Monday 24 June 2024

18: Delusion, Illusion

 As dusk drew in, the away team made their way back to the ship and battened down the hatches for the night. They decided that since they'd got their intrusion sensor packs blown up, they'd rely on old-fashioned sentries for their security. Lee took the first watch, keeping guard from the bridge.

When he turned off the bridge lights so as to be able to see out the windows into the dark, and once his eyes had adjusted somewhat, he began to make out what looked like faintly luminescent vaporous sprites moving around outside, hundreds of them.

Ah, fumbles. I just love 'em.

He immediately leaped to the conclusion that they were some kind of alien surveillance devices, and that an attack was imminent. He hit the alarm and got everyone back... fortunately no one had had time to actually get to sleep.

Since Lee was the only one on the team with military experience (Enkai'nos doesn't count, for he is but a simple supercargo, and not any kind of secret ultra-ninja assassin-spy or anything) the team took him at his word, and they decided to vacate the locality and find some high ground from which they'd have a decent view of the surrounding countryside. This was done without any problems.

Patience settled the ship down on top of a flat-topped hill, and Lee (now hopped up on a stimulant to keep him awake) and Enkai'nos went out to do a sweep of the immediate area.

Lee continued his run of luck with the dice by utterly failing to spot one of the centipede-creatures they'd seen earlier in town, this one roughly the mass of a centipede-shaped cow, barreling at him from the shelter of a tumbled pile of rocks and thorn bushes. Fortunately, Enkai'nos was a bit more alert, and shot at it with his looted alien ray-gun....

....which fizzled out after about ten or twelve metres. Clearly a very short-range weapon design.

Lee finally woke up to the danger, and shot at the creature with his trusty plasma rifle when it was almost upon them. The shot blew the thing's head apart in a shower of boiling goo, but a goodly portion of the beam was also reflected almost straight back at him, whizzing past his left shoulder.

Fortunately, Enkai'nos was standing to his right, or else there may well have been tears before bedtime.

Fascinated, Enkai'nos took a sample of the creature's iridescent carapace for later analysis. As he was working with the corpse, he observed a faintly luminescent vaporous sprite-like phenomenon gathering above it. Hmmm.

Back on the ship, they too had failed to spot the thing on sensors until it was opened up, whereupon it showed up on infrared like a flare.

The idea of having large, effectively invisible predators roaming about the place filled nobody with joy. They buttoned up the ship to make sure nothing could get on board, and settled down for some rest. Even Lee eventually collapsed into sleep once his stim had worn off.

Next morning arrived uneventfully, and they decided they needed a larger city. Referring to the cursory survey they'd done of the planet from orbit, they noted an unobliterated urban conglomerate of reasonable size within easy reach, no more than a couple of hundred kilometres away, so they hopped over there.

As they approached at low altitude, they noted a collection of several hundred areas on the outskirts of the city, each perfectly square, each with a slightly different texture and albedo. Intrigued, they descended to within visual range and found something startling.

One area consisted of perfectly regular piles of bones, each pile constructed of a single bone type. A pile of skulls, a pile of pelvises, a pile of femurs, and so on. A quick volumetric calculation of the skull pile indicated that there must have been several million of them in there.

Other areas were each composed of a single class of object. One that attracted their attention was an array of several hundred thousand vehicles, personal transportation modules probably, roughly analogous to an air-raft, though much more primitive. They were briefly attracted to what appeared to be a flying saucer, in the hope that it might yield components they could use to jury-rig a working jump controller, but on examination it quickly proved to be nothing more than a primitive internal combustion powered hovercraft, or at best a highly inefficient helicopter.

There were collections of various sorts of household appliances, children's toys, furniture, sculpture, and badly decayed piles of perishable substances — cloth and paper and the like.

Though a bit creeped out by the idea of an OCD obliterator taking the effort of arranging all their victims' stuff, they put the piles behind them and went in over the city proper. It was completely empty of anything but buildings, dust, and the occasional hardy thorn.

The buildings got generally taller towards the centre of the urbanization, and in several areas they detected signatures above the ambient radioactivity that indicated some sort of low-level nuclear activity. They landed the ship on a large open paved area beside one of the indicated buildings, suited up, and made their way inside. The doors were unlocked.

They used their suits' built-in rad counters to trace the signal, and made their way down underground. Though a bit of a labyrinth down there, it didn't take them too long to find the reactor and control room, and found that the reactor had been put into a more or less safe standby mode, just barely ticking over. Of who had done it there was no evidence at all.

Further investigation revealed a maintenance workshop, which still held some potentially useful stuff: circuit board blanks, boxes of incredibly basic switch chips, primitive photolithography and etching equipment, and a bunch of other bits and pieces that Janey thought could be used to build some sort of JayCars "My First Jump Controller" kludge. So they nicked the lot.

They spent the rest of the day humping the loot back to the ship's cargo bay, with occasional breaks to douse themselves with Radz-B-Gon.

Janey got on to designing something that might work well enough to get them somewhere civilised, and while she was doing that, the others decided to take a jaunt to the planet's moons to see if the inhabitants had progressed far enough to make that hop. They did find evidence of landers and what-not, and briefly thought of finding the Cape Canaveral equivalent in search of more computer stuff, but then decided that any such facility would almost certainly have been bombed to smithereens.

It took Janey just over a week to construct a jump controller that she's absolutely sure — well pretty sure — well fairly sure will work. The whole device takes up about ten cubic metres of the cargo bay to replicate a much more complex device that could be held in one hand. But at least they've got a thing (maybe) as long as nobody trips over the cables and unplugs something.

Friday 7 June 2024

17: Frying Pan, Fire

 While the others were investigating the abandoned survival shelter, and finding a lot of nothing very much worth nicking, Patience on board ship noticed an energy blip appearing out near the hulk, followed shortly afterwards by another, then several others. She alerted the rest of the team, and this time, rather than offering their heads for a whacking, they decided to choose the path of caution and hide until they knew who and what they were up against.

Patience powered down her active sensors immediately so as not to be broadcasting the fact of their existence far and wide. By the time everyone was back on board the newcomers' numbers had swelled to a couple of dozen.

Hugging the ground, Patience relocated the ship into the shadow of a crater wall between them and the shelter site, just in case. Regrettably, this left the ship effectively blind to what was going on, so Lee and Enkai'nos humped a pair of sentry sensor packs up on to the crater rim — short range devices, and pretty much useless for seeing what was going on a quarter of a million kilometres away, but hopefully they'd give some warning if anyone approached too close. Enkai'nos got his up and running in no time at all by just following the instructions from the manual step by step, but somehow Lee managed to get his unit stuck in a feedback loop, and it was about an hour before the combined efforts of Enkai'nos and Janey managed to get it properly up and running.

Meanwhile, Lee went back to the ship for a nice, simple telescope that he could look through without having to worry about any sort of networking nonsense. At that range he couldn't see in great detail, but he could see enough to show that the newcomers, whoever they were, appeared to be scavenging and dismantling the hulk and neighbouring wrecks, and tumbling the remains down into the atmosphere of the gas giant. And they seemed to be working remarkably quickly and efficiently.

Once again the same old "we should talk to them" "we should hide" discussions ensued. They decided to split the difference by keeping the ship hidden, but sending a standard Terran communications blurp via an off-site aerial, so that the beam wouldn't lead directly back to the ship....

Which turned out to be a good thing, as it happened, because about ten minutes after the transmission was sent, all the ship's sensors whited out, and when they reset themselves, they saw that the site of the aerial and the shelter site and the two expensive sentry sensor packs were a boiling, fuming, molten crater. Clearly whoever these newcomers were, they were not interested in having any survivors around.

Someone noted that the strangers not only had jump technology, but obviously better jump technology than the Terrans, since they're able to jump right into a planetary gravity well. Which lead inexorably to the idea that they should hijack one of these alien vessels and steal, if not the whole thing, then at least their jump tech. The immediate problem was that the aliens vastly outnumbered and outgunned Our Heroes. What to do?

We've got to sort out a name for the team's ship.

Lee, keeping an eye on proceedings via his telescope, noted that their efficiency did not seem to be abating, and already the leviathan was well on the way to being completely skeletonized. Within a few hours, there were indications that the swarm was diminishing, and fairly soon it was down to the last couple who were engaged in dumping the remaining debris down into the gas giant.

The team came up with a Cunning Plan: they would take off, keeping the moonlet between them and the mysterious Dismantlers, detach the other alien escape pod, and send it on its way to attract (hopefully) a single dismantler ship to gobble it up while Our Guys stayed dark and invisible until the moment to pounce. A cunning plan indeed.

It went well initially and all according to plan except for the bit when it all fell apart.

As soon as the escape pod hove into view, both dismantlers immediately perked up and thrust out towards it... or at least, one of them did; the other one thrust directly towards the Good Guys... who had not seemed to take into account that the aliens were not restricted to passive sensors and could see them perfectly well sitting there with their engines ticking over and their life-support running and everything.

It did not take long before they were close enough to make out their configuration fairly clearly: definitely not like any Terran vessel anyone was familiar with, they looked roughly crab-like with a more or less spherical central mass surrounded by a fringe of articulated limbs, and with a pair of large pincer-like booms extending to the front. Almost as soon as they could see this, they could also see the tips of the limb-fringe light up, and a beam weapon of some kind just missed the ship, briefly knocking its sensors off-line — an EMP weapon of some sort, they theorized. And now they could see arcs of some kind of energy between the pincer-booms....

They quickly decided that discretion was the better part of valour, and took off for the cover of the planetary ring, attempting to lose the alien in hot pursuit. A chase ensued amongst the tumbling rocks, and a game of hide and seek for about six hours before they were confident that the disassembler craft had given up the pursuit.

Since they were basically fully fueled, and were only lacking jump control and navigation systems (pfft, who needs that stuff?) they elected to head back into the system to check out the potentially life-supporting planet they'd briefly seen when they first arrived. It took a little over six weeks to get back in under thrusters, and they settled down to do a more thorough survey.

Though there was some vegetation to be seen in the sub-polar regions, most of the planet was arid and barren. Although no signs of current habitation could be found, it was clear that it had been inhabited in the past. The ambient radiation was pretty high, though in environment suits they'd be safe enough for six or eight hours at a time. Built-up areas could be observed from orbit, as well as many, many devastated and highly radioactive areas at places like the confluence of rivers and the like — prime sites for major urban areas.

