Come sail your ships around me
And burn your bridges down
We make a little history, baby
Every time you come around

Your face has fallen sad now
For you know the time is nigh
When I must remove your wings
And you, you must try to fly

Sly moves in the shadows, done quick and on a budget – that’s what our heroes specialize in. A month after their trainwreck, rested and recovered, they were approached by Anansie with another job from the same contact, Ibrahil “the terror” Tejero, who needed a job done on a day’s noticed. As usual it came with the promise of no violence and a good payday, bonuses for stealth and discretion, and as usual they did not believe for a moment that they could make the conditions. Satisfied with the minimum fee, they met the Terror at his most recent place of business, a rooftop garden over a soy-cheese business near the docks district. The Terror told them he needed them to infiltrate a ship leaving the next night from those same docks. He needed to know what its cargo was, and where it was going, and he wanted to find out with as little attention as possible being drawn to his inquiries. He had contacts in the dock-worker’s union, so he could arrange for them to get onto the ship inside a crate, and from there he simply wanted them to explore the ship, find its real cargo manifesto, and if possible plant a bug to film the cargo. There was a bonus for planting the bug, and an extra bonus for doing everything undetected, and no pay at all if they failed to get the real manifesto. The ship’s official destination was a research facility in the South China Sea, but the Terror did not believe that for a moment – no cargo ship heading for such a place would load stealthily in the middle of the night and head out before dawn. He expected it to change course midway, and he expected its cargo was extremely dubious. The PCs’ job was to find out what, why and where.

They asked questions, of course, and they made one point very clear: If they discovered the ship was carrying human traffic, or some other dubious cargo, they would take unilateral action and still get paid. The Terror assured them he had heard about their … how did he put it … unrealistic standards? … and had no problem with them taking unilateral action if necessary, though he would debate the details with them later. Satisfied their reputation preceded them, they agreed to the job.

The next night found them on the Sai Kung docks, nestled in the muggy darkness behind a pile of crates, watching the Piet Maijing. Behind them a dockworker waited impatiently for them to load into a crate, that would soon be lifted onto the Piet Maijing. The ship was a typical rust bucket mid-size cargo hauler in the South China Sea, the kind of ship that was ubiquitous around New Horizon. They could see the armed guards on the deck, obviously overpowered for a simple hauling mission, and the suspicious way they eyed the dock workers. The whole thing was definitely suspicious, and those guards did not endear themselves to the group with their behavior. The PCs crawled into their crate, and waited to be lifted into the hold.

Once on board they had to wait for the ship to cast off and head to open sea, which would take hours, so they decided to get some rest. Realizing that with rest he could cast almost any spell, Adam Lee wrought a mighty invocation that rendered the entire party invisible, then settled into a meditative pose while he waited for the ship to cast off[1]. The rest of them settled into a reverie, and they waited. The crate was lifted on board, swaying and clattering, and then after a few hours the ship broke away from the port and into the open sea. They rose, stretched their legs, and then settled to wait while Adam Lee ventured into the astral plane and searched the ship.

Perhaps he should have done it before they set off, because it became clear very quickly that the special cargo was astrally active, so it was either living creatures or magic creatures or magic items. Whatever this ship was doing was a disaster for someone. Still, they had to confirm the contents and Astral travel was not the best way to do it; they had to get to the bridge, so they set off. Under the veil of Adam’s spell getting to the bridge was easy – there was a brief moment of tension where someone heard something, but being invisible they just stopped and waited for the moment to pass. At the bridge they had to kill one man, but Jayden did it easily, and nobody saw it, so they stuffed the body into a chair, held it upright so the guards outside could see it, and waited patiently in the shadows, invisible and silent, until their technomage could dig out the manifest from a secured server buried at the back of the bridge. Once they had the details they slipped out of the bridge, dumped the body on the roof, and headed down to the hold to place the bug. By now the ship was steaming into open waters, New Horizon far behind and the sea sparkling in the starlight, distant ship’s lights twinkling on the horizon all around.

They did not pause to enjoy the sea air, instead moving at top speed through bulkheads and holds to the area where Adam Lee had seen the astrally active cargo. Here they found a strange problem: They met a wall of crates that seemed innocuous but was definitely designed to block off the area where the astrally active cargo could be found. They had to either go back and go around, or find a way through the crates. They chose the latter, breaking the locks on a crate and moving through. But now they decided to get crafty, and Adam Lee again went into the astral plane, pushing through the crate’s far wall to see what was on the other side. Here he found the cargo hold suddenly opened up, with the wall of crates stacked up right to the ceiling to make a blocking wall, but only a couple of crates on the floor of the cargo hold on the other side. These crates contained the astrally active cargo, and it seemed the solution was obvious: they would need to go into a crate at the top of the blocking wall, pass through, and place the camera they needed to place. The camera would then have a view of the whole cargo hold, and their job would be done: they could call in the rigger the Terror had organized for them, jump overboard and make a very large payday.

John was selected to do this, while Adam Lee maintained an astral overwatch. He climbed up through the crates and into the topmost crate nearest to the group, walked quickly through, opened the other crate door and placed the camera in a suitable position on the ceiling of the cargo hold. He was just about to retreat when he heard a voice from below.

“Oi chummer, give a lost boy a hand?”

It came from one of the crates. Everyone’s heart sank: Human cargo, or at least sentient, which meant they were going to have to go nuclear on the ship. The five of them against the entire complement of Aztlan mercs. Why did nothing ever go smoothly for them?

“Yes?” John hesitantly opened negotiations.

