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by Brendan O'Donovan
'I'll try to be brief, the situation on the ground is fragile and your presence is needed urgently. Most of the information you need can be acquired planetside, so I'll just give you an overview while my flight crew prepare the interface shuttle, okay?' He gestures to on of the wall displays which updates to show a spinning image of the mainworld, as you watch, the major continent is highlighted in red. 'Our mission here is as a liaison to the largest faction on the planet, The Federation of Tomorrow, a comparatively progressive democracy which commands popular support, there are many other smaller factions also on the planet (the map highlights a patchwork of different coloured areas around the edges of the central red area) and following our contact with the Federation, many of them formed a loose alliance due to fears of offworld domination. The Federation is governed by ten representatives, one elected from each of the provinces, which form a council in the nation's capital. Three weeks ago, the head of the council was assassinated, and since then two more members of the council have been killed. We believe that the assassinations have been carried out by one of the rival powers on the planet, but the local security forces insist that the killings were carried out by a ghost, some kind of local superstition. We don't have the resources here to investigate this matter, so we have been waiting for the Coalition to send specialists to assist us. It is imperative that you get to the bottom of this as our helplessness has encouraged dissenting factions that would like to see us leave the planet completely.' As he finishes a woman in a slightly scrumpled flight suit enters the room. She salutes with a sharpness that seems strangely out of place with her appearance.
'Yes Lieutenant?' the captain inquires.
'The pre-flight checks on the lander are complete, sir. There's still that problem on the number two thruster, but the contra grav has just been refitted, so I don't think there's much danger of leaving the capital with another crater nearby', she then addresses the characters 'If you'd like to follow me, then.' She salutes again, then turns ands leaves at a brisk walk. (Any characters with Ship's Engineering can inspect the interface shuttle before entrusting their life to it, should they wish. Most likely they will agree with the pilot's assessment that the risk is minimal, although on a fumble they may remain convinced that there is significant danger. In this case, if the character persuades the others to wait for repair the station captain will try to persuade them to go regardless, however, if they still remain on the station there will be another assassination a few hours before they realise that the shuttle is in better condition than it looks. This should have no effect on the progress of the plot, but should leave a mark on the player's consciences)
The pilot leads the players up the side of the crater, talking between breaths 'They don't like us to come in to land too close to the city, nothing personal, they just had a few bad experiences with stuff falling out of the sky a while back. The crater makes quite a good landing site, keeps us out of the wind on the final part of the descent, and the surface is quite solid now that we've blasted it a few times with the HEPlaR to keep the sand down. We think that this crater was the result of a small nuke from the Final War, perhaps it missed the city, perhaps it just got left in an unstable orbit after a fleet engagement up there (she looks up at the sky, turning a golden yellow as the sun sinks towards the horizon), and this where it came down. Maybe they were shooting at something on the ground, who knows? The radiation has mostly decayed now, but I'm not saying I'd want to build a house here.' As the characters climb over the lip of the crater they are confronted by the sight of a small building next to some railway tracks. Little more than a shed, the structure still has a neatly painted sign on it which reads 'Starport'. 'They built it for us. Well, the tracks ran nearby anyway, and they wanted to do something to show us they appreciate us being here. Don't worry about those cracks in the structure, we had a small earthquake a few months ago, but most of the damage was superficial. A train should be along soon that will take you into the city, just wait here and get on, you won't need a ticket. Me, I've got to get back to the station and work on the shuttle, we'll need _all_ the engines working if we need to evacuate suddenly. Look, I hope you get to the bottom of this, it's strange, but I've kind of got used to this place and I wouldn't want to get reassigned.' With this last word she begins back down the slope into the crater. A few minutes later the shuttle lifts off, the thrusters giving off a heat which is only just bearable, like standing slightly too close to a fire.
After a wait of ten minutes on a bench in the unmanned station building a steam train arrives at the platform and slowly screeches to a halt. The driver invites the characters to ride with him in the engine, or alternatively seats in the carriages can be taken. The journey to the city takes twenty minutes and is uneventful.
