Tuesday, May 31, 2022

MSF Guest Post: Agrimas, the Misbegotten

You read that title right! This post was written by my good friend S.J. (posted here with his blessing) after he binge-read all the other MSF material.

 

Agrimas, the Misbegotten

Dis has rejected the merciful teachings of Mother and Father, but this does not mean that their names have been forgotten in the pits of Hell.

In the Stacks, a variation of Baba's name is invoked as an expletive by the Forge Baron's taxmen when referring to the Stacks' unfortunate tenants. The smiths, miners, foundry workers and bellowmen who slave under the Forge Baron's iron whips are named Babenurashim, or "Father's impotent spillage". Though meant as a scathing insult, some of the less broken among the tenants wear this name with pride, and there are rumors of secret shrines to Baba hidden among the soot-stained basements of the Stacks.

In the Market of Bulls, Mammon's slave hawkers sometimes display lurid, grotesque mockeries of Ama Adimatha's icons in the stalls which specialize in the selling of pregnant women and children. These icons are often hung on the necks of those about to be sacrificed beneath the empty gaze of Moloch's idol - the hawkers believe that by doing this they are creating a link between the doomed offerings and Ama herself, and that she feels the burning and bubbling of their flesh as if it was her own. They are not entirely mistaken, though not for the reasons they believe.

In Hell's grand colosseum, come the black holiday of Descent, the murmur company of the Ashen Goat performs the Stillborn's Farce in front of a great crowd of leering, jeering demons. The play is a mockery of the tragic birth of Mother and Father's firstborn, and involves a decapitated female hippopotamus, a man wearing a two-sided suit of nails, and several naval cannons. Curiously, it is one of the company's more tasteful plays.

In short, though the Lords of Hell pretend to have a callous disinterest in the greater gods of man, they cannot truly hide their dark obsession with them, nor their seething jealousy. The shadow of these repressed emotions is cast over Dis as a whole, and is mirrored in the aimless anger the mortals of Dis often feel towards the gods of man, who they believe have abandoned them.

It is from this miasma of hatred, jealousy and desire that Agrimas was born. Two-headed Agrimas, fine of features, empty of heart. Starving Agrimas, who devours love and defecates scorn. Agrimas of a thousand skins, eternal pretender. Raging Agrimas, child of hatred, from which only hatred comes.

Agrimas is considered to be a strange aberration even by the Lords of Hell, for they embody the shameful truth of Hell's obsession, and the fragility of its hold on the minds of its mortal denizens. They are unique among their peers in that they care little for the power struggles of Hell, or indeed for Hell and its goals in general. Indeed, there is only one thing that interests Agrimas, which consumes their very being at every waking moment. Agrimas desires what they perceive as their family.

Agrimas believes that they are the seventh child of Mother and Father. They also believe that they are the true incarnation of Mother and Father, and that the gods of man, one and all, are pretenders. They see no discrepancy between these two views. Agrimas desires nothing more than to be accepted and worshiped as part of the divine family, but fundamentally lacks the ability to understand that which makes the gods worthy of worship. What they lack in positive qualities they make up in guile and an unquenchable thirst for making others suffer as they do.

Agrimas is not content to remain within Dis, instead traveling the world under various guises, seeking to subvert and subsume the gods of man. They are talented shapeshifters, though their basic inability to understand complex emotions sometimes make their disguises incomplete - Agrimas may wear a grin in a situation where a frown is appropriate, or weep in an attempt to garner sympathy where none shall be forthcoming regardless.

Of Agrimas' many tools of deception, a perennial favorite is the false vision - appearing in a true believer's dream wearing the skin of their god and acting as they believe said god would. Since Agrimas is entirely incapable of the kindliness of the actual divine family, their visions will always lead the believer astray, often catastrophically so.

Agrimas revels in acting against a god's domain while wearing their skin. Under Ama's guise they are the killer of new mothers, the strangler of infants in their sleep. As Baba they are rash action and poor judgment. As Nike they are humiliating defeat, as Calliope boorish ignorance. They are at their very worst when they are Quisest, for then they are the hatred of strangers and dehumanization. They are xenophobia personified. Only under this guise is Agrimas a true servant of the Red Law, though they do not know it nor care.

The name of Agrimas is little known outside of Dis’ inner circles, and few in the wider world would name them among the Lords of Hell. This too is to Agrimas’ benefit - the saboteur is always most dangerous when none know they are coming.