They decided to set down near a small, undamaged town, and everyone except Patience went off in the ship's air-raft to explore. Lee noted some odd tracks in the dust that looked like they'd been made by some small tracked vehicle. It was just a few minutes into town, and though everything seemed largely intact, there was no sign of life... except for a brief glimpse of something like a huge millipede, about four metres long and maybe half a metre in diameter, which scurried in under the foundations of one of the buildings.

Lee noted that it left tracks in the dust that looked like they'd been made by some small tracked vehicle.

It's purely coincidental that I just finished watching Fallout. Honest.

Further into town they flew, to the largest building they could see, which bore a strong resemblance to a Greek temple of ancient Earth. They made their way inside, and found.... a bank. It was a bank.

The whole settlement looked like, and displayed the technology of, a small European or American town of the 1950s or 60s, when the Wild West was engaged in its genocides, and people used exploding hydrocarbons to power their velocipedes. On the walls of the bank were a group of portraits, showing a species clearly humanoid, but clearly non-human — strange fan-like ears, and no visible eyelids over large, bulging eyes.

Janey judged, by the general level of decay, that the place had been abandoned for perhaps fifty to seventy years. Certainly no longer than a hundred or so. Maybe a hundred and fifty. Two hundred perhaps. There was no sign of any inhabitants, but curiously, also no sign of any corpses.

16: Deus Ex Machina

Events in this episode are a little hazy, as I very slackly didn't get around to writing it up while they were still clear in mind. The reason for that is that I am a lazy prick.

Time passed in Our Heroes' air-lock prison. Their captors appeared to be completely ignoring them.

Janey spent her time thinking about how they could get out without immediately being killed, and looked around for something to help with that... and, by an amazing stroke of luck, in the Survival Ball cupboard she found a toolbox she'd mislaid some days earlier and completely forgotten where she'd left it!

She quickly had the cover off an access panel into the ceiling maintenance ducting, and Lee wriggled his way out and over towards the  crew lounge.

Peering furtively through a convenient ventilation grill, he could see a couple of their alien captors lying sprawled on the floor... very, very still. He watched them for some time and saw no sign of movement.

As stealthily as he could manage, made his way back to an access panel outside the cargo bay airlock and eased his way down to open the air lock door, freeing his compatriots.

There was something around about here where the crew got themselves some spare environment suit helmets from the suit store; I forget exactly why, but it seemed like the thing to do at the time.

They made their way into the crew lounge and found the two aliens lying there, very clearly dead. Their faces were swollen, blackened, and oozing with suppurating lesions, which (it turned out when Ekain'os shucked it out of its suit) extended throughout its body. It had clearly succumbed to some horrible and fast-acting plague, which did not make Our Heroes feel any more comfortable than they had been.

Further investigations eventually accounted for all of the known intruders, on the bridge and in the engineering bays, all showing signs of the same disease. Someone took a sample of the oozy slime and fed it into the ship's autodoc for analysis, and while waiting for the results, everyone else cleaned up the revolting corpses.

I don't recall what they did with them. Probably just dumped them outside I suppose.

Patience got the ship's internal sensors up and running again, and found that they had a parasite — the alien escape pod was clamped to the upper hull of the ship. They soon found that an umbilical had been run from the pod to the engine bay roof hatch.

Lee, Enkain'os and Janey crept up it and found their way blocked by a locked iris hatch. Finding no way to open it gracefully, Lee burned his way through it with his plasma rifle, and just missed having his head shot off by the terrified, wildly shooting pilot still inside. A second shot also missed, and then Lee returned his fire and cut his leg off at the thigh. The unfortunate pilot died on the spot from trauma and shock, but on the other hand he was spared a revolting death by plague, so there was that.

Back at the autodoc, it transpired that the cause of death was a massive allergic reaction to a fungal spore, completely harmless to humans but clearly deadly to whoever these people were.

On the bridge, Patience had back-tracked the course of the escape pod, and found that it appeared to have come from a small shepherd moonlet, part of the planetary ring of rubble (and also now spaceship debris). The team decided to take a look.

There was some refuelling at some point, courtesy of the gas giant — I don't recall exactly at what point in the proceedings that took place.

The ship made the crossing without incident, and in short order they found what was clearly a temporary survival shelter. Nobody shot at them, so they decided to investigate more closely.

There was nobody home.

Thursday 6 June 2024

15: That Went... Well?

 The away team, having landed themselves inside the Brobdingnagian alien spacecraft via one of the spherical disintegrated sections, peered down the corridor into darkness. By the illumination of their suit lights they could see that the passage was about four metres high by six wide, and every surface was covered in ornate organic decorative enameling and embossing.

I completely forgot to take into account the fact that they had no gravity to work with, which made things much simpler for everyone than it had any right to be. Ah well, there's always next time.

Lee noted that their tether, where it crossed the edge of the disintegration area, was being alarming cut and frayed by the more-than-razor-sharp edge, and promptly took steps to reattach it at a point where it wouldn't make contact with anything sharp.

Searching down the corridor, they found an oval panel that seemed door-like — probably not a pressure door, as there were no seals in evidence — but no sign of any way to open it, until eventually Janey found a group of what might be... buttons? If so, they did nothing. Then she realised that there was probably no power, so of course they'd do nothing. She searched further, looking for the emergency override controls, and after a while of trying to figure out what was just decoration and what was an actual component, she found a small panel and managed to get it open.

Inside was a handwheel and locking bar, and also an array of pipes. Even here the mania for decoration held sway, with the handwheel cast in a mandala of animal (?) forms. She quickly figured out the mechanism, and the door rolled away into its wall socket.

Behind the door they found a small room, missing a perfectly circular chunk of its far wall, and thus open to space. Three corpses floated in chairs facing a wall of dials, gauges, and small glassy screens. Hopeful of being able to jury-rig some repairs to their own ruined navigation and jump-control systems with the alien tech, Janey and Esakai'nos attempted to detach one of the screens... and completely buggered it. Then they ruined another one, but on the third try they managed to get one more-or-less intact.

Esakai'nos noticed that the corpses (all very tall, cone-headed humanoids) had what appeared to be sidearms in holsters at their sides, so he nicked all three. Alas, Janey and Lee noticed, and decided that they should have one each.

And right about then...

Back on the ship, Patience had been alerted by the ship's computer of an anomaly out in the debris ring around the planet. A piece of... something... was moving contrary to the drift of all the rest of the debris, and it soon became apparent that it was on a course that would intercept (roughly) with their position.

She alerted the away team, who made haste to get back to the ship, and they decided to go silent and turn off their active sensors and try to hide. Using only vectoring thrusters, Patience drifted the ship over to a cluttered part of the hull that she hoped would give them visual cover, and they grappled the ship to the hulk.

Unfortunately, with active sensors inactive they were effectively blind, and had to rely on optical means alone of keeping track of their bogey. They knew the part of the sky they should be looking at, but even so the chances of actually seeing anything before it was very close indeed were minimal. Nevertheless, against all odds, Lee did manage to pick it up with his binoculars when it was perhaps half an hour out.

In the meantime, Janey, in the lower-deck engineering section, got their looted screen open, and found the innards almost incomprehensibly complex. It was full of mechanical componentry, like a huge and complicated steam-powered watch, with only minimal electronics. Huh. That does not bode well for any kind of compatibility with their own systems.

There was some discussion about who or what the bogey might be, and eventually the generally accepted most likely scenario they came up with was that it was maybe an escape pod from the mega-ship, coming back to see what the activity was about.

Lee decided to camp outside in a good fire position, just in case. Patience (with an optimism bordering on naivete) thought that perhaps the two groups might be able to help each other — maybe the aliens might be able to fix Our Heros' systems, and they could all go home. Maybe.

They switched their active sensors back on and activated a distress beacon, and Patience opened up the forward cargo ramp to indicate their lack of hostile intent.

And then...

From outside, Lee was following the process of the pod, and as it approached closely he saw it disgorge a line of smaller dots, which rapidly formed into four groups of three. It didn't take long before they got close enough to distinguish them as suited humanoids.

Three of the groups landed out of his line of sight, but one group of three landed around his position... he elected not to attempt to fight it out at this time, and they disarmed him and walked him back down to the ship, he clumping along on his magnetic boots while they floated gracefully around him on three sides.

Meanwhile, another group had burned their way up through the engineering floor hatch, forcing Janey to scramble for her suit helmet. Another group entered through the cargo ramp. The fourth combat team are nowhere to be seen.

The Good Guys were herded together, disarmed and stripped of their space suits, and locked into the starboard cargo lock. Esakai'nos noted that (a) the aliens appeared to have only their side-arms, no long guns or heavy weapons, and (b) they did not remove their own suits at all and in fact seemed very reluctant to make any physical contact with Our Heros.

And there we are.

No doubt it will all end up just fine.

Terran Empire 14: The New Era

Note: After a hiatus of more than two decades, I restarted this campaign using the Basic Roleplaying system from Chaosium.

In the (new) beginning...

We have a whole new team, and a new ship. Probably the same old chaotic fiascos though.

They are:

  • Annette — Patience Strôenn, pilot. On a trail of vengeance for the deaths of her parents.
  • Clare — Janey Terranova, engineer.
  • Andrew — Lee Thomas, bounty hunter.
  • Carl — Esakai'nos, Lregh union worker who is definitely not any kind of secret spy-assassin or anything like that.
  • Keld — itinerant magician. Pick a card, any card.

The deck plans in PDF format, scaled for use with 15mm miniatures.

The ship is an Empress Marava class Far Trader (as yet unnamed). It is an elderly and somewhat battered vessel, third- or fourth- or even sixth-hand, but it is kept running by the tender attentions of Patience and Janey.

(Note: don't be misled by how nice and clean the ship in the illustration looks.
Appearances can be misleading.)

First Steps

Our story opens with the team departing, with relief, from the bleak and tedious New Canaan for Vaxandros Prime, ostensibly in search of cargo and/or passengers to help keep the ship flying, but actually because Patience, via Lee Thomas, had heard murmurings that members of the Malorean Syndicate (the gang responsible for the murders of her parents) might be found there.

