Space Opera


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 They have raided the secondary entrance to the station, but after taking heavy casualties have withdrawn to the relative safety of their ship to rest and recover.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…

It’s that time of year again, where I hate -watch the latest Star Wars dump so that you, my dear reader(s), don’t have to. I’m a little late to the party because I was on holiday and had much better things to do with my time than watch a shit movie for this blog[1], so sorry for those of you who already wasted your money on this stinker. This review isn’t going to be quite as expletive-laden as my review of the pile of shit that was The Last Jedi, but that’s because this movie was mostly just disappointing, overblown rubbish, not earth-shatteringly bad.

This review will contain extensive spoilers, so if you really do want to subject yourself to this masochistic annual ritual, don’t read past this paragraph. In this paragraph I present a spoiler-free assessment of the movie, to encourage you to wait until it’s on free-to-air TV. Basically, this movie was boring, insipid and lacking in any real sense of direction. The whole thing was weighed down by all the woeful decisions made in the previous one, and by the ruinous changes to the Star Wars universe that one introduced. It was also weighed down by bad casting decisions made years ago, and by the fact that JJ Abrams is an utterly shit director. It has some nice set pieces but they can’t hold your attention as they should because it’s impossible to bring yourself to care about these people or this story. It’s a washout, and I’m glad the whole sorry travesty has finally come to its ridiculous end.

So now to the part of the review with spoilers.

Why do I care about these people?

The first and biggest problem with this movie – and with so much of modern American cinema, actually – is that I just can’t bring myself to care about any of these people (okay, maybe Chewie and BB8, but no one else). They are just the worst, most boring, most anodyne characters I have seen in an action movie in so long. Sure, Rey is significantly improved from the useless whining loser she was in The Last Jedi, but that just means she has ascended to the level of boring. All the spice in her character in The Force Awakens has been leached out and replaced with, well, with nothing. Finn is a complete waste of space, Rose seems to exist only to worry about Finn (why would she?), there is some old lady who is in a few scenes who kisses another girl who I guess I’m supposed to care about (was she Dorn in the previous one? I can’t tell because these people are so boring that they all look the same). Even the supposedly quirky aliens – like Babadook or whatever the stupid little rat thing was called – are just quirky aliens out of central casting, stereotypes done boringly. Compared to every alien in this movie Ja Ja Binks is a miracle of acting and character development. The cast also acted very poorly – the actors playing Poe Dameron and Rose were super wooden, but everyone was pretty bad – which is really bad when they’re also delivering a bad script in a plot that doesn’t work. Within seconds of coming onscreen for their first introduction every character is reduced to empty nothingness, by a lethal combination of poor script, poor acting and poor character vision. Look at Hux as an example: an Aryan icon giving vaguely meaningful fascist speeches in The Force Awakens gets shot for the most pathetically-acted attempt to lie I have ever seen on screen, an effort that would have made Weasley in the first Harry Potter movie look like the Arch Deceiver himself. And Hux was played by a decent actor! I guess it’s just impossible for them to even give a shit by now, and so why should I?

Poe Dameron needs to die

Poe Dameron was a central problem in The Last Jedi, and he’s absolutely awful in this. I can’t understand why I’m supposed to care about Poe Dameron, or indeed how I can support the Rebel Alliance at all when he’s hanging around it. I would absolutely unleash the Final Order ships on every planet in the universe if it would scrub the universe clean of that man. He’s awful, the worst stereotype of the American jock-hero, with the added crapitude of being absolutely shit at everything he does. In The Last Jedi he single-handedly brought the Rebellion to the edge of ruin, through refusing to behave like a soldier, but somehow in this movie instead of being spaced or fed to the Sarlak in the first scene he is a fucking general, and now everyone has to follow his stupid plans that invariably fail. He – and I guess the director – thinks he’s funny and rogueishly charming but he never does or says a single funny or charming thing, even with the masked chick he just comes across as a sleazy failure (of course we learn that he betrayed and failed his previous gang too). What a piece of shit that character is – and what a piece of shit the director is for assuming we are going to find any fellow-feeling with this worthless scumbag.

