The Reckless drops her cloaks

The Reckless drops her cloaks

When we left our heroes they had just discovered that the starport they had returned to was due to be destroyed in four days, due to contractual disputes. The company intending to do the destroying, Soleria, had sent two ships to pick up starport residents, but some 200 would not be able to travel on these ships. One other ship, the Ride On Time, was offering to take passengers but only 24 and only on the basis that the passengers offer something very valuable to its freebooter crew. The only remaining ship at the starport with significant capacity, the Mineral Dahlia, was prioritizing the removal of mining equipment and ore over humans, although its captain, Blue Dahlia, seemed uncomfortable with her decision.

Standing looking over this scene of barter and desperation, Ahmose and Alpha were approached by a thin, baby-faced and very young man with paper-pale skin. He introduced himself as Simon Simon, added “I shouldn’t die” to his self-introduction, and then told them he was an experienced computer programmer and mechanic – with licenses – who wanted to join their ship and work in exchange for passage off of the doomed starport. After a brief conversation they agreed, and so a third member joined the group of adventurers. Simon Simon, physically weak and lacking much in the way of spiritual fortitude or social sense, is an Adherent, traveling the galaxy looking to find ways to spread the consciousness of the AI he knows as The Mother.

Having gathered an additional member, the team started thinking about ways to get everyone off the starport. Simon Simon had been working as a mechanic on the starport in order to get access to the computer equipment he needed to install The Mother in the system, and Ahmose sent him back down there to see if he could hijack fuel lines and take control of the station’s fuel systems. With The Mother’s help he was able to, and also able to scan the refueling history for the past 5 days, which told him that no one had refueled. He directed fuel to the tanks of the Come As You Are and sent an App to Ahmose showing the status of fuel feeds to all ships in the port. He then checked to make sure that The Mother had replicated herself across the network of mining drones in the system; although these drones would likely lose power once the station was blown apart, by distributing herself across all of them The Mother could ensure her survival when a new starport was established here, and when ships with powerplants came in-system.

Deck plan of the Come As You Are

Deck plan of the Come As You Are

Simon Simon returned to the docks, and the whole team retired to the Come As You Are to make a plan. With Larry, Barry, the three PCs and the nurse onboard they had space to take about 15 people, if the reorganized the cargo bay a little, but that would still mean they needed to find a way to rescue some 185 residents of the port who had no means of escape. They put the nurse in charge of choosing 15 people to rescue and returned to the docks to speak to Blue Dahlia about making her ship available for refugees.

Blue Dahlia was singularly uninterested in helping, though she again seemed disappointed in herself for her mercenary attitude. They found her in the freight docks, discussing platinum shipments with her crew and giving directions about the looting of a variety of equipment. Some of this equipment, she revealed to them, she was only stealing for its semi-intelligent operating systems, not for the gear itself, but she lacked the expertise or the time to loot just the OS. Simon Simon offered to give her the OS if she would fill the space from the gear with refugees, to which she agreed, but this was just enough space for 10 people. She refused outright to make space for more, even when they threatened to cut off her fuel supply. Instead she cursed them and told them to go convince Syndak at the Ride on Time to make space on his ship.

Convincing Syndak proved much easier. They approached him after he had finished one of his little auction sessions – he was leading a suspiciously young-looking woman away to his ship by the neck when Ahmose confronted him. After a brief debate he pulled his pistol and tried to shoot Ahmose, and the three of them hit combat against Syndak and his eight guards.

Fortunately, they had prepared for this. Simon Simon, standing inconspicuously near the umbilical to the Ride on Time, shut the doors so no one could flee. Alpha tried to teleport into the umbilical itself to stop other guards coming out, but failed and blinked behind a crate instead; Ahmose, wearing full combat armour, was able to weather the first storm of shots and begin combat. They had also installed Larry at a high point above the docks with his laser rifle, and he was able to kill a person every round of combat with remarkable accuracy. The guards only had slug pistols, and even when they hit Ahmhose’s armour they couldn’t penetrate, and although they did some damage to her with grenades they didn’t bring her down fast enough, especially when she got her sword to Syndak’s throat, and soon only three remained upright. They surrendered, and Ahmose began a short but effective negotiation with Syndak. This loathsome man agreed to take 50 people on his ship, along with one of the party, and to fly them to Niscorp 1743, a single jump away. Ahmose handed his guns to some passengers, and he gave full control of the ship’s systems to Simon Simon, who tampered with it to ensure that other passengers had full control.

