Mr G's Stars Without Number Campaign

Dialogues
In which our heroes discover the power of conversation.

Our Cast of Players:

  • Alexei Makarov (Ian): Human Expert – Technician/Adventurer, level 1.
  • Christian (Craig): Human Psychic – Adventurer/Psychic Researcher, level 1.
  • Hilton “Hiltie” Jones (Max): Human Expert – Biotech Crew/Pilot, level 1.
  • Jonah Priest (Alan): Human Warrior – Security Crew/Ground Forces, level 1.
  • Lazarus Morgenstern (Dave): Human Expert – Noble/Adventurer, level 1.
  • Munroe (Ricky): Human Warrior – Soldier/Merc, level 1.

What Happened:

With the fresh cash from your latest sales of artifacts to Marius burning a hole in your pockets, Hiltie heads straight down to The Locker. He has had his eye on purchasing a survey scanner for quite some time and he is hopeful that is the sort of equipment that can be come by here. He finds Roland Lomax in his office next to the secure storage area. The cargo chief looks at ease in the heart of his domain, surrounded by crates and cases of all different kinds of supplies and consumables, and greets Hiltie in his Scottish burr.

He is certain that he has a survey scanner here somewhere and starts to search for it. Of one thing he is absolutely certain, the price will be Cr300. While doing so, he engages Hiltie in conversation. He wonders if, as a newcomer, Hiltie has picked up on any grumblings from the miners. Hiltie is non-committal, saying he hasn’t really been on board long enough to get to know anyone well, so Lomax explains that the bank always seems to be demanding more novium production and Director Dutta, whom he describes as an overbearing autocrat, is driving the miners hard to make the quota. He is concerned for their welfare as tensions are starting to rise. Some of the transient workers left on the last transport ship but some of those born and raised on Brightside are beginning to murmur about what life might be like without Dutta as Director.

Lomax shrugs. He admits he doesn’t have a solution to the problem but he has long had unanswered questions about the circumstances in which Dutta came to the post of Director fifty years ago. Moreover, he has come across your type of “security consultants” before and knows that you can be dangerous and unpredictable. He hates unknown quantities and wonders what your response might be should matters come to a head while you are staying at Brightside.

Hiltie is non-committal again, saying your only interest is in authenticating your share certificate when the bank auditor arrives. Lomax gives Hiltie a “thanks for nothing” look and, with a flourish, retrieves a survey scanner from a packing crate and dumps it on his cluttered desk. Hiltie hands over the Cr300 and the transaction is done. He is keen to get away from the uncomfortable situation as soon as possible, and makes his excuses.

Now in possession of the long anticipated survey scanner, Hiltie retreats to the shared bunk room that is doubling up as your field headquarters here on Brightside, and retrieves the packet of white powder from the depths of his toolbox. Hands trembling at the thought of the wealth within your grasp should this turn out to be spectrox, he feeds a sample into the collection tray of the scanner and fires it up.

The analysis process takes about two minutes and the results are displayed on a small built-in screen. It is a mixture of simple mineral salts, with particularly high concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus, plus one or two other trace elements such as magnesium and selenium. Hiltie’s heart sinks and he concludes that it is just the sort of nutritional supplement a plant would need were it otherwise relying on photosynthesis alone. To the Ushans, it is probably a highly nutritious food source.

Swallowing his disappointment, he decides to head down from the transients’ quarters on Highdeck to the medical clinic on Middeck to see how Priest is doing. Dr Indrani and a male nurse are on duty and the good news is that Priest has responded well to the surgery to remove the bullet fired into him by the Chittik using Lazarus’ revolver. He is expected to make a full recovery and all things being well should be in a position to be discharged after another night’s stay.

With little else to do, Hiltie offers to assist Dr Indrani and she is happy to accept his offer, welcome for the presence of another medical professional and the more stimulating conversations that result from that. Most of the cases she and her staff have to deal with are routine – minor injuries and screening for STDs are the clinic’s bread and butter work, but occasionally more serious accidents or excessive radiation exposure occurs in the refinery when the miners are careless. Severe injuries and deaths do happen but are mercifully rare. She has the feeling that incidents caused by carelessness have been on the increase recently and puts it down to the longer shifts that the Director has instituted as a temporary measure to meet the bank’s novium production quota for this quarter. She understands and supports his position – it’s in no one’s interest if the bank shuts the station down – and it is strictly a temporary measure as the Beast’s activity has been at a record 50 year low recently.

Hiltie assesses the facilities and estimates that the clinic has medical bays sufficient to keep ten patients under close observation. Another ten cold sleep pods could be used to freeze
victims until space becomes available in the medical bays. The clinic has standard medical supplies and equipment commensurate with post-Scream levels of technology. Dr Indrani tells him that other than a couple of first aiders she is the only medically qualified professional aboard, having spent eight years as a field medic in a merc unit, but she is training two of the prostitutes from the Clouds and Rain (which it turns out she owns) as nurses with a view to them obtaining certification.

At the end of the shift she thanks Hiltie for making the time more bearable and tells him that as she is now off duty he can call her Suyin. Hiltie eyes her up, guessing she is of Indian sub-continent origin – she is a buxom woman in her early thirties, of dark complexion with dark almond shaped eyes and straight black hair – and suggests they take some dinner together. She tosses her head back and laughs, “why not? Although I’ll tell you now, I’m not on the menu”. Hiltie laughs in return and the pair make their way to the Heavenly Hash cafeteria on Highdeck.

Suyin chooses a selection of grilled vegetables with pasta and an appetising looking sauce, and Hiltie follows her recommendation. She tells him that the cafeteria is run by a good friend of hers, a man called Joshua Yang, who she describes as a Neo-Vegan barbecue enthusiast. She reckons he does wonders with the tank-grown meat substitutes produced by the hydroponic bay but the limited range of foodstuffs grown in the hydro bay always leads to grumbling from the miners but their complaints about the food are desultory and more in the line of prerogative rather than actuality.

She points out a cooker and a couple of microwaves that are kept available for those who want
to make their own meals and occasionally, she says, Joshua has events which see a few other budding station cooks sell their services to the other personnel. With a trace of irony and some amusement, she tells Hiltie that the one thing Joshua won’t tolerate is the use of the kitchen for cooking real meat, egg, or dairy products, and doing so has gotten more than one adventurous cook permanently banished. She says she has heard of one or two illicit pop up “restaurants” run sporadically out of peoples’ quarters, when Roland Lomax has managed to get hold of some meat, so that the miners can get a real cheeseburger. Joshua’s always
complaining to Livingston Roy about these get togethers, but she suspects the security chief is amenable to a little beef-based bribery to look the other way.

At the mention of Lomax, Hiltie is reminded of his conversation earlier on in the day and he asks Suyin what she thinks of the cargo chief. She looks slightly annoyed and explains that he has been banned from the Clouds and Rain for his unsavoury tastes and abhorrent attitude to what she calls her boys and girls. The least she has to do with him the better. She tells Hiltie that although the increase in accidents is regrettable she is a supporter of the tough measures the director has had to put in place this quarter and that the miners are always quick to forget the good times. She suspects Lomax is enjoying his role as supplier of illicit materials a little too much and that it may even extend off-station as he seems to be making a lot of trips to the artists’ colony at Empty Graves at the moment.

