Collateral Damage 1: Stasis Pod

SS Collateral Damage, Alterday Shift, 25 January 3201…

LISA ANDREWS, FROMAR, POSEY AVRIL and JOE WILLIAMS are sitting in a coffee shop in the Charsi District of Zonguldak on Mizah, minding their own business, when they are approached by two hard-looking men trailing a couple of slap-drones.

CAPTAIN COUDER and his badly-scarred henchman CLAUDE have exchanged many harsh words with Posey in the past, and not a few bullets, but now need her assistance. Owing to a misunderstanding with the local law, Couder and Claude find themselves slap-droned (that is to say, followed everywhere by small robots which will intervene if they leave the city limits or do anything else illegal), and therefore unable to investigate the pre-Mandate survivalist’s bunker whose location they have learned by it’s-none-of-your-business. However, what they can learn, others surely will, and splitting the loot in half between the crews is better than losing all of it. Time is of the essence.

Despite numerous cogently-argued objections from Fromar, the party accepts this mission and rents a grav sled before embarking on the three-hour flight to the equatorial jungle island where the bunker is located. Holding at forty and doing a slow circle of the island, they discover two options: Land on the beach and walk in to the bunker coordinates, or land on the mountaintop and abseil down the sheer rock face. Despite (or possibly because of) the GM’s encouragement for the latter, they park on the beach and head in, chopping their way through the dense vegetation with machetes.

As they march, Fromar uses his copious mundane supplies to McGyver a flamethrower. Posey and Williams think they see foliage moving against the wind, and Williams drops prone yelling about bugs; Fromar uses his lighter to set the foliage on fire, but when nothing bursts out at them they decide to bound it in stones, make a campfire, and cook some bacon, it being lunchtime by now.

They reach the position Posey is sure is the site of the bunker without further incident, and find nothing. Fortunately Posey brought shovels, and they scrape away at what turns out to be the metal roof of a buried bunker. Shortly after that they notice that what they thought was a sink hole occupied principally by tree roots is in fact the entrance shaft to the underground bunker. Shortly after that, they notice that the shaft is lined with a viscous, pale-green slime; Fromar analyses this and informs them that it is characteristic of the giant carnivorous bugs known as “Hunters”. He drops a lit match down the hole to see how deep it is and set off any explosive gas before they go down.

Williams decides that the bugs must be killed with fire and is ready to attack. Posey is willing to go along for the sake of the loot, and starts to ready a rope by which they can descend, but the group’s plan is interrupted by a four-metre tall guard robot, covered in moss and vines, crashing through the foliage; it orders them to step away from the bunker and explains it is authorized to use deadly force.

Fromar argues with it, pointing out the advantages of having its AI braking removed so that it can be free to do its own thing; it counters that its primary purpose is to defend the bunker and its occupants. Fromar points out that the bunker is currently infested with giant carnivorous bugs which have no doubt eaten the occupants. The robot admits that the humans have been a bit quiet lately, but brightens when it realizes if the bugs are living there, they are now occupants, and therefore it still has something to protect.

Andrews realizes this means if she can get inside, she will be an occupant, and therefore safe from the robot. She makes a cinematic dive into the shaft, grabbing for the rope… which Posey hasn’t actually put there yet. Over the space of the next few seconds, noises come out of the shaft in quick succession: “Aaaaah!”, WHUMPFF, and “Owwwww…”

Looking around in her shaken state and checking herself for fractures – it’s always the medic who gets taken out first, isn’t it? – Andrews sees she is in an underground dome, ten meters high and twenty in diameter, with six corridors evenly-spaced around the perimeter; a number of Mandate stasis pods, mostly cracked open but one or two of which seem to be in working order, and half-a-dozen man-sized bugs advancing on her, waving an assortment of pincers, mandibles, antennae and stingers.

Above, Fromar continues his debate with the robot until Andrews calls “Help! Bugs!” As Williams dives towards the shaft entrance, Fromar throws him the improvised flamethrower, which he ignores completely. The robot tracks him with its autocannon and flamethrower, neither of which is working too well after 600 years in a jungle without maintenance or reloads. Fromar realizes that while it may be authorized to use deadly force, it no longer has the capability.

Confederation Marines are obviously trained in this kind of thing, as Williams rolls with the impact of his thirty-foot drop, bounces up unhurt, and blows the head off a bug with a well-placed slug from his magnum revolver. Posey follows him down and the three engage in a fierce close-quarters combat with the five remaining bugs, in a dark, cramped underground space lit only by the muzzle flashes of their weapons and dimly-luminous slime.

Andrews is wounded repeatedly by bug stingers, but manages to shake off the paralyzing poison each time. Posey realizes that her parrying is so good they have almost no chance of hitting her, and draws them away from her colleagues. Williams fends them off and gradually whittles down their numbers with his revolver, and Posey manages to drop one as well.

Confident of the team’s ability to deal with a few insects, and intent on securing the party’s escape route, Fromar carries on remonstrating with the robot, which is now trying to twat him with the barrel of its autocannon. During the melee, he manages to get close enough to jack into a diagnostic port and disable the hydraulics, immobilizing it. It politely requests him to stop that and stand still so it can stomp on him.

