Discrepancy Correction Initiative: Stage 3
By Matt Rose
This BPN hinges on the rather complex company politics surrounding the exploration/exploitation of a virgin world. Let's take a glance at the BPN slip.
Colour Designation: Green
Minimum SCL: 9
Training Package Recommended: Any
Consolidated Pay: 300c per Operative
Contact: Randy Yates, Dept. of Expedition
Coverage: Station Analysis
Summary: Squad required for routine duties on Cat. 0 Resource World. Estimated duration 12 days.
Doesn't tell you much does it? The nasty ones never do. ;)
All I ever wanted was a world to call my own
Within the highest Departments of SLA Industries it has long been a mark of prestige to own a Pleasure World. These planets, often of outstanding natural beauty, are used as stress free getaways by the department's highest executives and principal shareholders. Of course, not all Departments are created equally. Many of the smaller organisations can only dream of having their own Pleasure World. Such is the case with the Dept. of Forms, or at least, it was.
For centuries the Dept. of Forms has been without a Pleasure World, having to rely on the charity of its parent organisation, the Dept. of Resources, for the occasional use of theirs. In 790SD the Dept. of Forms came under the control of Jakob Dowman, a ruthless executive who gained power by promising the executive board a world of their own. It would by no means be easy, but Dowman insisted that it was possible. All that would be required was patience, and since the executive board were high enough in the company hierarchy to reap the benefits of SLA's rejuvenation techniques, time would not be an issue.
Just over a century later, a prolonged campaign of cost cutting, downsizing and outsourcing has allowed the Dept. to build up a modest (i.e. multi-multi-billion credit) fund with which to make its dream come true. It must be understood, however, that the Dept. of Forms is attempting to acquire a Pleasure World on the cheap. As impressive as their funds may appear, they are really quite inadequate for the purposes they have in mind.
Pick a planet, any planet
Their first step was to select a likely Category Zero Resource World. Often these planets have only been scanned from orbit, given a rudimentary classification, and been filed away in the bottomless SLA archives. After several years of research they settled on a planet designated as 'Filigree', a singularly uninteresting world which would require no terraforming. (Please note, Filigree is not the planets real name.) They filed an application with Head Office, and after minor negotiation, signed a one hundred year lease of Filigree, with options to renew.
An undeveloped world. A pristine, virginal wilderness. Head Office is understandably very cautious about allowing employees out into such conditions. Such worlds have no urbanisation, no media, and as far as SLA is concerned, no control. Without a constant barrage of Third Eye imagery, personnel may be left with a little too much time to think. Consequently those guardians of SLA values, Cloak Division, are required to diligently vet each world for content before less trusted employees are permitted access. This process is referred to as Screening.
Of course, such a task requires immense manpower and funding, far beyond that of even Cloak Division. To surmount these problems, specially trained Cloak employees act as consultants to Departments wishing to Screen planets. These consultants oversee the operation, with most of the actual legwork being subcontracted out to Operatives via the Dept. of Expedition. (Do you see where the players are going to fit in yet?) To maintain security, these operatives are often given extensive misinformation. They focus only on their allotted tasks, and staff turnover is kept high to prevent any one squad assembling too much information. Oh, one last important detail- Cloak generally like to use Ops with a relatively low SCL, so that if anything un-SLA does come to light, they can be deleted without upsetting anyone.
Anything to declare?
Very early on Dowman realised that the Screening process could well pose a problem for his ambitious planet-acquiring scheme. Often a planet's Screening can drag on for decades, with costs spiralling out of control- an eventuality that would cripple the Dept. of Forms.
The Cloak Division consultants eventually hired by Dowman were John Leigh and Annalise Chong. (These are not, of course, their real names.) Both have worked in Cloak Division's Planetary Screening Committee for many, many years. Both have been growing subtly weary of the weight of responsibility, although not enough to register significantly on their psyche profiles. Selecting these two Cloak employees required the spending of large amounts of money, the exertion of large amounts of influence, and the taking of large (Internal-Affairs-large) risks. When absolutely convinced of their receptivity, Dowman approached Leigh and Chong, explained his Department's needs to them, and offered them the Holy Grail of SLA Industries. Enough money to pay for a comfortable retirement, and of course, a planet to spend it on- if they could complete the project within budget. They could hardly refuse.
