As good a place as any to die

Our PCs have fought off an attack by the Order of the Pariah on an archaeological dig at Caph B1, and after a cursory interrogation of the sole survivor learnt that the remaining detachment of the Order of the Pariah on the planet lacked sufficient troops to conduct a follow-up attack. Confident that this would mean they did not need to confront the Order’s local Abbott at the settlement, and not wanting more trouble than they needed, they decided to wait out the week at the dig, maintaining a careful watch on the area but not making any extra trouble. After a tense but uneventful week the dig leader, Sorabad Min, was able to register his bid for the site successfully and told them they were free to go.

The roster for today’s adventure:

  • Adam, gunner and acting captain
  • Reiko Ando, deckhand
  • Siladan Hatshepsut, archaeologist and data djinn
  • Saqr, pilot and mystic
  • Dr Banu Delecta, medic

Md Jenin Abad makes contact

From Caph B1 they decided to travel to the system’s main planet, Orchid, where they would rest for a few days on the space station and see if there was any work available for the next leg of their journey, on to Marfik. Orchid is a religious dictatorship, a ruthless extremist cult of the Church of the Icons ruling over a small and increasingly fractious population on a hot and exhausting planet, and nothing in their library database commended the planet to them. The spaceport was an ordinary and shabby old tube design, 500m long and about 100m wide with docking stations on the outer side and a sweep of service rooms, accommodation and businesses clustered on the planet-facing side, all with a slowly changing view of the clouded surface of Orchid. Most life on Orchid is reptilian and while they passed their time on its space station they became intimately acquainted with a range of lizard, snake and turtle dishes. They looked around for work among the few denizens of the station, and Reiko Ando was able to buy two hand grenades from a dubious trader in one of the markets, but no work presented itself. On their second day of fruitless searching, however, Dr Delecta received a message from an old colleague, Md Jenin Abad:

Hi Banu, it’s Jenin. I know you remember me from class and I connected you to Adam. It’s good to see you’re still working together and seem to be doing well. I really need your help, on a sensitive job. It’s a medical job in Marfik that carries high risk and requires a great deal of discretion. I wouldn’t ask you – in fact I couldn’t ask anyone – but you have two ships, at least one of which I guess has a medbay, and for this job I need two ships. I saw you still have Adam with you, which means you have muscle, I need that too. I’m willing to pay 100,000 upfront and if we’re successful another 50,000 on exit. It’ll take about a week, you’ll need to transport me and my interns to Marfik 4 and stay in orbit while I do some medical work. We may die on the job which is why I need a ship – the decontamination protocols will ensure that nobody else goes down with me, which is something I can’t guarantee planetside. If you agree to help me then please let’s meet and discuss it quickly – it’s urgent. But it also needs a lot of discretion so if you don’t want to take the risks then please don’t ask me more information, I can only tell you what you need to know after you agree. I know you and Adam trust me to be honest, and I promise you I’m not trying to do you wrong, it’s just a delicate situation and I can’t share anything unless you’re in. Anyway whatever you decide give my regards to Adam, tell him to keep his head up his chin down and his armour on. Of course you ended up on an armoured Yacht, you can’t even adventure without a gold-plated toilet can you? Let me know your decision soon please.


Class of ‘77

Md. Jenin Abad

She relayed the message to the rest of the group and they decided they should meet him. He invited them to a public observatory, where they found him sitting at a small ring of seats around a picnic table, the window opening on a great sweep of green from the planet below. He had prepared a small spread of fruits and grilled lizard meat, with cups of sweet tea, and to Delecta he had not changed a bit – even the faint incense smell on his clothes was the same as it had been two years earlier when they were in the academy together. His hair was in dreadlocks, as it had been when he first started studying medicine before the stricter rules of the later years had forced him to shave it off, and he had the same warm, infectious smile as he stood to greet her, the impeccable warmth of genuine humanity that had made it impossible for his richer and more arrogant peers to hate him no matter how out of place he was in their elite school. He took her hands and then clasped Adam by the shoulder, giving him a small, slow nod of recognition, before introducing himself to the rest of the group. They sat down to share out the fruit, dates and baklava, and fussed pouring tea for each other as over their shoulders the green arc of the planet inched slowly across the viewing window, slowly consuming the view and drenching the room in pale green light.

