“Mayday, mayday, this is Warden One. My mecha has taken damage, and I am adrift. Systems are failing. Anyone on this frequency, please respond.
Is anyone else alive out there?”
“… the fighting’s stopped. I can’t see any beam fire, or missile traces, or even thruster flare out there. Maybe I’m the last one left, and nobody’s hearing me, and I’m going to die out here.
But I can see the hulk of the Hydra Cannon out there, all its lights dead, giant holes through the barrel. We stopped it, cold, before it could fire another shot. There won’t be any more Alexandria Cities or Fourth Fleets. So even if we do all die up here, that means life will go on back home. That’s something to take comfort in, at least.”
“Right, so, on the off chance I’ve got someone’s answering machine and this is going to wind up being it for me . . . hi, I’m Mariana. Mariana Jast. That’s who I really am. Warden One is just a callsign that got picked, presumably, out of the Bureau of Personnel’s collective hat, and the Harpy of Lagrange 4 is just a moniker the Imperials gave to someone they couldn’t kill. Before all that, though, it was just Mariana from Agri-4, breadbasket of the colonies. A farmer’s daughter who was probably going to end up a farmer herself.
I don’t know, I guess I just don’t want people to forget that about me.”
“If anyone out there is actually listening to this on a search-and-rescue run, I’d also appreciate it if you find the rest of my team. Warden Three, Kale Soral, well he’s kind of an ass, but I still haven’t properly settled the debt for him saving the ship at Lydia, so if you could cover for me that’d be great.
… Kale, if you’re hearing this I might be happier if you leave me out here. Kidding, kidding, but you know. Try not to rub it in too much.
Warden Four, Blaine Averre, whatever you do don’t let him get anywhere near your supplies. Yeah, sure, you’re search-and-rescue, you’ve got some to spare by design, but trust me everything you have will somehow be sold on the black market by the time you dock, don’t ask me how it happens I have no idea.
Blaine, hey, if you find me I have a, uh, gently used CHX-04 Ardent you could take off my hands. Chief O’Brien probably wouldn’t get that mad, right?
. . . I don’t think there’s much chance you’ll find Warden Two. Saw her go down on our last run against the Cannon, AA fire from an Othala-class sent her spiraling into the side, but just in case . . . Bethany Wilder was so green when she started she made me look ancient, but she never let all of this get to her heart. She deserves better than wrecking on a madman’s superweapon.”
“I don’t know how she managed it, honestly. I sure didn’t. You know, despite what the Imperial propaganda says, I’d never even, like, hurt anybody before I enlisted. Seriously, not even a fistfight growing up. Well, okay, I slapped a guy that one time for something he said about my sister… anyway. Bethany told me once that the killing never got any easier for her, that once the war was over she’d never pick up a weapon or get in a cockpit again, but . . . it got easier for me. I never enjoyed it, but . . . I stopped counting a long time ago. It bothers me that it doesn’t bother me, you know?”
“Like, literally all I ever thought about was following in my mom’s footsteps. Maybe that wasn’t a big dream, the kind most kids are going to have, but we were happy. We really were. I didn’t see much of a point in doing anything else, to be honest. Seemed a sure thing.
I’m luckier than most, Agri-4 is still there, still rebuilding, so maybe that’s how things still go. I’m not sure if it’s something I could still do, but at least it’s an option. Heh, maybe I’ll string up the Ardent as the system’s most over-armed scarecrow. Not that there are actually any crows on a colony, but, you know. Tradition.”
“I just . . . alright, to hell with the Harpy badass nonsense. I just really wish I’d gotten my Mom out too. I blamed myself for a long time, but really what the hell was I going to do? I wasn’t a pilot, I didn’t even have a personal weapon, I was a farmgirl, remember? Turning to hating the Imps was loads better. But still. I wish I could have done something. I wish I could have saved her.
I really, really wish I could go running to her, right now.”
“At least I didn’t lose Valeria. There were a couple of ways I could have, too. When I left, she swore – a lot – that she never wanted to speak with me again. Hated me for leaving her, after we’d lost Mom. Didn’t return any of my letters, when I visited Agri-2 on leave for the first time she pulled a vanishing act, I think she ended up couch-surfing just to avoid seeing me when I visited.
Then we got word that the Imps were going for a repeat strike, targeting Agri-2 this time.
I slagged three Jerans, two Berkanans, and an Othala in that fight. There’s no doubt in my mind that, if I hadn’t been there, I probably would’ve lost my sister the same way I lost my mom. That alone makes it all worth it.