Hiltie takes the cue and drops the point, and the pair enjoy the rest of their dinner in pleasant conversation. At the end of the meal, they part ways, Suyin off to check in at the Clouds and Rain, and Hiltie back to the transients’ quarters. On arrival, he finds the rest of you already asleep on the bunks, apart from Munroe who is sitting in the glow from the Ushan everlight, cleaning, stripping, and reassembling the weapons you retrieved from the Bronze Tomb. He looks up at Hiltie as he enters and grunts. The last thing Hiltie sees as he drift off to sleep is Munroe’s upturned face half illuminated by the everlight, as he blows gently on the freshly oiled slide from one of the semi-automatic pistols.

The following morning, you are all awakened by Priest entering the room. Some of you, Lazarus and Munroe especially, are less pleased to see him up and about than the others, but they take some comfort from the fact that he is still strapped up and armed with a bottle of prescription pain killers. Hiltie relates the events of yesterday, bringing you all up to speed with the conversations and meetings he has had.

Munroe is keen that you keep yourselves distant from the local politics but you have much time on your hands and little to do. Inspired by Hiltie, Christian seeks out Dr Indrani at the clinic and offers his help as well, however he has no medical training that she would recognise and she gives him short shrift – she has no space for novice psychic healers on her watch.

Priest, never a man of inaction, doses himself up on his pain killers and makes an appointment to see Director Dutta with a view to securing some short term casual labour. Still well disposed towards you because of your assistance in surveying the ice asteroid, so vital to the continued existence of Brightside Station, Dutta is happy to give Priest 10 minutes out of his day but before Priest can even enquire about employment Dutta tells him that he has been told that members of your group have been spending a lot of time with Roland Lomax. He tells Priest straight out that he doesn’t trust the man and regrets giving him a more or less free hand in running his side of the station. He tolerates him as he is good as his job but he suspects he is stirring up trouble among the miners. Priest plays is dumb and says he is just a pleb, and the director changes tack immediately. He arranges some manual labour in the refinery for Priest at the princely sum of Cr12 for a day’s work.

He gives Priest a chit to take down to the refinery and present to the shift manager. He does so and is immediately assigned to a detail manhandling emptied novium retrieval drones back into their storage racks. After one trip, Priest takes an extra dose of pain killers, grimaces and soldiers on with the task. It is back breaking but otherwise undemanding work and he is relieved and pleased at the end of the 10 hour shift to retire to your bunk room.

To be continued…

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Ashes to Ashes
In which our heroes find things have moved on in their absence.

Our Cast of Players:

  • Alexei Makarov (Ian): Human Expert – Technician/Adventurer, level 1.
  • Christian (Craig): Human Psychic – Adventurer/Psychic Researcher, level 1.
  • Hilton “Hiltie” Jones (Max): Human Expert – Biotech Crew/Pilot, level 1.
  • Jonah Priest (Alan): Human Warrior – Security Crew/Ground Forces, level 1.
  • Lazarus Morgenstern (Dave): Human Expert – Noble/Adventurer, level 1.
  • Munroe (Ricky): Human Warrior – Soldier/Merc, level 1.

What Happened:

It is with a sense of relief that you accelerate away from the asteroid and Ranse plots a course back to Brightside Station. Hiltie assesses the wounded and is relieved to find that Munroe’s and Lazarus’ injuries are not as serious as he thought. He is confident that with a couple of days’ rest they will both make full recoveries and, after all, there is not much else to do aboard The Leadbelly. Priest, though, he is much more concerned about. Assuming he even makes it back to the station he will need hospitalisation, including surgery to remove the bullet fired into him by the Chittik using Lazarus’ revolver.

Attention now turns to the attaché cases containing the packets of white powder. You are convinced it is a narcotic of some sort and try to analyse it with the medi-scanner, but all that tells you is that it is not an organic compound. You consider a couple of possibilities, the stimulant vrax (a contraction of vraxoin, also known on the streets as zip) or the geriatric spectrox. A simple test rules out the likelihood of vrax as this is not soluble in water whereas the powder you have found is. This leaves the astonishing possibility of it being spectrox and, if it were refined spectrox, the street value of the quantity you have here would be enough to buy a small planet on the outer rim.

Once the excitement has died down, consideration now turns to what to do with the powder when you arrive back at Brightside. You talk to Ranse over the shuttle’s PA and bluntly ask him if there are any hidden compartments aboard that he uses for smuggling contraband. He is deeply offended and crossly cuts the mike off immediately. You do not hear from him at all for the rest of the journey.

You eventually decide to conceal one packet inside the body of the decomposing Chittik which, incidentally, is now stinking out the drone retrieval bay and, as well as making you all feel sick, is doing little to help with hygiene and the recovery of your injured. A second packet Hiltie rather more prosaically stuffs under the tools in his toolbox.

On arrival at Brightside, Dr Andrani is once again waiting with a trolley and one of her nurses, and she takes Priest away to the infirmary. You see Ranse disembark from the front cargo hatch, almost buried in the lead shielding, and he pointedly ignores you as he makes his way straight to the lifts and out of sight.

You decide to play it straight with the security guard at what passes for custom’s control on Brightside Station and ask him if he will permit you to bring on board the stinking Chittik body and the alien stun batons. He gives you an “are you joking?” look but stays good natured. Apart from the alien artifacts you hope to sell, you openly check in all the weapons and other gear, including the attaché cases, remembering that your previous experience was they had virtually no interest in items you weren’t intending to bring on board. This remains to be the case and after a quick pat down for concealed weapons, he is happy. Crucially he does not search Hiltie’s toolbox.

As he makes arrangements over a pocket phone with Roland Lomax for the Chittik’s body to be put into cold storage, he asks you nonchalantly, “is the same going to happen to this one as happened to the other one?” There is a moment’s silence as you all look at each other in confusion and then ask the guard what he is talking about.

Rather than try to explain, he leads you to the secure storage area. Sure enough, there is the mineral encrusted crystal sarcophagus just as you left it, strapped up. Lazarus approaches and peers through the encrustations and instead of a body inside there is a layer of soil. He checks the straps – they have not been cut in any way – but the seal of the casket has been broken. He turns to the rest of you and shrugs, “she’s gone”.

With no apparent explanation forthcoming as to what has happened here, you decide to leave any investigation for later and seek out Marius Rochambeau, with a view to selling on some of the items you have brought back from the tomb. You find him easily enough, he is in his stateroom once more, and show him what you have found. He explains that the odd white disks are radiation sinks, and serve to protect the wearer from exposure to low to moderate levels of radiation. They gradually turn black as their protective capacity is used up. The crystals he calls everlights. Christian asks if there is any way to deactivate them once illuminated and Marius replies in the negative. He has had one that was illuminated for nearly two years and it only stopped working when he accidentally dropped it and it shattered.

Remember your last visit, you turn down his offer of coffee and get straight to negotiating a price with him for the items you want to sell. He makes you an offer totalling Cr2,200 on the 10 decorative serving trays, two of the radiation sinks, an Ushan cutting torch, the non-illuminated crystal, the rank jewellery from the Chittik, and the three Chittik stun batons (conditional on him examining them himself). Christian keeps the illuminated crystal and Lazarus retains one of the radiation sinks.

You part company with Marius cordially and with thanks and, with some fresh cash burning a hole in your collective jumpsuit pockets, head straight to The Locker to buy a survey scanner, an item you’ve had your eyes on for quite some time.

To be continued…

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Battle for Survival
In which our heroes learn about natural selection.

