Part graveyard, part dormant beast, the TITAN Quarantine Zone (TQZ) is a wide swath of Mars that was never reclaimed from the TITANs after the Fall. When the hot war phase of the Fall ended, it became evident that the war machines and exsurgents that still range free in the Zone were no longer advancing on Martian settlements or attacking in any organized way. Some thought that the leaderless monstrosities should be encircled and wiped out. Instead, war-weary transhumanity settled on a contentious policy of quarantine that continues to this day. Now the Zone is a no-man’s land, a source of sleepless nights to Planetary Consortium policy makers, and a major place of interest to Firewall— both as a target and as a source of knowledge about the TITANs and their works.
Given the infection risks to the planet, the defense contractors will happily blacken a 1-kilometer radius around a target, and they have the firepower to do so.
CASIMIR PERTURBANCE (SQUIRREL TRAP)
A TITAN physics experiment has left an invisible field in which a powerful force or repulsion either pounds matter to the ground (50%) or hurls it into the air (50%). The point person on a team may notice the occasional streak of windborn dust being born up or down with a successful Perception Test. If they fail and bumble into it, they or their vehicle will either be tossed into the air, before flipping backward out of the zone, or will be smashed into the ground and need to be pulled free.
A group of predator exhumans (p. 362, EP) has come to the Zone to test their strength against the exsurgents. Depending upon how badass the team looks, their reaction may range from avoidance to ambush to demanding that the team hand over one of their number and watch while the exhumans eat them alive before letting the survivors pass. If defeated or sufficiently intimidated, they may share information on the area, possibly even acting a bit fanboyish toward high-rep ultimates.
A swarm of headhunters (p. 383, EP) appears from over a nearby ridge and dives in to attack. They’ll carry off any heads they capture to a still-active recharging bunker, outside of which lays a grisly collection of heads in various stages of decay.
TRANSMUTATION ZONE (BONE BOG)
This invisible, virtually undetectable zone 1d10 meters in radius transmutes matter as the matter transformation exsurgent psi sleight (p. 372, EP). Bones in biomorphs are softened to a rubbery consistency, leaving limbs passing into the zone useless. This effect cannot be resisted but can be fixed by time in a healing vat.
Prior to the Fall, the TITANs experimented with ways to weaponize captured pod morphs. In one program, they scanned the central nervous systems of hundreds of Earth-based predators. They sleeved these “egos” into simulspace bodies that duplicated human pod morphs. Those that learned to control human bodies were allowed to run for millennia of subjective time, during which the TITANs tailored their environment to rapidly teach them to use their cyberbrains to full capacity. Their greatest success were the ny’knikiin: a species of voracious predators derived from mantis shrimp. Ny’knikiin can run on any transhuman-built cyberbrain. Their simulmorphs, modeled on pleasure pods, had virtual mesh inserts, so the TITANs taught them a language employing their headware radios and pheromones. Then the TITANs began talking to them. These communications were preceded by the “god scent,” a simulated burst of pheromones that prompts genitals-clutching lust and slavering hunger.
The TITANs taught the ny’knikiin to use transhuman technology to fight, to heal, to fabricate gear, and to implant cyberbrains in their newborns. The ny’knikiin’s own name for themselves means “Those who can scent God.” The Yazidis named them “ny’knikiin” after a demon in Yazidi mythology. Ny’knikiin use their cyberbrains and mesh inserts very differently from transhumans. Data structures in their cyberbrains are analogous to sensory and language centers in the human brain; these directly employ their mesh inserts to communicate.
Ny’knikiin are semi-nomadic, ranging in bands but also maintaining small domes. If they capture transhumans, they either eat them or steal their bodies. Pod cyberbrains are wiped to house a ny’knikiin ego. Biomorphs are decerebrated to make room for a ny’knikiin cyberbrain. Synths, they recycle. They’re not exsurgents and kill or exile those who contract the virus. Ny’knikiin have beautiful, doll-like features, but they trim back their lips to produce permanently bared teeth and sculpt the tongue to make it long and pointed. Their vocalizations are limited to wails and grunts made to frighten prey.
