Science Fiction


On old Al-Ardha there was a nation of deltas and rivers, a low-lying land that had made its history and its culture at one with the sea. Rich nations far away from this tidebound kingdom polluted and ruined Al-Ardha, and as the seas of the warming world rose this nation that had lived at peace with the brine for 1000 years was inundated and ruined.

The people of this nation had a proud tradition of ship-breaking, taking the terrestrial ships of other nations and reducing them to their bones and parts, repurposing them and selling them. When the people of the First Horizon went into space the people of this nation followed, taking their ship-breaking skills to the Dark between the stars and becoming consummate recyclers of the ships of the richer nations that were ruining the surface. But for all their labours, when the people of the First Horizon sent out their generation ships to colonize the second and third Horizons, the people of this proud riverine kingdom were not included. Watching their own land sink beneath the waves of their dying world, they decided to build their own generation ship, fashioning a mighty vessel to take them to the Third Horizon and preparing it with loving care over decades to send out to the stars.

As they finished their ship, however, the people of the First Horizon discovered the portals, and generation ships were no longer necessary. The river-folk of this drowning land saw their chance, and quickly redesigned their ship to travel through the portals. They set off through the portals with the rest of Al-Ardha’s fleet, arriving in the Third Horizon and becoming part of the wave of migration known as the Firstcome.

This nation’s ship was called অটুট, Atuta, in their language. In the language of the Third Horizon this would be interpreted as the Unbroken. While the other Firstcome ships had been designed for the portals, the Unbroken had been designed as a generation ship, and it dwarfed the other Firstcome ships. 4km long, carrying some 500,000 people and a wealth of equipment and materiel, the Unbroken was twice the size of the next largest ship in the Firstcome fleet, and carried far more people than any of the other ships in the fleet. When the Firstcome arrived in the Third Horizon a mad scramble began to find new planets and places to settle, but the people of the Unbroken, being themselves victims of colonialism, refused to join the frenzied competition for land and resources that characterized that first wave of settlement. Instead they traveled the Horizon looking for a place to rest. By dint of the skill of their captains, long honed in a land that had grown with the sea and leapt into the sky, they were able to navigate the unstable portals of the Dabaran circle, and were among the first to arrive in the Dabaran system. While some of those who came with them chose to settle planets in the system the people of the Unbroken decided to make their fate in the stars, doing what they had done in the First Horizon. They brought the Unbroken to rest in a far orbit in the Dabaran system, and turned the huge ship into a massive space station, hundreds of years before the arrival of the Zenith. The massive engines that had powered it were repurposed into material for factories and shipyards, and the Shipbuilders of Dabaran began their trade.

Over the next generations, before the portal wars collapsed the portals and destroyed the connection to Al-Ardha, the people of that drowning nation set out on many small ships to the Third Horizon to join their pioneers from the Unbroken, bringing their ship-breaking yards and their factories and their culture to the Third Horizon. Over those generations another million people joined the original settlers, and the original space station grew in size, the Unbroken now surrounded by platforms and barges and dormitory stations and factories. The complex grew, and in this complex developed the largest, most productive and well-known of the Horizon’s shipyards: the Dabaran Shipyards. These shipyards could do anything: repurposing, renovating, scrapping, salvaging and building. They took old ships and reduced them to their components, recycling the parts into new ships for clients all across the Horizon. They refurbished and repurposed ships, adding and removing modules, changing shapes, grafting in new components, redesigning anything they were asked to do. And using the components they stripped from other ships, or materials brought in from distant systems, they build new ships to order. Mira could make faster, more beautiful ships; the freighters of Darkos were unparalleled for their solidity; Harima’s ships were faster and more luxurious; but if you wanted versatility in your design, at a reasonable price, or just wanted a simple, all-purpose ship with no problems and no fuss, the shipyards of Dabaran could build it for you. Everyone in the Horizon knows about Dabaran ships, but somehow they pass through every system unheralded, unnoticed and without awe or disgust. They are the workhorses of the Horizon, the vessels that all the people of the systems of the Horizon do not even know they depend on. These are the many progeny of the shipyards of Dabaran.

A ship being broken, viewed from the deck of the Legion destroyer Azure Sky

Over the years the shipbuilders of Dabaran have become synonymous with the system itself. Their language, Dabari, is spoken on all its planets, and the industry of ship building dominates the economy of the whole system. Over time the shipbuilders themselves have become associated with the system, and so they themselves are called Dabarani. Some live on the surface of the Dabaran system’s planets, but the majority – perhaps 2 million in total – live in the many stations and satellites of the shipbuilding community, which is generally referred to as Atuta by its residents. Atuta is a huge, thriving complex of interconnected spaceships, space stations, platforms, barges and habitats, linked by a complex network of transport tubes, docking stations, and tiny fliers and transports that swarm around the habitats themselves. Even a lifetime spent on Atuta is insufficient to understand its many communities, souks, gardens and factories, and to visit Atuta is to understand what the Horizon could be like if only everyone were as industrious, as busy and as energetic as the Dabarani. People from all over the Horizon come here to trade ships and ship parts, to do business in the hectic and confused bazaars and marketplaces, and to make money from the shipping industry. In particular the agents of the Nomad Federation and the Free League swarm to Atuta to do business, and it is a stronghold of these factions. The Legion have a presence here as well, ostensibly to ensure security but in reality to ensure a steady supply of spare parts and new ships for their expanding empire. Far out from the centre of the Horizon, Atuta is a hub of commerce and industry.

The Dabarani build ships, and they also break them. But they do not, officially, break or refurbish illegal ships, and it is an unwise adventurer who brings a stolen ship to the Dabarani to be refitted or scrapped. However, a large industry of hackers and criminals has grown around Atuta, laundering the names and registrations of stolen ships so that they can be merged into the industrial landscape and repurposed or scrapped by its official industry. The Dabarani ruling council claim to be ignorant of any such crimes, and promise to punish them with extreme prejudice if caught, but everyone knows that in reality they tolerate these people in their midst in exchange for the business they bring. Some say the Legion maintain a presence here so they can watch this business, and keep track of all the ships that are being stolen and scrapped – and the people doing it. Others say that the Dabarani are nothing more than the permanent home base of the Nomad Federation, who sometimes need to trade in stolen and salvaged ships, but the truth is simpler: Atuta is open for business, and any business can be done here for the right price, if you are careful and you do not cross the Legion or the leadership of Atuta. If you have a stolen ship all you need to do is find one of the many Data Djinn who work at the fringes of Atuta, laundering ship licenses, and then you are free to take your new, “clean” ship into Artuta to pay the Dabarani to modify it.

