The Spectral Corsair: Episode XI – “Too Good To Be True”

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The planet Omran is a stunning and beautiful place: clear sapphire skies flecked with wisps of white cloud; the majestic rock of the grey hills carved by the aeons into stunning peaks; and verdant green forests, dense enough to cool the air beneath the canopy but not so dense to prevent a gentle afternoon’s stroll.  Not even the high gravity of the sprawling planet could spoil this peaceful paradise.  Almost too good to be true.

But today, gunfire cracked in the silence, splitting the air, and the sound of Spectral Corsair’s engines could be heard, straining and screaming.  The ship rose above the trees, skimming the forest in a desperate attempt to gain air room.  Sparks flew.  Slabs of hull sloughed away and the ship lurched and clawed at the air, fighting gravity, fighting her own weight and her own failing systems.  For a moment the Corsair almost seemed like she was going to escape the ground.  But she dipped, clipped the canopy before giving up the unequal fight.  She ploughed into the trees, flattening and scattering them as she dropped to the ground.  Earth, grass, undergrowth all flew up and away as the ship hit the ground, gouging a great scar into the planet. She eventually came to rest at the base of a rocky outcrop.  A moment of complete silence descended upon the forest, before an explosion tore through the ship. Flames licked around the wreckage, and the Spectral Corsair almost seemed to sigh her last and settle into the hole she had made…

Corsair#1

72 HOURS EARLIER…

“Look 8 Bit, I don’t think this Tarazug’s Disease, or curse, or whatever it is, is anything more than some stupid local myth: we have nothing to worry about.”  Hanbal was getting a bit sick and tired of 8 Bit’s “doom-and-gloom” attitude to everything.  Yes, the Tarazug system was a bit of an anomaly: all the inhabitable planets in the system were – on the face of it – pretty damn perfect for colonisation but, with the exception of a few tiny settlements, no attempt to settle them had lasted more than a few years. And that included the giant, Omran. At 1.5G the big brother of the system had proven stubbornly resistant to colonists, and remained – as far as anyone knew – pretty much uninhabited.

“Look,” continued Hanbal. “We’ve just gotta go to Omran, find this colony ship, Ryvius, find this Tivoli Mallak woman, and get the hell out.  Easy money…”  That was the mission they had accepted from Shervan Mallak back in Mira: run down the most recent attempt at colonising Omran, yet another attempt that had gone quiet after a few weeks, find his sister and bring her back alive.

As the Corsair jumped into the Tarazug system they couldn’t help but notice the military presence around the portals, a bulwark against the unknown evils that lurked beyond Tarazug, in Odacon.  An ominous warning of what they were heading into, to find Resim Aldair.

But for now, they left the Odacon portal behind them and burned into the system heading for Omran.  It took a couple of orbits to scan down some settlements, one in the northern hemisphere that was large, but obviously abandoned for decades; and one near the equator, newer but still abandoned.  But they detected Ryvius, in a clearing about a mile from this second settlement.  Caution was at the fore-front of their thinking, and they landed a few miles away to walk to the settlement through the forest, leaving Alina to mind the Corsair.

Despite the high G, which affected Ajit and 8 Bit more than the others, the planet was beautiful – a paradise, even though there was little evidence of much in the way of animal life: a few small rodents clambering in the treetops, and some wet tracks were all they could find.

They soon reached the Ryvius resting in a forest clearing with the settlement about a mile away.  She was in a very bad state: her hull had been exposed and internal wiring and circuitry was corroded, almost eaten away but some creature or another; she was entwined by fast-growing vines and these wiry tendrils penetrated through the vessel; what hadn’t been damaged had been deliberately stripped, and Ryvius resembled a carcass left on the plains to be picked clean by vermin.  They also found 23 of her crew, inside her de-activated stasis pods, all long dead.  None of them were Tivoli Mallak…

They pressed on into the settlement itself, a collection of low buildings and huts that had grown up around an ancient stone ziggurat covered in plants and tendrils that commanded the centre of the place.  The buildings were desolate and long-abandoned, but a small camp of tents surrounded the ziggurat, and even a couple were pitched on its flat stone top.  But there was no sign of any people.