Firewall is unaware of the ny’knikiin, although once discovered, a Research Test in the Eye’s archives may turn up reports of “exsurgent-infected” pods that might have really been ny’knikiin. It’s also possible the TITANs seeded them on exoplanets.
Wastewalkers are exsurgent cyborgs designed by the TITANs to fill an infantry role in ground operations. Unlike many exsurgents, they’re intelligent and employ sophisticated tactics. During the Fall, they used waves of lesser exsurgents as shock troops and indirect fire spotters while providing fire support from the rear. “Feral” wastewalkers survive without TITAN control in places like the TQZ. There they run in packs, with an alpha dominating and coordinating the others.
Wastewalkers are tall and wiry. They wear smooth, white masks that completely cover the face and may in fact be part of it. Their masks are starkly minimal, with circles for eyes, a narrow slot at the mouth, and short, horn-like protrusions that curve up from the cheek bones to one side of the eyes and end in rounded-off nubs. Their arms, legs, and fingers are elongated and spindly, with jagged protrusions at the joints that give their bodies a sketchy appearance. Wastewalker hands end in long, sharp claws. They’re covered in a hidelike, patterned, black material that might be skin or might be polymer armor. Humps high on their backs, from which several long, thin cylinders protrude vertically, house hives of fabricator and disassembler nanobots. The humps hold feedstock and nutrients and fabricate ammunition for the weapons growing from wastewalkers’ arms.
Wastewalkers communicate with each other in bursts of noisy, pulse-modulated sound, like static blasting out of a distorted speaker. The few recordings of this sound have never been decoded; linguists believe they are encrypted. Wastewalkers are known to emit signals on radio frequencies used by the TITANs, so perhaps there’s an unspoken component to this horrid language.
Post-Fall, wastewalkers are thankfully rare, but many still range the White Zone or lair in ruined habitats such as Qurain. Lacking orders from the TITANs, they’ve taken to defending the territories they’ve staked out, alternately cooperating with or hunting other exsurgent types. They still need organic nutrients, but the terraforming of Mars has helped them to survive. They’ve taken to hunting small animals, gathering vegetation, and preying on the occasional zone stalker. When not patrolling or hunting, they may sit immobile for long periods, feeding by letting their nanohives forage for raw materials.
Wastewalkers replenish their numbers by restraining transhuman victims and placing a mask on them, which quickly fuses to the face. Once masked, the new recruit metamorphoses into a wastewalker within a few days. It’s not known whether the process is reversible, nor what the result would be if an uplifted animal were masked. It is known that it works only on biomorphs; synths are immune.
Yazidis are a religious sect of Kurds abandoned in the TQZ during the Fall. Rather than perish, they became infected with a mutant strain of the Watts-MacLeod virus, in effect becoming exsurgents. Other exsurgents and many TITAN war machines simply ignore them. They’ve since adapted to live among the dangers of the TQZ. Laden with survival gear, they dress in ragged, desert-patterned ghillie suits purpose-built to foil the senses of TITAN warbots. Their lifestyle revolves around subsistence nanofabrication and maintaining concealed greenhouses (much like the nomads of the Martian north). Yazidi gear is unusual in that everything has access jacks. To avoid detection, they only use wireless meshes within shielded camps.
The Yazidis were already a close-knit community before the Fall, most having emigrated from Germany, but religion now occupies a central place in their lives. They revere Tawûsê Melek, the Peacock Angel, whom they believe granted their async powers to help them survive. Peacock and sun motifs are common on their clothes and gear.
Yazidis aren’t hostile. Usually they hide from outsiders. Many have been killed by the Rangers when they went too near the Zone perimeter. On occasion, they approach transhumans who go deeper into the Zone, offering to barter. A few zone stalkers are rumored to get most of their artifacts this way, but if true, the details of their arrangements with the Yazidis are well guarded.