The characters are met at the station by state security officers, who wear deep blue uniforms and carry revolvers as sidearms. They look relieved to see the characters, and explain that they would be grateful if the party would inspect the security arrangements around the home of the acting head of state (his two predecessors having been assassinated too recently for the government to affirm his succession). The security officers drive the players to a large house on the edge of town.
-The Head of State sleeps in a bedroom on the third floor. There are no drainpipes or similar aids to climbing the wall, which is smooth stone. A pair of guards are stationed at the bottom of the wall, underneath the window.
-The other entrance to the bedroom is from the top floor hallway. There are a further two guards watching the bedroom.
-During the day the premier is accompanied by two bodyguards. The security during the day seems to be far less tight than that at night. As the other killings were at night, and as the security men genuinely believe that they are dealing with the supernatural, they expect the greatest danger to come in the dark.
- Four security guards surround the house, one watching each side, and a further four patrol round the outside of the house's walls.
The players should be able to suggest some security improvements eg. better lighting, more guards, patrol route alterations, even some kind of decoy in the main bedroom. Despite all this however, the events of the night are largely unavoidable...
The party are likely to be tired and will be offered accommodation in the house for the night. Some players may alternatively wish to help with the night watch, this poses few problems unless the characters involved have very high observation assets and advanced sensor equipment or cyberware. Even if they do choose to stay up, fatigue, and the assassin's unusual ability to detect cyberware and avoid those who carry it should ensure that the players will have little chance of having any effect on the night's events, as they are extremely unlikely to have any idea of what they are facing.
There are several important pieces of evidence around the house. For each clue, relevant skills are listed, along with task difficulties which are dependent on the declared area of search. In addition to this, successful Investigation rolls could help uncover clues which have been missed.
Bedroom - Difficult:Observation
Bedroom window - Average:Observation In the corner of the window of the bedroom there is a small hole in the glass. A circle about three centimetres across has been cut cleanly from the glass. Partially covered by a curtain, the hole is hard to see.
Formidable:Observation - Glass dust on the inside of the window shows that it was cut from outside.
Average:Observation The direction of the gunshot wounds on the victim indicates that they were shot from the general direction of the closed window. Careful measurement and calculation (Difficult:Investigation) could link the wounds to the hole in the window.
Garden - Formidable:Observation The razor wire across the top of the wall has been very slightly flattened in one section. There is no sign of any blood or cloth on the wire.
Garden - Formidable:Observation Leading across one patch of bare earth are a set of particularly distinct footprints. The footprints indicate a normal size foot, but the depth of the footprints is about five centimetres compared to the footprints left by the characters which are at most two or three centimetres deep. The trail disappears once the firmer turf at the edge of the flower bed is reached.
Local Bars - Difficult:Streetwise Players may wish to investigate the possibility of an enemy agent being behind the killings. Talking to people in bars does reveal a degree of xenophobia with respect to foreigners, but this does not help the players track anybody down, since in the eyes of the locals, anyone with an accent is suspicious.
Local Library - Average:Research Looking through the history archives will reveal one particularly significant event in relation to the events of the recent weeks. There is a record of a similar spate of killings of senior government officials almost one hundred years ago, shortly after fighting in the Final War reached the area. The nature of the injuries recorded in the press clippings matches very closely with what has been observed here. The killer was never apprehended and since then has acquired a semi-mythical status, in the same way as the Terran serial killer 'Jack the Ripper'. During the Final war, the planet was not involved in the fighting in any significant way, lacking any starport, although considerable fleet traffic passed through the system, using it as a refuelling stop. The investigation into the murders was curtailed by a small nuclear explosion near to the city, which caused considerable damage and confusion.
Programmed with exceptional stealth abilities, and with sensors and electronics subsystems which aid in avoiding detection, the robot is almost invisible when involved in a planned execution. It is only when it is forced to improvise that there is any possibility of detection. Unfortunately, the patrols which were organised to protect the president were nothing unconventional, so the robot had little trouble in using its grapple to climb undetected up to the roof, matching the texture of the wall, and then lowering itself down to the president's window where it used a silenced weapon for the assassination.
