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Cat's Feet or Catspaw?

By Charles E. Gannon


WHY US?

Where: Orbital Port Complex, King

What: Job offer for participation in Operation Back Door


The characters are relaxing in one of the less-expensive lounges in High Hopes City, the local name for King's orbital port complex. The primary structure --a column of torus-stations, each of which is just under 2 kilometers in diameter-- rotates slowly, producing the equivalent of slightly more than 1 G. Down below, the angry surface of King rotates into and then out of view about once every minute. The conversation --as always-- centers around the next job, which has yet to materialize.

As if on cue, an ASF (American Space Forces) officer enters the lounge and asks the players to accompany him. If the players express trepidation or wish to see some credentials (a prudent precaution), the young officer will produce suitable identification. A character with a background in either the American or Australian Space forces will note that the officer has an unusually high security clearance rating. After displaying his credentials (which assert that the officer's name is Lt. Commander `John Smith'), the officer will politely but firmly reiterate his request that the players accompany him.

The officer --who declines to explain anything further-- proceeds to take the group to a transport bay, where they will board a navy shuttle. `Smith' tells them that the shuttle will carry them to a meeting with a high-ranking naval officer and then departs.

The players will be the only passengers on the shuttle, which ferries them out to the ASF base on King's moon, Abernathy. Once here, they will be thoroughly checked for weapons, bugs, and cyberimplants. Any character with cyberware will be excluded from the meeting that follows; one can never really be sure what else might be hidden in that bionic hand . . .

After a brief wait, the characters will be ushered past a number of security checkpoints to meet with a man who introduces himself as Commodore Shamus Larkin. In actuality, this man is the AIA Deputy Director in charge of security for Operation Back Door. However, he --and his agents-- are posing as naval security specialists in order to prevent giving the operation a `high importance' intelligence profile by overtly admitting that the AIA is involved.

Larkin (a description can be found at the end of this section) will apologize for the mysterious summons and express genuine appreciation for the characters willingness to comply. He will then call in an adjutant and explain that he would like to ask the characters a few questions. They can of course decline to cooperate, but Larkin will gently point out that keeping this discussion informal is probably better for everyone in the long run. Besides, this interview could lead to an interesting business proposition for the characters.

If the characters are still unwilling to cooperate, Larking will appeal to their sense of humanocentricism (or Kaferphobia; whichever perspective seems to work better) by describing the issue at hand as vital to the interests --and conceivably, survival-- of homo sapiens. If this does not do the trick, Larkin will suggest that cooperation would be patriotic. If this doesn't bring the characters around, Larkin will pull out documents authorizing him to immediately reinstate any reservists/veterans of the military forces of the Alderhorst Alliance nations (America, Australia, Germany). If forced to, he will temporarily reinstate any characters who fall into this category and, if necessary, order them to cooperate under threat of courts martial. Note however that Larkin will use this ONLY as the very last resort; he not only would like to maintain an amicable relationship with the characters, but doesn't like twisting people's arms.

Larkin will begin asking some rather odd questions about a recent interstellar journey undertaken by the characters. (The referee should pick an appropriate trip from the character's itinerary from early-mid 2302 as being the trip in question.) His questions will start out as almost laughably mundane: how was the trip? Any mishaps during transit? Was the food okay?

Then the questions get a little more interesting: did any of the players make any new friends during the journey? Any new romantic involvements? Any trouble with ship's stewards or crew? Any unusual events? Any missing luggage?

Despite this apparently wandering line of inquiry, Larkin is actually trying to determine if the characters are hiding anything. However, once he has determined that the group is truly bewildered by these questions, Larkin will `cut to the chase;' had any of the characters ever had reason to check their stowed luggage while in transit? If not, had any one of them mysteriously `found' a crystalline object just prior to or after their journey?

Since the answers to all these questions should be `no,' Larkin will feel assured that the group was not involved in the smuggling of the alien crystal artifact, which had been briefly hidden in their luggage by the black marketeers. Larkin will thank the characters for their cooperation and offer them the hospitality of the base; food, drink, and a more informal chat in the private lounge adjoining his office.

 

Rules for  fuel purification in 2300 AD:

As players (and referees) of both 2300 AD and STAR CRUISER may be aware, there is a discrepancy between the two rules sets insofar as the ratings and requirements of fuel purification systems are concerned. In order to resolve this, we suggest the following rule as a good compromise between the two.

As per 2300 AD, each fuel cracking plant requires 1 solar array to power it, not the 10 solar arrays required by STAR CRUISER. Also, each purifier produces 1 ton of fuel every 8 hours, not every 10 hours (which is what is the rate delineated by STAR CRUISER). This produces a weekly output from a single, continuously operating plant of 21 tons of fuel (an even three per day), which falls fairly close to the 23 tons per week listed in 2300 AD. However, when making mass and volume allowances for the purification plant, be sure to add on the volume and weight of the solar array separately.

 

Angle of illumination

The angle of illumination is the angle formed by the incidence of the line intersecting the centers of both the planet and its stellar parent, and the line that intersects both the planetary center and the edge of that stellar disk. The more shallow the angle of illumination, the less planetary surface area is illuminated. Regardless of the mathematics involved, you can imagine the effect in the following fashion. Assume you're holding a tennis ball (the planet) 1 inch away from a very cohesive penlight beam. A small bright circle will be projected onto the tennis ball, surrounded by a halo that gradually fades into blackness. This would represent a VERY shallow angle of illumination. Now replace the penlight with a car's headlight (still only 1 inch away from the tennis ball). In this case, not only is the light on the tennis ball brighter, but some of it reaches the `back half' of the sphere. This represents a very wide angle of illumination.


