After lengthy litigation with a rival firm CorBeOn Corporation has won the mining rights to Cestus, an uninhabited world (X6640000) rich in mineral deposits that is largely unexplored. There is one final legal hurdle- under the Endangered Species act CorBeOn cannot strip mine the planet due to the presence of Plover’s horse, a small, pony-sized creature which is the sole fauna on the planet.
CorBeOn has assigned their researcher Dr. Algon Hess, PhD, to prove that these are mutations of Terran ponies, in which case they would not be protected, and much less expensive strip-mining methods can be used.
Players are hired to crew a CorBeOn owned ship to transport Hess, his assistant, a five-member mining survey team, and related equipment to Cestus and provide any necessary security (possibility that the rival firm will try to disrupt things). Time is of the essence, as CorBeOn wants to start mining before the rival firm can create a legal appeal. The mining team will need three weeks to collect samples, after which CorBeOn wishes the mission to return (contract requirement for players to get paid, with a weekly 10% penalty if delayed). CorBeOn will provide a vessel with atmospheric capability and some staterooms converted to well-equipped laboratory space (something along the lines of a type R merchant) for Hess and the mining team to work in. The ship will also have a pair of air rafts for transporting the mining survey equipment on planet to various survey sites and some portable temporary structures.
If any PCs have appropriate medical or science skills, they can function as Hess’ assistant. Also, they may be asked to accompany the survey team for assistance.
Normally CorBeOn would use their own crew. However, at the last minute they became ‘indisposed’. Players are offered 2x the normal rate along with a 100% bonus should they meet the required schedule.
Because of the hasty, last minute change of crew there is no clear mission instruction as to who is in charge (Hess, the manager of the mining survey team, or the player assigned to command the ship). The original crew was poisoned shortly before departure. (If the players have a ship, it should be ‘down for repairs’. Alternately, the referee could have the players transport the equipment and teams in their own ship, allowing Hess and the miners to set analysis equipment up in a stateroom or the hold.)
The rival firm (Rival, LLC) is determined to delay the mission to allow for additional legal wrangling and has placed a small mercenary team on planet with instructions to ‘make accidents happen’. This could include sabotage of survey equipment up to killing an NPC or two and is another good distraction for the players. The miners are careless with their equipment and tend to leave it ‘on site’ when they are finished for the day. This is an early distraction; players will suspect that this is a key part of the adventure and get paranoid about it.
NPC miners discover a group of ‘space hippies’ several kilometers away who arrived a few months ago and set up a commune of sorts. Investigation will reveal that many of the native plants are psi-enhancers or hallucinogenic and this group is partaking an excessive amount.
Four members of the mining survey team are obnoxious and constantly drunk. Once they discover the ‘hippies’ they spend most of their time partying with them and the survey quickly begins to fall behind schedule. The fifth is a corporate weenie (Ariana Fairfield) sent to ‘manage’ the survey. She is fresh out of college and has no skills to deal with them. The players have to encourage the miners to conduct the survey on time and may need to do the survey themselves if they have appropriate skills. The weenie can tell the players what needs to be done (drill core samples, mark location, analyze for valuable minerals). The core samples are unbelievably rich; the planet is worth trillions of credits to CorBeOn.
The Plover’s horse will appear to be docile, curious, and friendly. Capturing several will be relatively easy. Players should take some time to determine what they eat and gather some of their natural diet. It becomes quickly obvious to the players that the Plovers cannot possibly be of Terran origin, as they do not have a skeletal structure but are almost gelatinous under their hide.
Any PCs with telepathic ability will quickly discover that the Plovers are sentient, extremely intelligent, and powerful telepaths that do not understand human behavior and values. Because of their telepathy and intelligence, they will however quickly pick up language. This comes into play later in the mission.
Hess has been instructed by CorBeOn to determine that the Plovers are Terran pony mutations regardless of any evidence to the contrary. He will offer the players a significant financial windfall as CorBeOn’s agent (up to giving the PC’s title to the ship) to help him falsify information when they discover the truth and confront him about the Plovers non Terran origin or sentience, giving the players an ethical dilemma to resolve.
Plovers are highly evolved herbivores, more akin to a slug than a vertebrate. Under their tough hide, they have an extremely complex nervous system that integrates into their more gelatinous content. It can be ‘formed’ to serve as muscle, a digestive system, or any other necessary internal organ. They ‘eat’ and convert plant matter to more of the gelatinous material, and spent material is excreted via a ventral exit. They do have lungs, or more accurately an air sac, as they need some oxygen to process their digestive system.
They are strong and agile but will usually flee if threatened. They are extremely easy to physically kill- either by making a large enough hole in their hide that their neural system can’t cope with, or via any type of laser weapon (they tend to explode like an over inflated balloon).
Players may note that there are no predators, harmful insects, or food chain competitors on the planet. This is because if a Plover is individually threatened, it can launch a psionic counterattack that will leave the predator extremely nauseated. If a herd of them (5 or more) is threatened, they can ‘pool’ their psionic abilities and cause the attacker’s brain to explode. The Plovers, intelligent telepaths, decided millennia ago to eliminate any threats or competition on their planet. They are friendly as long as they do not perceive the players or NPCs as a threat.
Complications and Distractions:
After two weeks, the mining survey is far behind schedule despite any efforts the players are making. One of the miners will return from the ‘hippie’ camp stoned and in hysteria, stating that the hippies were all murdered by the Plovers. On investigation, the players will find the hippies all dead, with blood oozing from their ears. The miner will start screaming at the Plovers to ‘tell them what you did’. One of the Plovers will casually inform the players that the hippies were intruding into their grazing area and needed to be eliminated.
If there are primitive sentient aliens on the planet, CorBeOn’s development plans go down the tubes and they may even lose the rights for conventional mining. Also, considering the danger that the Plovers pose the planet likely would be declared a ‘red zone’.
If the players go along with Hess and falsify the information, they will besides being very well compensated receive job opportunities from CorBeOn for further unethical but usually legal activities as a ‘fixer’ squad.
If the players instead report their findings to the ISS or some other official agency, they will be in disfavor at CorBeOn due to being ethical. CorBeOn will honor their contract payment, but only exactly as specified in the contract. The ISS will insist on secrecy as the Plovers’ psi ability could be an extreme threat (or potential military asset to develop), so the players will gain no friends in the environmentalist community.
The referee should consider that the Plovers values are extremely different. Food, safety, survival of their species and companionship are what they consider important.
Should the referee wish, the Plovers could offer to provide psi training to any player character, with the caveat that it may leave them mentally unstable.
Algon Hess- age 56, 7C5BB7 Admin-2, Leader-2, Computer-3, Forgery-2, Streetwise-2, plus any appropriate scientific skills per your rule set. Hess is a high level CorBeOn ‘fixer’ and utterly devoid of ethics. His scientific credentials appear impressive but may be forged.
Doron Gryf- age 34, B9C894 Computer-1, Blade-3 (knife), Pistol-1 (body pistol), Streetwise-3. Hess’ assistant if none of the players can fill the role. Doesn’t talk much. Large and menacing.
Ariana Fairfield- age 24, 94DAA9 Computer-1, Carousing-1. Fairfield is near useless and is primarily in the adventure to provide players with any needed information at appropriate times. Like most low-level corporate management, her position is due to interviewing well during the hiring process.
Generic miner- age 40, B77777 Brawling-1, Carousing-1, Mechanical-1, Electronics-1, plus any mining skills per your rule set. Basically, there to cause trouble.