This Little Piggy…
Somewhere between the cold, hostile stars of the Serpent’s Teardrop, below the inky tentacles of the Dark Zone nebula, a behemoth slips silently through a ring of arcane fire and back into the vacuum of real space. Like burning spires of an ancient cathedral, its bristling bow reflects the glow of astral space for a few moments longer as radiation dissipates from the insulated hull in cooling plumes of gas. Behind these clouds arrives a tremendous asteroid fixated in the midst of the ship’s structure as if part of a patchwork automaton. More spires, flanges, and even towers scar the rock’s surface before the dark iron of the dreadnought’s stern and engines encapsulates the stone.
The astral burn subsides and the Royal Exploratory Service Ship “Mithral Star” engages it’s massive fusion engines to push itself across the gulf of darkness. In the noiseless radio waves and tight-beam transmissions that erupt after its arrival, codes and handshakes bleat themselves to attentive ears. From complete stillness a massive shadow detaches itself from between pinpricks of light and falls in to flank the city-ship. Far smaller than the “Mithral Star,” the Golion Destroyer “Absolution” is still a gargantuan vessel, it’s sleek hull occasionally glinting with inferred malice.
Below the starboard stone skin of the “Mithral Star’s” asteroid, the half-moon shaped City of the Rock bustles with business and banter, almost oblivious to the incredible change in dimensions that took place just beyond its walls. Cowled dwarves hurry about on furtive errands, disappearing into their sealed districts and mines when done. Disparate passengers wander the market perusing goods from hundreds of worlds under an artificial sky. Crew members spend hard-earned leave in the rambunctious bars or queuing up at the Siren’s brothel. And a select few answer a mysterious summons to a quiet establishment in the bowels of the rock, the Drop Bottom Inn.
The Drop Bottom Inn is a small establishment in the rougher neighborhood at the bottom of The Drop. The Drop is a large semicircular atrium near the center of the city next to the outer wall. It’s an open space that reaches all the way from the top residential neighborhoods of the city, down through the market and service districts, to the seedy workers’ quarters at the very bottom. Lined on each level by plazas, trendy restaurants, parks, pubs, or inns it is a virtual slice of the city (although it still excludes any access to dwarven quarters). More than this it is something of a highway. Most vehicular traffic is prohibited in the city, so the quickest direct route from one level to another (besides private elevators) is to step out into the Drop. Color coded disks whisk passengers to pre-programmed landing zones and make the Drop a dizzying rainbow of people during peak market hours.
The raven-haired faerie Celie (pronounced SEE-le) had been working with a Royal Exploratory Service crew scouting the Outland world Emhear and upon completion of her contract was traveling back towards the core worlds on-board the Mithral Star. Although not officially a member of the RES she had still been given access to a datacomm console during her journey, although she was somewhat surprised to receive the summons to the Drop Bottom Inn. Without a clearer idea of the sender she arrived early and hid in the rooftops above the rough neighborhood, watching for someone to arrive at this late hour.
A run-down weren branding/scarring/tattoo parlor was flanked by some of the tusky brutes showing off their flesh art. A necromancer supply shop almost looked closed, but then business there was often dead. And directly across from the Drop Bottom Inn’s rusty iron iris door was the clamor of the Dueling Dastardly Drunken Dragon (4D) bar.
Deep in the 4D, a washed out older human named Praxus slumped across the scarred wooden bar below blaring trid screens showing the latest core-world pit fighting championships. A mercenary compatriot of his, the slender drow Elocinda, slid through the crowd and reminded the almost passed-out warrior that they had a meeting across the way. She paid for the old man’s drink tab, a last minute addition to his hip-flask nearly doubling the tab. As she strode and he plodded across the plaza, the faerie Celie began to follow, imagining these capable types to also be involved with the invitation.
Run by twin hobgoblins the Drop Bottom Inn had surprising taste and discreet manners. Although the door to the Inn was a rough iron iris that sputtered and screamed during opening, the interior was tactfully done in softly lit dark wood and polished surfaces. Soft music played, and although many of the booths within were packed, no conversations were leaked beyond the earshots of their participants. Equally surprising, the soft-spoken ork bouncers.