Erie

Planet code: DM +5 3409 II Planet name: Erie Core: Rocky Diameter: 11,023 km Circumference: 34,630 km Density: .9 Mass: .59 Gravity: .781 G's Escape Velocity: 8.74 m/s Atmosphere: Dense, with a pressure of .9012 Oxygen Pressure: .144 Hydrographics: 42% (38% is locked in Coldside glacial masses) Rotational Period: planet is tidally locked

 

Playing the NPC Team-members:

The referee should pay close attention to how these NPCs are presented. The player attitudes toward these NPC team-mates may have profound impacts of the course of the adventure. It is important to read their dossiers fully before introducing them to the players; several of them have motivations quite different from those they profess. However, the referee should be able to drop subtle clues into each NPC's conversation and behavior that will make the players wonder about their actual intentions.

 

 

Icebreaker:

Cyberslang for a handsized `expert system' that can be hooked up to a simple computer to assist with the cracking of any security codes that might be protecting the system. In essence, icebreakers are very sophisticated random number generators combined with an expert system that uses `safecracking' logic to defeat multi-part locks. Icebreakers are generally used to overcome simple combination locks, codeword restrictions, etc. When using an icebreaker to assist with such a task, decrease the difficulty of that task by one level. Price: Lv250 and up Mass: .75 kg and up

 

Secure Recorders:

Secure recorders are often left behind by vessels which fear imminent destruction and/or an enemy on their tail who wants to prevent them from making a report on what they have seen. Secure recorders incorporate a low-power, high-sensitivity, radio receiver that searches for a `key-code' of radio emissions. The code `units' are defined by frequency and duration of signal. When the recorder receives the correct sequence of transmissions, it activates a broad-band transponder. This guides friendly forces to the recorder, and its data tapes.

  Larkin is hoping that the characters will not be able to resist asking some questions of their own about what it was that Larkin was --and obviously, still is-- looking for. If the players are too dazed --or too cagey-- to take the bait, then Larkin will dangle it in front of them once again by remarking that he wished the characters HAD come across the crystal object, because his information clearly showed that it had been smuggled into their luggage during the interstellar journey in question. Clearly, someone had used them as unwitting couriers for contraband.

If this STILL doesn't draw the players in a little deeper (--you might check their pulse, while you're at it--), Larkin will remark that in looking over the groups' dossiers, he had occasion to note their credentials --credentials which make them excellent candidates for an upcoming job that Larking is currently hiring for. And that job just happens to involve the crystal object he has mentioned.

If the characters express interest, Larkin will inform them that if he continues to divulge information, the players will either have to agree to lead the mission he's outfitting, or remain in protective naval custody for a couple of months in order to ensure the continued confidentiality of the mission. Larkin will also mention that part of the pay for leading the mission would be the title of the ship they'd be using to conduct it. Hopefully, the characters are now fully committed to hear the rest of what Larkin has to say.

Larkin will go on to tell the group about the crystal and how it is a 3-D space map that indicates the location of a brown dwarf star permitting access to Kafer space via the American Arm. He will also reveal that this substellar object --BD -111 094307-- was recently discovered independently by an Australian astronomer working in conjunction with the AAEC's Inter-System Baseline Interferometry Program. Although that discovery would normally have been treated as unconfirmed, the alien artifact provides the equivalent of proof positive that `Back Door' actually exists.

Next, he will tell them about the discoveries having to do with the `mystery race,' and how the Kafers may in some way be dependent upon this probably enslaved species. Larkin points out the need to explore the usability of the `Back Door' into Kafer space and the strategic potentials of the `mystery race' --who might be interested in an alliance with humanity. This, he explains, led America, Australia, and Germany to decide that a joint operation was in order, codenamed `Back Door.'

The mission's objectives are really quite simple; trailblaze the path into Kafer space, take a quick look, and then come back to report. If asked why the armed forces of these nations aren't conducting the operation, Larkin will explain that the militaries of the three involved countries are still mostly unaware of Operation Back Door. By using civilian operatives (i.e.; the characters) and non-military vessels, the navy (actually, the AIA) hopes to keep the operation as `sanitary' as possible.

The mission's profile is as simple as its objectives. First, naval transit to DM+5 3409, where the group will meet with the other members of the mission team and get acquainted with the vessel they've been assigned. Next, the entire team will travel to DM -4 4225, using a stutterwarp tug assist to cross the 8.286 light-year distance. At this point, they will be refueled by naval elements already in that system and then continue on to L -989-20, where it is advised that they refuel themselves using native materials such as Jovian hydrogen or comets. The next stop is then `Back Door' itself, lying at xyz stellar coordinates -9.0, -43.4, -7.0. The team will deploy a variety of orbital sensors, cache a recording of the entirety of the mission log at that point, and once again conduct frontier refueling. The last stop on the trip will be a cautious step into what may very well be Kafer space; system SS 27 6854. Here, the team is simply to look around `to the degree that it seems prudent.' They will then retrace their steps back to system DM -4 3409, where they will be debriefed during a precautionary quarantine.

Larkin points out that the team has a lot of latitude within these objectives and procedures. For instance, if things in system SS -27 6854 look interesting --particularly if there might be a possibility to gather data on the `mystery race'-- then the team can opt to stay on site and continue their reconaissance. While it will not be essential to refuel at every system, Larkin strongly recommends it. Frontier refueling takes quite a bit of time, and if the team bumps into some unfriendlies, it will help to have already-full tanks.

Larkin will be completely honest about the potential dangers of the mission; exploring unvisited systems, the possibility (a VERY long shot, but a possibility nonetheless) that the discovery of `Back Door' is an error, and the possibility of bumping into Kafers when entering their space. He will also point out that due to the confidential nature of what they'll be doing and seeing, the characters will have to remain `on ice' for up to six months after their mission; enough time for their discoveries to be analyzed and declassified. And he will also be quite frank regarding how lucrative the payoff he's offering them is; a fast hull, good cash (Lv 10,000 per person), and plenty of fame (2-3 renown points) for all --once the operation and its results are declassified.

