Mr G's Stars Without Number Campaign

Endings and Beginnings
In which our heroes get the reward they deserve.

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 2.
  • 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 are all happy to put the bizarre and sinister Empty Graves behind yourselves although less than delighted at the prospect of another two day trip back to Brightside crammed into the drone retrieval bay of the Leadbelly. At least the trip passes uneventfully even if interminably and on arrival it seems strange that you would be beginning to welcome your room in the transients’ quarters as home, but you do.

Once you have stowed all your gear away and availed yourself of some refreshments in the Midnight Sun and some real food (tank grown meat substitutes aside) in the Heavenly Hash, attention turns to selling the shimmerglass icons you bought from Ramsley. You wait until what passes for normal office hours aboard Brightside and then contact Marius Rochambeau who offers to meet you in the Heavenly Hash for a late breakfast. He is wearing sunglasses and looks somewhat the worse for wear, limiting himself to a large cup of coffee and a bread roll with some jam. Apparently one of the miners hosted a hydroponic hooch party last night. He examines the icons you have brought back and, pointing out their more primitive lines, pronounces them to date from the Ushan First Dynasty some six to eight thousand years ago. After some good natured minor haggling, you settle on a price of Cr 400 for the quartet.

Business concluded, you spend the rest of the day at leisure, even going so far as to take a picnic lunch to the park plaza along with some of the other office workers of Hiltie’s acquaintance. According to the omni-present digital readouts displayed in the atria on every deck it is 23 days until the next novium transport (and the eagerly awaited bank auditor) is due to arrive and over lunch you discuss what to do in that time.

Ever the pragmatist, Munroe is very keen that you avoid getting involved in any local politics and entanglements and for once he gets general agreement to that sentiment. You decide to keep a low profile, stay in your quarters as much as possible, pick up whatever gainful employment is going otherwise, and basically wait it out until the novium transport arrives.

Hiltie manages to secure another short contract with Yash Dutta, this time rebuilding the flight systems on the novium retrieval drones. Due to the intense radiation put out by the Beast, each drone can only make a limited number of flights before its on-board guidance software needs to be reinstalled and the director is happy to relieve one of his technicians of the chore. Lazarus continues to work as a cleaner in the Midnight Sun, Hiltie and Priest pick up some labouring work at the refinery. And so it is that you pass into a steady routine of work for those that have it, eating and sleeping.

Quite early on in this process of trying to integrate yourselves into the normal day to day life of Brightside station, Priest is intercepted as he comes off shift at the refinery by a white man with close cropped hair and beard peppered with grey. He is in good shape and clearly takes care of himself. He is wearing a neatly pressed security uniform and his name tag identifies him as Livingston Roy, the security chief you have heard about. Hanging from his belt are a variety of pouches and the usual paraphernalia of handcuffs, pepper spray, and stun baton, rounded off by a holstered heavy calibre revolver.

Roy gets straight to the point. He has heard that Priest has been asking questions about the station’s safety procedures and backup systems and he doesn’t like strangers sticking their noses into places where they have no business. Priest maintains his innocence and claims he was simply being prudent in familiarising himself with the station’s emergency equipment. Roy is partially satisfied but warns Priest that if someone else has reason in bringing his activities to security’s attention then he will have no compunction in having him removed from the station. Priest departs with a defiant “whatever” air and heads back to the transients’ quarters for a shower.

Days of similar routine turn into weeks and you begin to get some kind of idea on the difficulty of keeping the station staff occupied and out of mischief for extended periods on a remote and isolated mining station. You quickly sink into a routine in which the major variables are what film is showing in the small station cinema and what group of staff has dared to try and entertain the patrons at the Midnight Sun.

As the day when the novium transport is expected to arrive draws closer, there is a mounting sense of anticipation among the station staff. Not only does it make a welcome break in the routine and a few new faces around the place, but many are hoping it will mark the end of the longer shifts the director has instituted and that the pace will return to a more normal one. There is no way of knowing for sure when exactly the transport will arrive as the spike drive paths between systems are constantly shifting and the navigator can sometimes be at the mercy of dangerous and unpredictable energy fluxes. Even after the transport has drilled into the outer rim of the Hard Light system, communications are so disrupted by the Beast that only when it gets close enough to use a comm laser will you know it is due to arrive, and that will be as little as an hour’s notice.

