Somewhere in un unknown system

AMBER ZONE: Undeniable

Location: Any starport in the territory of the former First Imperium.

Patron: Lev Anderson, of Anderson Shipping, a small family-run shipping firm.

Player’s Information:

Lev needs a crew for a few weeks, ship and salvage. A merchant ship that belonged to Lev’s grandfather, Honest Answer, was declared lost decades ago. Over the years, Anderson Shipping has kept its eyes open.

Now it’s paid off – there is a lead, and Lev is convinced it’s Answer. The problem, Lev says, is the rest of the family no longer cares, and Lev must go it alone. A merchant ship, Reluctant Dancer, is fitted out and ready to lift. Lev offers cash to pay each for a week up front, balance paid upon safe return with potential for performance bonuses.

Somewhere in un unknown system

Somewhere in un unknown system – Image from wikimedia.
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

Referee’s Information:

The story of Honest Answer and Anderson Shipping is true and easily verified. The fake is Lev.

Lev is a former merchant with some people skills, a total lack of morals, and fake identity papers who was passing through and discovered the company and its history. Lev can also be very convincing – “they’re more concerned with credits than the lost crew’s families. They’ve even purged me from the company directory, can you believe it?” – and wants to lift as soon as possible.

Lev has the qualified pilot raise ship, but insists on plotting the jump, then locking out the astrogation station in a serious violation of flight regulations. No one else should be certain where they are jumping to.

From this point on, it should be an Easy task to determine that Lev is not that technically competent – the workstation was locked out, not the computer itself. Anyone going to another bridge terminal can reconfigure it for astrogation and bring up the jump status. While Lev made a big deal about “plotting the jump”, a simple search shows the plot was actually a prepared program – Lev paid someone on the planet to make a “jump tape.”

When Dancer exits jump, all Lev will “permit” the party to know “for security reasons” is that they are in the outer reaches of a minor system – the mainworld is on the other side of the primary, its navigation beacons lost in static from the primary, no other planets are within a week’s travel, and the primary itself is a remote, bright spark, almost indistinguishable from the background stars. Dancer and her crew are very much alone in this part of space.

Almost. A sensor search picks up a target some twelve hours’ travel time from their position (this far out, Dancer’s sensors are too weak to be noticed). During transit, the crew pumps fuel from temporary tanks in the cargo hold to Dancer’s main fuel tanks – enough for the jump home, plus eight days of low-power operations.

When Dancer approaches the target, the truth comes out. It’s not a merchant; it’s a 30,000 ton battleship of the Indomitable class, adrift for over 3000 years.

Dancer’s library has basic information on the class but nothing specific about individual ships. Indomitable ships were built starting circa -2280 imperial by the Terran Confederation in their war against the First Imperium. These were the most advanced ships ever built by humans, and they carried the war from Terra’s backyard to the First Imperium. Spotlamps from Dancer play across the ancient hull and reveal her name in huge letters– Undeniable.

Someone should point out there might be bodies aboard. Lev’s mask finally slips – “That many credits floating there, and you’ll quibble about men dead that long? I don’t want fillings from their teeth, but there’s wealth on that ship, and I’ll have it, war grave or not, laws be damned.”

Lev is wrong about the laws, but only characters that make an Average roll against Admin or legal skills should be certain. As long as deceased are treated with respect, jail isn’t automatic.

Lev will point out the astrogation console is locked, no one else has enough information to plot a jump, and since all sidearms except the one in Lev’s holster were safely locked away, everyone had better cooperate.

Lev will also point out that the source for Undeniable’s vector also had a copy of the cargo manifest. A system’s ransom of precious cargo floats before them. Lev orders the first EVA to board Undeniable within the hour.

From this point forward, Lev starts sporting a noticeable bulge under a jacket shoulder, another pistol in a belt holster, will take pains to sit with back to the closest wall, and will not take food or drink from anyone. Also, Lev will occasionally read excerpts from the cargo manifest to motivate players.

The only information Lev will provide is a file that at first glance looks like a comprehensive technical readout of the Indomitable class. Upon closer inspection, that is exactly what it is – something that only looks like a technical readout, but actually with tabloid-quality factoids and pretty pictures that are of almost no use to a salvage operation. The book is from a children’s information (propaganda?) book published in the Solomani Rim a few centuries back, but it has some useful information, including tiny schematics on the ‘endpapers’.

There are ample EVA suits and equipment, with plenty of spare air tanks. Two six-hour missions per day would be very feasible.

The players face a choice here – proceed with Lev’s plan, at least for now, or jump back to civilization to turn in Lev. It wouldn’t be difficult to get Lev to “monologue” about the plan for the benefit of a recording device.

