Now, we rejoin the adventures of the Albatross crew!
Princess Rao repeated once again, “What, did you do?”
It caught the party a bit by surprise but as it faded, Festus realized that this was a classic royal maneuver, something that was normal in that big screwed up family. Rao wanted to put them off their game, and press them until they gave her an answer. If she didn’t give them time, they couldn’t come up with a lie. Not seeing any reason to be untruthful about their venture, Festus responded that as far as he knew, their mission had been a complete success: the ship shakedown had gone well, with everything performing as well as expected. They had even stumbled upon an easy target, which is why they had returned so quickly.
Rao seemed satisfied with this explanation, but asked them two questions. “How did I know something happened, and why am I on Asim instead of Drinax?” It was mostly a rhetorical question, as the Albatross had made only one notable stop in normal space before their return. It seemed that Lady Aisha hadn’t been quite as disabled as they thought, and had managed to plot a quick jump to a local port. She also appeared to have enough pull to immediately commission a Jump-4 starship to visit Asim, the “neutral port” that the party had advertised (in gameplay terms, it means that this ship could make hyperspace jumps twice the distance of the party in the same amount of time). The ship had carried a holomessage that heralded her arrival in the system. It seemed that Lady Aisha wanted to inspect this “neutral port” for herself.
Festus thought over the situation, and gave his most honest impression. “I think she’s a lot like you Princess. I think you could both have a great deal to discuss. I made her an offer to go after any of her rivals, and she seemed satisfied at that.” Rao seemed very interested at the idea, but it seemed to harden her resolve in one issue. The Albatross could not stay at Asim for the near future. Even if Lady Aisha only had strong suspicions, any negotiations would become a great deal dicier if the Albatross was docked when the Aslan retinue arrived. As it so happened, however, Princess Rao had a job for the Albatross crew, one that would likely take them out of Drinax territory long enough for the attention to blow over.
Someone had recently attacked the worlds of Torpol and Clarke. The presence of pirates in these systems was not unusual in and of itself as the planets belonged on the same trade route and shipping raids were common enough, but this time the attackers had done something else: attacked the planet’s infrastructure itself. This was outside the standard pirate code of conduct, and as a result, the two planets had each offered a set of combined bounties of 2.5 MCr, more than even their very lucrative haul from the past session.
Princess Rao explained that along with the monetary benefits, there was something else at stake: Torpol and Clarke had once been subjects in the Kingdom of Drinax. If the players could act as heroes to the two worlds, it would help improve relations for when Drinax attempts to reestablish itself. The party was interested enough in the bounty and the opportunity, and eager to not be in Lady Aisha’s immediate sights, and agreed to investigate.
Clarke had once been a city with thriving technology, close to Drinax. However, they too had been ravaged in the fall of the kingdom, and the remainder of the technology had gone to the Keepers, a theocratic death cult who now ruled the planet. They had taken particular interest in Prince Harrick, Rao’s older brother and one time heir apparent, who had come down with a case of “only mostly dead” in the battle for Asim. He had not had fun storming that particular castle, and the technology and surgeries to restore him to something close to life had left him an imperfect imitation of what he had once been. However, with their fascination, the Keepers had already taken interest, and Rao had indicated that perhaps the party could use that to gain traction at some point. However, this was not needed as the party hailed the planet: the locals were eager to hear about a bounty hunter visiting.
The party was greeted by Keeper Malos, a cheerfully morose member of the order. He was happy to bring the perpetrators to justice, his face darkening when he recounted the attack. The pirates had violated a grim taboo during their attack planetside: final death. The local custom was that the local Keepers would use their technology to preserve people in their final moments before passing, keeping them for the prophesized Day Of Healing. These victims would have no such chance. When they reached the scene of the crime, Wolf pulled out his scanner and went to work, rolling extremely well on an Electronics check.
Almost immediately, Wolf picked up a life sign that the rescuers had missed. Everyone frantically began to dig, unearthing a man who was clinging to life. The party’s attempt to stabilize him failed, but Keeper Malos hurriedly escorted the man to be preserved. He could save one soul until the Day of Healing, and that filled him with joy. As Wolf continued to sweep, he picked up a bevy of information from his scanners while Festus interrogated Malos, who freely gave up what he knew: the site had been a warehouse from an archeological dig, restoring ancient artifacts. Despite their age, they were at a tech level much higher than anything freely found in this subsector. They would be difficult items to find a buyer for, but they would be extremely valuable once the pirates found one. The pirate ships in the raid were a Type-S Scout and a Far Trader, both refitted with extra weapons. It was a rather small force to attack a planet with, but their speed and precision on the job suggested that this was a well timed and staged assault. Wolf managed to capture records of transmissions at the time, and while he wasn’t able to decode them immediately, he felt confident that he could crack it eventually.
