Dragonstar: The Serpent's Teardrop

Ghosts of the Past

Based on the adventure “Ghosts of the Past” from the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” Roleplaying Game book, “Planetary Adventures: Volume 1, Federation Space” published by Last Unicorn Games © 1999.

Bureaucracy

The bridge of the Mithral Star resembles a vaulted cathedral, a wide central nave dominated by a three-dimensional tactical hologram of the space surrounding the ship. Balconies, bridges, and floating platforms give the crew unparalleled access to the construct, a clean efficient hierarchy of stations quelling any sense of chaos the scale may infer. Drones whip about in silent dances while the crew mutter calmly into personal datacoms. A hushed, temple-like atmosphere is maintained.

“Remember your place, Finch! I am still commander of this vessel and an admiral of the fleet!”

Alsir’s voice carries like thunder before a storm. The half-dragon strides to the edge of the command platform and glowers over the massive hologram, his usually supple stance rigid with suppressed frustration.

“Do not presume that I take my responsibilities to the Service lightly. In my estimation it is exactly that responsibility that demands we follow the journey of the Countess and ensure that Minos is found.”

At the rear of the command platform a small crowd is clustered at the heels of a well-dressed human, his tall collar and cloak trimmed in royal blue. A fine hand slowly raises itself to stroke back wiry salt and pepper hair as lips twist themselves in a barely contained sneer.

“Admiral,” sighs Eminicus Finch, “the Royal Exploratory Service shall indeed pursue the tantalizing…. clues discovered by Mr. Gims’ research. The wanderings of Countess Pix are indeed of great value to us.”

Finch begins to pace, the eyes of his entourage following him with practiced awe.

“However, the half-remembered and heavily redacted recollections of a three-thousand year old explorer are not the sort of evidence that the RES’ Golion flagship, this ship, should be chasing on a whim.”

Alsir grinds his teeth, eyes still on the hologram as if to center his mind.

“The legendary weapons of Minos are not trinkets to be handled by a solitary trailblazer or a legion platoon. The Mithral Star should be the ship to discover and control them, the Twelve forbid raiders or the Altaran’s stumbling across such a trove.”

“If this Minos is found under Altaran jurisdiction,” counters Finch, lazily, “then I at least hope their commander has the sense and capability to follow our Emperor’s will.”

“Mezzenbone be damned,” mutters Alsir, almost under his breath.

“Admrial!” snaps Finch, as if waiting for this moment to strike, “Need I remind you that your questionable loyalties are precisely the reason I have been assigned to this ship! The Mithral Star is a flagship of the Royal Exploratory Service and as such owes fealty to the Imperial throne! Our discoveries and efforts seek to strengthen and glorify your Dragon Empire. Understand?”

There is a breath, a beat, a moment of almost perfect reverential stillness on the bridge of the Mithral Star. Then with blinding speed Alsir turns and leaps at Finch, razor-edged teeth snapping in the human’s face. A clawed hand closes over Finch’s throat, one deathly sharp tip hovering over his suddenly pulsing jugular vein. The mind-numbing speed and violence of the attack causes a courtier to faint with a pathetic whimper.

“Don’t you ever forget which one of us has dragon blood!” roars Alsir.

He lets go and spins back to the edge of the platform, his brows knotted over the hologram again. Eminicus Finch, his suave bravado replaced with a pallid choking breath, stumbles to the exit.

“You… you know your orders… Alsir.”

As the mildly panicked train leaves with the bureaucrat Alsir heaves a sigh and shakes his head at the floor hundreds of feet below him.

And one stocky officer in a crisp gray and copper uniform frowns with thick eyebrows at the half-dragon’s back, then stomps off the bridge after the retreating Finch.

-

Brought Together, Again

The crew of the Whisperkiss had been resting and recuperating for three weeks while their vessel underwent repairs and had it’s starboard cargo pod replaced. No other apparent repercussions from the ship’s hasty exit from the Elim’s Journey had occurred, except, perhaps, a terse and tear filled message from Brenda on Galen’s datacom. Then again, no one was sure what the White Legion may have discovered or surmised after the escape.