Behind the bar were small private booths curtained off into almost separate rooms. The booth the mercenaries and the faerie were directed to was known as the Green Sun booth because of an anaglyph false-color hologram of a star embedded in its circular table. Behind the potted plants that protected the booth from prying eyes, a short albino woman sat, apparently waiting for these arrivals. She asked them each to sit, but pointed out there was no need to speak.
Galen, a human pilot with avaricious tendencies, arrived a little late to the meeting despite having been ordered there by a somewhat less pleasant wording than on the other “invitations.” Sauntering through the colorful market of the sleepless City of the Rock he managed to lift a credstick from a clueless seshayan noble then took a rather circuitous route to the Drop Bottom Inn. Arriving ten minutes late he ordered a top shelf Draconis Prime 30-year-old whiskey that cost him the entirety of the stolen funds, then slipped casually back to the booth. His relaxed manner evaporated immediately when he saw the albino. Unlike the mercs he immediately recognized Issemene of the Zone, the purportedly psychic confidant of the copper half-dragon Admiral Alsir. Galen buried his face in his drink.
Last, but not least, the elf known as Silverhand (with, quite literally, a silver-hued right hand beneath his smart waistcoat and shirt) arrived at the Drop Bottom Inn and checked his coat with the orc bouncers. Once at the booth he swapped places with Galen so that the human could keep as much distance between himself and Issemene as possible. He also recognized the psychic as his quarters were on the officer’s deck.Once the whole group was seated Issemene asked each of them the following:
- Do you believe the reign of Mezzenbone to be just and agreeable to the Empire and the people of the galaxy?
- Would you carry out deeds or accomplish goals of a noble or goodly nature if they conflicted with the current mandate of Imperial will?
- Are you willing to protect the innocent citizens of the Empire, even at times from themselves or their own rulers?
- Do you now, or would you ever seek to threaten the Domain of Golion, it’s peoples, the Mithral Star, or Admiral Alsir, even if they acted contrary to Imperial will?
Elocinda answered first, claiming Mezzenbone’s rule was just, but not agreeable. She would carry out said deeds for a price, “supposed” she would protect the citizens, and would not threaten Golion or Alsir. Praxus was far less eloquent. He spat when Elocinda mentioned Mezzenbone’s rule being just, and just took a drink when asked directly. Issemene looked deeply into his eyes and was apparently satisfied with his response. He claimed that actions against the current mandate of Imperial will would be “good” by definition, that “yes” he would protect the innocent and wouldn’t threaten Golion “if you guys pay.” Celie mumbled her answers under her tiny breath, but seemed to satisfy Issemene. Galen, still talking into his drink, answered quite shortly “No,” “Yeahsure,” “sure,” and “no.” Silverhand, anticipating the questions, clearly and presumptively rattled out his answers as “No. Absolutely. Probably. Not at all.”
The albino woman sat back into the dark leather of the booth apparently satisfied with the answers given to her, or in the very least convinced she’d learn no more at this meeting. Her eyes dropped towards the floor and her relaxing shoulders give the impression that she was actually sinking. After a beat she nodded and said, almost to herself, “Sir.”
A potted plant amongst the stand of green dividing the booth from the bar began to unfold itself, camouflaging robes slipping back into a regal white. A copper half-dragon, elongated muzzle pulled into a grin, untangled itself from the surrounding foliage and stepped to the head of the table. His scales glimmered in the low light, reflections from the table playing like a greenish aurorae across his neck. His bright eyes slipped easily across the group as he stood, somewhat like a dancer, somewhat like a king, and folded his slender clawed hands behind his back.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” he said in a smooth bass, “thank you for accepting my invitation…”
Most of the table recognized the half-dragon as Admiral Alsir of the Domain of Golion. The commanding officer of the Mithral Star didn’t directly introduce himself. When called Alsir directly he coyly replied “Anonymity in spirit, if not in practice, will make this meeting easier.” After a brief moment for apologies he delivered his reason for inviting the party here.