Reasoning that without combat skills he will be more of a hindrance than a help down below, Fromar ties one end of the rope to the robot (which weighs several tons and will be an adequate belay), throws the other end down the shaft, and – as gently as he can – drops the improvised flamethrower after it. Fortunately, it fails to explode.

Andrews, barely conscious, grabs the flamethrower and turns it on the dogpile containing several bugs and Posey, yelling “Flame on!” Posey manages to dive out of the way, and Andrews immolates all the bugs. Williams holsters his revolver, draws his cutlass, and engages the blazing bugs mano-a-mano, like a real Marine (his words). He thinks he can hear the distinctive sound of lasers firing above, but is too preoccupied to worry about that just now.

Meanwhile, Fromar’s investigation of the robot is interrupted by the arrival of a squad of rakashan troops who have been tracking the party through the jungle. Their leader congratulates the human vermin on clearing out the bunker, which he is sure they will complete any minute, after which he will relieve them of the loot and be on his way. The guard robot orders the rakashans to step away from the bunker, and notes that it is authorized to use deadly force. Fromar attempts to bluff his way out of the situation, pointing out the robot’s autocannon and flamethrower and telling the rakashans to drop their weapons, or the giant robot – now under his control – will kill them all.

After a second’s thought, the rakashan leader yells “The big one is mine!” and opens fire on the robot with his laser pistol. His troops take this as a sign that hostilities have commenced, and start shooting at Fromar and the robot with laser assault rifles (this is the laser fire Williams can hear).

Fromar sets the robot’s filesystem to copy itself into his portable computer, and trailing data cables behind him, dives into the shaft, managing to grab the rope with one hand as he falls.

-o0o-

As the session draws to a close, we find the situation as follows:

  • Andrews is waving an improvised flamethrower around in an unsafe manner. It has two shots left. She is heavily wounded (having taken something like seven Wounds and soaked all but two of them). On the plus side, the blazing bug carcasses have improved the illumination level.
  • Posey is rolling to her feet and assessing the situation, her rifle is on the floor somewhere but she is still clutching her lucky pistol “Elmira”.
  • Fromar is dangling from a rope just inside the top of the shaft, downloading what will turn out to be roughly half the robot’s file system onto his PC, while rakashan troops topside laser the stuffing out of the robot, which is threatening them impotently.
  • Williams is engaged in slashing the last surviving bug to pieces with his cutlass. It is burning merrily and more than a little unhappy.
  • Williams has been acknowledged as the leader, at least for this firefight, by Posey and Andrews, which means as long as they are within 5” of him on the tabletop they get +1 to recover from Shaken and he can (but need not) share his bennies with them.
  • It’s about four in the afternoon, and they have two to three hours of light left. Which is a moot point so long as they are underground.

We’ll pause this particular adventure here until the players concerned next meet up, which will be in a few weeks, and flashforward to the next one for the moment, which has some of the same players and some new ones.

It’s only in writing this up afterwards that I realized how well everyone was playing their hindrances.

PCs

This is the crew from Back in Black, converted back to Savage Worlds and transposed into this setting. Lisa Andrews, medic (and not a renegade psion on the run at all, honest); Fromar, mad scientist; Ms Posey Avril, semi-retired pirate and gastropub franchise owner; Captain Joe “Cap’n Crunch” Williams, Confederation Marine deserter. It’s interesting how everyone on this team except Fromar is already wanted by the authorities. Remember that while the players know this, the characters do not.

It’s also interesting that none of the players have noticed they are on a different planet entirely and the setting has been rewritten around them, although Posey’s player was one of the playtesters for the Aslan half of GURPS Traveller Alien Races 2 and recognised she has been in the Dark Nebula before – she’s happy playing Posey but did request a crossover adventure where she meets her old character. To be fair to them, it’s over a year now since Back in Black. Good Lord. Is it really? I suppose it must be.

NPCs

Captain Barry Couder of the armed freighter Goodnight Vienna; Claude Baddeley, his heavily-scarred lieutenant; Lord Mareecha, rakashan nobleman, and sundry laser-toting rakashan troops; hunter queen and assorted acid-dripping hunter warriors; Mandate sentinel mech, designation currently unknown.

REFLECTIONS

Well, Gromit, that went as well as could be expected. I had a very simple dungeon crawl in mind as a shakedown cruise for the party, with multiple opposing forces so that if they get out of their depth with one, another can barge in and distract their current enemy before turning on them itself.

I spent too much time looking up monster statblocks, even though I’d copied the ones I needed onto a crib sheet. I need a better way of doing that.

I actually have eight potential players, but they drop nicely into two groups of four whose attendance at sessions will rarely overlap, so I’ve split them into a mainday shift and an alterday shift, allowing me to have all of them on the same ship while explaining why there are two basic groups, whose members will sometimes mingle. I’ve given them a stock Light Freighter from the Sci-Fi Companion, and I’m studiously ignoring how eight of them manage to fit into a ship with life support for five, because I can’t be bothered to redesign the ship. Obviously they’re hot-bunking though.

I asked the players what their ship should be called – what they don’t know yet is that the AI has suffered damage and become unbraked, and its personality will be determined by what they name the ship. Collateral Damage won by a small margin over Resistance Is Advisable. They’ve been reading too many Culture novels.

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