The Tricolor Conspiracy
by Charles E Gannon
After a journey through unknown space, the mission team of OPERATION BACK DOOR arrived in the home system of the Ylii. There they encountered a special envoy named Vishzuss'zruhna'zhii (nicknamed Vish), a Ylii who established communication with the group and then escorted them to an important meeting with Ylii leaders.
After some discussion, the Ylii decided that they wanted to learn more about the humans, and were also quite interested in allying with them against a mutual foe: the Kafers. The players must return home with this information (and various other data they have gathered), and deliver a Ylii envoy safely to Earth. Vish was selected as this envoy.
NOTE TO THE REFEREE:
This final episode of OPERATION BACK DOOR moves away from exploration and first contact as the primary thrust and drama of the adventure. Instead, detective work and some fierce encounters with the minions of the treacherous Tricolor organization are all but unavoidable. The escalating whirlwind of skullduggery and aggression culminates in an optional naval engagement against the Kafers in the Ylii home system. The author recommends using the STAR CRUISER rules for the resolution of that combat.
Episode Three, The Tricolor Conspiracy, begins as the group leaves Ssuushni'a . . .
DISASTERS AND DOUBLECROSSES IN DEEP SPACE Where: deep space, between systems DM -4 4225 and DM +5 3409 What: return voyage with envoy is sabotaged by Dumaine
After departing Ssuushni'a with Vish on board, the mission team should head back to human space via Back Door with all possible speed. The Ylii leadership will be glad to help them in this regard by providing the group with a full load of fuel prior to their departure.
Things will proceed routinely as the characters retrace their steps through Back Door, L 989-20, and DM -4 4225. Once in orbit around Ploughshare, the Naval and AIA staffs will quickly debrief the group, make duplicates of all their data, refuel the ship (the Cat's Feet), and send them out for a rendesvous with the unmarked Metal-class freighter that serves as this system's stutterwarp tug. The group will also be told to keep the presence of Vish a secret, and to continue on to system DM +5 3409. However, they are instructed to wait at the edge of the system when they arrive there, rather than continuing in toward the main world of Erie.
Upon rendesvous with the silent Metal-class behemoth, the characters' ship will be maneuvered into a huge modular cargo container. Tis will be handled by the freighter's remote manipulator craft (otherwise known as grabbers). Practiced naval eyes will realize that this outsized-container is actually the size of nine standard-sized modular freight containers, producing a contiguous cargo volume of nearly 6700 cubic meters. The Cat's Feet is maneuvered into a berthing cradle and the module is sealed up.
As was the case when the group was ferried out of system DM +5 3409 by the unmarked Hudson-class freighter (Episode One), communication with the crew of the tug is minimal and restricted to audio only. After about two days of tug operations, the characters' ship will be offloaded by the now-familiar `grabbers' and sent on its way with terse wishes of good-luck. Ironically, this is precisely where luck will take a turn for the worse.
With only one day to go to the DM +5 3409 system, any players on-duty at 1800 hours will be stunned out of their stargazing reverie by the shrill klaxon that announces emergency decompression. A split second later, they will feel the hull jar under the force of a muffled explosion from the aft section of the Cat's Feet. The environmental monitoring system fails, meaning that if those parts of the ship are undergoing decompression, there's no way to tell from the bridge. And in that same moment, the stutterwarp drive cuts out, several essential control circuits indicating 100% malfunction.
The referee should really not give the players a lot of time to think about what they're going to do next. Explosive decompression is exactly that: explosive. If your players seem to be unsure of what to do, the NPC's will provide excellent examples as they scramble madly for p-suits (or helmets, if they're already in a suit). The next action will be to connect the suit's external c-clips to any sturdy handhold or protruberance; explosive decompression will suck unsecured individuals right out into space, possibly ripping their suit as they carome off bulkheads and through doorways.
All told, these precautions --punctuated by the savage pneumatic hiss of pressure-tight bulkheads sealing automatically-- will take only 10-15 seconds. And those seconds SHOULD feel like forever. Once everyone is secured and braced for the worst, they can start to think about what comes next: exploring the ship for damage and the source of whatever disaster has befallen them. The answer will be fairly quick in coming.
The on-duty bridge crew and anyone who was off-duty will encounter Dumaine and the Ylii back near the engineering section. The yellow-and-black-striped emergency bulkhead is down and the flashing red light next to it indicates that at least part of engineering section beyond is in full vacuum. A sullen and uncommunicative Dumaine provides little help in the efforts to determine if Hannah --who was on duty in engineering at the time-- is still alive or not. The players will have to use the next set of bulkheads to create a temporary airlock, enter Engineering, and search for her in their p-suits as they wade through the wreckage of the stutterwarp drive.
It turns out that Hannah is indeed alive: she was tending the powerplant --which is in a separate, pressure-tight area-- at the time of the disaster. However, her p-suit had been left in the same compartment as the stutterwarp drive and is now --undoubtedly-- a piece of interstellar debris. She'll need someone to bring her a spare p-suit in order for her to move back to the main section of the ship.
However, it turns out that the stutterwarp drive wasn't the only thing lost; Morgan Lindstrom is dead. And according to Dumaine, that's just as well --for clearly, Lindstrom was a traitor. Dumaine will rouse out of his shock long enough to describe the events leading up to the disaster.
Dumaine and Vish were talking, trying to bridge the cultural confusions and complexities that exist between human and Ylii. Dumaine had brought up the concept of free choice and the Ylii had some questions about the human perspective on this issue. Dumaine suggested that Vish might learn the most by hearing TWO human perspectives on it --illustrating how human perspective was not at all uniform. Dumaine paged Lindstrom, who had volunteered some of his free time to hellp Hannah check some powerplant circuitry. The French xenosapientologist invited the American to join the discussion. Lindstrom answered that he'd be delighted and would head forward in a minute.
A few moments later, Dumaine suggested that he and Vish might as well go aft and meet Morgan in Engineering; the Ylii had not spent much time looking over the human stutterwarp technology yet. Arriving at Engineering, Dumaine was stunned to find Lindstrom fiddling around with what looked like a bomb near the stutterwarp unit, his fingers on what looked like a detonator switch. Dumaine told him to put it down. Lindstrom turned, smiled, and told Dumaine that he was about to die. Then Lindstom focused his attention on the bomb once again.
Staring into the distance, Dumaine explains that he only saw one option; trying to sweep Lindstrom and his bomb out into space. Dumaine hit the emergency override and decompressed the Engineering section by keing in the command to open the aft airlock. Dumaine pulled Vish back beyond the safety bulkhead that came slamming down to shut out the vacuum. But the sudden violence of the explosive decompression apparently caused the bomb to detonate --or Morgan managed to carry out his suicide attack before dying. After he's told his tale, Dumaine will sit in stony, tight-lipped silence.
If questioned, Vish will corroborate Dumaine's story. However, if pressed for details, he will express some confusion regarding some of the final interactions between Dumaine and Lindstrom. As a non-human who's only been exposed to these perplexing, small-eyed sophonts for about a week, Vish still has huge gaps when it comes to understanding human `body-language' and vernacular, and prefaces his statements by saying that he just didn't know how to read the last exchange between Lindstrom and Dumaine.
Vish will reveal that to him, Lindstrom seemed very calm when they found him, and was not at all surprised at being discovered. Lindstrom DID smile --and humans do seem to smile for all sorts of contradictory reasons-- but Vish himself did not sense any psychological imbalance or extreme emotion behind it, nothing that suggested impending suicide. Vish describes the smile as --maybe-- one of satisfaction? It was a very unusual expression. Lastly, Vish (being so focused on human language these days) remembers Lindstrom's last words precisely. They might have been a threat on Dumaine's life, but Vish pleads ignorance of the use of colloquialisms: Morgan's last words were, `Dumaine, you're finished.'