You may or may not have guessed that I have some degree of power and responsibility on this ship. The Mithral Star is an incredible gift to the planets and people of the Serpent’s Teardrop, and I intend that it’s mission shall be useful and ennobling. The Royal Exploratory Service has an important mandate, and I am here to ensure it is carried out to the best of our ability. But the Teardrop is also a dangerous place and in order to carry out it’s primary objective the Mithral Star must look to the security of the Dragon Empire and the Domain of Golion without which it cannot survive. However, this ship cannot do everything I would like. It is not agile or quiet enough in some cases, and in these… uncertain political times even some of my decisions are called into question. Therefore I have found the need for, shall we say, deniable assets. I need persons of character who are not afraid to act independently, sometimes in questionable capacities. I need a skilled crew I can rely on to take on difficult and dangerous tasks that I have not the time, the resources, the ability, or the right to pursue. I need a team to help protect the Teardrop, for I fear the influence of Asamet spells chaos in our skies. And then I need a back-up team in-case those heroic sorts bite the dust, which is why you are here…
Laughing at his own joke (then repeating that it was a joke to Elocinda who’d missed the sarcasm) he made the following offer to the party in return for their agreement.
- They will be outfitted with a modified freighter, Whisperkiss.
- It is lightly armed, quick, able to haul some cargo, and/or carry a fighter during a starcast.
- It is not registered or aligned with the RES or the Domain of Golion.
- It has been given an open account with the Mithral Star to refuel/reequip when necessary.
- They will be independent.
- He has direct comm codes to Whisperkiss and can therefore communicate with them safely.
- The objectives he would like accomplished are followed at their discretion.
- They cannot rely on the Mithral Star or the Golion fleet to back them up or save them.
- They can cross intergalactic borders but will be subject to the laws of the Domain they’re in.
- They will not be directly compensated.
- Quarters in the city are available to them.
- An account for daily needs is available on board the Mithral Star.
- They will be rewarded directly when such expense can be validated or covertly supplied.
- They were each given standard datacomms which Galen encrypted.
Although the mercenaries balked at the lack of effective remuneration the party eventually agreed that their personal goals were in alignment with this course of action and the freedom of a ship under their own command was very enticing. Once agreed, Alsir gave them their first briefing.
An RES agent by the name of Kondor Gims had gone missing. The RES was following all it’s usual channels when an operative disappears, but this one was particularly troubling because he was not a field agent. He was a junior researcher who mysteriously vanished while visiting the Root Libraries on Thembelar IV. Obviously the Mithral Star would investigate, but Alsir wanted the party to follow another lead that had been ignored by the RES. Gims had just finished some research, although he had not reported any substantial new evidence. But after his disappearance a notoriously ineffective and irritating ork pirate by the name Captain Diresnout began sending out invitations to a private auction for some valuable data from the Root Libraries. Many ignored Diresnout as he had a history of empty boasts and inflated claims, but Alsir tought there might be something to them this time. He couldn’t provide them with any funds for the auction, but he wanted them to get a look at the data, see if it lead to Gims, and if valuable it needed to come back to Alsir. Such information would be terribly dangerous in the wrong hands. The invitations were to meet the starliner Elim’s Journey in the Thembelar system the next day, the auction purportedly taking place on board. For those who accepted Alsir’s contract the Whisperkiss was waiting in starboard dock 12B.
Following the agreement, Celie and Elocinda made quick exits while Praxus, Silverhand, and Galen took advantage of Alsir’s open tab. Silverhand ordered some champagne, though Galen sullenly pointed out that “champagne is for celebrating.” Silverhand appeared to miss (or ignore) the bitter remark and said “exactly!”
That night Elocinda slept at her townhome, while Galen took advantage of (and ripped off) the quarters provided to them by Alsir. Silverhand headed down to dock 12B although had a little trouble finding the Whisperkiss. Praxus, stumbling down there hours later and sodden drunk, had no such trouble… he just passed out in the ship’s head with his head on the toilet seat.
The ship they were provided with didn’t quite live up to some expectations.
Dock 12B is on a lower deck in the metal hull of the Mithral Star. The décor is utilitarian, the corridors large but dark and hung with cabling, pipes, and gears. Crew members hurry about with intense expressions on their faces, but nobody is unfriendly. Just busy. An the junction to the bay the pedestrian corridor intersects a cavernous road crowded with loaded hovercraft. That in turn opens up to the canyon-like dock.