The Batrachian Problem
Stage One of the Screening process involved Leigh, Chong and several squads of expendable Operatives landing on Filigree, the first SLA personnel to do so. They immediately discovered that Filigree would not serve as a Pleasure World for one simple reason. It was inhabited. Filigree, it was found, serves as home for a species of eight-limbed amphibious primitives, capable of language and crude tool usage. The aborigines live in small settlements, with a total population estimated at 1.5 million individuals, scattered throughout the abundant wetlands. (DISCLAIMER: I'm using the term aborigine in its sense of 'existing in a land from the earliest times'. The use of this word is not intended to be reflect upon the native population of Australia.)
The aboriginal presence on Filigree greatly complicated the situation. The amount of bureaucracy involved in observing classifying and evaluating a sentient species dwarfs even the trickiest case of Screening. Potentially the aborigines could be offered a PPP contract, although more likely they would be judged as lacking potential and exterminated. Neither eventuality would occur for decades, however, and either way, the Dept. of Forms would lose out on their Pleasure World.
Leigh and Chong were left no option. If they wanted to see their retirement they would have to devise a way to exterminate the aborigines without alerting the rest of Cloak Division to their actions. Although this sounds impossible, it is not without precedent. Field agents of the Planetary Screening Committee are granted a great deal of autonomy, and have been known to take the burden of decision making off the Committee's hands. In such cases the Committee is usually unofficially aware of their agents actions, but not always. Leigh and Chong are exceptionally experienced, and know every rule and regulation, as well as ways of circumventing them. They also have exceptional knowledge of racial extermination, an exercise the Committee refers to as 'discrepancy correction'.
Finally, a solution
Unfortunately many of the Planetary Screening Committee's discrepancy correction initiatives would be beyond the Dept. of Forms' budget. The only realistic option was chemical or biological weapons. Some amateur experimentation revealed that the aborigines were surprisingly resistant to the weapons commonly used in such situations, the most effective of which was only able to produce an 80% fatality rate. To tailor-make weapons of sufficient potency live aboriginal specimens would have to be submitted to either Karma, an action which would clearly give the game away.
Fortunately their experience of discrepancy correction initiatives suggested an alternative. They could have a biological weapon produced that would eliminate the aborigines' food sources. Samples of the plant and animal species most commonly eaten by the amphibians could be used, and a cheap and effective doomsday weapon produced.
Stage Two of the screening process involved the observation of the aboriginal dietary habits, the collection of samples, their transport to the nearest Karma facility, and the formulation of the viral cocktail. During this phase Leigh and Chong also settled on a location to serve as ground zero, a lengthy plateau above the wetlands that would allow the virus to be introduced into the planets weather systems with maximum efficiency. Before the plan could progress any further however, Karma expressed a great interest in several of the plant and animal life forms submitted for testing. Citing 'interesting genetic properties', the corporate giant requested a larger set of samples before the holocaust could be allowed to happen. Fearing that Karma could start legal proceedings against them if they refused, and knowing that their secret would be blown wide open by such an occurrence, Leigh and Chong had no option but to acquiesce. Once the manufacturing was completed, the viral proliferators were shipped out to Filigree and set in place. Karma retained the activation codes however, promising to release them upon completion of a satisfactory gene pool sample.
With funds running low Leigh and Chong were forced to commission more BPNs bringing operatives out to Filigree, simply to collect Karma's samples. Their frustration was running so high that they almost expected the next setback. The expedition contracted a software glitch. Whether a malicious virus or a complex software incompatibility problem, system after system started to go down. All of the expeditions' surface vehicles suffered fatal system crashes, as well as one of their dropships. Before the problem could spread further, all inter-machine communication was restricted, but not before the proliferators were effected.
Lacking the resources necessary to seek technical support, Leigh and Chong had no choice but to press onwards with their mission. As promised, Karma released the activation codes, which proved to be useless as the proliferators failed to respond to the remote signal. Karma offered to send out a technician to clear the problem. Leigh and Chong turned them down 'for reasons of security', asking instead to be given the manual override codes. Karma, as retribution for all the secrecy with which Leigh and Chong have shrouded their activities, refused to sign over the codes, claiming them to be proprietary information not covered by the lease. Leigh and Chong were furious threatening to take the matter up with higher powers within Cloak Division. (They were bluffing) As a compromise, Karma produced a set of manual activation codes printed on biogenetic security slips, organic acetates that decay shortly after removal from their hermetic containers.
