This article was originally posted to the pre-magazine Freelance Traveller website in 2005 and reprinted in the March/April 2016 issue.
Sebastian Ishigani, better know as the Bishop, is a very lonely man. His mind is trapped inside a dying body, kept alive only by the life support machines attached in it. The faithful see him as a holy man, holding him in religious awe. To the rest he is a grotesque monster. Indeed, his only friend is the wild current of information literally throbbing through his nerves. Somewhere out there he has heard the voice of perfection, the distant call of the Machine God… but now his time is running out. One can only cheat death for a few times.
Sebastion Ishigani is the supreme religious leader of the Church of the Machine God on Regina. He was originally created as a NPC for my own Traveller campaign. However, the Bishop could easily be found leading local CoMG in any suitable high-tech world in your Traveller universe.
Mr. Ishigani was never a handsome man, easily ignored. His skin has a dark shade, now turning towards unhealthy grey. In his youth he had piercing blue eyes, whose stare made people feel uncomfortable. Now he prefers to keep his eyes closed and see through the machines connected in his body. His features do not suggest any specific ethnic group.
The long line of ancestors contains Solomani and Vilani blood in equal amount, mixed with genes from minor branches of humaniti.
In his present state he looks very old, very fragile and rather inhuman. His bald head is full of sockets, connected to the cables running in the floor of his office. His facial expressions rarely change, making him seem unemotional and alien. He appears to see clearly without opening his eyes. His voice is distant, stale and cold. Sometimes he seems to know answers to the questions before people ask them.
Sebastian Ishigani was born in a distant frontier planet, his parents employed at the local starport. He had no other siblings and received little attention from his hardworking and always so busy parents. His childhood was quiet and lonely. Sebastian felt alienated even as a child, finding it hard to form social contacts. Understanding others was difficult and most found him to be uncomfortably distant and unemotional. Computers and machines became his passion—they followed clear courses of action and every problem always had a logical solution.
Due to the influence of his parents he ended up receiving a technical training, sponsored by a local corporation. He proved to be a very talented individual and left his home planet at the ripe age of 19. Assistant drive engineer Ishigani fared to the stars and never returned. The safe routines of a liner became his home and technical puzzles his battlefield.
If there is anything in his past that the Bishop remembers fondly, it must be the years he spent in space. Soft humming of the drive as it prepares for jump, even the crowded maintenance tunnels and the traditional jump dimming practiced by Vilani pilots…they all seem like pleasant childhood memories, coloured with pleasant emotions. Sebastian became more and more skilled with experience and practice, finding work with computers and robots to be especially pleasing. Although his technical skills received praise, the total lack of social abilities hampered his career. He didn’t really care—he was a happy man. It all changed when the ship arrived at Regina and had to be drydocked for maintenance. The crew received a shore leave and there he was, 25 years old spacetech, who had travelled across the Spinward Main and never kissed a woman.
It was the usual story. He fell in love with the passion of the first time. When the liner was leaving, he resigned and stayed behind. Life seemed bright. Surely such a pleasant place as Regina would have opportunities for so talented a young man. The woman… she was striking, at least in his eyes. Her name was Isabel and sometimes the throbbing streams of information seem to form image of her face. When it was over things were much darker.
Sebastian didn’t intend to become a criminal. Too many things just happened too fast. When you are on a strange planet it is too easy to lose too much money, too fast—especially in a place like Regina. It all just… happened. In a year, he was one of the many, the proud, the reckless… surfing the waves of local networks. Theft of information… that is such a plain way to say it. It was more than that.
Eventually Sebastian was caught, shortly after she left. Did she sell him to them or did he just get careless? Perhaps she left because he had run out of credits, perhaps for other reasons. It didn’t matter; he was on his way to a rather unpleasant prison world. Breaking in to the databases of the Imperial Ministery of Commerce isn’t very wise if you can’t be sure that you won’t get caught.
The Bishop avoids thinking about the years he spent in prison. Indeed, they were the most horrible time in his life. Many times he came close to giving up, but always survived somehow. First months, than years blurred in to a shadowy mess.
One morning he was free to breath the polluted air of Regina again. All he ached for was to feel the network again. Soon, he had a loan from a local mob boss and all the equipment he needed. It was time to get established again.