The group stopped in a local spacer bar, looking for information. After buying rounds of drinks for the night, and cuing up a number of lively renditions of Danny Boy, Amazing Grace, and Candle in the Wind, they gathered rumors about what had happened. The local group was positive that this was the work of “those thieving bastard from Theev”. Newt privately assured the group that this really did not appear to be standard pirate behavior. There were a series of, well, guidelines as to how to compose yourself. Going around and committing atrocities like this was simply bad business, because it brought down heat from authorities…and not just on you, but for all other pirates operating in the system. If this was the work of a Theev based operator, they were playing with fire.
The next morning the party awoke to only mild hangovers, and set course for Torpol. In the week relative time in their journey, Wolf managed to crack the encryption on the transmissions. While they appeared to have their own language for the operation, Wolf was able to learn that the Captain was named Ferrik; there was also a woman called Miria commanding a ship that remained in orbit, and a third captain called Krrsh (which sounded like Crash to the non-Vaugr onboard).
After coming out of hyperspace, the Albatross could see the damage done, with workers already hard at work repairing an orbital space station. Torpol was known as a planet that was a stopover for spacers because of their abundant supply of water, and therefore an abundant supply of hydrogen fuel for ships. They had turned the planet surface into a resort, while keeping the orbiting space station as a refueling station. After explaining their purpose for being here, the party was directed planetside, and introduced to the Provost in charge of the bounty. Provost Falx always seemed to be smiling, talking very fast, and speaking a lot of legalese. He wore a hat with a model of the luxurious starport on it. When it was mentioned that this place was like a theme park, I decided to run with it and declared “Yep. This place is now Spacer Disney. They must cover all incidents at any cost…and then send in the lawyers.”
Falx was also eager to put this incident to bed, and the accountants had decided that a hefty bounty would be worth ensuring that no other pirates got any funny ideas. He revealed that the attack had been committed by two ships, a Far Trader and a Salvage Hauler. Both had previously docked there in the weeks before, but the crews never left the ships so there was no record of who the crew was. In retrospect, the Provosts had deduced that this was to scout their refueling facility in advance.
In spite of having video, the Provosts had not been able to pull anything else useful from them, and invited the party to have a look. He led them to a remote access area, a secret hub where employees could review data. This immediately prompted Festus and Wolf to plants as many bugs as possible, though they quickly realized that the range would be limited. After signing on (and forced to agree to the User Agreement policy) the crew had the chance to review the footage in greater detail. Similar to the previous attack, this had taken coordination: the Far Trader had blasted apart the lines of the cargo module for the station, while the Salvage Hauler had scooped it up. With time to parse the information Wolf’s skill with Electronics gave a readout of the armaments: the Far Trader had been heavily armed with turrets, lasers, missiles and sandcasters. But even more interesting, the salvage hauler was recently repainted, but Wolf could make out a logo and a registry beneath the it. The hauler was actually the Imperial Navy ship Mercifuge! Newt knew the stories about this: 30 years ago, it had been part of a stolen fleet led by a defecting Imperial Admiral who had set himself up as a Pirate Lord. This group had almost certainly come from Theev!
From the ship’s departure heading, and knowing the Jump rating on the departing ships, it became clear that the pirates had a limited range of where to go. There are only a certain number of locations within reach: Clarke, Blue, Drinax, Asim, Oghma, Marduk and Borite. Of those, there are only 3 toward the vector the pirates took: Oghma, Marduk and Borite. Consulting his pirating knowledge, Newt knew of a fueling point hidden in open space around Theev so that ships with similar limitations would visit. Given its placement, there was only one option: Borite.
Fairly secure in their route, the crew of the Albatross calculated their jump telemetry and blasted off, unsure of what they might find.
This wasn’t my first time running an investigation session, but I think with practice, this part went better. It still was a bit of a challenge to balance what I knew as the GM and what they would need, and how the players wanted to go about obtaining it. It can be infuriating to lay out what you think is an obvious clue to check, only for the players to pass right over it, and challenging to have players come up with a novel approach for which you don’t have an answer. In the end, I decided to lean heavily on a character whose player was not there, Newt.
Newt had already been established as a pirate attempting to go legit, and I decided that basic knowledge of Code of Conduct and basic refueling would be common enough knowledge that I would not have asked the player to roll had he been there. This let me steer players into the knowledge that the module had provided and that they could have discovered in other ways. When they would arrive in Borite, they wouldn’t have all the pieces, but enough that they could still connect enough dots.