Once the characters accept the offer, Larkin will be able to provide clearances for any `questionable' or `restricted' equipment that they might have (and wish to take along). He will also be able to fill any reasonable equipment requests, although no heavy combat gear is deemed necessary. As soon as they're ready, Larkin will usher the group directly to a courier that just `happens' to be waiting to depart for system DM +5 3409. Larkin suggests that the characters visit the main world --Erie-- briefly and take a quick look at the xenoarcheological site where the crystal artifact was found; it might provide them with clues that they can use later. After wishing the group a safe trip, he willinform them that courier that they are about to board will eventually be listed as `missing' during transit between systems. This will ensure that any long-term absence by the group has a plausible explanation. What Larkin will not tell the group is that this gives the AIA final jurisdiction over any investigation intoo their disappearance, thereby hermetically sealing the operation against outside inquiries.

The courier lifts away from the ASF complex on Abernathy. Someone checks their watch; 4 hours and 32 minutes ago, everyone was sitting in the lounge in High Hopes City, wondering if they'd ever find another job. Now they have a job --and are beginning to wonder if they'll ever return from it.

SUGGESTIONS TO THE REFEREE

The conversation between Larkin and the characters has been presented in considerable detail; this is quite intentional. Shamus Larkin will appear again (this time in his real role as an AIA Deputy Director) in the third episode of OPERATION BACK DOOR. His behavior and interaction with the characters in this first section will shape player attitudes toward him when they encounter him again in the final episode. Ideally, the players should come away from the meeting with Larkin feeling that they like the man, that he seems honest, but that --for some reason-- he doesn't seem to act like a military type. A little too cagey, and at the same time, a little too informal. He should be something of a question mark insofar as the characters are concerned.

About Shamus Larkin

Shamus Larkin is an Elite NPC. He is a Deputy Director in the American Intelligence Agency (which will be covered in depth in the third episode of this adventure). Larkin is 52, in fine shape, and one of the keenest minds in the American intelligence community.

As overseer of security for Operation Back Door, Larkin's powers are unusually broad. Along with his direct superiors in the AIA and the American Space Forces (as well as their counterparts in the German and Australian services), Larkin is one of the less than 50 people who are aware of all the details of the mission.

It was Larkin's suggestion to recruit the characters as the leaders for Operation Back Door. This selection was motivated by several factors. First, although it appeared that the smugglers who had stolen the alien crystal artifact `planted' it in the player's luggage, the AIA could not be sure that the group was innocent until they were brought in for questioning.

However, once the group was questioned, they constituted a breach of security. For instance, had the players declined participation in the operation itself, Larkin could only hope that they wouldn't wander into some spaceport bar and casually comment: "Gee, some navy guys just spent 5 hours asking me questions about some silly alien artifact that I've never even laid eyes on!" If intelligence operatives from other nations overheard such a clue, they'd be sure to follow it up.

However, Larkin saw an opportunity to turn the necessary vice of involving the characters into an operational virtue. Since the mere act of questioning the PCs made them security risks, Larkin suggested that they be brought all the way into the operation. Given the characters' skills and history, they were as good a group as any to put in charge of Operation Back Door.

There is one major fact that Larkin has not revealed to the characters; one of the NPC crew that they'll be in command of is actually an undercover AIA agent. This individual --Morgan Lindstrom-- is not on the mission to control, manipulate, or spy upon the players. His primary task is to make sure that no one does anything excessively stupid --and to make sure that the essential scientific personnel on the mission survive to conduct their studies and make their reports.


 ALL ABOARD

Where: Erie, system DM +5 3409

What: seeing the sights, the ship, and the rest of the crew

The courier travels from King to the outer edge of the Dm +5 3409 system where it makes rendesvous with what would appear to be (and it ONLY appears to be) a tramp trader. the courier offloads the characters and angles off for points unknown. The trader begins a 10-hour in-system trip to the main world of Erie.

The crew of the trader seems to be determined not to disturb --or even unnecessarily communicate with-- the characters. If interested, the group can call up a variety of system statistics on a small passenger workstation. Such a search will reveal the following information, albeit without the accompanying prose. Present the players with numerical data; save prose descriptions for when they actually see/land on a given object.

DM +5 3409 A (-4.5, -31.5, 3.1)

Stellar Type: M1 V Absolute Magnitude: 9.36 Radius: .521 Mass: .465 Luminosity: .028 Temp. in Degrees K: 3430 Number of Orbits: 6

Data for Companion, DM +5 3409 B (perihelion: 3.2 AU)

Stellar Type: M0 V Absolute Magnitude: 14 Radius: .48 Mass: .48 Luminosity: .00021 Temp. in Degrees K: 3500 Number of Orbits: 2 

Planetary Data (planets of the companion star are annotated with orbit number suffix `b')

(r)TS20,45,60

Orbit,AU World & Core Type Diameter Density

1, .102 Very Hot Rock, Rocky 1998 1.3

2, .173 Garden, Rocky 11,023 .9

3, .272 Gas Giant, Icy 32,101 .6

4, .353 Empty

5, .544 Failed Core, Rocky 5,939 .9

6, 1.08 Failed Core, Icy 9,132 .3

1b, .523 Failed Core, Rocky 12,899 .9

2b, .951 Ice Ball, Icy 3,201 .2

 

SYSTEM OVERVIEW

A binary system that is clearly showing its age, DM +5 3409 was a pleasant surprise to early explorers who found a marginal garden world and a several planets with excellent mining potential. The low luminosity and magnitude of the companion made it an interesting object for astrophysicists dedicated to the study of fading stars. The companion is quite stable, and there is no discernible increased risk of novae despite its unusual nature.

PLANETARY OVERVIEW

The system's tidally-locked main world is known as Erie, owing to the canal-like body of water that encircles the world and lies just beyond the day/night terminator. While many early news reports were fond of drawing comparisons between Erie and Aurore (another tidally-locked world with a habitable band in the Eta Bootis system), there are a number of important distinctions.