With commercial influence and power has come cultural independence, and the Dabarani have retained many unique cultural practices over the years. The hull of the Unbroken itself remains largely untouched, but within it has been renovated to reflect its new purpose as the centre of Dabrani culture. The old hangars, vast spaces designed to hold the many courier ships and shuttles of the original generation ship, have been turned into a complex of gardens and shrines, with at its centre a huge hall for reflection and revelation. Most of the ship’s stasis pods have long since been stripped away and turned into parts for an expanded medical bay, but a few remain, converted into tombs to hold the remains of the Nabi, the navigators, captains and engineers who guided Dabarani society through the first generation of its growth in the Third Horizon. The Unbroken also bristles with ancient Firstcome weapons, installed during the portal wars, and although quiescent now represents a potent military force if roused to action. The Dabarani also follow a variant of the Church of the Icons, in which the Icons are not revered as gods but as messengers of an ineffable elder god. While others in the Third Horizon hold all the Icons as equal, the Dabarani revere the Messenger above all, seeing him as the original conduit for the wisdom of the ancient god, and like to quote from a book of his ideas that they claim he brought with him from the First Horizon (and which the other Firstcome lost).

This is Atuta, the Unbroken, the home of the last refugees of a drowning land, its best pilots and its most industrious shipbuilders. The entire Horizon is connected by its labour, and the entire Horizon can be found here, in Atuta.

Howling in shadows, living in a lunar spell
He finds his heaven, spewing from the mouth of hell

Those that the beast is looking for
Listen in awe and you’ll hear him

Bark at the moon

Our heroes are in a difficult position. They have been trapped in a buried firstcome space ship by an Efrit, which has escaped and obviously intent on wreaking havoc. Meanwhile, the moon that hangs over Melik 2 has begun to fall, and in just a week will destroy the planet. The PCs have to escape from the buried ship, warn everyone, deal with the Efrit, and find a way to stop the moon falling. The roster for today’s chaos:

  • Adam, gunner and acting captain
  • Oliver Greenstar, colonist
  • Reiko Ando, deckhand and swordwoman
  • Siladan Hatshepsut, archaeologist and data djinn
  • Banu Delecta, doctor

Before we begin the description of today’s events, however, let us introduce a small example of Chekhov’s gun…

Vortex Grenade

This is an artifact, probably portal builder. The PCs found it in the space station they captured in Assager’s Ghost in the Algebar system. This station was in the possession of a mad mystic who was conducting experiments on other mystics, and after they killed him and his guards the PCs found this single vortex grenade in his equipment. This grenade is a shimmering white orb with glyphs carved on it, one raised and slightly larger. The PCs had learnt what it does: when activated and thrown it briefly opens a portal that sucks everything in close range into the portal and transports it somewhere else. This makes it a very effective weapon, and they assumed that it would open somewhere deadly, like the Dark between the stars or a sun. Adam carried this weapon, with the intent of using it only when he was desperate. Now, the PCs are desperate.

The buried ship

Oliver Greenstar chased the efrit when it fled the bridge of the buried ship, but it slammed a door shut before he could pass through, and they found themselves trapped inside the belly of the ship. They tried the doors and found a second door they thought they could hack, although they were attacked by another bokor as they searched the area. As Siladan was working his magic on this ancient door they heard a distant rumbling, which they assumed was their spaceship being stolen by the efrit. After a few minutes of frantic work Siladan broke through the door and they rushed to the rear exit of the ship, to find it blocked by a rockfall. The rumbling had been the efrit using Dr. Sinra’s last archaeological explosive to block their only exit from the ship.

Fortunately dig explosives are not powerful, and had not brought a huge wall of rocks down on them. They guessed that they could shift a gap in the wall if they spent hours working, and so they set to work digging through the wall, moving rocks back down the narrow gap in the wall and into the large cargo area. As Adam worked on this the others set about looting the Firstcome ship. They successfully pried loose the ship’s data cores without compromising them, and also were able to manoeuvre the beautiful Firstcome flyer out of its hangar and through the cargo space to the rear exit. By the time Adam dug through to sunlight, perhaps 7 hours later, they had managed to restore some dignity, get some rest, and prepare themselves for the next stage.

The disaster begins to unfold

Outside they found the half-track still facing the entrance, its machine gun untouched, and the No Satisfaction waiting in gently falling snow. Alma Sinra lay face down in the snow, unconscious. They approached her slowly, confirming she was no longer possessed before they woke her, and then moved carefully into the ship itself, expecting the Efrit to be waiting for them inside. They wondered if perhaps the efrit was already gone – the long white contrail of a spaceship, hanging in the sky far above them and glowing rose gold in the setting sun, suggested to them that they might be too late, and it had already found a way off planet.

It was not waiting for them on the spaceship, so they put in a call to Saqr on the Beast of Burden, and called their flagship down to the surface. As the Beast of Burden pulled away from the Hormous station towards atmosphere Reiko saw that the portals on the station were already beginning to malfunction, and watched in horror as station residents walking through a portal were dumped into space, wearing just their station clothes. They would walk into the empty Dark, calmly expecting to be walking in the portal’s destination, then after a moment realize that the portal had ejected them into space, begin frantically struggling, and then die. Every few minutes another person would emerge from the strange ripple of a misguided portal, and fall in a perfect arc towards the distant planet. The moon’s changing gravity was disrupting the portals in the station, and everything was beginning to fall apart.

When the Beast of Burden reached atmosphere they flew the No Satisfaction to dock, and took their flagship to the exploration settlement they had visited on the way to the research site. They wanted to collect the expert on Firstcome languages, Argent Flame, to help them. Although Adam had burnt the horrific book that had held the secrets of the ancient ritual that had frozen the moon in place Oliver had stolen a few pages, and they now had the data core from the ship and all the writing in the ritual circle and on the walls of the rooms of the buried ship. They intended to ask Argent Flame to help them decode it all, and see if they could bring together some kind of counter-ritual that Saqr, Oliver and the mystics on the Beast of Burden could perform to reverse the falling moon.

On the way to the exploration settlement they called their employer, Aaryan Sin, at Terminus Island, and warned him of the falling moon. They told him that as soon as they had picked up Argent Flame they would come and get him. Then they called Argent Flame on her tiny radio set. She answered quickly and told them that something terrible had happened. The Order of the Pariah troopship, Judgement of the Dancer, had landed at the exploration settlement and for some reason they had begun shooting each other. There was a gun battle happening in the exploration settlement between factions of the Order, and she was trapped in the medical bay.

They guessed immediately what had happened. The Order of the Pariah, who they suspected had killed all the priests of the Church of the Icons on Hormous station, had come to the planet to find out whether the Efrit had escaped, or perhaps to rescue their agent Muhammad Ibn Har. When they arrived at the exploration settlement the Efrit had been waiting for them, had possessed the most powerful member of the group and enslaved some other soldiers, and now was trying to take over the ship. They now had a chance to kill it, if they could surprise it during its battle with its own kind.

Fighting the Order of the Pariah

The Judgement of the Dancer sat steaming in freshly-melted snow and mud at one end of the settlement, a lean black terror against the grubby simplicity of the settlement. A squad of soldiers had taken cover behind cargo crates, and were firing at another tumbled mess of crates where some other soldiers appeared to be hiding and firing back. The PCs flew the Beast of Burden in, dropped off Adam to rescue Argent Flame, and entered battle.

