Tessier 'Tessie' Armitage is an old woman. Not an old woman, but an oooold woman. Her hair is white but neatly kept in a tight bun that is seventy years out of style. Her clothing is likewise, vintage and worn, decades old. Despite her incalculable age, there are many hints and clues to the unimaginable beauty of her youth, and how well she has kept herself up.
What is striking, in the Cosmic Era, is her complete dearth of technology. She has no cybernetic augmentations, and her home, an upper-floor apartment in a first-generation arcology, has no modern features. It isn't that they've been removed, they were never installed in the first place. This ancient woman lives without the benefit of an in-house caretaking auton, has no SmartBed, and aside from a single digital tablet, there is nothing of technology present.
Residence and its Oddities:
The apartment of Tessie Armitage is, as mentioned, near the top of an old arcology. It's not just a first-generation design, but probably one of the first arcos that was raised, back before the Resource Wars ravaged the planet. The unit is small and efficient in design, but it is densely packed with things. The most obvious objects are Arco-Tec pods. These are really just steamer trunks, but with a metal body, rounded corners, and an Atompunk vibe in their construction. There are dozens of the pods, some stacked to the ceiling, and some now being used as tables and seats. There are also decades worth of out of print magazines, and shelf after shelf of books, physical, hardcopy books.
Arcology Staff Impressions
Maintenance Dept - No idea, no one from this dept has seen the inside of unit 3J. Looking into the work orders, the last time a technician entered the unit to work on it was forty-three years prior, to repair a leaking bathroom fixture. The work order is almost completely blank.
Security Dept - 3J, that's top floor. We don't have people go up there unless we're called. There is enough passive security between that door and the ground that it would take a Hollywood casino heist to get in uninvited. We also kinda get paid to not talk about anyone who lives on the top floors, and that's not just this building, that's kinda all of 'em.
Medical Service - there are no medical records available for Tessier 'Tessie' Armitage. With some digital sleuthing, it can be discovered that up to thirty years ago, Armitage was registered as a client to an ELMS provider. The medical frigate would visit the arcology and a doctor would visit the apartment once a year. There are no records of what was being done, but thirty years ago the contract was canceled and the medical frigate stopped coming to the arcology.
Delivery Records are extensive and bizarre. Everything that Armitage needed to survive was delivered monthly, and the contents read more like what a pioneer on the Oregon trail would have stashed in a wagon than what a single woman living at the top of a mile-tall building would have. Flour, bacon, crackers, peanut butter, coffee, and rare deliveries of fish.
This is where the players and their characters come in.
Madam Tessie has been a hermit from the world for decades and is an obvious anachronism. Things are going on, and this wisp of an old woman has decided that it is time for certain things to happen in response. To this end, she has started sending feelers out to find competent and capable men and women that are of suitable moral character, and trustworthy. The short version would be that this is where the plot is inserted, and how Armitage would be used as a patron/Mr. Johnson. She would have tasks for the characters and would pay them in relics from her collection, something that might interest them, or with physical money, an oddity there.
Somehow, Tessie Armitage is aware of high-level fuckery going on between the government of the Atlantic Federation, the worlds largest hypercorp, SEMDRC, and a rogue's gallery of actors. The PCs have been brought in to start working towards a goal that they will remain unaware of for some time.
There are three progression wheels turning, and whichever one completes first, wins. There is a faction within the Atlantic Federation government's Intelligence Branch that is interested in having SEMDRC relinquish its neutral stance and openly join with the Federation as a pro-state entity, possibly becoming a new branch of the Federation government, the transportation branch. There are independent factions represented by a single progression wheel that is acting in the interest of maintaining the status quo and stability. (Aka the control group). Lastly, there is a progression wheel of the Glassenheim Foundation which is pushing towards a sort of technological singularity.
Tessie Armitage is worked against the Federation and the Glassenheim Foundation. An impressive stance to take as a centenarian living alone in an apartment. There are mercenary companies, trade federations, and even nations that have opposed these powers and were destroyed for their audacity. The actions the PCs are undertaking work to roll the progression wheels of those factions back, stalling them, foiling their plans, removing their agents, and exposing their wonder weapons, financial machinations, and skeletons in their closets.
The Corpse on the Couch
One thing that makes little sense is that Madam Tessie, despite being a hermit and having none of the casual technology that pervades everyday life, is well aware of what is going on, and has access to things that she shouldn't have. Likewise, attempts to hack her information come up empty, either stopped cold by intrusion countermeasures, unbreakable gates, and locks, or it simply isn't there. Hackers who try immersive dives for her information initially find nothing, and the longer they hunt the more they get the sense of being followed and watched.
If they persist in hunting, they are attacked.