Sebastian had always been a natural talent with computers. Installation of neural interface only amplified his skills. Even though many years have gone by, the exploits of the mysterious superhacker are still recited among the lesser colleagues. Yet no matter what he did, where he went, a strange emptiness followed him. His hacking identity, the Void, became to describe him better than he knew.
After two years, he came across something he had never experienced before. There was something in the infostreams, something that might have always been there but he had been too blind to see. When one searched deep enough, there was some sort of structure, some sort of form too complicated to fully understand. Sebastian had heard about the Church of the Machine God—of course he had, half of the really good hackers had some connections to it. Although he had felt a certain connection with them, he had always kept a distance. Now it all changed. He became Brother Sebastian.
He found renewed passion for information and computers, as everything suddenly seemed to make sense again. In a couple of years Sebastian was among the Enlightened. He had finally come home. Ten years and he was the new Bishop of Regina.
Sebastian has been the Bishop for a very long time. If there are anagathics strong enough to actually prolong life in your universe, he is about three hundred years old. In universes without them he is over one and half centuries old, his body kept functioning unnaturally long with hi-tech life support. In both cases he is a living legend among his followers, widely respected as a holy man. Anyone with sufficient ranks in streetwise has heard rumours about him, though the Bishop prefers to stay away from public attention. Sometimes he still cruises the networks as the Void, keeping the legend alive.
The Bishop is in a very weak physical condition and spends practically all of his time inside his office in the main temple. The office is more of a large hall, the ceiling rising very high and several large windows giving a great view over the city. There is a large conference table and generally space for around 50 people. The main reason for a such large office is the claustrophobia that haunts him. He isn’t interested in the practical affairs of the Church and leaves them all to his assistants, interfering only occasionally.
He prefers to be called the Bishop and doesn’t use his name anymore.
Ever since that first time the Bishop has been sure that he has had a glimpse of something greater, something perfect. He has started harbouring a belief that he has been chosen by the Machine God to be the one awakening it. All he needs to do is to find it through the hints it leave to him. The belief has grown in to a level of delusion, causing him to see messages from his god everywhere.
With passing years the Bishop has become more and more concentrated on seeking, analyzing and just watching all the data streaming through local systems. He had his special neural links installed a long time ago but has started using them more and more. For the past couple of years he has spent practically all of his time linked to the datastreams. He keeps them on even when he sleeps, believing that his unconscious mind is better suited for accepting messages from the Machine God.
Sebastian acknowledges his mortality and is very afraid of death. He doesn’t fear death itself, but is afraid that he will die before his holy mission is finished. He is getting desperate, feeling that he has only a year or two left. It doesn’t matter what he has to do, if it accomplishes his goals. Deep inside he holds a heretical hope that by finding the Machine God he can ascend his mortal body and become immortal, one with it… perhaps even godlike himself…
Game Profile (Marc Miller’s Traveller [T4])
STR 3; DEX 4; END 10; INT 13; EDU 16; CHA 4; SOC 8; PSI 8
Computer-7, Psychology-3, Admin-3, Electronics-4, Robotics-4, Leader-3, Engineer-3, Pistol-0, Biology-1, Intrusion-1, Grav Veh-0, Chemistry-1, Streetwise-3, Ground Veh-0, Math-4, History-3, Vacc Suit-1, Acting-2
The EDU level includes +2 from a special implant. The Computer skill level is also enhanced by implants.
Equipment and resources
The Bishop has many cybernetic implants in his body. Most are necessary for keeping him alive and explain his high Endurance. He needs only a few hours of sleep. The GM should freely decide what cybernetics he actually has. However, he has a heavily customised neural interface rigged straight in to his brain. This allows him to access all public databanks and CoMG networks with merely a thought. It also means that the information streams of Regina literally course through him. This gives him a +2 bonus on Education as long as he stays in his office and connected to the network.
The interface might give other bonuses as well due to instant access to information. The exact nature of these benefits is up to GM. As a religious leader the Bishop knows the importance of a good show—most of the visible implants on his head are actually cosmetic in nature, designed to impress. The cables themselves aren’t really necessary either, although they simplify things. However, to fully utilize the implants he needs to stay in his office. Elsewhere they function as normal neural interfaces.