Erie, not being locked to a nearby brown dwarf and lacking any natural satellites, is geologically quiescent. It also does not evince any appreciable tidal activity. This tends to make the entire environment run at a somewhat `slower' pace. The glaciers that mark the boundaries of Erie's `Coldside' are not weakened by constant tidal and gravitic/tectonic stresses. Consequently, they melt and calve at a much slower, steadier rate.

Erie's temperate band is also much narrower than that enjoyed by Aurore, owing to the shallower angle of illumination received from its primary. The low intensity red spectrum light produces an average temperature of approximately 11 C in this 550 kilometer-wide habitable strip. (See Sidebar)

Erie's pole-to-pole temperate ring is protected on the `Hotside' by a natural `dike' of mountains and cooled magma. These terrain features are the result of the tectonic activity of the Hotside, which occasionally results in volcanoes and lava flows. Masses of advancing magma cool as they cross into the temperate zone, creating a natural barrier over the eons.

Another unique feature of Erie's environment is the almost clockwork regularity of its meteorological phenomenon. Without any appreciable radiation exposure on its Coldside and a constant superheating of the atmosphere on its Hotside, Erie routinely generates hot, dry wind storms between these high and low pressure extremes. These cyclonic blasts roar over the temperate or `Canal' zone at better than 200 km per hour, although usually at considerable altitude. They sweep any evaporated water into the heart of the Coldside, where it condenses and falls as either rain or snow. However, these frequent storms fill the Coldside with small fading weatherfronts heading in all different directions. When enough of these effects accumulate (about once every 20 local days), the Coldside begins generating tornadoes. Often of titanic size and destructiveness, these twisters will occassionally `jump down' from the glacial wall that marks the edge of the Coldside. However, these `jumps' usually carry the tornadoes several dozen kilometers. Consequently, prime settlement areas are just beneath the shoulders of the glaciers, particularly where such locations are also proximal to the `Erie canal.'

The local flora and fauna is extensive but fairly simple in structure. Lichens and mosses predominate, as well as low growing creepers and weeds. Animals also exhibit an evolutionary predisposition to adapt to the windstorms of Erie, most of them being ground hugging insects, ophidoids, and burrowing mammals.

HISTORY

Erie has been the site of archeological interest since 2249, when an AAEC (Australian-American Exploratory Council) survey team discovered some scattered subterranean ruins near the heart of the `Canalzone.' Despite a high degree of engineering skill and the use of advanced construction techniques and materials, the layout of the ruins suggested that the precepts of urban planning had been completely ignored. The structures were scattered around in an almost haphazard fashion, and there was no evidence of an in-ground or above ground network for community-shared power distribution, communication exchanges, or waste-removal facilities. Furthermore, although archeologists are still unsure, their general assessment is that none of the buildings were designed for habitation. Research into these mysteries continues.

The first settlers arrived on Erie late in 2291, establishing themselves along the glacial wall, particularly in narrow valleys, glens, and any other areas which had a topographic tendency to generate tornado-repelling updrafts. As of late 2302, the colonists are grouped into two main areas of roughly 1000 population each. Automated agriculture has allowed them to show a net return after the first generation of settlement, and they are proud of the small but complete power grid that they have established throughout each inhabited region. There is regular and friendly contact between the NARL research personnel and the locals.

Probably the only other planet of note in the system is planet 1b (orbiting the secondary star). Known to the natives as Coldseas, this planet has an equator that boasts occasional shirtsleeves temperatures and an atmosphere with .05662 oxygen pressure. With compression and filtration aparatus, it is breathable. The majority of the planet is dominated by a mottled mixture of rock outcroppings and slush. The `slush' is predominantly composed of water in the zones closest to the equator, with liquid carbon dioxide becoming more prevalent at the higher latitudes. This generally uninviting environment was an ideal spot for the AIA to establish its primary overwatch base for the various activities involved with OPERATION BACK DOOR. Lying well off any commonly-travelled routes and offering a number of welcome `live-off-the-land' resources (oxygen, water, acceptable temperatures, and appropriate gravity), Coldseas was invested with a sizable AIA base and a number of logistical cachement sites. These resources support the `bootstrap' (tug) phase of all traffic bound for system Dm -4 4225.

The characters will be dropped off at the small orbital complex above Erie after being given a packet of instructions by the crew of the trader, instructing the group to proceed planetside as quickly as possible.

Upon arriving on Erie, the group will be met by a young naval attache by the name of Gloria Antonetti. Attractive and unpretentious, Ensign Antonetti (she's REAL navy, not AIA) smilingly confesses that she has the dual responsibilities of being the group's guide and chaperone while they're on Erie and invites them to accompany her to their first destination; the xenoarcheological preserve.

Arriving there after a two-hour hovercraft journey, the characters will be introduced to the project head, Dr. Leon Wilkes. Wilkes will be all too glad to take the players on the `cook's tour' of the site; he seldom has visitors who show much interest in his work.

However, if the characters take the time to feel Wilkes out a bit, he will reveal that a number of government-types have been here recently, asking a lot of unusual questions. Most of those questions focused on the reasons why the NARL contends that the vanished aliens were not native to Erie. The rest of the queries were of a more hypothetical nature, such as; given the probable physiology of the aliens, what sort of environment would they have originated in? Wilkes is unsure what branch of the government the individuals were from, since their credentials were from some inter-bureau task force.

In fact, the governmnet personnel Wilkes was helping were undercover AIA operatives. However, the players are free to draw their own conclusions. Wilkes will point out that he thought the entire inquiry a bit odd, since he sends regular reports to the NARL, which freely distributes all that information to every sector of the government which expresses even the faintest bit of interest in it.

The ruins themselves will not reveal much to the players. As previously described, they are very fragmentary. As indicated in the data section on the planet, the only truly notable attribute of the remains are their haphazard placement. None of the post-industrial human tendencies toward architechturally symetric designs are present.

During this outing, the referee can throw in some of Erie's local color --which might include a display of some of its more interesting (and daunting) meteorological effects. If desired, a brief encounter with some of the local fauna (more pesky than dangerous) could be added.

