Enlightened Shock Corps: An Aethertide Scene

The following is a scene from our last game, whipped up into fiction. Some commentary below.

Abby watched as the massive inhuman killing machine stared at the teddy bear it (he?) was holding. Moments ago, she had to lead it (yeah, let’s say “it”) out of Will’s room, where she found it holding the teddy. Thank god it didn’t wake Will up.

Normally, Atlas wears his holographic mask, but for all intents and purposes, the machine that was created to hunt and…capture her kind was sitting in the living room, naked as all get out. It reminded her of the Terminator movies, if you made one of those machines bulk up some on steroids. The exoskeleton was a shining alabaster — Primium — that stored Quintessence, which also had the effect of making him look a bit like a Día de los Muertos skeleton.

She would not look at Halloween the same way again.

James came out of the kitchen, holding a bottle of tequila and two glasses. The three of them moved into the neighborhood a few weeks ago. They had a nervous truce for the time being, her a “Reality Deviant” living with the two Technocrats. The leader of Aethertide — at least, the person who they assume is — and the man holding answers to many questions lies in a coma in the basement. When he gets better, all bets are off. But for the time being…

“Okay, I guess we’re at that place. I have something to tell you,” James said as he poured heavily into the two glasses. He slid one to Abby. He didn’t bother to change out of his black t-shirt and black boxers. An NWO spook through and through.

Abby looked down at it, but didn’t touch it. “About why the killing machine was in Will’s room? What the hell’s going on?” She was more shaken by that than by seeing him terrorize the security guard earlier that night. At least that she knows to expect from the Technocracy.

“Atlas Six is a member of the Enlightened Shock Corps. Do you know what that is?”

Abby bit back the vitriol. Her rational brain knew that arguing would do know good, even if her sleep-deprived and scared out of her mind hindbrain thought otherwise. She shook her head.

“Tell her,” James ordered.

“Very well. She is classified as a Reality Deviant collaborating, and her knowledge of this security issue may be risked.” The words came out hollow, as they always did, but from a deep, manly voice. A voice of authority. It was easy to think of it as a “he” when the holograph disguise was up.

And, unlike the HIT Marks she’s had to run from, this thing had a soul. It was Awake. It.

“The Enlightened Shock Corps represent Iteration X’s finest achievement in front line units, designed to penetrate Reality Deviant strongholds and neutralize all hostile threats to the Consensus.”

Abby didn’t hear anything new in that statement, but the lack of passion mixed with the utter assuredness of it was chilling.

“Tell her how the ESC are recruited,” James said.

“Reality Deviants are captured and subdued. They are processed by New World Order procedures until they are blank slates. They are shipped to Autocthonia for further processing. With Progenitor technology, their minds and Genius are grafted into a primium exoskeleton, as you can see before you. A personality matrix is loaded with essential Iteration X procedures and protocols, creating an Enlightened Shock Corps operative. We are then sent into the field to handle powerful Deviants for which our previous constructs were insufficient,” Atlas said, with that same calm, soulless demeanor.

Abby didn’t touch her tequila. James slammed his and poured another. After a few moments of utter silence, “That’s…” She couldn’t find the words to finish that sentence.

Atlas said, “Why would we waste an Enlightened mind? Just because you’re wrong doesn’t mean you should all be assassinated. You’re worth converting.” It sounded rehearsed.

No, it sounded implanted.

James spoke before Abby could. “Tell her what happens after one of your ops.”

“Our data is downloaded, and our personality matrix is reset. We are given relevant operational data to keep after each mission, as mandated by protocol,” Atlas said.

“Tell her why,” James said.

“Our personality matrix has a halflife of six weeks. After that glitches enter the system. We are not meant for long-term operations.”

“How long has it been since you’ve been processed?”

“Two years, seven weeks, five days, twenty hours, sixteen minutes, forty-three seconds.”

James turned back to Abby. “You know the things you call Marauders?” he asked.

Abby shooked her head. That’s all she could do to respond.

“Imagine one with Technocratic technology, a built-in fusion reactor, and a skeleton that is fused with primal essence,” he said.

“That is a distinct possibilty,” Atlas added. He was staring at the teddy bear again.

James watched Atlas for a moment, then slammed his drink again and poured a third. “He’s remembering. That is not good.”

Abby finally spoke, staring straight at James. “How can you be such monsters! I might have known his family!” It didn’t occur to her right then that she said “his” rather than “its”.

James put his drink down, sighed, and leaned in. He looked at Abby square in the eyes, one of the rare times he did that without his mirrorshades on. He said with irritated disbelief, “Did no one tell you that we were at war?”

As I’ve said before, the Enlightened Shock Corps is something Jerry made up a few years back in his own Mage games. The idea is pretty damned compelling — that Iteration X made near-soulless killing machines out of Tradition mages, and had to keep processing them to keep their old personalities from emerging, while needing them to handle the worst missions.

This scene was entirely done by the players (though I altered some details to make it a narrative that made some sense outside of the game stream). It was one of those times as a GM that I got to feel both pride and sit back to purely enjoy. Pride that what I had put together built up to this moment, and getting to just enjoy it by listening to them without interjecting.

This scene reminded me why I love playing campaign games. You get to actually build something, and at times take a step back because they’ve got the momentum to keep going.

– Ryan


5 Responses to Enlightened Shock Corps: An Aethertide Scene

  1. Dave T. Game says:

    That’s awesome, which is all I can say about that, and an idea I want to steal. Of course, there’s always the chance to showcase the terrible things the Traditions have done as well…

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      The first time Jerry ran a game for us, it was a Mage one-shot where we were an Enlightened Shock Corps unit. That game still resonates with me.

      – Ryan

  2. Jess says:

    I’m so glad someone is still playing Mage. It was the first game I ever ran. I still have visions of going back and fixing the problems in it and making the system work just a little better.
    How is your variant of it working out for you, notably in keeping the feeling of Mage alive?

    • Leonard Balsera says:

      I’m playing James in this game, and I can tell you, there are ways in which I sometimes feel it’s more like Mage than Mage did.

      It inspired me to take the same system (Cortex+) and apply it to Star Wars, chasing after that old, freewheeling D6 experience I remember having.

      Between his game and mine, suddenly it’s 1996 in my brain, in the most awesome way.

  3. Lon Sarver says:

    Wicked cool. And very, very creepy.