04 Voyage Into The Dark
Caught in a stand-off between two criminal gangs in an abandoned Archean Biotechnology palmyra palm orchard, Detective Kazuo Khan of S3C discovered that an external and invisible hand was working silently in the background. It had allowed infiltrators to sneak onto Zadi for secret operations that Kazuo had discovered and foiled in the water tanks.
It had also sent combat drones to kill them in the orchard.
But then after Kazuo had fought to save the gang leaders Toru Wengthai and Verheiden Reza, who became his allies, he realised that the clear and annoying voice in his head that only he could hear belonged to his sister Jirou Khan…
It had been a quiet couple of weeks since the orchard incident which none of the authorities were aware of. Kazuo was returning to his normal routine with Scheherezade Safety and Security Concern when Director Rashid Grumman finally authorised his transfer to work security on a mission on Zadi’s only armed patrol boat Keris Gangsa under Captain Furaha Ding. He would be representing the S3C under special orders of the Governor of Zadi.
It was something that he had been yearning to do for a couple of years.
Sister To Sleep
On the morning of his departure, Kazuo was awakened by a loud voice screaming, “WAKE UP” multiple times until he woke up. He found himself alone in his bedroom, befuddled by the voice. Then he showered and geared up for the mission which could last 3 weeks away from Zadi. Because of this, he left his cat Aki with his neighbour Sam Aldridge a local Belter restaurateur (after a successful Communication roll).
He travelled via transit pod from his settlement of Gertak Lembu towards to Zadi dockyards where the Keris Gangsa was berthed. The closer he got to the docks, the lesser the spin gravity was as it was located at what was considered the north spin axis of the 35 kilometer-long asteroid.
That was when he met the Keris Gangsa‘s new Flight Officer. The young Belter pilot was also on his way to Dock 14 and recognised Kazuo. He introduced himself as Batbayar Gray.
Kazuo led Batbayar to the antecorridor that led to Dock 14.
As they entered Dock 14, an S3C security officer in uniform who was leaving the dock recognised Kazuo. “Hey, detective,” the officer greeted as they passed each other. The door closed between them.
There were three others Belters there, two maintenance personnel and a repair bot who were fixing a ceiling light at the Jetty Alfa airlock gangplank. They both saw a clear path to Jetty Bravo where the Keris Gangsa was berthed further ahead.
Skylines and Turnstiles
As they passed Technical Office 03, the voice in Kazuo’s mind returned. Once again, it screamed at him. “GET IN THE OFFICE NOW NOW NOW NOW!” Kazuo looked around – dumbfounded again – for the source of the voice in his head. “NOW NOW NOW NOW!”
He waited too long. The airlock hatch at the vacuum end of Jetty Alfa exploded.
The hole was large enough to create a strong suction force. The rolling repair bot was immediately sucked out into space but the Belter crew – a man and a woman – held on for their lives. (After succeeding in Target Number 11 Dexterity checks – both rolled 14) Kazuo and Batbayar managed to pull themselves into Technical Office 03 and sealed the door. The office had a large paned window that allowed them to view the damage and both the Belters being buffeted by strong winds.
Kazuo had to boot up the computer in the office, bypass the engineering security and shut the safety doors.
(The maintenance workers had three rounds before they were spaced. This was an Advanced Test, Target Number of 7 with Success Threshold of 10. Kazuo had Intelligence and an Engineering focus. First round, his results subtracted four from the Threshold. The second round, he removed another three, leaving one more point in the Threshold. However, Kazuo did not succeed in the third round.)
“MY GOD!” Kazuo yelled, his hands still working the control panel. After the man disappeared out the hole into cold hard vacuum, the safety doors slammed close.
The internal pressure of Dock 14 returned. Automated warnings had already called security and medical personnel. Kazuo rushed to an engineer he knew named Lau and told him about the explosion and what he had seen.
Unfortunately, Kazuo told him about the Belter that was spaced at the end of his story. “Why didn’t you tell us that in the first place, coyo? You should have begun by telling me that!” Lau used his hand terminal and called someone. “Any maintenance pods out near Dock 14.”
“I think Maguire‘s out near Dock 14,” a voice replied.
“Send Maguire to retrieve beltalowda blown overboard. Get him back to a pressurised dock as soon as possible!”
Kazuo was weathering a great deal of anxiety. He had frozen up as well as wrongly briefed about a catastrophic incident. He and Batbayar proceeded glumly to Jetty Bravo. Batbayar told him, “You did your best. I wouldn’t have known what to do.”