VAXANDROS PRIME: Located in the spinward regions of the Outer Core, Vaxandros Prime is the first of five planets orbiting the yellow dwarf star Vaxandros. Dis covered in the late 2400s, it's a pleasant, Earthlike world that's attracted over 200 million settlers in about a century and a half. Most live in one of the planet's five major cities, but a few have struck out into the wilds to establish homesteads.

Unfortunately, the planet's relative proximity to Drago's Reach makes it a convenient stop for smugglers and other neer-do-wells traveling to or from that lawless region of space. The Intelligence Bureau, a combination law enforcement and espionage agency under the control of the planet's ruling oligarchy, often has difficulty keeping track of all the criminals in or passing through the Vaxandros system. The enormous Vaxandros High Port in particular has a reputation as a haven for criminal activity.

NEW CANAAN: A barely-habitable world, New Canaan was deliberately selected for its harsh conditions by its original settlers. Motivated by religious faith, they sought to create a society that met the most exacting requirements of all religions. The original settlers were Christian, Jewish, and Muslim, but since then settlers from dozens of other religious groups have immigrated to New Canaan. Under New Canaan's constitution, all citizens must obey the tenets of all religions represented on the planet. In cases where practices directly conflict, a citizen can choose, but otherwise he has to follow all the rules. New Canaanites eat no meat, drink no alcohol or caffeine, may not divorce or use contraception, and wear robes and veils. They use only the minimum technology necessary to support life. Needless to say, the planet's not exactly a tourist destination.

They broke orbit and made their way out to Minimum Safe Distance for jump, and hit the go button.

Immediately there was a loud bang, a stench of burning hair and flesh, and a brief squealing from inside one of the bridge consoles. The jump-drives started to spin down, then they spun back up again, out of control, and the ship went into an uncontrolled stutter-jump which went through six or eight cycles before they could cut the power and turn them off.

They found themselves floating inside a system of six planets, which sensors revealed to consist of two gas giants and four rocky worlds, orbiting an old orange star. The second planet from the sun could conceivably support — just — human life, but there were no signs of any kind of industrial settlement that could be detected from this far out.

Janey opened up the console and found, hanging from an energy bus, the barbequed corpse of a New Canaan creature, a bristly cross between a pangolin and a rat. She saw more signs that the creature(s) had been chewing on other pieces of equipment, most importantly the navigation control systems, and there was poop a-plenty as well. Listening carefully she detected the sounds of skittering feet, so it looked like the ship had become infested on New Canaan.

She removed the corpse of the vermin and made a quick survey of the damage. The jump-drive controller would need to be replaced, and there was no spare on board. That's a big problem. But fortunately the navigation array controller looked simple enough to fix.... and lo! It blew up in her hands (rolled a 00 for the repair) and is now completely irreparable, and will also have to be replaced. If only they hadn't put off paying for all those spare components...

The mis-jump had virtually drained the fuel reserves, so getting more fuel became of pressing importance. The gas giants were the obvious place to look, and Patience set a course for the nearest — about a week by thrusters. Looking ahead with the sensors, she discovered not only that the gas giant's atmosphere contained useful quantities of fuel-gases, but she also detected an intermittent radio signal from its orbit — incomprehensible, but clearly artificial.

Lee, Eskai'nos and Keld filled their time during the passage attempting to hunt down the infestation of galacto-rats, with limited success. Someone suggested just opening the ship to vacuum, but janey was resolutely opposed to the idea of venting all their atmosphere without the certainty of being able to replace it.

When they got close enough for more detailed scans, and eventually even visual inspection, they discovered that their signal was coming from something big. Very, very big.

Floating within an extensive debris field that created a complete ring around the planet was an unreasonably massive hulk, in space. A Space Hulk, if you will. It was not of any recognisable configuration: certainly not Terran, nor Perseid, nor any other tech known to any of the crew. It reached over three kilometres in length, the remains looking like a weird Gothic space-cathedral dreadnought.

It appeared completely dead, except for the mysterious radio bursts which seemed to be emanating from somewhere towards what they assumed was the stern due to the presence of gigantic thrust cones there. Large parts of the structure were completely missing, apparently disintegrated by some unknown weapon that left perfectly spherical voids, leaving the vessel like a Brobdingnagian Swiss cheese.

Patience maneuvered the ship, with great care, right into the bowels of the giant via one of the disintegrated holes. Lee managed, though without really knowing what he was doing, do send a magnetic grapple from one of the cargo locks directly exactly where he meant it to go. He, Janey and Eskai'nos suited up and wheeled themselves across the line into a corridor in the behemoth.Nobody died during this exercise.

The corridor extended off into darkness. Mysterious structures jutted out into the passageway, function unknown. All of the surfaces are etched and embossed, decorated in a gothic baroque style.

What lies ahead? We don't yet know. It'll probably be fine.

13: Uninvited Guests

 Note: In the interests of keeping track of what's happened when and to whom, while maintaining my habitual sloth and indolence, I've written this highly abbreviated summary of recent events:

K'pok limps slowly back towards the Hzeel freighter, failing to observe the tiny life-pod zooming past her.

Jek, Measure Twice and Weptish, by means of a bit of random fumbling, manage more or less accidentally to restore artificial gravity. On the bridge they feel a sudden jolt through the floor-plates. Jek, looking out a window, observes something tumbling rapidly away from the ship, but cannot identify it.

After a while, Jek decides to investigate and floats off back down towards the airlocks. Down a stairwell and through a pressure door, he surprises — and is himself surprised to run into — a large humanoid wearing a Nasty Scary Ruthless Warrior brand environment suit and hefting a HUGE plasma rifle. All hell breaks loose and Jek ends up floating unconscious in a thoroughly melted stairwell, saved from being brutally killed to death by his trusty armoured EVA suit.

Measure Twice is alerted by Jek's girlish shrieks over the radio and makes his way cautiously down the stairwell, narrowly missing being blown up by one of the warrior's plasma grenades.

Jek recovers consciousness moments before the Ackalian and zaps the bejeezus out of it, fortunately failing to ignite the bandolier of plasma grenades across its chest.

K'pok attempts to rendezvous and dock with the freighter, but is startled when it disappears from hyperspace. Fortunately, she isn't travelling at too fast a clip, but nevertheless by the time she is able to initiate her own exit from hyperspace the separation between the two craft is several million kilometres.

Jek and Measure engage in a fire-fight with an indeterminate number of foes in the main cargo deck. Jek, as usual, spends considerable time unconscious. By the time Weptish makes it down there to join in, Measure is also feeling poorly.

K'pok eventually catches up and attempts to dock at the ventral docking port. With a masterful display of piloting she actually collides with the ship, sending it tumbling sedately through space and upsetting the combatants who are getting it on in the cargo bay.

K'pok manages to dock successfully on her second attempt, and responding to the wails coming over the suit radios makes her way down to the cargo deck to join in the fun. More biffo ensues. At some point, I don't recall exactly when, the artificial gravity stutters and goes off again; Weptish is immediately blamed.

One of the bad guys ignites a couple of smoke grenades and makes his escape up the freight elevator; Our Heroes, hearing the elevator (by some mystic means through vacuum — once again the GM's poor memory comes into play) assumed it meant the arrival of more foes, rather than the exit of the ones they already had. They hunkered down for another attack, until after some time they realised that they were the only ones left fighting. K'pok gets an emergency distress call from her ship AI alerting her to the fact that someone was attempting to force access, and then that intruders had entered the vessel.

K'pok dashed back up the stairwell with Measure to try to find the escapees, leaving Jek and Weptish to investigate the battleground. Jek attempts to salvage a fallen Ackalian's plasma rifle which had unfortunately been rigged; once again he enjoys the thrill of flying through the air (OK, the vacuum) on a wave of white-hot plasma. Once again he is saved from annihilation by his extremely expensive and increasingly battered EVA suit.

K'pok and Measure get up to Deck 4 in time to the elevator to the ventral lock; pounding down the corridor they stabbed frantically at the call button. The elevator arrived and the door opened; Measure leaned forward alertly to check whether or not the Bad Guys had left any unpleasant surprises, and was therefore in the ideal position to see the plasma grenade drop right at his feet. Bravely he shielded K'pok from the blast by not being able to get out of the way in time, and he too experienced the Jek Effect, ending up sprawled down the other end of the corridor.

About then, the ship shuddered and its tumbling worsened as the Ackalian pilot tore loose from the docking clamps. K'pok is understandably upset at having her ship, and also her mother's body, stolen. Unfortunately there's not a hell of a lot she can do about it.

An extended period of tinkering with the ship's systems is undertaken, guided inexpertly by Measure's extremely basic grasp of the Hzeel language and script. Not much is achieved initially except to lock themselves out of the systems until Jek manages to trace a hardware bypass. Eventually, by trial and error, enough systems are deciphered to restore the life support systems, and more importantly, to determine that they don't work and are busily pouring nasty poisonous gases through all the corridors and staterooms. Weptish goes off to check the plant and finds the tell-tale holes left by duct-creepers. Measure, checking the manifests, finds a lot more weaponry installed than one would expect of an innocent freighter.

Jek checks out the gravity generators, squeezing his majestic bulk through the very tight confines of the Underdecks, but having not the first clue what he should be looking for can't find out why they aren't working properly. He does find out what caused the hyperdrive to malfunction however — it had melted down to worthless slag, though he doesn't know why.

Once he got back up on the bridge, it suddenly occurred to Jek that since the ship was a Terran design, the Hzeel systems were probably just a translation overlay over the Terran originals — and so it proved to be. The previous week turned out to be largely fruitless effort, not to mention the discomfort of being confined to EVA suits for such a length of time — d'oh! Once he made the appropriate adjustments, almost all of the systems became freely available. Only the security protocols remain undeciphered, and they soon submitted to Jek's ministrations. And not too soon, as it soon became clear.

The Ackalians had managed to get the Vulcan ship more or less under control, and with their characteristic stubbornness were having another go at the Hzeel vessel. Though inexpert at manipulating the ship's tactical systems, the defences were more than adequate to fend off the attacks of the Ackalians as long as Measure could angle the shields, which he did almost half the time.