As it happens, the novium transport arrives slightly earlier than expected and, as soon as word gets around that it is shortly due to dock a small group of off duty workers, including Yash Dutta and several of the section chiefs, assembles outside the docking bay, plus yourselves. The novium transport is roughly the size of a frigate, just able to fit inside Brightside’s pressurised docking bay. You do not have to wait long before the airlock is released and the first out is a portly man in a suit with a briefcase, clearly the bank auditor. Accompanying him is the transport’s captain and a team of four uniformed security men armed with laser pistols.

Yash Dutta steps forward to formally welcome the auditor to Brightside station on behalf of all the crew and the two shake hands. The director ushers the auditor away to the station offices, Roland Lomax following close behind, and more crew disembark from the transport – cargo handlers mainly but also some technicians and flight crew no doubt eager to escape the confines of their ship after the long flight in. With the initial excitement over, the small crowd disperses.

Roughly an hour later, you are quite surprised to hear the station PA system crackle into life and Roland Lomax’s distinctive Scottish burr address the entire crew. He announces that with immediate effect and on the orders of the bank auditor Yash Dutta has been suspended from duty as the director of Brightside station. Elections will be held to select an interim director until a permanent replacement is appointed by the bank.

You make your way up to the station administration offices on Middeck and find that many of the station’s crew have had the same idea, assembling in the atrium to find out what is going on. There is quite a crowd there by the time the bank auditor comes out of the office block with Yash Dutta in tow escorted by two of the transport’s security guards. Bringing up the rear is a very smug looking Roland Lomax.

Livingston Roy and several of his security team are present and they push their way through the crowd, Roy shouting about how this cannot be allowed. The guards escorting Dutta become tense and draw their pistols, Roy’s team doing likewise. At this moment Yash Dutta intervenes, ordering Roy to stand down. “We’ve been through too much together, Livingston,” he says. “I’m old and tired, and I don’t want you to die for my sins.” Livingston Roy lowers his pistol in confusion and the moment of defiance passes as Yash Dutta is led away under arrest to the novium transport.

The bank auditor calls out to the crowd that an election will be held shortly to select an interim director and that selection will be ratified (or otherwise) by the next transport to arrive. He asks all of the crew to assemble in the park plaza in two hours time where the vote will be conducted. The crowd starts to break up into huddles of speculative gossip and Roland Lomax steps in, saying that the refinery shifts are suspended for the next 24 hours pending the election, but that all pay will still be honoured. Mary Tomlinson looks sideways at Lomax and then chips in stating that a return to 8 hour shifts will recommence thereafter. The auditor looks alarmed but he stays silent as a cheer breaks out from the miners.

After the crowd has dispersed, some looking deeply concerned but others revelling in the opportunities the unexpected holiday has made possible, you take the opportunity to enter the offices. The secretarial staff are there, mostly in a state of confusion, so you breeze past them directly into Dutta’s office, and find the agitated looking auditor in there. Several dataslabs are strewn on the desk and he has a sheaf of reports in one hand. He seems almost welcome of the distraction you are providing but he point blank refuses to answer any questions about what has caused this turn of events.

You get down to business and produce the GMI stock certificate that Abbot Hong gifted to you all those months ago on Chifeng. The auditor expresses surprise at seeing such a piece of history again, and reminds you that GMI collapsed in a fraud scandal 50 years ago and the shares are essentially worthless. The smiles fall from your faces. However, he goes on, a compensation scheme for shareholders was set up and as far as he knows it was never closed down. Your faces light up with smiles again. On the downside the compensation was only a fraction of the face value of the shares themselves and was more of a good will gesture by the bank when it arranged the debt for equity swap and took over the operation of GMI. The smiles are gone again. He takes out a calculator and taps a few keys. He estimates you could be in line for compensation of – the tension rises as you don’t know whether to smile or frown – somewhere in the order of… oh, around about – he taps some keys again – eight thousand credits. It’s beaming smiles all around and the auditor is quick to jump in and tell you that he can authorise that payment as long as you sign papers there and then waiving all future claims and agreeing this is full and final settlement. The only question is who is to sign and Lazarus takes the honour, using his thumb print and a retina scan to authorise the transfer of the money to a credit chip.

As you leave the office block, Lazarus heads off on his own across the atrium to the Midnight Sun. It is crowded and Marion Hardlee is looking greatly harassed. The buzz in the air is a mixture of excitement and anxiety. He spots a miserable looking Livingston Roy sitting on his own in one of the booths, half empty glass in front of him.

