The time has come to introduce (or reintroduce) your players to the world you'll find within the pages of d20 Dark*Matter. Be "in the know" or become so through adventuring in the setting when you take advantage of Dark*Matter's conversion to the d20 Modern rules. If you aren't sure what to expect, then you're off to a good start -- perhaps your characters will be a bit more prepared for anything.
However, to make it a bit easier on you, we're providing you with some excerpts, including the Table of Contents, a list of feats, the entry about the Alchemist prestige class, and some information about the Greys.
Humanity has been reaching out beyond the atmosphere for decades, ever since the first Sputnik achieved orbit in 1957. In 1961, Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space, orbiting the Earth in a six-ton space capsule, soon followed by Alan Shepard. By 1969, humans were on the Moon, and soon robotic rovers visited Mars and Venus and deep-space probes flew past Jupiter, Saturn, and beyond -- there was plenty of the solar system to explore. But the solar system was already inhabited: The Greys mapped it out eight thousand years ago and chose Earth as their primary colony, followed by Mars.
The most prominent human-controlled object in orbital space is the International Space Station, or ISS. The ISS is the product of cooperation between the European Space Agency (ESA), National Air and Space Administration (NASA), National Air and Space Development Agency of Japan (NASDA), Russia, Canada, and Brazil. Its mission is "to improve life on Earth and extend life beyond our home planet." Every April and October, a Soyuz spacecraft delivers a new crew of astronauts to the Space Station and takes the previous expedition crew back to Earth. Expedition 13, which arrived at the station in April 2006, is scheduled to conduct maintenance as well as experiments designed to gather information about the effects of long-duration spaceflight on the human body to help with planning future exploration missions to the Moon and Mars.
Meanwhile, a permanent Grey observation platform sits high above the North Pole, observing all that occurs below it and picking up information from every satellite in orbit. This station, called the Haavisto, is in constant contact with both the Grey lunar colony and the city-ship on Mars.
The Moon in 2001 is still largely uninhabited, though two significant settlements exist: the UN's Hammarskjöld Base (nicknamed Moonbase Plato) and the Grey station-ship Caluya.
Part of the United Nations' Project Glacier (see page 90), this secret human settlement is within the Plato crater, near the lunar north pole at the edge of Mare Imbrium. It has several agricultural and power-station domes (usually retracted when in view of Earth) and releases occasional clouds of water haze. These come from the small but important water deposits that the settlers mine from the lunar pole. The farms are kept under camouflaging domes, though at the height of the growing season a faint image of greenish growth can sometimes be seen from Earth. Fortunately, in 2001 not many people are watching the Moon; astronomers are far more interested in what the Hubble telescope and other advanced research projects can tell them about distant stars and galaxies than they are in the comparatively mundane events in their own backyard.
Established in 1988, the colony has depended on the goodwill of a few friendly Greys from the start; Iltan engineers set up the dome using human blueprints (to assure that humans would feel comfortable with the architecture), and the colonists have access to a Grey scout ship to transport personnel from the surface to Earth-orbiting space shuttles.
In many ways, life on the Moon is highly regimented. Radio, laser, and other forms of communication are all jammed by the aliens or simply not available to the residents. The moonbase depends on supplies from secret shipments from Earth, as the base's own hydroponic gardens, algaeculture, and aquaculture provide only enough fish, grain, and other foodstuffs to feed about half the station personnel.
Currently, the Plato base is inhabited by 287 settlers: 190 working colonists, 78 scientists and doctors working on human adaptation to space and other UN-mandated research, and 19 children. All the residents serve as test subjects to a certain degree, with frequent blood and urine tests, treadmill tests of lung capacity, bone mass measurements, and tests of neurological function. All are experts in the use of vacuum suits and have some degree of zero-g training.
In addition, it has been discovered that humans born on the Moon are more likely to show traces of psionic ability than those born on Earth are. Admittedly, the sample size of the population is very small, so it may just be a statistical aberration; nevertheless, two of the nineteen children born on the moon display a psionic wild talent. By comparison, knowledgeable parapsychologists claim at least some psionic sensitivity in about one in every two hundred earthbound children.
After their interaction with Mesoamerican cultures and until the early days of the space race, the Grey city-ship resided on the Moon. But then, as humanity took its first steps out into the solar system, the Greys moved the great spacecraft to Mars (see below). Now, only a station-ship remains on Luna, serving primarily as a staging and observation point for their surveillance and monitoring of conditions and activities on Earth. The station-ship Caluya houses a small population of Greys and has a few human prisoners/lab experiments. Kal ri Ulan, the captain of the station-ship, is a member of the Iltan faction and thus is more inclined to interact peacefully with humans (such as those of Moonbase Plato). Some Ahotti even whisper quietly that Ulan has a bit of the rogue in him.