Throughout the intervening weeks, Galen had yet again managed to get arrested by Golion security. Cooling his heels in a cell was getting old when he received an invitation to meet at the Drop Bottom Inn. Yet again the meeting was to be in the dead of “night” and was organized by their mysterious patron, and yet again Galen was late. Celie, who had spent most of the intervening weeks amongst the colorful bazaars and clothing shops of the market district, showed up on time with the recovering Elocinda. The drow had undergone extensive surgery (and blown what fortune she’d won from Cardinal Rags) to have TrueFire spellware implanted in her body.

The mysterious Issemene was again waiting for the party, and as they arrived they were joined by a human male in a fine suit. Eventually known to them as David the new crew-member was initially cool and removed. Issemene demanded to hold his hands when he was asked the same initiation questions the others had been through a month before, and when pressed by Elocinda he asked “Do you have a specific problem with me? Drow.”

“Not until you give me one” she replied.

After the introductions Issemene dropped a small white disk into the center of the green sun table. Almost immediately a hologram of Admiral Alsir appeared and greeted the party. He thanked them for their exemplary efforts in retrieving Kondor Gims (who had been spirited away, along with the orc, Bors, after they landed on the Mithral Star) and apologized again for not being able to recognize their efforts in public. He then went on to detail the information Gims discovered that was worth so much trouble on the Elim’s Journey.

Despite Gims’ indication that the data in Bors’ cyberbrain was specific coordinates it was, instead, apocryphal chapters from the journal of Countess Pix of Castelen, a noted explorer and adventurer circa 2000 IE. It had long been claimed that she had discovered Minos and then, for some unknown reason, edited her journals to remove any mention of the legendary planet. While the apocryphal chapters didn’t spell out where Minos might be, they did trace a route that nobody was aware Countess Pix had traveled, a short journey along the Outland edge of the Serpent’s Teardrop and dangerously close to the Dark Zone. Certain entries hinted at “dangerous secrets” and “people best left for dead.” While not as compelling as Gims had made out, it was still a real treasure trove of information and absolutely priceless in the right hands.

Alsir admitted that he was concerned. The RES had not seen fit to send the Mithral Star out along this fabled path, but the information was starting to leak out. While scouting missions and trailblazers would invariably try to follow these fresh tracks, Alsir felt the superior military technology and legendary disappearance of the Minosian culture would attract the interest of the Altarans and even the Imperial throne. If either of those factions were to get their claws on Minosian weapons technology, the balance of power in the Teardrop, and even the galaxy at large, could be shifted towards darkness. As Alsir and the Star were hamstrung by bureaucracy he asked his deniable assets to lend a helping hand.

Through his network of eyes and ears Alsir heard of a team of independent scientists with anti-Mezzenbone sentiment that reportedly found a distinct correlation in psychohistorical “maps” of the Minosian civilization and the newly discovered journals. Alsir asked the crew to independently provide transport and assistance to this team, led by an AWOL Golion officer by the name of Bartok (read: undercover). They were welcome to whatever Bartok could pay them as long as they completed the mission to his satisfaction (which Alsir was sure would eventually bring Bartok back to the Golion fleet and hand control of the legendary planet to them). He also asked that they prevent any Altaran, Imperial, or, Twelve forbid, Dark Zone elements discovering and taking control of Minos.

Alsir again offered to buy a round before his transmission shut off. Issemene and Elocinda left. The albino confidant to Alsir warned, as she’s walked away, that a familiar face will be seeing the party soon, but they already knew that it was not a trustworthy one.

-

The Hunt for Minos

Unsure of where or how to find the team of scientists Alsir had commanded them to find, Galen and David began working the datanet together, putting up advertisements they hoped would lure Bartok to the Whisperkiss. They also conducted detailed research on vessels that may have been competitors, even tipping off Golion security to the suspicious criminal records of a couple of captains (eventually found to be wanted for murder). However they were stopped short by the datanet’s security of planting smuggling evidence against their last competitors.