The airlock hatch to Keris Gangsa slid open. A man was there, waiting for them. “Hey! What just happend outside!”
“An explosion at Jetty Alfa,” Kazuo told him. He looked back at the throng of medical and repair teams doing their job efficiently.
The man, who had the short, stocky build of an Earther, introduced himself. “I’m Greg Farnsworth, the weapons officer. You’re Kazuo Khan our new security officer and you’re Batbayar Gray. Welcome to the Keris Gangsa.”
After they entered through them, the doors slid close.
This Is How I Disappear
Startled, he thought it was the voices in his head, but instead it was his old friend Furaha Ding. “Welcome aboard! You’ve been wanting this job for a long time, haven’t you. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. It’s nothing.”
“Alright. This is my XO, Sasithorn Fawzi, Ms. Sasithorn will take you to your quarters. We will leave in half an hour.”
After 20 minutes of relaxing in his quarters, Kazuo headed for the command deck where Captain Ding gave full security authorisation of the Keris Gangsa to him. When everyone had confirmed that all ship systems were green across the board – and introducing engineer Zoë Mufolosi to Kazuo – the captain ordered Sasithorn to take them out.
Upon being granted permission to depart by Zadi Traffic Control, Sasithorn told Batbayar to release the clamps and umbilicals.
“WAIT! WAIT A SECOND! I FORGOT TO TELL YOU THIS. YOU KNOW, THAT GUY? HE’S-”
The voices that were screaming in head winked out of existence when Batbayar disconnected from the docking clamps. What did it forget to tell me? When Kazuo returned to his senses, the Keris Gangsa was already manoeuvring away from the docks into space. For the first time in many weeks, he was finally alone in his own mind.
The Epstein drive ignited and they were travelling towards Ganymede at 0.3G delta-v to pick up their equipment and material at the agricultural dome of Uruk Junction.
As they needed 8 days to reach their destination, Kazuo decided to do physical training and then clean his weapons every morning. After breakfast, he used his engineering skills to do maintenance on the Keris Gangsa‘s point defence cannons, taking a break only for lunch.
(Irfan used the “Making or Fixing” Interlude mechanics for this, using his Engineering focus. The Interlude was another Advanced Test, with a Target Number of 11 and a Success Threshold of 15 points. Each test was the equivalent of half a day’s work. He succeeded his first roll with a result of 13 with a Drama Dice value of 6. The Threshold was reduced to 9 points. However, he failed his next test with a result of 9.)
Kazuo worked on the PDC’s servos in the inner hull, repaired and replaced some of the parts. Before lunch on the first day, the PDCs were moving about on its servos smoothly. However, Kazuo was unable to get anything done after lunch while working on the targeting program.
(The next day, Irfan succeeded the Interlude roll in the morning, bringing the Success Threshold down to 3 points. But again he failed his second roll.)
After a good night’s sleep and a morning of physical training, Kazuo returned to upgrade the PDC targeting program on the weapons console. He made a lot of headway in the morning, replacing a lot of older code with newer, more efficient code. But after lunch, he was unable to compile the new program. This made Kazuo more frustrated with himself.
Batbayar poked his shoulder and said, “Hey, you know what. Let me fix you something up.”
For dinner, he made mushroom ramen with curry and asam flavour. The crew ate together, joking and having fun, and after that Captain Ding told Kazuo, “There’s a transmission from Zadi. The technician blown overboard at Dock 14 was badly wounded. They found him quick and got him to the hospital fast. He’s in bad shape, but he’s alive. There’s a video file from Maguire’s pod, if you want to view it.”
At once, Kazuo felt relief as well as refreshed.
By the next morning (by rolling 18 with a Drama Die result of 6 – there were only 3 points left to the Threshold) he finished working on the PDC before lunchtime. It was handling much better than before. (Its Damage rating increased from 2d6 to 2d6+2.)
Greg sneaked up on Kazuo at the weapon station and slapped him on his back, saying “Great job. I can do a lot of damage more with this.”
After lunch, Captain Ding summoned Batbayar and Kazuo as she had scheduled a PDC shooting practice.
The Keris Gangsa would be flying close to the orbit of an M-type asteroid with smaller fragments some distance away from it. She threw up a holographic tactical projection. The main asteroid was a kilometre along the long axis. Their target was about 4,000 metres ahead of the main asteroid. The smaller asteroid fragment was only 10 metres long.