Unfortunately, this battle was one of the most dismal, embarrassing, chaotic and ridiculous battles I have ever seen my group engage in, and it is an embarrassment to report it. Oliver Greenstar spent his time attempting to negotiate with the efrit, to no benefit, while Reiko Ando and Dr. Delecta presented themselves as rocket launcher fodder and everyone abandoned Adam to face the Efrit by himself. The efrit had possessed the troopship’s leader, a monster in animate armour with a gravitic hammer. This monster smashed Adam into the dust with one blow from that hammer, then fled to the spaceship to escape. Oliver finally got his act together and shot the beast with the Beast of Burden’s accelerator cannon, which should turn any living human being to ash, but the animate armour has mysterious glyph protection, and the efrit rode out the damage without taking even a bruise. The fight came to its bitter end with Adam, on his last legs, badly injured and strung out, charging forward to throw the vortex grenade at the efrit. This landed right at the beast’s feet, the portal opened and the efrit was sucked in. In the moments that it was open and they could see through, Adam looked carefully to see where the beast might be dumped …

… and was horrified to see that the vortex grenade opened a portal to their own space station. The portal slammed shut a heartbeat later, leaving the efrit stranded in their space station back in the Algebar system.

The mystic must have reprogrammed the grenade and planned to use it as his own emergency escape device, capable of teleporting him back to his home from anywhere in the Horizon. The PCs had assumed it was a weapon, and did not realize it had been redesigned to be used as a glyph of recall[1]. Now this hideous beast, in possession of one of the Order of the Pariah’s elite troops, wearing animate armour and carrying a gravitic hammer, was waiting for them in their station.

But at least it wasn’t trying to kill them now. They took control of the Judgement of the Dancer, and set about finding the ritual that would reverse the falling moon.

A ritual of life

After just one day of research, during which increasingly serious gravitational disruptions began to wreak havoc across the planet, the PCs found the ritual they would need. It would be a ritual of life, on an island in the sun on the sunward side of the planet, in which the mystics from the ship and all the PCs would engage in an orgy of frenzied coupling with the devotees of Ahlam’s temple that they had met at the exploration settlement. If they could conduct the ritual correctly, and one of them or the devotees of Ahlam’s temple could conceive a child, then that spark of life, arising in the sun on the far side of the planet from the horrific ritual of death in the dark soil of the moonward side, would serve to reverse the falling of the moon. It would be locked into a closer orbit, but it would no longer be falling[2].

For a whole day they danced and prayed and chanted and drank and fucked, and at the end of the day the moon stopped its slow, spinning fall. A sunchild had been conceived, to counter the evil that had entrapped the Efrit, and disaster had been averted.

The next day, ashamed and exhausted, they took their new Pariah ship and the Beast of Burden, made their farewells, and headed to the stars. Behind them the world was wracked by storms, earthquakes and disaster as the moon took up its new orbit, circling the planet like any normal moon and leaving in its wake a trail of destruction and ruin. They had stopped the evisceration of a planet, but the cultures that had grown up there over 1000 years in the shadow of that moon were now doomed, their way of life torn apart as they fell into the thrall of that falling moon[3].

 

 


fn1: This was my plan all along. I had expected them to use this on some elite squad of soldiers at this point, only to have them teleport back to the space station at Assager’s ghost and take control of it. I did not expect them to teleport an Efrit back there!

Fn2: I used an accrued success mechanism to resolve this: the group could make a research check every 8 hours and once they reached 10 successes they had the ritual. Once they got the 10 successes the PCs could make up the ritual that they would need to enact, but for every failure or every time they prayed, I could insert some complication or evil detail into it. They rolled no failures and did no prayers, so they got to completely control the ritual. And of course, being players, this is what they chose …

Fn3: This is a riff on the title of a session write up from a previous campaign, where I was a player, In the Thrall of the Failing Moon.

And if you die by your own hand
As a suicide you shall be damned
And if you try to save your soul
I will torment you, you shall not grow old
With every second and passing breath
You’ll be so alone, your soul will bleed to death
Moonchild, hear the mandrake scream
Moonchild, open the seventh seal
Moonchild, you’ll be mine soon child
Moonchild, take my hand tonight

Our heroes have arrived at the Melik system, where they stop briefly at the famed Hormous station. For a day they explored its mysterious portal wonders, wandering around the white-washed halls of the ancient portal builder station and enjoying the mysteries of its many interconnected sections, before they received a message with an offer of work. A man called Aaryan Sin sent them a video message, telling them he needed the help of “Amadi’s combat archaeologists,” and inviting them to visit him on the surface of Melik 2, at the island called Terminus. To sweeten his offer, he was willing to pay them 1000 birr to transport some basic cargo to the base, where they could discuss – and refuse – his job offer if they wished.

The roster for today’s mission:

 

  • Adam, gunner and acting captain
  • Oliver Greenstar, colonist
  • Siladan Hatshepsut, archaeologist and data djinn
  • Banu Delecta, doctor

Terminus island

Terminus is the only permanent non-native settlement on Melfik 2, and serves as the main supply and support base for researchers working all across both hemispheres of this strange planet. It is located at the furthest reach of the shadow of Melfik 2’s largest moon, on the equator, so enjoys the warmest weather that can be experienced within close reach of the dark side of the planet. Melik 2 has a strange celestial phenomenon, a massive moon half the diameter of the planet that is locked into a geo-stationary orbit with the planet, so close that it blocks much of the sunlight to one half of the planet. As a result one half of the planet is permanently in shadow, seeing sunlight only for a few hours at dawn and dusk, and the entire planet is very cold because of the lost energy. The planet’s original Firstcome inhabitants have regressed to a near-neolithic existence, likely under the catastrophic effect of the looming moon, and live in scattered islands on the sunward side of the planet, or remote and isolated communities in the ice of the night side. Because the planet was originally a Firstcome settlement there is much research here, with archaeologists and scientists attempting to find ancient ruins to investigate; and the looming moon draws the attention of physicists and biologists eager to learn about its influence. However, Consortium rules prevent direct interference in the lives of the natives, and so only one permanent settlement exists, the hard-scrabble island of Terminus.

The PCs flew in on their shuttle, the No Satisfaction, leaving the Beast of Burden in a nearby orbit to monitor their situation. No ships above class 2 are allowed to enter the atmosphere of Melik 2, and all movement around the planet is restricted to ground vehicles and native mounts, a kind of huge bison-like creature called a Hovva. This restriction is partly intended to protect the natives from interference, and partly intended to prevent accidents – under the influence of the moon’s gravity the smaller graviton projectors of class 1 or class 2 ships can be unstable, so flight is limited. This was clear when they arrived at the Terminus airstrip and found it deserted, with only a few crates to break the vista of mud-and-snow, and no one to meet them. As they waited on the desolate, frozen, windy landing strip a small crew of men arrived to being unpacking crates, and a petrochemical-powered vehicle rolled up to their ship. A middle-aged, brown-skinned man hopped out and introduced himself as Aaryan Sin. He was a cheerful, relaxed and voluble chap, welcoming them all with broad gestures and a loud voice, and inviting them all into his undersized vehicle. He gave instructions to the surly stevedores, and they headed into the settlement over bumpy, poorly-maintained roads.