Of course, someone still needs to bring those slips out to Filigree, trudge through kilometre after kilometre of alien landscape, and feed them into the proliferators. But that would be Stage Three
Is this going to be a stand up fight, sir, or another bug hunt?
Your players might well balk at the uninformative nature of the BPN slip. A good SLA Info skill (6+) will inform them that a Cat 0 Resource world is just about as unsurveyed as a world can be and still exist. More alarmingly, the Randy Yates mentioned on the slip is not a person, but a dropship, which the Ops will have to rush to catch. It is small and cramped, and offers no external views. They will have no contact with the crew. When they are strapped in it will take off and leave Mort's cloudy atmosphere. The briefing will be conducted across a vidscreen by an anonymous Dept. of Expedition employee en route.
Go wild. Give them as much 'information' as you want. Make up a timeline for the world, including its discovery and various failed bids from different Departments. Give them a survey report that reads like a holiday brochure, containing next to no truth. The nature of their mission is to clear a software glitch from a chain of automated data gathering installations. The manual reboot codes needed to do this are contained in an armoured carry case locked in a compartment at the rear of the seating area. The case will be released upon landing. There will then follow a short film demonstrating how to select the right code module, open it, remove the slip from its liquid filled container and enter it into the installation. It will be stressed that the code slips are delicate, and require inputting into the installation within 120 seconds of the module being opened. They will finally be informed that the pickup will be made from the landing site in exactly 10 Mort Standard days, and that they will be out of touch with the company for that duration. During this time, the company will be represented in its entirety by two Cloak employees, agents Leigh and Chong
Note. There will be no reference to the aborigines in the briefing (obviously). There will be no maps.
The Ops will be monitored during the briefing. Any voicing of suspicion or scepticism will be reported to Leigh and Chong, who will take note of the characters in question. After a short flight the dropship will be felt docking with the unnamed foldship. Shortly after this, the vessel will fold space.
One short hop on a foldship later
After the fold, there will be a long flight to Filigree. After what seems an age, they will feel the turbulence of atmospheric entry, and before long they will be stooping down the exit ramp, dropping into waist-deep swamp, and dragging themselves to safety before the dropship blasts back into the sky.
Where the hell is this place?
When the Ops take stock of their surroundings, go wild. This is a very alien world. The sky overhead is a sickly greenish turquoise, streaked with unusual cloud formations. The plateau they are on is roughly 2km above the rest of the continent and relatively free of the mist that obscures everything elsewhere. They will also be treated to the spectacle of the sun, a glowering white/green ball of light that hangs motionless in the sky, filling the air with humidity as it causes the swamps to steam. The sight of this star should be decidedly unsettling for operatives used to the dense clouds of Mort. They will have ample time to sicken of it, however, as it will not set for the entire duration of their stay, each revolution of Filigree taking just under six Mort Standard weeks.
Dominating one side of their field of vision, and forming the eastern boundary of the plateau is a jagged range of mountains. These rise in tiers, until the farthest peaks are obscured by a perpetual mass of storm clouds. There are also hundreds of streams and tributaries running off the mountainside into the plateau wetlands, along with all the gullies and moraine associated with them.
The plateau itself is a swampy nightmare. Over 80% of its area lies under 50cm or more of water, the water itself often being covered by a thick mat of technicolour scum. Thick clumps of weird vegetation rise above the waters, resembling sea sponges more than any familiar plant. These growths protrude from the swamp's surface with relative density, frequently growing to more than 2m above the waterline. In other places huge fleshy trumpet-like plants rise in clusters above everything else. These floral structures, often more than 5m tall, have the alarming habit of violently retracting beneath the water if disturbed.
The marshes are also crawling with animate life, from scuttling myriad-legged critters to palm sized surface skeeters, to the occasional thing, which rises partially through the sludge before settling once more. One of the most remarkable sights are the numerous gas floaters which bob through the air. These membranous creatures (Plant? Animal?) drift lazily across the sky, sometimes settling for a time on the swamp surface. They grow as large as 3m across and have a cluster of tendrils at their base which collect sludge and nutrients. There are always dozens of gas floaters in view.
O brave new world, that has such people in't!
Leigh and Chong have established their centre of operations about 150m from the landing zone, which is situated quite near the northern most tip of the plateau. They will make brief radio contact with the Ops giving them directions. The camp consists of a grounded kilcopter on floats and several immobilised amphibious vehicles, surrounded by containers and crates webbed into place. The two Cloak agents will greet the Ops tersely, then request/demand to see the code modules to verify their contents.
