The Spectral Corsair: Episode III Part 1 – “Any Port In A Storm”

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The Spectral Corsair sped into the dark, fleeing the Zalosian pursuit.  Valdez and the crew were doing all they could to fly under the radar, all in the hope of escaping the Zalosian hunters: 8 Bit shut off the transponder, but not without a weird comms burst screaming out for a second – damned cursed ship!  They burned the engines for a good push in the direction of Havilah then shut down the reactor, an extreme measure that takes time, but you can’t run any more silent than that.  But, little Brother Ganaya, the newly ordained sensor operator of ‘Abomination’s End’, the class IV Pariah cruiser, was having a good day.  His screens flashed an anomaly from the transponder squawk, for the merest fraction of a second – so short Ganaya doubted the truth of his eyes.  But he followed his hunch.

When, many hours later and thinking themselves safe, Valdez gave the order and 8 Bit fired up the Corsair’s reactor the Zalosians immediately locked on and opened fire.

Suffering from the damage of the previous encounter, and taken totally by surprise, the Spectral Corsair was a sitting duck.  Two Anti-Matter missiles bore down upon them: the blast from one shook the ship; the blast from the other blew out the bridge, tearing the hull open like a hungry kid with a bag of crisps.  Valdez, Hanbal and Karter were all battered by the explosive decompression.  Karter was winded but otherwise okay, and managed to crawl towards the bulkhead.  Hanbal suffered internal ruptures, mortal wounds in themselves but he was able to struggle on.  But the Icons were not so kind to Valdez: he suffered terrible leg injuries, his femoral artery bursting and spraying his blood across the ship.

The ship was doomed, the Zalosians standing off just waiting to fire the finishing volley.  But on board Melyana and the Havilan passengers, owing their lives to the crew as they saw it, rushed to save them before the bridge hatches sealed.  Valdez, the last minutes of his life pumping away, was dragged into stasis so medical care could be found, the energy shrouding and preserving his soul.  But Hanbal struggled though the pain to reach the engine room and get the Corsair’s auxiliary systems online.

And all the while, they awaited the killing blow.  But before it came an escape pod launched, Alina Abdessalam surrendering herself to the Covenstead, sacrificing herself to give them time to escape.  As “Abomination’s End” closed in on Alina’s pod, Hanbal steered the Corsair away at the best speed the battered lady could muster, before the enemy cruiser’s inevitable chase.  But strangely, several minutes later they were hailed by ‘Abomination’s End’ and told that they had twenty-four hours to flee, but were otherwise under interdiction in Zalosian space.

They fled.  8 Bit, under the pressure of recent events, mercilessly executed one of the Zalos prisoners, then placed the fate of the surviving man in the hands of the Icons.  The coin toss saved the Acolyte’s life, but inexplicably the ship’s air lock opened, sweeping the Zalosian into space and to his death.

They reached the outpost on Havilah and the colonists helped save the lives of both Hanbal and Valdez.  But Valdez lost his left leg.  Welcomed on Havilah 8 Bit and Karter took some time to rest while their crew members recovered.  But it was clear that Havilah as a settlement was struggling, life very hard in the toxic wastes of the planet.  The Havilans’ only strength was the production of an artificial narcotic, called Al Kassab or the Devil Of Lies.  Karter took some and was taken out for three whole days – powerful stuff, habitually taken by the Havilans to worship the Icons and understand them the better.

8 Bit went to see the section leader who’d taken in the illegal immigrants they had brought, to seek the rest of their payment.  Taalay, for such was his name, was honest about Havilah’s position: the colony was poor and struggling to survive; the Icons had not been listening to their prayers; they offer all they have to them, but the Icons refuse to answer their pleading; they have no money to pay the rest of the fee.  This was bad news for 8 Bit, especially after all they had been through to get here.  He couldn’t hide his frustration and disappointment.

However, Taalay speculated, perhaps the Icons had heard their prayers, and delivered the Spectral Corsair as their answer.  Devotees of a rival faction, the Hymns of the End Times, had captured Raz al’Zeka, and the colony could not thrive unless Raz al’Zeka was returned to them.  If they can retrieve it – and it is a Class V Heavy Freighter that is a holy Ark to the Havilans – Taalay undertook to help 8 Bit and his crew escape the system.

Once Valdez and Hanbal had recovered sufficiently, although Valdez continued to struggle with just one leg and getting to grips with the battered and rusted wheelchair that Melyana found for him, they set off into the asteroid belt known as the Devil’s Field, where the Hymns Devotees had taken Raz al’Zeka.  Taalay thought they were heading to a Choral Station, a holy space station from where the Devotees constantly sing the praises of the Icons, and broadcast the songs far and wide across every frequency.  On entering the asteroid field they heard the songs, but they were not worshipful hymns.  They were sad hymns: dirges really.  But putting that to one side they soon tracked Raz al’Zeka, floating lifelessly amongst the asteroids.  Scanning the ship they saw terrible damage, and gaping holes in the hull: at least some of the ship was open to vacuum.  But they chose to hack in through what seemed to be a working airlock, leaving the Corsair undocked, just in case…

They boarded, and spread out to search the cargo deck, only to be assaulted by a dreaded Darkmorph, a beast unknown to most, but known to the terrified few as a Byara, a beast that inhabits the soulless places where the dark between the stars is at its deepest.  Valdez was hurt again, effortlessly swiped to one side by a dismissive sweep of the Darkmorph’s blackened wing.  But they defeated the monster, leaving them floating in the zero-G stillness of the cargo hold, seemingly alone in the silent Dark…

TO BE CONTINUED……


View from the GM’s Chair:

This scenario showed us all just how deadly space combat could be.  An anti-matter missile strike (the most dangerous weapon in the core book), coupled with a critical hit on the bridge, is a deadly, deadly combination.  Explosive decompression needs the PCs to make a FORCE roll to take any action, and a failure means you’re flailing in the maelstrom AND you take an immediate critical hit yourself.  If “Abomination’s End” had fired again that would have been that: the Corsair would have been defeated, quite possibly destroyed, and at least Valdez would have died.

The method of saving Valdez brought up an interesting chat about stasis: what does a stasis pod look like and how does it work?  How quickly can one get into stasis and, perhaps more importantly in this scenario for Valdez, how quickly can one get someone else into stasis?  Many years ago I read a book called “Daybreaker” by Philip Jose Farmer, in which people only lived on one day.  So you would be a Monday person, or a Tuesday person, and the other days you’d be in a machine called the “Stoner”, that would “stone” you (i.e., put you in a suspended animation state) and allow the other six people you shared your home with – but whom you never met because you lived on different days – to live out their lives.  The stoners worked instantly – no messy mucking about getting wired up or having to effectively “go to bed” with all the faff and hassle that involves.  Just get in, press the button, and Bob’s your Aunty’s live-in lover.  In my campaign that’s how stasis pods work, even if they look just like the suspended animation pods from Alien / Aliens: and that’s how stasis was able to save Captain Leo Valdez’s life…

But back to the scenario: as GM I had no intention of bringing the players to this pass at this point.  But my temptation to spend a DP to make the transponder squawk (supposedly a bit of narrative tension-raising, but only fair to give the Zalosians a sensor ops roll), and a roll of 4 6s on 7d6, meant the Icons wanted it to play out this way.  Alina’s sudden surrender both saved the players from either certain death or certain capture (and trial for harbouring a witch and then……. urm…… death), and has given them the problem of rescuing Alina, as she has the leads to find Resim in Odacon.  So a Pyrrhic victory, at best…

I also think that Callum Karter may be storing up trouble for himself for the future, thanks to the immediate lure of the Devil of Lies….

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