At the settlement Aaryan explained himself and his situation. He was a long-term friend of their patron, Drefusol Amadi, and was thrilled to have them in his system – he had run into a small problem recently with which he could use their help. Aaryan was a fixer, a man who organized porters, security, transport and guides for researchers working on Melik 2. Recently one of the teams he had been supporting had gone missing, and he needed someone to go and find them. They had been out of contact for three days so he had activated their insurance clause, which meant he could pay the PCs 10,000 birr upfront to help find them, and 15,000 more if things turned dangerous. He expected that the research group was already dead, but he wanted the PCs to find out what or who had killed them, and if necessary bring them to justice. If it was something sinister, such as a Firstcome remnant, they were to kill it if they could and split any treasure with Aaryan. Aaryan gave them a brief overview of the research team – a leader, two students, three labourers and a data djinn – and their coordinates. Since he suspected that they might have been betrayed by competitors, and had some cargo to deliver, he would like them to first visit a research base, located three days’ journey by boat and Hovva from Terminus, and three days’ Hovva ride from the research team’s last location. He would like them to spend a night there investigating the activities of possible rivals, then go and find the team. Since the insurance clause had been triggered, they were able to use their spaceship for the mission – a rare benefit for anyone on this planet. Aaryan warned them that graviton projectors would not work well, and they would not be able to use advanced communications in the shadow of the moon – most people used radio. He gave them a simple radio set and loaned them a half-track, to which Adam attached the group’s machine gun, and they were ready to go.

The PCs agreed to the mission, and set off for the nameless exploration settlement that Aaryan directed them to.

The exploration settlement

They arrived at the exploration settlement within an hour, and were greeted by its manager, Col Maggarh. The settlement was a ramschackle collection of huts and warehouses, with about 70 residents of whom only about 40 were regulars, mostly bodyguards, porters and courtesans. They checked into the only hotel, a small series of capsules called the Ice Rose, and ventured out to the local tavern, the only watering hole within 1000km, an old but well-kept place called the Ice Louse. This tavern was some kind of converted warehouse, warm and decorated with idiosyncratic tables of driftwood and polished bone. Here they separated, with two members of the party heading to the local Ahlam’s Temple conveniences while two remained in the tavern to socialize and learn rumours.

They did not learn much, but it was enough. No one knew much of the group they were chasing, but one of Ahlam’s courtesans recalled one of the group, a Muhammed Ibn Har, spent a lot of money at the Temple, even though he was just a labourer. Others reported that the team’s leader, Alma Sinra, was extremely secretive about her mission. While they were here they also learned that most of the natives in the area were friendly and not dangerous, and that there had recently been some gravitational disturbances. These disturbances were so bad that the exploration settlement’s earthquake warning alarms – which are triggered by graviton waves – had been going off without cause, annoying the camp and creating conflict between the researchers and Col Maggarh, who did not want to repair them until he was paid.

While they were dressing in the rest rooms of Ahlam’s Temple, Oliver Greenstar and Siladan saw a disturbing news item on the public news channel. A few hours earlier someone had discovered that the entire complement of Church of the Icons monks on Hormous station had been murdered. Someone had infiltrated their rooms and murdered them. The news did not reveal exactly when or who had done it, only that investigations were ongoing. Why would someone murder peaceful monks, whose only job was to maintain constant prayer at their strange and unorthodox shrine? Most likely it was just some internal religious conflict, but it was still disturbing news. Something about the circumstances of this mission made them all jumpy.

They also met a woman, Argent Flame, who was a specialist in Firstcome languages. Adam invited her to visit their space station, and investigate its rich (but disturbing) writings. She agreed, though they did not settle on a time. The next morning, they all headed to the research team’s last known location.

The crash site

As they approached the coordinates they had been given a thick mist lay across the landscape, giving them only fleeting views of a small expeditionary camp. As they flew towards it Delecta activated her proximity sensor and identified eight shapes milling around pointlessly near the landing site. They came to a careful halt a short distance from the camp and rode the half track down the ramp towards the camp, coming to a halt a short distance from the milling figures. In the thick fog the half-track’s headlamps only reached 20m before the scattered light became blinding. Oliver Greenstar stepped out of the half-track and moved forward, covered by Adam’s machine gun, and Siladan moved the half-track forward slowly, its ancient petrochemical engine growling and coughing in the cold.

After a short distance they found the body of a dead man, badly disfigured. As Oliver approached the body, a gang of huge scavenger-beasts scattered and ran away – the source of the eight points on Delecta’s proximity sensor. They had obviously been eating the body, which was torn apart and scattered over the frozen ground. Beyond it the temporary accommodation of the research base loomed in the mist, three auto-erecting prefab buildings. Dr Delecta exited the half-track and checked the body, but her university education and residency in a swish plastic surgery in the upper levels of Coriolis had not prepared her for this kind of wreckage, and she could not sort through the gore to identify how the poor person had died. They identified the body as Mohammed ibn Har, the man who had been splashing his newfound cash at Ahlam’s Temple, and when they searched his body they found a strange, small tabula that was too thin and too small to be normal.

The tabula’s battery appeared to be drained and the camp was deathly silent, so they decided to explore the buildings and see if they could charge the tabula or find other evidence of the activities of the camp. Adam remained on guard duty in the half-track, machine gun at the ready, as the team fanned out to check the accommodation. Dr Delecta searched the labourer’s accommodation, finding ibn Har’s bunk and looking for evidence of spying, but was attacked by one of the strange scavenger dogs as she searched. It attacked her from behind, its vicious bite failing to break her armour, and she ran outside screaming. The beast followed, a huge ragged six-legged furry slug of a thing, the size of a dining-room table and made entirely of claws and thick, stinking fur. As it burst out of the door, snarling and breathing noxious rotten-meat breath, Adam hit it with the full force of the machine gun and smeared across the accommodation walls. Somewhere far away the other dogs wailed and ran away. Delecta retreated to the safety of the half-track, chastened.

Siladan found Dr. Sinra’s office and accommodation. He found a map that showed where the dig site was, but seemed to indicate that there was a strange geological structure between the camp and the site, though he could not understand from the map what it was. He searched her research tabula and learnt the reason she had come here: she had learnt rumours of a crashed Firstcome ship, probably from the Emirate planet, and had come to investigate it. She seemed averse to writing down details, so he could learn nothing about how she had discovered its existence or what she was looking, except that a native had stumbled upon a fresh rockfall that revealed the ship, and someone had alerted her to it. This seemed very suspicious to Siladan, but he could not pin down why. He dug around in the research room and found a charger, which he modified to fit into ibn Har’s strange tabula, but was surprised to discover, when he tried to activate it, that the tabula was not drained. Rather, its battery had self-destructed and melted much of the inside of the tabula, apparently intended to render it inoperable. Siladan fiddled, and was able to liberate an undamaged memory chip. He linked this up to his own tabula, and discovered that the strange tabula had been used only once, and for one purpose: to send a tight-beam burst on a highly advanced communications system directly to the Order of the Pariah troopship, the Judgment of the Dancer, which was docked at Hormous station. The message was a single, ominous phrase:

The worst has happened. Activate all measures immediately.

