There wasn’t much ceremony in the crew’s final farewell to their captain, Leo Valdez, dead at the hands of some random bounty hunter. There was even less ceremony in the hours preceding his burial “at sea”, as the crew made the necessary preparations. This had started as a respectful process, but soon devolved into scrabbling for his gear, his money, and the cybernetics that he had implanted in his body – no, there was to be no burial “as is”, the cybernetics were too valuable (as if Callum Karter, with his addiction to cybernetics, was going to let perfectly good gear be punted into space!). The casket that was fired from the Spectral Corsair’s airlock contained just the basic remains of the old captain, and little more.
As the airlock slid shut, and Valdez left the boat for the last time, there was a full system shutdown: lights, life support, reactor, all just went offline. All that could be heard was the faint sound of a young girl crying, coming from every intercom on the vessel: Spectral Corsair was mourning her lost captain…
With systems restored they jumped to Zib, and proceeded to the Mazunan Orbital station to deliver their Mazunian passengers. Whilst here they caught up with Ajit Mehr and Norsa, the Nekatra, who had followed them from Einekkeh City.
Together again, they departed Mazuna to deliver the hold full of weapons and armour to the Church of the Icons “Chapter of Corrections” on the restricted-access prison world of Hamza-Yurbul, a long flight deep into the Zib system. Despite 8 Bit’s temptation to “procure” a couple of samples from the delivery (“they won’t notice a couple missing…”) they delivered in good order, were paid without a quibble, and left in good standing.
Their next mission was the one they took from Irania, the Okra Darma gang leader they had tangled with a while back: go to these co-ordinates (a spot on the planet Sohar, in the Zib system), collect a person called Rega Meroon, and take him (or her) to a location that they will specify. Easy enough.
Easy that is, until they saw Sohar. A more inhospitable, volcanic, cloud-enshrouded and unpopulated hellhole would be hard to find, and one that immediately began to chew on the Corsair’s hull once she hit atmo. But, against all expectation they found a small dome, alone amidst a vast magma-broiled plain, at the co-ordinates Irania had provided. There were no comms, so Hanbal, Ozgare and Norsa volunteered to go across and explore.
It was a lab, of sorts. But no people. Only cabinet upon cabinet of powered jars with weird cell-like, or octopus-like tentacled blobs wallowing in them, each with what seemed to be an identity reference. Hacking into the dome’s database they discovered many things:
- They found Rega Meroon’s reference;
- They found Rega Meroon’s jar, containing a live, writhing blob;
- They found co-ordinates to go with Meroon’s jar;
- But thay also found that those co-ordinates had been changed within the last week, the old co-ordinates having been deleted;
- And they found a reference to Resim Aldair, brother of their patron and the object of their entire mission. But, they could find no jar with Resim’s identifier, but they did leaarn that Resim – or something with Resim’s identifier – should have arrived some months earlier, but never did…
Returning to the ship with Meroon’s jar they blasted away from this bastard planet, its corrosive atmosphere already having severely damaged the Corsair’s hull. From the safety of orbit they pondered their options.
Alina (who was now having an open and intimate relationship with 8 Bit) confirmed their thought that this laboratory, and the experiments within, were highly illegal and heretical, on the pain of death. Their avarice to claim the 22,000 Birr payment spurred them on, even when they checked the co-ordinates and found they pointed to the very space port on Hamza-Yurbul from where they had just departed (remember, a prison planet run by the Church of the Icons).
Some argued that taking the “thing” to the Church of the Icons was their best course, others that this would simply lead them to a quick trip to prison. Ozgare even attempted to read the blob’s mind, but could only get a vision of its one desire, a dark and safe place where it was meant to be: but what, or where, that might be was a complete mystery.
Eventually, having considered (and then discarded) the idea of cutting their losses and chucking the jar, thing and all, into space (that 22k was still tempting them) they decided to go to Hamza-Yurbul, but still with an argument ringing around the ship about how they should present their situation, and whether or not they should tell the truth.
In the end they faked a hull breach to get the Hamza-Yurbul authorities to allow them to land as an emergency. As the Icons would have it, the Darkness Between the Stars breached the ship’s hull for real as Hanbal tried to imitate a failing ship as he flew in.
