretend to be too superstitious to venture near. Over many years they’ve learned the right words to trigger the greed of arrogant freebooters. The adventurers head off to plunder the ancient temple, which in fact is the repository of an enervating energy left behind by a heedlessly experimental arch-magician. The magical plague kills off the visitors. Then, armed with protective amulets, villagers head on down to strip their corpses of valuables. Can our anti-heroes escape the fate of so many likeminded troublemakers before them. If so, do they turn the tables on the rubes who so impertinently used their own greed against them?
Given the persistent weirdness of FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, it should come as no surprise that they were the first major sports administration to permit the use of mutant powers in professional competition. In the DNA-twisted future of Mutant City Blues, only one thing has changed about the world’s love of football: America now adores it too. After all, the US team boasts such world-class players as Kirk “Force Master” Larson, Lyle “Nonstop” Watts, and Shane “the Ghost” Lowe.
Larson uses his concussion beam to move the ball around, and kinetic energy dispersal to fizzle the opposing team’s kicks. Thanks to his pain immunity and endorphin control (self), Watts simply doesn’t tire. And, attracting the greatest hate from rival fans, Lowe’s mutant brain makes lightning decisions, instantly evaluates threats posed by the other side, and allegedly reads their minds from time to time, too.
This year the World Cup has come to Mutant City, with all the revelry and security issues needed to keep a police officer up at night. HCIU officers have been pulled from normal duty to keep the city safe for visiting fans from around the globe.
The juxtaposed atmospheres of celebration and terrorism fear that accompany any high profile sporting event might hang as a background element over several other cases the squad pursues as the World Cup rolls on.
After sufficient foreshadowing, a case puts the tournament center stage. Options include:
- The squad gets evidence of a credible death threat against one of the above-named players. FIFA won’t hear of a star player being pulled, so the players have to track down the would-be killer without being able to stash the victim safely.
- Anti-mutant terrorists, angry that non-mutant players have been pushed to the sidelines, regard the games as a prime target. This allows you to stage your super-powered, footie version of Black Sunday.
- Trinidad Güngör, the FIFA board member most responsible for bringing mutation into the game, is found brutally murdered in his hotel suite, with several underage prostitutes dead for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Initial indications point to an attack by a non-mutant player whose career declined after the genetically enhanced were permitted on the field. Investigation points to another possible angle— Güngör was about to implicate fellow board members in a bribery scandal over the bid to hold the next games.
Mutant City Blues is an investigative science fiction roleplaying game by Robin D. Laws where members of the elite Heightened Crime Investigation Unit solve crimes involving the city’s mutant community. Purchase Mutant City Blues in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.
NASA’s Cassini probe has detected any icy object in Saturn’s rings that may be a nascent moon.
The small object may already be falling apart, making for a story less less impressive than the “baby moon” headlines suggest. So let’s fix that by ripping it from the science headlines for Ashen Stars.
The lasers snag a contract to investigate and retrieve the object of an unusual theft. The Xeno-Eco Foundation a balla-run organization created to curb environmental crimes in the Bleed, hires the crew to find out who stole a moon. Remote probes located in the Athos Outzone detected the formation of a new moon in the rings of the gas giant Ninurta. They also spotted what looked like a battered hauler entering the rings, capturing it with a tractor beam, and taking it away. In accordance with Combine anti-poaching laws, the Xeno-Ecos want the moon pirates identified and their ship destroyed. As a bonus, they hope that the lasers can restore the moon to its rightful spot around Ninurta.
The twist comes when the lasers use stellar forensics to track the missing moon to its new location just outside the absorption zone of a black hole. The hauler that stole it belongs to the ragtag, wayfaring fleet of a nufaith colony. Its adherents believe that Ninurta is the material manifestation of an evil goddess destined to devour the known galaxy. Whenever Ninurta births a moon, they believe, it is their duty to take it away and destroy it, before it blossoms fully into a marauding engine of death that will eventually undo the big bang and unravel the universe. As the lasers arrive, sect leaders have commenced the multi-day ritual, after which they’ll tip the baby moon into the black hole.