It appeared that Mohammed ibn Har had been working for the Order of the Pariah. Something must have happened at the dig site, and he had fled back to the camp to release this message. What were “all measures”? And what was “the worst”?

Adam grunted. “I’m getting sick of careless archaeologists,” he muttered, and they boarded their ship to head for the dig site.

Behind the seven seals

The dig site was just 2 km from the camp, but they were glad they flew there. Beneath the No Satisfaction they saw a huge expanse of broken and tumbled ice, that would have been almost impossible to navigate with their half-track and which looked dangerous even for a small team on foot. They skipped over it and landed within a short distance of the dig site itself, again rolling down the ramp from the ship in their coughing, roaring old half-track, which crawled over shallow snow and gravel to a small hillside, where a recent rockfall had revealed a narrow cut into the hill. A single long-lasting expedition lamp cast a smouldering, sulphurous glow over the outside of the cave. They had found the dig site. The ship must be behind the rock fall. What icy aeons had encased this ship, and what had the ship been carrying? There was only one way to find out, so they drove the half-track close to the hole, parked it with the machine gun facing the hole, and exited into the chilly, filthy planetary air. As they walked towards the hole in the rockfall they received a message from Saqr, on the Beast of Burden. It had been hanging in orbit above Melik 2, in a position from which they hoped to be able to receive broadcasts, but Saqr’s message dashed those hopes, and brought far worse news:

Adam, team. I’m sorry but there is gravitational disturbance up here and the Beast’s graviton projectors aren’t working well. I am returning to Hormous station to check them, and for safety. Also, I know you’re not going to believe this but please do. I think the moon has begun to fall towards the planet. I think you should come back, because my calculations are it will destroy the planet in a week if nothing changes. Whatever’s going on down there, please figure it out and get out soon. If I don’t hear from you within 12 hours I’ll come looking. Somehow.

Something terrible was happening, and after the news at the research base the PCs had a good idea of what. Whatever was happening in orbit was connected to whatever this archaeological team had been doing in this hole in the ground. They had no choice but to continue, even as the moon began to fall.

They crept through the narrow culvert and into the bowels of the ship. First they entered a large, empty cargo hold. They searched it and found two strange sarcophagus-like stasis pods. Both were empty and closed, and were not connected to any power source. They appeared to have been simply cargo. Both were of amazing beauty and probably great worth, just sitting there untouched in the first, most easily-accessible room of the ship. Why had the dig team not taken them?

The cargo hold was maybe 40m in diameter, its inner side holding two large doors. A firstcome symbol had been painted on both doors in bold, strong strokes of red paint that had not faded in however many centuries the ship had rested here. They could not read the symbol, but it seemed freighted with menace. The right hand door was locked, but the left hand door had been hacked using a common archaeological device, which was low on batteries but still active. They pushed the button, slid the door open and stepped inside.

Beyond this door was a 15m long, 10m wide hangar. It held a single Firstcome flyer, a beautiful example of its kind, splendidly worked in strange metals with beautiful designs etched in its slim and stylish form. It was clearly a very high quality, and extremely rare specimen of its kind, probably priceless on the antique market. They stared at it in stunned silence, until they noticed a blood stain on its bow, and a body lying in a pool of blood on the ground. Approaching carefully, they identified it as one of the expedition’s students, Jiwanna. She was a 23 year old third year master’s student with a stationary background, obviously attacked by something that had bitten her throat and back. She must have fled here but succumbed to her injuries, falling on the front of the flyer and then dying in the dark, cold of the ship’s bowels.

At the far end of the room they found another door with the same disturbing symbol carved on it. This door, too, had been hacked with a common archaeological device. They slapped the button and stepped through into a room of darkness and horror.

It was 40m wide and about 30m deep, an octagonal shape. There were no lights or energy in the ship, so they could only explore it using their suit lamps, narrow beams of forlorn blue light that only showed them small parts of the disturbing scene at a time. The first thing they saw was a dead person, preserved by an aeon of frozen dry air, their skin dry and clinging to their bones. The person was wearing a ceremonial robe and lying in a circle that appeared to have been hastily painted on the floor, a silver knife lying by their side and a thin film of dessicated dried blood surrounding their body. The painted circle was part of a larger arrangement, two circles that touched it on opposite sides. These two painted circles were filled with Firstcome writing, hastily scrawled in large, messy, sweeping patterns between the circles. They followed the circles around the room, peering into the gloom with the weak blue light of their suit lamps and confirmed their worst fears: a ritual had been enacted here. Two huge circles had been drawn on the floor, linking together seven smaller circles and filled with ancient writing. In each of the seven smaller circles a single robed person lay dead. In one circle was a book, full of Firstcome writing, that appeared to be made of some kind of cured flesh bound between two plates of bone from some kind of large animal. The ritual must have been enacted hastily, because the room had once been a kind of rest room or ready room for nobles, but all the furniture and items in the room had been torn up and hastily thrown against the walls to make space for the circle. The PCs guessed that the ship had crashed and whoever was in the ship had hastily moved everything in the room aside to make space for the ritual. Why?

There was a large door on the far side of the room, again painted with that strange symbol. The two doors that opened in the room from the direction they had come were not painted with the same seal. This seal was only painted on doors on the face that pointed towards the ship’s only viable exit. Why?

As they were pondering this the party were attacked by Bokor. Thin, shadowy beasts emerged from the second door on the wall next to the door through which they had entered, and tried to kill them. There were four of them, almost completely insubstantial with their hunger, reaching desperately for the only warmth they could hope for in this Icons-forsaken ship. The PCs fought the starved shadows off easily, killing them quickly without injury. When they searched the room the Bokors had come from they found the other two labourers from the dig crew. They must have entered this room and been ambushed by the Bokors. Perhaps the Bokors had been sealed in here and the labourers had opened the door? In the main room they found the body of the dig crew’s data djinn, Azzar Akter, a 25 year old man. All of them had been killed by the Bokors. It was tempting to think they had been ambushed here and fled, but where was Sivada, the other student? And where was Alma Sinra? The door on the inner side of the room, protected by its seal, had the same hacking device attached to its control panel. They activated it, and stepped through.

Inside was a small ante-chamber, separated from the ship’s bridge by a glass door, on which the same seal was painted. The remaining student, Sivada, lay dead on the floor in the middle of the room, and Alma Sinra was prowling around the bridge, looking ragged and haunted. A sarcophagus lay open in the bridge area. As they entered Sinra ran to the door and yelled at them,

Don’t go back! Die in here with me!