They soon discovered the truth of the situation. The ship was carrying a cargo of ghouls, mostly sentient but some savage, for research, but this particular ghoul was a plant, placed in the cargo to report in to his handlers and organize a raid on the ship. He had had his commlink taken from him but they could see it lying discarded in the cargo hold some distance from the crate. All they had to do was return his phone to him and let him and his fellows out. He would place a call to his handlers, a ship would come to get them, and they would rise up against their captors. The PCs did not even need to be involved – they could set things in motion then retreat to the ship’s helideck to wait for their rigger to come in and get them.

They thought briefly about the huge payoff they would lose by losing stealth, and by losing the camera in the hold; but they also thought they could negotiate for the possession of the ship. An easy deal. They brought the ghoul his phone, and unlocked his crate. Then, still invisible, they headed up to the helideck and waited for the battle to start.

It started with a thick mist that rolled in from all sides, enveloping the ship in a suddenly cloying, chilling white fog. Then the ship came in, first the roar of its engines and then a shadow looming out of the mist, then a hail on a hugely overpowered loud speaker:

“This is Captain Berberoka of the KRI Krugerrand, and you are MINE! You are slavers in violation of all standards of humanity and you will DIE. Put over and submit to a quiet death, or feel my WRATH.”

The ship broke from the mist as the Piet Maijing‘s guards rushed to defensive positions, a slim black dagger breaking through the white fog. The guards were too late, the Krugerrand slamming up against the bigger cargo ship with a horrendous grinding sound and a horde of angry meta-humans leaping onto the deck. Elves, trolls, dwarves, orks, ghouls, even faerie leapt across the railing and into battle, blasting magic and bullets with furious abandon as they stormed the deck. Aztlan guards, outnumbered and surprised, fell back on the deck to a brutal slaughter, the entire battle lasting just a few minutes before it was reduced to coups de grace, begging and all the bloody consequences of defending slavery. The PCs stood on the helideck, shooting and stabbing anyone who tried to escape and waiting for the Kruggerrand’s captain to find them. Eventually he came stomping up the stairs to the helideck, a grizzled old man with a brilliant shock of white hair, one cyberleg, an entire half of his face composed of sagging skin covered in old, poorly-done neon tattoos, lugging a huge shotgun and grimacing at the need to talk to strangers[2]. Then he started yelling at the PCs about their contribution to freedom, and they negotiated possession of the ship in exchange for their deeds. Hands were clasped, manly threats of pirately loyalty exchanged, and the Krugerrand departed with a new cargo of freed ghouls.

Our new ship, before recommissioning

They called the rigger in and turned the ship around, heading back to New Horizon. Of course they could not dock their stolen ship in Sai Kung, but the Terror was surprisingly happy at their sheepish report of their intervention. He got all the information he needed, and if everyone is dead then by definition the mission was done quietly. Fortunately he Knew a Guy who could launder their ship, though it would cost them – they would have to downgrade. And so it was that the PCs found themselves in possession of a 60m converted icebreaker[4], docked two weeks later in the Sai Kung docks, their new base of operations waiting to be converted to a fighting ship, capable of journeying over the open ocean and big enough to hold an A/V lifter and a couple of drones, as well as a nice collection of heavy weapons. They had made it!

Two weeks later they stood on the bow of their new ship, looking out over the flickering lights and neon splendour of a clear New Horizon night, and wondering – how are we going to pay for all this?

More jobs, done faster and dirtier. The shadows are a harsh mistress.

fn1: The way Shadowrun magic works, powerful spells cause strain, which is stun damage, but stun damage is recovered with short periods of complete rest. Invisibility on five people is a high force spell, meaning it causes a lot of stun, but once the spell is cast maintaining it is not difficult, and spell casters can recover stun damage while maintaining spells, so it was a wash: we all got invisibility, and our mage got to recover all the stun damage he took casting the spell. This is maybe the third or fourth time in seven sessions that our mage has absolutely aced it using a utility spell, which in Shadowrun are much less restricted than combat spells. His combat spells are second rate, but his use of healing, levitation and invisibility has absolutely killed it when we really needed it. His use of levitation in session 5 to lift a super powerful shaman out of cover where we could blow his brains out was a picture perfect use of a utility spell, and in this session his use of invisibility made an extremely challenging task easy, and is at the core of the huge rewards we won from this session. This session was all about Adam Lee, all the time.

fn2: This is Coyote, one of the main characters from our Cyberpunk campaign, living out the end of his days as leader of a meta-human rebellion operating from the free state of Maluku. I can’t wait to meet Drew![3]

fn3: Although I’ll be kind of disappointed if I do. This adventure is set years after the events Drew was part of, and she was furiously serious about dying in combat, so if she made it to actual old age she probably failed at life.

fn4: Although the cargo ship was maybe 200m long, we were only able to get a much smaller ship after laundering it. Through negotiation with our GM we bargained it to about 60m, and then we started googling shipping sites and looking for suitable vessels. At some point someone suggested the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior as a template, which triggered me to search the Sea Shepherd fleet. It’s perfect as a model for the kind of ships that an RPG group would use. They’re small, mobile ships designed to be able to survive on the open ocean (even the southern ocean) but versatile for littoral operations and able to dock anywhere; they’re designed for ship-to-ship raiding, to hold a small crew with a limited cargo, and one even has space for a small helicopter. They’re also robust, ex-ice breakers and the like, and have enough spare space that you could fit weapons if you liked (obviously the Sea Shepherds don’t). If you are aiming for a ship that isn’t straight up military, and don’t want to model it on a coast guard vessel, then the Sea Shepherd fleet is your perfect design. Also our GM told us that after the Awakening the Sea Shepherds went from protesting whaling to trying to protect swimmers from magically endowed and vengeful whales before they went out of business, so their ships are on the market and ready for us!