The sputtering plot turns

This movie was stupidly long, and a big part of the reason it was stupidly long was that the heroes would be halfway through executing a plan when a fundamental plank of the plan fell apart, so then they have to quickly make another plan to achieve the same objective, and then again, and so on. This meant that a bunch of things happened that just didn’t need to happen, for no apparent reason connected to the overall plot. Or, the heroes would do a thing to achieve a thing, and then something would turn up that meant the goal they achieved was no longer needed. A prime example is the wayfinder, which the heroes spent half the movie looking for just to have Emo Ren smash it, so then Rey just stole his ship. Seems to me like a big chunk of the movie could have been dropped and I could have gotten out of that shitshow about an hour earlier if they hadn’t done that useless quest. Sure I’d have missed the cool scenes on the ruins of the Death Star (just about the only good setting in this movie) and the Big-Haired Black Chick (who I think gave her name only at the end of the movie but I missed it because I was being utterly floored by the sleazy way Lando Calrissian basically made a move on her right there), who was the only cool character in this whole movie. But I’m willing to make the sacrifice if a) this movie can have a bearable length and b) this movie can have a functional plot.

This thing of wasted sacrifices is pretty common in American movies, and it really shits me. The characters spend an hour chasing down an important goal and then it is rendered useless, and I’m meant to somehow maintain a healthy attitude towards the director? The best example of this in history of course is Titanic, where the whole story turns out to have been a complete fucking waste of time. Why would any director think it’s cool to do this to the audience? Ask JJ Abrams I guess because it happened regularly in this movie.

The incredibly stupid plans

I don’t want to sound like a hero or anything, but if I am ever taken captive by a pack of shitstains and held in an impregnable fortress, and you my dear reader(s) are on a mission to save the galaxy, could you maybe consider not putting the entire mission on hold to save my worthless arse? Even if I have somehow managed to graduate to being as charming as Chewie? Just leave me to die and go save the galaxy. Yeah I’ll blame you later, but whatever, you’ll be up to your necks in whatever gender of eager supplicants you want after you become galaxy-saving heroes, and you’ll soon find a way to fuck away the guilt. Don’t do what the idiots in this movie did, and go running to rescue your friend for no reason! And if you do, try to come up with a plan better than “we’ll land in the space ship and start shooting.” That’s not a plan. Oh! Of course Poe Dameron thought of it, so I guess we have to pretend it was a stroke of genius. Just like his plan to take on the largest battle fleet the galaxy has ever seen: take a handful of ships into the middle of the fleet and hope some more will join you later.

Now, it’s perfectly possible to have a movie centred around stupid plans – when you think about it Aliens was a series of increasingly dumb and desperate plans – but it needs to have some other redeeming feature. The original Star Wars movies had fresh ideas and good characters with a tight script, and weren’t exhaustingly long. Here we have boring characters led by an utter shitstain[2], repeatedly fucking up the simplest tasks and taking reckless and irresponsible risks in the middle of a galaxy-threatening event. This is not the recipe to an enjoyable movie!

The power creep

It’s a kind of joke that in each movie the Death Star is bigger than the previous one, and still stupidly easy to blow up, but there is a bigger problem in these movies, that each iteration of the saga we find the ships are bigger, the powers more extensive, and the stakes exponentially higher. We see this power creep in many ways in this movie: the vast Final Order fleet, that just appeared out of nowhere; the sudden revelation that there is a whole planet of Sith; the way that force ghosts can now raise spaceships from the ocean; the use of the Force to, amongst other things, stop spaceships flying or use lightning bolts to wipe out a whole fleet; the deployment of a gun that can kill planets, as ubiquitous now as artillery; the ability of force users now not only to project their image across the galaxy but to interact physically with the location they send their ghost to. It all just keeps escalating, and we the audience get decreasingly emotionally invested in every victory and every defeat. It also seems that with every step in power things also become noticably more fragile: the star destroyers can be blown apart simply by shooting the big planet-killer guns; the bridge of the flagship can be completely destroyed with light artillery; the entire fleet is rendered useless if a single transmitter is knocked out; and so on. There’s no coherence to the power steps, and with each revelation of a new level of power there is a decreasing sense of threat for us the viewers, since we’re so used to everything becoming bigger and nastier, and simultaneously more vulnerable. It’s just puff, useless decoration to hide the fact that there’s nothing underneath the story, nothing to carry the movie.

The problem of hyperspace skipping

So the Final Order have somehow procured a fleet so vast it has enough spaceships to bring every planet in the galaxy to heel, every ship so big and nasty it can kill a planet if the planet doesn’t surrender completely. Very Genghis Khan, much fearsome! Except … there is a super simple way to end this entire strategy. You simply place an old and decrepit ship in orbit of each planet, and when the Final Order ship arrives you just point your ship at it and go into hyperspace. We saw in the Last Jedi that this previously unheard-of strategy enables a small ship to completely destroy a star destroyer. Worse still, these Final Order ships are vulnerable to having their planet-killer guns hit[3], so even a tiny ship capable of hyperspace travel will be sufficient to get the job done – it doesn’t have to be even the size of a Rebel cruiser. We also know that this power move hasn’t been retconned out of the movie, because Poe Dameron uses it in the Millenium Falcon in the first 10 minutes of the movie, to break through an ice wall[4].