Then suddenly her expression changed, becoming wild and frenzied. Her whole body, short and frumpy from years of deskwork, shook with rage and anguish, and then she screamed a super human scream of rage that could never come from a woman of her frame. She hit the door button, and it slid open.

Moments later, a strange shadowy form slid across the space from the door, and took control of Dr. Delecta. She opened fire on Adam and turned to run for the next door. By now the PCs were used to this kind of thing – they had seen djinn[1] before on the Orun 2 – so they tried to tackle her. Two of them failed, but Siladan beat her down with his halberd. He knocked her down, and Adam grabbed her and dragged her towards the sarcophagus, hoping to stuff her in and seal it before the djinn could escape. He wasn’t fast enough, and as he was trying to push her in a dark shadow slid out, took control of poor confused Dr. Sinra, and fled for the door. She turned towards them and hit them all with a blast of Mystic power that completely floored them, smashing them with a wave of panic that threw them all away from her. As they cowered in the corners she hit the door open button and ran outside before anyone could stop her.

By the time they recovered the Efrit was gone, the last door closed behind it and sealed against them. Whatever madness had possessed it over the past aeon was now free on Melik 2. And the moon was falling.

They had failed.


fn1: Actually this beast is an Efrit, the elite of Djinn, and makes the djinn they met in the Orun 2 look like small fry. Big trouble here, and it’s only getting worse!

 

 

Star: White

Planets: 5G

 

Known for:

The Blue Gas giant of Jibri

The Hormous Spaceport

The Radiation Spires

 

Astrography

 

Melik has a stable portal and system, but the strange situation of the moon around Melik 2 means it is a site of intensive research on gravitation.

 

Introduction

 

A relatively straightforward system astrologically, Melik has a very strange set of inner planets that make it a magnet for scientists and archaeologists from the rest of the Horizon. Its innermost planet, Melik 1, was once the home of a large civilization that was extinguished hundreds of years ago for reasons no one knows. The general theory is that it destroyed itself through climate change and industrial pollution, but there is no extant record of its existence, its cities and settlements have long since crumbled to dust, and the atmosphere of its planet is too toxic to make research worthwhile. Other planets in the system are rich with Firstcome ruins and history, and the system is busy because of research on these systems and the strange gravitational situation in Melik 2.

 

Melik 1

 

Size 13000 km (1.1g)
Orbit Empty
Atmosphere Infiltrating, toxic
Temperature Burning (90c)
Geosphere Earth-like
Population Uninhabited
Space port Nothing
Hooks Emirate (extinct)
Number of factions
Factions
Special
Distance 1.3 AU

 

Notes

 

This planet used to be ruled by an Emirate, but its industrial waste destroyed the planet. They all died or left, and no one knows what happened to them or why.

 

Melik 2

 

Size 10,000 km (0.7g)
Orbit 7 moons (biggest one is 5,000km, geostationary)
Atmosphere Breathable
Temperature Cold (-50c)
Geosphere Island world (oceans with some dry land)
Population 80,000
Space port Trade Cluster (Hormous space port)
Hooks Primitive first-come (Eskimos on one side and islander-types on the other)
Number of factions 5
Factions Nomad Federation, Church of the Icons, Syndicate, Consortium, Order of the Pariah
Special The Hormous space port is here
Distance 1.7 AU

 

Notes

 

This planet was originally a Firstcome civilization, but over the 1000 years since they arrived they regressed and fell into barbarism. Some think this is because they settled a planet with a strange gravitational anomaly, while others think the gravitation anomaly caused their civilization to collapse. The gravitational anomaly in question is the huge moon that hangs in a geostationary orbit that is too close to the planet to be physically possible. One side has little sunlight due to the geostationary moon, while the other is warmer. There is a large island in the terminus where the tribes meet regularly, but where there is also a Syndicate presence. The Consortium is sending anthropologists to deal with the Firstcome to find out what secrets are buried in the planet’s ice. There is only water on the equator of the bright side of the planet. What are the Order of the Pariah doing here? And are the Church of the Icons illegally converting the locals? The Church of the Icons faction here is a radical splinter group who believe that the geostationary moon is holding back some dark power from the Emirate on Melik 1. If they stop their religious observances, the moon will begin moving and whatever dark force caused the emirate to disappear will be unleashed on the horizon. They pray seven times a day and hold special ceremonies.

 

Melik 3

 

Size 10,000 km (0.6g)
Orbit Empty
Atmosphere Breathable
Temperature Temperate (10c)
Geosphere Earth-like
Population 900,000
Space port Simple space port
Hooks Corsairs
Number of factions 3 competing
Factions Zenithian Hegemony, Consortium, Order of the Pariah
Special  
Distance 2.0 AU

 

Notes

The space port is run by the consortium and the zenithian hegemony. Pirates operate from the planet.

 

Melik 4

 

Size 2,000 km (0.1g)
Orbit Empty
Atmosphere Toxic
Temperature Temperate (5c)
Geosphere Wet (some oceans but mostly land)
Population Uninhabited
Space port  
Hooks  
Number of factions  
Factions  
Special Radiation spires
Distance 2.3 AU

 

 

Notes

Melik 4 is a small, empty planet with a temperate and wet environment that would be earth-like but for its toxic atmosphere. The atmosphere is toxic because the planet is inside the radiation spires, huge plumes of radiation that bloom periodically in space and always encompass the planet. No one understands how these spires appear out of nothing – the consensus is that it must be an inexplicable quantum anomaly – but some small research stations lie in the spires in far orbit around Melik 4 to study them.

 

Melik 5

 

Size 15,000 km (1.5g)
Orbit Nothing
Atmosphere Breathable
Temperature Temperate (15c)
Geosphere Arid (huge deserts, dry steppes and a few small oceans)
Population 40,000
Space port Trade cluster
Hooks Scientists
Number of factions Two competing
Factions Zenithian Hegemony, The Legion
Special
Distance 2.8 AU

 

Notes

The scientists here have built a huge research base to study the entire system. It has a massive telescope and is used to try to understand the radiation spires and the locked moon. These scientists are connected to the Zenithian Hegemony. The Legion also have scientists here, trying to develop a gravitational weapon. This is basically a planet of scientists.

 

Jibri

 

Size 40,000 km
Color Blue
Temperature -200c
Characteristics Super storm
Orbit Empty
Moons 13 moons
Population  
Space port  
Hooks  
Number of factions  
Factions  
Special  
Distance  

 

 

In the last session the group raided a space station in Assager’s Ghost, a huge asteroid belt in the Algebar system. Here they found a mad mystic/scientist, who was conducting vivisection experiments on mystic prisoners and using them as fuel for some ancient portal builder technology that enabled him to massively boost the range and effect of his mystic powers. At the base of his twisted and decayed station he had a large lab, with dead and dying mystics on vivisection tables and a few mystics held in cages. All this was in service of a strange Firstcome machine in which he lay, held in a cocoon something like a stasis pod, and projected his powers across the system.

