The Spectral Corsair, under their fake identity as the Merchant Vessel Valley Forge, powered sunwards, and away from the fighting on Coriolis. But their hasty departure hadn’t gone completely unnoticed, and a message from the Legion demanding their return came through. That wasn’t going to happen, but they didn’t want to begin their new life on the run immediately.
Ajit Mehr came up with the plan: “I’ll go back in the Blackbird, give them some story about why we had to leave. They’ll trust me: I’ve been working for them for years. I’ll get away as soon as I can and re-join you on the run to Menkar.”
“You can’t go alone Ajit, I’ll go with you,” said Ozgare, and the plan was set.
Farewells said and done, Hanbal flew to the portals and made the jump, going solo as the next convoy was not due for another eight days. They headed for the Trading Cluster on Trini, in the Aiwaz system, a place they had been the year before. It was here that the crew under Captain Valdez originally picked up Ajit Mehr, and here where Karter had left his stolen cybernetic arm with a back-street surgeon.
But they had business to see to: as usual money was tight so the top priority was finding work before moving swiftly on towards Menkar. Sister Mariam stayed aboard – she had been masquerading as a Witchsmeller and Trini, a key planet just one jump from Zalos, is swarming with Zalosian spies, and she would surely be spotted if she left the ship.
It didn’t take long to find work.
They agreed to take five passengers, already sealed in their own mobile stasis pods, to the planet Nepleca in the Errai system. Hanbal, conscious of the risks that a simple passenger contract could bring (with painful memories of the Mazunan passengers that resulted in Valdez’s death, for one), quizzed the trader making the deal, called Taba Akalay. He was reassured it was legitimate and above board, and agreed to take (the well paid) job.
They took on another two passengers, a young woman called Zena and her chaperone, to be delivered to Pujara in the Sadaal system, for Zena’s wedding.
On top of these jobs they bought in a shipment of fine Sadaalian Ceremonial masks, for delivery in Sadaal, and six crates of Vulcan weapon parts, that they hope to sell on for a profit in either Sadaal or Ghodar.
With all of that the Corsair’s hold was crammed with cargo, turning the open space into a maze of narrow corridors and crawl spaces.
It had been a busy and tiring day, and Hanbal, Karter and Norsa stopped in a local cantina for a drink. It was there that Hanbal spotted something familiar: even though he had never seen Robart Alfeco in person he knew him from the Legion briefing papers – Alfeco had been one of the three Zalosian targets they had been charged to investigate on Coriolis. What was he doing here? He’d been on Coriolis when they had cornered Mariam, but here he was…, talking in hushed tones with three companions about “we must leave quickly”, “when will Mahar get here?” and “time is of the essence, this is urgent.”
“By the Icons,” growled Norsa. “What do we care? We don’t work for the Legion any more…”
“It’s just weird…” mused Hanbal, his curiosity piqued. So when Alfeco left Hanbal chose to follow him. Alfeco’s companions noticed and tried to follow, but were no match for Norsa and Karter who blocked their way out.
Moeen’s Silver Palace, Trini, in the Aiwaz system
Alfeco strolled through the dusty streets of Trini, ending up at a complex called Moeen’s Silver Palace, a leisure centre of casinos, saloons, theatres and hamams. Hanbal joined Alfeco at a blackjack game and tried to engage him in discussion. But Alfeco is Zalosian – a Firstcome – and Hanbal’s hatred was hard to contain. Too hard. They fell into an argument, and Hanbal accused him of being a Zalosian spy and threw the name of the Witchsmeller Mariam at him. Alfeco stormed off.
It was then there was a fanfare, and a splendid and glamourous figure burst into the room with his entourage: it was the renowned Sadaalian poet, Yara Mahar. Mahar? So this was Alfeco’s contact?
Hanbal couldn’t help but say hello, claiming he was a great fan of Mahar’s work. He managed to deal with Mahar’s question about Hanbal’s favourite poem, by charming the man with a bit of sincerity. His confession that he wasn’t that familiar with the work, but was interested in learning more, charmed Mahar and they talked.
Eventually, Hanbal risked saying he was a friend of Alfeco, and that he was here to help. Mahar was pleased: “so you’re the ship’s captain we are looking for? Excellent! You are coming to the discussion at the hamam tonight?” Hanbal said yes, then withdrew.
Back on the Corsair Mariam was shocked to hear Hanbal’s news and she explained what she knew of Alfeco’s intentions.
“Alfeco was negotiating with Sadaal about bringing them into the war. If he is here, meeting Mahar who must be his Sadaalian contact, the negotiations must be moving forwards. This cannot be allowed to happen. Alfeco cannot leave Trini.”
“So, you saying we have to kill him?”
Norsa took exception. “You want us to do the Legion’s dirty work for them? I thought we weren’t doing their shit any more…”
“We are not doing this for the Legion,” said Mariam. “We are doing this for all the Third Horizon, for the people who will die if Sadaal extend the war, but who will live if the war comes to an end. And they still think I’m alive, and don’t know I’m an imposter. So give them this to prove to them your loyalty to the Zalosian cause,” and she pulled a small ring from her finger and handed it over.