The only god Agrimas cannot impersonate, and the one they truly fear, is DOG. DOG is sharp of nose and ever vigilant, and will always bark at the Pretender's stench. DOG is true friendship, the surest aegis against their machinations. DOG is love and loyalty, which Agrimas will never have. Agrimas hates all canines, and will go out of their way to harm them if at all possible.

Pity not Agrimas, pathetic though they are, for they will show no pity to you. They are a poison which corrupts the hearts of the faithful and the vulnerable, the serpent in the tall grass, and though they are blind to the fact, they are among Hell's most effective and insidious agents.

 

Saturday, May 28, 2022

MSF: The Dragon Cults

They call themselves the Great Imperial Order of the Dragon. Say that they are a secret sect of the Second Empire, sworn in those days to the protection of the Emperor. With the empire fallen, they are bound now by sacred oath to fulfill its rebirth. They go about in red hoods and robes, faces obscured, horse-hair plumes in the breeze, torches in hand, to strike terror into the hearts of the enemies of their Empire-Yet-to-Be.

All bullshit.

There were mystery cults throughout the Second Empire, that is true. They died with their practitioners during the Plague Years, and all that's left are trinkets in display cases and symbols long severed from their meaning. Even with such slim reference material the Dragon Cults bear no resemblance: Not in their garb, not in their practices, not in their symbols. Any student of history, and not even a diligent one, could easily find a litany of inconsistancies and missing connections.

But to make the claim fervently enough, spread the rumor wide enough, that gains them legitimacy. If one's target is the disadvantaged to begin with, it doesn't matter how easily it can be disproven by those who are more able to do digging. The cult puts a good deal of energy into obscuring the truth of their own history, and that more than anything else is their power.

So let us unwrap them.


The Day the Sun was Eaten


The last emperor of Tlan, heirless and impotent, died during the totality of a solar eclipse. Right in his bed, choking on the blood and phlegm filling his lungs. Coincidence, of course. Bad timing. Perfect timing.

In the Solar Church, the sun is the spiritual lodestone of the universe. Everything else - gods, humans, the world itself - can only exist thanks to the emanation of the sun's spiritual power. Those with a greater attunement between their own souls and the sun, naturally, inherited more of that spiritual power. Also naturally, for a civilization where church and state were so tightly twined as the Second Empire, it was the emperor who possessed the greatest share of spiritual power. If times were good, the sun blessed the empire and its ruler. If times were bad, the emperor had clearly lost the sun's favor.

Eclipses were associated with the Dragon Below, the Eleventh Lord. One of those old, old beliefs, logical in their way - a dragon eats the sun and spits it back up again. Bakunawa fills the same role elsewhere in the world. The Solar Church used the Dragon Below as representative of all that is evil in the world (above all else, it was a traitor to the other dragons, who were rightfully blessed by the sun)

So you can see where things go wrong. The head of the church, the only person considered holy enough to serve as consecrated conduit of the divine, dies at the moment the sun is symbolically consumed by the forces of darkness.


The Age of Changes


The Plague Years and the War of the Bull decapitated the Church's political structure; the following period of contentious reformation saw dozens of sects suddenly swept into the power vacuum - most to evaporate swiftly. The party that would eventually establish itself as the majority (with the political backing of Draga and its thrice-removed imperial bastard) interpreted the omen as saying that there was no more need for the sun to have a conduit on earth - the sun shines upon all, doesn't it? The empire's collapse occurred because it had fallen away from the duties of its special selection. While theologically radical compared to what came before, the Reformists were structurally moderate, and much of the Church's surviving organization was carried over (in the Dragan style, of course)

One of the core beliefs of the Dragon Cults (though not the cults themselves) emerges in this period - in non-Reform sects, it was commonly believed that the sun's spiritual power had been eclipsed and that the world was now governed by the Dragon Below (manifested in the loss of the Empire). While technically considered heretical (or at least highly heterodox), in certain regions (noteworthy for us, the Low Country and Dragon Republics) the belief has merged back into the mainstream somewhat. The political aspect of this belief (the loss of empire = the loss of the blessing of the sun = the loss of the right ordering of the world) is rather on the nose, and central to the Cult's ideology: members believe it is their sacred duty to hasten the restorative rebirth of the Empire in its third and final incarnation, to sweep away the corrupt and wicked world and usher in the new.


