EDIT: This Amber Zone is the Winner of the 2014 Amber Zone Contest
The characters should have some experience with using a Vacc Suit, preferably having one for each member of the party. Having a Belter and a Scientist in the party may also be of help, but the referee can easily add such characters, if needed.
The characters are on Altheon, a small, nearly airless low-gravity world that is home to several competing mining firms. One of the larger firms, Orbion, has brought the characters to a meeting room in its office facilities on short notice. The characters have been asked to bring their Vacc Suits, as time is a factor.
A tall, thin man dressed in what passes for business attire on Altheon greets the characters (introducing any NPCs necessary to the group). He introduces himself as Goren Valks, Chief of Operations Safety for Orbion. “We’re pressed for time, so forgive me for skipping the usual pleasantries,” he says without ceremony, gesturing for the group to take a seat at the holographic display table that dominates the room.
“As you may know, Altheon is an aggregate world, consisting of approximately one hundred accreted asteroids held together by gravity, for the most part.” The holoprojector in the table displays a three-dimensional map of the structure of Altheon as Valks continues. “Initial geological surveys indicated the presence of many industrial minerals and metals. However, as you may also know, forays into the planetoid found substantially more valuable ores, including lanthanum and incredibly pure mineral and metal crystals that are highly valuable to the scientific community.”
The display zooms into a portion of the planetoid, showing more detail of its internal structure in one particular volume. “Orbion employs a number of independent subcontractors to help us exploit the resources of Altheon,” says Valks. “This is necessary, since the skills to survey and extract the resources efficiently and safely are very specialized – typically only available from experienced asteroid miners. The miners are paid a handsome percentage of the finds of their surveys and the workers extracting those finds make some of the best money to be had on the planet.”
Valks pauses to look at the characters in turn. “The reason for this is that the work is incredibly dangerous. The internal structure of Altheon is constantly shifting as the asteroids continue the long process of accreting into a single mass. As this graphic indicates, there are numerous voids within the planetoid. Negotiating the interior is challenging, since gravity can vary considerably from one location to the next, and the entire operation is conducted in pitch darkness with few, if any reference points. The failure of sensing equipment combined with a sudden shift of the structure of the planetoid can leave a crew disoriented and trapped dozens of kilometers deep within the planetoid. Those working in tight spaces can easily be crushed by shifting masses and there is virtually no atmosphere inside the planetoid as well, adding to the dangers.”
The display changes to personnel files with body images of each person. “Three hours ago,” says Valks, “we received a distress call from Survey Team Bravo Four. They were doing mapping and survey work in a new claim volume, nearly 28 kilometers below the surface. They didn’t reveal the nature of the emergency before we lost communications.
“I need you to take one of the corporation’s G-Carriers to their location and attempt rescue of the team members, along with the recovery of their gear and whatever survey information they have acquired. The job pays one hundred thousand credits, and I don’t have time to engage in negotiations on that. I have the electronic contract awaiting your thumbprints right here. If you accept, you must begin right away. The four-person team went in with just 48 hours of oxygen. That was twenty hours ago and it will take you nearly six hours to reach their last known location.”
The characters will have precious little time to gather together equipment needed for the rescue attempt, but Valks is keenly aware of the need of being prepared. Whatever items the characters may request (within reason) will be provided, but Valks will grow more impatient if the characters continue to delay their departure, eventually telling the characters that they must get underway immediately.
The transit through the voids within the planetoid should test the skills and nerves of the entire team. The further inside Altheon the characters progress, the more apparent it becomes that significant portions of the route have become impassible. It will take the combined skills of the team to navigate the interior and they’ll be forced to pull out recoilless jackhammers to open a bottleneck, plus avoid dislodged material floating free within the voids. They should also encounter at least one destroyed grav vehicle along the way to remind them of the dangers they are facing.
The characters should also encounter another team from a rival company, GeoTech. The other team is very unfriendly and will brandish weapons at the group if the characters start getting too close to their work site. “Get out of here,” their foreman will warn the party over the radio. “We aren’t going to end up like the teams over in sector Orange Three. If you’re looking for a fight here, you’ll get one!”
The Belter and the Scientist in the group will know how dangerous a firefight can be under these conditions and will urge the rest of the party to steer clear of the rival group. If the characters decide there is no other way, then the referee should generate the opposing group and arm them with low-recoil weaponry that can be used in a vacuum. Their grav vehicle also is armed with a mining laser that will be used to disable the party’s G-Carrier, if necessary.
Provided there are no serious mishaps and the characters avoid combat (or are singularly lucky in overcoming the opposition), it will take a total of eight hours to reach the last known location of the Bravo Four team, leaving the party just ten hours to locate the team and affect a rescue. There is still no response from the team as the characters’ party arrives, but the Scientist of the party starts detecting increasing gravity waves emanating from a location within the cavity. Additional readings indicate that the surrounding asteroids are undergoing fracturing due to the increased gravity. The best estimate is perhaps two hours before the asteroids surrounding the void will begin to break up, maybe less.
The readings indicate there are two disabled gravitic vehicles near the center of the unusual gravity waves. There are no life signs around the area. As the party closes in, searchlights and sensors reveal that there was an exchange of personal weapons fire along with several mining laser discharges. Both vehicles have sustained multiple small arms hits and damage from high energy laser fire as well. The other vehicle appears to be a mining vehicle employed by GeoTech.
Subsequent investigation on the surface of a nearby asteroid shows a total of seven bodies – four from Bravo Four and three others bearing GeoTech corporate patches. All of them met their ends by violence, though one of the GeoTech persons appears to have been crushed under a large rock fragment. Near that body is a strange object that the Scientist will recognize as an artifact of the Ancients’ technology. It is that object that is generating the gravity waves that are causing the asteroids around the void to fracture.
The characters may decide to destroy the device. If they do, its effects will end and the void should be stable enough for them to retrieve information from the Bravo Four grav vehicle and to recover the bodies.
If the characters attempt to deactivate the device, the referee should devise a short series of tasks for the characters to discover how to operate the device. If they are successful, they can retrieve the device easily (it is about the size of a suitcase) and will easily be worth millions of credits – even the finder’s fee for the device will more than double the payout of the job. Once the device is secured, the party can recover the bodies plus recover the data from Bravo Four’s grav vehicle.
If the characters do nothing to the device, the gravity waves will begin to rapidly increase in power, accelerating the collapse of the void from a couple of hours to less than fifteen minutes. Once the void collapses, the device will be destroyed and anything remaining inside the void will be crushed. The referee should impose proper difficulties upon the party for attempting to escape, based on their actions.
If the party is more oriented toward combat, have another group of claim jumpers from another firm – Pandora Mining – arrive while the party is attempting to discover how to work the Ancients’ device. (They were drawn to this void by the peculiar readings being generated by the device.)
Once the characters return to the surface, they will be debriefed by Goren Valks. The company will take possession of the bodies, data and the device (if present). Valks will pay a bonus of an additional one-hundred thousand credits to the characters for the device’s recovery, along with a high passage to each team member (or a cargo contract if the characters happen to crew or own a starship) to encourage them to depart Altheon quickly and keep the discovery hushed up for as long as possible.