So why do I give a fuck about the Final Order fleet, the entire dramatic tension at the centre of this movie? I just don’t care, because in the previous movie these chuckleheads came up with a 100% plot-killing idea that has retroactively fucked the story of every fucking movie in the entire series. What a pack of amateurs.

The stupid rewrites of past decisions

Although JJ Abrams was too stupid to retcon the Hyperspace skip out of his movie, he did make a few efforts to get rid of or explain some of the other dumb-arsed decisions Rian Johnson made, though it didn’t help. We have a training scene where Leia’s Jedi past is explained (spoiler: it isn’t explained, because nothing can explain the awful decision to ruin her character by making her a Jedi); Emo Ren remakes his stupid helmet so he looks even dumber than he did before, like he spilled redbull on his helmet or something; Palpatine is back, because the final confrontation of every trilogy needs a Sith Lord and Rian Johnson stupidly killed Snooky boy back in the last movie; and a few other minor concessions to fandom or to criticisms of some of Rian Johnson’s more bizarre decisions. These just make it seem like the whole trilogy was a dumb dick-swinging contest between directors, and serve to break us out through the fourth wall (though none as badly and awkwardly as the stupid fucking festival of ancestors – see below). They remind us that more than anything else, this is no longer a Saga but a franchise (how I fucking hate that word when it is applied to cultural products), a business whose managing directors have been at odds over the past few years, but which we are now assured has been settled down and is back to sensible business practice. Yuck.

The awful idea of Rey’s parents

I’ve been waiting for the bullshit reveal about who Rey’s parents were and why they matter. It turns out that she is the granddaughter of Emperor Palpatine, because everything in this stupid series has to be some kind of petty family drama, and only rich people matter. So she wasn’t a nobody as told by Emo Ren in the second movie (shock!), so another decision had to be retconned, but whatever. The return of Palpatine was such a dumb idea, and a sign that these writers have no original ideas at all, though I guess it’s better than having a Sith Lord called Snooky Boy, which is the kind of name you give to your dog when it’s being cute, not to a giant force-wielding pscyhopath with very poor recruitment practices. It was also revealed very poorly, and a confusing story revealed quickly with no real sense of meaning or gravity to it. Who cares anyway? It’s been five hours of cinema since we last saw any spark in Rey’s character, so by the time we find out she’s descended from the last good character to die in any of these movies we don’t really care anyway. I think soon after we find this out she dies and gets resurrected by more magic force powers that never used to exist, so it doesn’t really matter. And then at the end of the movie she calls herself Skywalker, probably because the original idea was that she was Luke’s daughter but Rian Johnson fucked all that up. So now this movie also has a completely misleading name – Skywalker died in the last movie and there is no Skywalker to rise, just as the entire second movie was about two Jedi, not the last Jedi. Maybe these guys can’t count, as well as being unable to write.

If Rey’s parents had genuinely been nobodies at least she would have had at least one redeeming feature, but no.

The unseemly arrogance of the Festival of the Ancestors

The first Star Wars movie was released in 1977, and so the entire shabby saga comes to a close here with this shambling boring wreck of a movie in 2019, 42 years later. At one point in this movie our heroes arrive on a planet that is having a festival of ancestors, which only happens every 42 years and is super special and we are told by C3P0[5] is a very rare and important event that we are privileged to see. This is obviously a meta-reference to how this final movie in the trilogy is super important and special and is a festival of the original movie and carries on in its tradition.

Fuck off already, you fuckheads. What an awful, arrogant, stupid and shallow little reference. Everyone involved in making this movie – and the previous one – should hang their heads in shame. You are reprehensible, and you should never be allowed to make another movie.

Conclusion

There are lots of other things wrong with this movie – minor things like how did Lando Calrissian manage to muster up a fleet of thousands of ships from hundreds of star systems in just a couple of hours – but I can’t go exhaustively through all the myriad failings in this and the other recent movies. I think though that it’s enough to say that there are really very few redeeming features in this movie, nothing really to make it worth watching and certainly nothing to salvage the flaming wreckage of this series. The original three movies were fun, charming and exciting, with fresh ideas and a lot of really good acting and writing, but they have been well and truly betrayed by everything that came after them. It’s a shame: the Star Wars universe is rich and diverse and holds a lot of opportunities for good stories, as we saw in Rogue One; but the main story has been wrecked beyond recognition, and all the charm of the original vision has been buried under a mound of bullshit. There is nothing left in this series, and every additional movie is just going to further poison the already much-corrupted legacy of its original stories. Disney need to take this franchise (oh how I hate using that word to refer to cultural product) out the back of the studios and put a bullet in its head. The best option for this decrepit old series now is a quick and painless death, before any other creepy Hollywood Directors further abuse its corpus.