Concerned that the net route was not sufficient Galen, David, and Celie went to the “Wings” bar close to the freighter size cargo bays. Stuck against one wall of a maintenance corridor the bar consisted of slowly moving stools and a noisy, cut-throat business atmosphere. Sadly the crew’s luck did not hold and they were unable to find Bartok before realizing that one of their competitors had removed themselves from the classified ads. Assuming Bartok had hired that vessel, they went looking for the Nolin and found the scientists already loading up.

Initially unable to convince the stocky Bartok that his choice of vessel was a poor one David and Galen again tried to plant false evidence to no avail. Then the faerie, Celie, cast a glamor over the scientist and he quite suddenly had a change of heart. Thrilled at their success the party began making plans for transit of the cargo, until suddenly Celie recognized one of Bartok’s crew as the AWOL Kondor Gims! Afraid he would bolt or warn Bartok she cast a glamor such that he did not recognize them… one she had to recast when he arrived at the Whisperkiss and he almost ran into Elocinda.

After dealing with Gims the ship was able to get airborne. Bartok’s party consisted of himself, Gims, the aloof fraal scientist Dr. Anak Tolas, and the attractive purple-skinned elf T’Suus. Correlating T’Suus’ psychohistorical research with the leaked diary of Countess Pix of Castelen, Bartok and his team were able to pinpoint a probable location for the mythical planet of Minos. Although sleeping arrangements were uncomfortable at best, travel to the distant world took a rather sedate 3 days.

-

The Old Guard

A small blue star appeared before the Whisperkiss as it completed it’s final starcast into the supposed Minosian system. The space around it was surprisingly empty of any debris, asteroids, oort clouds or planetary bodies, save one. Whether the system had been cleared by the need for resources or defense, or if had been cleared by the same tragedy that had wiped out the Minosians 5000 years before was unknown.

The planet was almost alone in the system, its only companions being three small moons. As the Whisperkiss approached long range visual scans picked up swarms of drones and satellites in thick orbits, like brown clouds rushing above the surface. Fearing active defenses Galen made a small starcast to the other side of the system’s star and approached the planet along the closest trajectory he could manage. Unfortunately something didn’t like the approach and four massive orbital batteries began firing accelerated neutronium slugs at their ship. Although easy to dodge in a small vessel, the crew soon found their ship being escorted by four drones. Trusting that there may be some diplomatic protocols Elocinda and David withheld fire from the Whisperkiss’ turrets and hoped the drones would escort them to safety.

In the cockpit Bartok, T’Suus, and Tolas frantically scanned the planet looking for a command center their research had hinted at. There was huge interference from the mass of drones, and picking through the archaic radio signals was incredibly difficult. Bartok urged Galen to pilot closer to the planet believing that only below the orbit of the drones could he pick out the command center’s location. As they approached the orbital plane the satellites and drones began clustering ahead of them as if to ward them away. Continuing on course and holding fire the crew of the Whisperkiss kept their fingers crossed…

As soon as they broke the orbital plane, all the hells broke loose.

Drones and satellites opened up on the Whisperkiss raking it with laser fire and making suicide bombing runs. Celie, with the help of her elemental construct, managed to provide a wind buffer around the vessel that deflected some of the attacks. Elocinda and David opened up with the turrets, but had a hard time hitting the fast moving and nimble escort drones that were slowly closing in for an assumed suicide run. Finally Elocinda caught one in it’s sights, and as the other three adjusted their trajectories to maintain a cordon David was able to pick off another. Celie and her construct then accelerated their wind buffer into a veritable cyclone around the ship, deflecting more shots and throwing the last two escorts together into a fiery collision.