After their visit to the archeological site, Ensign Antonetti will escort the group back toward Champlain, the `capitol' of Erie. A quick detour just before they get into town will bring them to a small landing field. Antonetti will take this opportunity to let the characters get acquainted with their ship; a Merkur IIb named Cat's Feet.

The referee is recommended to give the players full access to the data on the Merkur IIb that is contained the the TECHNICAL ANNEX at the end of this episode. In addition to the specifications listed there, the Cat's Feet is already loaded with 3 SIM-14 missiles, extra provisions, and a number of automated sensor packages that the team is to drop off at sites of interest. There is also a wide array of scientific material for sample-taking and analysis, as well as boxes of spare parts for various ship's systems. Antonetti will inform the group that any special equipment requests they might have made earlier will be onloaded when they rendesvous with the tug that will take them outsystem.

The referee is to determine what material has been requested by the NPC team members. Such requests should be minimal.

There is `room' on the mission for up to six player characters. Given the slots filled by the NPC's, the open positions are: Captain (1, single shift), Engineer (1), Communications Officer (1), Pilot/Navigator (1), Helmsman (1), Gunner/Remote Operator (1, single shift). Those positions noted as being `single shift' indicate that there is no room to carry a `second shift' crewman to man this position when the assigned character is not on duty. This means that during `off-shift' hours, the bridge is without a captain or a gunner. This means that the Cat's Feet should play it REAL safe during its `off shift.'

In the likely event that there are fewer than six player characters, simply generate more NPCs for inclusion in the crew. The NPCs must be of Australian, German, or American background. Another problem may be that the PC's have skills that needlessly duplicate the primary mission skills of one or more NPCs. In such a situation, simply change an NPC's redundant mission skill to whichever mission skill is currently lacking.

After their tour of the ship, Ensign Antonetti will drive the group back to Erie's miniscule `capitol.' Champlain has just recently exceeded a population of 400 persons and is the 24th Century equivalent of a frontier town. Imported high-tech machinery is found alongside local items of crude manufacture --but often ingenious design. There is one inn/saloon/hotel/roadhouse in Champlain --the Riverman-- which is known for good food, watered drinks, and congenial company. As the players enter --just as dusk is approaching-- it seems that the Riverman is quiet `tonight,' judging from its silence and the lack of customers. Antonetti will guide the characters upstairs quickly, show them to their rooms, and then escort them to a large lounge on the upper floor, where the rest of the team for Operation Back Door is waiting.


Helen Asweath, the Australian astronomer who discovered Back Door, comes across as a somewhat shy person who seems ill-at-ease with so many people. Any of the characters who have exploration or astronomy backgrounds will know her name instantly; Helen is a famous author and lecturer on her topic. Indeed, if the conversation gets around to Back Door --or anything related to stellar objects-- Helen will immediately brighten, her animation and enthusiasm suddenly overcoming her reclusive demeanor.

Morgan Lindstrom, an American drive specialist (actually, an AIA undercover operative) will introduce himself with a handshake and a broad, good-natured smile. Lindstrom is as outgoing as Helen is introverted; he'll express a polite interest in the characters and their backgrounds. If asked about himself, he will reveal that he started out with a naval commission, but left it after his first hitch was up, preferring the freer lifestyle aboard commercial vessels.

Franchot Dumaine, a French xenosapientologist, handles introductions with reserved charm. He is affable in a quiet way and will be eager to learn if any of the characters have any skills in life sciences. Finding such a common interest, he will immediately tend to gravitate toward the character(s) possessing them. He expresses the hope that they will encounter some sign of the `mystery race' during their mission.

Hannelore Spitzmacher and Carson Murrough are both recently retired naval drive specialists from the German and Australian navies respectively. `Hannah' is direct and no-nonsense, but is otherwise pleasant to be around. Carson --who is clearly very attached to Hannah-- seems to be her opposite; easygoing and soft-spoken.

The conversation will continue over dinner, but soon thereafter, Helen will excuse herself, claiming what seems to be genuine fatigue. The rest of the gathering will break up pretty quickly after that. Which is just as well, Morgan observes; getting a good night's rest is a good idea before beginning a dangerous mission.

 

SUGGESTIONS TO THE REFEREE:

It is crucial to this adventure that the NPCs be played actively and with constant attention to their actual motivations. The players should NOT be given access to their full dossiers, which would ruin some of the surprises upcoming in the second and third episodes.

In effect, Lindstrom is the characters' undercover `ally' and Dumaine their undercover `enemy,' although circumstances may definitely make the inverse appear true at some points in the adventure (wherein lies half the fun!).

If the NPCs are not given distinct personalities and a substantial presence in the adventure, much of the enjoyment of OPERATION BACK DOOR will be lost. If the referee finds that he/she cannot portray all five NPC's thoroughly, the two engineers (Hannah and Carson) can be relegated to the role of `supporting cast' without damaging the essential drama of the adventure.


 WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM YOUR FRIENDS

Where: en route to and in system DM -4 4225

What: witnessing the interstellar tug assist, refueling

Early the next day, the entire team will be awakened by Ensign Antonetti who informs them that liftoff is to be effected before 0700 hours Terran (GMT is the only meaningful method of time measurement for the inhabitants of a tidally-locked world). Before leaving, she hands them a packet containing communication codewords and all known data on the different systems they are about to enter. Beyond their next destination (DM -4 4225) that data amounts to broad hypotheses, guesswork, and academic doubletalk --which all boils down to, `we haven't got a clue.' In accordance with the enclosed instructions, the group will take the Cat's Feet into the outer system, where they will wait for a rendesvous with an uspecified ship.

And wait they do. Four hours go by before a Hudson-class transport shows up. Communication is audio only, and all references are by the code-words provided via Antonelli's packet.

