The PC’s are approached by an old prospector. He tells them about an old claim of his that was overrun by a volcano some thirty years ago. He and his team of ten other prospectors had to then abandon their claims immediately and exit the area due to pyroclastic flows that threatened to bury them along with their claim. This eruption and the ones that followed were so severe that the planet went from a cooler temperate climate with a breathable atmosphere to a frozen tundra with a strong taint of sulfur and ash.
The prospector has heard through the grapevine that the eruptions have finally ceased after all these years. It is his hope that his old claim’s cache of semi-precious and precious gemstones will still be there and intact after all this time. He says they were secured in several strongboxes of reinforced ferroconcrete in a small hut and unless the lava flow struck his area directly (which he doubts) his claim should be right where he left it.
The miner does not know what has happened to his old team members. He knows some of them have passed away, but he still possesses the legal paperwork to give him rights to anything that may be left. He says the strongboxes have an electronic lock that will only open to his DNA and thumbprint. If the PC’s take him to his location he expects to have about ten tons worth of ores ready to haul which are worth about MCr 1.0 for each strongbox. He is willing to split the haul 50-50 with the crew if they will help him find the claim, find his ten strongboxes and haul them all back to this port. He says his wife thinks he is crazy to chase down his old claim, but he needs to get it out of his system or it will drive everyone in his house crazy.
He does not possess a starship, but he does own an industrial cargo robot (grav drive) that displaces two tons. It is in small wooden crates and it will need to be assembled on the planet. If there is any ash covering the cache area it will dig its way through to the designated area. The robot is of TL-12 design and is quite slow (15 kph maximum). It can dig through dirt, ash or rock fairly quickly. It also can grasp the strongboxes and bring them to the ship if they are located. It also is dependent on verbal commands as it is not capable of independent thought, reasoning or problem solving.
If the crew accepts his offer, he will produce a chip with the exact coordinates for his claim. Since the planet has gone through pronounced change several orbits around the planet will be necessary to map and grid the surface to be able to zero in on the location of the strongboxes. The miner recommends the crew bring extra dust/filer masks and rugged equipment and sensors on this trip. Due to the blinding snow and dust, lasers will be nearly useless.
The old prospector’s mind is very sharp and fairly exact. He is truthful in his approach and he will help the PC’s with local merchants who can provide them equipment that will be needed for the mission. He talks quickly and is very excited about returning to his old claim. He does not have a lot of money at this present time, and he cannot help the PC’s with any of their expected starship expenses. He does not provide his age other than “old” (he is 78 years old).
The planet he is talking about has been through a series of massive geothermal and tectonic changes. The mountain near his claim was called Prometheus Mons, as it constantly smoked and belched flame for years prior to the massive eruption. When this mountain went into full eruption, huge pyroclastic flows ran down all sides of this mountain, burying everything within miles under meters of ash. The pressure beneath the surface was so intense that the nearby peaks also began to erupt, spewing enormous amounts of ash and pumice into the upper layers of the atmosphere. This energy even caused the axis to tilt a full degree from the original surveys and the planetary rotation changed from 22 hours, 15 minutes to 22 hours, 10 minutes.
Upon approach to the planet the ship’s sensors should pick up on the axial tilt change. Prometheus Mons should be easy enough to locate, but it will take a full day’s worth of orbits before the coordinates can be positively located. Sensor readings are difficult as there is a lot of blowing snow and ash. By the data gathered in their orbital passes, it looks like the prospector’s camp was covered in roughly four meters of lava, but the cache area is still intact. It is, however, buried under three meters of ash and rock. It is a good thing that they have brought a robot along for such a task.
The surface of the planet is roughly -5 °C during the heat of the day, dropping to -25 °C at night. Blowing snow and ash have coated the surface a dull to bright grey. When the wind begins to blow (and it blows often) the PC’s will be contending with near-zero visibility. It will take the PC’s about 4-6 hours to assemble the robot (the prospector calls it “Clyde”). When operational, the robot will have a series of minor malfunctions on a rather frequent basis. These malfunctions will be non-threatening, such as shutting down to reboot its internal computer; sudden loss of hydraulic pressure to the arms with the digging shovels; or developing a shudder in its movement for about ten seconds before returning to normal. It will take a painful 36 hours to dig a safe horizontal shaft to the door of the mound where the strongboxes are kept.
When the doors to the small half-domed hut/warehouse are found, the prospector will access the lock with his thumbprint. When the doors slowly slide open the ten boxes will be there waiting for him to haul away. Because the hut is structurally unsound, the robot will need to haul the ton-sized boxes back to the ship. It can do this, but it will need about two hours to do so.
Halfway through the robot’s excavations, the PC’s will be attacked by some antagonists in an old Type-J seeker. If the PC’s have been paying attention to their sensors they may have been able to detect them coming in-system a day before this ambush, but the ash and snow will make any sensor readings from the surface difficult. They will buzz the PC’s, stirring up any ash and snow that is not already blowing in an ever-growing stiff wind. Their Seeker is only armed with dual mining lasers in a single turret (which are currently inoperative, unknown to the PC’s). When the Seeker buzzes the landing site a couple of bandits will hop out of the cargo bays. There is a total crew of nine (four spacer niches were quickly added to their cargo bay). These are not well disciplined troops and they will only continue to fight if they think they have the upper hand. Their weapons range from simple low-tech slug-throwers to blades as they too know that lasers will be nearly useless in all this ash.
The Captain-Pilot of the Seeker is a former member of the old survey team that worked with this old prospector. He knows all about the old claim site and the gems hidden away in a separate cache. His plan was to follow (discreetly) the old prospector’s trek and take his claim away after it was located. He knows all he needs is a thumbprint and a DNA sample to open the locks – the old miner need not be alive when this is done. If the PC’s speak to him he will also claim he has a legal right to this cache (this is a lie). He has proof in the paperwork he has on his ship (it is forged).
So during the firefight the PC’s will deal with little to no visibility. As stated lasers will be useless and all during the fight the robot will be faithfully carrying the boxes from the old hut to the PC’s ship. If the attackers take more than four members killed or rendered unconscious the remaining members will surrender rather than risk death or, even worse, being stranded on this rock. If the ambushers are overcome the former partner will run away immediately and exit the system.
When the PC’s get the cache on board they (and their new prisoners) will return to the original starport where this mission started. The survivors will throw themselves on the mercy of the local authorities in exchange to provide evidence of attempted murder, assault and attempted grand theft against the old mining partner. They will be paroled and a warrant will be issued for the Captain-Pilot of the attacking Seeker. The old prospector will be true to his word and a 50-50 split will be considered payment.