A clever player may begin to wonder if Morgan was a saboteur, or was in fact attempting to undo someone else's act of treachery. His last words could be interpreted to mean that the bomb was proof-positive of Dumaine's treachery, and hence, that the Frenchman `was finished.' Characters with skills in Interviewing and Psychology may have some luck in confronting Dumaine, but not much; Dumaine's `stunned' state seems to predispose him towards extreme taciturnity when his actions or motives are questioned. However, a very high success result may lead a skilled observer of people to wonder if the post-crisis shock is not in fact a sham.
At any rate, the characters have more immediate problems on their hands, such as how to effect repairs, since several key components for the stutterwarp drive have been wrecked. That will mean searching for replacements in the stores, and seeing if the system has enough integrity remaining to hold-up under jury-rigged operating conditions.
SUGGESTIONS TO THE REFEREE:
Dumaine is (of course) the saboteur, not Morgan. As has been established in the previous episodes, Dumaine has been subtly working to set the stage for this single, potent act of treachery. And he has managed to make it look like Lindstrom was responsible -- or at least make the other team members unsure.
Dumaine's plan was simple --and elegant. In the initial transit out to Back Door, he sabotaged the navigational sequencer. Of course, during the recent return to DM -4 4225, the combined naval forces at that site now have record of this `system failure,' since they have copies of the *Cat's Feet*'s log.
With Vish on board, Dumaine has what he --and Tricolor-- always wanted; a live Ylii. However, their plans are a little different than those currently held by the nations of the Alderhorst Alliance. Consequently, they can't allow Vish to remain in the custody of those nations.
Given the established `history' of navigational `system failure' that is currently logged against the Cat's Feet, there would be a logical explanation in the event that the ship never made it all the way to the AIA field headquarters in system DM +5 3409: a second sequencer failure. Such a hypothetical failure would offer a reasonable explanation for why the ship might never be heard from again.
So Dumaine had to find a way to make sure that Cat's Feet never finished its journey. He did this by planting a bomb near the stutterwarp drive while Lindstrom was working with Hannah on the powerplant. Then Dumaine came back to strike up a conversation with Vish, ask Morgan to join them, and then suggest they go look for the American a moment later.
Dumaine knew that Lindstrom's trained AIA eye would spot the bomb and that he would immediately stop to investigate, assessing the design and the risks before alerting (and possibly panicking) any crewmembers. Dumaine had a motion sensor imbedded in the bomb; when Lindstrom began to handle it, a control element in Dumaine's wristwatch beeped twice.
In this way, Dumaine was able to time it so that he and Vish (the only person on the Cat's Feet who is clearly above suspicion) arrived in Engineering, they `discovered' Lindstrom manipulating the bomb. Counting on Vish's imperfect knowledge of human behavior, Dumaine played out the scene, reacting with alarm when Lindstrom turned his attention back to the bomb. Dumaine then `made the decision' to get rid of Morgan and the bomb via emergency decompression. However, the bomb's detonator was radio-linked to a command button on Dumaine's chronometer /calculator, so Dumaine was able to make sure that the bomb detonated as planned, rather than getting sucked out into space. As Dumaine expected, Vish was so stunned at the unexpected turn of events --and the speed at which they moved-- that the Ylii was not able to understand the finer nuances of what he saw transpire.
By now, the players should have the sneaking suspicion that Dumaine is something less than the charming academic that he has seemed to be. Likewise, the referee should be getting a strong feel for just how ruthless and treacherous Dumaine and Tricolor are --a feel which will make the next scene just that much easier to run.
WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE . . . Where: deep space, just beyond Oort Cloud of DM +5 3409 What: a `pirate attack'
While characters with any skill in space drives, electronics and mechanical matters are trying to cobble together a quick fix for the stutterwarp drive (best estimates suggest that it will require as much as three days work), the remaining team members take turns sending out distress calls and trying to overcome feelings of terror and loss.
A day into the repair process, the person on communications duty will be rewarded with a response; a private research vessel named the Questor picked up their distress call while conducting some astrophysical surveys out beyond system DM +5 3409's Oort cloud. If any of the characters remark that they didn't know such survey missions were common, Helen Asweath will assure them (with a suspicious frown) that they're not. This luck is almost too good to be true.
Only moments after the characters receive the incoming message announcing their imminent salvation, the ship --a Hamid class surveyor-- will show up on sensors. This may seem suspiciously sudden, but it is not, really. After all, since the characters' maydays are only traveling at the speed of light, any potential rescuer would have had to be within 1 light-day's distance to have received the call already. And of course, stutterwarp vessels can travel a light day in almost no time at all.
The Hamid will move quickly into a boarding position. Any attempts to communicate with it will seem to be garbled by some sort of interference; the Hamid seems to be unable to hear the transmissions from the Cat's Feet. And the player's may indeed be trying to communicate that they do not wish to be boarded by an unofficial vessel; after all, Vish is supposed to remain a secret.
If extremely suspicious, the players may try to reject or avoid attempts by the crew of the Questor to sync up a boarding tube to the airlock of the Cat's Feet. Seeing this, Dumaine will insist that the characters have become either mad or paranoid. He will then surreptitiously sneak away to Engineering to override whatever the players are doing to prevent the boarding.
By the time the players can regain control, the Questor crew will have gotten on board and neutralized any circuitry that could interrupt their continued access to the Cat's Feet. If, due to suspicions (or any other reason), Dumaine has been imprisoned, the boarding party from the Questor will use a breaching charge to enter Engineering and seize control of the ship.
The players will quickly realize --whether they are initially trusting or not-- that the Questor boarders are not here to conduct a rescue. Eight large P-suited individuals come storming onto the Cat's Feet. Four are carrying Brandt Audionique AS-3 stun pistols, --and right behind them are the other four with Mueller-Rivera F-19 lasers. This squad will sweep through the Cat's Feet, stunning everyone (except the Ylii). The lasers will only be used as a last resort in order to bring down any well-armed characters who might have holed-up in a near-impregnable defensive position (several such exist in the Engineering section). The referee should remember that since the Cat's Feet is a ship without a spin-habitat, that using recoil-producing weapons is likely to send characters spinning --making them easier targets for the attackers. The boarding party is armed with non-recoil producing weapons, and therefore is not hampered in this way. The boarders are Veteran and Experienced NPCs.
The outcome of this sudden `pirate attack' should be pretty inevitable; the players will be overcome (most likely stunned) and left unconscious. Even if the first eight boarders CAN be defeated (good luck), another eight (similarly armed) are ready to finish the job.
SUGGESTIONS TO THE REFEREE:
The crew of the Hamid-class survey ship Questor are actually agents of Tricolor, operating a vessel acquired through the `grey market' connections of (ironically) AmeriCo. They have been waiting at 1 light-day's range from this rendesvous point for weeks. Their orders were to wait for a distress signal from the Cat's Feet. If they received one, it meant that Dumaine had managed to `acquire' a live sample of the `mystery race' that was helping the Kafers. Upon receiving the message, the Questor was to approach as a rescuing vessel using a scientific cover identity (the Questor) and recover Dumaine and the alien (without taking the risk of even stunning the alien). The remainder of the crew of the Cat's Feet was to be left alive if possible, and minimum damage was to be inflicted to the ship during the boarding action.
The reason for this very `clean' boarding approach is to provide a `reasonable explanation' for any forensics experts who might one day stumble across the wreck of the Cat's Feet. Whatever evidence of gunfire may be present, the cause of death will be anoxia, since the unconscious players are being left behind to die. Of course, the Questor's ruthless crew ensures this by disabling a key component of the power plant and removing the spares from the ship's stores. They also remove the spares (and repairs) to the stutterwarp drive before engaging the Cat's Feet's thrusters, giving the ship a 60 minute, 1.5 G push away from the navigational pathway joining DM +5 3409 and DM -4 4225. Then they leave the ship --and its crew-- to its fate, drifting ever further away from the frequented spacelanes.