The Hudson-class is unmarked, not running a transponder or navigation radar --and begins to come VERY close. As the freighter continues to approach, its massive cargo bay doors swing wide, giving the characters a sudden sensation of being eaten alive by a cavernous black maw. Dumaine mutters a wry comment about feeling like Jonah meeting the whale.

The Cat's Feet is literally swallowed into the cargo bay, which the players will note has been substantially modified. Massive robotic manipulators clamp on to the Merkur IIb courier and maneuver it toward something that looks like a huge harness. Any character with a background in fighter operations will recognize it as an `overgrown' version of the external slings that some fighters use to carry missiles. This sling however, is large enough for the Cat's Feet. An adjacent, larger structure becomes visible as the bay's internal working lights come on. This is an even more gargantuan sling, with a (comparatively) enormous ship in it. Hannah, Carson, and (feigning a bit of uncertainty at first) Morgan will be able to identify it as a German Sachsen-class frigate. (Any player with a naval background would also be able to identify it). An Iron-Cross marking is clearly visible on the side of its boxy but lethal-looking hull.

During the next three days of travel, attempts to communicate with the crew of the Hudson-class freighter will be discouraged in a cordial fashion. Requests to leave the Cat's Feet will be politely refused and the bay is kept in vacuum. Any attempts to communicate with the frigate will be fruitless; no response.

At the end of the three days, the bay doors will once again swing wide, revealing the twinkling panorama of deep space. The huge robotic manipulators --Carson has identified them as the new American `Centiherc' design (the first automated cargo handler that can also be used to launch bay vessels)-- once again take hold of the players' courier and swing it out into space. The taciturn communications officer on board the unmarked Hudson wishes them well and recommends immediate transit to their destination. If the players can't take the hint and inist on asking if the frigate is heading to the same destination, the commo officer will politely but tersely tell them that they really don't need to know that and should proceed toward their destination without further delay. Carson will remark that everybody out here seems to enjoy what he calls the `Dr. Mysterioso act.' With a chuckle, he heads aft towards the drive compartment.

The characters have about 6 light years left to travel, after which they will arrive in system DM -4 4225, where they encounter PLENTY of traffic. Not bad for a system that can only be reached by tugs.

Hanging silent in space some 20 AU out is a massive vessel (over 40,000 tons at present) that Dumaine and eventually Spitzmacher will be able to identify as an old Metal-class modular freighter. The presence of this ancient French design earns a raised eyebrow from Dumaine and a respectful whistle from Morgan, who notes that this vessel, like the Hudson-class, is unmarked and is not running any transponder or navigation beam. Attempts at communication will meet with silence, punctuated only by the background static of cosmic rays.

As the Cat's Feet moves deeper in-system, the characters may be interested in some of the system data, (and may swing by some of the objects), which appear below.

 

DM -4 4225 (-8.9, -34.6, -3.2)

Stellar Type: K5 V Absolute Magnitude: 7.53 Radius: .59 Mass: .71 Luminosity: .08 Temp. in Degrees K: 4100 Number of Orbits: 8 (however, the outer 3 are occupied by dust and rubble only)

Note: star DM -4 4226 shares identical coordinates with DM -4 4225, but is not a binary companion. It is at a distance of 9300 AU.

 

Planetary Data

(r)TS20,45,60

Orbit & World & Core Type Diameter Density

AU

 

1, .101 Hot House, Rocky 13,011 1.0

2, .132 Gas Giant, Rocky 72,551 * 1.0 *

3, .247 `Cool Garden', Rocky 12,044 1.0

4, .494 Failed Core, Icy 25,327 .1

5, .798 Failed Core, Icy 14,101 .3

6-8 Dust and rubble n/a n/a

* This gas giant's initial diameter was approximately 18,000, but was doubled twice, according to the `snowballing rule.' The listed density would therefore only apply to the world's CORE.

 

SYSTEM OVERVIEW

Astrophysicists have long been eager to journey to this system in order to study the interactions of DM -4 4225 and DM -4 4226 which are not a binary pair despite their proximity (9300 AU). The first mission --intended to scout the area before a final commitment was made to the stutterwarp tug operations-- discovered that the outer three orbits of DM -4 4225 have been either disrupted or pulverized. This sure to galvanize academic interest in this system, which may hold clues as to how binaries may either break apart, or what happens when two separate stars pass close to each other.

 

PLANETARY OVERVIEW

Regardless of the astrophysical fascination that DM -4 4225 will generate, it is sure to take a back seat to the keen political interest in the system. Not only has DM -4 4225 recently emerged as a possible gateway to the Back Door into Kafer space, but it has revealed itself to be the answer to American and Australian colonization dreams. The world at orbit three --tentatively dubbed Ploughshare by the Yank-Aussie crews of the ships in system-- is the find that both nations have hoped for on the American Arm. Despite Ploughshare's partial (32% overall) glaciation, the rest of the planet is one of the ripest colonial plums yet discovered by humanity. Gravity is almost earth normal. The equator-following temperate band offers a climatological range reminiscient of Maine to Georgia. 38 % of the 68% unglaciated surface is water, producting a land:ocean ratio of almost 1:1. The planet evinces luxuriant growth and a wide variety of animal life --none of which seems to contain any viruses or bacteria that would be especially lethal to terrestrial biots. In short, the discovery of Ploughshare represents a major upswing in Australian-American colonization potential and portends intensified interest in this area of space --despite `tug-only' access.

HISTORY

The only drawback to finding Ploughshare is that both the Australian and American leaders who are now aware of the garden planet are eager to initiate pre-colonization studies. But due to the confidential nature of the forces in the DM -4 4225 system, and their relationship to Operation Back Door, these nations are being forced to sit on their hands. However, the Integrated Command Staff of the Alderhorst Alliance knows that despite the solid commitment of the American and Australian governments to the secrecy concealing these military initiatives, there is now a major economic motivation to resolve those initiatives quickly in order to get on with more profitable colonizing ventures.