I won’t be watching any more of the main series, and I recommend you do the same. These directors have ruined a once great thing, and they will probably continue to do so. But we don’t have to help them do it.


fn1: For example, reading shitty economic “mathematics” on the plane, in preparation for a post on the disaster that is “analysis” in mathematical economics, oh I do have such a fun life!

fn2: How did Poe get to be leader, btw? Leia was in charge in the second movie, and now suddenly this idiot is running the show. If ever there was a model for a shitty white man failing up, Poe is it.

fn3: Somewhat tragically, these guns hang under the ship like a massive cock, so it’s exactly like kicking the ship in the balls.

fn4: Apparently this strategy destroys Rebel cruisers but barely scratches the Falcon, who knew?

fn5: Who, fair play, is mildly enjoyable in this movie, especially after he loses his memory

Inevitable

Our PCs have made contact with an illicit Skavarra smuggler called Mr Ting, and after a vicious battle made some progress towards their goal. They are hiding a Skavara with mystic powers, which someone attempted to smuggle on their spaceship, and are now trying to find out who the Skavarra was being smuggled to and why. To this end, after ambushing Mr Ting they learnt that they need to speak to a man called Thrall, who works directly for whoever ultimately purchased the Skavarra. Thrall will return to Algebar station in 11 days, so they have time to kill while they wait for his arrival. They have taken Mr Ting’s million birr – which he was supposed to pay to the Skavarra smugglers – but left him alive in a moment of mercy. They have also learned that Mr Ting has a powerful ally somewhere in the station heirarchy, but due to various deceptions it is unlikely that they can be identified easily as the people who stole Mr Ting’s money, except by Ting himself, and Ting has been cowed.

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

Ship modifications

Using the million birr they stole from Mr Ting, the PCs decided to go on a spending spree. The station at Algebar 3 is large and full of opportunities, so they used the money to make two quick upgrades to their ship: they purchased the Supersensors and Supercharged reactor features, both of which are relatively fast to add to the ship and do not require much engineering. They wanted to buy extra modules, but this will require months of work, so they settled for these simpler features. They also spent some time hunting the Souks of the lower, inner decks for weapons licenses, as they had become increasingly aware of the dangers of engaging in battle in metropolis stations like Algebar 3 without the limited protection even sidearms and light armour offered.

These purchases and upgrades took 7 days, and on the evening of the 7th day they received a visitor, a slick young man called Sarcuptra who had heard they were purchasing weapons licenses and was interested in selling them some advanced weaponry. He might, he intimated, even have access to rocket launchers. They interviewed him in the Beast of Burden‘s Arboretum, and after a short conversation – during which he seemed completely unfazed by their increasingly rumbunctious and menacing menagerie – they decided to do business with him. He told them he would send them a location and bade them farewell, taking with him a list of weapons they wanted.

The ambush

Adam was sure it was an ambush, but they went anyway. Sarcuptra told them to meet him two days later at a park on a lower, inner level. He assured them he had a method to get the weapons to their ship without any trouble with the law, and although they doubted the weapons were going to arrive they played along with his plan. The park was a small grassy zone with windows offering views of the space stations inner underside, a disused door in one corner, and a couple of children’s play spots in the middle. The central object was a slide in the shape of a strange grey animal that was fat with short legs, very large ears and a long nose that curled down from its dumb-looking head to the ground. This was the slide, and its fat grey body could form good cover if they needed it. Adam, Delecta and Siladan gathered here while Reiko took position at a place behind cover on the far side of the garden, and Saqr went to investigate the door, which turned out to be an emergency airlock – common installations throughout the space station. They waited, Adam nervously eying the buildings across the road from the park.

After a few minutes Adam’s tabula registered a call, which he answered. Mr Ting’s face emerged on a grainy video, and they realized that yes indeed, it was an ambush. He told them that they had a choice: exit through the emergency airlock to a waiting shuttle, which would take them to a passenger ship called the Selenium Dream, which they would ride back to Coriolis, leaving their ship and all their belongings and money here; or die. He gave them one minute to decide. The call ended.