K'pok attempted to disable her ship with a shot to the reactionless drives, but miscalculated the power of her lasers slightly, missed her target and accidentally blasted a gaping hole right through the bridge. Her ship immediately lost all power and control, and drifted off into the void.

ur Heroes caught up with it easily, harpooned it with magnetic grapples and boarded to find nothing where the bridge used to be, and a badly wounded Ackalian in one of the med bay hibernation chambers. Jek quietly spaced him and regretfully told K'pok that there was nothing he could do for the injured warrior. K'pok found her mother's corpse still safely frozen, Weptish managed to retrieve his collection of Weird Stuff, and together everyone began to salvage as much usable stuff as possible.

Weptish has a plan to build the Hyperdrive Of Doom with salvaged bits and pieces and whatever components can be saved from the freighter's drive, but that's still very much a work in progress and the ship is currently far, far away from civilization. A sensor scan managed to detect some faint signals that indicate sentient technological life, but they emanate from a direction in which the nearest star is over a light-year away, and even at best speed using the ship's reaction drives it will take several years to get there — and there's no guarantee that the nearest star system is the source of the signals. Our Heroes settle in for a long, boring trip and hope that Weptish manages to come up with a miracle before the food and life support supplies run out.

Measure Twice, with the aid of his trusty Hzeel phrase book, ploughed his way through the ship's logs and cargo manifests. Much he found incomprehensible, but he did find a reference to his two comrades, who had been travelling on board in stasis as cargo — it appears that they had been sold off to some tin-pot warlord outside the fringes of Terran space; a notation accompanying the entry contains a recommendation that they be pithed before revivification to ensure that they are controllable. This information has caused Measure some upset; there's no possible way he can reach the planet in time for a rescue mission, but honour demands revenge.....

Jek is relieved to be in a relatively roomy spacecraft after the extremely cramped quarters on board K'pok's ship, but all of the sleeping quarters — and more importantly, all of the ablutions — have been rebuilt to suit the Hzeel stature. A Jek-sized bed he can build, but he's forced to shower one limb at a time, and going to the toilet is an exercise in claustrophobia.

K'pok is as stoic as ever in the face of the prospect of years drifting through space. She has her meditation equipment, and she keeps herself occupied familiarising herself with the ship's

12: It's Clobberin' Time!

 After some deliberation over the relative merits of lighting oneself up like a christmas tree or trying to hide behind a big freighter still swarming with energy leeches, K'pok ran her own scan to locate the unknown ship that was scanning her. She determined that it was a smallish scout, probably Ackâlian, and about half an hour out of weapons range, assuming she was right about it being a small scout. It was decided, after a full and frank exchange of views, that K'pok would lure as many of the leeches as she could off the crippled freighter and lead them off towards the mysterious incoming vessel, leaving the other three to deal with the remaining critters mano-a-leecho in honourable hand-to-hand combat.

Our doughty heroes got themselves kitted out with K'pok's riot foam dispensers, the plan being to encase the leeches in the stuff and then pry them off the hull once they'd been rendered inert. One by one, K'pok shoved them across the intervening space with her tractor beam, leaving them to float off before thrusting in to buzz the remaining leeches in the hopes of atracting their attention. She was moderately successful, managing to entice a couple of dozen to detach from the Hzeel ship to chase her off into the void, leaving only fifty or so for Jek, Weptish and Measure to deal with. Once sure that no more leeches could be tempted off, K'pok set off at a sedate pace to intercept the gatecrasher.

Regrettably, K'pok's aim wasn't quite what it might have been, and although Jek and Measure were on-target, Weptish wasn't, and found himself about to miss the freighter by a substantial margin. Fortunately, Weptish being space-born, he is as at home in zero-G as a fish is in water, and was able to correct using his suit thrusters, arriving not too long after the others. By that time, Jek and Measure had found out to their disgust that riot foam doesn't set in vacuum, and so all they'd achieved was to squirt some streams of silly-string off into the æther. A certain amount of low-level swearing occurred. Fortunately, Jek had brought his trusty crowbar, and Measure his equally trusty shotgun, and they began the arduous task of quartering the hull and physically beating the leeches into jelly. They were soon joined by Weptish, who with equal foresight had thought to equip himself with the biggest wrench he could find in the ship's engineering supplies. It was a messy job, not made any easier by the masses of leech fragments floating everywhere from the first passes with the sand-caster, but after a long and tedious time they finally clobbered the last of them into scintillating smithereens. After as thorough a search of the hull as they could manage, they made their way inside and up to the bridge.

Meanwhile, K'pok and the incoming vessel approached their intercept point. She put her foot on the accelerator, leaving the swarm of leeches directly in the path of the oncoming ship and made a big loop back towards the freighter. The other ship ploughed straight through the swarm without any obvious effect that she could detect, closing the distance between them rapidly. At closer range her scan was considerably more detailed, and she determined that the other vessel's main reactor was displaying some alarmingly erratic behaviour. She hailed them, enquiring whether they required any assistance. They replied with a traditional Ackâlian greeting which, in rough translation, goes something like "Worthless Terran scum! Surrender immediately! You are now prisoners of the glorious Ackâlian Empire!" This cheery hello was immediately followed up by the release of three high-G missiles, which forced K'pok into some extreme evasive maneuvering; she managed to account for two of them with her puny bow laser, but the third exploded close enough to her to cause some minor damage to her drives. Now unable to outrun the Ackâlian scout, and having no luck at all with her attempted negotiations, she was forced into a vicious dogfight which went on and on and on and on and on, each ship dodging and firing, each doing puny amounts of damage to the other.

Eventually, a lucky series of shots by K'pok did sufficient damage to her foe's drives that she could break off the combat, and limp off back towards the freighter, leaving the Ackâlian more or less adrift. Her scan showed her that the other ship's reactor was becoming wildly unstable, but they responded only with insults and threats to her offers of assistance. She did the Vulcan equivalent of a shrug, and began to make her way back to rejoin the others on the Hzeel ship.

When she was about half way back, her sensors showed a violent burst of energy from where the Ackâlian had been. The others, on the bridge of the Hzeel ship, saw a sudden bright light far off in the emptiness of hyperspace.

11: Salvage

 After the debacle on Ierisiou, Weptish required two months of hospitalization stuck in a regeneration tank, and Jek got a month of out-patient care — medical bills generously covered by TIC, written off under the umbrella of mission-related expenses. All thas time, the party's gold mine (the derelict Hzeel freighter) was drifting further and further off the the hyperspace lanes.

Once his injuries had healed sufficiently, Jek got a job stevedoring. This made him enough money to live and breathe, and even to save a very little. By a stroke of good fortune, a windfall came his way when we realized that he hadn't spent any of his C.C.E.F. (Character Creation Equipment Fund), which had been sitting in his bank account all this time. He immediately splashed out on an armoured vac-suit which actually fits him (no more Vulcan-vac-suit wedgies), and the biggest, nastiest-looking, most frightening laser rifle he could find.

Once Weptish was discharged, planning began. Doing a quick costing, the party estimated they'd need about cr150,000 to equip to reclaim their prize from the energy leeches. Problem: party does not have cr150,000. Party has about cr5,000 between them. Sale of the salvage rights to a professional salvage company was mooted, but decided against for a number of reasons, not the least of which being a desire to avoid angering a veangeful GM. K'pok agreed to raise a mortgage using her ship as collateral through an old and highly respectable firm of financiers, Whitlow, Futtle and Crun, and they also advertised for investors, by which means they met Measure Twice, a ghurkatroid academy graduate currently on his gap year OE before being called up to the regiment.

Measure Twice was interested in the freighter since he believed it to be carrying some of his friends as cold-store freight, and agreed to invest some of his own trust-fund income (about cr50,000) in the venture. He wanted to go along to oversee his investment, of course.

At least one of the team had to go down to the surface to organise all the work they needed done to the ship — there was no genuine necessity for this, since all the equipment and workshops and what-not were at the dock station, but the Pantokratonese are nothing if not adept at infuriating bureaucratic bastardry. Since everytone else was otherwise occupied, K'pok was nominated to take care getting a licence to buy a sand-caster, to be installed in a cargo module slung beneath the hull of K'pok's ship. K'pok's natural honesty made her laughably ill-suited to dealing with a bureaucracy which is simultaneously corrupt and paranoid, but by a miracle she managed to remain un-arrested and also to stay under budget for the exercise. In the end, the 50 credit license and work order cost the team well over cr2,000 due to K'poks lack of familiarity with the ettiquette of bribery.

K'pok returned, and the sand-caster was installed without any problems at all. Alas, the cost of getting the license and work order meant that there was no cash left over to buy ammunition for it. Answer: spend a couple of weeks in the system's asteroid belt using the ship's tractor beam to hoover up iron-rich gravel. Things go right for a change, and the cargo hold is filled to capacity in only a few days. K'pok turned the ship outwards and thrust for Minimum Safe Distance for the jump to hyperspace.

Well aware that in the time since they'd first found the Hzeel freighter it had been drifting further and further away, K'pok took extreme care over her navigational calculations. She checked, and rechecked, and then checked again before committing herself to a vector. Confident that even the tiniest errors had been weeded out, she set the controls and activated the hyperspace drive.... completely the wrong direction. Sigh. Inevitably, in this one crucial instance, she fumbled her navigation roll and sent the ship off towards the Mon'dabi Federation. Hey-ho. A week later, when they dropped out of hyperspace the error was revealed and course adjustments were made (successfully this time), but the delay meant even longer stuck inside K'poks tiny, cramped, claustrophobia-inducing shuttle.

The projected intercept point placed them well within the Ackálian Empire, so they ran without scan in the hopes of remaining undetected. No such luck. About half way into their four-month voyage, they were attacked by a ship they never saw. K'pok managed by the skin of her teeth to dodge and zap three missiles, and thanks to a spectacular change of luck her eveasive high-jinks managed to get the unknown assailant off the scent. Once sure that they'd escaped pursuit, they continued towards their destination, and made rendezvous almost perfectly.

They used the ship's scanners to create a decoy beam to attract the energy leeches into a killing zone, than blew them to smithereens with the sand-caster. The tactic worked beautifully, but unfortunately the sand-caster ran out of gravel before the last of the leeches were destroyed; there still remained about seventy of them attached to the hull of the freighter, and quite likely more floating among the fragments of the dead leeches.