Our Cast of Players:

  • Alexei Makarov (Ian): Human Expert – Technician/Adventurer, level 1.
  • Christian (Craig): Human Psychic – Adventurer/Psychic Researcher, level 1.
  • Hilton “Hiltie” Jones (Max): Human Expert – Biotech Crew/Pilot, level 1.
  • Jonah Priest (Alan): Human Warrior – Security Crew/Ground Forces, level 1.
  • Lazarus Morgenstern (Dave): Human Expert – Noble/Adventurer, level 1.
  • Munroe (Ricky): Human Warrior – Soldier/Merc, level 1.

What Happened:

With no opportunity to reload his rashly fired shotgun, Priest drops it and pulls out his staff, whirling it around his head in a display of some considerable skill. Unimpressed by this, the Chittik now carrying Lazarus’ revolver levels it and fires a single shot at Priest, dropping him in one, and then turns to Hiltie with scarcely a look backwards. With three of the six of you now down, including your two combat hardened veterans, the situation is looking dire indeed.

Hiltie backs off, taking up position between the Chittik and the fallen Munroe, and readies his own revolver. He fires but misses, cursing.

Hitherto, Christian has been reluctant to reveal his talents in public but desperation is the master of necessity and he concentrates, beads of sweat popping from his forehead. There is a sudden “fwap” sound and an imploding puff of air is sucked towards where he was standing as he flickers from view and reappears on the other side of Priest, displacing another wave of air down the passageway. He kneels and presses a palm to each of Priest’s temples sending flickers of psychic energy through the tendrils of the man’s neural pathways, seeking to find and fan the flame of his life essence. Priest is too badly wounded for Christian’s novice level command of biopsionics to help and he reluctantly breaks contact, looking desperately at Hiltie for help.

Hiltie is in no position to lend his undoubtedly needed medical skills to anyone at the moment. The other Chittik is bearing down on him out of the barracks, and this one has Lazarus’ ornate monoblade dagger in one of its claws. The mandibles click closer and closer, metallic smelling drool dribbling down over the Chittik’s chest as it raises the blade high with a triumphal rattle. There is a whining hum rising in pitch that is cut off with a bang that rattles his ear drums and the Chittik’s chest explodes in a shower of green gore, spraying all over Hiltie. He looks behind himself in shock and sees Alexei standing in the passageway with Munroe’s beloved Beth in his outstretched hands, looking at it with an “I didn’t know it could do that” look on his face.

Hiltie nods his heartfelt thanks and immediately sets to work on Priest, slapping a Lazarus patch on his wound. Unseen by him, another Chittik rushes out of the barracks and lunges at Hiltie’s back, but Alexei, now exultant in his role as ruthless gun slinger sees the Chittik cross his line of fire and coolly squeezes Beth’s trigger once more, totally blowing the Chittik away. He mimes a blowing of the smoke away from the barrel (totally unnecessary of course on an accelerator pistol) and tries to twirl the pistol into an imaginary holster before dropping it clumsily on the floor.

Hiltie, the consummate professional, ignores the commotion behind him and continues to work on Priest, pulling him back from the brink. Satisfied he has done the best that he can, he turns his attention to the fallen Munroe, while Alexei and Christian rush into the barracks and find Lazarus’ body strewn across one of the beds. He is still alive – barely – and they do they best they can, compressing the wound, until Hiltie arrives in turn to take control.

You take stock, realising how lucky you were in the fight against the Chittik not to have lost at least one of your comrades right here and now. Two days flight away from any kind of medical facilities at all, very far from out of the woods, and it is touch and go as to whether your three casualties are all going to make it. Hiltie takes command and decides there and then that your only option is to abandon the exploration of this tomb and head back to Brightside Station.

Ever the scientist though, he insists that you load one of the Chittik bodies onto The Leadbelly as well as your own casualties. As you board, Ranse comes over the PA system once again, and despite the bravado you can hear the concern in his cracked voice: “well, errr, I guess that went even less well than last time…?”

To be continued…

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Misunderstandings
In which our heroes find it all going wrong.

Our Cast of Players:

  • Alexei Makarov (Ian): Human Expert – Technician/Adventurer, level 1.
  • Christian (Craig): Human Psychic – Adventurer/Psychic Researcher, level 1.
  • Hilton “Hiltie” Jones (Max): Human Expert – Biotech Crew/Pilot, level 1.
  • Jonah Priest (Alan): Human Warrior – Security Crew/Ground Forces, level 1.
  • Lazarus Morgenstern (Dave): Human Expert – Noble/Adventurer, level 1.
  • Munroe (Ricky): Human Warrior – Soldier/Merc, level 1.

What Happened:

You successfully unload all of the gear from the store room and transfer it to the large room with all the hammocks. Once you have it there, you decide the best move is probably to take it all back to The Leadbelly and Hiltie starts to load up your net sample bags. Few of you are keen on carrying any of it though lest you meet trouble on the way and the burden falls to Hiltie and Alexei to drag it all, bumping along the ground.

Munroe leads you back to the shuttle by the exact route you came, resisting the urges of others to do a little exploring along the way. Once you have your retrieved items safely stowed, he relaxes a little. Returning to the ante chamber beyond the airlock, he ventures a little way down the bronze passageway to the right. It looks to lead on to a large chamber and Munroe swears he can see some sort of vegetation in the distance.

He calls the rest of you this direction and leads you off down the passageway, Beth drawn and ready for some action. The room is large, well lit, and humid. Wildly extravagant blooms of red and orange and purple hang from fruited vines in a profusion of colours and smells. A narrow, winding path leading through the thick foliage toward the sole visible exit on the left hand wall. Several pieces of discarded fruit lie on and around the path.

Beautiful though the sight is, it is somewhat disconcerting in its incongruity to many of you and a reluctance to cross develops. Munroe overcomes this with some straight talking and leads you across to the single exit. The passageway beyond leads to an octagonal room. Four of the walls have doors in them, three have exit passageways, and one is blank. Choosing the nearest door, Munroe opens it and checks above the frame before assessing the contents of the room beyond. It is small, has five walls, and no other exits.

In the centre of the room are two pods made from a blackened metal of spidery construction. They both have a bifurcated folding lid that is neatly peeled back and look large enough to hold a human sized figure. The walls of the room are the usual bronze panels worked with Ushan tomb decorations. Leaning over very cautiously on one foot, with Beth in hand, Munroe checks the content of the pods. Both are empty.

He breathes out slowly in relief. Other than the pods there is nothing else in the room. Returning to the octagonal chamber he checks the other three doors. Behind each is an identical five walled room with two pods in the centre. All of the pods are open, and all of them are empty. Alexei examines them and is mystified by their purpose. However they are manufactured, of that he is certain.

Deciding to put some distance between yourself and the sinister looking pods, Munroe leads you along the left hand passageway from this room. It seems to be one of the longer ones you have seen and after 50 metres or so you come to a door in the right hand wall while the passageway continues in front of you. Alexei and Lazarus take up positions to either side of the door, the former with the instapanel in hand, while Munroe carefully and quietly opens the door.

Beyond lies a rectangular room containing half a dozen low, circular nests. On four of them lie Chittik, seemingly asleep on their bellies. Munroe signals you all to be quiet and he and Lazarus stealthily enters the room. Some sixth sense disturbs one of the Chittik and it sits up with considerable grace for its clumsy looking bulk and swivels its multi-faceted eyes around to Munroe.

It calls out in a chittering voice to its fellows, who also bestir themselves and then, with some clicking of mandibles, speaks in disjointed but recognisable English to Munroe, who is temporarily frozen into immobility at this turn of events. It asks if you are pirates and Lazarus replies enigmatically that you are here to help. The rest of them raise themselves and a couple exit through the door and into the corridor where the rest of you are. Munroe isn’t too happy about this but he doesn’t really know what to do about it.