Batbayar was tasked with manoeuvring the ship to give Kazuo a clean shot at the asteroid fragment with the PDCs. Greg smiled at Kazuo and Captain Ding. He said, “The weapons board is yours. I’m gonng go grab a coffee. Have fun.”
Ten minutes later, Batbayar had cut the Epstein drive and was firing thrusters to ensure the ship’s firing range intersected with the asteroid fragment’s course. Not long after, he announced, “Firing range in 30 seconds. 20 seconds.” (Irfan rolled dice for Batbayar, whose Dexterity was 3 and had a Piloting focus. Rolling his 3d6+5, he succeeded with a 13 on a TN of 9.)
Kazuo acquired a target lock and touched the FIRE button on the screen. When the PDC turret pointed at the asteroid fired, the ship felt the rattling torque. Batbayar fired thrusters to maintain the ship’s attitude. (The Target Number to hit was 9. He rolled successfully with a 9, using 3d6 plus sensors of 1.)
The asteroid fragment ripped itself apart in a cloud of flame and dust. Was that an explosion? There were loud cracks all over the ship! A deadly torrent of debris from the asteroid explosion had struck the Keris Gangsa!
“What was that?”
“Breach! We have a breach!”
The Five of Us Are Dying
The ship was listing and had changed its orbital course. Batbayar announced that they were falling towards the mother asteroid, and would collide in 5 minutes. (Because the ship was knocked off course and incurred no major damage, the piloting check needed to beat a TN of 7, and Batbayar had to deplete a Success Threshold 10. Each round was a minute. In the first round, he rolled a 22 including a Drama Die result of 6, whittling the Threshold down to 4 points.)
Kazuo saw a nearby 5 centimetre-wide hole on the inner hull of the command deck. A debris fragment must have punched through. He unstrapped himself from his station and with a breach sealant kit, plugged the hole. (He succeeded patching the hole by rolling with his Engineering focus, beating the TN of 9.)
Meanwhile, Furaha Ding was attempting to patch more holes near her station. She yelled, “Sasithorn! Get to the other breach.” The XO sat still, strapped into her acceleration couch.
Batbayar continued to wrestle the controls of the Keris Gangsa (and rolls a 20, with a Drama Die of 3. 1 point left!)
Kazuo pushed towards the XO and noticed a hole through Sasithorn’s chest. A halo of blood coiled around her. The meteorite that made the hole that Kazuo had just patched also made a hole through Sasithorn Fawzi. He flung himself towards the exit hole on the far wall and quickly patched it up, while behind him Captain Ding yelled, “Sasithorn! No!” (He succeeded patching the hole, rolling above a TN of 7.)
Finally Batbayar (succeeding with a Drama Dice of 2) managed to take full manoeuvring control of the ship. Stabilising the ship’s attitude, he then fired the Epstein drive. Everything fell to the deck at 0.3 g, including Sasithorn’s blood halo. She was confirmed dead as the Keris Gangsa left the asteroid behind.
Zoë and Greg climbed up to the command deck to help fix the damage. The engineer realised that communication systems were down. Captain Ding ordered Zoë to check to on communication blister outside at the prow of the Keris Gangsa. Greg and Kazuo would accompany her. She said, “When you’re ready let us know, we’ll cut the drive and be on the float.”
Heaven Help Us
After donning spacesuits, Zoë, aided by Greg and Kazuo, left the airlock. With the Epstein drive shut down and magnetic boots on their feet, they began their hike up the hull of the Keris Gangsa. They headed for the prow of the ship where if the ship was a tall building, the antenna cluster would be on where its roof is. As they walked, Kazuo noticed something (succeeding a Perception roll of TN 11). Everyone carried or wore standard extravehicular equipment, but Greg wore a specialised gear on the back of his left hand glove. It was like a thicker hand terminal.
When asked, Greg said, “Oh, this? I bought this from the Kedai Dua Ringgit back on Zadi. Helps to tell you what’s up and down in space.”
(Irfan failed his Communication check here, so let’s carry on shall we.)
When they arrived at the comms blister, Zoë began her work. Greg and Kazuo helped to fix her tool case and diagnostic gear onto the hull surface beside the antennae. She also plugged in her hand terminal into some port at the base of an antenna.
“Hey, Kazuo,” Greg said. “How do like working in the belt these days.”
Kazuo sighed and told him, “I get that question a lot but I’m okay with it.”
“You’re okay working with Belters? I know they’d rather not have you around. The OPA. ‘Belt only for Belters.’ Don’t you feel uncomfortable? ‘Inyalowda get out of here!’ You’re a Martian.” Greg’s smile made Kazuo uncomfortable.