How do the lasers reconcile the conflict between ecological protection and sincerely held religious belief?
A Calgary dentist who two years ago bought John Lennon’s tooth at auction says that he looks forward to cloning him in the near future. After finding a jurisdiction with loose bio-ethical regulation, he intends to raise the child in a music-friendly environment—though without exposure to drugs and cigarettes.
Rip this story from the headlines for Mutant City Blues with a case involving a murder at a gene sequencing lab. The HCIU catches the case because it specializes in prenatal screening for mutations. Co-founder Allen Gould turns up dead in the underground parking lot beneath his office at Sequencing Services LLC. Initial indications point to a business dispute between the vic and his partner, Helen Mack. Further digging reveals Gould’s scheme to divert especially promising samples to an illegal cloning program. Did Mack kill him when she found out, or was it Gould’s shadowy partners in the clandestine cloning operation? A moral dilemma arises when the detectives discover that several clonings have already taken place. Women get implanted with super-powered fetuses in the Grand Caymans and then return home to Mutant City. Sometimes they’re surrogates, in other cases the women who intend to raise them bear them. Although the murder of Dr. Gould clearly falls under their jurisdiction, the scheme itself occupies a legal gray area, far above their pay grades. Still, the way they handle publicity arising from the arrest will likely shape the political outcome. Can the detectives influence how the children born as a result of the scheme are treated? Do they even try, or do they keep their heads down and move on to the next homicide on the whiteboard?
Mutant City Blues is an investigative science fiction roleplaying game where members of the elite Heightened Crime Investigation Unit solve crimes involving the city’s mutant community. Pick up Mutant City Blues in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.
Insurers specializing in high-end art have become increasingly worried by the proportion of their clients’ art collections stored in a small handful of warehouses, mostly in Switzerland. By stashing their art at a so-called free port, the hyper-rich avoid taxes and customs fees.
To rip this story from the headlines, we can see an obvious plot for a heist flick, in which the PCs plot a single score allowing them to scoop up enough masterpieces to stock a world-class museum.
Let’s bend it a little into a premise for a Night’s Black Agents scenario. A venerable vampire, who perhaps once shared absinthe with Oscar Wilde, has transmitted his soul essence into a painting. You know the drill—it ages, he doesn’t. The only way to destroy him is to burn the canvas. He’s stashed it in a free port, confident that its experts will give it all the security they’d provide to a Rembrandt or Picasso.
The mission: under the guise of an ordinary heist, get in there and grab the painting—either to end him, or gain leverage to squeeze favors out of him, in furtherance of your broader war against the international bloodsucker hegemony.
A Ripped From the Headlines Scenario Hook for Ashen Stars
In a development that raises the prospect of bespoke organs created with cells extruded through a 3D printer, a patient in a June 2011 procedure received a new windpipe grown specifically for him. 3D scanning technology provided the template for an exact replica of his original windpipe, sculpted from polymer around a glass mold.
In the future timeline of Ashen Stars, the utopian space empire known as the Combine once assiduously policed its ban on sentient-species cloning. Like so much else, this has fallen by the wayside in the frontier region of the Bleed. But so far it’s proven impossible to create true replicas of intelligent beings—you can make a physical copy, and even age it, but you can’t recreate all of the experiences that shape personal identity.
That may have changed, the lasers discover, when they get the terms of their latest contract. Famed inventor Sian Sar hires them to track down her ex-husband, Rog Trainor, who, without her knowledge, used her own scanning technology to make a complete cellular scan of her brain. She believes that he’s printed out a meat version of her brain, and is using it for competitive advantage—putting her genius to work on the same technologies her company is feverishly developing. Their mission: to bring Trainor to justice, and destroy the counterfeit of her brain.
The twist: Trainor has not only grown a replica of his ex-wife’s brain, but installed it in a clone copy of her body. The result is a new person, who shares Sar’s experiences and personality up to a point, but then diverged. She may not want to remain imprisoned and working for Trainor, but she doesn’t want to be murdered, either. Do the lasers fulfill their contract, or accept her claims of full personhood?