The Byara was dead, floating in a tangled heap in the shadowy zero-G of the freighter’s great cargo deck. But they knew there were more: they could just sense it. In the end Valdez spotted it, his beady eyesight through his binoculars catching a movement, even though he was beaten and bloody. The group opened up. Ajit’s sniper rifle spat out a couple of solid hits and the Darkmorph beast was dead before it had the chance to attack.
Their first target was Engineering, on the next deck up (if you could call any direction “up” in zero-G). Valdez, wounded and with only one leg, still went in the vanguard, and took some big hits from an automated sentry cannon. He was battered unconscious again but was left drifting away, along the spinal core in the null-gravity of the ship. Hanbal was desperate to get to his Captain, not knowing how bad his new wounds were, but the others pushed him back, waiting for the auto-cannon to run dry and drop into an auto-reload cycle. Eventually it did, the sharp rattle of gunfire replaced by the empty whine of an empty magazine filling the air. They rushed it. Neither Hanbal nor Ajit could handle the zero-G and spun away, all flailing arms and legs. But 8 Bit saved the day with a one in a million shot, his bullet sliding right down the barrel of the auto cannon, exploding the newly-loaded round in the gun and splitting it apart.
Hanbal hurried to give Valdez first aid, dragging him towards the Raz al’Zeka’s medbay in the vain hope it would be helpful. Ajit and 8 Bit went for the Engine Room. The iris-valve scraped open and Ajit stepped in – Hanbal pressed the stud to open the medbay door – and all hell broke loose: the Byara in the Engine room fell upon Ajit, smashing his Exosuit helmet and biting deeply into his head; Ajit screamed; 8 Bit slashed wildly at the flapping monster with his blade; and the cold vacuum of space filled the ship as the medbay door opened to reveal the enormous hole where the medbay should have been.
Bracing himself, Hanbal slammed the stud to shut the door but the rushing atmosphere had already dragged the unconscious Valdez into the way – the door closed on him and air was screaming past. 8 Bit’s war-cry drew the attention of the Byara, his blade slicing deep and severely wounding it before a second frenzied and desperate blow put it down. But Ajit was battered. The terror of staring into the face of the Byara, his own blood glistening in the half-light on its fangs, and the lacerations of flying debris, left him bleeding to death. Hanbal gave a desperate last yank on the unconscious Valdez, and pulled him free: the door slid shut with a thud of relief, sealing away the black of space. But there was no time to rest and reflect on the closeness of death: hearing Ajit’s cries of pain and 8 Bit’s shout of “MEDIIIIIIIIIC!” he raced to save Ajit. Falling on his bleeding friend (although Hanbal might never admit that to Ajit’s face) he saved Ajit’s life there in the dusty room, while 8 Bit took the Engineering into their control.
Karter joined them from the Corsair, bringing with him the Havilan prize crew. 8 Bit put them to work, firing up Raz al’Zeka’s sleeping reactor, before they pushed on for the Bridge. They found six Devotees there, trapped by yet another Byara. A well coordinated plan saw it gunned down before its beastliness could reach them, and they took the Devotees prisoner for the low price of guaranteeing their safety. The Devotees told of the Byara swarming out of the dark, leaving them helpless to resist other than barricading themselves in and praying for deliverance. They had no hope of rescue from their cultist comrades: their Choral Station, they think, must have suffered a similar fate. The Death Dirges, indicative of something very bad, were a bad enough omen. But even they had finally stopped, and now there was only silence from their brethren.
They returned to Havilah to a hero’s welcome. The six prisoners, and another fifty that had been found still alive but in stasis in specially designed cargo containers in Raz al’Zeka’s hold, were taken away, to “honour the Icons”. They couldn’t get the Havilans to explain what this actually meant, but they feared the worst. Only to have those fears borne out, when it became clear these innocents were to be sacrificed over the next seven days, by exposure to the toxic atmosphere of the planet, put out through a Sacrificial Air Lock. Valdez tried to convince the Havilans to stop it, but Taalay had done his homework and knew of Valdez’s pirate past. Despite this Taalay agreed to honour his part of their original agreement and complete the work on the new transponder for them: after all, they had rescued Raz al’Zeka and brought her home. But in return Valdez and the others had to cease meddling in Havilan affairs they did not understand, and remain confined to the Corsair until they left.
Powerless to do anything but agree, Valdez and the others returned to the Corsair with heavy hearts (except Karter, who didn’t care less and who, in any case, had got hold of some Al Kassab and was off with the fairies for a couple of days…). They also had to make tracks – they saw the announcement on Alina’s “Trial by the Icons” where she would be sent through a portal awake and aware, to receive the judgement of the Icons face to face. If they were to have any chance of rescuing her they needed to leave, and leave soon.
But Ajit Mehr, despite being the assassin that he was, turned out to be an assassin with a heart of gold: he couldn’t just leave these people to be sacrificed. From the Corsair’s console he managed to hack into the Havilan systems, and by some stroke of luck, or maybe the will of the Icons, stopped the sacrificial airlock working. When it came to the sacrificial ceremony the lock just would not open, and the eight victims could not be sacrificed: their wildest hopes and dreams coming to fruition. The Havilans saw in this the Icons’ judgement, and freed the prisoners to live in their community as honoured citizens. But the Icons had more to offer, and guided Ajit’s hand to permanently fuse the sacrificial airlock shut, thus saving the remaining forty eight as well….
With this quiet victory, and the new transponder installed giving the Spectral Corsair the alternative identity of Raz al’Zeka, a newly registered Type III light freighter from Havilah, they set off into the Dark on an almost hopeless mission to rescue Alina…
View from the GM’s chair:
The fight on the Raz al’Zeka was easier than I’d expected. Despite a couple of hard hits the Byara weren’t as terrible as I’d thought – maybe the way I was playing them, perhaps. But my players need no extra evidence to convince them how hard and risky fighting things can be. But that said, the three killing (or potentially killing) blows suffered so far have ALL come from failing FORCE rolls after explosive decompression. So, in the scheme of things space combat is the biggest likely killer they’ve come across so far!
The second part of the scenario, which focused on their efforts to save the prisoners from a nasty and lingering death in the sorry atmosphere of Havilah, was a welcome change of pace. Even though they are still deep in Zalos, and there are enemies all around (not least near the portals that are their way out of this nightmare!) they were relatively safe on Havilah, as long as they didn’t openly interfere with the Havilan plans to sacrifice 56 innocent people.
The chances of Ajit succeeding in his DATA DJINN roll once were pretty low, but he rolled 4 6s with 7 dice to stop the air lock from opening. Then he rolled 4 6s again, to try and fuse it shut: which he duly did. Ajit’s efforts to save these people – who he didn’t know and had no way of knowing – was such a strong moral and ethical act of goodness (when it would have been so easy to say “oh well…”) that I think the Icons have taken note, although what this may mean in game terms I don’t yet know. On a more practical level, this act may have some other positive benefits later in the campaign, as now they have friends on Havilah, even if some of them are pretty unconvinced about their motives…