The Actual Point of the Story


The War of the Bull dismantled the infrastructure of the Imperial occupation of the Hespermontane Low Country, but it did not eliminate its influence. The Maid kept to her word that those who manumitted their enslaved would be spared, and those that did found themselves adrift in a new society, stripped of the wealth and power they had held for generations. Most were, over time, absorbed into the cultures surrounding them. But those who still maintained some measure of influence, made a point of pride in toeing the line, in holding on to the remnants of imperial occupation to the greatest extent that others would tolerate.

So it was for the first few decades of rebuilding in the Low Country nations. A simmering mixture, but not yet ready to serve to table.

The boil-over point would come with the arrival of the Necromantic Socialist Republic as a major power. For those who still clung to the identity of the imperial land-owner, the NSR was anathema: non-hierarchical, utopian, socialist - and most damningly new, popular, and successful. The necromancy was more an excuse than anything. Easy to scare poor folks by painting threats of undead hordes just over the next hill.

Finally, all pretext done with, we have reached the origin of the Dragon Cults: An excuse to lynch necromancers.

The more cultic aspects were added later - the standardization of the uniform, the direct integration of necromancy into Certain schools of fad occultism popular among the wealthy of the Dragon Republics - grand secret histories of the First Empire and mis-interpretations of the atûm-rama practices of An-Hehm - were adopted nearly as soon as they were introduced. Distrust of the NSR's allies (Bensael and Orlei, most notably) goes hand in hand with all the rest. Further radicalization is a natural course of affairs.


The Cults Today


The influence of the Cults varies with time, a sine wave of hate and violence. It had already been on an upswing when the Black River War broke out, and the resulting destabilization of the already-tenuous balance of the Low Country provided ample fuel to the Cults. The end of hostilities has not changed matters. Widespread economic hardship left a lot of folks looking for someone to blame, and that's great news for those willing to point the finger.

Most concerning at this juncture is Gen Temmaren. Temmaren began his political career in the Commonwealth Assembly as a saber-rattler in the buildup to the Black River War, and his populatirty swiftly grew during the conflict and afterwards to the point that his supporters now form the largest single voting bloc within the assembly (outnumbered, at least for the time being, by a coalition of other parties). Central to his platform of conspiratorial militarism is the idea that the Coal Dukes and NSR, aided by northern cities and lilu jacobins, will launch an invasion of the Commonwealth in hopes of destroying it completely. The Commonwealth's traditional allies in the Low Country are side-lined for treaties favoring the Dragon Republics (agreements Tammaren claims will combat the economic depression, but have only increased the existing disparity). Increasingly-violent calls to action - both in preparation for this imagined invasion and removal of "subversive elements" from the Commonwealth - are a mainstay of his speeches.

Whether he actually dons the hood or simply favors them because their actions further his own goals is irrelevant - the Cults have a friend in Temmaren, and they're the boldest they have been in generations. Lilu and necromancers in the Commonwealth and even outside have found themselves threatened, assaulted, killed. The Coal Dukes suspect a return of hostilities they cannot afford to resist. The Order of the Sable Maid finds itself unwelcome in territory it has long patrolled. Outside observers fear a coup, or a civil war in the case of his assassination - both options made worse by Tammaren's sworn sorceror.

Worst of all - Temmaren has indicated that, if he should become chancellor, he would pull Commonwealth levies from the Dispaterian DMZ. This would leave the barrier against Dis critically undermanned - potentially weak enough for Hell to breach through and usher in a second War of the Bull.

That is, if it does not emerge again in the heart of the Commonwealth before then.

Oh, wouldn't the Cults love that, to sit at the feet of their beloved Darvatius?