They ask if you will help them in their struggle against the Ushans, who they tell you are dangerous and evil escapees who must be recaptured before they kill everyone in the complex. Lazarus cannot help himself and asks the Chittik to “take me to your leader”. The Chittik disclaim knowledge of where any leader is and reassert that you are pirates. Priest denies this and one of the Chittik accuses him of lying. Then, for some reason best known only to Priest, he raises his shotgun and blows the offending Chittik’s head clean off, spraying most of you in the passageway with green gore.

There is a stunned moment of silence as the Chittik who has been thrown against the wall by the blast slides to the floor and then all hell breaks loose. The two Chittik still in the room launch themselves at Munroe and Lazarus in a desperate battle for survival. Munroe fires his pistol into the ceiling to try and intimidate them but things have now gone far beyond that and the two are soon engaged in frantic hand-to-hand combat and are quickly over-powered by the stronger aliens and left for dead. One of them relieves Lazarus of his revolver and shoots it out into the passageway at Alexei, narrowly missing.

The Chittik still alive in the passageway claws at Priest, wounding him, but this gives Alexei an opportunity to stab it with his monoblade, which he takes.

To be continued…

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To The Victor...
In which our heroes help themselves.

Our Cast of Players:

  • Alexei Makarov (Ian): Human Expert – Technician/Adventurer, level 1.
  • Christian (Craig): Human Psychic – Adventurer/Psychic Researcher, level 1.
  • Hilton “Hiltie” Jones (Max): Human Expert – Biotech Crew/Pilot, level 1.
  • Jonah Priest (Alan): Human Warrior – Security Crew/Ground Forces, level 1.
  • Lazarus Morgenstern (Dave): Human Expert – Noble/Adventurer, level 1.
  • Munroe (Ricky): Human Warrior – Soldier/Merc, level 1.

What Happened:

With all the Chittik in the room now dead, you quickly search it. Most of the room is a mess of upturned and broken tables and chairs, but five distinct “nests” have been fashioned out of the remnants of some rotted cushions and assorted soft furnishings. On a single upright table sit two crystals, both the size and shape of a human thumb and looking as though they are made from alabaster.

Hiltie picks one of the crystals up and examines it. Turning it over he sees it has a button set into the base. He picks the other one up and finds that to be the same. All of your combined technical minds are unable to fathom the crystals’ function or purpose until Christian takes one and thumbs the button on its base. It lights up throwing out a constant, unwavering blue-white light. It is bright, but not dazzlingly so, powerful enough to light up the room you are in. No amount of button pressing will shut down the light source however, and eventually Christian pockets it, still shining brightly.

You check the Chittik and the equipment they had with them. Each was armed with a single barrelled rifle of alien design, breech loading and large calibre. However it seems they are single shot and, although powerful, somewhat primitive in design compared to your weapons. Each Chittik also had a small pouch of cartridges. One of the Chittik, the one killed by Alexei, is displaying something you have not seen before. Embedded into its carapace is a rectangle of yellow metal containing rows of red and black jewels. It looks like it may be some form of rank insignia. Lazarus digs it out with a knife and notices that this one also has a key card hanging around its neck. He takes both.

You make your way back through the little complex of rooms where the Ushans are anxiously waiting in the passageway. They seem pleased to see you and the visible signs of your success. They point at your weapons again and then somewhere towards the centre of the tomb. It seems to you they have more work in mind. Lazarus is less than impressed with this – he has a burning desire to start exploring the tomb and there is a door opposite that you have no idea what lies beyond. He starts to examine the door and one of the Ushans tugs at his sleeve shaking her head. She points to your weapons and back towards the centre of the tomb again.

Lazarus ignores her and presses the stud next to the door. It slides smoothly open and beyond is a small ‘L’-shaped room. It looks as though it was once a medical centre or sickbay of some kind. Inside are two ruined and decayed couches or possibly operating tables. Some low shelving contains rusted and corroded medical instruments of conventional design: scissors, forceps, dishes, tweezers and so on. A cabinet mounted on the far wall catches Lazarus’ attention and he walks the short distance over to it before opening it. Inside are the rotted remains of some bandage rolls and a small stubby tube he recognises as one of the Ushan cutting torches next to an alien power cell. He takes both, naturally.

Returning to the passageway, Lazarus finds that the rest of you have already set off at the direction of the Ushans. It seems plain to you that they are telling you there are more Chittik at large in the tomb, but they do not know their location. Priest takes it upon himself to lead you back in the direction you came but off to the right this time, thereby confirming that several of the passages do in fact link up. This also reveals a previously undetected and short passageway leading off into unexplored territory and initially to a large square room, probably 15 metres on a side. Ranks of decaying hammocks hang forlornly from the ceiling, some dangling by a single strap, others fallen on the floor.

There are two exits from the large room, passageways leading both left and right. Priest leads you right and along another of the ubiquitous bronze passageways. At the end of this one is a square room, about 10 metres square, with a door in the far left corner. Lining the walls are a number of fragile looking glass benches and in the centre of the room is a statue of an Ushan in elaborate robes and with a high head dress. It is made of shimmerglass and fills the room with a soft radiance.

Beautiful though the statue is, it does not hold Priest’s interest and he heads over to the door in the corner. On the other side is a small square room, no more than 5 metres on a side, with no other visible exits. The contents, however, more than catch his interest and he calls the rest of you inside.

Inside are two racks of shelves, one containing several suits of armour, the other several firearms of various types. Munroe does a quick stock check of the weapons: there are three semi-automatic pistols, a revolver, and a combat shotgun. All of the weapons are loaded, and apart from the revolver, they are all in less than perfect condition, ill-preserved and with signs of corrosion. Munroe would not be happy with using them until he has had the opportunity to strip, clean, polish and fully maintain them. There are also three extra clips of ammunition for the pistols.

On the other rack of shelves are scattered the components of an armoured undersuit, two suits of woven armour, and a combat field uniform. All are in less than prime condition, with tattered and frayed straps. The combat field uniform has a small snake design on it and Hiltie recalls that the pirate vessel that disappeared nineteen years ago was called The Serpent’s Fang.

In the gap between the two racks of shelving is a small stack of decorative serving trays, each one embossed with a relief similar to those you have seen on the walls of the tomb. Adjacent to the trays are six small plastic cases, the size and shape of attache cases. Lazarus picks one of the cases up and examines it. It has a carry handle and is closed with a simple clasp mechanism. They appears to be no lock and so he opens it. It is full with plastic packets of a white powder, and he gives a sharp intake of breath. It looks like refined spectrox to him, a stimulants and alleged geriatric agent banned on many worlds, and worth a small fortune on others. He checks each of the six cases and finds the content of each to be the same.

A lengthy argument breaks out as to whether to start transferring the items you have found to The Leadbelly or to leave them here and collect them later The party of Ushans have not followed you to this place and it seems unlikely that many, if any, of these items could reasonably be claimed by them. The argument rages back and forth and in the end the two points of view compromise on taking the contents of the room closer to the shuttle and stowing them in the large room with all the hammocks.

To be continued…

View
My Enemy's Enemy
In which our heroes take sides.

Our Cast of Players:

  • Alexei Makarov (Ian): Human Expert – Technician/Adventurer, level 1.
  • Christian (Craig): Human Psychic – Adventurer/Psychic Researcher, level 1.
  • Hilton “Hiltie” Jones (Max): Human Expert – Biotech Crew/Pilot, level 1.
  • Jonah Priest (Alan): Human Warrior – Security Crew/Ground Forces, level 1.
  • Lazarus Morgenstern (Dave): Human Expert – Noble/Adventurer, level 1.
  • Munroe (Ricky): Human Warrior – Soldier/Merc, level 1.