The PCs destroyed the machine and set about cleaning up the station, with the idea that they would take possession of it. What could go wrong? The cast for this session:

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

They discussed hiring some people in Algebar to conduct repairs, but decided against this action and in favour of secrecy. Instead they set about repairing the damage to the docking area themselves, and cleaning up the research lab. With the Beast of Burden hanging in space very close to the station, Oliver Greenstar and Banu Delecta on alert on the ship, they set about repairing the station. Saqr and Reiko worked in the basement laboratory, cleaning out the dead bodies and slowly breaking down the ruins of the machine, while Siladan and Adam worked in the docking station area, repairing the damage they had done with their ship’s heavy accelerator cannon. While they worked the three mystics they had rescued rested in the accomodation section of the station, attempting to overcome their nightmares.

The dead attack

Siladan and Adam were working in quiet companionship on the top deck of the station when something emerged from the dark to attack Adam. Fortunately he saw it coming, and reacted in time to defend himself. It was a torn body in a heavily damaged exo suit, its fragmented body parts held together by a web of shadow and ghost-like ephemera. He recognized the uniform as belonging to one of the men they had first encountered when they raided the station, and as he fended off its attack he realized that the guards who had been blown out into space by their accelerator cannon had been reanimated by something in the Dark between the stars – and had come back to get them.

As he raised the alarm another came down the hallway, towards Siladan, who was now warned and able to open fire. They fought. The beasts attacked with claws and strange webs of darkness that threw tendrils of freezing cold over their targets and attempted to confuse and horrify them. Their touch was deadly cold and numbing, and they were fast but not strong. Adam was able to quickly defeat his but two more entered the ship and headed down into the hangar deck.

Hearing the alarm, Saqr and Reiko headed to the elevators and began to head up the station towards the hangar deck. However halfway up something turned off all the gravity in the station, and they realized that something was taking control of the station. Reiko moved up to the hangar deck to join the battle while Saqr tried to find the source of the problem. Up above Siladan jumped into the elevator shaft to follow the undead down into the hangar deck, and found strange, thick tendrils of darkness had entered the station through the damaged outer hull of the docking station. They were snaking around the hangar deck, destroying parts of the wall and moving into the elevator shafts. He attacked the tendrils, destroying one, and sent messages to the other PCs.

Up above, Adam fought the monsters. Down below, Saqr realized that the entire station was being controlled by some dark power, the leader of these beasts. He fought and regained control of the station, and then headed to the elevator. A battle in the elevator followed, as the leader of the undead attempted to take the elvator down, and Saqr found himself trapped in the elevator with it. Siladan leapt onto the elevator roof and struggled to open an access hatch, and between them they fought the leader of the beasts.

Up above, Adam finally defeated the last of the undead and followed the rest of his team down to the basement research facility. Siladan, realizing that the shadowy tendrils were growing thicker and harder to stop, called the Beast of Burden and asked them if there was something outside the station. They realized there was, and Al Hamra’s spirit in the ship used his power of solidifying beasts of darkness to force the shadowy beast to become corporeal. It emerged from the darkness, a huge squid of inky-black and suppurating flesh, its tentacles wrapped in a death grip around the station. Oliver Greenstar opened fire on the suddenly corporeal beast with the ship’s accelerator cannon, destroying it after two hits.

Their station was saved, and the creatures of the Dark had been repulsed.

Travel to Melik

They spent a little more time repairing the station, and once the docking station was intact and atmosphere had been returned to the uppermost level, they left the mystics in the station and headed to the portals. Although Algebar’s portal is unstable they navigated it successfully, and jumped without incident to Melik. They were one step closer to their goal, and ready to explore the strange, fate-bound system of Melik.

Our heroes have found the location of the Collector, the man who was willing to pay a million birr to procure a Skavarran mystic and smuggle it onto his research base. They have raided the secondary entrance to the station, but after taking heavy casualties have withdrawn to the relative safety of their ship to rest and recover. The roster for this session:

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

By now, Saqr has developed new mystic powers that enable him to heal minor critical injuries, so he tended to the smaller critical wounds that the rest of the team had accumulated, though he was not able to treat his own punctured lung, and Dr. Delecta’s ministrations were not able to prevent the injury from slowing his movement and actions.

As the Saqr and Delecta tended to the wounded Adam watched the docking area through the umbilical passage that linked their ship to the station. They had used a laser cutting tool to make a hole in the inner entrance and break in, so there was nothing the surviving guards inside the station could do to prevent them coming back, but Siladan’s proximity sensor told them that there had been two survivors of their first attack, who were now joined by several other guards in a loose cordon behind cover in the far side of the entry chamber. One of those guards was a mystic, with the stop power, which had been used with dangerous effects in the last battle. Another of the guards was moving around just out of sight beyond the broken door, doing something near enough to it to make Adam think that a mine or explosive trap was being set at the entrance. The guards were setting up a death trap for them, and they were already injured.

They decided to use a space walk to re-enter the station from an external air lock. They detached the docking station, moved away from the loading area, and opened fire on it with the Beast of Burden’s accelerator cannon. This tore the docking station apart and blew open the entire loading deck area behind, killing the entire guard squad and destroying much of the superstructure at the top of the station. Once debris had dispersed Saqr space-walked across to an external air lock at a lower level, attach a zero-g rope, and the rest of the team crawled across without incident. They breached the outer door of the airlock with a breaching charge and moved inside, finding themselves in a large hangar that held a class 2 spaceship – the spaceship the Collector’s messenger had used to travel to Algebar.

Descent into hell

From the hangar the PCs hacked a small side elevator and descended to a mostly-abandoned living area. Following Siladan’s proximity sensor they crept into an overgrown garden/observatory, where a mystic attacked them from the shadows with an accelerator pistol and bursts of hellfire. He was well hidden but they found him and killed him quickly enough, with Adam taking significant fire damage before they could silence the man. They stood in the darkened garden, looking out of its huge observatory window at streaks of pale sunlight against the veil of the asteroid belt, and wondered what strange place they had entered. The garden was unkempt and long-abandoned, its plants grown into impenetrable thickets and the windows and garden fixtures overgrown with mould, slime and algae. The rest of the living quarters were powered down and poorly lit, as if no one had lived here for a very long time. The elevator controls and some of the room doors had information printed on them in some ancient Firstcome language, which had been overwritten with sloppily-painted modern logos. It appeared that a small group of armed soldiers and mystics were squatting in an ancient Firstcome space station.

Siladan was able to break into the dead mystic’s tabula using biometrics, and through it called up floor plans, crew rosters and communications. They identified another level of living quarters, a huge garden level, and two levels of laboratories. There was another mystic called The Fey, a second security team led by a captain wearing Scarabaeous Armour (an artifact!), a golim armour defense system, and the Collector himself. The Collector had informed his underlings that he would be in “the machine” in the bottom-most lab, and after using it to repel the PCs’ ship he would be rendered unconscious by the strain for several hours.

They guessed that the Collector had a machine that boosted his mystic powers, and had enabled him to hurl asteroids at them while they were approaching the station. Adam suspected a Cadaver Clock, but in any case it must be a terrible device. They decided to go straight down and attack him while he was unconscious.