Thursday, May 26, 2022

100 More Spaceship Names

  1. Annie Jump Cannon
  2. As Previously Established
  3. FuckMotherer
  4. Everybody to the Limit
  5. Rubenesque
  6. 1002nd Night
  7. Salty Johns
  8. Mirror of Eternity
  9. Consequences of My Actions
  10. Nothing Beside Remains
  11. Corporeal Exhaustion
  12. Last Train to Arcturus
  13. Crane Wife
  14. Experimental Doom Metal
  15. March of the Clowns
  16. Dandelion Tea
  17. Reynauld the Fox
  18. Sonthonax
  19. Divine Algorithm
  20. Star of Annares
  21. Negantropic Principle
  22. Sundering Blow
  23. Redundant Systems
  24. Jabberwock
  25. Great Big Ghoti
  26. What're You Buyin'?
  27. Collections Department
  28. Booze & Violence
  29. Spear of Lu
  30. Titus Andronicus
  31. Vault of the Heavens
  32. Impeccable Timing
  33. The Grand Buffet
  34. The Executive Suite
  35. [Null Field]
  36. Screaming Eagle
  37. Tea Time
  38. BEST DEVIL POWER
  39. Its Planck Time!
  40. Vexilogical Argument
  41. The Wrong Choice
  42. The Administrator
  43. Number Go Up
  44. Dead Man's Chest
  45. False Hydra
  46. Signed in Triplicate
  47. Fatherboat
  48. Wonder Cabinet
  49. Bolo'bolo
  50. Universal Century
  51. Upper Management
  52. Interior Crocodile
  53. Dung Beetle
  54. Council of Cats
  55. Autocannibalist
  56. Guan Yu
  57. Cú Chulainn
  58. Learned Elder
  59. Mark of Cain
  60. Naught But Corpses
  61. Middle Path
  62. Radagon the Red
  63. Ere the Sun Rises
  64. Dear Diary
  65. Cocktail Time
  66. Lady of the Methane Lake
  67. Arms Race
  68. Naglfar
  69. Trust but Verify
  70. W. Chung
  71. Flyday Chinatown
  72. Miura
  73. Attack of Opportunity
  74. Gobsmack
  75. Unorthodox Mortality
  76. Chalicothere Supreme
  77. Ghoulhunter
  78. Watch Your Back
  79. Grasscutter
  80. Em Dash
  81. Rancorous Ape
  82. Blackbox
  83. High Comma
  84. Hopeless Bleak Despair
  85. With Rocks In
  86. Solidarity
  87. Omniglamorous
  88. Critical Mass
  89. Kamehameha
  90. Current Meta
  91. Antipathy
  92. Fate Rescinded
  93. Silver Rush
  94. Dream-Eater
  95. Mossbeard
  96. I'm in Danger
  97. Petrichor
  98. Hidebehind
  99. Roguelike
  100. Numinous Veil

Friday, May 13, 2022

Slush Post 10.5: Return of the Bookmark Special

 I have a lot of bookmarks. Here's the first installment.

 Normal slushes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 8.5, 9, 10

Game Resources

Hexroll - Automated hexmap generator, with export function

d12 Monthly - 5e geared, but free and well put together 

Grey Gnome free art assets - A-OK for commercial products!

Star system generator - Make-your-own

Itch.io collection of ttrpg assets and templates 

Review of the Parallax RPG - Luke Gearing sets a new standard for game review posts.

Another star system generator - This time for Alien. Random rolls, more detail than the first

Sketch-to-lineart 

Pixel Planet Generator 

Ghostwriter - Minimalist markdown text editor 

Another another star system generator - Now in vintage map style

Making monsters with punnet squares

Free art from JN Butler 

Goblin Archives' resource masterpost 

Open source fonts 

Resources for making solo games 

Planet art resources


Music

Ska cover of Mountain Goats "No Children"

Dark Blues Music to Escape To 

Hardspace Shipbreaker OST


Miscellany

Roman calendar horrorshow (Might be bullshit, but I believe it)

Wikipedia's list of obsolete occupations

Dark Souls 3: the Bastard's Curse - The single best video essay on the series, bar none.

The tale of Charles McCartney - One of those real life NPCs

"Perhaps in My Father's Time..." - On memory, and history

How to Make a Star Wars Guy - Useful design work and critique all in one

Another Minute Remaining - 60 essayists make 60 essays of 60 seconds each

Androidarts - A guy who has done a lot of good art for a very long time.

What if Bloodborne was an Animated Series? - 23 seconds of perfection

Rating early Christian heresies

Disco Elysium, Mystery Fiction, and the Point of It All 

The Jedi have a death stick problem 

Lucas Roussel's Rust and Humus

Kishotenketsu - A framework for four-act stories

Godkiller - A webcomic about exactly that, by Tuomas Myllylä

Reverse Dictionary - Search by definition 


Twitter Threads

Funniest damn thing I've seen in ages

Orson Wells opines on media 

A collection of public domain pulp characters

Disco Elysium, if it had Sam Vimes 

Batman, perfected 

You have been taught the wrong thing about drawing 

Look I just fucking love Dorohedoro okay 

Setting up a moai 

Midwest gothic

 

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Let's Look at Here, There, Be Monsters!

Yeah that's a hell of a cover



So friend of the blog Wendi asked me over on Discord to give a look at her new game Here, There, Be Monsters! So here it is.


**

Love the little trick with the commas in the title. I had missed it the first time.

