Any high population, high technology world that has a gas giant in the outer system.
High population, high technology worlds – the economic engine that helps drive the Imperium. The thought of hauling a load of TL15 Critical Widgets to a lower TL agriworld is what gives some merchants hope some days and rightfully so.
Most of the time the really big shipments are plotted months in advance, sent on the megacorporation megafreighters that are the backbone of Imperial commerce, and kept far away from tramp merchants like ours. But there’s always cargo to assemble, to Buy Low Sell High and profit among the stars on the merchant ship Wanton Credit.
Until now, that is. A day late for six separate lots that would have been easy sales, all the brokers have left is the kind of stuff they make jokes about, and all of the coming week’s cargo spoken for too.
The Captain was giving serious consideration to trying to see if he could get our annual maintenance in early when Ishuun came in with the news. The ship’s account must have been worse than we thought when the Captain agreed to it.
This time of year is the time for fashionable weddings on this world, and right now the fashion is a space voyage for the honeymoon, complete with parents and the wedding party. The nobles and well-connected have their own personal or corporate ships to use, a dozen charter services have popped up for those with the discretionary income.
Some charter services are more reputable than others – two have both just managed to have their fleets grounded for repeated failures of safety inspections. There is a scramble of cancellations, lawsuits, and recriminations in local media for days.
What Ishuun found were two stranded wedding parties, and with so many cancellations, the remaining services are booked solid for months. They’re not willing to pay the same rates they were going to pay to charter a yacht, but they’re still willing to pay more than the ship would be earning sitting on the ground with an empty hold.
The exact numbers of passengers and exact amount paid depends upon the ship the characters have, and what the trading rules for the system considers a reasonable profit. The charter fee won’t be huge, but it should be a little over what the average for the last few runs should be. After all, if there’s no profit in it, why would the Captain agree?
The two happy young couples, the Girishaaps and the Quinton-Finches, have sufficient people in the wedding parties to make it a tight fit in the passenger quarters. The ship will make a run out to the gas giant, refuel, and return to the mainworld. Normally this would be a lot longer trip than any merchant would go for a tank of fuel, but under the circumstances the Captain is happy – “this will subsidize our refuelling, that will save us a few more credits.”
Depending upon how far out in the system the gas giant is, it could be a week in each direction, and normally this long a trip wouldn’t be comfortable with this many passengers, but now the empty cargo bay works in their favour – it can be set up as a lounge, dance floor, changed around as needed, whatever the players can come up with.
Players being players, they should be looking for Trojan Horses, pirate hijack, or any number of things – but all of the facts are easily verifiable with archive searches in the planetary news net. Wedding announcements for both parties, an increasing number of news stories about shoddy safety practices at both closed companies, and lawsuits filed for breach of contract by both families against the yacht operators.
There should be a scurry of last-minute cleaning and light maintenance before lift-off to make the ship extra presentable for the guests, some purchases of upscale food and drink, and other supplies. Depending upon the length of the trip, it might be a good idea to hire an extra steward or three, and the yacht groundings leave a few available.
Characters with social skills will come into their own. Some of the wedding guests will be fascinated by the standard prep and lift-off operations; some will be thrilled to bits to take the helm and roll the Credit once safely clear orbit and on their outbound vector, while others will be totally bored with the whole procedure. A large part of the day is going to have to be organized by the Head Steward for other NPCs.
The referee should borrow as many characters from Central Casting as they need for NPCs: the happy couple that only has eyes for each other, the pain-in-the-backside parent, a lecherous or prankster best man or bridesmaid who can’t stay away from crew quarters, or even their opposites – those content the whole event is done with and wanting to catch up with their astroball league tapes, or the stargazer who has wanted to see space firsthand for years. Tours of the bridge, of engineering, the usual passenger diversions, a basketball game or formal dinner or a dance every night in the reconfigured cargo bay, even a ‘safe’ EVA walk around the hull of the Credit could be welcome diversions. The referee can impose as much chaos or as much serenity as the players will stand for.
The trip to the gas giant should be routine from a ship operations standpoint. There isn’t much traffic in this part of the system since almost no one refuels at the gas giant.
Frontier refuelling is always dramatic visually – many passengers will gather in the passenger lounge to watch out the viewports, and spare seats on the bridge or in gun turrets will be coveted vantage points.
Others will find the contemplation of a ballistic atmospheric insertion terrifying and lock themselves away in their quarters, or do almost anything to keep their minds off the situation.