Of course they weren’t going to do what he wanted. Saqr came running back to the weird grey animal, and they talked about what to do. After 20 seconds the doors of the buildings across the road opened and four men emerged, carrying vulcan carbines and wearing light armour. A window upstairs opened too. Siladan ran forward to a flower bed near the front of the garden to take cover, ready to charge into combat. In the upper floor window someone propped a rocket launcher on the windowsill. They opened fire.

They fought viciously in a dizzying haze of bullets and blood. Siladan and Reiko charged into melee, splitting the four men into two groups of two, but two more men emerged from the emergency airlock, opening fire on the group hidden behind the strange animal and forcing Delecta into remarkable feats of athleticism to avoid being gunned down. The man with the rocket launcher was gunned down by Adam and Delecta but managed to stagger to his feet long enough to fire a rocket at the stupid grey animal, eliminating their cover but doing no serious damage against any of them. Siladan and Reiko did a professional job of murdering all four of the armed men in close combat (except one who fled), and finally as Adam and Delecta mopped up the two men by the emergency airlock Reiko was able to run upstairs and take the man with the rocket launcher hostage. They dragged him downstairs and through the airlock onto the small shuttle that was docked there. The entrance area of the shuttle was covered in plastic and strewn with the necessary tools to disappear bodies – there had obviously never been any intention that they would be flown alive to the Selenium Dream. With all their soldiers dead and their leader captive the flight crew of the shuttle surrendered, and they tied everyone into the shuttle’s few passenger seats. They loaded everyone’s weapons in and flew back to the Beast of Burden in the shuttle.

Mr Ting’s grisly end

At the Beast of Burden their assailant proved himself to be a very reasonable captive. His name was Jazir and he had been hired by Ting to do the job. He was very angry with Mr Ting for telling him that the PCs would be an easy target, and when told he would be released if he revealed Ting’s location he offered to go one better – give him back his guns and he would kill Ting himself, then share the loot with them. They agreed with this plan and let him loose.

A day later they received a video call from Jazir in Ting’s safe house. Against a backdrop of blood and gore he assured them he had done the job, and they should come down to gather up the loot and get Ting’s secured tabula. They took the tube and walked down to the location he sent them, and found him and a few of his friends standing in a room with five bodies. It was a messy, small room, one of Ting’s safe houses, and it was sheeted with blood and damage. He assured them he would clean up the mess, and showed them Ting’s secured tabula and a slew of weapons. They split birr, guns and armour, and then Jazir set about dismembering the bodies. He flipped them a casual salute as they left, and they parted on “no hard feelings” terms.

Tracking Thrall

Back at the Beast of Burden they hacked the tabula and learned a little more about Thrall. They discovered that a few days after his visit a supply ship would arrive, to pick up cargo to take to whatever location he was based in. Rather than confront Thrall directly they decided to use this information to track him. They found the cargo that the supply ship would be loading, and placed a small image of one of the Icons inside one of the crates. Ten days after the ship left Algebar 3 station Saqr used his mystic power of tracking, and located it in a part of the system’s asteroid field. They had a location for their Skavarra trafficker. It was time to go and kill him – and find out who exactly was behind this strange plan, so they could kill them too.

 

Artifact traders on Algebar 3

Our heroes have rumbled a trafficking ring in Algebar, which is willing to pay a huge amount of money for shipment of a single Skavara with mystic powers. Seeing an opportunity to take a very large amount of money from some very undeserving people, they decided to raid the agent in Algebar who was going to purchase the Skavara, take the million birr he had intended to pay for it, and find out why this Skavara was so valuable.

The cast 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
  • Oliver Greenstar, colonist

They traveled to the main planet in the Algebar system, Tufsur, and settled into its spaceport in preparation for a raid.

The Algebar system

Algebar is a single main-sequence yellow star, similar to Sol, with 12 planets, an asteroid belt and a gas giant. Its unstable portal has isolated it from the rest of the Horizon, and most trading companies do not risk traveling past Amedo into Algebar. This means that the worlds beyond Algebar are relatively lawless, and primarily visited by free traders, and it also means that Algebar has developed relatively independently of the Horizon. Originally settled by Firstcome, Algebar is characterized by three main stellar objects: the planet Paru (Algebar 4), Tufsur (Algebar 3) and the asteroid belt, called Assager’s Ghost.

