It was almost a unique experience. Hanbal and the crew couldn’t believe it could happen, but it had. They’d picked up a job, delivered what they had to, and got paid. Frankly amazing.
But now they found themselves on Sadaal, a planet of over a million people with two large cities. A bit unusual, having to wear a ceremonial mask at all times in public, but easy enough to get used to. And the planet has a lot of excellent amenities more commonly found closer to the Zenithian heartlands of Kua. A trip to an advanced medical facility saw them hand over a down-payment of 11,000 Birr on a new arm for Norsa the Nekatra. It would take them a month to grow it, then would need a couple of weeks (and another 14,000 Birr!) for Norsa to go under the knife.
So they had a month to wait.
Hanbal decided that trying to get to Menkar and back in that time was too difficult, seeing that it was 10 days from Sadaal to the portals before they even jumped on the first of three legs. Mariam wasn’t happy about the delay but couldn’t really argue: after all they were supposed to be travelling under the cover of traders.
And as traders they decided to spend the month making some money: a quick run to Nagar with a full hold would make them some much needed cash. They still had six crates of Vulcan weapon parts to sell, and in addition they took on board a large consignment of timber, and a number of crates containing drones for a space station orbiting Hirmus in the Nagar system. They also took on a contract to haul ice to Nagar, in pods that would be secured to the Corsair’s superstructure up in orbit. They spent a lot, but would make a handsome profit off the trip.
They also needed a new engineer. Ever since Captain Valdez died 8 Bit had seemed out of sorts, unhappy. They returned from the bazaars to find Fenwick gone, only a note left behind. It talked of needing a new start, needing to get away from the Corsair and all the memories that echoed the halls. He had a new job and was off to make a new start.
So, they needed a new engineer. A few enquiries led them to the Rusty Cog, a Sadaalian cantina where engineers and mechanics hanged out. They talked to four prospective candidates: Nivrod, and old man with years of experience; Alimani Jaul, a younger man who claimed he was the best but admitted to his short temper and the trouble this had brought him over the years; Malina Menau, a very young woman who had grown up in shipyards at her parents’ knees, with a talent for machines; and Nousinah Ghina, a woman in her thirties whose claims seemed a bit far-fetched.
The youngster Malina got the vote, and the job, at 300 Birr per month on top of her bed and board. Karter, ever interested in making better friends with any young women he came across, was particularly pleased with Hanbal’s choice.
As soon as Malina arrived with her gear, they got off planet. They collected the ice in orbit, and despite being slowed by the mass of the ice they were hauling, headed to the portals. Amazingly, the jump to Nagar went perfectly.
Once in Nagar they set course for Thrun, their first destination only 1.5 AU away. But something was wrong: the ship was struggling and systems were failing all over. Hanbal found himself struggling to maintain control of the ship, and suddenly the Corsair was heading directly into the sun at full speed: in 6 hours they’d have no hope of escaping the gravity well.
Malina worked to sort the problem but it was a complete mystery. Norsa went to check their cargo and found a smashed crate: at least one, possibly two, of the stored drones were missing and they could hear distant skittering noises deep in the guts of the ship.
A cascade of malfunctions led to an explosion in the Ion Cannon bay. No one was hurt but that explosion could have happened anywhere! Hanbal’s fight with the controls was starting to pull the Corsair away from the sun, but he was just prolonging their inevitable end.
Rushing to the Ion Cannon bay Abdelacar found himself in confrontation with a drone: the size of a large dog but looking like a mad crab on steroids, Abdelacar’s blade dented its carapace but did little damage. A welding torch flared and Abdelacar fell back, managing to slam the bulkhead shut just in time. Karter soon arrived and, after Abdelacar opened the door, targeted the drone and blew it away.
There was another explosion, this time in engineering. Malina was blown across the bay and took a nasty blow to her head. As the ship rocked, with multiple mini-breaches happening as the structure was twisted and torn, Norsa saw another drone pulling itself from the wooden crate. He attacked but the welding torch sprayed fire all along his righthand side. Flames flared as his fur took light, and he fell. The timely arrival of Karter and Abdelacar saved him: Karter destroyed the drone as Abdelacar fell upon the writhing Nekatra and doused the fire.
Up on the bridge Hanbal finally gave up the struggle: there must be one drone left and it – and not the ship’s captain – had control of the vessel. The course changed, towards a location near Hirmus and away from the sun. That was good news. Less good news was that the drone had jettisoned the cargo of ice, and all that money was floating away into the darkness of space.
The drone was buried deep in the ship. The only people on board who were able to go and find it were the children, Melany and Donny. Abdelacar sat them down and explained what was needed, and that they were very, very important. They agreed to crawl into the tubes to find the drone, with strict instructions to find it and flee. A few hours later Donny had suffered a terrible blast to his leg, and Melany burns to her foot. But they had found the drone, interfacing itself with a key power conduit that gave it control of the whole ship.
Malina said she could fry it with a well-placed surge of power, but this risked a feedback that might damage the ship even more. They had no choice, so Hanbal gave her the go ahead.
Energy surged and fizzed, and the drone was destroyed, falling away from the conduit and gifting control of the ship back to the crew. But Malina was right: the energy surge built up and resulted in yet another explosion, this time in the cargo bay. The bay doors blew off and every scrap of cargo was lost into space. The only cargo they had left was one crate of Vulcan spares that they had stored in the smuggler stash, and the two they had stored back on Sadaal to make space for the new cargo.
Control restored they turned the ship about in an attempt to salvage the ice that was falling into the sun. They found three of the original six consignments, and were eventually able to sell them for a decent price, going a little way to making this trip anything other than a total loss.
As a post script, Hanbal lost his temper when a debt default notice arrived as they were late with a payment for the ship. He took it up with Jubal’s heavy, Sara Qajar. She reacted badly, her hand falling to her sidearm.
“That’s not a fair fight!” cried Hanbal, who was ready and up for a fight, his realisation that Sara was actually from a Firstcome family burning his rage. She dropped the gun, and the fight ensued.
She was too much for him, but both were angry. Grappling him she dragged him towards an airlock. This was too far for Abdelacar who swung his blade in an attempt to stop his former colleague. She dropped Hanbal, and in the fight was pushed back into the lock. Before anyone could do anything the inner lock door slammed shut, trapping Qajar in the airlock. Again, without anyone doing anything the airlock cycled and Sara Qajar was ejected, to die in the vacuum of space.
Everyone was shocked, even though Hanbal had been ready to kill her. In the sudden silence a quite voice was heard:
“The ship didn’t like her,” said Melany…
View from the GM’s Chair:
This scenario was very much a sandbox. I had no good idea what the game would cover, but had a few ideas. Everything – other than the idea there would be a drone that would malfunction and try and take control of the ship – was made up on the night. It was great fun as a GM to do that and have the game work out so well. I love being a GM, but sometimes I really love being the GM!
This game was a tough one for the players, but at the start I had 18 Darkness Points. I’d allowed the players to build up a bit of a sump of darkness and it was inevitable that this must come back to bite them. And this was that game (although I still have quite a lot of DP left, but my balance came down a lot in this game!).
And it wasn’t the first time, but it was the first time I really got into it, that I used my bespoke critical hit table for the Spectral Corsair. It’s better than the simple table provided in the core book, but to do it properly you really need to make one for every ship you use. It’s fine to do that for the main ship character in the campaign, but it might get a bit cumbersome if you were to do it for every ship that features in your game (although probably more fun all round if you had the time to do it!).