A SIGNAL FLARE AND A MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE Where: deep space, just beyond Oort Cloud of DM +5 3409 What: an attempt to attract rescuers
When the characters awake, they will discover that Dumaine and Vish are gone. They will also discover that now both the stutterwarp drive AND the power plant are inoperative (and irreparable). Battery power can supply them with perhaps one day of air at normal consumption rates. A decision to `thin' the atmosphere will extend the supply to 2.5 days. (For every crewmember other than Dumaine and Morgan who is gone or dead, add 10% to the duration of continued lifesupport) Clearly, the players are going to have to find an answer to their dilemma within that time, or they are sure to perish.
The radios still work, but by the time the message travels even the slight fraction of the light year that still separates Cat's Feet from system DM +5 3409, the characters will be long dead. There would seem to be no options other than crossed fingers . . .
Until one of the characters remembers the SIM-14 missiles that are stored in the launching bay of the IIb model of the Merkur class (of which Cat's Feet is an example). Hopefully a player will think of this, but if not, Hannah might angrily wish that there was some way to use those damn missiles on the Questor (which should jog the player's memory if they've FORGOTTEN about the SIM-14s). With the Merkur's communicator's intact, it is still possible to launch and control the missiles. The only limiting factor is range, for as the missile goes beyond a distance of one light-minute response time will be impracticably slow.
However, if the players pursue this idea, they should quickly come to realize that a preplotted flight trajectory could be programmed into a missile's on board navigation systems. In the final analysis, a missile could be programmed to follow a course that would take it over/under the Oort cloud debris and into the DM +5 3409 system. But would it be seen? And how would rescuers know how to find the Cat's Feet after the missile had drawn their attention?
Answer: rigging the missile to detonate at a predetermined point of its flight. Such a detonation is sure to show up on the ever watchful naval sensors. After thusly attracting some considerable attention, a second missile could follow, traveling more slowly and coming to a dead stop a few million kilometers away from the coordinates of the first missile's detonation. This second missile's warhead could be replaced with a data tape describing the position and status of the Cat's Feet --as well as the apparent treachery that led to its current condition.
Preparing the missiles for this mission will take about a day, as will the computation and programing of an optimal trajectory for the missiles. The referee should construct a number of task rolls, and should remember that one missile-disabling mishap is permissable, since the players have THREE missiles available and they need only two for this operation. However, in the final analysis, they should manage to rig the SIM-14's for this very non-standard mission. Any repeated failures may take the characters dangerously close to the limit of their life support. At any rate, after 1.5 days in thin atmosphere, characters may start suffering from drowsiness, shortness of breath, short-term memory loss, and other anoxic symptoms that will make their last hours a dim memory at best.
SUGGESTIONS TO THE REFEREE:
The flare-and-message plan will work, attracting the attention of numerous naval elements in well-patrolled DM +5 3409 (the ASF presence has been growing ever since Operation Back Door began). After cautiously approaching the second missile, its contents will be studied ONLY by the AIA officer on board whatever ship discovers. This procedure will be followed strictly, since Shamus Larkin (AIA Deputy Director in charge of security for Operation Back Door) already knows that the mission team is overdue for arrival, given messages that have been received from DM -4 4225 regarding their date and time of departure. Larkin will therefore try to contain any unusual news regarding the fate of Operation Back Door to a handful of trusted AIA operatives, rather than letting such information get into the armed forces pipeline.
Accordingly, it will be a vessel from the AIA headquarters in system DM +5 3409 that finds the Cat's Feet and rescues the dazed, semi-conscious survivors. The characters will not remember their rescue, due to their oxygen-deprived state. Consequently, this scene should end rather abruptly. No sudden blackness of unconsciousness, but rather a sudden entry into the next scene --thereby producing the sense of lost memory without the recollection of losing consciousness.
WHEELS WITHIN WHEELS: WHAT'S GOING ON BEHIND THE BACK DOOR Where: AIA comlex, Coldseas, system DM +5 3409 B What: Larkin reveals the reasons behind Dumaine's treachery
IMPORTANT: BEFORE PRESENTING THIS SCENE, THE REFEREE SHOULD READ AND BECOME FAMILIAR WITH THE BACKGROUND INFORMATION ON THE AMERICAN INTELLIGENCE AGENCY, FOUND IN THE DATA ANNEX AT THE END OF THIS EPISODE.
The next thing the players know, they are sitting half-propped up in hospital beds in a windowless medical center. In the room with them is Shamus Larkin, whom they have not seen since he hired them for this mission many weeks ago on Abernathy, King's most-developed moon.
It is highly likely that the players will be filled with questions --and possibly, anger-- for Larkin. The Deputy Director expects this and will endure their vituperation with patience and no small measure of empathy. When they're done venting and/or barraging him with queries, Larkin will begin to explain that --unfortunately-- Operation Back Door was never just a military operation to try to get an advantage on the Kafers; it was a political operation as well. It was a `policy offensive' against what many nations --but particularly Germany, America, and Australia-- considered to be French mismanagement of the Kafer Conflict.
Apparently however, some Frenchmen decided to take countermeasures into their own hands. Although Larkin does not have all the details, he is sure that Dumaine and the crew of the Questor did not act alone. Quite the contrary; Dumaine did not become a part of the mission team for Operation Back Door by applying for the job. After all, the job was a secret. Rather, Dumaine was recommended for the job by some very high-placed French officials. Larkin feels sure that somewhere in the French government there must be a radical cabal of ultranationalists who are behind the plot to ruin Operation Back Door --or worse yet, to pervert it into something of their own design. (In effect, without knowing its name, Larkin has deduced the existence of Tricolor, which is detailed fully in an upcoming scene)
This is a natural introduction to Larkin's explanation of the events and attitudes that give Operation Back Door its tremendous political importance. While it is certainly not necessary to go into all such detail, the following information suggests why the friction between France and the nations of the Alderhorst Alliance may have motivated Imperial ultranationalists to resort to Dumaine's treachery. Alternately, the referee may choose to photocopy the following section and distribute it to the players; this will approximate the lengthy explanation given by Larkin.
Behind the Back Door
The discovery of BD -111 094307, otherwise known as `Back Door,' had obvious military implications for subsequent efforts against the Kafer war machine. `Back Door' provided human forces with an accessway to the enemy's rear flank. Also, the presence of this humble brown dwarf served to catalyze the formation of an even greater military advantage for humanity; true international cooperation. However, one nation stood to lose stature if that kind of cooperation were achieved. France, as world leader, would find its influence drastically reduced in such a scenario, becoming only an equal peer instead of remaining the preeminent leader amongst nations.
The seeds of strong international cooperation had been planted in July of 2301. During the first two weeks of that month, joint victories in the Vogelheim system (at Alderhorst) and at Eta Bootis (the ambush at Laodemon and other associated engagements) created an emergent sense of unity between American, German, and Australian units. Their key role in those combats and their willingness to work together stood in sharp contrast to the aloof absolutism of the French commanders. Vice-Admirals DuBoise, Bertrand, and finally Rochemont all evinced an almost petulant insistence that they --and Imperial France-- retain the reins of supreme command over the human efforts against the Kafers. This arrogance not only alienated various non-French commanders, but whole populations of other nations. Despite their insistence on command, this succession of Gallic Vice-Admirals displayed a tendency to delay and wait, rather than strike when opportunities presented themselves. With the exception of Rochemont's later successes, the only headlines dedicated to French commanders were the announcements of their deaths --each perishing along with a ®MDUL¯Talleyrand®MDNM¯ class battleship.