- The child could be treated in the hospital. The operation is Difficult:Medical (Surgery) due to the primitive equipment available. On success, the child regains consciousness for a few hours before slipping back into a terminal coma. This time will allow gentle questioning, revealing the identity of his attacker. On Critical Success the child will eventually make a full recovery, making the characters involved into minor local heroes. Failure indicates that nothing the characters try to save him is successful.
- The medbay on the space station is better equipped to deal with these injuries. It will take 1D6 hours for the lander to arrive after it has been requested, and then a further hour to return to the station. Keeping Ulex alive until he can be taken to the station is determined by the success of an Average:Medical (Trauma Aid) task. Success gives him 1D6+1 hours to live. Critical success gives him 1D6+5 hours to live and failure (or catastrophic failure) 1D6-2. Once he reaches the medbay, the surgery task becomes Average:Medical (surgery), with effects of success as above.
If the players are successful in obtaining the name of his attacker, then they can cross-reference it with school records to find the boy's home address. If they do this quickly (only possible if they operated in the hospital), then they could intercept Hoyt before his amateur bank robbery. In this case it may be easier to apprehend him and with less danger to civilians than at the scene of the robbery. If the players choose this option, then I leave it up to you to determine the course of events, bearing in mind that ideally the players should subdue Hoyt without injury.
Hoyt, Experienced NPC, Assets:Melee (Unarmed), Laser pistol 6, Observation 6. Armed with a TL-13 CLC laser carbine (4 rounds remaining)
In this situation the players have several objectives:
1. To free the hostages
2. To try to rescue the man on the steps. (This must be done very quickly, and the man must be operated on in a local hospital, Formidable:Medical (Surgery) to save him)
3. To capture Hoyt alive, to find out where he acquired the weapon.
The hostages are being held in the foyer of the bank, and can be seen through the windows. Hoyt is staying away from the windows, and reflections make it hard to see where he is, although NAS or similar high tech sensors could detect him. He is standing in a position where he can see the front steps, but little beyond that.
The party does have several things which will help them apprehend him.
- He doesn't know that the ammunition in the carbine is limited.
- The bank has a back entrance which could be used to mount a surprise attack, unfortunately, only the bank manager has the keys and he is one of the hostages. It is a difficult:Intrusion task to break in, and either a distraction or a difficult:Stealth roll will also be necessary to hide the noise.
- One of the bankers was eating out at a restaurant and has just returned. He can provide the players with information about the layout of the bank.
Unless the players use obviously excessive force (fusion rifles, HE grenades etc) Hoyt will be captured and it will be possible to interrogate him, and find out the location of the buried starship.
The airlock opens onto the main living area of the ship. The interior feels extremely claustrophobic. The lighting is provided by small low power emergency lights in the ceiling, about half of the lights are broken, burnt out after years of use. Although sufficient to see by, the lighting takes a while to adjust to after the bright daylight outside, and the irregular arrangement casts strange shadows across the walls. A table fills most of the room and a couple of plastic cups lie on the floor, as do the dried remains of a tall plant, its pot knocked onto its side, spilling soil across the tight woven carpet. A narrow corridor leads towards the front of the ship and the bridge, and a similar corridor leads backwards to the hold and engineering sections. Engine room. The engineering components of the ship are contained within a single room, but blast screens divide up the compartment, and there are emergency bulkheads which can close off damaged sections. There is a low humming noise from the main reactor, which is operating on a trickle of fuel from the jump tankage, the much smaller reactor fuel tanks having been drained decades ago.
Hold. The small hold contains a pair of emergency low berths. Each contains four people. The display on the side of the freezers indicates that the crew members inside are still alive, although the power plant will need to be brought back up to a higher output to power the revival process. Also in the hold is a tall cabinet with the impression of a heavily built humanoid. A socket in the impression corresponds to the small of the back. Easy:Robotics test to determine that this is a storage unit for a humanoid robot. Further reinforced piping leads from the cabinet to an unmarked tank a few meters away. The tank contains hydrocarbon distillates, the top can be opened to discover this, however the mixture of fuel vapour and air at the top of the tank could pose an explosive danger if there are any sources of ignition nearby. The people in the low berths will probably pose a moral dilemma for the players. By the time the characters will have been able to bring the power plant and main computers on-line to revive them, they will almost certainly have recovered log entries from the crew's personal quarters which will describe the nature of the mission they were involved in. Should the players revive them? They are murderers with a corporate morality which belongs in the past, but at the same time their knowledge and skills could be put to great use.