What Happened:

Munroe examines the bodies of the three Chittik pushed against the wall and looks at the Ushans with a slightly raised level of respect or, maybe, a somewhat lesser level of disdain. One of Chittik has been shot and the other two were bludgeoned to death.

With your arrival, the Ushans seem in a state of some considerable excitement and again, through gestures, demonstrate their interest in your firearms and their desire to take you somewhere. Before you leave, Hiltie tests the water in the fountain with his bioscanner, which pronounces it safe to drink. Munroe scoops up a handful – it is cool with a slightly metallic taste – and he slings his gear with weary resignation.

You leave the Ushans’ chamber. The six who were originally in there accompany you, leaving the two you rescued behind, and they steer you down the passageway back the way you came. Old habits die hard for Lazarus, and he finds himself creeping down the passageway before stopping at the first door you come to, on the left, checking carefully around its edges and listening. One of the Ushans takes his arm and shakes her head in a negative gesture, before pointing around the corner.

Once you are past the room with the dazzlingly bright crystal pillar and the series of alternating doors beyond it, the Ushans steer you right into an area of the tomb you have not previously entered. After proceeding down 20 metres of so of bronze passageway, it terminates in a pair of doors, one to each side. The lead Ushan points to Munroe’s gun, and then to the door on the left.

Munroe rolls his eyes and sighs, complaining loudly to the rest of you that he did not agree to come along on this mission in order to rescue a bunch of lettuce heads (as he puts it). Nonetheless, he pulls out both Beth and Kate, and takes up a ready position opposite the door. Hiltie unfurls an instapanel, snaps in a power cell, and fashions it into a rough shield shape. He passes it to Lazarus who places it upright just your side of the door before kneeling behind it to hold it in place. This allows Munroe to be shielded from the waist down while still being able to fire over it.

Priest takes a place at Munroe’s side, shotgun cocked and ready, then Munroe nods to Lazarus who presses the pressure stud next to the door. The door slides open and beyond is a small, bare L-shaped room. Two Chittik are in there and both spin around as the door opens. Munroe fires dropping one in mid-turn while the other decides discretion is the better part of valour and flees through a single door on the opposite wall. Priest tries to set off in pursuit but Lazarus and the instapanel shield are blocking the doorway, and so the Chittik shows you a clean pair of claws, the door sliding closed behind it.

Popping his head up from behind the shield, Lazarus sees that the room is now clear and enters, Munroe and Priest behind him. He goes over to the gore splattered body of the Chittik and relieves it of its stun club. Impatient to continue the pursuit, Priest crossed the small room and opens the other door. Beyond lies a short passageway, opening out into a room at which point it has been obstructed by an overturned table acting as a barricade of sorts.

Levelling his shotgun, Priest fires one barrel at the table (and misses) before hollering and charging down the passage, intending to barge though the table. Unfortunately, when he makes contact with it, he discovers that it is made of stone and is sent sprawling over the top of it with bruised shins. The Chittik concealed around the corner steps forward and smashes Priest across the back of the head with its stun club, leaving him dazed and confused. Munroe, hearing the commotion, doubles times it along the passageway and fires a flechette point blank into the Chittik’s face before it can finish Priest off, showering the man with insectoid brain and gore.

Munroe looks around the room checking all the corners and shadows, while Priest recovers his composure. It is a square room with one of the corners cut off by an angled door. Inside the room are two more of the stone tables, both littered with half chewed pieces of fruit, fairly fresh looking. Munroe silently gestures to Lazarus to take up position at the door with the ceraplast shield, although given the commotion stealth now seems largely pointless. Priest reloads his shotgun and takes up position next to Munroe.

With a tap on the shoulder from Munroe, Lazarus triggers the pressure stud and the door slides open. Inside the room beyond are three Chittik, obviously ready and waiting for you, concealed behind a mess of overturned furniture and armed with odd looking projectile weapons. Priest reacts first, letting the nearest one have both barrels from his shotgun, killing it instantly. Lazarus tries a snapshot from around the instapanel shield but his position is too awkward and his shot goes well wide. Munroe, for once, misses also.

There is a large boom in the confined space as the two remaining Chittik fire their odd but primitive looking weapons. One jams instantly, producing no more than a loud noise and some fireworks, the other hefts a large round projectile straight at Munroe that, by some miracle, he manages to dodge.

Sensing that you have them on the back foot and not wanting to lose the initiative, Priest decides against reloading his shotgun and discards it in favour of his staff, leaping into the room. Munroe curses and readjusts his aim, managing to kill the Chittik with the jammed weapon in a single shot. Now, however, with Priest in the room going hand to hand with the remaining Chittik, your firepower advantage is nullified as you dare not risk hitting the big man. The Chittik is a skilled unarmed combatant, and with its multiple limbs easily holds its own against Priest, even beginning to get the upper hand on him.

Munroe curses again, pulling on his kinesis wraps and readying himself for some close up and dirty infighting. Alexei takes out his monoblade dagger and does his best to look threatening and serious. The pair enter the fray against the Chittik and in the confused fight that follows it eventually succumbs to a stab from Alexei, who wipes the gore from his blade with his best “all in a day’s work” body language.

To be continued…

View
The House of Echoes
In which our heroes realise they are very far from alone.

Our Cast of Players:

  • Alexei Makarov (Ian): Human Expert – Technician/Adventurer, level 1.
  • Christian (Craig): Human Psychic – Adventurer/Psychic Researcher, level 1.
  • Hilton “Hiltie” Jones (Max): Human Expert – Biotech Crew/Pilot, level 1.
  • Jonah Priest (Alan): Human Warrior – Security Crew/Ground Forces, level 1.
  • Lazarus Morgenstern (Dave): Human Expert – Noble/Adventurer, level 1.
  • Munroe (Ricky): Human Warrior – Soldier/Merc, level 1.

What Happened:

Expecting to catch a falling body, Lazarus holds his arms out and is startled when the naked Ushan male catches himself mid-fall and then steps out of the upright box. He looks around with fear in his eyes and cowers into the corner, holding his hands up and gabbling in an incomprehensible language.

Lazarus backs off and Christian steps forward, arms spread with palms outwards and with what he hopes is a reassuring smile on his face. He points to each of you in turn, then to himself, then to the Ushan, smiles again and bows his head in greeting. This seems to reassure the Ushan somewhat, who straightens himself up and performs a small bow to Christian himself. He points to himself and says a single word in his strange language, which if you were to write it down in English, would approximate to “Naruma”. His voice itself sounds dry and rustling. You guess this to be the Ushan’s name and each of you points in turn, uttering your own name.

With both parties reassured, the Ushan points to the other upright box and mimes opening gestures. Christian nods and the Ushan steps forward and releases the catches. Inside is a naked female Ushan, also alive, and he helps her out, speaking quickly and quietly to her in reassuring tones, gesturing to each of you in turn.

Munroe is delighted at the discovery of the female, openly wondering to the rest of you what sort of price the pair would fetch as a breeding couple with an alien zoo or research establishment. Perhaps it is as well that the pair cannot understand him, and Christian hurriedly offers the female his jacket, which she accepts with a grateful look.