When push finally came to shove in the conclusive Battle of Beowulf (Queen Alice's Star) in July of 2302, it was the American, English and German forces that carried the day. The contingents of these nations were cited for their courage, commitment, and elan; the French barely warranted a mention in the after-action dispatches. Worse yet, Rochemont was not in position to capitalize on the Kafer retreat to Kimanjano. The fact that this was not due to any inability on his part was a detail that both the press and the public seemed uninterested in.
In actuality, Rochemont's ascension to command in mid-2301 had marked an upswing in the overall quality of Gallic naval leadership, but the growing sense of dissatisfaction with the style --and apparent lethargy-- of the French commanders had stoked the embers of anti-Imperial sentiment. Many nations still looked askance upon Nicholas Ruffin's ascension to a renewed Imperial throne and the sweeping Gallic elitism it represented. It was hardly a surprise when both naval and civilian leaders from around the world called for the French to step down from their position of naval preeminence.
French resistance to this move was quite extreme in military circles. Rochemont lost his icy cool and slapped the Ukrainian officer who delivered the international request for a new command structure (a major diplomatic incident was narrowly avoided). However, the French people did not rise up to protest the French fall from military leadership as Ruffin and his officers expected. Instead, the public reaction was to voice dismay at their leaders' questionable prosecution of the war. Command staff and government councillors huddled for a long week in Paris, refusing to make any comments to the press. Finally, in a terse statement, Ruffin announced that Vice Admiral Rochemont had `indicated his willingness to dedicate more of his abilities to the betterment of French naval performance, thereby partially withdrawing from responsibilities of an international nature.' The press spent a week scoffing at and lampooning the pompous bureaucratese, which the Pan-Azanian Herald explained `is simply the French way of saying, "Rochemont is stepping down."'
However, with the senior command chair open, a new problem arose; who should fill it? Although sentiment for the Ukraine's Borodin and even America's Elkhart ran high, British Vice Admiral Charles Graham got the nod. Press releases from Great Britain, Germany, America, and the Ukraine emphasized that this decision was based on Graham's seniority and the fact that he had been in command during the decisive Battle of Beowulf. In reality however, the decision was predominantly motivated by diplomatic attempts to appease French sensitivities.
The French still had a bad taste in their mouth from the War of Reunification and were not about to accept a German in command. Borodin's performance had (unintentionally) shamed the indecisive French admirals and damaged Gallic pride. Lastly, giving America the leading role was still anathema to the Empire, and many other nations. Such a move was seen as leading to a new era of superpower politics --a possibility which seemed all too likely as America's titanic military industries went into overdrive in the wake of the Kafer victories of 2301. Furthermore, although the Earth itself was at stake, France still felt that events on its arm of space should not be turned over to `American interlopers.'
So, by process of elimination, Admiral Graham was officially confirmed as Senior Admiral on September 12, 2302. Unfortunately, Rochemont --who retained the next position in the chain of command-- immediately displayed a willingness to quarrel with `Chappie' Graham at every occasion. It became fleet scuttlebutt that Rochemont was looking for any opportunity to regain overall command --a fact which eroded Graham's attempt to evolve a team spirit among the naval units in the French Arm.
The German-Australian-American affinity was the counterpoise to the French tendency for dissent. Unfortunately, Graham had to maintain a certain distance from the commanders of these ~three `allied' contingents --even though they had his support. This charade was essential, since closer relations on Graham's part might have given Rochemont grounds for complaints of favoritism.
However, the bonds that had been forged in battle were not forgotten. American, German, and Australian commanders continued to work together, share intelligence, and look for opportunities that emphasized joint operations. The discovery of BD -111 094307 in late September, 2302 laid just such an opportunity on the collective doorstep of these three new allies --an opportunity to both beat the Kafers and wrest command initiative away from the French.
Consequently, Operation Back Door became a secret skirmishing ground for a growing rivalry between French supremacists and the nations of the Alderhorst Alliance.
HIDDEN AGENDAS: A WAR OF ATTITUDES AND IDEAS IN THE PUBLIC ARENA
Prior to the Kafer Conflict, many nations --and colonies-- had been getting sick and tired of the French elitism that exists throughout human space. This pervasive Imperial hauteur became laughable (and brutally satirized) as Gallic performance in the Kafer conflict suggested that France had become senile and incapable of prosecuting a war with vigor and determination.
The American and German publics had particularly strong feelings regarding changing the French role in both military and global matters. Germany had spent several centuries under the watchful eyes from across the Rhine, eternally on a leash. The proud nationalism that characterizes (often infamously) the German nation did not always suffer this easily or with good grace, and the fruits of that bitterness were only partially tasted during the War of Reunification. Many of the German people and their leaders feel that three centuries of their destiny was `stolen' by France, and that Germany's presence in space and its prestige among the world's leading nations had suffered as a result. The Germans are not interested in vengeance, but from their perspective, they want to take their rightful place as a highly influential nation --and that will mean usurping some of the influence currently held by France.
America's perspective is different. After the Twilight War, America relapsed into partial isolationism, emerging slowly and cautiously back into the family of nations. By sheer dint of its size, resources, and geographical location, it quickly regained its status as a world power. However, America's attitude had changed; it was no longer interested in being a global policeman. It had spent the latter half of the Twentieth Century trying to fill that role and was nearly obliterated for its troubles.
However, the French return to Imperialism marked the beginning of a counterswing in American attitudes. The traditional American dislike and distrust of anything even vaguely resembling autocracies (but most of all, monarchies) began to resurface in subtle reaction to the resurgent French nationalism. There was an increased emphasis on military spending, colonization efforts, and industrial capacity. In the words of one noted British news commentator, Washington was beginning a `dance of defiance; the instinctual threat-display that America employs when confronted with a despot.' He also noted --rightly-- that most Americans were not even aware that it was happening, or that they were participating in it.
Other events fed this slowly mounting tide of American assertiveness. The breaking of the 7.7 light year barrier in 2300 and the location of a brown dwarf that reopened the `closed' American Arm in the same year began to turn the attitude of protective vigilance into one of expansionism. This rode on a crest of American-led (or enabled) victories over Kafers in the French Arm. From Wall Street to Waikiki, Americans began to ask themselves; what makes France think it has the right to lead, to give orders to the rest of humanity?
In all fairness, it must be said that this attitude is not focused on making America a superpower. Instead, recent events have simply made Americans feel that the French no longer have any right to a position of international preeminence --if they ever did. And if no one else is going to --or is able to-- challenge the French assumption that they have a right to such leadership, then America will. Very few Americans want to their nation to usurp France's role; they just want to establish true equality between the nations of the earth (and beyond). However, students of the Twilight War are already reminding leaders that such policy is easier to support than it is to conduct. A similar set of convictions got America embroiled in the three World Wars of the Twentieth Century.
In the final analysis, the contemporary German and American attitudes obviously have an affinity for one another and have gone a long way toward cementing the bond between these nations. Both nations have always taken special pride in their militaries, which are now distinguishing themselves as `giant-killers' in the war against the Kafer goliaths. Consequently, Operation Back Door is more than just a prudent strategic move; it is an attempt to wrest control over the conduct of the war out of French hands. If it works, America, Germany, and Australia will have driven home their unspoken point that France is unfit to lead, and that military matters should be turned over to individuals and nations who move decisively and with determination.
After his explanation of the frictions between the Alderhorst Alliance and the Empire, Larkin will then try to explain the American Intelligence Agency's role in the operation. Even before Operation Back Door was finalized, the AIA had been the `secure channel' that was entrusted with all the facts, including the existence of the `mystery race,' the discovery of Back Door and the signficance of the alien crystal artifact. It was logical to make them the operation's watchdog; that way, no new agency or bureau had to be involved --and become a potential source of information leaks.