**

HTBM exists in the same modern supernatural oeuvre as one would find Esoteric Enterprises, Liminal Horror, Agents of the ODD, and so on. You know the type. As the name suggests, it's geared towards playing as those supernatural folks on the fringes. Very, very geared. The first paragraph of the first page is as follows:

"This game is for the monsters, the weirdos, the freaks and sickos, the insane and the cripples, the trannies and fags and dykes, cunts and thugs and whores, the fatties, the junkies, the illegals, the terrorists, the exotic, the undesirables, the degenerate, the vermin, the suspicious, the anomalies, and every single body who was ever branded for its monstrosity."


That is one hell of a mission statement.

**

The mechanics underneath it all are very lightweight: you choose two tags each for Be, Have, and Do, a background that can modify or give guidance regarding those tags. Rolls are 2d6 roll, add a third die and take two highest if you have a relevant tag. Success / Partial Success / Failure as you would find in PbtA.

There's not much to say about them, so I am getting it out of the way early. Succinct, do their job.

**

This is the part where I gush about the art direction.

It's really, really fucking good.

Lino Arruda's work is lovingly grotesque and overflows with personality. The people her have wringles, bulges, sagging spots asymmetrical faces, exaggerated just enough. The additional art - a mix of public domain, creative commons, and collage - is used liberally and effectively. The mood is set, the vibe is clear. It's loud and colorful and in your face and that is damn refreshing.

**

Formatting! Formatting is good. Excellent. The text itself is always legible and nearly always part of a spread, regardless of the background color or pattern (which does regularly). Important terms are bolded and italicized.

**

Writing? Writing's great. Punchy, concise, effective, full of life and personality. Incredibly strong authorial voice, never bland.

**

The 100 backgrounds provided for characters are star of the show. The combination of key terms, tags, leading questions, and suggestions is such that you can start coming up with the substance behind your character before you've finished reading the entry. Great swathe of options available, moving from ordinary people to weirder people to weirdest people. Things like "A Bunch of Goblins in a Beekeeper Suit", "Homeless Domovoy", "Atlantean Refugee", "Super Smart Simian", and so on.

**

The group that the PCs are part of, and the haven they call home, are appropriately group activities.

**

Three major factions are featured: The Agency (the MIB), the Watchers of the Many-Angled One (fascist occultists) and the Brotherhood of Thoth (rich private collectors). Worthy of note is that only the Watchers are a fully-dedicated enemy faction - the Agency and Brotherhood are antagonists, but not always enemies, and their writeups provide a frame of interaction that will not necessarily boil over into violence.

**

Major locations get a similar writeup to the factions - a short description, then lists of hooks, events, connections, and so on. There are four major ones featured: the Pub, the Night Market, the Library, and Mrs Li's Arcane Assortments.

**

And that's basically it. You have your players, your antagonists, some places to be and some things to do, and there you go. For the vibe the game is aiming at, that's all you need.

**

Here, There, Be Monsters! can be purchased from the Soulmuppet shop or itch.io

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

MSF: A Psalm of Wrath


Mother of Many, hear us

Lend us your spear and your strong arm



Strike like the thunder, Father of Us All

For now no longer is the time for the gentle hand



Our enemies bear down upon us

We are beset on all sides

With sword and shackle they strike at us

They trample the poor underfoot

They reject their kin-bonds and consult with demons

They lay waste to the land

Scornful of the Folk and our compacts with the Peoples

Like ghouls they devour us

Cracking our bones with their teeth

That they might grow fat with our pain



We call to you, Broad-Shouldered Lu

We call for your aid, Tubalkhan of Many Labors

For it is known that you smite the wicked

It is known that you drive them to the edge of the world

It is known that you hear the cries of the suffering

It is known that none among the peoples goes unheard

May the oppressor be cast down!



Grant us steady hand and clear eye

Steep our hearts in hatred-of-swords

Set our course as we stride forth

For we shall not be silent

Nay, we shall not sit idle



This is great labor of the Wise:

To deny the Lord of Rape its victory.


Sunday, May 1, 2022

The Archive

 

Cosimo Galluzzi

Let us say, as part of a thought experiment, that you are an alien intelligence of considerable power. Precisely what your nature and origins are is irrelevant and likely lost even to yourself. What is important is that time and resources have long since ceased being an issue; barring an outside-context-problem, you can sustain yourself more or less indefinitely. You are not a particularly growth-focused intelligence, nor are you one of those liable to turn inward towards deep-time estivation or virtual solipcism. The reasons why do not matter here. You have achieved a comfortable state of homeostasis.

And, the important part of this thought experiment - you want to catalogue all the life in the universe.