Three freighter sized vessels sit on each side of the exit ramp each tied down with various fueling and data cables. Robots scurry over every surface either testing or tuning the hulls and their components. Hovercraft pull slowly up to various ships, goods either roughly handled by deck crews or hoisted into overhead holds by one of twelve spindly cranes. Welding arcs look like lightning against the blackness of space that sits, an unfeeling void, beyond the forcefield at the end of the ramp. The ships’ names are available at a glance; the Voltan’s Fire, Riggedrion, Hotstab, Cowl of Night, X01011000, and Amber. None of the ships are named Whisperkiss.
Silverhand easily and quickly translated the X01011000 to XX and therefore didn’t have much more info to go on. Concerned that the Whisperkiss was perhaps incognito for a reason he just sat on his hoverluggage and ruminated until accosted by a gnome deckhand. Giving up on pretenses he asked for the Whisperkiss and was told, with a sigh, that it was painted as Amber and “good luck with it.” Coming on-board the elf was greeted by a chipper, youthful voice that claimed to be the ship itself. Although knowing the Empire didn’t have real AI, Silverhand took this in stride and began cataloging the small vessel and turning the lounge into a med-bay / hammock for himself.
When the other crew arrived the next morning they had some of the same distress in finding Whisperkiss but eventually got on-board. Elocinda had to be convinced to not have her entire town home packed into the cargo bays, but still took the starboard bay as her personal quarters as the shared bunk rooms did not live up to her standards. Her black-widow spider droid, Priscilla, happily clattered across the deck plates and up through the cargo netting and straps.
Assigned quickly to the pilot’s chair, Galen soon got Whisperkiss underway and on course for Thembelar IV. They arrived in good time, finding the crusie ship Elim’s Journey docked alongside a mountain-sized white tree along the edge of that planet’s immense forests. Apparently the term “root library” was not in some way data related. Although initially flirting with a bikini-clad elven concierge named Brenliada (whom the party thereafter simply called Brenda), Galen eventually just hacked the ticket system and got the Whisperkiss a pass and five well appointed rooms for the crew. Taking the elevator from the under-slung bay each of them found themselves on the lobby deck which was simply a large tropical beach with tiki-torches and a massive view window showing the stars as Elim’s Journey made the trip out to the edge of the Thembelar system. As they settled into plush rooms they were disconcerted to hear that Imperial Legionnaires were boarding the vessel just before it made the jump to astral space.
That evening Elocinda and Praxus scoped the Lucky Skull casino at the rear of the ship while Silverhand prowled the beach lobby’s bars and Galen took Brenda out to dinner at the Captain’s Restaurant on the top floor of the vessel. Elocinda, after pissing off a weren diplomat playing dragon craps, managed to get herself into a high-stakes game of dragon poker. Although not ingratiating herself to the other players and pissing off the rotund halfling Cardinal Rags of the Church of the Merchant, she did win a considerable sum of the halfling’s money and got a choked cough out of him when mentioning Captain Diresnout. Someone also tried to hack her datacomm after this encounter, but Galen’s encryption held.
Galen took Brenda to an upgraded room after dinner, and after thoroughly exhausting her learned there may be records of rooms being used by Diresnout, but not anything of an actual auction. Silverhand found little of import on the beach, although did see the massive White Legion Marine Shock troops conducting searches. He asked Galen to try a hack of their comm channels, but the distance and encryption was too difficult. Celie was relaxing in Whisperkiss but soon joined Silverhand and was caught up to speed on the developments.
After mistakenly trying Galen’s old quarters (as he didn’t answer datacalls mid-coitus) Elocinda tried to hack his door with Priscilla. The spider bot was no match for ship security however and they had to evacuate the area before guards came by. Eventually they got Galen online and had him do some data diving on the ship’s system. He found out that Diresnout was using the fake name Dragonsnout and got his room number and the conference room number of the planned auction. He also hacked Cardinal Rags’ account and got his penthouse room number and noticed that some comm signals were located in his rooms that did not belong to his staff. The party decided to first check on Diresnout, but when nobody answered his door had Priscilla try to hack it again. And, again, she failed to beat ship’s security. Galen thankfully squashed the alarm and had the door opened in a jiffy.