“It’s better than being on Mars, I guess.” Kazuo knew his excuse sounded lame and half-hearted. He looked up at the stars. He could not tell if they were looking back at him.
“AAAH!” There was a scream that came through the helmet comms. Looking up, Kazuo saw a hole through Zoë’s spacesuit – a bullet hole.
I Never Told You What I Do For a Living
Greg was holding a gun in his hand, which he then turned towards Kazuo. Kazuo had his gun drawn earlier, so he aimed and fired first – at the gun. (Target Number increased from 12 to 14. He first rolled a 19, then rolled a Damage of 12.) His bullet struck Greg’s hand, which exploded into a dissipating cloud of blood, flesh and gristle, while the pistol spun out into the darkness. Enduring great agony, Greg tried to seal off the sleeve which was open to vacuum.
Kazuo grabbed on to Zoë, who was still alive but barely, then said, “Sir! Greg just fired on us!” They heard nothing but static. Kazuo disengaged Zoë’s magboots and hauled her down the hull back to the airlock as quickly as possible, leaving Greg behind. (I rolled a Constitution check for Greg…)
After the airlock cycled, the inner hatch opened and Batbayar Gray and Captain Ding rushed in. She asked, “What happened to her?”
Kazuo snapped, “Greg fired on us.”
“Greg shot you? Shot her?”
“I didn’t know what to do, so I got her back here as soon as I can.”
“Batbayar,” Captain Ding called. “Take her to the med bay.” Then she turned back to Kazuo and said, “You’re security, aren’t you? Get out there and kill him or get him back in here.”
Give ‘Em Hell, Kid
With his pistol in hand, he went out the airlock once more. He did not make it to the communications blister. Greg was waiting for him at the command deck hull, behind a thruster assembly and ambushed Kazuo. (He had succeeded in the Constitution check I rolled for him earlier and survived.)
Although he had sealed up the injured right hand, he had another smaller gun in his left hand. Kazuo yelled, “Stop! Throw away that weapon. Come back with me to the ship.” (He tried to persuade Greg with a Communication check with a TN 15. He failed on a 14.)
Greg shot first (with a TN of 11 and succeeding). The bullet grazed the fabric on Kazuo’s shoulders (when the pistol’s 2d6+1 damage dealt 6 points of hurt, but Irfan spent 6 of his 23 Fortune points) as he twisted away. A Keris Gangsa patch on the arm was torn off, but there was no suit puncture.
“Please, put down the weapon,” Kazuo implored, hiding behind cover. “Come back to the ship. We just want to ask some questions.” (But he failed his Communication check again, so) Greg replied with a bullet that pinged a hole through the hull hardware, missing Kazuo.
Having had enough of this, Kazuo lunged out from cover and fired. (The TN was 11 because Greg had approached closer.) Absolutely not expecting the attack, Greg did not dodge. Kazuo’s bullet struck Greg’s upper left torso and there was a gasp. The gunnery officer had been taken out of the fight.
The Sharpest Lives
“You got him,” said Furaha Ding. “Not bad. I wish you’re a permanent part of my crew.”
Batbayar levelled his automatic rifle at the unmoving figure on the airlock floor that was Greg Farnsworth.
“How’s Zoe,” Kazuo asked.
“Zoe’s fine. She’ll need a lot of autodoc time.”
Captain Ding saw the black pad on the back of his left hand glove and switched it off. Long range comms returned to the Keris Gangsa. It was a signal jammer. Batbayar muttered, “He’s the one…”
Kazuo continued, “… jamming our signal.”
What was it that the voices tried to tell me before we undocked?
Furaha told them that Greg had shipped out with her only once before this. There was another weapons officer before that, and he came recommended after Mao-Kwikowski bought over Archean.
In Greg’s quarters, they found that his luggage had a false bottom. He had hidden within it two other loaded pistols, two more jamming devices, a leather pouch that bore vials of liquid and a syringe and a small pack that once had held eight explosive-tipped PDC rounds.
These rounds were what had blown up the asteroid fragment during Kazuo’s shooting practice, killing Sasithorn.
Furaha Ding looked at Kazuo and asked to no one in particular, “What the xelep is going on here?”
Meanwhile the ship continued towards its mid-point flip and burn, en route to Ganymede…
To be continued
- Most traumatising session ever according to Irfan.
- We had a voice recording of the session.
- In character lines are more or less the same as during the game.
- Greg Farnsworth was planned out to be a traitor. The Churn Pool did not turn him.