This is an impossible task. Life is both rare and temporary, and you are limited by the speed of light. Countless biospheres have slipped through your fingers already - too early, too far away - and you will be lucky to even find the empty spaces where it used to be. But that is the past. Perfection is impossible but mitigation is another thing entirely.

You set to work, creating a series of self-replicating probes. Even at the languid speeds far below the speed of light that they must travel, it is more than enough - a few million years will see them propagate throughout the galaxy, and you are quite patient in such matters. Maybe you will send a few off to Andromeda as a treat.

These probes will sit in orbit around each and every star, monitoring for life. Most of them will find nothing, which is fine, and they will sit dormant until they're needed to pass on messages between more active members of the expedition.

For those that do find life, either on arrival or during a periodic checkup, the probe will dedicate itself to the task of cataloging the biosphere in its entirety. Another impossible task, though as the resident godlike intelligence (and thus far the only one of any relevance) this is less impossible for you. To save on processing power you set your probes to do a regular checkup every few million years, in case there have been any changes.

The catalogue is not the end goal, only the end of a stage. More important than simply the finding of the life (which you do love - godlike intelligences such as yourself crave novelty and evolution is an immensely productive artist) is the recording of its genome, right down to the chemical composition. Your probes are able to do it with such pinpoint accuracy that, given the raw materials and the time, you could re-create anything that your probes have discovered.

Now the true purpose of your little archival project reveals itself - it is not enough to catalogue life, you can perpetuate it. Spread it. Nothing can ever truly go extinct, so long as you get to it first. You can transplant life to other worlds, worlds tailor-made for the life you bring, or perhaps the opposite. Put it in an environment with different criteria and watch as evolution - that brilliant, mad, mindless artist - works at it again. You can even mix life together, modifying it for new environments. Species separated by millions of years and thousands of parsecs can co-exist side-by-side, with a little genetic tampering. Your probes share all they have learned, filing everything away in a grand archive of life (you cannot remember this point if you installed them with ansibles or not - it has been so very long since you built them and there's so much to see in the meantime)

You are a gardener, and you have made the galaxy your vast, slow, beautiful garden. An artwork to keep you content through the long eons to come.

But something goes wrong. It had to, probability would not let that coin come up heads forever. Something breaks within the probes. Like anything that reproduces, your probes are subject to mutations. Glitches in the replication process. So, so many generations of probes have passed, and it takes so long for information to pass between them, that some populations have drifted quite far indeed from your original plans. Maintenance takes time - longer than it does for new problems to emerge.

It will be the end of you. Perhaps not the death of you - as your end in these affairs is no more important to the experiment than your origin - but it is the end of your ownership of the archive. It has become its own master now, self-sustaining and fractal.

Slowly at first, but then growing with exponential speed, a certain corruption befalls your great archival network. An aggressive, total subversion of your probes' behavior, a chaos that is too fast to contain. Probes are destroyed, or permanently taken offline. Hibernation periods are extended too long, or dropped entirely - driving the probes subject to something akin to madness by insomnia. Data hubs are lost. Communication protocols break down. Probes begin to war amongst each other, or destroy the biospheres they were meant to monitor. The great archive of genetic data is corrupted, and the corruption is passed along from probe to probe and there is no way to send a faster message warning of the danger - a few pockets are lucky enough to be out of reach, and it is there that your initial aims, or something close to them, are still carried out.

As for the rest...they are lost to you. If you still live, retreat is your last remaining lifeline. Far from here, far from your great failure.

Among the afflictions is one where the probe will continue its task of seeding ecosystems, importing and mixing source organisms as according to the dimly-remembered initial procedures, but they will come out...wrong. Imbalanced. Ecosystems so ill-suited for their worlds that they immediately begin a trophic cascade. Organisms that evolution could never make. Misshapen things, the afterimages of something from a long-forgotten world far, far away. Invasive organisms, carelessly introduced.

There are times when it seems as if a probe created something with the sole purpose of causing pain.

What is left is this: the galaxy is filled with graves - with worlds that once held life, but swiftly fell to desolation once they no longer had the probe and its support to keep the planet livable. Many worlds do still hold life, of course, and many of the experimental worlds remain intact. But the garden is overrun with weeds, now, and there is no one to hold the pruning shears.

The network of probes, the once-great Archive, is a house that spews forth monsters. A house with a door that cannot be barred. There is no one home, and the lights are off.

And we here in the night may only hear the howls in the distance, and run blindly through that dark forest.