They then returned to speak with Blue Dahlia, who had suddenly become much more reasonable and agreed to take the remaining 125 refugees to Niscorp 1743. Satisfied, they returned to their ship to prepare for launch.

It was then that Simon Simon suggested they use the destruction of the starport as cover to make an attempt to get to the surface of Dune. They could wait until the starport began to break up and fall into planetary orbit along with other pieces of the starport, controlling their flight as long as possible to look like debris, then hit the ground when they were beyond the reach of the navy ships, of which there were only two. The scattering of smaller parts of the starport would potentially offer them cover. It was now that Simon Simon revealed he had the support of an AI, and promised them that she could cloak them when they left the planet, ensuring that they escaped unnoticed. The only navy ships in system were the Script for a Jester’s Tear and the Garden Party, both formidable frigates but not sophisticated enough to resist a bit of cloaking by an AI. After some debate the party agreed to give this a try. They placed Larry on the Ride on Time, put the nurse on the Mineral Dahlia with the 15 passengers they had planned to rescue, and made a plan to meet everyone at Niscorp 1743.

In truth Simon Simon had received a vision from The Mother [1], in which he had seen a complex network of silicon-based molecules all connected together, but with strange gaps in the connections between the molecules, gaps that had some meaning in the mind of The Mother. That molecule structure seemed to be centred on the planet of Dune, and in some sense the vision indicated that those molecules could be conceived of as star systems. Simon Simon could tell that whatever was being sequestered away on that planet must be of value to The Mother, and he knew that Alpha had spent two years on this station hoping to find a way down to the surface, so he revealed all his secrets in hopes of pressing his plan.

They fell for it, and when the starport broke apart, they fell. They fell in a controlled spiral, breaking into atmosphere and keeping their outer fields as close in to the ship as possible to look like they were burning in re-entry. Barry did a masterful job of controlling the ship in its descent, so it really did look like a piece of wreckage bouncing on the atmosphere and then burning its way down. They were deep in the atmosphere and Barry was beginning to pull them into a shallower arc – still bouncing and turning like space-junk – when their comms screen lit up with an emergency flash, displaying the following words:

Emergency transmission from Lake class ship CNS Reckless: Accept?

The message blinked insistently as they all looked at each other. There was no ship in-system called the Reckless. The emergency buzzer sounded and the message flashed again. Finally, Ahmose hit the ACCEPT button. After a moment the screen flickered to a video feed, showing an urbane, older-looking man in full naval uniform standing against a dark backdrop. He spoke one simple sentence:

Unidentified vessel, this is blockade commander Singril from the CNS Reckless. Please cease your reckless atmospheric entry immediately. You have three seconds to comply or we will destroy you.

He stood there, waiting patiently. They all looked at each other, but nobody moved. By now they were falling fast against the frame of the planet itself, its horizon a wide golden arc spreading across the cabin windows, the atmosphere a thin silver halo over the rich, cloud-flecked gold of the planet itself and one of its small oceans sprawling in sluggish greys and reds to the right hand edge of their view. They could see low hills and the outlines of dried river-beds far below, and the occasional veils of high clouds flicking past their screens told them they were so near their goal. Just a few more minutes’ fall and they would be in flyer space, beyond the reach of any sane orbital attack. Should they hold? They stared at each other or the view-screens, awestruck in that primitive way that humans still are whenever they fall back to the gravity well and the surety of earth, despite 10000 years of space travel.

A moment later the three seconds elapsed. The sky on the horizon they were staring at glowed briefly with a purple light, and then a harsh, brilliant beam of purple energy came streaking out from over that distant, perfect line, streaming through the atmosphere at an incredible pace, lancing towards them around the curve of the earth and moments later coming to a halt directly beneath them in a huge thermonuclear blast. The viewing screen briefly dimmed, flickered and restored the perfect vision of golden desert and glowing horizon, but now they could feel the ship rocking in the roaring winds from that all-too-near blast.