Morgan Lindstromwas assigned to the mission team as an insurance against poor judgments that could have threatened the entire mission. However, neither he, nor anyone at the AIA, had suspected that there was a traitor in the mission team. Dumaine had come highly recommended from Paris, the IEX, and the DGSE (the French intelligence service). Of course, the AIA did its own check, and found everything in order.
But the most disturbing fact is not that there is a French supremacist group that has entwined itself into and around the vital organs of the Empire's government. The critical realization is that these fanatics must also have a mole in the AIA; how else would Dumaine have known that Morgan was an AIA agent? And he clearly had that knowledge from the very first. Upon reconstructing Dumaine's subtle combination of ploys and strategies --starting with his disabling of the navigational sequencer-- he always had things rigged so that if his handiwork was discovered, it was Morgan who would bear the brunt of any suspicion.
Clearly, this gives Larkin a huge problem; he can only be sure that a few people in his local headquarters are loyal: those who were unaware of Morgan's inclusion on the mission team and those who never had any means of communicating that knowledge (on deep-space patrol during the weeks it would have had to have been relayed, etc.). Following this reasoning, Larkin cannot trust ANY other AIA agents; the leak could have occurred anywhere between Coldseas and Earth. This could mean that any AIA agent with clearance for the project data on Operation Back Door is suspect.
Consequently, Larkin can't mount an internal investigation without tipping his hand to the French ultranationalists. If their mole learns that there is an internal investigation under way, that also means that he will immediately realize that the AIA has found the wreck of the Cat's Feet and determined that the project was sabotaged, not lost. It also means that they strongly suspect (or KNOW) the sabotage was facilitated by an AIA mole. And that means tht the AIA suspects the missing Dumaine, whose trail must eventually lead back to at least one of the French leaders who submitted his name for the mission team.
THis deductive domino theory all boils down to one key certainty: the members of the conspiracy will know they have been found out the moment Larkin tries to open an investigation. And if Vish is to be saved --and relations with the Ylii to be kept amicable-- that means that the conspirators must not know that they HAVE been found out. The ultranationalists must be taken by surprise, or Vish may disappear forever; he is the most incriminating evidence against them. BUT --explains Larkin with a sheepish look at the characters-- he can't use any of his agents to trace Dumaine and retrieve Vish. The reasons for this include:
1) If some of the French conspirators are using offical government facilities to further their plot, AIA agents would not be able to proceed. Otherwise, they would be conducting potentially hostile operations against France, possibly creating enough of an incident to incite open warfare. Larkin would require a set of special approvals for such an operation, which can only be given after the initiatives go before the Congressional Committee on National Security. Even a rush, high-priority item such as this would have to travel in proposal form to Earth, be approved, and sent back as confirmation. Larkin could take it there himself, but his unexplained departure from his current post would invite all sorts of speculations as to what was so confidential that he had to handle it himself. If the conspirators started asking question like that, Larkin would never make it to Earth.
2) The movements of AIA agents must be reported to AIA headquarters in a prompt fashion. Even if he just sends investigators after Dumaine and Vish, those movements will tell the mole that Larkin has found Cat's Feet and possibly debriefed the characters. Even if Larkin were to delay notifying AIA headquarters regarding the movement of his agents, their identities would still show up at any number of checkpoints (such as Orbital Quarantine Control) that employ retinal scans. Either way, the French conspirators would have plenty of time to cover their tracks and dispose of Vish.
3) Larkin can't spare the dozen or so individuals he could trust to conduct this operation. Only THEY know that Cat's Feet was recovered, and are therefore the only people who can keep working on the project according to its true status; everyone else believe the team is gone and the mission over. In addition, Larkin and his inner circle have to `keep their backs together' and provide security for each other, should the conspirators grow suspicious and try to eliminate them.
Larkin concludes with the inevitable statement: the only people who can put an end to this conspiracy are the characters. As far as anyone knows, they are all dead. Their retinal scans will be removed from data banks, as will their fingerprints. Larkin does not have to report their movements to anybody and no one will be out looking for them. Additionally, their personal knowledge of Vish means that he is likely to trust them implicitly if they come to rescue him and require his unquestioning cooperation. The only character who is not suitable for this rescue mission is Helen Asweath; her newsworthy discoveries have made her too widely recognized. Larkin will offer the other characters another Lv10,000 each, but if the interaction between Vish and the players has been nurtured properly, the players should be eager to get on with his rescue, regardless of reward.
Larkin can make their mission easier in a number of ways. First, he can issue them a limited number of `helpful tools' --including one Rottman LK-1 laser and two M-2 Assault rifles. He can also provide them with one S & W ISP 106 and inertial armor vest per person. Ammunition is restricted only by how much the players want to carry. Second, he can issue them permits to transport all the weapons, including permission to CARRY the S & W ISP 106's (weapon stats are included in the DATA ANNEX at the end of this episode). He can also arrange for an unlimited travel account with an international travel reservations agency, and set up a Lv10,000 line of credit for each character with Financia, AG, an international banking cartel with a major outlet in Libreville. Lastly, he will provide them with new identities as `security consultants' from Erie, along with appropriate documentation. As `first-time' travellers from this American backwater, their new identities will have not be expected to have retinal records or fingerprints on file anywhere. Consequently, security systems will not be expecting to find a match for their retinal patterns --and will not do so, since the old records connected with their REAL identities will already have been wiped from the systems.
While the players are off on their mission, Larkin will repair their ship, and keep an eye open for anyone who visits Erie's public records building in Champlain trying to find information on their new identities. Unbeknownst to the players, Larkin will also send two of his men and two `blind' (or unknowing) couriers to an FBI drop-point to forward all the information he has on the French ultranationalist conspiracy. As the internal affairs arm of the AIA, the FBI has had no reason to even be aware of the details of Operation Back Door, and therefore, is certainly NOT where the French mole resides. Consequently, the FBI could mount an operation against the conspirators without tipping off the mole. But this will take more time, since such an action will require Congressional approval and unusual `double-blind' security precautions.
Larkin can offer the players one piece of advice; go see a gentleman living in Lubeck, Germany under the name of Herman Untener. The Deputy Director indicates that the characters should tell Untener how they know Larkin, should answer ALL of his questions with complete honesty, and then ask his advice about what to do next --he has ears in the highest offices of the French Government, and may have heard rumors of the ultranationalist group.
After that, Larkin will allow the players to get some rest. But not more than a day; the only passenger-carrying merchant currently in the Erie system is due to depart on the following evening.
SUGGESTIONS TO THE REFEREE:
This is one of the best places for a referee to expand this adventure into a full-blown campaign. The players will have to travel to earth, and there may be occasional travel delays as they wait out the period between their arrival and the next appropriate departure. During such times, they may decide to explore the planet that they're laying-over upon. In addition, the players might encounter NPCs who are interested in joining them (even though the exact `job' remains unspecified) for the right price. Just as likely, the players may run into less friendly NPCs who want to steal their money, credit vouchers, or weapons.
Regardless of the plenitude --or lack-- of adventures during the trip Coreward, the players will arrive at Earth and be processed through the OQC clearance facility.
EARTHFALL Where: Gabon & Germany, Earth What: the group runs into hirelings off, and then learns about, Tricolor
After processing through OQC, the characters will ride the Beanstalk down to Libreville in the African nation of Gabon. It will take them several hours to arrange for travel to Lubeck, get their luggage, and catch a quick meal. About an hour before they are due to depart, however, they will be attacked by a half dozen black-clothed gang-members. These people will all be somewhat smallish, and armed with a melange of old weapons, including Wu-Beijing T-49 Assault rifles, Arno 5-15 pistols, and an odd assortment of melee weapons.
The attack will take place when the characters move into a more deserted area, and the attackers will flee as soon as they find that they cannot immediately overwhelm the characters. If the players stay at the scene of the attack for any reason (attempt to question any wounded attackers, etc.), they are likely to be caught by the police, who will delay them several days while questioning them and confirming their story of self-defense.