Glorious vistas of cloudscapes hang outside the viewports. If there is native life in this gas giant, the navigation buoys should have this listed and the ship will be directed to maintain a minimum altitude to keep the chance of an impact low. Still, a high-flying local creature might be spotted to keep the guests entertained.
Once fuelled, the ship lifts to orbit, and will detect an emergency beacon.
The beacon is broadcasting from near the 100 diameter line – it looks like a ship that jumped into the system while the Credit was refuelling, but the transmission is an automatic one. The characters will report the signal to System Control, but it would be days before a patrol craft would be in position to assist, while the Credit is less than a day away – under Imperial law, they are obligated to assist unless there is a very good reason they shouldn’t. They move toward the beacon.
The ship in trouble is even farther out than the Credit – some of the guests will say they’ve never been this far out from their primary before, and even some of the merchants won’t have operated this deep in the outer system.
No matter what efforts are made, the automatic distress beacon is the only contact with the ship in trouble. About an hour before the ship approaches to visual range, all of the recording systems should be operational – one of the brides wants a copy of the rescue mission on tape.
About twenty minutes before entering close contact range of the distress beacon, every sensor and proximity alarm should start sounding on the bridge – there is a fleet exiting jumpspace all around the Credit.
After some hasty evasive action, and very hurried communications from the fleet, the Credit should be flying at a safe distance from ships of the Imperial Navy – they have managed to stumble into a fleet manoeuvre and are now the safest from pirate attack that they have ever been, surrounded by escorts, heavy cruisers, and battleships. A pair of Gazelles are closing in on their position rapidly, and the comm crackles with instructions – heave to, and prepare for inspection.
A launch docks with the Credit. The inspection is businesslike and routine since their flight plan was on file, the Credit had contacted system control about the emergency beacon and had advised of their intention to assist, and there certainly isn’t much cargo to be sticky over. After a few preliminaries, the officer commanding the inspection should remark that they certainly had a good view of the fleet arrival – at which point a passenger should blurt out that they were recording it, and can’t wait to see it! The officer excuses himself and steps out of the room.
A few anxious minutes pass until he returns. The Credit has been granted permission to dock with the fleet’s flagship – the battleship Pantheris Rampant. There, the passengers and crew will have dinner with the admiral commanding. Navy crew will pilot, as the guests will need to change to formal attire – and sorry, but no recording equipment or side arms will be allowed aboard.
The Credit will land in a hangar bay and the party be met by a guard. Escorted to a formal dining room large enough for all, the party will mingle with some officers for polite conversation and won’t have long to wait until the admiral enters the room.
Admiral Dame Tatiana Diimashuu Reimer, SEH, MCG, is a gracious host, and states that when she heard there were two wedding parties aboard a ship about to engage in rescue operations, she couldn’t resist the opportunity to invite them aboard to dine. Several of her senior officers are present, including the Captain of the Pantheris Rampant. The dinner and conversation are both very pleasant.
Someone will ask what happened to the ship that had declared the emergency – an officer will say that it was a Navy escort that had misjumped, arrived in this system a day early, and also suffered some damage. The crew is all alive and well, and the Navy appreciates the assistance the Credit was rendering when interrupted.
At some point the admiral will ask what a merchant vessel is doing hauling wedding parties around, not cargo. After an explanation, she will pause for a moment, and mentions that she knows the head of a merchant line on the mainworld who is always on the lookout for good crews to haul cargo, and if the crew of the Credit is interested, she could put in a good word for them.
After a very good meal, the admiral and her staff will pose for photographs when one of the brides asks – all pictures will be taken by a Navy rating. Also, an officer returns the copy of the sensor data the Credit was recording when the fleet jumped in – their Intelligence staff has had a look at it and cleared it for civilian use. Yes, it shows a complete fleet in action, but it’s good to let the citizens of the Imperium – and her enemies – know that what the Imperial Navy can do.
Copies of the pictures are signed and presented, leave is taken, and the entire happy party is escorted back to the Credit. As a further bonus, the Credit’s fuel tanks have been topped off (a drop in the bucket for a battleship like this) and the Credit is cleared for departure.
The return trip almost seems anticlimactic, but everyone is in a happy mood after this unexpected turn of events. As promised, after landing the Captain is contacted by a broker with some choice cargos available, and the crew of the Credit will have the option of having as much or as little to do with wedding parties as they want.