 

Helen Asweath will quickly become immersed in the scientific details of the system, taking gravometric readings and collecting as much stellar data as her equipment permits. As the first non-government surveyor on-site, the unusual features of this binary-system are an academic gold-mine.

As the courier draws near to Ploughshare, the characters will be hailed by local forces --which prove to be unusually large for a `tug-access-only' system. In addition to whatever else may be hiding out of sight --or is lurking in the cargo modules of the the Metal-class freighter-- two American FS-17A fighters and one Krupp 821 cargo carrier are encountered before the Cat's Feet is guided to a berth at a small orbital complex.

This time, both communications and debarkation are freely permitted, and some of the air of secrecy drops. Although the personnel encountered in this naval outpost don't have the exact specifics of the characters' mission, they have a pretty good idea of why the group is out here and where they're going.

If the referee desires, this would be a good place to `stretch-out' the adventure into a small campaign. Dumaine, like Asweath, is the first non-government researcher in his specialty to enter this system. Ploughshare offers him an unparalleled opportunity for study and sampling of a completely new biosphere. The renown --and book contracts-- that are almost sure to result are the answer to every academicians chronic dilemma; publish or perish.

Consequently, he will be eager to head down to Ploughshare (both in order to pursue this genuine opportunity and to reinforce his cover as the mission's life scientist), but the naval commanders will not let him go planetside without an armed escort. And that's where various players and NPC's can get involved. Of course, if any of the characters are scientists, this may be a golden opportunity for them as well.

If this sidetrip isn't desired, the referee can simply have the refueling completed in a couple of hours --and send the crew of the Cat's Feet hurtling off into the unknown that lies beyond the edge of this system.


 AN UNSCHEDULED DETOUR

Where:near system L-989-20 (-8.9, -39.3, -1.3)

What: a mysterious system failure

Roughly half of the way to system L 989-20, the Cat's Feet will evince a very unsettling technical difficulty; the navigational sequencer falters and then `winks' out.

The referee should require a `task roll' from the on-duty navigator to see if that individual can keep the system from crashing 100%, but in fact, the outcome is inevitable; the system loses all its data and goes off-line.

The significance of this failure is as follows: guiding a stutterwarping vessel requires constant navigational attention. You don't simply point its nose at the desired solar system, press a button, and lean back to enjoy the ride. Initial navigation coordinates need constant refinement as the system grows nearer. Additionally, since the ship is not under acceleration but is in effect travelling under what is referred to as `pseudo velocity', you can only be sure that you're travelling along your desired heading by checking your current position against earlier ones. This is done by taking astrographic bearings via stellar objects after every individual `stutter' and comparing it to those which immediately preceded it. This process --including the data records of the ship's bearings-- are stored in and handled by a navigational subsystem refereed to as the `sequencer.' When that dies --and takes the previous navigational records with it-- the ship is effectively `lost in space.' A new course can be plotted, but error probability is very high, since the new starting coordinates are only estimates; precise information can only be obtained from extremely accurate astrographic bearings. Eventually, a ship could certainly navigate to its destination by error-averaging (the process of reducing inaccuracies by correcting and countercorrecting in ever smaller increments). However, by that time, the charge built up in the stutterwarp drives would almost surely have killed everyone off.

The chief navigator/pilot will be faced with a Difficult task if they attempt to plot a new course from their current estimated position to LL 989-20. Dumaine will remain VERY calm as he attempts to help with this task, but he will be sweating noticeably.

If one of the characters doesn't think of it, then Morgan or Helen will; there's an expert astronomer on board. Given a day, Helen's skill will allow her to significantly increase the accuracy of the bearing estimation (her help reduces the task level to Routine). If the task fails, the players will only be able to realize it after two days of travel, at which time, they will have to let Helen take another try. This attempt HAS to succeed, if they are to reach LL 989-20 before the accumulated charge on the stutterwarp drive kills them.

Of course, with Helen's help, the mission should be saved and the team arrives --somewhat nerve-wracked-- in system LL 989-20. Once again, save the physical descriptions of objects for actual player visits to those features of the system. Refueling will take some time, during which automated sensors can be deployed and their results analyzed.

 

L 989-20 B (secondary)

Stellar Type: M0 V Absolute Magnitude: 11.7 Radius: .54 Mass: .48 Luminosity: .04 Temp. in Degrees K: 3500 Number of Orbits: 3

Data on Companion L 989-20 A (perihelion of 10.1 AU) can be accessed directly from the appropriate tables in the 2300 AD Director's Guide. It is a classic (standard) G0 VII star without planets.

Planetary Data

(r)TS20,45,60

Orbit World & Core Type Diameter Density

1, .1 Gas Giant, Rocky 15,965 .9

2, .2 Gas Giant, Rocky 36,023 * .9 *

3, .35 Empty

* This gas giant's initial diameter was approximately 18,000, but was doubled once, according to the `snowballing' fule. The listed density would therefore only apply to the world's CORE.

 

OVERVIEW

L 989-20 is a generally unremarkable system, except for the fact that the presence of two gas giants of different types offers some interesting military options. Planet I is a dark cloudy world, dominated by browns and charcoals and occasional flecks of dull red. It has a proportionately massive core for a gas giant and its atmosphere is frequently veined by split-second bursts of lightning. Planet II is more diffuse, dominated by stunning reds and yellows and surrounded by a number of large moons.

 

HISTORY

Remote probes sent into this system three weeks ago revealed no evidence that it has ever been visited before. Both gas giants were briefly scanned (in order to ensure their usefulness as frontier refueling spots). While there has been no time to study any of planet II's many satellites, there is considerable interest in doing so, since this larger gas giant lays directly at the center of the system's life zone. It is conceivable (albeit unlikely) that one of the satellites might have a garden environment.