There was some debate about tactics to be used to clear the remaining leeches, but before anything could be finally decided they were interrupted by the ship's AI alerting K'pok to the fact that they were being scanned....

10: Farewell To All That

 K'pok ried to communicate with pod-people, Jek tried to access computer systems. Failed. Found elevator down, found food stores (most refrigeration pooted), found personal effects stores. Tried to access secure lockers, failed.

Weptish in a bad way from radiation poisoning.

Decided (eventually) to fuck off and let the Imperial Navy clean up the mess. Back upstairs, found route back out blocked by the security door Kappo had earlier tried (and failed) to blow open. Opening mechanism rooted owing to being blown to smithereens. Tried to find alternate route to exit point, failed.

Weptish getting worse (hair falling out, skin sloughing off, bleeding gums and eyes, puking blood), but eventually manages to jury-rig door controls so that it could be cranked open manually. Team gets back up to balcony.

K'pok calls ship — problem, nowhere for the ship to land, can't hover close enough due to crowding by roof gables. Jek detaches tether (20m) from Weptish's EVA suit and tries to jump for lowered embarkation ladder - fails. Tries instead to lasso ladder, eventually succeeds after quarter of an hour. Made loop of tether with Weptish on one end, dragged him up but too weak to cling to the ladder himself. K'pok climbs up tether line (squashing Weptish up against ladder) and helps him into air lock. Ship won't open inner lock until they are decontaminated, another 15 minutes or so. Jek follows, hauls up Kappoborg.

Weptish put into stasis until return to spaceport hospital.

Out of Ierisiou space (good riddance to the dump) and back to rendezvous point with Navy, who are surprised at the change in Kappo. Kappo by this time losing any sort of human intellignece, also emitting an unpleasant aroma of decomposition. Put into stasis for return to base hospital where he will be brain-taped and restored into a clone body in 20 years or so. Remainder of team debriefed, remaining issue equipment returned — there's not much left to return. After thorough debriefing, team receives agreed payment and heads back to Pantokrator Docking Station.

09: Beneath the Planet of the Apes^^^^Mutants

When last we left our intrepid pals, Weptish and K'pok were being carried off in one direction by a creepy creaky zombiebot each, and the unconscious Kappo was being carried off in another by three of the biomechanical horrors. Jek Porkins bravely chased after the three carting off Kappo, regrettably unaware of the plight of his other two comrades, and ran hell-for-leather after them through the pitch black bowels of the building. Through room after room he followed, guided by the squeaking and clattering of their mechanical legs and the occasional glimpse of them in the light of his suit lamp, until finally they came to a stop in an elevator. The doors slid shut as Jek galloped up to them.

Jek pressed his helmet up against the doors and could could hear the elevator car descending; immediately he set to forcing the doors open by means of his huge bulging manly muscles to reveal a moving cable. Looking down he was just in time to see the roof of the elevator car descending rapidly, out of the rangle of his puny suit light. A man of action, he hesitated not and leaped out to grab the elevator cable, intending to shinny down on to the roof of the car. Alas! The thickly-greased cable offered virtually no purchase, though he squeezed like buggery, and he plummeted downwards barely more slowly than if he had simply jumped. He smashed straight through the relatively flimsy roof of the car, but fortunately did not smash straight through the slightly less flimsy floor, ending up in a heap on the floor of the car covered in elevator debris.

“Crikey!” exclaimed the GM, sotto voce. “Good thing that in the heat of the moment I miscalculated the falling damage or else Jek would be a bag of pulp at the bottom of the elevator shaft!”

Picking himself up and shaking off the remains of the ceiling, Jek once again exerted his mighty heavyworlder muscles and forced open the doors, finding himself at the end of a duct-lined concrete passage. There was no sign, neither sight nor sound, of his quarry. Undeterred, he trotted off down the passage, reasoning that there was no other way they could have gone.

Somebody.... Kent, I think, pointed out what a bummer it would be if the things had got off and sent the elevator to another floor. That would just be too tragic though.

After jogging along for maybe 50 or 60 metres, he came to a steel door blocking the passage, where he stopped for a moment to clarify the tactical situation. He tried to raise Kappo on his communicator, but got no reply; he had no better luck with K'pok, but at last he managed to raise Weptish who (with a certain amount of panicky blubbering and pleas for immediate assistance) described the area he was being carried through. Jek opened the door and resumed his steady trot in what he sincerely hoped was the right direction.

Shortly thereafter, he began to pass flattish ovoid pods, about 2.5m long, mounted on the walls of the passages. Some of them (about one in four or five) showed blinking LED telltales, but most appeared completely inert. Weptish's cries for help became more urgent, so Jek picked up the pace and galloped through the passages as fast as he could go, eventually coming out into a huge open space filled with towering racks full of the same sort of pods he'd been passing earlier. Stopping briefly to take stock, he glimpsed a moving light far off through the racks bobbing up and down, but could make out no details.

Meanwhile, Kappo had arrived at his destination, a nexus of control panels and indecipherable machinery surrounded by enormous pod-racks fading out into the darkness. Operating everything was a squat cylindrical cyborg, about two metres tall, and considerably more cyb than org — it appeared to be wholly mechanical, except for what was obviously a brain floating in a transparent dome on top. Four flexible and extensible limbs spaced equidistantly around its torso reached every point within the nexus, making adjustments and pressing buttons and what-not.

When the zombiebots arrived with Kappo, it immediately left what it had been doing and rolled over to inspect him.


Working rapidly and precisely it detached Kappo's head and installed it in a small life support module, from where he could see the thing go to work on the rest of his body. It was an odd sensation to say the least, to be able to watch from across the room as his body was opened up, organs taken out, inspected and either replaced or discarded into a sump beneath the operating slab. A genuine out-of-body experience.

At about this point, Weptish and K'pok also arrived, firmly in the grip of their zombiebots. K'pok had recovered consciousness by now, and was struggling to get free, thus far without success. The zombiebots stopped and shut down, becoming inert.

Jek followed closely behind. The combined lights from K'pok's and Weptish's suits provided enough illumination that he could see what was going on, and he didn't like the looks of it one little bit. Neither, for that matter, did K'pok, and Weptish was especially alarmed when the cyborg looked up at him from his work and said YOU ARE DAMAGED ALSO I WILL ATTEND TO YOU WHEN I HAVE COMPLETED THIS ONE. Jek found himself in something of a quandrary; if he followed his immediate impulse — which was to smash the thing's brain case to bits with his crowbar — then he may very well impair Kappo's chances of recovery. On the other hand, if he did nothing, then Kappo looked like being turned into one of the ghastly zombiebots, which was also not an optimal result. He decided to let the cyborg finish mending Kappo, on the grounds that if he were still at least partially alive then he could maybe be rebuilt back in civilization (assuming he had really really good health insurance), whereas if he were dead he'd really just be good for compost.

Jek decided instead to attempt to free Weptish. He crept up behind the zombiebot holding him captive and taking careful aim, shot with his auto-pistol into the general vicinity of its shoulder-joint. Alas! Poor Weptish. Jek's terrible shooting missed the zombiebot completely, tearing a great hole in Weptish's arm instead. “These guns are completely fucking useless!” cried Jek, and he threw his pistol away into the darkness in a fit of pique. Weptish just made pathetic squealing noises as blood began to pool in the glove of his environment suit. Gort (the cyborg's name is Gort) became alarmed at Jek damaging one of his charges and decided that he should be restrained before he could do any further harm. He zapped at him with a powerful neuralizer, but missed and accidentally hit Weptish, adding to the misery of an already miserable day for him. Weptish slumped into a flaccid drooling mass, unable to move or speak.

K'pok took advantage of Gort's distraction to break free of her restraints. She charged at the harrassed cyborg, but not fast enough — it got off a shot at her with its neuralizer which hit its target this time, and K'pok slumped bonelessly to the floor. Meanwhile, Jek climbed bodily up on to Weptish's zombiebot and heaved at its arm with all his might and main, bending and snapping the shoulder joint; its claw relaxed and Weptish slumped, ending up hanging head-downwards. Jek transferred his attention to the other shoulder of the inert 'bot, smashing that in its turn and causing Weptish to drop to the floor, still unable to move a muscle. Fortunately his environment suit took the brunt of the fall as he landed head-first on the concrete.

Gort now took the opportunity to neuralize Jek who also fell down, his mighty muscles now limp and useless. Now that all of the disruptive elements had been neutralized, it returned its full attention to rebuilding Kappo's eviscerated and dissected carcass. It replacing most of his internal organs with mechanical replacements, applied exoskeletal joints to his neck and shoulders, and discarded his badly crushed legs entirely, mounting the remains of the torso on a six-legged mechanical walking chassis.

K'pok had been fighting off the effects of the neuralization by gathering her highly-disciplined Vulcan mind, and suddenly found herself free of the effect again. She took advantage of Gort's concentration to sneak up on it and punch it right in the brain-bubble, cracking the plastic and causing a leak. EXERCISE CAUTION! he blared. YOUR ACTIONS ARE CAUSING DAMAGE TO THIS UNIT! Since K'pok showed no immediate signs of showing caution and avoiding causing damage to this unit, it zapped her again and rushed off to slap a patch of duct-tape over the crack to stop the leak.

Gort returned a few minutes later, and returned to the reconstruction of Kappo. It took his head from the life support unit and reattached it to the neck-stump, connecting a variety of transparent fluid-pumping hoses between his skull and torso. It ran a series of command and response diagnostics, closely observing readouts on one of its panels; Kappo attempted to dissemble and make it believe that he was its slave, but it was not satisfied with the results and kept making further adjustments in the composition and flow of the various substances squirting through the plastic tubes.

K'pok once again rallied her mental powers and regained control of her voluntary muscles. She decided to atttempt to persuasion rather than violence this time, asking Gort to let them all go. Gort declined — I AM SORRY IT IS NOT YET TIME IT IS NOT SAFE YET FOR YOU TO BE OUT YOU MUST GO BACK UNTIL IT IS SAFE I WILL CALL YOU OUT WHEN IT IS SAFE

K'pok briefly considered smashing Gort's brain-bubble again, but on reflection decided that it was a bona fide AI and therefore a life form, and her respect for life got the better of her. She asked instead if she could mind meld with it, and Gort agreed to indulge her while he attended to the damaged and bleeding Weptish. The meld was wildly successful; K'pok scanned deeply into Gort's memories, finding the all-clear code. She withdrew from the meld and gave him the code.