Although the players may not be aware of it, this is not a random attack. The only way they can confirm this, however, is by attempting to discover who their black-pajama clothed assailants were. This will require a delay of travel plans as the characters spend an evening in the Libreville slum area of Mudville. Here --after negotiating with a number of different gangmembers, snitches, and low-lifes-- they can learn that they were assaulted by one of the `Platoons' of a gang called the Corpsmen. Each platoon is a subgang of sorts that adopts dress characteristic of the uniform of a given historic army. The black-clothed individuals are from the Charlie Platoon --patterned after the Viet Cong of the late 20th Century.
It will take a little more work to determine that this wasn't just a `random' assault. Eventually, the group may be able to learn that there has been a bounty on their heads since early December 2302. Evidently, photo IDs of the characters were circulated around that part of the Libreville underworld that partakes in bounty huntings and contract killings. The pay advertised was pretty good, but the job details were sketchy. One gangmember will comment that he had gone to look into the job himself back around Christmas, but that all the negotiations had been by phone, and the details on the targets and their location had been real slim --almost like the hiring party wasn't sure that the marks were even in Libreville. He --like almost all others-- had steered clear of the job; too many loose ends mean too many surprises later on.
No one is surprised to hear, however, that the Charlie Platoon was interested in the job and still on the lookout for the group. The Charlie Platoon has a reputation as a cash-poor operation that's getting real close to extinction: some snitches estimate that there are as few as 12 members left. Consequently, they're desperate enough to try anything. The `good' news is that the Charlies probably won't notify the moneymen behind the contract until they have the bodies to deliver. Otherwise, the moneymen will reissue the contract along with better information, now that they know the target is in the area. Which means competition for the Charlies --which is the last thing they want.
In fact, this assessment is correct. Tricolor distributed the bountykill fliers more as precautionary flypaper than anything else; they never expected that the characters would survive Dumaine's eventual treachery and return to Earth. However, just in case the characters DID manage to survive the mission somehow, AND Tricolor did not learn about it, then they might hit this inexpensive `tripwire alarm' that had been left `strung across' the bottom of the Beanstalk.
If the players are foolish enough to try to stay in Libreville and follow the gang (or worse yet, try to locate the Tricolor moneymen), they are going to be attracting all the wrong sorts of attention. More gangs are going to remember the contract and come gunning for them. Tricolor is bound to get wind sooner or later and add their own considerable expertise to the general hunt. Transport nexi in and out of Libreville will be closely watched. In general, not the right move.
However, if the players take the next plane to Lubeck (or a reasonable connection), they will dodge all these life-threatening little hassles. But, unbeknownst to them, the Charlie Platoon will still be after them, hoping for that one big score they so badly need.
When the players arrive in Lubeck, they will have no problem locating Herman Unterer, who lives in a historic home only two doors down from the former residence of Thomas Mann (now a national landmark). Rather than talk at home, Herman will insist that they take a stroll around the Maria's Kirche; he wants to buy a few flowers to brighten up his windows. (He also likes to talk about sensitive matters in VERY public places.)
After hearing the players' tale of woe and asking a few questions about Larkin, Herman will stop at an outdoor cafe for a cup of coffee and a few marzipan cookies --which he evidently relishes. In no hurry to move the conversation along, he asks the characters a few questions about themselves, comments on the weather, the wretched rains Lubeck had only two days ago, and generally behaves in an infuriatingly casual fashion.
Eventually, however, Herman will be satisfied that he can talk with the characters in safety, and asks them what they want. After hearing their requests, he will sit very still, apparently lost in thought. He will then recommend that the characters go the IEX campus in France and look for Dumaine in the Sapientology Complex. He may not be there, but any messages for him would be addressed to the campus, and forwarded. Find the forwarding address, and you've probably found Dumaine. After all, he still has to maintain his position with the IEX, although he is working for, as Herman will put it, `those Parisian madmen.'
Questioned as to whom these madmen are, Herman will tell the characters what he knows of Tricolor --which is quite a good deal, thanks to his sources in France. His comments can either be formulated by the referee, or the following sheet can be presented as a general synopsis of what Herman will impart to the characters.
The only thing that Herman is unsure of is WHY Tricolor would want Vish all for themselves? Clearly, something underhanded must be involved, but Herman has no information that would suggest what that might be. Getting that information, he concludes, is the characters' job, anyway.
However, in order to make their job easier, he can provide them with one last piece of information; the pass-code for entry to the building belonging to the Sapientology Division (Dumaine's). At least the group won't have to worry about tripping any alarms when breaking in; walking through the front door is always easier. But Herman cautions them; security guards do maintain a walking patrol about the campus and in the buildings.
CAMPUS CRASHING IN CAMPAGNE Where: IEX HQ, St. Denis de la Campagne, France, Earth What: finding out where Dumaine has gone
After the characters arrive in St. Denis de la Campagne, they should prepare for a brief nocturnal visit to the campus of L'Institut des Etudes Xenologiques --or, IEX. Observation of the site will show that its sprawling grounds are not very heavily or aggressively patrolled, but the individual buildings show signs of increased security measures.
Getting to the Sapientology building under the cover of night should be an easy task, and the pass-code will get the characters right in without a hitch. However, it will be more difficult to dodge the internal walking patrols, particularly if the characters are using visible lights to inspect darkened offices, etc. If the characters have had the forethought to use some of their credit line to purchase active IR or light amplification goggles, they should find it relatively easy to avoid attracting the guards' attention.
A quick search of the electronic mail system (accessible from the head secretary's terminal) will indicate that for the past four weeks, all of Dumaine's mail has been forwarded. However, there is a security restriction on where it is being forwarded to. Cracking the security restriction to discover the forwarding address is a computer-related task, which will be easier if the operator is cyberenhanced so that he/she can jack directly into the system.
Once access is obtained, the characters will discover that Dumaine's mail is currently being rerouted to an electronic mail account registered with Nanobiotech Associates, located on Mars in the new Rushtown community located at the foot of Olympus Mons. In scanning the mail Dumaine has recently received, there is quite a large volume from one Sverker Olavson -- a name that most of the characters will immediately recognize as belonging to a Swedish Nobel Prize winner. There is also a fair amount of correspondence that has been received from Mars and has been sent on to Olavson, all bearing Dumaine's name.
Unfortunately, the content of these various mailings is not available; only the record of the transfers. But Olavson's Stockholm address is readily available --and may suggest a logical stop before heading for Mars.
Searches of Dumaine's office and the rest of the facilities will turn up nothing of interest, except for the fact that any other IEX database shows Dumaien as being on assignment somewhere in the American Arm. Dumaine's office is particularly sterile, as if someone had taken great pains to remove anything that might offer an investigator a clue as to his location. Once the characters have avoided the interior walking patrol, they will be able to slip away into the night and get off the IEX campus without a hitch. In the event that they are detected by a guard, they will have to disable that guard in one turn. Otherwise, the guard will be able to alert IEX's security forces that intruders are present. The response will be swift and home straight in on the location of the guard's communicator.
Although the characters now have an idea where Dumaine is, they might be able to learn a little bit more about what he's doing by meeting with his current `pen pal,' Dr. Sverker Olavson. This of course, will necessitate a quick trip to Sweden.
LAST SUPPER Where: Stockholm, Sweden, Earth What: collecting clues on Dumaine/Tricolor's plan
Arriving in Stockholm, the characters will find that Sverker Olavson's address belongs to a quaint house in the Old City. Getting in touch with Olavson is as easy as making a call, since he works at home. He is a friendly fellow, and if the players mention Dumaine, the Nobel laureate will warmly invite them to join him for dinner at a nearby restaurant, where they can chat over caviar and reindeer steaks.