Lazarus is struck by a sudden inspiration and catching the male’s eye points to a bas-relief of two Ushans bathing. He then points downwards to the water and says in English, “water”. The male looks at where he is pointing and nods in comprehension, uttering a word in his own language. Lazarus shakes his head and points at the bas-relief again and then back to the male again, saying, “water”. The male nods and struggles to repeat what Lazarus has just said. It is barely comprehensible and he struggles to approximate the sound with his alien vocal cords, but it is a start. Lazarus tries a few more of the engravings, attempting to elicit Ushan attempts at the English words “star”, “flower”, and “hand”.

Lazarus now pulls out the white disk with black segment that he retrieved from the husk of the desiccated Chittik. He shows it to the pair. The female takes it, places it to her forehead, then points at an engraving of a star with a happy face. Lazarus is mystified. It is now the turn of the Ushans to try and ask some questions. They point at the Chittik’s body and then back to you, spreading their hands. Munroe steps forward and unholsters Beth, pulling back and releasing the slide with a click and a smile. The pair nod their understanding and point at the weapon, miming shooting gestures at the Chittik, then beckoning “follow us” type gestures.

You discuss the situation at length, while the Ushan pair approach the two tubs of soil and hold hands, rocking backwards and forwards in grief and making an odd keening noise. Eventually you decide to go with them and see where they take you. However, rather than following them, Priest mimes that he will lead the way and they will direct him.

And so it is. Priest leads the way through the bronze passageways with the Ushan pair right behind him. The rest of you follow behind them, with Munroe bringing up the rear, checking behind you constantly. You progress through what seems like a maze of passageways, but the pair obviously know where they are going as they direct Priest without hesitation. You pass many doors, but apart from the occasional bas-relief on the passageway doors, you see no sign of anything or anybody else until after a good 15 minutes travel you see a source of incredibly bright light ahead and the passageway opens into a perfectly square room, some 15 metres on a side.

A pillar of brilliant crystal glitters with near-blinding radiance at the centre of this large room. It seems not to bother the Ushans in the slightest, if anything they seem invigorated by it but it is so dazzling that you have to shade your eyes. The floor is covered with piles of crumbled, circular cushions and the Ushans direct you straight across to the other side where another passageway exits. They urge Priest on and as you round a corner you can see why. At the end of the passageway there is another square chamber, this one with no exits, and inside are six more Ushans, three males and three females. The groups rush towards each other and embrace warmly, followed by much pointing, gesturing, and chattering at yourselves.

You hang back, not wanting to intrude on the joyful reunion, and survey the room carefully. In the corner of the passageway, a mirror has been carefully placed to allow those in the chamber to see anyone approaching from the room with the crystal pillar. The chamber itself is high and vaulted, adorned with some of the most elaborate bas-reliefs you have seen so far and, like many of the others, is well lit from an indeterminate source. A dais at the far end hold an empty glass coffin, reminiscent of the one you found in the ice tomb. An ornate bronze fountain on one wall tinkles with the splash of water.

The bodies of three Chittik have been pushed against the other wall and this causes some eyebrow raising. Looking more closely at the new Ushans, you can see that these ones are armed with an assortment of improvised clubs, and that three of them seem to have firearms of an unfamiliar design.

To be continued…

View
Unearthing The Past
In which our heroes do a little digging.

Our Cast of Players:

  • Alexei Makarov (Ian): Human Expert – Technician/Adventurer, level 1.
  • Christian (Craig): Human Psychic – Adventurer/Psychic Researcher, level 1.
  • Hilton “Hiltie” Jones (Max): Human Expert – Biotech Crew/Pilot, level 1.
  • Jonah Priest (Alan): Human Warrior – Security Crew/Ground Forces, level 1.
  • Lazarus Morgenstern (Dave): Human Expert – Noble/Adventurer, level 1.
  • Munroe (Ricky): Human Warrior – Soldier/Merc, level 1.

What Happened:

With breathable air and light, and clear visibility in all directions, you feel a lot more confident about this expedition than your previous one to the ice tomb. Priest gives an experimental rap on the bronze coloured wall with the butt of his shotgun and a metallic sound rings out. Munroe shushes him with a cross look and, unholstering Beth, leads the way down the passageway leading off to the left with an unrepentant Priest bringing up the rear.

The passageway is perfectly straight, walls lined with the bronze coloured metal and after 15 metres or so you come across an identical passageway leading off to the right at a perfect 90 degree angle. You ignore this and carry on, another 15 metres bringing you to a square shaped room. There is another passageway leading to the right out of the room and the two opposite walls of the room itself are divided into a number of open booths, six in total. Each of the booths features a bas-relief of the humanoid figures in a variety of reverential poses – kneeling, praying, hands raised – and the twin suns feature prominently once more. Other than this, the chamber is empty and you are left none the wiser as to its intended function or usage.

The passageway leading out of this chamber carries on straight as far as you can see, and Munroe leads you this way. A short way down the passage, he spots a door on the left hand wall, bronze and covered in alien script. He slows down and motions to the rest of you to move in close to the wall and take it carefully. He and Priest take up flanking positions while Alexei stands in front of it, holding Hiltie’s revolver (which he “forgot” to return after your expedition to the ice tomb) in one shaky hand. He presses the pressure stud located next to the door, which slides smoothly to one side.

Standing on the other side of the door with its back to him is an upright beetle-like creature, some 1.5 metres tall. It has a shiny black carapace and 6 limbs. Alexei raises the revolver and pulls the trigger but, as a consequence of his lack of experience with firearms, there is only a sharp click as the hammer falls on the empty chamber that Hiltie habitually leaves as a safety precaution. The creature spins, sees Alexei pointing the revolver at it, and its mandibles clack and ooze viscous liquid. It is clutching a stubby rod in one of its claws and in response it clubs Alexei with it. There is a crackle of discharging energy and Alexei is thrown backwards across the corridor into the far wall, before sliding down it, unconscious. This clears the way for Munroe who coolly fires a single round from his mag pistol directly into the creature’s head, which explodes in a shower of green gore and chitin, the body toppling backward. Priest spots a similar creature on the far side of the room beyond leave quickly down a passageway opposite the door, propelled at great speed on its multiple limbs.

Priest is about to set off in pursuit when Munroe stops him with an outstretched hand and a shake of his head. He nimbly steps into the room beyond the door and to one side, turning around the check all the angles. It is clear and he gestures the rest of you to enter. The room is a perfect square, 10 metres on a side, with a passageway exiting opposite the door. It is empty and here the bronze walls are blank and featureless.

Hiltie checks Alexei and finds him unconscious and with no visible wounds on his body, almost as if he were in a deep sleep. He surmises that the attacker used a weapon somewhat similar in operation to a stun baton. Christian is intrigued and takes the stubby rod, while Hiltie satisfies himself that the Alexei has been subjected to some kind of neural shock and should recover consciousness of his own accord. He retrieves his revolver, checks it carefully, and then holsters it. Priest then slings Alexei unceremoniously over his shoulder, fireman’s lift style.

Lazarus examines the body. There is no doubt at all that it is organic and it seems to him that the robots you met in the ice tomb were modelled after this creature, with a clear resemblance although no possibility of mistaking one for the other under good conditions of visibility. It seems to Lazarus that this may be one of the believed long extinct Chittik of legend that Marius Rochambeau told you about. Hiltie is concerned that your response to first meeting one of the creatures was violence and that you may have jeopardised any chance of a peaceful first contact with what is clearly a new and important species. Priest feels no remorse and is not afraid to say so as legend has it that the Chittik used sentient beings as both slave labour and a food source.