The library said that no Indomitable-class had been lost in combat during the war, but Undeniable had seen heavy action before drifting here, shown by the peppering of laser impact points along Undeniable’s bow and port side, and some dents and scrapes around the forward port side where several things hit the ship. Finally, there is a gash across the upper port quarter of the bow, with a gap three meters across at its widest, fragments from the ship that gouged it left in place. Several of the forward compartments are open to space.

Even if the players decide to not participate in Lev’s plan and jump for home, someone will point out that once they reach port, it becomes a case of their word against Lev’s and if they had some proof of Undeniable’s existence, it would strengthen their case. At least one EVA would seem in order.

Dancer matches vector with Undeniable and comes to rest near her bow. The EVA team will proceed through the gap into the ship. At one point, a character will push against the thick armor plating, wondering at the solidity of the ship, and will be horrified when it slowly flexes.

Something unnatural happened to Undeniable. The forward compartments are funhouse parodies of a starship, everything warped and twisted, decks no longer secure against the hull, internal equipment pulled apart. This effect lessens farther aft, until the ship seems normal two or three compartments from the bow.

Undeniable was at action stations when she died fighting, and the crew have remained there for three millennia. Suited figures remain strapped into their chairs in front of frozen consoles. A damage control team, safety lines clipped to stanchions, drifts around a missile launcher, tools tethered on lanyards nearby.

The so-called ‘reference book’ Lev provided may be useless, but the ship is well labelled, with schematics on every deck.

Lev wants the cargo hold stripped bare, presumes there is a captain’s strongbox to be emptied, and is trying to use the ‘reference book’ to direct the search to high-value components. Yes, the fuel purification plant probably does still have 600 kg of platinum piping in it, just like the book says, but without a full schematic it’s impossible to say exactly where those pipes are.

The goods on the ‘cargo manifest’ would require a substantial cargo hold – but the design is so tight, even at 30,000 tons, that the hold is small and only has spare parts and some general stores. Even live telemetry feed might not convince Lev of this, but nothing listed on the ‘cargo manifest’ is there, and the hold simply doesn’t have the room for a quarter of what was on the list. When Lev finally gives them a closer look at the manifest, it is marked with the ship name Valliant and dated eighty years ago, not three thousand. Lev was taken.

One find is rolls of spare cable for the main power grid – silver cable. While silver conducts electricity about 10% better than copper, expense limits applications – but with the Vilani Imperium trying to crush Terra and a tight design without power surplus to cover conductance losses, the Confederation paid. There is spare heavy gauge power cabling on board with silver content of over 1500 kg, more already in the main power grid, and silver bus bars connecting the jump drive to the jump grid.

By now someone should have thought to reboot one of the computers. The ship mainframes are beyond their resources, but there are many computer tablets aboard. Most compartments have ‘emergency procedures’ tablets with repair information for systems in that compartment, and many crew have duty tablets. The tablets themselves are beyond repair, but with a little careful work, the memory units can be pulled and put in a modern machine. A TL15 computer with modern commercial decryption software should crack three thousand year old TL12 code before too long.

There is a separate tablet for the Captain’s Log on the bridge and the last entry explains much. Dated “7 November 2303” in a system over thirty parsecs away, the Undeniable was attacked by First Imperium ships that either hadn’t gotten word of the surrender or didn’t care. Missiles detonated, fighters rammed, finally a Vilani destroyer tried to power its jump drive and misjump right on top of Undeniable. A combination of point-blank spinal meson fire and emergency jump almost saved Undeniable, but the Vilani destroyer had already rammed and jumped at almost the same moment. The combination of two jumps and meson discharge interacted in unforeseen ways, warping the bow. Jumpspace poured in through the hull breach and flooded the ship in an unstoppable tide that swept through Undeniable in minutes. The Captain’s final entry cuts off midsentance. Undeniable misjumped, exited into deep space and has been drifting ever since.

The referee can make as much or as little of the ship as desired – the silver cable is the most valuable portable material, but smaller valuable components could be found. The biggest find would be the historical and media value of the ship, and the research potential of the altered bow plating. But Lev doesn’t see this.

Unless precautions are taken (locking out the astrogation computer or physically disabling the jump drive) Lev will try to save on wages by using the jump tape when the crew is on EVA. Should the crew be gullible enough to all leave Dancer, and the referee is feeling merciful, a Donosev from the IISS could show up, using information forwarded by the author of the jump tape as a ‘dues ex machina’ rescue. Or not.

Watchful players should manage to return safely to port and use the computer log to show Lev tried to initiate jump when the crew was off-ship.

With Lev incarcerated, the owners of Dancer would be entitled to the proceeds of any salvage to pay their fees. But if the players are smart, they should manage to parley the discovery of the Undeniable into a finder’s fee with the Scouts or the Navy, a holovid or book deal, or a research contract with a university or megacorporation department. Artifacts from Undeniable would be snapped up by the collectors’ market.

Not riches, but enough to keep Travelling.

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