 

The best insystem refueling spots are on several of the second gas giant's moons, or directly from the second Jovian's atmosphere. If the referee is looking to extend the campaign, one of the moons could be generated in some detail, and have one or two intriguing features added. However, referees are cautioned against simply deciding to insert a `garden-moon' in this system; garden spots are --and should remain-- rare. That rarity motivates a great deal of humanity's politics and power struggles and represents an area of play balance that should not be treated lightly. It is the author's suggestion that you generate the moons in accordance with the procedures outlined in the 2300 AD Director's Guide. Any moon with an atmosphere is deserving of further player scrutiny, as would a moon with evidence of interesting mineral deposits.

After completing their refueling, the crew of the Cat's Feet should be ready to `head through the back door' --and into what may be Kafer space.

SUGGESTIONS TO THE REFEREE:

The one important piece of information that will not (or SHOULD not) be immediately evident to the players is that the trouble with the navigational sequencer was NOT an accident: it was caused by a self-destroying computer virus in that system, implanted by none other than Franchot Dumaine. If one of the characters decides to run a systems check after the failure, Dumaine will volunteer to help out --just to make sure that his tampering is not discovered. However, if the character runs the check WITHOUT INFORMING ANYONE ELSE, they have a chance of finding a telltale clue that SOMETHING or SOMEONE on board is playing deadly games with the crew of the Cat's Feet.

TASK: To discover a clue; Formidable, Computer, 2 hours

(one try only)

If successful, the character will note some irregularities in the subroutine governing user access to the navigational programs. It seems as though someone `jimmied' their way into the guts of the system. This is usually impossible to do, except as authorized by the captain or XO of a ship, who hold the access codes to this restricted area of the system's programming. If a saboteur were to enter the system and put a few digits in the wrong place, the calculating ability that governs the assessment of naviagtional bearings could be rendered useless, possibly stranding the ship in deep space.

However, the discovering character will be able to tell that someone managed to get into the program and plant a `virus bomb' that crashed the system. If the players decide to confront the NPCs, all will deny any knowledge or involvement in such an act. However, a search of the NPC's stowed gear will turn up an `ice-breaker' in Morgan's cargo. Morgan will (genuinely) be stunned and claim that the ice-breaker is not his; it was obviously planted in the luggage. The characters can believe what they will. Dumaine will evince a quiet doubt in Morgan's story, but not engage in any direct character assassination. Such behavior could center some suspicion on Dumaine, if the characters decide to investigate the possibility that someone DID plant the ice-breaker in Morgan's luggage (which Dumaine of course did, in order to deflect any suspicion from himself if his sabotage was discovered).

It is important to realize that Dumaine is not suicidal: his sabotage of the navigational sequencer was not intended to strand the ship in space and defeat the mission. Instead, it was important for him to establish a sense of doubt in the reliability of the ship's guidance systems. This must be achieved so that a subsequent act of sabotage --which involves crippling the ship AFTER the mission but before return to DM +5 3409-- might be interpreted as a second and fatal failure when the ship fails to return. At this point in the adventure, Dumaine is not yet sure whether he will have to utilize this treacherous final option. 


UNLOCKING THE BACK DOOR:

Where: system BD -111 094307

What: first glimpse of `Back Door'

When the team arrives in the Back Door system, they will be relieved (though hardly surprised) to find that the reputed brown dwarf is there, waiting patiently to absorb the discharge from their stutterwarp drive.

Helen will want to take a day or so to deploy her automated sensors with the greatest of care. Meanwhile (if a character is not already thinking of it), some of the NPCs will point out that Larkin has requested that a copy of the log be stashed somewhere in system. Also, they're going to have to find a fuel source.

But before doing all that, the players will get the opportunity to behold the strange wonders of a brown dwarf system up close, learning the following data as they do so.

Back Door (BD -111 094307 (-9.0, -43.4, -7.0)

Stellar Type: Brown Dwarf Absolute Magnitude: 0.0 Radius: 227,243 km Mass: .02 (Sol) Luminosity: .000028 Temp. in Degrees K: 1350 Number of Orbits: 0

 

SYSTEM OVERVIEW

BD -111 094307 is a modest-sized brown dwarf with a sparse, unresolved planetary accretion disk that extends out to .72 AU. The largest object in that disk is a roughly spherical planetoid with a diameter of approximately 320 kilometers, orbiting at a distance of .16 AU. `Back Door' is predominantly ochre and dull-red in color, mottled with smears of amber and brown. The surface appears to be churning in `slow-motion', although in actuality, this represents massive (and violent) meteorological conditions on the surface.

HISTORY

`Back Door' is the second useful brown dwarf `system' that has been discovered via the Intersystem Baseline Interferometry Project. Subsequent to its discovery by Australian astronomer Helen Asweath, Operation Back Door and the arrival of the Cat's Feet represent the first follow-up studies of the substellar system.

 

After Helen lovingly places her sensors in orbit around Back Door, it will be time to go prospecting `iceteroids;' the only likely fuel source in this system.

Back Door's pseudo-planetary family is not particularly cooperative in this regard. Discovering a suitable fueling site is determined by a task roll.

TASK: Discovering a useful `iceteroid:' Difficult, Sensors, 8 hours.

Helen is the only NPC with Sensor skill (level 2).

After finding a suitable refueling spot, Morgan will observe that it probably would help any follow up team if the group put the log recording right on the iceteroid; saves them the trouble of finding a refueling site themselves. He will volunteer to place the log copy, and Dumaine will quickly offer assistance. (Dumaine wants to make sure that Morgan doesn't `add' a message of his own. If Morgan has suspicions of Dumaine (which he doesn't), then Dumaine wants to make sure that the American does not have the opportunity to record them for later discovery by follow-up teams that would come after them in the event they never returned.

SUGGESTIONS TO THE REFEREE:

The next episode begins with the players entering the last stop on their exploratory jaunt: system SS -27 6854. This is in fact the home system of the mystery race, otherwise known as the Ylii. Whereas this first episode focused on exploration and getting acquainted with the mission team, the second episode concentrates of the challenges of first contact and communication with a new alien race.

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