The interior of the restaurant, Fem Sma Hus (Five Small Houses), is impressively ancient, not having changed much since its inception sometime back in the 16th Century. Olavson --who insists upon being called Sverker by his new friends-- is well-known here and gets a quiet corner table. He will be interested in how the characters know Dumaine. If he is told anything of Dumaine's treachery (which the players shouldn't do anyhow for security reasons), he will flatly disbelieve it. However, Sverker can easily be steered onto other topics, such as his friendship with Dumaine and their related professional interests.
Olavson's most recent work has involved research into achieving a finer understanding of Pentapod biogeneering, particularly in the area of recombinant genetics and viral vaccines. Dumaine first contacted him 4 years ago, asking for the Nobel laureate's advice regarding some research being done into Kafer body chemistry. Out of that correspondence grew a pleasant friendship, although the academic exchange between the two had been decreasing for some time. However, just six weeks ago, Dumaine had begun contacting Olavson with all sorts of questions about his current work, particularly as it applied to the manufacture of fast-acting vaccines. Olavson had offered to visit Dumaine in St. Denis only two weeks ago, but `dear Franchot' had deflected that idea, citing exhaustion and a rather persistant headcold.
Of course, the players should realize that Olavson believes that Dumaine is still in France, rather than on Mars. But before they get much more out of the kindly old fellow, they will become aware of a sudden disturbance near the entrance to the restaurant. Gunfire will erupt and 8 members of the Charlie Platoon will come storming in. This time, the attackers are all equipped with handguns and are determined to take their prey here and now. In the ensuing firefight, the museum-like interior of Fem Sma Hus will be wrecked beyond repair, and Olavson will be killed by a bullet to the head. If Charlie Platoon is defeated (they will run when four of their number are incapacitated), they will not resume their attacks against the group; indeed, they will have ceased to exist as a gang and will be lucky to escape Sweden without being captured by the police.
However, if the characters stay around, they will be detained for many days while they are questioned and the facts of the incident are confirmed. During this time, they may also have their pictures circulated through media channels --resulting in a daily chance that Tricolor will become aware that they are alive and on the trail of Vish and Dumaine.
Consequently, it would be best for the characters to get out of town --and off to Mars. This can be achieved by hopping on a shuttle (available in Stockholm) and finding a flight departing for the L-5 in-system transit hub. The ride there is easily enough accomplished, but there is no service available to Mars for the next 36 hours. However, given their credit line, the players will be able to charter a courier on short notice (although the price will be exorbitant).
BOOMTOWN RATS Where: Rushtown, Olympus Mons, Mars What: observing Dumaine and learning of his plot
Arriving on Mars, the characters are treated to the dubious charm of the newest American resurgence there; a modular, pressurized urban sprawl simply named `Rushtown.' Located approximately 300 kilometers north of the older American colony, Rushtown is a classic boomtown, the direct outgrowth of the tantalum strike made in Olympus Mons several years ago. The chaotic cluster of buildings holds almost 10,000 inhabitants, most of whom are workers directly involved with the production of tantalum. The corporate execs are taking up residence in the old American colony domes, which are now coming out of mothballs at an impressive rate.
Dumaine's address at Nanobiotech Associates corresponds with the only `high tech' industry currently situated in Rushtown. Nestled amongst a sprawl of cheap modular housing, saloons, and other less reputable establishments, it strikes an odd, dischordant note with its surroundings. Nanobiotech seems something of a mystery with the locals, which the players will learn from various barflies that haunt the taverns. In fact, as far as anyone can tell, the employees live in the complex; only a couple of security guards ever come out for a drink --and then, only on weekends.
A little research behind the corporate structure of Nanobiotech shows it to be a small private firm that is currently conducting peripheral research in support of a number of IEX initiatives. Observing the installation itself will reveal a number of subtle but potent automated security systems in place, along with 13 armed and armored guards (rigid armor vests, SG-77 Assault rifle, Experienced NPC).
What goes on inside the compound is a mystery, since access is restricted to authorized individuals --a clearance that is awarded neither frequently or quickly. However, if the players show a little knowledge of detective work, they will look for clues in the one inevitable interface that any supposedly `closed' system still has with its environment; it's waste.
The trash coming out of Nanobiotech is mostly quite mundane, ranging from domestic consumables to broken lab beakers and half-eaten sandwiches. However, if the players take the time (and the chance) of inspecting the contents of the surgical sharps containers, they will discover literally dozens of small ampules that have been used to hold Ylii blood samples (determinable only via microscope). A close inspection of the food will turn up evidence of some sort of Ylii protein compound, most of which is uneaten.
If the players decide to get an analysis of the Ylii blood from someone with a knowledge of hemotology, they will only get one clear (but VERY significant) result; each separate blood sample seems to contain traces of a virus, but no two viruses are the same. And although the blood sample will baffle the analyst, she will feel that the viruses she's seeing are NOT friendly ones.
SUGGESTIONS FOR THE REFEREE:
At this point, the players may have begun to guess that they have not only found where Vish and Dumaine have been stashed, but what Tricolor was up to the whole time; the creation of a biogeneered sleeper virus that is lethal to all Ylii. Of course, in order to conduct such research, Tricolor had to use one of its IEX agents to acquire at least one live subjects for a number of crucial biochemical tests. Hence, Dumaine's objective throughout Operation Back Door and his abduction of Vish.
The ghastly strategy Tricolor has concocted --while morally repugnant-- could prove to be equally effective. The virus would be used to infect the Ylii and their food supply. It would lay dormant while spreading throughout the species, and then --after a year or two-- would erupt into a rapid and absolutely lethal terminal phase. Tricolor, agreeing with the general assumption that the Kafers depend upon the Ylii for technical assistance, believes that this epidemic would cripple the Kafer war effort. In turn, that would allow human ingenuity and technical innovation to overwhelm the Kafers. Even before Operation Back Door had begun, Tricolor considered the absolute genocide of the `mystery race' a regrettable but necessary `tactic.' Tricolor also believes that any outrage over this `tactic' will be quickly forgiven and forgotten if the Kafer menace can be ended. After all, how long can humanity mourn a race it never really met? Meanwhile, France will have shown its capacity for decisive and cunning action by bringing about the ultimate downfall of the Kafers.
Of course, France --and the rest of the world-- would certainly not forgive and forget Tricolor's perpetration of this most horrendous of all crimes. France would suffer a degree of national disgrace and dishonor rivalled only by post-Nazi Germany after the horrible legacy of the death-camps became general knowledge. Tricolor --like the Nazis-- cannot see this clearly because they are blinded by their own fanaticism. It is this same fanaticism which makes them lethal opponents for the player characters.
STRIKING THE TRICOLOR Where: Nanobiotech Associates, Rushtown, Olympus Mons, Mars What: rescuing Vish
Clearly, there is only one answer open to the characters; break into the Nanobiotech compound and rescue Vish. Given the absolute restriction against admitting unapproved personnel, however, there is no way to get inside via masquerade. Also, any schemes involving demolitions work or the like are inadvisable; the effects of depressurization on Mars are not much different than those experienced in deep space.
Consequently, this is the one scene throughout the entire OPERATION BACK DOOR adventure where the simplest and most brutish course of action is actually the only one that makes sense; a cold-blooded assault into the Nanobiotech compound itself. While this will neither be easy nor safe (expect a few characters to die or be severely wounded), there are a few mitigating factors.
First, the guards at Nanobiotech --although members of Tricolor-- have also grown quite complacent. With only one half-day pass every two weekends, they have grown sick and tired of the complex and their boredom has begun to show up as laxness on duty. If the characters are careful about it, their silenced weapons may allow them to remove the outermost door guards without even alerting the rest of the comlex.