Paru is a large, earth-like planet, relatively cool compared to earth and characterized by seven moderately-sized continents separated from each other by wide seas. Its population of five million is spread over these continents and has slowly devolved to a technological level equivalent to that of the age of sail. The seven continents have slowly diverged culturally, having their own languages and cultures, due to the poor interconnections between nations using sail ships. The population grows slowly, and the planet is something of a backwater. Its people know of those on other planets, but their xenophobia and lack of education causes them not to care too much, nor to change. They trade foodstuffs for trinkets from space, giving them a science-fantasy culture something like that in Silverberg’s Majipoor books. In addition to foodstuffs, the people of Paru have two unique trade objects: Paru fabrics and their own people. Paru fabric is made from a shellfish that grows widely in the shallow seas of the planet. It fastens itself to the seabed using silk strands which, when extracted from the shell, can be spun into a fabric of extreme tensile strength and power, that can be used to make advanced armours. The people of Paru are famously beautiful, and are traded legally into courtesan work by Ahlam’s Temple, and illegally into slavery by the Syndicate. As a result of these trade goods, a bustling space port hangs over Paru, but its people itself have failed to benefit from the trade they provide.

In turn Tufsur, the third planet in the system, completely depends on Paru. Its population of 900,000 live on a desert planet with no water, in domed firstcome cities that have been maintained by a cult of technologists, the Emirs of Tufsur, who hold total power on the planet. The largest industry on Tufsur is spinning Paru fabrics into armour and advanced materials; they trade for food and the raw silk from Paru, and buy ice in bulk from free traders who collect it from Assager’s Ghost. There is no freedom on Tufsur, just religion and work; but the huge station hanging in orbit offers welcome relief and riotous freedom from all the religious restrictions of the planet below, its wealth built on trade in goods from Paru and ice from the asteroid belt.

This asteroid belt is a huge monstrosity, 10 AU wide and 10 AU wide, blocking sunlight to the outer planets and casting a gravitational pall over the entire system. Many theorize that this asteroid belt is the reason for the system’s unstable portal, but little can be done with it except to mine it for rare metals and ice. The rare metals are sold to free traders as they pass through, primarily from the spaceport at Paru, and the ice to Tufsur. The system maintains a bustling sub-stellar network of mining ships and ice-haulers, but interstellar vessels are rarer and their crew a foolhardy bunch at best.

Thus does Algebar’s business proceed slowly, as it has always done, largely isolated from the rest of the Horizon by its bad portal. And into this ossified network fell the PCs, carrying a miracle semi-intelligence, and a thirst for justice.

On Tufsur Space Station

Tufsur space station is a huge torus, 3km in radius on its inner face and 1km in diameter. It looks like a disc as a visitor approaches, because the entire toroidal central space is devoted to huge sheets of solar panels, which power the entire station. There are about 100,000 people living on the station, giving it a relatively low population density. The station is firstcome, old and slowly crumbling but still a millenium away from becoming unusable. It has several docking space internally that are large enough for class IV ships or smaller, and an array of external docking stations for class V ships. Ice Haulers typically dock away from the ship and their ice is hauled to special trade platforms by tug boats. Although large interstellar vessels rarely visit, a constant stream of class II and class III sub-stellar trade ships streams into and out of the station, and down to the planet below. The station has four primary residential levels, each perhaps 100m in height, with a simple structure consisting of an outer promenade and an inner promenade separated by a tube train that connects 9 stations (one for each icon) set not-quite-equidistantly around the tube. Central decks are the poorest, since their inner promenade has no windows, and there is a modest criminal population on the station consisting of a mixture of people running from other systems, people hiding from the Emirs of Tufsur, human traffickers, smugglers, and general criminals.

The PCs docked at an internal dock and found accommodation on an upper outer promenade, in a large villa with views of the system, near a pleasant park. They immediately set about finding criminal connections, and quite quickly managed to arrange a meeting in The Doldurms, a network of ancient fighter-repair bays that had been repurposed into markets. Here they bought themselves armour enhancements and armoured underweave made of Paru fabric, and also found the location of the Skavara dealer’s local contact, a certain Mr. Ting. They purchased some fake identities for themselves, and paid him a visit.

An unfortunate escalation of hostilities at Mr Ting’s warehouse

Mr Ting was based in a small warehouse with a view over the inner disc, next to a small and rundown park. They stopped outside and prepared themselves. Unfortunately the strict weapons laws on the station prevented them from being heavy weapons or armour, so they were wearing their new underweave and carrying only knives and small pistols. Siladan attempted (and failed) to access some local computer systems to see what was inside but was unsuccessful, so they pulled out their weapons, heaved up the main roller door on the warehouse, and entered…

… to be greeted by a hail of gunfire from a vulcan machine gun, that hit everyone on the front row but fortunately did not do any serious damage. The guards in the warehouse had been alerted by Siladan’s failed computer access attempt, and were on overwatch. Battle was joined!