First they asked him about how he – a poor itinerant medic – had access to such a large amount of disposable money. He had a foundation, he told them, which received funds from various organizations and donors, but in this instance he was being paid directly by a separate organization, and the money was not his. He also told them that the job would take 1 to 2 weeks depending on how complex it was, and it could be very dangerous. They agreed to help him, and he revealed the situation.

The planet of Marfik 4 had been struck down by some kind of epidemic. Marfik 4 is an ice-mining world, which exists solely to dig up ice and trade it to Marfik 3, a desert world with a single settlement fashioned out of a fallen Firstcome space station called the Lithofor. Only about 700 people lived on Marfik 4, eking out a tough life in the ice mining trade, and once the epidemic struck they had split into two groups. The facility’s doctor, a few leaders and the security team had evacuated the living quarters to an industrial section with separate life support systems, and had left the remainder of the colonists to die of the epidemic. They could not call openly for help because if they did so and the Marfik system’s ruler, Queen Quara, heard of it she would activate her standard anti-epidemic precautions – orbital bombardment. However, by coincidence Jenin had been in the system, passing through on his way back to Coriolis, and someone from the Nomad Federation on the stricken planet had contacted him directly through activist circles. He thought he could do nothing but then seeing the Beast of Burden and Grace of the Icons 7132 in-system, and realizing they were under Adam’s captainship, he decided to put in a call for help.

Jenin’s plan was to take the two ships and his four interns to Marfik 4 and enter orbit above the mining site. They would use the shuttle from the Beast of Burden to ferry sick people up to the Grace of the Icons 7132, where he would establish a medical facility in the cargo hold. He wanted to use the ship for a medical centre because he could control the number of patients he dealt with, he would be away from the risk of any kind of intervention by the team who had separated from the diseased population, and if he was unable to cure the disease and himself became infected, he could be spaced, the ship opened to vaccuum, and standard decontamination procedures enacted that would ensure no biological matter remained on the ship. He wanted the PCs to stay on the Beast of Burden ready to move in and cleanse the ship if anything went wrong; he might also need them to go planetside and sort out trouble, which they could do in exo-suits without (much) risk of infection. Jenin’s team included a generalist who could fly shuttles, though she could not pilot spaceships, so he was confident that his team could handle the task of moving patients from the surface.

The PCs agreed to his plan, and the following day they set off for Marfik 4, 100,000 birr richer and considerably more apprehensive than when they arrived at Orchid.

Marfik 4

Pox planet

The trip to Marfik 4 took only a few days, both ships passing without incident through the portals and arriving over the ice mining colony without incident. The Marfik system is famous for vacuum beasts that are a hazard to shipping, but they did not encounter any on the journey, and arrived undamaged over the colony. Marfik’s sun is a red sub-giant, which has already expanded to consume the closest planet in the system and is slowly, over millions of years, going to consume the rest, so the system was suffused with its deep red light. Because Marfik 4 was an ice planet it did not reflect much of this light at all, and instead hung in space like a hellish ball of deepest crimson, almost black, with wisps of paler red floating across its surface where large cloud systems reflected a little more of the distant sun’s light. It looked like an evil bloodshot eye glaring balefully at them from the shadows of the Dark between the stars, a highly forbidding sight. As their ship drew into close geosynchronous orbit over the planet the could see the glitter of occasional satellites drifting across its surface, distant lights winking in the baleful charcoal blur of the planet.