Tessie Armitage is protected by a Fractal Hunter. It appears like a kaleidoscope seahorse moving through the matrix and is mostly passive and stealthy in nature. If Armitage is threatened, the Hunter can drive said hackers off of whatever trail they are following, create 'wormholes' that drag them into very unpleasant parts of the CogNet, and if continually pressed, attack with devastating power. This can be as simple as the seahorse resolving itself into a young woman adorned with a full-body seahorse tattoo engaging in blisteringly fast Hong Kong martial arts fights. It can be resolved as the seahorse directing beam attacks against the hackers while still in the matrix. The most terrifying thing the Fractal Hunter can do is a combination of psyops against a target, such as infesting their personal accessory network with malware, marine imagery, and then hacking a device near them to act out. A service auton going in for the kill, strangling them while they are sitting in their hacker rig, a piece of construction equipment lashing out and derailing the mag-lev train they might be on, or a piece of garrison military equipment coming online and attacking.
This is a hell of a thing, and quite honestly shouldn't happen.
The Fractal Hunter is a relic of the 3rdNet.
It also lives on Tessie's couch.
The PCs might be aware of the couch, but its never been used, as it is covered with heaped clothing, magazines, boxes, and newspapers. Under this debris, there is a long mummified corpse. This is the body of Mildred Bancroft-Ashpool, Tessie's sister. Mildred Bancroft-Ashpool was an important and influential woman decades ago, a pioneer in SimSense research, cognitive technologies, and cyber-cranial surgeries. She was a hacker and self-described cybernaut. Most of her most daring work was done when the 3rdNet was still active, likely the most dangerous time in history for people doing immersive dives into matrix systems. Mildred had a number of virtual personas, created digital copies of herself as program avatars, and online was a counterculture revolutionary. Many people would be incredibly happy to know that the mind behind Madam Thunderbolt was three decades dead. This wouldn't give them much actual satisfaction, as the Fractal Hunter, and Madam Thunderbolt are still active self-contained avatars, and the Electric Chapel is still in business.
The cyberware in Mildred's skull is still active and running. All of Tessie's communications and data are routed through her dead sister's cyber brain. This piece of military-grade equipment would still be considered cutting-edge tech and could change the paradigm of cyber warfare for a generation if it was recovered. It's a good thing no one knows about it.
Who is Tessier Armitage?
For starters, she isn't Tessier Armitage, the name is a portmanteau of names that she liked from books she read as a child. Tessie's real name is Millicent Bancroft-Ashpool, and she is part of the scion Bancroft-Ashpool family, the incredibly wealthy and powerful clan than owns banks and megacorps. Millicent was involved in the family business for years, enjoying the longevity of extreme wealth and access to cutting-edge tech and medicine. She has been retired from the public eye for over a century and became a recluse. This step was taken as the family decided to take generational matters into their own hands and started engineering their offspring. Rather than have her potential children turned into eugenic supermen by the family, Millicent opted to retire from the family and take up a modest residence in an unimportant tower, content to live out her life and no longer involve herself in world affairs. She was not the only Bancroft-Ashpool to do so.
She adopted the new name, and after a few years, her sister Mildred moved in with her. She didn't need an analog life, her fight was online. Millicent cared for her dormant body and helped arrange things so that when she did finally pass, everything was ready for her full move into digital life. Madam Thunderbolt remains a close confidant to Tessie, and is the real mind behind what is going on, and how it has to be stopped.
The 3rdNet never went away. When the network collapsed, it was a system-side action. This closed the doors, gates, and bridges to the 3rdNet, which was really the Dreamlands of the Lovecraft mythos. Mildred is a construct of mummified flesh and glittering machinery, and is now a creature of the Dreamlands. She functionally has a magical connection to internet systems, so the only way a hacker team could actually threaten her would require a deep dive into the CogNet to find an access point to the 3rdNet, entering that and navigating the corpse of the old network, and hunting her down through that decaying nightmare.
Facing Madam Thunderbolt in the 3rdNet would be akin to fighting a God in it's home domain.
The short answer is for the function of telling a story/running a game.
The long answer is that the events of this mystery are a power game unto itself, and the players have been playing for generations. There are sentient supercomputers, councils of these machines, secret societies, humans like Ermingarde Bancroft-Ashpool who are on the verge of becoming eldritch beings, and it is all coming to a head. The Federation wants a consolidation of power over the largest shipbuilder in the solar system, that hypercorp wants to retain its autonomy and its Star Trek ideals, and the forces of the Glassenheim Foundation want to unleash their own plans to use the legacies of vanished civilizations to make themselves the inheritors of a green and depopulated Earth.
And this bent, frail, ancient woman, who has divorced herself from hypertech and power knows her end is coming and won't see those freakish bastards burn down the world she grew up in.
This entire thing was inspired by a single article.
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