We’ve got immortal Elves running Tir Tairngire and Tír na nÓg, great dragons, the Great Ghost Dance, insect spirits, and the Enemy out there as nasty magical threats. Sure, there’s corporate machinations and an upcoming Blood in the Boardroom supplement from FASA, and I say Corporate Shadowfiles is better than Threats for coming up with runs, but it would be nice to give the UCAS a few surprises up its sleeve. Since I’ve been watching too much X-Files and reading the Fortean Times lately, it occurred to me: why not give the UCAS alien technology?
There are tons of rumors about what the United States has in the way of UFO’s in the modern era, and there’s even some interesting stuff about life on Mars discovered and the information suppressed in the Missions supplement. The background is ripe for it. However, adding alien technology raises a lot of issues that need to be dealt with carefully:
The most common aliens that I’ll deal in are the little grey guys, like the Sectoids of X-Com UFO Defense. It gives a certain truth to the rumors out there. What I’m also going to introduce is that their DNA is about as close to human as an orangoutang’s, though definitely not matching any other known primate. Why are they so close to human in appearance? They’ve been designed as the best possible intermediate form between the real aliens and the creatures on this planet— which suggests a long-term investment on the part of the observing aliens.
The aliens represent a highly self-evolved race that is in the habit of using bioengineering to do what it wants— cybernetics is too crude for them. (Universal Omnitech came up with bioware independently— the alien versions are far weirder, involving hybrid plant and animal structures.) The alien operatives are all capable of spontaneously combusting when they choose, to maintain secrecy. All are magically active, since they understand metagenes quite well; they operate much like physical mages. (Astral projection is a no-no in outer space, and is dangerous in polluted environments such as those the Horrors leave behind them, so they’ve evolved themselves so as not to do it. If they run into hostile spirits, they conjure up “proxies,” similar to watchers, that carry imprints of their personalities; these proxies can come back and merge with their creators to bring back information. Treat proxies as watchers that can be impressed with skills at creation time: one skill per point of Force, at each level, so a Force 4 proxy can have one skill at 4, one at 3, one at 2, and one at 1. The aliens are biologically immortal, but are well aware of the nature of statistics and expect to die in about eight hundred years on average. To this end, they “back up” their minds into a sort of Ally spirit, which they slowly feed karma and grow as they understand more about the universe— effectively creating their own higher selves. When aliens eventually perish, their Allies remain as advisors and guides.)
Since just about any materials that the aliens might want are already available in asteroid belts, cometary clouds, and Jovian atmospheres, or can be easily biomanufactured, they don’t have much reason to come down. Millennia of zero-g existence has given them a disdain for planetary living. They’re mostly worried about these young, intrepid humans coming out and interfering in their current way of life.
As long as humans are the barbarous, disorganized creatures we are, the aliens have no interest in making formal contact. They are quite familiar with the treacherous ways of young races like our own, and their study of human history has reassured them of the sense of their policy. Conquering is, likewise, a pointless activity. Humans make poor slaves.
What they value is the amount of mana we dump into the astral plane through our very existence. The Earth’s manasphere stops mostly at the atmosphere, but the bleedover makes the Solar System’s mana field much more enriched. The combination of the factors that have Awakened the solar system and the prodigious life on Earth makes the Solar System prime real estate for the next few thousand years, and the aliens are contemplating bringing a chunk of their civilization to live there. Naturally, they don’t want us interfering in their civilization— or wiping out life on Earth, which would ruin the whole reason for them to be there.
The technology of the aliens usually involves a strong living component. The aliens are quite familiar with the phenomenon of mana cycles, and know how to operate in the low-mana environment of space. Their technology functions on principles involving magic, which means a flow of life-force. The living ships provide enough mana to power their own functions in the vacuum of space.
The problem with replicating the technology is that it needs extremely bizarre circumstances. The UCAS does not have access to the big trees that digest comets and asteroids for their materials, and must invent the appropriate hydroponic solutions for feeding the things through trial and error.
The plants used to grow structures suck up metal salts like nobody’s business and use them to build up a reflective metal foam, usually vacuum filled from their growth environment, that provides a hull to keep out the more dangerous aspects of outer space— extremes of heat, cold, and vacuum. Damaged ships will repair themselves after a while; they get the energy for their function from big nutrient tanks filled with sugars created by the huge trees soaking up sunlight and breaking down comets for basic materials.
The truly impressive effects, though, come from incorporating True Elements into the designs of the ships. Because True Elements are quite rare and the UCAS doesn’t even know they’re available on the Earth, their only source of magical power comes from figuring out ways of turning captured, nonworking alien spacecraft into an appopriate broth for the things they’re trying to grow— which means avoiding heavy, impersonal manufacturing. The trial and error process of this is long and arduous, and has only begun to make headway since 2018 when someone dragged in a few of the new mages to help out with the project.