The fight was short and sharp. Two men upstairs at the machine gun nest were quickly overpowered by Adam and Siladan, while a third man downstairs revealed himself by shooting at Oliver, and was taken down by Reiko, Oliver and Banu. Upstairs, Mr. Ting shot Adam in the head and almost killed him[1], but once his guards were down he surrendered and agreed to talk.

Unfortunately, as they were talking Siladan made an attempt to search Mr. Ting’s computers, and made another dismal failure. This alerted some guards, who came to the warehouse to investigate. After another short fight Mr. Ting gave up, and two of the three guards survived. Mr. Ting gave the PCs the million birr he was holding to pay for the Skavara. He warned them that he was just an agent for a greater power, and they would regret this intervention. They offered to let him live if he told them who he was dealing for, but he did not know. Instead he told them he had a contact, a man called Thrall, who would be returning to the station in 11 days. They could ask him.

The PCs let Mr. Ting live, took his 1 million birr and the information, and left. They would find this Thrall, track down his boss, and learn the truth about the Skavara in their hold. They had a feeling that something big was moving behind this scheme, and they intended to find out what … and get rich as they did so!


fn1: I rolled a crit of 66, but Adam’s player had just bought the new talent Tenth Life, which enables a PC to ignore a single 66. This is a one use talent, so Adam basically burnt 5xp.

On the islands of Amedo

After a short interlude to rest and recuperate at the Lithofor, the PCs have returned to their luxury yacht and traveled onward, to Amedo, experiencing no threats or challenges along the way and arriving at the Amedo system’s main planet, Amedo, without incident. Amedo is the fourth planet in the Amedo system, circling its large star. Its population is small and scattered over primarily small islands far from its main continent. Amedo is the ancestral home of the Skavara, semi-intelligences that are exploited as trainable troops and labourers, and as a result the planet has a large and active spaceport despite its small surface population, as a brisk trade in Skavara attracts traders and businesspeople. The PCs arrived with the intention of passing on directly to Algebar, but decided to stay while they looked for passengers, and to explore the wonders and famed beauty of the planet’s archipelagoes.

Visit to a White Temple

The PCs’ main aim was to visit one of the planet’s famed white temples, temples scattered across the ocean surface that had been built by the firstcome and which had an ancient history of strict devotion to the Icons. Unfortunately there was no information available about the white temples either in the ship’s database or in any physical or digital media in the planet’s spaceport, and they were forced to travel to the surface and randomly select a white temple to visit. Siladan did a little investigation and was able to determine a likely order for the distribution of temples, so that they could find the temple they sought, so they took their shuttle and headed down to the planet.

The only way to approach the white temples was by boat, so they landed at a nearby chain of islands called the Resiler Isles, and took accommodation here in an old whaling facility called the Death Factory. Here they learnt that the Resiler Isles were a haven for people escaping harsh lives in the rest of the Horizon: former gangsters, soldiers, political activists, failed prophets and washed up adventurers all found their way here, to live in peace amongst the waves and storms of Amedo’s oceans. The PCs, too, took this opportunity to rest for a few days before they took a boat from the Resiler Isles and headed into the wild ocean, looking for one of the White Temple Islands.

They reached the white temple island after an uneventful few days of primitive sailing across calm blue seas. It was a small island built on a base of white coral, ancient and bleached to sparkling beauty by sun and wind. Their boat docked at a small pier of coral, and they ascended glittering white steps through a long chain of gateways made from the huge rib bones of long-dead whales. The stairs curved around the island and led them to a building constructed entirely of whalebone, its windows made of single discs of a strange, semi-translucent plastic-like material. At the top they were met by a monk, an old woman dressed in simple robes, and led into the small compound within the whalebone walls. For the next week they prayed and did simple menial work on the island, polishing coral and scrubbing whalebone floors and spars, and flagellating themselves regularly in the presence of the Icons. During this week they learnt that the White Island Temples were the reason for the extinction of the planet’s great whales, and also their prey, the huge jellyfish-like creatures whose internal gelatinous organ was used to make the windows and semi-translucent skylights of the temples.

After this week of devotions they left, enlightened, with new skills and talents, and returned to the Beast of Burden to continue their explorations of the Horizon.

The Hidden Cargo

Once they were back on the Amedo space station the PCs were contacted by a man called Elifim who wanted them to carry some cargo for him to Algebar 3, Tufsur. This cargo was a simple job, and he was not paying a lot – 10,000 birr to transport a crate of electronic goods plus himself, his assistant and four staff through the portal to Algebar. They agreed, and set off the next day.