Gort was overjoyed that his mission had been successfully completed, and immediately set about reopening all of the stasis pods. Lights flickered back on, revealing a vast space containing stacked racks of pods, tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of them. Gort moved rapidly from pod to pod, initiating revivication procedures, with K'pok following behind. As the lids hissed open she saw the inhabitants — pale, thin humanoids, now beginning to move ever so slightly, trembling and drooling as their metabolisms began to rise back to normality.

Some of them, anyway. More often than not, a pod would open to reveal the dessicated remains of a long-dead corpse.

K'pok suddenly realised the implications of her impetuousity — by giving Gort the all-clear code, she had started something she could not stop. Gort, following his instructions implicitly, was releasing his charges into an environment which was decidedly not safe. None of them could hope to survive for long unprotected outside of this deeply-buried chamber, and there was no food for them down here that she could find. The Vulcan word for “oops!” was heard.

Kappo meanwhile grabbed the limp neuralized Weptish and Jek and dragged them back upstairs, storing them in a crate for six hours while he searches unsuccessfully for data crystals. K'pok meanwhile followed Gort as he carried out his duty, pleading with him to stop and trying to convince him that a mistake had been made. Gort insisted that the system was foolproof, and that she should set her mind at ease since it was now safe and time to wake everyone. How could it be otherwise, since the verified all-clear code had been given?

She then tried to get it to give her the location of the data crystals, but Gort insisted that the information was classified and required the appropriate access codes before he could release it to her. She tried another mind meld to find the codes, but this time could not get deep enough to find them.

After six fruitless hours of searching, Kappo retrieved his assault rifle from where he'd dropped it when he was knocked out, picked up the now thoroughly irradiated bodies of Jek and Weptish from the crate in which he'd stored them, and dragged them all the way back down to the stasis chamber. He tried to persuade Gort to give him the location and access codes for the data crystals, but with no more success than K'pok had had. He then attempted to interrogate the recovering stasis patients, but got nothing more than moans and dribbles out of them.

At last, frustrated and angry, Kappo opened fire on Gort to stop it from opening any more of the pods. CAUTION! YOUR ACTIONS ARE CAUSING SERIOUS DAMAGE TO THIS UNIT! trumpeted the unfortunate Gort. IF YOU PERSIST IN THIS COURSE OF ACTION YOU MAY CAUSE IRREPARABLE DAMAGE TO THIS UNIT! I URGE YOU TO CON...SIIIIII.....derrrrrrr.............

Poor old Gort, its century and more of loyal and selfless service tragically terminated in hail of gunfire. Poor old Gort.

08: Bloodbath at the Zombie Robot Death House


Our gallant crew landed on a small weed-infested balcony set among the steep roof gables, a waist-high wall along two sides allowing a view out over the dense jungle below. Jek leaned out over the parapet to see if he could see anything hostile on the ground and startled a small, vaguely reptilian flying monkey-creature clinging to the wall; it took off flapping frantically across the tree-tops and got about twenty metres before a tree-fern-like thing uncurled a long tongue (for want of a better word) and snatched it out of the air. "Crikey" said Jek, "It's a good thing we flew".

Checking out their immediate surroundings, they found one wall of the balcony entirely covered in extremely filthy glass, another side consisted of a covered walkway leading to a door in a third. Kappo checked the windows but could make out nothing through the grime; then he tried the door and found it locked — a simple mechanical lock which he made short work of with his trusty TIC burglary kit. He huddled behind the door as he opened it (some might say cowered, but that may be a little harsh) and waited for the others to set off any booby-traps. Er, that is, to begin exploring the lightless interior. The doors opened on to a landing at the head of a stair heading downwards into inky blackness. The team switched on their suit lights and made their way fearlessly down the steps, with Kappo fearlessly bringing up the rear.

Emerging from the stairwell they found themselves on a walkway overlooking a huge, dark space. Last off the stair, Kappo caught a glimpse of a bright pin-point flash of red light from out of the darkness down the walkway; immediately assuming the worst (i.e. that it was a targeting laser and that everyone was about to be mown down in a hail of gunfire) he activated his shields and squawked a warning to the others, who all also activated their shields. Everyone milled about glowing and humming, waiting for the attack. Which didn't come. Never mind, better safe than sorry. After a short while everyone calmed down a little and began exploring their surroundings.

Almost immediately to the right from the stairwell they found a heavy fire door, locked and immoveable. Looking out over the parapet by the light of her suit lamps, K'pok could make out piles of what appeared to be wooden crates six or seven metres below her feet. K'pok fastened her suit tether to the handle of the fire door and detaching it from her suit, tossed it over the edge of the walkway. She activated her A.G. harness and floated down on to a large crate below, and then on to the floor, using the tether as a guide. Once down, she caught the merest hint of movement and again the red light appeared — this time it was obvious that it was a scanning beam flashing across K'pok. She made her way across to where it was coming from, and found a peculiar thing — a small cyborg about the size of an infant, clearly non-human, its biological elements reduced to skeletal remains. It ignored her and continued working on some kind of system behind a wall access panel.

Meanwhile, Weptish had come down the same way, and had found a pair of doors and another stair. He immediately began to try to get the door handles off — a pair of simple metal pipes on frames — presumably because they might come in handy some time. K'pok called him away from his mission of vandalism to get his opinion on the cyborg. Fascinated, he bent over it and soon found the off-switch; he deactivated the little thing and poped it into his backpack. It might come in handy some time. K'pok went back to meet the other two, sliding down the tether without the benefit of A.G. (the GM having remembered this time), and Weptish, unable to resist the temptation to fix something, began poking around inside the access panel.

Jek and Kappo, in an effort to do something productive, decided to start searching the crates for data cubes on the off-chance that they might be in one of the hundreds of crates. Working with a will, Jek smashed open the largish crate K'pok had used as a landing stage and made a grisly discovery — the crate was full of human remains! The corpses were all entangled and fairly well stuck together by their own congealed juices into a great amorphous mass, but the skulls and other easily-identifiable bones made it obvious that they had once been people. Needless to say, Jek was a little shaken by the discovery, and called K'pok and Kappo over to see. Unfortunately Kappo had made his own discovery, in a similar vein, which brought on such an attack of the heeby-jeebies that he immediately ran shrieking out through the doors beside the lower stairs, around the corner and smack into a wall (which brought him back to his senses after a moment or two). K'pok went after Kappo, leaving Jek with the macabre cluster-fuck slowly oozing out through the broken timbers of the crate.

Weptish was blissfully unaware of all this; he'd been happily tinkering with the guts of the system the little cyborg had been working on, and happily made the last connection....

Everything went dark as all the suit lamps shut down, and off in the now absolute darkness massive doors could be heard grinding and booming closed. For some reason everybody immediately started ragging on poor old Weptish. "What did you do? WHAT DID YOU DO?" was the gist of the babble, to which he replied with a shrug (which noone could see) and "I din' do nothin'! I was just fixing it!". Since all the suit radios had also gone dead, all that anyone could hear of anyone else's screeching was a muffled murmer, which was probably a good thing on the whole.

Groping their way by feel, everybody made their way back up to the mezzanine, hoping and praying that they wouldn't end up thigh-deep in rotting corpses on the way. The exertion of clambering back up the slender tether brought on a great deal of sweating and panting.... Jek realised that he couldn't see any of the tell-tales of any of the suits' life-support systems, which explained the shortness of breath. Deciding that a relatively slow death by radiation poisoning was preferable to a quicker one by asphyxiation, he undid his helmet (discovering the most incredible eye-watering stench in the process) and groped his way around the rest of the group, shouting through their muffling helmets to do the same. All did, except for Kappo who refused outright to expose himself to god knows what contagion, and instead he fell to the ground unconscious and suffocating. Taking advantage of his sudden cooperativeness, K'pok took his helmet off so that he could breathe and left him to wake up in his own time. Jek and Weptish meanwhile had been feeling along the wall for the stairwell back out, and found instead something that felt discouragingly like a door.

K'pok decided that some kind of light was essential, and so climbed down once more — this time, alas, not so successfully avoiding the putrescent mass. She groped in the darkness for as much broken lumber as she could find around the crate, and made her way back up to the others. By the time she returned, Kappo was awake again and once Jek had ignited one of the makeshift torches by the power of his mighty mind he set about trying to open the now-revealed door. It looked depressingly sturdy, and proved to be so when he failed to blow it open with the last of his explosive door-openers.

Jek and K'pok had gone exploring more of the mezzanine in the hopes of finding some way out, and not far away they found what they assumed was the other end of the stair they'd found below. No help there. Further around they found more piles of crates, and opened one of them with some misgivings.... fortunately, no rotting corpses this time. Instead they found crates full of all sorts of rubbish — cheesy paperback romance novels, old kitchen appliances, trinkets and childrens' toys. While thus engaged, they both heard a mechanical chunka-chunka-chunka noise coming from through the wall in front of them, and hurriedly started back to rejoin the others. Bringing up the rear, Jek saw K'pok's tell-tales light up again, and her suit lamps came back on just in time for her to see, coming through an open blast door, a nightmarish abomination — a ghastly patchwork of robot and human corpse, its rotting head lolling vacantly back and forth with the movement of its mechanical appendages. It's probably a good thing that Vulcans aren't imaginative. It attacked K'pok, flailing with its pincers and trying to grab her as another came through the door behind, making for Jek.

Kappo fired at the thing with Jek's assault rifle (Jek having decided that it was a useless weapon) and managed to break something in its legs, so that all it could do was stump around and around in small circles. An encouraging start! Regrettably, the noise of shooting meant that he was blissfully unaware of the door behind him opening and three (THREE!) more of the hideous things clanking up behind him — Weptish, not so unaware, gave a girlish shriek and promptly ran away over the balcony and down the tether to the warehouse floor, leaving Kappo to deal with the zombie-bots.