The net result is a gravitic drive. Vessels can produce acceleration fields— theorists think that conservation is maintained only through dumping energy into the astral plane— that will allow unprecedented maneuverability, with multiple-G acceleration while the interior of the craft stays in free fall.
Vehicles are grown and controlled through a variant of metamagic— masking. When a magician synchronises their aura to the plants, they can control how they grow and move. This can be taxing to the sanity, but is better than the crude control systems that the UCAS was working on before the Awakening.
Any Initiate can control a vessel, though astral perception really helps in attuning the aura. Attuning a vessel is much like rigging: the magician becomes aware of everything around the vessel, with detail fading with distance. The sheer shock of apprehending one’s own size relative to the nearby universe is incredible and requires a Willpower (12) test to absorb without immediately going catatonic and requiring months of therapy or erasure of the experience from the memory. Once a person has successfully made this test, they will not need to do so again. (Mind probing a person who has made this test, if they turn up the image, requires a Willpower (9) roll as they experience the sensations filtered by someone else’s mind, or the mind probing mage can suffer psychological symptoms.)
Once hooked in, the magician is aware of such details as nearby astronomical bodies (nearby in terms of tens of light-hours), gravitational geodesics, and the general scale of the planet nearby, as well as more detailed information up close. Flight is as simple as picking a geodesic to follow and accelerating along it, at up to thirty gravities. The trip to the Moon is easy, and even Mars is not out of reach in one of the smaller vessels. The magician gets a Control Pool equal to their Initiate Grade, and their effective skill in controlling the vessel is based on their Magic attribute the way a rigger’s is based in their Reaction. A pilot must make a Willpower (8) roll every hour to deal with wrapping their mind around the vehicle. Failure indicates they’ve gone somewhat loopy— symptoms include dissociation from human affairs, bleedover of astral perception into the normal (treat as uncontrollable entry into and out of astral perception), paranoia, a fear of anything even slightly unfamiliar, and extreme claustrophobia— and will need to avoid using such craft until they’ve had a lot of vacation somewhere quiet and very homey, without stress. Each subsequent try after a failure ups the target number until they get some vacation, and increases the amount of time they need to spend getting back to normal.
The vehicles are generally organic with some extra tech stuck in them for communication and defense; the sight of an ergonomic human chair bolted down in the organic spacecraft looks very bizarre, but it’s the best they’ve got.
Other pieces of alien technology also exist. One of their more common weapons is a laser, a knobby rod about eighteen inches long and three inches thick. The effect is much like an Ares MP Laser III with seventeen shots. It recharges from the environment at one shot per five minutes, as long as there’s enough ambient mana, and it is not difficult to design a spell that will recharge it at one shot per success, TN 4, Medium drain. It is also controlled through the Masking-like ability, and requires a fair amount of True Fire and True Earth to create. Its interface causes the user to know where the beam is pointing, whether or not it’s on, giving bonuses like a Smartlink II with rangefinder, and provides three extra dice to the user’s Combat Pool due to the fact that it is continuously looking two seconds into the future (like personal combat sense) and feeding that information to the user’s mind. (A first use only requires a Willpower (8) roll, continued use only a Willpower (6). Failures will tend to want to go someplace very boring and predictable for their nervous breakdown, and will be easily startled because they weren’t warned about things happening in advance.) It requires flesh contact in order to work— you can’t take advantage of the awareness it grants if it’s just in a normal backpack.
Check on dates for this. When the United States of America and Canada merged, the folks in the USA didn’t want to share their goodies with the Canadians. All the projects dealing with extraterrestrial life and technology moved into black budgets under the control of US government officials and their heirs in the government. Because it had next to nothing to do with the space program, Ares didn’t even get to touch it.
When the NAN moved in on large chunks of America, the military bases in New Mexico and Nevada were stripped. Check on all stuff relating to Roswell, Area 51, and all that truck. The current hotbeds of activity are in make something up.
The PC’s can find out about the technology if they extract one of the completely loopy pilots from a medical facility; mind probing reveals the person has had their brain scrambled but good and seen altogether too much, though the views of Earth and the Moon from space suggest they’ve been around and at some really impressive velocities.
Stealing one of the craft is one of the most difficult prospects, but could be very rewarding— if the PC’s can convince the government or corp they sell it to to let them live. An easier one is making off with one of the smaller pieces of technology. (If they actually keep one to use, make their lives a living hell. The government will stop at nothing to keep their secrets— the PCs can convince them they haven’t got the tech and that they have no proof, and given sufficient coercion the government will leave them alone. Actually using a toy like that is fairly distinctive and will tend to have agents swarming over any site where it was used.)
Another good hook is Dunkelzahn’s Will. Pursuit of the photos from the Mars probe might turn up leads into other matters, or the UCAS Blue Berets (used in recovery of crashed UFOs and stolen from the X-Files) might turn up (and get interrogated or mind probed).