They took their shuttle to the surface to meet the doomed colonists. At the landing strip they disembarked, wearing their Firstcome exo suits, and marched through drifting snow and over crunching ice to the grim, heavy concrete porticos of the welcome area. Here they passed through glassteel doors into a large atrium, where they were met by Jenin’s contact, Aramis. In a connected room, visible through glass, they could see 10 patients waiting in transport beds, no one tending to them. Jenin’s three interns – two doctors and a nurse – set to work moving them. Meanwhile the PCs explored a bit and asked some questions, and it became very apparent to them that there was something going on here. Why had the doctor separated himself so suddenly from the sick patients.

They took a connecting walkway to the industrial sector that the security team, doctor and leader had removed themselves to. As they walked they discussed a name to describe this breakaway group, and settled on The Cowards. They marched up to the door to the Cowards’ sealed industrial hideaway and, seeing it would not open, hailed them on intercom. The response was brief and rude: they were not going to come out or let anyone in, their number included the security team, and they were not going to welcome intruders with tea.

They returned with the shuttle to the Grace of the Icons 7132, but rather than returning to the Beast of Burden they accompanied the interns with the patients, looking for someone to interview. They settled on a woman called Selina, who had been in the canteen the first night with two of the index patients, Angelique and Scaggs, and had cleaned up Angelique’s vomit – which had been full of blood – and likely become infected immediately.

Interviewing her was difficult because the disease affected the brain of its victims, rendering them vague and confused and damaging their attention span. However, from the interview they learnt that Angelique and Scaggs had been on their day off together at the canteen when Angelique had vomited blood on the tables. This, Selina told them, was because Angelique and Scaggs were on the same ice-cutting shift that week, working the same site, and so had the day off together. She also told them that she had seen a doctor but he had been wearing heavy protective equipment, and had given her very little care.

The PCs discussed it as they disinfected before taking the fighter back to the Beast of Burden. They guessed that this disease had been buried in the ice, and somehow Angelique and Scaggs had been infected. When they asked around they discovered that ice cutters did not wear full exo suits: the air on Marfik 4 is breathable and the work is heavy, so they simply wear eye protection and scarfs, and it is possible they could breath in ice dust and definitely water vapour. The infection route seemed obvious, and when they consulted with Jenin he agreed; but the doctor’s use of heavy protective gear, and his sudden withdrawal from the community, was suspicious. Adam let Jenin know that they did not trust the Cowards and wanted to investigate the situation further: they would serve as an armed guard on any shuttle heading to the surface, and in the morning they wanted to do more investigation.

The missing manager

Overnight six of the ten patients, including Selina, died. The next morning they returned to the surface, and Siladan attempted to hack the computer system to find the shift roster so that they could find out where Angelique and Scaggs had worked. Unfortunately he failed, so instead they decided to use more old-fashioned methods. They located the shift manager’s room and visited him to interview him, but found his room empty and disturbed with obvious signs of a fight. They found blood on a cracked window, where perhaps his head had been banged on a window, and all of his electronic gear had been taken. Delecta took a sample of the blood, Saqr took a picture of the manager, and they left the room behind. Speaking with Artemis, they learned that the ice-cutting rosters were public knowledge, easily accessible, but when she attempted to access them she found that the last few days – including Angelique and Scaggs’s shift allocation – had been deleted.

As they expected! They found a quiet spot so that Saqr could use his mystic powers to seek out the shift manager, and were not surprised when Saqr, emerging from his trance, told them that the shift manager was buried in a snowdrift beyond the industrial sector, just outside the colony perimeter. Obviously he had been killed after revealing the location of Angelique and Scaggs’s ice-digging mission to the Cowards. That must be ground zero for the infection, and for some reason the Cowards were interested in hiding its location.

They returned to the Grace of the Icons 7132 with 10 more patients, and an investigation of the blood on the window from the shift manager’s room revealed he did not have the infection. They told Jenin what they had found and decided that the next day they would break into the Cowards’ refuge and demand answers. Something sinister was going on in this colony, and they were going to get to the heart of it.

They decontaminated, returned to the Beast of Burden on the ship’s fighter, and prepared for bloodshed on the blood red snows of Marfik 4.

Art note: The first picture is a satellite image of Antarctica. The second image is from the deviant artist called DesertDraggon.