Tuesday, January 16, 2024

CSV Natani: The Big Rock Manouvre


This is yet another update of the last few sessions of my White Star campaign, where the players are members of the crew of the tramp star freighter, the Natani.

Session 6; Dec. 18th, 2023: Keep on Rockin' in Free Space

With the Dusk of Hope, a mysterious private star freighter on their heels, the Natani hyper-jumps to the Solara Vortex system - a backwater space station in orbit around an unstable blue giant. Aside from collecting solar energy, skimming the star for hydrogen, and collecting radioisotopes - all jobs for robots - there is virtually nothing to do in this station but refuel passing ships. In fact, Solara has three permanent residents: Myra the bartender, Mack the Mechanic, and Tendi an administrator who also runs the local banking, commodities exchange, and and law enforcement services (in theory.)*

Entering the system they are hit almost immediately by one of the system's incredibly violent ion storms, and are forced to do both some blind flying and emergency repairs on their comms array in order to safely make it to Solara Vortex Station.

When the Natani Lands, Leedo and Iria decide to stretch their legs and look for a good time. There are only two other ships docked - a starfighter called Naughty Nina, and a starliner, the Winsome Obesh. The latter, with 24 tourists and 5 crew, has been forced to stay on the station until the storms clear, and has led to a lot of bored people living out of the bar.

They strike up a conversation with Mack, who is a fan of Iria's old band, Kaos & HavoK, and is also familiar with Deathmatch of the Bands - which he informs them is a real death match: the bands are expected to fight to stay in the running and prove their warrior spirit in tests of courage and endurance as well as to play well, He offers to bootleg them some of his recordings.

After collecting this unwelcome news, they stop by Tendi's kiosk to check in with CrushCo and see if there were any bounties... and there are. The Naughty Nina belongs to a piece of work called Rotham, a professional "deniable asset" whose job has been strong-arming and intimidating freelance asteroid miners on the behalf of mega-corporation, along with strike breaking, and "disappearing" assets who didn't play ball on the company's terms. Rotham, it turns out was getting a little too brazen and violent, and becoming increasingly less deniable all the time. When the company decided to retire him, he made a run for it.

Now Rotham is stuck on Solara Vortex due to the ion storm, and decided he was going to have a little fun by bullying the bartender to hold an open mic night so he could intimidate people into applauding him as he practised his Theramin-tar.

This gave Leedo an idea. He and Iria headed for the bar and listened to a number. Rotham was aggressively bad, but had the tourists so cowed that they were applauding anyway. Iria signed up to play a number. Rotham was not amused at being taken off the stage, but, accepted a drink from Leedo.

Iria in the meantime put her rock skills to the test, taking a frightened bored audience and waking them back up. She got them whipped up, excited, and a little angry as she taunted Rotham from the stage. Seeing that she was getting the whole room hyped, Rotham was too distracted, and worried, to notice when Leedo hit him from behind.

Rotham turned on Leedo, only to find that Leedo had already picked his pocket and taken his gun and vibro blades. Iria, meanwhile, fired her energy slingshot to force an emergency shutdown of the door and keep him from running. At which point, hyped up, seeing him unarmed, and tired of being bullied, the tourists surged in Rotham and gave him a beating while Iria crowdsurfed her way to joining the battle with style, then convinced them to back off before they could do too much permanent damage.

Leedo dragged Rotham off to be stuffed in the only holding cell on the station and collect pay, which he split with Iria, once she finished a complete set. Afterwards, they talked about her impeding participation in alien blood sport, and Leedo agreed to join her as a percussionist so that she would have a competent combatant with her for the contest.

Session 7: Jan. 8th, 2024: Skinsuit and Tie

The next day, as the crew sat down to plan how they were going to deal with the Dusk of Hope when it arrived that evening, a strange ship jumped into the system. Sleek, so totally black details could not be seen, and faster and more manoeuvrable than anything its size had any business being, it radiated energy that matched no known drive technology.