The journey to the portal was uneventful, although some of the crew were troubled by strange dreams, and they passed through the portal uneventfully. The next day, as they traveled towards Tufsur 3, Saqr was woken from a nightmare, rearing from his bed with a scream of anguish and torn by visions of being trapped in darkness. Realizing that these dreams were definitely not right, he decided to go and find his cat, which had recently been spending a lot of time in the cargo hold.

In the hold Saqr found his cat sitting alert on the crate they were transporting as if he were looking at something. Saqr approached, and saw that the cargo crate was open. Something moved rapidly past him, and he realized he might not be alone in the hold. His cat jumped down from the crate to go after the movement and Saqr followed, waking up the others (finally!) as he did so. Following his cat he found himself facing a Skavara, hidden in the shadows at the back of the cargo hold. It was smaller than Saqr, had dark, matted fur and looked confused and scared. Saqr guessed it must have been in the crate – either as a stowaway or as cargo. Remembering his nightmares, he began to guess that Elifim had for some reason been trafficking this thing.

That was when he was attacked by one of their passengers.

The others reached the hold at this time, but Dr. Delecta had the sense to bring her motion detector, so they knew that there were 8 figures in the hold – their passengers, Saqr and something else. With Saqr’s warning they entered the hold fully armed and began shooting. The battle that followed was short and brutal, but not easy. Elifim’s assistant was revealed to be a mystic, who used his powers to stop them from acting, and the four “staff” Elifim had brought on board were actually fighters of some kind.

During this short and vicious battle they also discovered that the Skavara had mystic powers – it used them to cause panic and terror in anyone who came to close to it. It was this mystic power that finally won the battle for them, and after a few blood-drenched seconds they had subdued the passengers and had Elifim at their mercy, panting in terror and trying to crawl out of the cargo hold even though one of his legs had been partially severed by Siladan’s halberd.

A short and harsh interrogation of Elifim told them what they suspected. The Skavara was the first of its kind with mystic powers, and Elifim had captured it and was shipping it to a man on Tufsur 3 who he expected would pay a lot of money for it. He offered to cut the PCs a deal if they let him live – he would put them in touch with the agent and give them half of the million birr he expected to make from the sale. It’s only a Skavara, what could they care?

They did care, and they showed Elifim this in no uncertain terms. Once they had the name of his contact on Tufsur 3 they spaced him and his dead crew. They would meet his contact, but only to finish what they had started with Elifim. They welcomed their new crew member on board, and resumed their journey to Tufsur 3.

This session was shortened because my travel schedule was exhausting and complex and I had no time to prepare anything fun or interesting. So here I list the few things that were done in this two hour session.

The PCs have finished solving the problem of the disease outbreak on Marfik 4, and have learnt that there is a Horizon-wide program by the Draconites to collect samples of xeno-organisms that cause disease in humans. The PCs’ guess is that this is part of a bio-weapons program, and they are very concerned about what this means. Recall that in session 2 the Draconites stole a powerful ancient artifact from the PCs. Could their efforts to obtain artifacts be related to this bio-weapons program?

As insurance the PCs decided to go to the site from which the infected ice had been dug up, and bury it. Some data djinn work enabled them to find the site, and they destroyed it effectively with only a little risk to themselves. They then returned to the settlement on Marfik 4 and produced a small stock of vaccines against the agent that had been in the ice, as well as a tool for identifying whether other diseases were derived from this agent, in case in future they ran into a bioweapon based on Draconite technology.

After this they left the planet of Marfik 4 and traveled to the Lithofor, where Adam purchased cybernetic implants and the whole team rested for a few weeks. Their next step will be to travel onward to Amedo, and at the Lithofor they started looking for work to pay their way.

New ship power: Binding Vacuum Beasts

I think it hasn’t been mentioned in my write-ups up until now, but in an earlier session one of the PCs died and his consciousness was uploaded into the ship. The PC was a mystic and so now the ship has mystic powers. When the PCs fought the vacuum beasts in the previous session they decided to use some XP to give the ship a new mystic power: the ability to bind vacuum beasts to the ship. Their idea was that this would give them a kind of companion animal to their space ship, which would be able to fight alongside it in battle. However, when they looked at the stats of the beasts, and recognized the difficulties they would have keeping them for long periods of time, docking at civilized space stations, etc. they decided not to invest in this power.

It is possible, however, that other groups they encounter in future will have this power, and will have bound vacuum beasts to their fleet. Perhaps then they should invest in a mystic power to repel these beasts, or to attack them mentally, so that they have a defense against them when they do finally meet them …

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