Second, the underculture of Rushtown includes dozens of individuals who are not adverse to taking part in an operation that is less than legally proper --they just want a share of the loot. The characters might well be able to recruit several such individuals, although it is important that they are careful when they do so; not many of the Rushtown low-lifes very trustworthy. Some might simply be looking to snitch on the players to claim a reward from the grateful Nanobiotech staff.
Third, and last, there is also no shortage of black market weapons in Rushtown, some of which could significantly increase the group's overall firepower.
In the event of an attack, the entire staff of Nanobiotech will turn out to defend their installation. In addition to the 13 armed and armored Experienced guards, there are 14 Novice scientists and Dumaine. These individuals will be armed with a smattering of Arno 5-15 pistols and Guiscard FC-68 sporting rifles. Some will only have a few smoke and gas grenades to hurl. Dumaine will fight to the death and if cornered, will charge the characters in a mad rush, trying to take as many along with him as he can.
The Nanobiotech complex is a tight, sterile amalgamation of modular living and working units. It is stark and claustrophobic, with narrow walkways and few open spaces. The referee should design a suitable floorplan, with the labs and the live-sample holding area being located at the rear of the building (which has only one wall between it and the almost non-existant Martian atmosphere). Any running firefight through this compound should be an adrenaline-surging sequence of room-to-room assaults at brutally short range.
Quite possibly, the characters may find themselves getting the worst of the fight, and trapped in a situation of growing hopelessness: clearly, their adversaries are NOT about to take prisoners. In such situations, the referee should feel free to bring in the cavalry from over the hill; in this case, AIA agents from the FBI/Internal Affairs division.
By the time the characters arrive on Mars, it is actually quite likely that one of Larkin's data couriers will have successfully transferred his package to the FBI, which will immediately conduct a high-security (and confidential) search of all retinal security checks conducted within the past week or so inside the Sol System. While the number of such checks is staggering, so are the computer and automated comparison facilities of the FBI. In short order, the characters arrival through OQC will be picked up, and from there, a simple trace of the activity in their travel and credit accounts will reconstruct their movements and activities. While the FBI would not be empowered to interfere with the characters --or the suspected Tricolor agents-- they would certainly begin to keep a number of agents in the vicinity of the characters.
If the attack on the Nanobiotech installation goes poorly, this also means that the FBI tails will arrive on the scene in time to prevent the Tricolor people from finishing the characters off. If the characters seem able to handle things on their own, the FBI should show up mere seconds after the shooting has stopped --just in time to witness Vish's glad reunion with his human friends.
SUGGESTIONS TO THE REFEREE:
For groups that have limited (or no) interest in combat between starships, this is probably the right place to end the OPERATION BACK DOOR adventure. However, for those who like a little rough-and-tumble between starships --and who are itching to score a few points against the Kafers-- the last two scenes should prove to be a satisfying, strategically significant conclusion to the adventure. While the STAR CRUISER rules are not required, they will greatly enhance the enjoyment and excitement of the final clash of arms.
A MEETING OF THE MINDS Where: New York City, America, Earth What: Vish and characters meet top international officials
The next few days will go by in something of a rush for the characters, who will not have much say in the maelstrom of events that they will be caught up in.
They --along with Vish-- will be taken into custody by the FBI, who will whisk them back to Earth on a secret courier. There, the group will be politely asked to cooperate with a full debriefing by none other than the AIA Chief Director and the head of the FBI. Meanwhile, as the State Department is trying to make headway with Vish, they are realizing that he absolutely refuses to go anywhere or do anything without the characters; these are the only humans he completely trusts.
As a result, the characters will find themselves in a secret session of the International Security Council. THis `mini-UN is a forum for the major space-faring nations of the Earth. Appropriately enough, the ISC has its headquarters in the restored UN building in New York City. Here, Vish will demonstrate great poise (and patience) as he engages the representatitives in several days of marathon discussions. On several occasions --where misinterpretations are due to cultural differences, not vocabulary failures-- the players will be asked to try to bridge the communication gap.
In general, the outcome of these meetings will be as follow:
1) Vish understands that Dumaine and the humans working with him are not representative of all of humankind. In fact, Vish seems to have more understanding of them than the embarrassed representatives of the ISC. Vish's perspective is typically Ylii; the reactionary humans are a necessary part of the speciate balance. Without them, humankind would no longer need to engage in moral and ethical arguments and self-analysis. The human social homeostacis is virtually defined by the ongoing struggle to stop people such as Dumaine. Without this struggle, society would have little reason for continuing in its current state. This observation impresses many of the human delegates, shocks a few others.
2) The Ylii are willing to allow human military units into their homesystem as a first step toward a more sweeping alliance. Vish will bluntly state that Ssuushni'a stands in increased danger of Kafer attack, largely due to the fact that the humans have now driven the Kafer attacks back two times. The Ylii have become aware (via reconaissance ships and covert monitoring stations in certain Kafer systems) that the while many of the Kafer Suzerains seemed to be relieved by the death and failure of Triumphant Destiny during his last campaign against the humans, they are also beginning to show signs of increasing cooperation with each other. This is a clear indication that the Kafers now consider humanity a major threat to their species. It also suggests that the Kafers may now have a strong motivation to resolve the lagging, lackadaisacal war they have been waging against the Ylii for several centuries. Such an offensive would give the Kafers access to three more garden worlds, hundreds of millions of useful slaves, and the peace of mind that would arise from finally quelling this potential `second front.'
Consequently, the Ylii will welcome as much military support as humanity can provide.
3) Vish's government has authorized him to welcome human researchers and intelligence experts to Ssuushni'a, not only to learn about Ylii society, but the Kafers. Having been in contact with the Kafers for over three centuries, the Ylii have a much better understanding of their language, society, and behavior; they have facts where human sapientologists are still relying on educated guesses.
4) Lastly, Vish requests that the characters be made liaisons to the Ylii people for the first sensitive months during which these two races are getting acquainted. Cultural interpretation will probably be more crucial than linguistic interpretation, Vish observes --and so far, the characters have been doing just fine. He has no objection to the addition of various academics and specialists in the field of sapientology.
At the conclusion of these meetings, the member nations of the International Security Council resolve to pursue an alliance with the Ylii, encouraging a further exchange of representatives, and the dispatch of an international defensive force to Ssuushni'a. The players are to escort Vish back to his homeworld aboard a frigate that Australia has detached for this special mission.
SUGGESTIONS TO THE REFEREE:
This ends the adventure OPERATION BACK DOOR. However, various new adventure threads can grow out of this apparent conclusion. You may decide to have one Kafer lander make it to the planet anyway. Without any significant preparation for a dirtside war, the Ylii may have to depend upon the Marine platoon now in system --and the characters-- to hunt the Kafers down.
Or, if the players have particularly enjoyed their interaction with Ylii society, they may wish to continue playing through their experiences as emmisaries of good will and cultural understanding. Another option is that they can return to deep space in their fully-owned hull (Cat's Feet), either as explorers along the newly-reopened American Arm --or even as a reconaissance team probing into nearby Kafer systems.
Lastly, --but most importantly-- it is important not to allow the events in this adventure to brew over into full scale war with the Kafers, nor as an excuse for any radical swings in international politics on Earth.
Humanity will one day want to use Ylii space as a jump off point against the Kafers --but not just yet. That may be many years away, and the mysterious loss of their flotilla to Ssuushni'a will certainly force the Kafers to move more slowly and cautiously than they had intended with respect to the Ylii. Similarly, the discovery of Tricolor will not result in the sudden collapse of French preeminence, nor will the Alderhorst Alliance's success with Operation Back Door result in immediate American, German, or Australian military preeminence.
What these events DO portend is a subtle but certain shift TOWARD these outcomes. The players have participated in certain moments that will shape history, but it may be ten or twenty years before the results are realized in full. Until then, they have a little more money than usual, a ship of their own, and a universe to explore.
Who could ask for more?
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