Either way, you have no desire to turn back now and decide to follow in the path of the Chittik that fled from you. Munroe leads the way once more across the room and into the passageway opposite, the only other exit from this room. It is short, less than 10 metres, and opens into another bronze chamber divided into booths, seven this time, and with a passageway exiting to the left.

Each booth contains a low bier and on top of each lies one of the beetle-men. Munroe pulls up short and watches carefully. A harsh, acidic smell assails his nostrils. There is no reaction from within the room and he carefully steps to the closest booth and delivers a sharp kick to the Chittik therein. The side caves in with a sound of snapping twigs – it is no more than a dried husk. He quickly checks the other six and finds them all to be in the same desiccated state.

A single small, white disk has been placed on top of three of the hollowed exoskeletons. Munroe kneels to examine one of them. It is about 10cm in diameter and 1cm thick and has one of the alien power cells inserted into it. He reaches out and takes it and it comes away easily but with a slight adhesion. He tosses it to Lazarus who catches it and turns it over in his hands, examining it closely. As he does so, a wedge of the circle, representing roughly one tenth of it, turns from white to black. Lazarus is somewhat startled, but he pockets it and then retrieves the other two.

Once more, Munroe leads you across the room and along the single exit passageway. It is abou 20 metres long and then turns 90 degrees to the left. At the corner is another of the bronze doors. You move cautiously down the passage and Munroe checks carefully around the corner. It terminates in a dead end about 10 metres further on. The door now in front of him bears bas-reliefs of two humanoids revelling in a rain shower.

He signals to Priest to come forward from the rear and then kneels in front of the door, mag pistol at the ready. Priest stands behind him and then leaves over his shoulder to press the pressure stud, causing the door to slide smoothly open. Both men fall backwards in shock as an ankle-depth swarm of cockroach-like creatures tumbles out and crawl voraciously over them. Tiny mandibles click in painful bites, but they are not strong enough to pierce the skin and after a moment of panic the two right themselves with brushes and stamps as the swarm pours up the passageway and past the rest of you.

Breathing a sigh of relief, Munroe nods to Priest who checks around one angle of the door while Munroe does the same for the other. The room is L-shaped and divided into booths, and the lighting is more subdued than that you have experienced so far, casting long shadows into the corners. Munroe darts across to the nearest corner booth and spins around as he reaches his destination. It is as well that he did so as bearing down on him from one of the darker corners is one of the beetle-men. There is a pulsing hum from Beth as the power pack charges up the accelerator and the discharged flechette rips right through the creature causing huge damage. It falls to the floor in a green splattered heap at Munroe’s feet.

The rest of you now enter to explore the room. Once more, the room contains seven booths. The three on the shorter arm of the ‘L’ are empty apart from a faucet in each. The first two on the longer arm of the ‘L’ each contain a long tub filled with earth. The second two each contain an upright coffin-sized opaque box, with small perforations at foot level, and a red rubber tube running from the faucet into the top of the box somewhere.

Hiltie probes the soil in the nearest tub and quickly finds something hard. He scoops some of the soil away and finds a length of what looks like thigh bone protruding. He scoops away some more and then pulls back with a look of disgust on his face. There is a decomposing body buried in the soil. Reluctantly he checks the other and finds the same, another partially decomposed body.

Lazarus approaches the first upright box and gives an experimental tap on the opaque surface. It feels like plastic. He jumps back in shock as a tap comes from inside the box. He looks around for guidance and the rest of you back off a little while encouraging him to investigate further. He quickly locate hinges at the side of the box and a pair of simple latches holding the front panel closed at foot and hear level. He opens both and carefully starts to open the panel. All of a sudden it pops open and inside he sees a naked male humanoid with leafy head growths and occasional symmetrical patches of bark-like skin. The skin colouration is a pale yellow-green and a red tube is inserted into one side of the mouth. The eyes flick open and the figure lurches forward towards Lazarus, the tube pulling free from its mouth causing water to spurt out.

To be continued…

View
The Bronze Tomb
In which our heroes set off on the trail of the Serpent's Fang.

Our Cast of Players:

  • Alexei Makarov (Ian): Human Expert – Technician/Adventurer, level 1.
  • Christian (Craig): Human Psychic – Adventurer/Psychic Researcher, level 1.
  • Hilton “Hiltie” Jones (Max): Human Expert – Biotech Crew/Pilot, level 1.
  • Jonah Priest (Alan): Human Warrior – Security Crew/Ground Forces, level 1.
  • Lazarus Morgenstern (Dave): Human Expert – Noble/Adventurer, level 1.
  • Munroe (Ricky): Human Warrior – Soldier/Merc, level 1.

What Happened:

Marius’ news of the possible location of an unplundered sky tomb is of great interest to you all and you immediately start to plan for an expedition. Checking the co-ordinates and trajectory with the station crew reveals that there is a large asteroid in Hard Light’s shattered debris rim matching that profile so at least that part of the story is true.

Looking to economise on some of the expenses you approach Ranse Hardlee with a proposal to ferry you out there for a cut of the proceeds from any artifacts successfully retrieved and sold to Marius. Although happy with the idea of taking you out to the rim once more, he looks uncomfortable at the idea of working for “shares” and tells you he will have to discuss it with his wife, Marion, first. As you suspected might be the case, after little more than an hour has passed he gets back in touch with you and tells you she wasn’t haven’t any of it. Hard cash only and the usual fee of Cr 250 for the round trip will apply. After some persuasion, he does agree to extend the maximum stopover time from 24 hours to 48 hours for no extra cost, giving you an extra day for explorations and making it a 6 day round trip in total. He will go no further though. He is not willing to further risk the shielding on The Leadbelly and hence his life for any price.

Preparations for the trip continue apace and having no wish to repeat your first trip out where you subsisted for the best part of a week on the potato crisps and fizzy drinks provided by Ranse, you purchase some more supplies in the form of ration packs, waxed cartons of water, and some fresh items, primarily fruit, from the Heavenly Hash. Hiltie, impressed with the utility of the instapanel in the ice tomb seeks out Roland Lomax at The Locker and buys a couple more.

So it is that within 24 hours of meeting with Marius that you are once more ensconced in The Leadbelly’s drone retrieval bay for the interminably tedious and uncomfortable trip out to the far reaches of the Hard Light system. Ranse gives you plenty of warning when you are coming up to the asteroid and you check weapons and don vacc suits before crowding round the shielded quartz observation slit which floods the compartment with hard, red light when the shutter is pulled back. The asteroid itself looks unremarkable – a large, rocky mass some 500 metres in diameter pitted and scarred with innumerable impact craters, the pitch darkness of their furthest reaches in sharp contrast to the harshly illuminated portions in the full glare of The Beast.

The Leadbelly swings around to the shadowed side and right on cue an airlock door built directly into the side of the asteroid hoves into view. Unlike the ice tomb, this one is a soft bronze in colour and is split diagonally across the middle. Ranse moves in close and extends The Leadbelly’s docking umbilical which connects with a reassuring thunk.

Eager to escape from the confines of the drone retrieval bay, you snap suit visors closed and crowd into the airlock before entering the short umbilical. As with the ice tomb there is a slowly blinking light next to the doors and a simple pressure stud. There are engravings on the airlock door of two humanoid figures in profile, more outlines than detailed depictions, both with arms outstretched towards a pair of suns above them. You are somewhat reminded of carvings on the walls of Egyptian tombs.

Hiltie presses the pressure stud and after a delay or thirty seconds or so the doors slide open smoothly to top left and bottom right, with none of the juddering or labouring you witnessed in the ice tomb. Beyond lies a small cube shaped airlock chamber, roughly three metres on a side, with another pair of diagonally divided bronze doors at the far end and a series of vents at floor level. The airlock is brightly illuminated but there is no visible light source.