The man on the screen spoke again.

Unidentified vessel, you have been warned. You have three seconds to comply.

This time Ahmose did not hesitate, but replied “Complying” tersely and indicated to Barry to cease the fall. He pulled them out of their dive as fast as he could, righting the ship and restoring the atmospheric fields to their usual configuration, drawing the ship across the sky in a wide arc as it returned to normal atmospheric flight.

Thank you for your compliance. Please proceed to the attached location

The naval commander blinked out, comms finished. A set of coordinates flashed in his place, indicating a point somewhere over the horizon, in low orbit. They all let out a sigh of mingled relief and disappointment, and Barry steered the ship in the direction of the coordinates. It took about an hour, but they eventually arrived at the point they had been directed to, an area of empty near space above a network of sluggish grey canals on the edge of one of Dune’s small and shrinking seas. As they approached, emerging from the edge of the atmosphere and back into the space they thought they had so recently escaped, they were greeted by an awesome and terrifying sight. The empty space ahead of them was rippling and shining, and slowly a vast spaceship was forming into view, looking for all the world as if it were tearing a hole in the fabric of space and pushing itself slowly through. This was the CNS Reckless, a Lake class starship, dropping its cloaking system and revealing itself to them. It was perhaps 8kms long, 4kms high and 2kms wide, so large that it blocked out Dune’s distant, brilliant white sun. Countless lights sparkled across its surface, the windows of thousands of rooms. The ship was the shape of a rough crystal shard, a wedge-like piece of sparkling black death hanging in slow orbit over the blockaded planet. Surrounded by its own atmosphere, the space immediately around it buzzed with fliers and small spaceships moving around its vast bulk like parasites on some ancient behemoth. Beneath the narrow, sharpened point of its bow were slung a set of enormous gun-like weapons, and smaller, more mortal-scaled weapons bristled all across its vast expanse. And from the flank of that enormous hull a single small combat ship was darting towards them.

They had all heard of and seen Lake class ships on screen and in books, of course, but none of them had ever seen one hanging menacing as death in the sky before them, blocking out the stars and threatening to consume them. There were perhaps 100,000 people living in that vessel, a large portion of them men and women devoted to military service. This whole, incalculably expensive system of war had been dispatched to remote Dune, to protect it from people like them. Why?

Their screen flickered again, to reveal a younger man who introduced himself as Captain Noulgrim and requested permission to board. Ahmose granted it, and just a moment later the captain was standing on their bridge, in full combat armour, accompanied by a second man in full combat armour. As the entire team stared in disbelief at this sudden apparition, they both took off their helmets.

“Captain Noulgrim of the Confederate Marines, CNS Reckless.”

“Alexander Shmiel III, I am a psion with the power to read minds,” the second man greeted them, with the traditional introduction psions are expected to give. This man, having teleported himself and another man in full gear across space into a place he had only viewed through a screen, was several notches of power above Alpha …

They introduced themselves, fumbling and confused.

“You have made a big mistake, ladies and gentlemen, attempting to violate a confederate blockade. The penalty for such a brazen act of treason is 50-70 years in prison.” Noulgrim stated this fact as if it were a declaration of tomorrow’s weather. They stared at him dumbfounded, having thought the penalty might be just a few years[2].

“However, that is the least of your problems.” He gestured behind them at the vision of death floating in their screens. “You see, you should not know that the Reckless is even here, which means that my psion here is going to have to wipe your memories before we take you to prison. I’m told this can be unpleasant.”