My letters finally getting answered was pretty great too.”
“Damn it. There goes Reactor Linkage 2. Hey, if anyone is hearing this in real time, if you could hurry the hell up–
Okay. Okay, so, uh, war’s over, right? Right. So, first thing first. Buy Kale enough drinks that he leaves me alone about saving my life. Second, find some way to keep Blaine out of prison once there’s no longer a war to keep him busy. Third . . .
I guess I don’t really know what I’m going to end up doing. Go back to the Agri colonies, re-enlist, who knows. But once things settle down, I’m going to go find Valeria and see what some of the rest of the Earth Sphere looks like when it’s at peace. Check out a lunar city, visit that one Lagrange 3 casino colony Blaine never shut up about, hell, maybe even go down to Earth if whatever treaty gets written up allows it. See what we saved, and see if anything else catches my eye.”
“There are worse things than remaining a pilot, though. I remember, right after I enlisted, well I expected to end up a cook or an engineer or maybe just a rifle carrier, to be honest, but at that point they were running everyone through the aptitude tests and sure enough: mecha pilot. Lieutenant Campbell, she didn’t even train any of us on how to fire the weapons until the second month. First month, nothing but flying, and she had us out of the sims and into real machines in the first week. Since then, there’s only been the odd patrol that didn’t involve at least practicing how to kill someone else while not getting killed ourselves, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget when I first really got piloting. That first month when she taught me how to soar.
Yeah. Yeah, that wouldn’t be too bad.”
You know, Bethany let me listen to this recording after the fact. Still can’t believe she came and got me in an old shuttle, and she still hasn’t told me exactly how she survived her Seeker’s destruction in the first place. There has to be a story there, right? Anyway, I guess it was morbid curiosity, an impulse to know what I sound like when I know death is coming for me.
I don’t think I’ll listen to it again, after I add this. Just . . . the sounds my Ardent is making in the background alone are bad on their own. There’s no way it should have held together long enough.
Well. Kale’s will says I have to go put a bottle of Comet 45 on his grave every year. That amazing bastard has me buying drinks for him forever, now. Blaine’s already in the wind, left me a note with his discharge papers about a ‘sweet opportunity at the Gabon Elevator, come find me if you want to make real money’. Again with the morbid curiosity, although I’ll just . . . leave that one alone, for now.
So, I’m going to go buy Kale his drink, then I’ve got two tickets to Lagrange 3 for Valeria and I. Bethany said she was going to meet us there. I always thought she’d head right for home and stay there, but I guess she feels lonely enough to change her plans. I’d probably be the same, and honestly I don’t mind.
We’re going to go live a little for those who can’t, and then we’ll get to decide what the rest of our lives will be like. And that is something to take comfort in.
Hi there! Welcome to Solitaire Storytelling, where we give single-player tabletop roleplaying games (which will often take the form of letters or journals) some Actual Play love. For the inaugural entry, and because I’m nothing if not a little self-indulgent, this was written using something I’m working on.
Lost Among The Starlit Wreckage is a 1-2 player journaling/storytelling game of war, loss, hope, and reflection from the cockpit of a deteriorating giant robot.
Your mecha is laid low, its diagnostic screen awash in the black and red of dead and dying systems as you float among the other debris of the last great battle. The visual cacophony of both sides tearing into one another has faded, replaced by the silence of wrecked machines, an open grave of floating bodies, and the last gutters of fire as atmosphere and fuel are consumed from broken ships.
All you have is a dying mecha, an open communications channel, and your thoughts and memories – and the hope that someone will find you Lost Among The Starlit Wreckage before it’s too late.
Play involves setting up a “diagnostic board” of playing cards and then drawing and discarding cards as time passes and the mecha continues to fail – cards provide prompts for the transmission your pilot is making (and if there’s a second player, the conversation topic between stranded pilot and hopeful rescuer). If ten rounds of play pass, the pilot is rescued – if the mecha deteriorates too quickly or suffers a critical reactor failure, the pilot will be Lost Among The Starlit Wreckage forever. For the curious, the cards for Warden One’s playthrough were: Joker (which added two tokens to the board, hastening the rescue), 3, 8, Queen, 6, 9, King, Ace, and 5.
LATSW is currently available in PDF and Print on Demand, and is also available on itch.io. I’d love to hear your own transmissions and what you think of the game, whether you play alone or have someone racing to rescue you.
I’m hoping to make this at least monthly offering, so check back in June for more Solitaire Storytelling!