Lazarus wanders over and makes a silent “can I join you?” gesture. Roy shrugs and Lazarus seats himself in the booth. Roy is withdrawn and answers Lazarus’ questions in a perfunctory manner as if the man has gone into auto-pilot. He’s not happy with the situation and he fears for the station’s continued existence without Dutta’s firm but fair guidance, especially if Roland Lomax manages to grasp the reigns of power. He doesn’t see there’s anything he can do about it though. He was born on Brightside station shortly after Dutta assumed the directorship 50 years ago and he knows no other home or life. On top of that he would never go against Dutta’s order to stand down. He tells Lazarus that he owes Dutta a great debt. As a boy he was trapped in the refinery during a buffer fluid spill and would have died had Dutta not risked his own life to save him.

Lazarus feels sorry for the man, but there seems to be little he can do to console him, and he pats him sympathetically on the shoulder before leaving and joining the streams of people heading up to Highdeck and the park plaza. Lazarus spots the rest of you assembled at the back of the crowd and joins you, filling you in on events at the Midnight Sun. The auditor arrives soon after and asks the crowd who wishes to nominate and second candidates for the interim directorship. Three people are put forward. Roland Lomax, the cargo chief, Mary Tomlinson, the mining chief, and Jaffa Okoye, the technical chief. To a handful of boos the latter declines to stand although she expresses flattery and gratitude at being nominated.

The matter is resolved with a straightforward show of hands. There is significant support for Mary among the administrative and technical staff, and some of the miners, but there is greater support for Roland Lomax from the refinery and cargo staff, and Lomax carries the day. He is hoisted shoulder high by the refinery staff to cheers, and some hissing.

You slip away from the crowd at the rear and return to your quarters to decide what to do next. It takes you little time. With that fat credit chip burning a hole in your pockets you have no reason to stick around in Hard Light any more, scrabbling for a few credits from the sale of looted artifacts. The opportunities of the entire Hydra sector lie before you. You quickly make contact with the captain of the novium transport and arrange for passage out of the system. The price is eye watering, 500 credits per person, but you could wait for weeks or even months for a free trader to pass through so you agree.

Now the adventure really is about to commence.

To be continued…

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Empty Graves
In which our heroes enter a wretched hive of scum and villainy.

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 2.
  • 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 spend the next few days at Brightside Station wrapped up in the day to day mundaneness of life on a remote mining station. Hiltie assiduously carries out the preparation of the plan for the testing of the disaster recovery procedures for Director Dutta. Priest continues to report to the refinery on a daily basis for his issue of manual labour. The rest of you meander around, going to the Heavenly Hash for your allotted three meals a day, taking in the occasional film showing at the cinema, rolling in and out of the Midnight Sun for a drink, and so on.

In the meantime, you discuss in a leisurely way what you might do next. Get more involved in the political intrigue perhaps, pay a return visit to the Bronze Tomb to see what has befallen the Ushans, or maybe just stay quietly in your quarters waiting for the next novium transport to arrive? Eventually you decide that you have heard enough people mention Empty Graves, the artists’ colony, that it may be worth a visit, if for nothing else than a change of scenery. However, there is also the intriguing information that Roland Lomax has made several journeys out there recently.

You seek out Ranse Hardlee at the Midnight Sun and sound him out about shuttling you out there. For once he is reluctant and awkward – he has clearly not entirely forgiven you for besmirching his reputation when you tried to get him to smuggle the attaché cases for you. He also tells you that Roland Lomax has been pestering him a lot recently to take him out to Empty Graves and that if Lomax is involved in something then Ranse wants nothing to do with it. He runs an honest business, he informs you, with some degree of wounded pride.

It takes a great deal of persuasion and several rounds of drinks before you are able to convince Ranse to take on the charter, but eventually he does. You are left with the distinct impression that you had better not be needing any urgent favours from him in future as he is likely to be less than forthcoming. You set about laying in supplies for the trip straight away, purchasing ration packs, a handful of the essential lazarus patches, and some spare shells for the combat shotgun.

All packed up and ready for as many eventualities that you can think of, you embark aboard the Leadbelly, entering the spartan drone retrieval bay which now seems to you like your home from home. Every trip you find it harder to deal with the mind-numbing tedium of the two day journey to the outer debris rim and you all earnestly hope that Empty Graves will live up to its interesting reputation.