Quarters. The corridor leading from the main living area forwards to the bridge has doors to crew cabins on the left and the right. In most rooms a personal hand computer can be located easily, which will describe the mission of the courier and the events which lead to it being buried. In addition, the engineer's hand computer contains performance and technical specifications of the A(P)-11. The quarters are fairly tidy, a common feature of all being a lack of any great number of personal effects, only one or two souvenirs, an unusual shell in one, an ornately crafted pen in another, a painting of a sunset over a city of lights in the captain's room.
Bridge. The bridge is the area of the ship which shows the greatest damage. The superdense shutters which slide over the front window during reentry and combat have been left open, leaving the windows unprotected. The left panel has cracked open, and a considerable quantity of earth and debris has fallen into the bridge compartment. The control panel is half covered by soil and rock, clearing it will take several hours. The small bridge would probably feel claustrophobic even when cleared out, but at the moment there is barely room for more than two people to fit.
While the players are exploring the ship, the A(P)-11 will observe them, unsure at first as to whether they are crew members or enemies. It will take about twenty minutes to decide that they are enemies, but this time depends greatly on the method in which the players explore. If they are clearly taking precautions, moving with guns drawn, etc. then the time will be reduced, if they are less timid in their investigation then it will take longer to realise what is happening. Once it decides to eliminate the characters it will not act immediately. Instead it will wait until characters are alone before attacking. The robot is extremely dangerous, so perhaps it would be advisable to allow the party to bring an NPC security guard or similar with them, so that the first person found dead is not a player character. An encounter with the robot should be terrifying, shadows moving amongst the clutter of the ship are likely to be the only warning before the character is shot by a large figure which will appear as if from nowhere. Use player paranoia to create the atmosphere, mention half seen movements among the reactor machinery, strange sounds, 'footsteps' which turn out to be a sound from a fuel pump.
There are three major possibilities for dealing with the robot:
1. Heavy ordinance - Although the robot is heavily armoured, once a shot gets under it's skin it is surprisingly fragile. One problem may be finding a weapon which can damage the robot which is safe to use in confined spaces, but carefully used fusion rifles or something exotic like EMP rifles should do the trick. It may be possible to lure the robot outside, but because of its sensors, it would be difficult to ambush it.
2. Fuel supply - The engineer's log should provide some clues to another method of dealing with the robot. The limited fuel supply is a major weakness, although it will not be possible to trick the robot into going too far to have enough fuel to get back, the only source on the planet of hydrocarbon distillates of a high enough grade to fuel the robot is in the tank in the courier. If this were destroyed then the robot would cease to be a threat after a few hours. In fact, after the fuel is destroyed it is likely to shut itself down immediately, as it has no sense of revenge, and tracking down the players after the fuel is destroyed would change nothing. That is not to say that while the players try to destroy the fuel it will not try to stop them. It will require good demolitions skills, or inspired planning to find a sure way to destroy the fuel. The robot will attack the party to hinder them, and is capable of using fire fighting equipment if the players try to burn the fuel.
3. Reprogramming - It could be possible to use the ship's computers to change the robot's program. The security on the computer systems is fairly tight, it would require a Difficult:Computer roll to break in to reprogram the A(P)-11. On outstanding success the hacking is so fast that the robot doesn't have time to respond, on normal success the party will have to defend the hacker from the robot while he breaks into the system.
Once the mystery has been solved, and the assassin robot dealt with, the party will be treated as honoured guests by the government. The salvage of an uninfected and only superficially damaged starship will get underway (assuming the players didn't blow it to pieces while hunting down the robot), and preparations will be made back in the Coalition/Regency for the trial of a group of remnant war criminals (assuming the players didn't pull the plug on their low berths). The players will receive a finder's share in the courier once it has been recovered, in addition to any standard wages.