Sebastian is in a very frail condition and requires advanced life support equipment to stay alive. Although most of this is installed straight inside his body, that isn’t possible in the case of all machinery. The combined life support equipment weights around 10 kilograms and is usually fitted in the grav chair the Bishop uses to hover about. Without the equipment or some similar assistance the Bishop would die in a week or so, falling in to coma after a few days. Would the implants cease to function, he would perish without immediate medical assistance.
The Bishop has very little in the way of personal property. However, he has full access to funds of the Church and should be able to use large amounts of credits for purposes he sees fit. He will only use the money for the good of the Church. In his eyes this is often the same as his personal obsession.
With money and information comes power and that is true for the Bishop as well. He has good connections to various legal and illegal sources dealing in information, software and generally high-tech. This can well range from organised crime to lone hackers and from local researchers to megacorporations. Many own him a favour and equal amount of people can be blackmailed if necessary. In addition to all these contacts are the faithful, who are more than willing to do his bidding.
(This is part is relevant if you are using the Traveller Sanity System, although the Claustrophobia and Delusion may be accommodated in other ways [e.g., GURPS Disadvantages].)
ActSAN 58 MaxSAN 70 (Based on END)
The Bishop has been through a lot, but time has healed most wounds. However, his experiences have left two scars in his personality:
- Severe Claustrophobia.
- The time spent in prison was very traumatic for the Bishop. It has left him with a strong fear of confinement. He requires a sanity check to just enter a confined place to see if his fear prevents entry. Any confined place should warrant a sanity check while a really tight place should cause a sanity check at -30%. Taking large dosages of medication might help.
- Delusion of Divine Contact.
- The Bishop has lately started to believe what his followers have been whispering for a long time—he actually knows almost everything. He believes that the Machine God whispers truths to his ears through the streams of information, allowing him to form connections with seemingly unrelated facts. This can lead both to accurate insight and horribly wrong conclusions. Even if the GM decides that the Machine God—or an entity masquerading as one—actually “talks” to the Bishop occasionally, most of the “messages” are his own imagination.
Using the Bishop in your campaign
The Bishop can be used both as a patron and a nemesis – possibly even both. He is skilled in manipulating people and should always affect the party from shadows, out of reach. He works through agents and machines, never letting his hands get dirty. He doesn’t believe in the efficiency of violence, but is getting desperate. If it seems like the only way to reach his goals, he is willing to get people killed.
As a patron, he can provide the characters with funds and hi-tech unavailable from other sources, even with black market goods. Naturally, the Bishop can arrange the characters to receive cybernetic parts as well. He has extremely good access to information from various sources. The Bishop can get all kind of technical professionals to support the party. This includes very skilled forgers and hackers. Should it become necessary, he can arrange a safe hiding place among the faithful.
As a foe, he will make the life of the characters miserable. They will be the target of electronic harassment, ranging from removing their names from hotel reservations to circulating fake criminal charges among the police forces and emptying their bank accounts. The party will be under constant surveillance and the Bishop will know their every move. Should some characters have a hidden background or dark secrets, the Bishop is bound to find out at least part of it. He will resort to violence only as extreme measure and after a long consideration. For that, the Bishop will use his contacts with organized crime and use professional killers. Before that, he will try scaring, bribing, misleading or blackmailing the party out of his way.
- The Bishop has become convinced that the answer to his quest can be found from technology of the Ancients. He hires the party to break into a museum or raid archaeological site in order to get his hands on a working computer/AI. He installs the piece straight in to his neural connections and that is just where the real fun begins…. Maybe the item doesn’t work and the Bishop thinks the characters to be responsible or the characters are hired to investigate the crime.
- The Bishop uses the party to verify various pieces of data he has put together from the “messages” he receives. Most of them just don’t make sense, but some are scary and accurate. How does the Bishop know the exact schedule for an assassination of a megacorp official? In a conspiracy (or horror) campaign the structure the Bishop has seen might indeed be something rather dangerous…
- Several link stations around the slums have been malfunctioning strangely lately. The party is hired to investigate by the Bishop or by a local company. If they work for the company, then the Bishop is responsible.
- Local research branch of a certain megacorp has started developing a way to take copy of a human personality and turn it in to a computer program. The Bishop sees this as an opportunity to ascend! Time for some corporate infiltration and intrusion… or maybe the characters are corporate security staff investigating the event, while not really knowing what was stolen.