When you get within visual sight of what Ranse assures you is the charted location of the artists’ colony you can see that it is a rather small rocky body. As with the previous sky tombs you have visited, it has an airlock protruding from the rocky surface. Although looking technologically on a par with the others you have seen, this one lacks any of the elegant decorations you have previously come across, being somewhat bare and utilitarian in appearance.

Ranse extends the umbilical docking tube and you all suit up, checking weapons and other equipment. Artists can be temperamental at the best of times and you are taking no chances. You enter the airlock and wait patiently while it cycles before allowing you entry into the colony itself. On the other side of the airlock is a square chamber carved out of the rock of the asteroid. Most of the walls have been daubed in graffiti and there are two visible exits, both covered by sliding doors. In the centre of the room stands a stocky man dressed in a baggy smock covered with what looks like red paint. He is clearly waiting for you and has a holstered semi-automatic pistol at his side from which his hand never strays far.

He enquires gruffly what your business at Empty Graves is and your non-committal replies about different schools of art seem to serve only to annoy him. He urges you to get to the point – are you here to buy or to sell, or simply for a good time? Lazarus takes the lead and engages the man in banter before reaching an agreement with him that the best place to start might be over a drink in the saloon the man mentions.

He leads you along several corridors tunnelled out of the rock of the asteroid, passing many sliding doors along the way until you come to one that has the work “Playroom” sprayed onto it. The man touches a control next to the door and it slides open to reveal a large rectangular room with chairs and tables scattered around. There is a makeshift bar in one corner and right in the centre of the room is a crystal sarcophagus, very similar to the one you retrieved from the ice tomb. It has an Ushan body in ceremonial robes within and stuffed between its lips is a cigarette. It is being used as a card table by three men sat around it, who look up from their hands and stare as you enter. All of them seem to be armed with pistols.

The man who led you in here asks what you want and you settle for whisky. He retrieves half a dozen shot glasses from behind the bar and slops brown liquid from a bottle into them, before relieving you of half a credit each. It is actually surprisingly good. You sit yourselves down uneasily at one of the tables and the three other men eventually go back to their card game but you get the distinct impression they are all watching you out of the corners of their eyes.

The man that brought you in here leaves and you are left wondering what to do next. A couple of minutes pass while you converse in low tones with each other, trying to decide how to play things. This seems a decidedly odd setup for a supposed commune of reclusive artists. You do not have to think about it for much longer though as the door slides open and a large, thickset, bearded man enters the room, pistol held casually in one hand, pointing downwards. Three other tough looking men crowd in through the doorway behind him. Christian immediately leaps to his feet and dives behind the bar, rattling glasses and bottles as he goes and eliciting a “what the hell?” series of looks from all in the room.

After doing a double take at Christian’s behaviour, he comes over to your table and leans on it, with a not quite insincere smile on his face. He tells you his name is Ramsley and that he is in charge at Empty Graves. He leaves you in no doubt that he wants no more nonsense and wants to know precisely what you want here – are you here to buy, or are you here for the booze and whores? The three toughs behind him reinforce this impression by leering nastily at you.

Realising that this colony is now extremely unlikely to be a bunch of artists seeking solitude among the stars, Lazarus takes over the conversation once more, telling Ramsley that you have an interest in artifacts from the sky tombs and would be looking to buy should the price be right. Ramsley relaxes a little at the sudden candour, a refreshing change from the evasiveness thus far, and tells you that he does have one or two pieces you might be interested in. He signals to one of the toughs who leaves and returns a few minutes later with four Ushan shimmerglass icons and a ceremonial robe woven from some sort of mineral glass.

Lazarus enters into negotiations and the robe is swiftly ruled out as being too expensive. He eventually settles on a price with Ramsley of Cr 350 for the four icons and you shake on it. Ramsley leaves, seemingly satisfied, and the toughs go with him. You decide the time is now right to leave as soon as possible. You order another round of drinks, drain your glasses quickly, and then beat a fast retreat to the Leadbelly, eager to get away from this place.

To be continued…

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The Whirlwind
In which our heroes are caught up in a spiral of rumours.

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:

After spending overnight mulling on the disappointment that the packet of white powder turned out to be totally innocuous, Hiltie rises with renewed purpose. He reasons that if one were to smuggle illicit drugs, hiding it in the middle of a stack of otherwise mundane but identical looking material would be exactly what one would do. He rouses Lazarus and the pair make their way down to the secure cargo area armed with the survey scanner and a sense of mission.