Still dodging fire from satellites above and batteries below, Galen was appalled to hear Bartok order a change in their course. Apparently the scientists had tracked down the nexus of the drone system commands and they were coming from one of the moons. Battling back up through the orbital plane Galen brought the ship dangerously close to the moon and had Whisperkiss teleport the rest of the crew into a scanned elevator shaft before he took off for the safety of the edges of the Minosian system.

-

The Complex

The away party found themselves in a massive industrial elevator tunnel cut out of the rock of the moon. Some kind of stale atmosphere had been preserved during the intervening millennia, but the air was thin and the tunnel quite cold. David passed his sweater to the shivering T’Suus as Celie flew quietly ahead to see if anyone was home.

The elevator shaft deposited them in a massive central atrium from which three triangular sections extended. With a brief glance at the style of the doorways Bartok sent T’Suus and Tolas to explore the engineering and support area with the goal of getting power back online. Bartok himself went with Gims to search the living quarters, while the Whisperkiss crew took the last doorway to what was assumed to be command. Just inside the archway staring silently at the floor were two large sentry robots, automatic laser guns cold and dormant. Once David and Elocinda determined they were probably dead without power they advanced on the two corridors directly behind the robots. Somehow drawing from a reserve power the corridors were filled with a criss-crossed red laser grid (which Elocinda’s spider-droid Priscilla found was also present in the air ducts). They considered a number of approaches but eventually decided that the lasers were too risky to bypass. At least Elocinda and David decided that. As they walked off to find out if Bartok and party had any better luck, Celie slipped her lithe faerie form between the frighteningly hot lasers and snuck her way into the command center.

Past the lasers the faerie found banks of abandoned computers, all completely foreign to her, in a large room overlooked by a glass window. Behind the glass window she saw a humanoid shape standing erect and unmoving, apparently unaware of her presence. She quietly crossed the computer room and followed a rising corridor that took her to the large command center from where figure stood. Dressed in a military uniform with a balding head and mane like hair, the man appeared alive, but Celie and her construct felt no spiritual presence as if it were just an image. Eventually the man noticed her but simply repeated asking her for security clearance rather than providing any useful information. Thinking her companions may have better luck communicating with him, Celie headed back to the atrium.

When Elocinda and David noticed their faerie friend was gone the drow headed back to look for her while David continued into the living quarters and made his way to the second level. Poking around while slowly heading towards Bartok’s position David found room after room that had been apparently lived in, but no corpses or signs of trouble. He eventually stumbled across a commanding officer’s room, and using a small explosive he’d implanted in a datacomm was able to blow the lock on a wall safe. Inside he found a piece of paper with a written code on it, some keys, and an archaic pistol and commlink. Returning to the command section he found Elocinda wounded by an attempt to follow Celie through the lasers, but thankfully the commlink David found allowed them to bypass the security system and walk right in.

-

Ghosts

The spiritless man appeared to David and Elocinda to be a hologram user interface to the command center’s computer. Able to converse in basic it confirmed that the planet was Minos and that while it’s population was unaccountably zero, it’s defensive capabilities were still operational (as if the Whisperkiss hadn’t figured this on the way in). David was able to use his “level 3” security clearance to turn off the lasers in the corridor and give Galen and Whisperkiss a free pass in the skies above. Power was also restored, but just as things were looking up there came a scream over T’Suus’ datacomm. Tolas called, frantic, apologizing for a serious reactor leak that had begun irradiating the engineering section. Assuming the worst and convincing Bartok that running into a reactor leak was a bad idea, the party tried to get more information from the hologram. Unfortunately David’s security clearance was not high enough to do everything they would have liked.

Then to make matters worse a dreadnaught class Altaran warship, Rilion’s Comet arrived in the Minos system.

Galen, now a friend of the Minosian defenses quickly pulled Whisperkiss below the orbital plane of defensive satellites. He watched in horror as the massive dreadnaught unleashed waves of fighters and mechs and began an aggresive approach to the planet.