The damage took nearly two days to repair. At no point during that time were they direct and honest with the authorities, tip-toeing around the issue: they dropped hints with the Church of the Icon guards, they tried to get an audience with the prison governor, and tried other means to open up about the dome without being arrested. During this time, they also began to think about the job itself: offered by Irania, a gang leader who they had just humiliated over Samar and her Hamam; a high price for what might have been an easy job, putting aside the challenges that Sohar and her atmosphere brought; a recent change to Meroon’s co-ordinates, taking them right into the arms of the religious authorities in this system… Hmmmmm, the whole deal was starting to smell a bit whiffy…
Eventually, Ajit Mehr lost his patience, and wheeled the jar and the blob down the cargo ramp and right before the guards. It was the wrong move.
The jar rolled off its trolley and shattered on the landing pad at the feet of the guards, the poor “thing” thrashing and flopping in its death throes.
Unsurprisingly, the guards moved to arrest them. Norsa launched at the nearest man, sinking his fangs into the poor fellow’s neck and tearing his head from his shoulders in one almighty crunch. He hadn’t meant to do it, but it had happened, and Norsa suddenly remembered how much he loved the taste of human blood… Fighting a rear-guard they retreated to the Corsair and blasted into orbit, dropping into stealth and escaping to the portals.
What a bust! No money, likely attention from the Church of the Icons as heretics, and a fevered dash to leave the system, all brought upon them by the Okra Darma bitch, Irania. As the Corsair flipped through the portal to Tarazug, they all swore that this matter was not over…
View from the GM’s Chair:
Of the four missions the player’s chose to take, this scenario focused on the two that I had planned out the least. The original idea with the Rega Meroon plot was nothing like the one I ran with, but as the game progressed I felt the original plan was a bit boring and obvious. So it morphed into Irania’s attempt to get revenge against them for the defeat, and the loss of clout, she had suffered on Einekkeh. And it nearly worked! Who knew taking a live example of a heretical experiment to the very people who would likely react the worst to it (and at a prison planet, no less) would be a bad idea! Driven by the lure of the cash, I think, which was perhaps exactly the effect I wanted!
It did lead to a lot of player debate and discussion (something my players are very, very good at!) and led to a fun game, even more satisfying as I ran most of it by the seat of my pants (and a judicious pause or two, to go to the loo and have a quick think about where the hell I was taking the scenario!).
The other key thing for this game was the introduction of Norsa, Connor’s new character. I had been attracted to the idea of Connor playing a Nekatra, but a fully-fledged Legion Nekatra (as the NPC Norsa was) is sooooooo over-powered that I couldn’t let him play that. So, I worked out a way to nerf him:
- I allowed him to have 6 STRENGTH – this is a key and obvious aspect of Nekatra and to remove it wouldn’t have felt right;
- He wanted to be a Soldier, which makes Norsa a bit of a tank, and a cyber tank at that;
- As a semi-intelligence I ruled that he didn’t have an Icon, and hence no Icon Talent. Instead I allowed Connor to take another Cybernetic talent (I’m happy for this view to be challenged!);
- And as for the Nekatra special abilities, Norsa only has Throat Attack. I didn’t allow the Feral Hunger ability, and the Legion Nekatra bonuses were modified (Norsa does not get the +10 HP (he has 12 anyway…), and he doesn’t get the bonus damage to Bite attacks or the extra Cybernetic option – but I did allow the Implanted Medi-Glands).
So, Norsa is still extremely powerful, but he is really a one-trick pony (or wolf, or Nekatra). He has no rival in Melee Combat, and his Force skill is formidable. But Norsa eschews guns, or any ranged weapons, and has little skill in any other area. Well, after all, the Legion bred him for war, and not much else…
As a GM, I need to manage what is an ever-increasingly powerful group, and the addition of Norsa to the fighting skills of Karter, Ozgare and the others, adds another issue I’ll need to balance as the campaign progresses. I’m wondering if I’ve been too generous (with XP, with gear, with cash). But the campaign has been running for the best part of 9 months or so, and over such a period you have to let the players feel like they are getting somewhere. I’ll review the whole thing at the end of this campaign, and maybe I’ll become more Scrooge-like next time!