The security guard is curious as to what you’re doing but ultimately not bothered as long as you are not trying to bring any of the items on board the station and his attention soon wanders back to his duties. The pair open the cases and count all of the packets – there are 120 of them. Each scan cycle takes two minutes plus, say, a minute for emptying, cleaning and refilling the sample tray and they are looking at a monotonous task of at least six hours duration. Lazarus sighs and decides that if you are going to go through with it you may as well get it right. He retrieves a marker pen and starts numbering the packets and lining them up in neat rows for Hiltie to scan. As each packet is scanned he records the results against each number.

After what seems like a lifetime’s worth of scanning, Hiltie shakes his head in disappointment. The result from each packet is the same, a mixture of simple mineral salts, which high concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus. Acting on a hunch, he takes a sample of the soil from the now empty crystal sarcophagus and runs that through the scanner. That has a very high carbon content. He eliminates that from the equation and what is left is very similar in composition to the white powder.

Hiltie decides to bring one of the attaché cases back on board the station and he seeks the security guard out to clear it with him. After examining the results from the scanner, and sniffing and tasting the powder, the guard pronounces that he is happy the contents are harmless and checks the case through into the station. Hiltie and Lazarus take the lift up to Highdeck and the hydroponic bay with a view to trying to sell the powder as a fertiliser. There is no one present other than another security guard so the pair cross the deck back to the transients’ quarters to relate their findings and turn in for the night.

Early the following morning, Priest is the first to rise and he heads off for another back breaking 10 hour shift of manual labour in the refinery. Some of the same faces are there from yesterday and, by and large, they are pleased to see him again as his great strength was certainly useful in helping to manhandle the emptied novium retrieval drones back into their storage racks.

The work is extremely hot and sweaty, and the shift is interspersed with short, but regular, breaks to allow the workers to rehydrate and take a salt pill. During one of the breaks, Priest finds an opportunity to chat with some of his colleagues and finds opinion as to the current situation to be somewhat divided. Many of the newer workers are certainly disgruntled at the longer shifts they are having to work whereas some of the older hands, although far from all, are a little more pragmatic about things, knowing there have been good times and bad tomes in the past but the one constant is Director Dutta.

Overall, they are putting a lot of faith in Mary Tomlinson, the mining chief, to do the right thing by them. One of the workers points her out – she is a tall, thin woman with short hair and a badly scarred right arm. She is in charge of the refinery but due to the driving pace Dutta is setting she was personally assisting with one of the more dangerous parts of the process, the transfer of the buffer fluid from the retrieval drones to the station itself. There was a moment of carelessness on behalf of the miner connecting up the hoses to the pumps and the subsequent spillage caused the injuries to her arm. Although Dr Indrani patched up the physical damage, it’s well known around the station that Dutta won’t allow her to take the time off for a skin transplant until the bank auditor has been and this quarter’s accounts are closed.

Priest changes the topic of the conversation onto a discussion of what life support systems the station has in place and whether or not there are any safety provisions should the worst happen. Some of the workers aren’t too happy at this sudden change of tack from a relative stranger and return to their shift. Others see no harm in discussing the matter as, well, Priest is on the station just as much as they are and gossiping beats manual labour any day – as long as the shift supervisor doesn’t notice.

From those more willing to talk, Priest learns that the station is rated for a population of 200 or so people, and there are currently little more than half that number aboard. The hydroponic bay is easily capable of providing a breathable atmosphere for that number of people but in the event of a catastrophic event, there are back up mechanical scrubbers that can be brought on-line while the bay is regrown from the seed stock they have on board. Should the absolute worst happen, a disastrous hull breach or a major industrial accident for example, there are two pressurised crash rooms, one on Middeck (in the cinema) and one on Highdeck (in the park plaza) that contain emergency supplies of food, water, air, medicines, vacc suits, and so on.

Meanwhile, Hiltie and Lazarus treat themselves to a lie in before taking a late breakfast of vegetable rissoles and synthetic egg substitute at the Heavenly Hash. The coffee is actually quite good and discussion with exhausted miners coming off the night shift reveals that Joshua Yang has his own patch in the park plaza where he grows coffee beans. It is one of the few things they genuinely look forward to in the cafeteria. Suitably refreshed, they make their way back to the hydroponic bay and this time strike it lucky, Jaffa Okoye, Brightside’s technical chief is there, sat before a computer terminal and monitoring the flow of nutrient feeds.