Eventually they agreed it should be done. But, Alfeco knew what Hanbal looked like, so he could not attend the late-night meeting at the hamam in the Silver Palace. It had to be Norsa…
Norsa left in time to catch Mahar’s poetry performance in the theatre hall at the Silver Palace. After the reading he spoke with the poet and convinced Mahar they were genuine. Together they left for the meeting in the hamam. In the steam-filled room Norsa convinced Alfeco, and two other Sadaalians (negotiators called Pervin and Birsu) that he was to be trusted, the Witchsmeller ring pivotal in gaining their trust. They agreed they should depart as soon as possible, and Norsa said the ship would be ready at first light. Norsa left with Mahar, surprised that he was starting to like the poet.
And they were ready at first light. Mariam, Hanbal and Norsa were waiting in the cargo bay, when the intercom beeped. It was then that Norsa mentioned his mis-givings.
“We’re just going to kill Alfeco, right?” he said.
Hanbal was shocked. “I thought we’d sorted this shit out? No, they all have to die, of course.” The cargo bay doors began to creak open.
“Alfeco is the one we have to stop, not Mahar or the others…” Light from the hanger outside started to spill into the Corsair.
And the debate continued, in hissed voices, between the two as the cargo doors completed their extension and Mahar, Alfeco and the others came up the ramp. Alfeco saw Mariam and rushed up in greetings, Mahar came up to greet Norsa, and Pervin and Birsu brought up the rear with the baggage.
Karter set the cargo doors to closing, to keep the next few moments away from prying eyes. As soon as the doors closed Hanbal strode from behind a crate, drawing his gun as he went. Alfeco saw him as he raised his gun, fear and confusion slowing his reaction: he couldn’t move fast enough and the first bullet took him in the shoulder. He fell to his knees stunned. Hanbal didn’t hesitate: a bullet to the head killed Alfeco instantly.
Mahar was shocked and terrified. Norsa could see the sense of Hanbal’s argument, that they all had to die: left alive they could testify to the murder of Alfeco, and they would always be in fear that this crime would catch up with them; and ironically, killing Alfeco and leaving the Sadaalians alive might push Sadaal closer to joining the war on Zalos’s side, rather than make it less likely. But Norsa liked Mahar, so didn’t strike him but watched as the fat poet ran for the cargo airlock.
But Pervin and Birsu started to fight back, and Norsa found himself killing them as they sought to kill him. Sadly for them, they were no match for the Nekatra, and both were finished off in a few seconds.
For Mahar, he squeezed through the gaps between cargo in a desperate attempt to avoid Hanbal’s pursuit. But it wasn’t long before the Humanite got a clean shot, hitting Mahar in the leg. Mahar fell, but continued to crawl in a desperate attempt to save himself. Hanbal walked up to him and levelled his gun, his hatred of the Firstcome bubbling his emotions to the surface again. He was deaf to Mahar’s pleading.
“Firstcome scum,” Hanbal hissed. “Oh, and your poetry is shit…” The gun flared and Mahar died in a splatter of blood and bone.
Mariam placed her hand on Hanbal’s shoulder as wisps of smoke trailed from his still raised gun:
“Your first kill in ice-cold blood for the good of the Third Horizon. You will fit well in Ahlam’s Temple…”
View from the GM’s Chair:
The first thing I had to fix for this scenario was the reason why Ajit and Ozgare were suddenly out of the picture, as Morgan and Dean had both gone off to university. As it happened the idea that Ajit might go back and successfully stall the Legion’s pursuit was an obvious one, and easy for Ozgare to tag along. It also means I can run a quick scenario for them before the next full gathering over the christmas break, which will be fun!
One thing I will mention, is actually how easy Portal Jumps are if you are reasonably well prepared. In the early days of running Coriolis we (me and the players) all agonised over the risks of portal jumping (egged on by the text in the books, I will say) and looked for convoys to join or pay the portal stations a fat fee to do the calculations for us. But there is in fact little need. The Science roll for the calculations only decreases the time it takes to make the jump, and doesn’t have any bearing whatsoever on how successful the jump will be – that comes down to the Pilot skill alone. If you have a half-decent pilot, a Chapel aboard your ship and pray before you make the attempt you have a lot of dice to play with, possibly doubled if you feel the need to pray to the Icons for help.
Two other thing worth mentioning briefly:
- The moral debate in the last scene, between Hanbal and Norsa, was great to watch and my players (Tony and Connor) really enjoyed it. It’s these kinds of situations, when role-played really well, that are so rewarding for a GM to participate in building up the tension, then watch the players go at it!
- And Norsa, played brilliantly by Connor, is evolving. As Connor wrote in reply to reading the episode summary: “First an embarrasing arena loss, then re-subjugation under the Legion, then losing a limb: Norsa is slowly losing all love for fighting (although it’s still in his nature). He just wants to appreciate the joys of the universe. Get himself a nice dangerous pet and maybe start a family too… He likes adventure still, which is why he hasn’t left yet, but I think he wants to leave fighting behind him because: A) 99% of people in the verse are cowards relying on guns to do their fighting OR psychic witches who warp reality in crazy ways and: B) he might be starting to realise that actively seeking fights hasn’t gone so well for him, no matter how invincible he may think he is in the heat of the moment. It’s weird – I never expected him to develop like this! But I think somewhere along the way his heart has changed…” Thanks Connor – character development though play at its finest!