A.N.O.D.E. quickly identified it as a Friendly-class Troubleshooting Cruiser... a vessel from Friend Co.'s head office. And put through a message from a representative of Friend Co.'s head office.

The Friend Co. troubleshooter stated that it had come to understand that the PCs were in possession of an Arcalian Psi Amplifier, and that they were planning on selling it to an organization know as the Voidbringers. Both were news to the PCs, as they didn't know what the artifact they possessed was, or who commanded the Dusk of Hope. The Troubleshooter insisted that the PCs meet with them for an "offer" and that the Voidbringers, under no circumstances, should be allowed to get the artifact.

Once the Friendly Cruiser landed, the crew met with a being from Friend Co's Head Office. A creature in a complex resinous encounter suit far too slender to hold a human, and yet the thing inside had a taught, expressionless human face that the PCs were certain was being worn by something underneath. A necktie hung about the collar of the encounter suit was not in the least bit reassuring.

The being had a straightforward offer: It would erase all Friend Co. debt, giving Kuna full ownership of all systems aboard the Natani, and upgrade all crew members to "preferred agent" status in return for the Artifact. If they wished, he would also allow them to field-test a new weapon system for Friend Co., should they find themselves needing to defend themselves against the Voidbringers.

Kuna, ever the mercenary, asked for the entity to wait. He called the Dusk of Hope on the Q-comm and asked them if they were willing to pay 9,000 cr for the artifact (that being a rough valuation for the Troubleshooter's offer.) They were not, and were at first threatening, until Kuna casually mentioned that he was dealing with an agent of Home Office directly, and felt the clock ticking. Apparently even sinister cultists were nervous about whomever - whatever - sits at the head of Friend Co.

They did offer him 400 cr. to release Mr. Darric, the cultist Kuna ambushed in session 4, so they could retrieve him later. Kuna put them on hold and asked the Troubleshooter if he had any interest in Mr. Darric. It said it would offer them a mild drive upgrade once they reached Cascadia as a finder's fee for Mr. Darric's "recruitment."

Not willing to get the lesser of either deal, Kuna accepted the Voidbringers' offer and had Mr. Darric thawed. But once he had sent a message informing his cult that he was free, Kuna reminded him of how Professor K'twik had imploded after failing the cult, and told him that Friend Co. would likely be the only people that could protect him. He was frighteningly persuasive. and Darric headed immediately to turn himself over to the Troubleshooter.

The Troubleshooter sent a robot to the Natani that would install the experimental weapon - drones that are mostly comprised of force-fields and anticarbon that disintegrate themselves any any carbon-based material they touch in an extremely contained reaction. The rack of them can be released either inside the Natani, or fired out through the robot bay. Either way they ignore targets wearing Friend Co. employee badges. 

The Troubleshooter thanked the PCs for their excellent service, and complimented them on their acumen and mercenary attitude, knowing that they will be ideal for certain "opportunities" in the future, before guiding Mr. Darric into its strange ship and departing.

Not done with their double-dealing and clever moves yet, the PCs quickly sold off enough of their cryotubes to reuse it as a secondary cargo hold (its original function) freeing up about 30 displacement tons of cargo space. Then they recruited Tendi to help them pull of the legal jiggery-pokery to claim the Naughty Nina as salvage and loaded her into the cargo bay.

Session 8: Jan 16th, 2024: Everything Everywhere and All At Once

Having had enough of ion storms, dive bars, tourists, and bizarre alien skin-walkers offering them jobs, the crew of The Natani set out for Cascadia. Arriving a few days later, after intense music lessons for Leedo and hacking Pavo's software to program him to play rhythm guitar.

Immediately Kuna set to work trying to move the Tarelian Brandy he had loaded aboard the ship, as with it sold, he would finally be debt-free and entirely in command of the Natani. He swiftly made a deal, too, moving the brandy at 720cr a bottle to the entourage of Princess Dorala of the Alterian Alliance.