When Yazidis do make contact, they sometimes offer visions of Tawûsê Melek to guests using the scenario sleight (p. 371, EP). Those who accept are shown the Yazidi story of the Fall, including their survival, which they attribute to the Peacock Angel and other heavenly beings. Visions last an eyeblink, but are much longer subjectively. A character who submits to a Yazidi vision must make a WIL x 2 Test. If they fail, they’re infected with the Yazidi variant of Watts-MacLeod. They gain the following traits: Psi (Level 1), Mental Disorder: Cosmic Anxiety Disorder, and Mental Disorder: [player’s choice]. They don’t initially gain any psi sleights. For each week spent living among the Yazidis and practicing their lifestyle, the character may ignore the effects of the cosmic anxiety disorder for 1 month. Because this requires a dangerous trip in and out of the TQZ, many of those infected stay with the Yazidis permanently. Finally, within the boundaries of the TITAN Quarantine Zone on Mars only, exsurgents are neutral to the character, only attacking if the character takes hostile action first. War machines only attack if “hungry” (e.g., fractals scavenging for raw materials).
These hexagonal grids of smoky, impact-proof glass hold the imprisoned egos of asyncs. Touching or walking on any of the panes triggers their powers— perhaps along with tortured pleas for release. A handful are found on the surface, but they’re more common below ground, where the comet strikes can’t destroy them.
Wastewalkers have carved out a town of sorts here. The town itself is several levels deep in the tunnels, but the most-used entry points are at the foot of the mensa, where comet strikes are uncommon. These entries vomit forth midden heaps of scavenged refuse stripped of useful elements. They’re surrounded by orderly grids of ramshackle buildings—an odd combination of military camp and shanty town.
The town is unknown to Firewall, and so what goes on here waits to be discovered. Why would an exsurgent species whose basic social units are packs of hunter-nanoforagers have a gathering place? Do they come here to increase their numbers through the pleasures of the breeding crabs? To wait for a sign from their silent creators? To make plans for their own place in the solar system? Is “town” even a proper description for this gathering place; might it have purposes very different from those for which transhumans build settlements?
What of the things underground? Is there any truth to the rumor of the Seethe, a massive, computationally dense pool of gray goo somehow held in confinement here? What of the thing seen in a satellite photo of the breach opened by a comet impact, controversially interpreted by one Firewall analyst as a massive, photosynthetic, grub-like organism, tended by other exsurgents in a deep chamber so that it would exhale breathable atmosphere?
BioTeka, an ambitious hypercorp startup, seeks a leg up on its competition by collecting specimens from the Zone for study. A caravan of heavily armed BioTeka vehicles (mostly crasher trucks) ran the Zone perimeter and spent several weeks tracking and trapping wild artificials and exsurgents. They’ve bribed key Ranger and League officials to look the other way when they exit a few days from now. This leaves it to Firewall to prevent them returning the contraband monstrosities to BioTeka’s labs on the outskirts of Noctis-Qianjiao. Possible complications includes exsurgents escaping from the caravan en route, Ozma taking an interest, and divided loyalties for Lost Generation player characters when research reveals that the company’s young executives share their origin.
Bored rich kids have been running the Zone, doing video and XP shoots in the ruins, and sneaking back to civilization (see Death Valley AF9, p. 10). Aside from representing an infection risk, they’ve set in motion a meme that trivializes the dangers of the TQZ, breeding complacency and even dangerous copy-cats. Can a countermeme then be crafted to undo the damage they’ve done?
What should have been a routine patrol ends with a Ranger flyer wrecked in a dust storm—20 klicks inside the Zone. The Rangers are prepared to deploy a search team to its last known position, but someone high up in government has other ideas. The patrol officers saw something they shouldn’t have, and now the Rangers are being ordered to leave their comrades to their fate. Hands not quite tied, the Ranger officer calls in a marker—one with a Firewall proxy’s name on it. Firewall’s interest is only heightened by the possibility of a coverup. Can the team reach the downed Rangers in time—and keep them alive long enough to learn what they saw?
TURN AND BURN
The PCs are approached with an offer from an unusual client. Several unknown organisms have been stolen from a colony of Factors visiting the solar system (they refuse to identify the exact nature of the specimens). The thieves have taken them to a lab inside the perimeter of the TQZ. Will the humans be so kind as to locate this facility and burn it thoroughly? Recovery of the missing organisms is not requested and in fact undesirable; the infection risk is too severe. Returning with the identities of the perpetrators and information as to the nature of their research is worth a bonus. Utmost discretion is, of course, required.