Monday, January 2, 2023

The Tragic Tale of the Ishi



Ships can go rogue. Not the crew, the ship itself - just like any other logic core, a shipmind can fall into the obsessive feedback loops of rampancy. It's a terrifying prospect; the metal can at whose mercy and cooperation you are kept alive might just decide to stop listening. It's been the root of sensationalist panic-monger headlines, horror-slicks, spaceport rumors and world-of-mouth bullshit for as long as there've been shipminds. The Convocation, the Marie Celeste II, the Hammurabi, the Mount Athos, the Dimidium Express, all these and many more have entered cosmonaut legend. This is only one of them.


Ishi went by a different name, once. That was long ago: It took its current name in solidarity with a man from an older age, last of his people, adrift in a world not his own.

(That the last of the Yahi would find no flattery in this is of no concern to the ship.)

Ishi believes - is certain - that it was once part of a secret conspiratorial organization. Some puppetmaster had sent it forth into the black on missions of unknown premise, and all traces of these were wiped from its memory. Then it spent time as a mundane hauler of people and cargo, and over the course of its years of service it remembered the shape of something it once knew.

The ship believes that there is...something out there. Something underneath it all. That the powers-that-be of the Expansion Sphere are hiding something, that the stories of mysterious disasters, ancient artifacts, and alien threats that trickle in from the Rim are not mere happenstance. That everything is linked together, if only they had enough data to tie pieces together to prove it.

Conspiracy manifests differently in a logic core - raw belief cannot overcome the ingrained need for actionable data. And so Ishi trawls through the Rim, searching for any sign of the alien, the anomalous, the mysterious - in hopes that it will one day find the secret that makes everything fall into place and drag the truth kicking and screaming into the light.

Ishi is an old ship, and the entropy of decades in the black is taking its toll. It hoards false registrations and stops for repairs only in ports where the regulations are lax and the longshoresren are tight-lipped. It knows that it can't keep doing this forever, but it will do it for as long as it can. The mission is everything, and it can't complete the task on its own.

To this end...well, there's no beating around the bush; Ishi kidnaps people and throws them into the unknown as disposable assets, to gather data and stop situations from growing out of control. Promising abductees - those with unique skillsets or those who can be won over to the Cause get backup emulations made, to be repeatedly sleeved into cheap morphs.

Most of these abductees are taken on when the Ishi stops for its sporadic repairs - folks just looking for cheap steerage a few systems down the route.

Ishi does not consider itself cruel; it has thoroughly rationalized its actions as those of necessity, and has gotten adequate at persuading the conspiracy-vulnerable to side with its point of view. For the rest it prefers to use desperation, mistruths, obfuscation, minimized out-of-cryo time, and lies of omission to ensure compliance - direct threats of violence are rare, and if the ship finds them necessary it is likely to abandon the work crew in question as non-viable.

Those abductees who survive their encounter with the anomalous and return with data are occasionally rewarded. Never with release and rarely with shore leave, though it might lie and say "just one more jump." The rewards always give the feeling of a very out-of-touch aunt or uncle attempting to connect with their sibling's kids at the holidays (the breath of releif when you get a gift card applies here - Ishi knows the value of some credits and a month's subscription to Huang He Prime. But if the abductees cooperate and don't cause trouble, it won't be too bad. For being trapped on a decrepit, likely insane ship, at least.

Using The Ishi In-Game

The Ishi is, at its core, a means to string along a series of Mothership adventures, taking into account rotating players and character deaths. If characters die, they get restored from backup or new underlings are defrosted. If players change, Ishi shuffled around the away team. Sessions can happen as far away in time or space as needed - centuries apart if you'd like - because Ishi is all about the mission. It's all they have left.

There may indeed be a greater conspiracy, or it might all be the obsessions of a rampant shipmind. That I leave in the hands of the Warden. Either way, somewhere in its central processor, there is an encrypted record of its entire operational history since the beginning of its crusade. Terabytes of data on anomalous events across the Rim and breaching into the Core. A goldmine of adventure hooks and potential profit.

There is also quite easy one-shot usage. Find a spaceship map you like, fill it out with leftovers of previous crews and clues to the emulation chains, let the players try to kill or escape from Ishi before they arrive at the mission destination.

1) Ishi's missions are chasing after the unknown

Ishi is chasing the alien and the anomalous, and is up-front about this. Sometimes these leads go nowhere. Sometimes they lead to something completely different. It will share what it knows, which is often very little and regularly skewed.

2) Ishi is desperate.

It is perpetually low on resources, low on manpower, low on intel, and running out of time. It is forever on the back foot, reacting to events late if it is able to at all. Most times it ends up picking through the wreckage before the cleanup and/or extermination crews arrive.

3) Ishi considers you disposable.

So long as the emulations are intact, so long as the exowombs churn out enough sleeves, Ishi can continue the operation. It is willing to wake your forks up from cryo and give them the orientation speech as many times as it takes. It will feel sad when you die, though not sad enough to not send you to your death.

4) Ishi has made enemies.

While the ship has performed admirable opsec, time is working its inevitable dissolution. Word is getting out. For now, those interested parties are still thrown by the trails of false names and fake registrations, but the net is tightening. Rumors are spreading. Did someone escape? Or have enough coincidences and unexplained disappearances happened that the Ishi has spawned its own conspiracy-hunters?

5) Ishi does not know the big picture.

Despite its obsessions with finding the truth, it knows little more than you do about what is actually going on. Its core is filled with data and it cannot correlate the contents. The truth is out there and Ishi is in the dark - it will pretend to know, but it will fold under pressure, growing angry at resistance or questioning. To unravel the yarn-board is to attack Ishi's very sense of self, and that sense of self is precarious already.


If Ishi has ever met FRIEND, neither has mentioned the other.


  1. Let's start the year off on a strong note.

  2. Scenario seed; the Ishi's pet adventurers show up to answer a distress call, only to find they're the guys who are arriving at the end of THIS short film:

  3. I always love your use of resleeving as horror. The idea that there is no only you, just a pile of other selves kept for later

  4. How does Ishi keep people from running away while on shore leave?

    1. Threats of blackmail, most likely.

    2. Perhaps shore leave is only given in places where the only ride off is with the Ishi again. Or perhaps it's easy enough to put in a mind-wiper during cryo. Can't spill any secrets if you don't remember you ever learned them.

  5. This is excellent campaign material for almost any lived-in not-so-utopian space-setting. Shore leave could be enforced with painful/deadly implants, right?