Then they heard it, a plaintive cry for help coming from inside the ziggurat itself.  A quick search revealed a small entrance on the top of the building, an opening that looked down into the depths, a drop of about 15 metres.  Karter volunteered to climb down, and it was once he was down that the hidden swarm of primitive humans charged the ziggurat’s sides.  The crew raced to the top, readying themselves for a desperate fight, to see that the primitives themselves didn’t touch the ziggurat, but surrounded it, trapping them.

Karter’s quick search revealed many dead bodies, entombed in plant tendrils and roots in much the same way as Ryvius, but a cursory search didn’t reveal any clues as to Tivoli’s whereabouts.  Karter did find a water-filled chamber, lit by something glowing that was submerged in the pool, alongside a large coffin-shaped casket.  He also found that the plants were hungry, and deadly, tendrils seeking out his legs and trying to burrow beneath his flesh (although the tendril that tried to burrow into his cybernetic leg didn’t get so far…).  The same happened on the roof, and Norsa was taken by surprise, a tendril digging deep beneath his furry hide.  Hanbal rushed to his aid and just about managed to remove the tendril, as the others were attacked too.

They urgently called to Alina for rescue, but received no reply.  A few shots into the crowd of primitives put a couple of them down, but only brought a hail of arrows and spears down on to their exposed position – fighting their way out wasn’t a great option.

Ozgare, the water-breathing Humanite from Zalos B, dived into the cool underground pool.  He retrieved the glowing globes, and chose to open the casket.  Inside was a woman, suddenly awoken from whatever trance she had been in, suddenly finding herself 3 meters underwater, suddenly choking on cold water.  Naturally she panicked, and was impossible to bring down from her hysterics.  They have no idea who she may be.

On the Spectral Corsair Alina had heard their call for help, but was having her own problems.  As the sun had set creatures crawled from the shadows and attacked the ship, tearing through hull plating and sucking on power cables.  Circuits over-loaded and systems shut down.  Alina did her best to clear these beasts, and flew to rescue the others as soon as she could.  But some beasts still clung to the Corsair, and the ship struggled.

8 Bit and the others were over-joyed to hear the Corsair coming closer, but the primitives weren’t.  As Alina brought the ship in to hover above the ziggurat, her cargo doors opening, the primitives surged up the steps to stop their quarry from escaping.  A brutal but short fight ensued, as the crew scrambled aboard and away from the murderous attackers.

But the Spectral Corsair was badly wounded, and even Hanbal, taking over the controls, couldn’t get her into the air.  She struggled to stay airborne for a couple of miles, before losing the unequal fight and crashing down into the forest…


 

View from the GM’s Chair:

This was the first time I really had the players on a planet that had gravity that was significantly different from about 1G.  I’ve had a few locations that have been 0.7G or 0.8G, but in game terms I didn’t do anything different to reflect that.  But Omran, with a gravity of 1.5G, was different enough that I wanted the players to feel it.

I couldn’t see any rules about the effects of high G, so I ruled that they all needed to make a FORCE roll for every 12 hours spent in the higher G to cope with its impact, and a failed roll brings a -1 Dice to every roll they make.  If they fail a second FORCE roll, 12 hours later, they would get another -1 on top of the first one, and so on.  Obviously, if they get to rest in a normal or low G environment (like being on board ship) then these penalties go away.

It seemed to work ok.  Ajit and 8 Bit failed their first FORCE rolls, and the penalty was irritating enough in mechanical terms that it had a narrative effect of making them really “feel” the effect of the higher gravity.

Also, for this scenario I drew upon two aspects of the Tarazug system that are listed on the Coriolis Third Horizon map: Tarazug’s Disease and the Omran Stone Ruins.  But, there is no other information about these whatsoever, so as GM I’m completely free to make of them what I will.  So I had the disease being some ill-defined “curse” that has left the pristine planets of the Tarazug system uncolonized (including the planet Omran), and the stone ruins on Omran are portal builder remnants that have turned bad thanks to the Dark Between the Stars (like the ziggurat).  I’ll expand more on these if the players decide to spend more time in Tarazug, although I expect they will want to get away as fast as they can!

But they will have at least one more scenario here, to escape the trouble they are in and flee Omran!

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