Yet another zombie-bot appeared to threaten Jek and K'pok, and Jek used his pyrokinesis to set its biological bits afire. It didn't appear to discomode it at all, which was discouraging. Yet another one came through; there seemed to be no end of the blasted things! A mighty battle commenced, Jek and K'pok engaging in hand-to-hand combat with the things. Jek managed to punch one of them hard enough that it stopped working, and K'pok threw one bodily over the railing — unfortunately it didn't let go of her and they both went over together. Even more unfortunately, K'pok landed underneath it on the stairs, which hurt quite a lot, but the zombie-bot went rolling away down the stairs giving her a chance to pull herself together and stagger back up on to the mezzanine.

Weptish, meanwhile, had scampered back up the stairs with his antique pistol just in time to be grabbed by another stinking zombie-bot. He managed to wriggle free, and even to bounce a bullet or two off its carrion-shrouded carapace, but to no avail and he was eventually carried off writhing and straining to get free. The same fate fell to K'pok; still suffering from the battering she'd received falling over the railing, she was soon knocked out by another of the 'bots and also carried away. Jek had seen the same thing happening to Kappo, overwhelmed by three of the horrors simultaneously and ran off after them in the hopes of saving him; he chased them through several rooms, catching up just in time to see the elevator doors closing.

  • K'pok is unconscious, and a prisoner.
  • Kappo is also unconscious, and a prisoner.
  • Weptish is conscious and wriggling, and is still armed with an automatic pistol, but is thus far unable to get free.
  • Jek has forced open the elevator doors and is listening to the elevator car disappearing into the depths below.

All in all, the situation could be better.

07: After the Massacre

 In the lull following the bloodbath, K'pok had some stern words to say about the need for fire discipline and the strong desirability of negotiation as preferable to the decimation of native populations, no matter how repulsively mutated they may appear. Kappo went into a veritable flood of self-justification, claiming to have shown remarkable self-restraint since he hadn't used any grenades or high explosives.

While this full and frank exchange of views continued, the building over which all the fighting had taken place was belching out dense black smoke, having been set alight by a fleeing mutant who had been set alight by Jek the Firestarter. K'pok wanted to get back to the ship to check on Weptish, since he wasn't answering any hails — all that came back was static. Kappo said that he'd be fine and suggested that it might be a good idea to search the facility for the memory cubes before the whole place became a blazing inferno, and after a reproachful remark or two from the Vulcan the team repaired into the lobby, clambering once more over the loudly swearing forms of the muties who had been trapped in K'pok's riot-foam spray.

The plans shown to the team during their briefing indicated that the comms centre and working data store was located upstairs, so they clambered up the (inoperative) escalator into dense smoke. Jek started coughing as the choking fumes percolated into his tattered rad-suit, and was forced to adopt a horizontal squirming posture in order to breathe. The others did the same, since they couldn't see a thing in the smoke, and our Gallant Crew crawled their way in the direction of the comms centre (they hoped). An unexpected wall barred their way; it had clearly been added post-holocaust. Kappo went for the direct approach and attempted to batter his way through it, without success. Jek tried a more lateral approach, and felt his way a few metres along it to find a curtained doorway. To either side as they crawled down the passage they could see small booths, obviously living and sleeping quarters, all decorated in a tasteful "Mad Max Chic" motif. Some desultory pillaging ensued, though nothing of any worth was found to steal.

Onwards, onwards into the smoke crawled our Brave Heroes, eventually managing to grope their way into the area which had once been the communications centre, now turned into living quarters for more of the mutant community. The immovable remains of the comms consoles still remained, but had been thoroughly gutted of all their components — one had been turned into a serviceable oven, others into Post-Holocaust Barbarian Junk Storage. Kappo and Jek turned the place over as thoroughly as they could, considering that Jek couldn't raise his head more than half a metre from the floor without risking death via smoke inhalation, and Kappo had to do all his searching by feel through the gloves of his EVA suit. They found nothing of any interest, and most importantly, no data crystals. K'pok meanwhile had found the door to what had originally been the office of the station commander — it was locked.

Leaving Jek to fumble about in the smoke, Kappo fairly leaped at the opportunity to use one of his explosive lockpicks, and blew out the lock very neatly. It had no effect; the door had clearly been barricaded from the other side. Combining their resources, and aided by Jek who had given up searching through the mutie squalor, they forced the door open and stepped into the room. A wild shot buried itself in the wall beside them, and they were confronted by a terrified group of three mutie teens, one of whom was wrestling with the bolt action of his antique hunting rifle. Surprisingly, Kappo didn't immediately mow them all down while screaming "Eat leaden death alien mutie scum" — instead, K'pok stepped over to the frantic youths and wrestled the weapon from its owner. Jek meanwhile pushed the door shut to keep out the smoke as far as possible.

K'pok attempted to communicate with the muties, but without any real success. They had all seen the carnage out in the street and were convinced they were about to be butchered without mercy, and kept repeating the same unintelligible phrase over and over. Kappo and Jek turned the room over and hit the jackpot (in a very small way). Under the bed they found a footlocker containing a variety of PHBJ (see above), an antique revolver (unloaded), and a single solitary TES data cube. Eureka! Only 999 or so to go! In the meantime, K'pok made use of the bedding to make an escape rope for the bawling teens, which initially increased the rate and volume of their pleading as they realised that she was going to garrote them before ripping out their livers and feasting on their eyeballs. They must have been very confused indeed when, instead of doing any of these things, Our Heroes just left the room and politely shut the door behind them.

By the time they made it back to the head of the escalator, the far end of the upper storey was well ablaze and they scampered back down into the lobby with flames licking at their heels. K'pok began trying to free the muties caught in her riot-foam, but soon realised it would take her forever without any release spray. Eventually she managed to talk the others into not leaving the muties to fry or asphyxiate and they decided to just pick the whole mass up and move it outside... except that the doorway was too narrow. "I'll take care of that" said Kappo, and using a series of precisely placed demolition charges he punched out the entire front wall of the lobby in a superlative display of controlled pyrotechnics. Grunting and groaning with effort, the three then hauled the trapped mutants out into the street and left them to wait for the foam to degrade enough to wriggle free.

Back into the building, and a quick scan of the ground floor turned up nothing of interest except the gutted remains of an air raft. The last remaining place to search was the basement level, reachable via a lift shaft (the lift itself no longer operational, of course) and by a stairwell. Our guys chose the stairs, and scampered down straight into the booby-trap. At the very last instant, Kappo noticed the spurt of a quick-burning fuse and leaped down on to the landing — regrettably placing himself right in the killing ground of the bank of home-made claymores. Several cans of remotely-detonated whup-ass were opened on him. Fortunately his shields and armour absorbed the worst of the damage and he was not reduced to a fine pureé, but he was reduced to a bleeding comatose mess crumpled against the wall. Fortunately, the GM forgot about his stash of explosives, which were also caught in the blast — probably a good thing really.

The others were momentarily deafened by the explosion, and blinded by the clouds of gunpowder smoke which filled the stairwell, but showing extraordinary grit and gumption they picked up their fallen comrade and began to make their way through the door which had been blown off its hinges by the blast. In retrospect, that may not have been an ideal tactical decision, since the dust and smoke prevented them from seeing the glowing fuse sputtering through the air and the pipe-bomb which clattered into the tangled barricade they were trying to clamber over.... yet another explosion, again largely soaked up by those excellent Vulcan EVA suits, but sufficient to cause a unanimous tactical readjustment to the rear. Picking up Kappo (again), Jek and K'pok beat a retreat back to the ship.

Meanwhile, back at the ship, Weptish had emerged from his fix-it trance to find nobody around at all. He wandered about the ship briefly trying to find some sign of his compatriots, then shrugged and went back to fixing something else.

K'pok, Jek and the deeply comatose Kappo arrived back at the ship, pausing briefly when they realised that Kappo was no longer available to disarm the claymores he'd set out around the perimeter. Not to worry; the claymores weren't there any more. Phew! They made their way back into the ship and decontaminated, and then Jek managed to get Weptish's attention by physically picking him up, moving him away from his work area and shaking him until his attention returned from the Land Of Gadgets.

K'pok put the antique data cube in for detailed analysis by the ship's AI so that the sensors could be configured to scan for them, and Weptish began medicating Kappo to prevent him from leaking to death. Successfully, fortunately for Kappo, who woke up some 18 hours later. Also fortunately for Kappo, nobody mentioned the fact that his EVA suit had been torn open and that he'd therefore been exposed to god knows how many lethally virulent strains of mutant bacteria. Maybe what he doesn't know won't hurt him, or then again, maybe it will.

By the time Kappo woke up (and immediately shot himself up with a TIC regenerative serum), the ship had completed its analysis of the data crystal and was in the process of performing an expanding sensor scan of the surrounding city for more of them. It got numerous positives, but all in very small quantities except for one cache over the river, near the jungle area where the ship had originally landed. The ship estimated that there were approximately 500 units there, roughly half of the total store they had been sent to retrieve, so as soon as Weptish finished his final repairs they took off again.

Flying low over the dead city to the point specified by the ship AI, they found a multi-storeyed stone building rising out of dense vegetation. Circling above, they saw a small flat open space among the steeply sloping gables of the roof, not large enough to land the ship, but easily large enough to get down on to using their A.G. harnesses. K'pok gave the AI instructions to land in a safe area and to return on her command. Then, thanks to the GM forgetting that Jek didn't have an A.G. rig and that Kappo's had been blown up, they floated merrily down on to the roof-deck. Thank goodness for the GM's lousy memory.

06: To The Unpronounceable Planet

 Thanks to K'pok's superlative navigational skills, Our Heroes popped out of hyperspace right inside the Pantokrator system. As an added bonus, there was nothing solid in front of them when they appeared in realspace at a substantial fraction of the speed of light.

As expected, soon after exiting hyperspace they were hailed by an Imperial Navy cutter and ordered to come to a halt for a customs inspection. A gunboat came alongside and sent a shuttle to dock with the good ship Vulcan-ships-don't-have-names-stupid, and the customs team — two marines, a Naval officer, a TES officer and an unidentified civilian — came aboard. They immediately began a log scan and a physical search of the vessel. They were interested to know why Our Heroes had so many corpses stowed away in various places about the ship, but since corpses aren't strictly speaking contraband, it was purely a matter of curiosity. Kappo experienced some qualms about having a crate of explosives under his bunk, but apart from noting the fact of its existence the marines didn't give it a second thought.