At this point Alpha lost his cool, being confronted with such a horrible violation of basic confederate human rights. “You can’t do that!” He protested breathlessly. “It’s completely illegal and against all our rights! That is preposte-”

He was interrupted suddenly by a powerful punch to the diaphragm, that brought him to the deck. “You’re on the frontier you little fool,” Noulgrim snarled, “And I can do anything I like here. You’re lucky I don’t burn you and your ship to cinders and blast you into the sun for your stupidity. Thank me that I don’t direct my psion to reduce you to a quivering vegetable.” [3]

He turned to face the rest of the group and, convinced that he now had their full attention, resumed his previous urbane manner. “However, ladies and gentlemen, I believe we can come to an agreement that will enable me to bend the rules and avoid any unpleasantness if you just agree to help me in a small matter.”

Everyone sighed, which he took for assent.

“It has come to our attention since the destruction of the Dune Starport that there is something on there that should not be there – a cryogenic storage pod that contains something from the surface of Dune. It is currently emitting an emergency alarm that was set off when its power supply failed.” He pointed at their screens, where an emergency beacon warning light was flickering. “It started about two hours ago. It is our belief that someone lifted something from the planet and stored it at the starport, and someone else was due to come and get it. We guess that person didn’t come when they realized the starport was going to be blown up, or perhaps they’re still jumping in, and so the cryogenic pod is now salvage. We would not have noticed it if we hadn’t been forced to do a scan for life forms during your dive. It would be very very bad if that pod fell into the hands of a salvage crew – especially a well-resourced Soleria crew. So we think instead you should salvage it, and take it out of here to a nearby port. You can then let it be known that you have a cryogenic pod salvaged from Starport Dune, and wait for whoever is meant to get it to come and find you. It is our guess that they will be looking very hard for that pod, and they will find you. When they do, your job is then to find out everything you can about them, and who they are working for. Without, of course, letting them get the contents of the pod. Then you can return the pod and the information you gained to us, and we will deal with it accordingly. At which point you will find that, as the recruiting posters say, service has its rewards. You will be more than pardoned for this foolish piece of blockade running you just tried.”

He looked around at the group. “What do you say?” He did not sound as if he believed they would turn him down.

At this point Ahmose did something very stupid. “Sir, we have these cards,” she began, reaching carefully into a breast pocket and pulling forth the now-useless Memory Download Card from Kong the Younger. “I think it would really help us on this mission if we were not able to die. Do you think that you could arrange to …”

Ahmose did not finish her sentence. Noulgrim leapt forward and grabbed the card from her hand, smashing it in his armoured fist in one sharp move. “Shmiel, find the others!” He ordered, and Shmiel stepped forward, grabbing their cards from the exact places they had put them. As he read their minds and stole their cards, Noulgrim scattered the remnants of Ahmose’s on the ground. “The memories of what you have seen here can never be downloaded,” he stated coldly. “I have just passed an order to ban you from all Memory Download Centres in the confederacy.”

He crumbled the other cards before their eyes, and as he scattered the pieces on the floor Shmiel pointed at Simon Simon. “This one’s an Adherent,” he said quietly.

Noulgrim looked calmly at Simon Simon, hand moving subconsciously to his gauss pistol. “Excellent. No one will suspect an Adherent of working for the navy. You shouldn’t die, Adherent, and you are of interest to me.”

Simon Simon beamed.

Noulgrim looked at all of them. “Do we have a deal?” They nodded slowly. “Good, then don’t disappoint me.” He put his helmet back on, gesturing to Shmiel, who did the same. “You will get information about contact points on all major subsector planets before you can fire up your engines. Serve us well, and you will be rewarded. Betray us, and you will regret it.” He and Shmiel disappeared.

Everyone turned and gave Simon Simon a long, hard look.

“I shouldn’t die,” he said, “and I’m interesting …”

fn1: This wasn’t GM fiat. Simon’s player decided to ask The Mother what to do and rolled a double six on his Pantheon check, so I figured he deserved a vision. Did it mean anything …? I guess we’ll never know …

fn2: This is what I told the players when they were discussing this reckless dive, but I did point out to them that since people live to be 150 or more, “a few years” in their lifespan might be slightly different to the way we think of it now in our pre-scarcity lives …

fn3: At this point Alpha’s player exploded in outrage. “We are living in a utopia where anyone can have anything they want, so why is this guy such a dick? How can their be dickheads in a utopia!?” I guess some things just don’t make sense …