They took the elevator down and emerged into a scene from hell: flayed and vivisected corpses stretched out on benches and floating in gel, a cage holding a body completely drained of all its liquids, and smears of blood and gore on the walls and furniture. The Collector was obviously a deranged experimenter of some kind, and a mad mystic. He and his strange machine were in an adjoining observatory room, and the PCs were moving towards it when the security team emerged from the second elevator, guns blazing.

The battle was vicious and merciless. Adam had brought their machine gun, and used it to gun down the leader in his Scarabaeous armour, though not before he had injured one of their team badly. As they were fighting The Fey appeared in the second elevator, accompanied by the Golim Armour, a 3m tall monstrosity of black composites carrying a huge thermal carbine that it used to break Reiko Ando and Siladan. Saqr and Dr. Delecta tried to help them up while Adam fought the Golim, and finally Siladan was able to crush its chest with his dura halberd, bringing the fight to a bitter end. The Fey fled, but was shot down as he tried to escape from the second hangar in a small shuttle.

The PCs entered the adjoining room and found what they had expected. The Collector was resting in a small stasis pod, which was connected to an evil machine of Firstcome design. This machine was shaped like a huge inverted cone, built of organic parts and steal and ceramics, with the wider part of the cone opening over the stasis pod and the small end pointing at a cage suspended from one wall. The small ended in a nozzle-like apparatus, like the mouthpiece of a trumpet, which had a disgusting fleshy countenance as if it were  a pair of evilly sensual lips. In the cage lay a dead person, killed in the past few hours, whose body had been completely eviscerated from within as if impelled to tear itself apart by some huge force. Dark whispers and evil thoughts surrounded them, and they understood immediately what they witnessed: some strange device that could draw the mystic energies from a person, concentrate them, and use them to amplify the powers of whichever mystic lay in the pod.

Adam tossed a frag grenade into the pod and they left the room to catch their breath. After the explosion, they returned with flamethrowers from their ship and set to work on eliminating this monstrous device.

While Adam and Reiko cleaned up the observatory, Siladan hacked into the Collector’s poorly-protected computer systems and confirmed everything they had suspected: the Collector gathered mystics and performed horrific experiments on them, to try to understand mystic powers and their origins. Delecta and Saqr found three surviving mystics in cages in the second lab level, and returned them to the Beast of Burden for observation. They also liberated a large amount of funds from the Collector’s accounts. Finally Siladan learned three other interesting facts from searches of the Collector’s messages and notes:

  • Samina’s Corsairs have some kind of mystic defense that enables them to hide their base and prevent access, which the Collector wanted to get hold of
  • Wana has been trading information and data with the Collector – she wanted access to a Cadaver clock but had only learnt rumours of them
  • The Collector knew of a Cadaver clock on Kua and had paid a team to find it, but they had been killed at a nearby dig site. The PCs had helped the sole survivor of this mission on Coriolis and subsequently discovered the Cadaver Clock themselves
  • The Draconites are also looking for information on the nature of mystic powers, and the Collector had been looking for ways to infiltrate their outpost on Coriolis

This was useful information, and helped them to understand what they would face when they dealt with the Corsairs. But now they had a base in a hidden location, which they could register as theirs once they found Samina’s hacker on Dabaran, and another spaceship to add to their growing fleet, with money to upgrade their own. They were ready to move closer to the Corsairs.

But first they needed to shake off the nightmares, and find a way to sleep again …

 

Let him walk down your hallway
It’s not this quiet
Slide down your receiver
Stand across the wire
Follow my number
Slide into my hand

In their last adventure our heroes have killed Mr Ting and discovered the location of the Collector, the mysterious figure who was willing to pay a huge amount of birr to take possession of a Skavarra Mystic. The PCs suspect that there are deep secrets at work in this story, and have decided to pursue the Collector and learn what he knows. The roster for this session:

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

Using Saqr’s mystic powers the PCs have learnt that the Collector is hiding in a station in the Algebar system’s enormous asteroid belt, Assager’s Ghost. Assager’s Ghost is a veil of ice and gravel 10 AU thick and 10 AU high, which encircles the system and blocks light from passing beyond to the outer planets. It is a stable, relatively low density asteroid belt but its enormous depth prevents light passing through, and also makes it an ideal location to hide criminal activities. Although crews from the inner planets mine the asteroid belt, its vast size makes it impossible to discover a hidden location by chance in even a million lifetimes. Without using Saqr’s special powers, the PCs could never have hoped to find the Collector.

The Collector’s Stellar Guardians

The PCs set off in the Beast of Burden to raid the Collector’s space station. After 10 days’ travel, as they neared the station, they were attacked by a small vacuum beast, similar to the creatures they had encountered in Marfik. However, after they killed this beast two more appeared, accompanied by a much larger, more nebulous thing, like a jellyfish the size of a class 2 spaceship. At the same time, asteroids started hurling towards them out of the inky, clouded darkness. While they fought off the vacuum beasts they found they had to fire torpedoes at the asteroids to destroy them, out of fear of suffering massive damage to their ship.

After they destroyed the first asteroid and the larger vacuum beast another asteroid came spinning out of the Dark, obviously propelled by some monstrous force. They destroyed this one too, shook off one of the monsters that had gripped onto their ship, and destroyed both remaining beasts. Finally the Dark around them settled back into calm, dusty silence. They all realized what this meant: the Collector could somehow control vacuum beasts and hurl asteroids at them. Saqr had been feeling strange ripplings of mystic powers during the battle, and realized what they all suspected. The Collector had been using mystic powers to watch their approach, to hurl asteroids at them, and to control vacuum beasts. Dark secrets lay hidden in his base.

The Collector’s base: First incursion

They soon found the base, a huge, asteroid-battered space station floating near the edge of the asteroid belt. It resembled a spindle, hanging in space in near complete darkness, with occasional lights flickering along a hull that was so old and weathered that they guessed it must be a Firstcome station. As they approached they saw a huge section in the middle of the station had been converted into a large garden, perhaps 100m in diameter and 100m high, overgrown now with trees and vines and rich with shadow and streaks of weak sunlight from the distant, filtered sun. The station looked abandoned, or at least untended.

They flew to the top of the spindle and docked with an external docking station, just above two hangars for class 2 ships. After running the necessary checks they disembarked into a huge cargo loading area, and set up a defensive position at the entrance to the dock. They waited.

They were soon rewarded, as a strike team came through doors on the far side of the cargo area, firing as they entered. The battle was short and vicious, with several of the PCs taking heavy injuries before they could subdue the attackers: four mercenaries in battered light armour carrying vulcan rifles and fighting with fanatical dedication. When the smoke cleared none of them were left alive, and a mystic who accompanied the team lay dead on the floor.

It was as they suspected: the Collector’s base was a nest of vicious fanatics, supported by deranged mystics.

They checked their weapons, and pushed inward, to victory or a hideous, nightmarish end…

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