Deep in the moon’s command center the away party began carefully making it’s way towards engineering with the hopes of recovering T’Suus, Tolas, or both before having to escape. Slowly they came to realize that Tolas’ claim of a reactor leak was a lie, Priscilla picking up no unnatural radiation levels in the power plant. Rounding the humming machinery they were horrified to discover T’Suus lying dead in a growing pool of her own blood. Tolas was nowhere to be found and did not answer requests on his datacomm. The Minosian computer tracked him to the computer core so David and Elocinda approached cautiously hoping to catch the fraal unawares. Inside the core the scientist was barricaded behind a server bank fiddling with something behind it. Unable to get a clear shot Elocinda sent Priscilla up onto the ceiling and had his black-widow spider droid drop onto and pin the fraal with its metal legs.

Galen could only watch as Minosian drones began taking on the attack wings of the Rilion’s Comet. Massive batteries began pounding away at the captial ship, but defensive nets and interception fire kept the Altarans safe.

Below it became obvious to Elocinda that the fraal they were trying to interrogate, mostly by shooting him in the knees, was not what he seemed. Bartok, almost shocked at their treatment of the slender alien protested, and was perhaps a little puzzled by Elocinda’s response.

“It’s not human!”

Obviously.

Still, David, rifled through Tolas’ belongings with a growing sense of dread, and was able to crack the unusually severe encryption on his personal computer. As he feared the fraal scientist was actually a deep cover drow operative of the ISPD, biologically altered to appear as fraal and probably trained to mimic his victim’s every habit or twitch. He also uncovered evidence that the agent was looking for a fabled Omega Device which, if it fell into the Altaran hands, could be the prize Alsir had feared. The Minosian computer was not much help, claiming David needed level 4 clearance to learn more about the device, but he wisely asked who else on the base would have had that clearance. He was directed to and found the quarters of a high level scientist called Evisham, and although an initial search proved fruitless eventually found another wall safe in the kitchen. With the level 4 clearance in hand he rushed back to the computer core and demanded to know what the Omega Device could do.

The Minosian Omega Device, far from being a galaxy wide chain bomb as some thought, was a massive EMP generator that would wipe and self-destruct all the Minosian technology (and other nearby tech) within the system. Designed as a last ditch self-defense (there wouldn’t be much use taking over the society if all the tech had crashed) it had never been used, but the away party now considered it a valid tool in preventing the Altarans from controlling all the advanced technology.

David eventually found the hatch Tolas had been trying to open, but below it was an alien keypad that he could not decipher. With Kondor Gims’ help he finally translated the three keys to be 0, 1, and 2. Imagining that the paper he’d found in the commander’s quarters was a code he compared the digits, but nothing seemed to match. Eventually they realized the keypad was using base three notation, David then turned and asked Gims to translate it. Raising a quizzical eyebrow the human turned on his datacomm and had it take care of the math translation. David sheepishly thanked him and Gims responed…

“I’m smarter than you. I know.”

Galen whisked the Whisperkiss to the far edges of the Minosian system as the Altarans kept pounding at the weakening planetary defenses. Inside the moon David and Elocinda clambered down into the Omega Device then, with a deep breath, detonated the weapon. A massive electronic shock wave exploded throughout the moons and the planet sending a multi-colored halo out almost to Galen’s position a light-year away. The away party all fell unconscious, their brains rattled by the blast.

But the plan worked. Hundreds of Altaran fighters and mechs failed in mid flight as the Minosian drones around them dropped like dying bees. Rilion’s Comet floundered in space between the moon and the planet’s surface, only magic keeping it together and its crew alive. After witnessing the EMP from a distance Galen swung Whisperkiss back towards the moon and was eventually able to pick up the crew. All their equipment had been toasted, but they were confident in the knowledge that no deadly Minosian technology had fallen into Altaran, or Imperial hands.

Whisperkiss rendezvoused with the Mithral Star while Golion forces converged on Minos. Rilion’s Comet had unfortunately escaped under magical propulsion, but the secrets of the long dead civilization were safe…

...from anyone.

-

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