Seeing as the princess is Ciara's Sister, and likely to arrest her and torture her before turning her over to the family for bonus points, Ciara decided she needed to be somewhere else, and as Leedo said he needed to get to the moon of Cascadia to pick up a package, she persuaded him to fly her in the Naughty Nina to the lunar station so she could take care of "band business", having quickly appointed herself the band's DAT programmer.

Leedo was, of course, suspicious of her desire to avoid the Altereans, but was happy to head to the moon.

Meanwhile, Pavo and Tazik were also wanted by the Alterean alliance, and while less recognizable than Ciara, not thrilled about Kuna's deal. They asked Iria to run interference if she could. Meanwhile, Pavo intentionally irradiated the engineering section to make it inhospitable to organics, and sounded alarms just as the steward of Princess Dorala's cruiser was arriving by airlock.

When buying things for the royal family, the guard explained, it was protocol to scan the merchant  vessel for security reasons. Kuna assented, and guided the tour while Tazik closed himself in the gunnery hatch and turned on its sensor damping (to make it harder to be shot off the ship).

When the scanning crew reached the Natani's engineering section however, Iria caught the Steward's eye. (the dice have been very fortunate, as I give NPCs only a 1-in-6 chance of recognizing Iria in a peaceful situation. Once she reaches level 4, the probability will skyrocket).

Once he established that Iria was indeed the former vocalist for Kaos & Havok, and that she really was planning on competing in the Deathmatch of the Bands, the Steward got the idea that he could curry favour with Princess Dorala by arranging a private concert, and if Iria was killed in the competition, he would make a fortune on bootleg recordings of her final concert before he televised grisly death.

Iria assented, immediately drawing the security detail off to make arrangements.

Meanwhile, Ciara began hunting online for leaked information on what events might be planned for the Deathmatch of the Bands, while Leedo dropped by the post office and collected his beloved Ruby, his laser rifle, finally free from hoc and delivered to the station ahead of him. He was still pampering the rifle when he spotted his own bogeyman - members of the Black Sun mercenary corporation.

While arresting a leader of the Black Suns had only been business - they hadn't seen it that way. The last time he'd run in with them, Leedo's fighter had been blasted to pieces and they left him for dead drifting in space. He didn't think they would have called it even.

While attempting to hide in a nearby access corridor, he accidentally ran right into a member. He got the drop on the alien and knocked him out, then tied him up and interrogated him.

He learned that the Black Suns were providing security for the Festival of Pruning, a two-week festival of blood sport that the Cascadians use to keep their population in check... which has become a sensational interstellar spectacle. And that they were also being paid by someone to kidnap the Chancellor of Tauros-9, the Nebbik of Greel, and Princess Dorala of Alterra by a third party that intended to use them for political leverage after the event.

Of course , if they knew Leedo was here, they would likely hunt him down and finish what they started. A good reason for Leedo and Ciara to go cruising on the 'Nina until she was done her concert.

On the way out of the Cascadia Lunar port, they ran into Brax fretting by the Naughty Nina, waiting for Rotham to show up. Apparently, he had been contracted to play Theremin as a wringer in Iria's own band. Leedo and Ciara claimed that Rotham had lost the ship in a game of cards, and would not be able to make it unless he was on board the tourist ship currently leaving Solara Votex, but that they were going to play for Iria as well, and that Leedo's instrument of choice was in fact the laser rifle... but he could drum if it was needed. Brax seemed exasperated, but satisfied and asked them to pass information about her hotel booking on to her, as they would be seeing her soon, before he ran off looking very nervous.

(I roll a d6 for each PC to see if their past arrives to haunt them in some way each time they visit a new system. Most sessions so far have turned up no 1s. This time I rolled 1s for everyone but Kuna... so Cascadia is about to get very interesting indeed...)

*I stole two of these NPCs from Desert Skies, a favourite scifi drama podcast.

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