Inside they found a befouled room, probably belonging to an orc, that has already been abandoned and ransacked. Giving up on this line of inquiry they approached Cardinal Rags’ room, although Elocinda was recognized when making an early attempt to talk her way in and was summarily told to shove off. Silverhand went back ten minutes later, and although under suspicion he managed to con his way into the Cardinal’s conference room with threats of an imminent White Legion search. Rags did not seem terribly impressed, but his guests, Captain Diresnout, a cleaner orc named Bors, and, surprisingly, Kondor Gims, were a little more concerned. Silverhand eventually negotiated that Gims came with him as long as the auction still took place, but had to leave someone behind as collateral. Galen convinced Celie to go in, and Rags was quite pleased with his new (if temporary) possession. Celie did not seem too happy being referred to as a slave.
The following morning a ship-wide announcement warned that the legionnaires would begin conducting room-to-room searches. While this didn’t concern Gims much as he felt they weren’t looking for him, he suddenly became paranoid that they might find and accost the orc Bors. Silverhand wrung out of him that the orc had a cyberbrain in which the information for the auction was being held and verified. Suddenly the party had to find this orc before the weren/oruk/snow-cat White Legion teams did.
Galen tried a dive on the ship’s security cameras with a facial recognition program, but he was encountered by a counter-hacker in the guise of a white dragon. After an impressive reversal of the hacker’s initial attack, Galen tried to flood it with too much data, but his adversary turned the tables and burned the pilot’s implanted datacomm. Fleeing the system Galen eventually had to purchase an un-traceable standard issue datacomm until he could repair and wipe his implanted one.
Foiled on that approach the party tried various searches. They came up empty until Galen asked his current flame, Brenda, if she’d try the facial recog for him. She agreed, more than a little smitten by the fast talking human, and got them a hit in a utility corridor near engineering. The party began searching in twos, Silverhand trying to keep Gims in the dark so that if they found the orc they could pocket him for themselves. Elocinda eventually figured out Bors could have avoided more cameras by crawling along the pipe and cable rigging above the corridors and had Priscilla call out in orcish. She eventually found him crawling into a hanger bay and trying to board an astral-capable maintenance vessel. When Priscilla grappled the orc he single-mindedly tried to continue towards the ship, obviously under some sort of spell or control. Praxus and Galen, hacking their way through the actual door rather than the ducts, caught up, but not before a White Legion patrol became suspicious and tried to follow them in. Subduing the glaze-eyed Bors they hopped on the maintenance vessel and, as the Legion patrol began to search the hangar, blasted out into the bright golden sky of astral space. The bridge of the Elim’s Journey voiced concern over the unplanned departure, but as Praxus blasted a comm to Silverhand with their expected coordinates the cramped and overloaded maintenance vessel left the Journey’s astral pocket and fell into real space.
Left in the care of Cardinal Rags, Celie eventually tried to make an escape. Her initial attempt at a glamour on a servant failed so instead she tried to call the elements to start a fire in the far side of the conference room. In astral space the call was answered louder than expected and a blaze soon outgrew the rooms suppression measures. The doors opened to allow evacuation and the little faerie made quick her escape.
Meanwhile, putting up with a panicked Gims, Silverhand tried to figure out a way to get out of the ship without being captured by Legion and also recover the party members stranded in real space with Bors. He eventually hit upon a plan by which Whisperkiss detached from the Elim’s Journey and began vibrating its liquid mithral at a frequency to impact the astral drive of the crusie liner. Concerned that the vibration was a severe problem (and alarmed by Gims’ panicked calls from the Whisperkiss bridge to the captain) the Journey made an emergency return to real space. The arcane fire that heralded the return tossed the Whisperkiss around more than expected, shearing off the cargo pod that was to have been Elocinda’s cabin. Still, the damaged vessel had enough life in it to starcast away from the accident and eventually limp in to rescue the party members on the maintenance vessel. Stranded for four days without food or water, Galen, Elocinda, and Bors were near death. Praxus was surprisingly healthy, if it weren’t for the shakes brought on by the lack of drugs or alcohol in his system and the raving madness that almost didn’t leave his eyes…
Wounded and exhausted, but successful, the crew of the Whisperkiss put in a call to Admiral Alsir and began to limp back to the Mithral Star.