She greets you and you get straight down to business, showing her the contents of the attaché case. She agrees with your assessment that it would make an excellent nutrient material for plant life, but is highly amused by the suggestion that she might want to buy it off you. She explains that Brightside has tonnes of fertiliser that they extract from rocks mined from the planetoid below.

Next you show her a sample of the soil retrieved from the crystal sarcophagus. She rubs it between her fingers and sniffs it, agreeing that it is some sort of compost. You tell her where it came from and she hurriedly returns it, brushing her hands briskly together. She reminds you that the disappearance of the body caused a full scale security alert and they had better not have any run ins with the security chief, Livingston Roy, who was less than pleased.

Lastly, you ask her about the artists’ colony at Empty Graves. She doesn’t know any more than you have already gleaned. Several of the sky tombs have been re-purposed by hermits and Empty Graves is the most prominent of these. The artists have a battered old system shuttle which they use to visit Brightside to purchase supplies from time-to-time. Some of the miners use their accumulated leave to take a trip out there for a change of pace and scenery. She’s not been there herself but she knows Roland Lomax has paid a few visits there recently.

Thanking Jaffa for the information, Hiltie and Lazarus take their leave of her and quietly ponder what to do next while strolling out of the hydroponic bay. They both decide in the absence of any obvious course of action to visit the station director and see if he has any work for them. He is in the middle of his morning stand up with the mining chief and the refinery shift leaders and so they have to wait in the secretarial area. The meeting is obviously a stormy one judging by the raised voices and when it breaks up Mary Tomlinson exits Dutta’s office looking cross, the three shift leaders in her wake.

It is another ten minutes before the pair are summoned into the director’s office and he is seated behind his desk all smiles. They ask about the work situation on Brightside and the director talks to them about the vacancies he currently has and their relevant experience. He has nothing other than manual labour in the refinery that matches Lazarus’ skills profile, which the latter politely declines. Hiltie, however, has some expertise in system maintenance, especially mining systems, as he spent his childhood on a mining ship, and Dutta has a proposal for him.

Every year the station tests its disaster recovery procedures and that time is more or less due. Normally Dutta has to remove Mary Tomlinson from her normal duties as mining chief so that she can work on preparing the plan for the test. As they are having to work extra hard to meet the novium quotas this quarter that is not a palatable prospect for Dutta so he offers Hiltie a 5 day contract at Cr 25 per day to prepare the plan. Obviously Mary and the other station chiefs will be available to answer questions but this will free them up from most of the tedium of having to prepare the actual plans themselves. Hiltie is very pleased with this proposal and signs up like a shot. Dutta is equally pleased and says that he will make a desk and a terminal available for Hiltie in the secretarial office tomorrow, “where he can keep an eye on things”.

The pair leave Dutta’s office, Hiltie in good spirits and the crushing disappointment of the mundane nature of the white powder forgotten. Lazarus is less so and suggests they both head to the Midnight Sun for a drink. Hiltie declines, he wants to prepare for his assignment and get a good night’s sleep, so Lazarus heads up there alone. As he arrives, there is a fairly raucous karaoke event going on – the good performers have credit chips thrown their way, the less talented are driven off stage by a barrage of plastic bottles. Marion Hardlee is tending the bar and on sight of him she scowls and turns away, remembering their first encounter and Lazarus’ rudeness. He follows her around to the other side of the bar and tries his best to be charming (in his own slightly disconcerting and uneasy way), explaining that they got off on the wrong foot and he just wants a drink and a chat. She slams a drink down on the counter and gives him the fakest smile seen in this corner of the galaxy for a long time. She is hard and totally without humour so Lazarus just gets to the point – he is looking for work and will consider any menial jobs she has. And so it is, much to Marion’s amusement, that Lazarus finds himself acting as pot boy for that evening, collecting up the empty glasses and bottles, clearing out the ashtrays, doing the washing up, sweeping the floors, and cleaning and polishing all the work surfaces at the end of the evening. Marion watches him like a hawk, berating everything he does before rewarding him with a princely Cr 5 for 5 hours of hard and unpleasant work.

Lazarus, however, uses the opportunity to keep his ears open as to what the miners are talking about in between heckling the performers on stage. Most of the miners are fed up with the continuing quota demands from Dutta and think they would be in a better place were Dutta to go into respectable retirement and Roland Lomax were promoted to station director. Not everyone is like minded – the cargo handlers, office staff, and maintenance workers in particular are less than enamoured with Lomax and would not be in favour of such a situation.

To be continued…

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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…

View
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…

View
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…

View
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…

View
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…

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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…

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