You all squeeze in and Hiltie presses the pressure stud on the reverse side of the entrance doors, which slide smoothly closed. You wait with some trepidation for a few seconds, remembering the deathly cold water of the ice tomb, before becoming aware of the sound of pumps as the airlock pressurises, this time with air.

After a total of thirty seconds, the pumps stop and the inner doors slide open to reveal a ‘U’-shaped ante-chamber with squared off sides. The walls look to be constructed from a bronze coloured metal alloy and are covered with engravings of Ushans in the pride of life on a world with two suns, each sub-texted with script. They are engaged in a variety of pastoral activities – tending plants, building structures, beguiling lovers, and conversing in gardens. The structure itself is much more squared than in the ice tomb, and the glyphs are a straightened, simplified form of the Second Dynasty writing you have already seen. Again, the room is brightly lit but with no apparent source. There are two bronze lined passageways about two metres wide leading off to the left and right from each arm of the ‘U’.

Christian checks the readings on his vacc suit monitors and they tell him that the air is at least nominally breathable. There is some nervousness about opening up your suits so Christian simply unseals his helmet and slides up the visor, taking a deep breath to demonstrate its safety. The air has a faintly metallic taste to it.

You relax a little and all unseal your helmets. Munroe, Lazarus, and Christian strip their vacc suits off to increase their mobility and stack them neatly by the airlock door. Priest, Alexei, and Hiltie are more circumspect and opt to keep theirs on, albeit with visors raised. Lazarus takes a short video recording of the ante-chamber and the engravings for posterity, sweeping the camera around your group as you all wave and smile into the lens. Lazarus gives a thumbs up from the other side of the camera. This is going to be a much easier prospect than the dreadful ice tomb.

To be continued…

View
Return to the Ice Tomb
In which our heroes go back for more.

Our Cast of Players:

  • Alexei Makarov (Ian): Human Expert – Technician/Adventurer, level 1.
  • Christian (Craig): Human Psychic – Adventurer/Psychic Researcher, level 1.
  • Hilton “Hiltie” Jones (Max): Human Expert – Biotech Crew/Pilot, level 1.
  • Jonah Priest (Alan): Human Warrior – Security Crew/Ground Forces, level 1.
  • Lazarus Morgenstern (Dave): Human Expert – Noble/Adventurer, level 1.
  • Munroe (Ricky): Human Warrior – Soldier/Merc, level 1.

What Happened:

As before, the trip back to the ice tomb is monotonous but eventful. Ranse docks The Leadbelly and extends the short umbilical to the airlock door, with its small winking light. Knowing what to expect this time, you all enter the airlock and patiently wait while it floods with icy cold water allowing you to enter into the tomb itself, suit lights darting around through the murky gloom.

You ready the spotlights with UV filters in place, hoping this will render them invisible to any of the robots remaining within and stand by with the UV spotlight, which you hope will blind them. Hiltie inserts a power cell into the instapanel he is carrying and it expands into a two metre square and one centimetre thick sheet of ceraplast. While it is still soft he moulds it onto the rough shape of a shield and then lets it harden. His idea is to use it to aid passage of the deadly crystal room (as you surmised, Director Dutta was certainly not about to lend you one of Brightside’s shielded suits again after the state you brought it back in) and he passes it to Christian. Even he can manage the five kilogram weight.

The ante-chamber beyond the airlock is as you left it, icy walls with elegantly curved, fragile, glass-like benches along each wall. There is the hint of the bas-reliefs buried deep within the ice and Alexei tries to use the laser cutter to dig through to them. As before it will not work and he concludes that some safety mechanism prevents it from being used underwater.

Your immediate objective is to retrieve the sarcophagus with the preserved body inside, so you consult the photograph of the map you found on your previous visit and plan the shortest route. Munroe takes point duty with Jonah bringing up the rear, and you proceed cautiously and with discipline, aware that in the silted water and with the curved passageways you will little warning of any hostiles.

As well as your cautious approach, the going is slow and clumsy but you reach the chamber with the dais without incident. The mineral encrusted pseudo-quartz sarcophagus is still there and Alexei peers through the gap you scraped on your last visit. The woman is inside, resplendent in her robes of myriad tiny glass-like threads that channel the ambient light into a luminous halo surrounding her. For all the world she looks as though she is asleep. Alexei gives an experimental lift at one end of the sarcophagus and finds that it is not fixed to the dais. In fact, the combination of air inside and the buoyancy of the water make it a fairly easy albeit clumsy task and he waves to Lazarus to take the other end.

Manhandling the sarcophagus, you return to the room with its macabre frieze of bodies embedded in the icy walls and deposit it carefully there before proceeding to the vortex room. The drain is still blocked by the body you stuffed into it and you proceed through the room without incident and down to the library wherein the slowly swirling vortex of plastipaper remains.

You grab a few sheets of the plastipaper and, emboldened, start to fan out into the room seeking to grab more for your sample bags. Visibility is restricted to little more than a metre and Munroe has no warning as a sleek black shape scythes down from above and slashes him with its steel claws before with a flick it is gone down the tall passageway above the heads of the tail enders. He staggers backwards, wounded but conscious, and Hiltie quickly applies suit patches to the tears.

Not at all put off by the ambush, Lazarus follows the swirl of the current spiralling into the centre of the room and discovers another drain, this one largely clogged by paper, before wading back out again. Nobody feels like trying to track down your assailant and so you decide to return to the The Leadbelly with what you primarily came for, the crystal sarcophagus and its mysterious occupant.

You load the sarcophagus aboard and Hiltie, suffering from a bad attack of the creeps, secures it with several lengths of safety line. Then, despite having been at your destination for little more than an hour, you signal to Ranse that you are ready to leave and he undocks The Leadbelly for the two day trip back to Brightside station.

On arrival, you meet up with Marius Rochambeau once more and tell him about your findings. He is mildly interested in the sheets of plastipaper, which confirm his previous assessment of the tomb as dating from the Second Dynasty of the Ushans, but not enough to want to buy any of them. He is academically interested in the body but financially more so in your description of the robe it was wearing. However, as none of you want to open the sarcophagus at this time he leaves the decision to you with a shrug. You know where he is should you change your minds.

Just as you are about to leave his quarters, he remembers something and calls you back. For once he has something that you may be interested in. While you were out at the ice asteroid a shuttle arrived from the Empty Graves artists’ colony on one of its semi-regular resupply trips. He got to chatting with one of the shuttle crew in the Midnight Sun over a few drinks who tried to sell him some information regarding a previously unknown sky tomb. Marius made it clear to the man that he only dealt in hard artifacts that Stoltmann & Haar would be able to resell on the antiquities market but admits that he had you in mind when he parted with a few credits (out of his own pocket, he says pointedly) and a round of drinks.

The crewman claimed that they had found a survival pod drifting in space near the colony and on opening it up they discovered a long dead corpse inside. This was remarkable enough, but notes found on the body spoke of the last voyage of the Serpent’s Fang, a pirate ship destroyed in system some 19 years ago. It seemed that the unfortunate was a member of the pirate crew and that the ship had stopped briefly at what must have been a sky tomb before
rendezvousing with its doom. The notes spoke of a cache of plunder that it left there and gave the co-ordinates and orbital trajectory of the asteroid within which the tomb was located. Obviously, were the reports to prove to be accurate, Marius would be interested in buying any relics of note that were retrieved from the tomb.

To be continued…

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