K'pok registered their salvage claim on the Hzeel derelict now floating somewhere in hyperspace, and it was duly witnessed and date-stamped by the naval officer (Lieutenant Hendry Albert Wittleson III, as a matter of fact. Just thought you might like to know that).

Once the search was complete, the naval contingent left and the remaining two — the TES officer and the civilian — took Kappo aside on to the shuttle for a private discussion. The civilian identified himself as a local TIC field agent with orders for Kappo concerning a covert mission within this system. Kappo was ordered to land on the planet Ierisiou at specified coordinates, enter the remains of what had once been a TES monitoring station (originally thought to have been destroyed in the war between the two planets), and retrieve datacubes from the station archives. He would then rendezvous with a naval craft before proceeding on to one of the Pantokrator lagrange berths. There was a suggestion that the debilitating war of a century ago had been engineered; one theory was that the Thorgons were responsible (that, of course, being the default conspiracy theory), but more likely, and more useful for the Empire, was the possibility that the war had been purposefully engineered by the Pantokrator of the day, in which case the present government would be liable for some very, very heavy reparations (though to whom they would be paid was a matter left unsaid; most likely the money would go straight into the Imperial coffers). Having evidence of the case would provide a potent stick with which to keep the uppity Pantokrations in line, and it was hoped that the old datacubes would provide that evidence. The mission budget included provision for a fee for his civilian team-mates: 750 credits each per day (up to 3 days on-planet), plus the berthing fees for the V.S.D.H.N.S while our Intrepid Crew finished their own business on Pantokrator.

Kappo went back to the V.S.D.H.N.S and let the rest of the crew in on the secret; they shrugged collectively and said something about not having anything else to do that day anyway, and set about compiling lists of all the equipment they hoped to weasel out of the Navy arsenal. One thing which gave Jek some considerable satisfaction was getting hold of an XXXL environment suit, so that he could stay safe in the glowing ruins of Ierisiou without giving himself a permanent wedgie. Kappo got some more demolition charges, since you can never have too much high explosive, and everyone (except K'pok, who declined) was issued with ancient chemical-mechanical projectile assault rifles and pistols for reliable use in a hard radiation environment. They were given a quick familiarization course by the naval armourer, who failed to laugh at any of their jokes about muskets and blunderbusses. No sense of humour, these navy types. K'pok did ask for, and got, a riot foam sprayer sufficient to cover about 10 square metres in quick-setting immobilization foam. They also got an air raft, which they attached to the hull with magnetic grapples, and they were issued with 24 1-hour doses of RadPro to help stave off the hair loss and bleeding gums while they were in Ierisiou's glowing ruins.

Once fully briefed and supplied, K'pok lit the blue touchpaper and they blasted for Ierisiou orbit.

They decided to go the long way round, leaving the plane of the ecliptic and approaching Ierisiou from the shadow of the sun to minimize the chance that they might be observed by watchers on Pantokrator. A brief passive scan showed one small ship in orbit and another on the surface not far from their own planned insertion point; there was no way of telling who or what they were without a more active scan which would reveal their own presence, so they just crossed their fingers and started the landing cycle.

As they entered the outer atmosphere, the computer started making those "Whoooop! Whooooop! Warning! Collision alert! Collision in 12 seconds!" noises that always indicate something really bad is about to happen. Immediately everyone began scrambling desperately into their spacesuits, except for K'pok who called up the obstacle on the viewscreen — it proved to be a missile rising towards the V.S.D.H.N.S from the surface. K'pok immediately went into an evasive pattern,trying to use the anti-debris laser to shoot it down, but the missile kept on coming. Flying like crazy, K'pok managed to maintain separation and even landed a hit with the puny ship's laser, but its only effect was to trigger the warhead to flower into a dozen smaller warheads. The general consensus was that things had just got a lot worse. A momentary miscalculation by K'pok gave the pursuing missiles an opportunity to close the gap; our Brave Heroes shut their eyes and put their fingers in their ears as the missile swarm tore into the ship.... and bounced tumbling away off the outer shields. All except one failed to detonate, which was a very good thing, because the one which did detonate took down the shields, stripped away all the external sensor arrays, destroyed the navigation systems, life support systems and artificial gravity. It also pulverized the air raft on the hull, as well as blowing up a console next to Jek and showering him with sparks and bits of circuit boards.

There followed a full and frank exchange of views; some wanted to skedaddle back out into space and make repairs before risking a landing, others wanted to land as quickly as possible to avoid any more missiles. In the end, K'pok had the casting vote by virtue of being the one actually flying the ship, and she made straight for the surface. Having no sensors or navigational array any more, she had to navigate visually and dropped for a city chosen at random, hoping it was the right one. She flew low over it, hoping to stay low enough to avoid being a nice fat juicy target while staying high enough to see a reasonable amount of the city for comparison with the orbital photos. By a stupendously lucky chance, it turned out that they had found not only the right city, but even a right part of the right city! Spying an more or less open area, K'pok put the ship down into what must once have been a large park, now being reclaimed by the twisted mutant post-holocaust vegetation.

There was a brief moment of peace as everyone counted their arms and legs to make absolutely sure they weren't dead. Then there was a load "BONG!" on the hull. And another. And then some more. K'pok flicked on the viewscreen and panned around to see what was going on, and found a number of humanoid creatures milling around in the undergrowth and hurling things at the ship. Not just little things either; big things like boulders and big tree branches. Rather than risk going outside and being squashed with a rock, K'pok took off again and made for another open space, this time a square surrounded by the shells of buildings. She hovered briefly, checking to make sure that there was nobody in sight, and then settled the ship as far from any cover as she could manage.

Weptish immediately set about crawling around the bowels of the ship to find out what was broken and how to fix it, while everyone else pored over their orbital photos to find out where they were and how far they'd have to go to get to their objective. Not far, as it turned out; the position of the old monitoring station was only a couple of hundred metres from where they'd set down. Kappo set claymores around the ship, and left the detonator inside with Weptish — who took not a blind bit of notice, since he was utterly engrossed in his repair work. Leaving Weptish obliviously fixing things like crazy, they headed off into the ruins.

Moving through the desolate streets, they saw little moving except for the inevitable tumbleweeds (not ordinary tumbleweeds though — mutant tumbleweeds). At one point they startled something which looked like a mangy dachshund covered with sores and with a dozen superfluous legs dangling along its flanks; it ran off making a pathetic gurgling baying noise. Coming to an intersection, they stopped: scanning the surrounding buildings, Kappo briefly caught a glimpse of eyes and noses peering over a windowsill (one head, but plenty of eyes and noses) before it ducked back inside. From around the corner they heard footsteps hurrying away. Peering around, they saw a tall humanoid with a tiny torso and head running away down the street towards a crowd of thirty or forty mutants, all gathered around the intersection of the corner where the old TES station was supposed to be located.

Taking the bit between their teeth, the bull by the horns, and the bouncer by the testicles, they turned on their force fields and began to walk down the street towards the gathered multitude who immediately raised an outcry and began shaking their fists and shouting incomprehensible imprecations. There was a shot from someone in the crowd which went ricocheting down the street, though it didn't come close to hitting any of the Good Guys. Kappo went into Calming And Pacification Mode and emptied a clip over their heads — they immediately scattered to cover, and a desultory fusillade of shots came back, one of which hit Jek, knocking him arse over kite. Kappo tried to change his mag on the run and dropped it in the road; he stopped for it and was hit by a human body which came hurtling out of one of the old store-fronts, knocking him down. He saw a movement in the dimness and let rip, virtually cutting the unfortunate mannequin-thrower in half and spraying blood and gore all through the old shop.

The team ran towards their objective, and more shots began to come from the mutants; poor old Jek was hit again and was knocked senseless. Meanwhile, Kappo went into full MyLai mode, and laid waste left and right. He poured fire into an upstairs window where someone was wrestling an oil-soaked mattress over the sill; the mutie was flung back inside, but the burning mattress fell out into the street just in front of the doors of the station, sending up a plume of choking black smoke.

About then the doors were pulled open — Kappo and K'pok got a brief view of what looked like a huge dustbin pointed right at them, with a sputtering fuse on top. They flung themselves to the side as the home-made bombard blew, showering the street with a shrapnel of old cutlery, nuts and bolts. Alas, Jek failed to spot the danger and just as he was staggering to his feet he was caught in the blast and flung back unconscious again, his shield down and his environment suit torn open.

K'pok charged in through the dense smoke which now completely filled the station lobby, spraying riot foam ahead of herself. Kappo continued the work of massacre, and a lengthy period of hand-to-hand combat ensued. Jek eventually woke up again, and staggered into the lobby a little unsteady on his feet, but gamely ready to rejoin the fray. All was going swimmingly well, from a blood-soaked slaughter-of-minions point of view, when the muties disengaged and drew back. The reason became apparent when, from outside the building, two mutants approached: one huge, muscular and horn-covered, the other eyeless, scrawny and with a nastily-pulsing exposed brain throbbing beneath a slimy membrane. Kappo immediately shrieked as his brain was crushed telepathically; once more and and he dropped unconscious to the ground. It was Jek's turn next (but he was getting used to being unconscious by then) — as he dropped he managed to blurt out "not.... brain... guy...ugh!", but it was too late for K'pok to do anything about it. Her brain was next to be squeezed into pulp, metaphorically speaking, but her Vulcan mental training kept her upright briefly. It was surely only a matter of time before K'pok would succumb like the other two, but then the mutie mentalist suffered a powerful brain fart, his eyes rolled up and he dropped to the ground unconscious, having squished his own cerebral cortex. The little eyeless one threw himself onto the inert body, pawing at it and mewing pathetically.

K'pok fought off the now demoralized remainder of the mutant crowd, giving Kappo and Jek time to recover. They groaned their way to consciousness, took up their assault rifles and cold-bloodedly emptied them into the helpless unconscious mutant and his pathetically sobbing lover. The rest of the mutants fled just as fast as their various numbers of limbs could carry them, leaving the bulk of their fellows blood-sodden hulks lying in the street, more sad victims of the cruelty and brutality of the normals.