Mars has been the center of an enormous effort by the Greys to mine enough metal ore, oxygen, water, and other resources to support their ships and their civilization. But the period of Martian industrialization may be nearing its end, for several reasons. One problem is the growing ability of humans to visit the red planet. However, that isn't the whole story.
A few Greys still cling to the story that the Speaker has put forward: The Grey efforts to terraform Mars are faltering, and the Greys must conserve their resources for a greater struggle against humanity, which is rapidly evolving both technological sophistication and a taste for mass destruction. Worse, the Greys may have to take on the fight against the invading Strangers personally, before they are in a position to take over Earth entirely. As a result, goes the official line, the Greys have scaled back their operations drastically in the past few years. In fact, other reasons have been just as influential in bringing about the shift in Grey efforts, though only the Speaker and a few residents of the highest echelons of Grey society are privy to these secrets.
Despite the rumors and the continuing threat of human observers, the Greys need access to the rich red soils of Mars for everything from batteries to mass pistols. The Greys can't do much to change the troubles at Olympus Mons, but they can do something about the threat of human discovery. To keep their access to Mars, the Greys have made sure that human efforts to visit locations near their bases have been stymied.
As a result of this policy of obscuring the true face of Mars, many space probes have not functioned as well as their human creators have hoped. Indeed, the satellites orbiting Mars have an abysmal performance record. Every time a satellite approaches the north or south pole it encounters what NASA calls the "Galactic Ghost." Every early pole satellite failed; by the time later satellites got there, the Greys had found ways to send false signals, thus preventing the discovery of their mine pits and tailings, their terraforming stations, and their city-ship.
Valles Marineris and the City Ship
This rift valley is incredibly deep, typically 2.4 miles or so, with unconfirmed areas thought to be up to 6 miles deep below the rim. The rift itself is up to 120 miles wide and about 2,400 miles long, roughly as long from end to end as the distance from New York to Los Angeles and as wide as New York to Boston. Its depths are as deep as Mount McKinley is high. It lies near the Martian equator.
At the bottom of the rift canyon the atmosphere of Mars is almost heavy enough to breathe, around 5% that of Earth. But the air is more than 95% carbon dioxide, and thus provides no benefit to oxygen-breathing lungs. Most of Mars has an atmospheric pressure equal to about 1% of that on Earth, but the Valles is deep enough to collect more air and water than most places, and the rift itself provides shelter from the ferocious Martian sandstorms.
All of these factors make Marineris an almost perfect location for oxygen-breathing life to settle, and so it has. At the bottom of the Valles Marineris lie the Grey city-ship and an accompanying settlement. The ship has no parallel in the solar system; its population numbers nearly half a million, and it is capable of carrying more than half this number for generations with only occasional stops to replenish supplies.
The settlement contains an entire functioning society, including farms, factories, ships, data centers, hospitals, and entertainment complexes. It also carries the vast Grey gene banks, which contain ten of thousands of species from the Grey homeworld, thousands more from life-bearing planets the Greys have visited, and hundreds created through genetic experimentation.
The ship's interior architecture is smoothly flowing, with few of the hard edges of human spacecraft: all sharp edges and many of its metal surfaces have been polished by centuries of hands, each touching and wearing away the city-ship's metal core. Everything seems well used, ancient but not shabby. Interior temperature is a constant 13° C.
In addition to its contingent of Greys, the settlement is home to several thousand sasquatches (d20 Menace Manual, page 80) and a few dozen human prisoners and test subjects. All non-Greys are kept in separate quarters with appropriate environmental conditions.
This mountain is the highest not just on Mars or Earth -- it is the highest peak in the solar system, fully 78,000 feet tall. Volcanic in origin, it has long been dormant and shows no sign of ever becoming active again.
A set of interesting rumors revolves around the great Olympus Mons. Informed sources speculate that the ruins within Olympus Mons have somehow grown active in the last two hundred years. The sculpture and machinery of the ancient Martians have somehow come alive, long-disused doorways to other dimensions have opened, and the Greys are as spooked by the reappearance of a culture long thought dead as humans would be by the sudden return of a tribe of ancient Neanderthals carrying superior technology.
More current rumors from the Grey city ship claim that several of the creatures have walked through the gates on Mars and wreaked great havoc in their mining operations. Other whispered stories say that the Greys annihilated the last of a dying race on Mars when they first arrived there millennia ago, and that they fear the ghosts of those their ancestors displaced.