John Leigh is quite short for a human, but very broad across the shoulders and jaw. By contrast, Annalise Chong is willowy and tall. Both look to be in their late thirties/early forties, although they are in fact older than this. They both look in great shape physically (depending on your WoP, they could have served time as DarkFinders in their youth), and both have the slightly plasticky look of people who have been damaged and rebuilt many times. I will leave the minutiae of characterisation to you, but any Op with high social skills will be able to tell that they are very, very stressed. Stressed enough for it to show through their Cloak façade!
Satisfied that the codes appear genuine, the squad will be sent on its way. Leigh and Chong provide them with enough directions (apparently) to locate each of the 5 data gathering installations. Basically they must head directly away from the mountains towards the edge of the plateau. There they will find the first installation. From there, they can proceed southward, keeping close to the drop down to the mainland. The remaining installations are all situated close to the lip, at intervals of about 15km. Finally, Leigh and Chong will contact them every 12 hours to receive a progress report. (And get a fix on their position.)
Note. If any of the squad state that they are going through the various comm frequencies they will hear the radio chatter of the other SLA squads operating on Filigree, detailed below. If they don't, it will be a nice surprise for them.
The lay of the land
The plateau that Leigh and Chong have chosen to serve as their ground zero is some 130km in length. For the most part, it is 10 - 30 km in width, although it does narrow considerably at either extremity. As has been mentioned, it is extremely difficult terrain to traverse. An athletic group of humans should be able to cover about 20km if they keep going for 12 hours with little rest. Stormers and Shaktars should be able to improve on this. Wraith Raiders will be very much out of their element, as the temperatures will be uncomfortably high.
As they slog through Filigree's wetlands the Ops will never be sure how safe they are, as they have no way of knowing what could be a threat. They should have great difficulty in telling plants and animals apart. What looks like a cluster of reeds could plunge beneath the surface at the Ops approach, only to reappear at the far side of the pool. Bizarrely symmetrical five winged insects copter through the air around them. Herds of ever present gas floaters scud benignly (?) through the sky above them. Bulky, slimy fast moving things brush past their legs on numerous occasions. The air is filled with unnerving, unfamiliar sounds, and heavy with a nauseous cocktail of alien fragrances. In some places, the surface of the swamp remains disturbingly clear of protrusions, suggesting an area of greater depth. These areas, it is needless to say, are best skirted around.
You can see for miles up here
After about a six hour trudge, the group will reach the edge of the plateau. They will be rewarded with an exhilarating view of the mainland below, shrouded in thick swathes of tropical steam, through which poke enormous vegetative structures. The air below them is thronging with gas floaters, and in areas where the mists are less dense they will be able to see that the marshes are much more thickly covered with plant matter. The drop down to the tropical hell below ranges from being a sheer vertical drop, to a somewhat more traversable, though still extremely slick and hazardous, incline.
Near this lip, on one of the rare patches of solid ground to emerge from the marsh, is placed the first of the 'data gatherers'. The gatherer is a self contained unit about the size of half a compact car. It is a simple matter to insert the first code slip. There is nothing at all remarkable about those vents on the side of it, which are probably just for cooling, right? The groups should then probably camp down, as slogging through viscous slime tends to exhaust one.
The next 'day' involves another extended march through sludge, with nothing much to break the monotony. Locating the second installation is very easy, and it is in a very similar set up to the first. After they have input the second code, they should rest again. Try to reinforce the feeling of isolation.
Halfway through the third 'day' the boredom will be alleviated by an encounter with another SLA squad, The Stone Wings. They are made up of:
Snowfall - Ebon, Investigation, squad leader
Wormchild - Brainwaster, Death Squad
Abi James - Human, Mechanic
Roscoe Huller - Human, Pilot & Nav
They are all SCL 9. I will leave the particulars of their characterisation, equipment and abilities up to you. They will approach the group and, following Snowfall's lead, all conspicuously turn off their headset communicators, as they wish to discuss things without Leigh and Chong being able to tune in. If your group respond in kind, they will be liked by The Stone Wings, who are all fairly suspicious of SLA and all of its activities. They have been on Filigree for about 10 days collecting samples of a certain species of sponge. They are particularly interested in a region of wetlands situated centrally on the north/south axis, near the base of the mountains, because the Cloak representatives have warned them away from it. All they know is that the Walk Tall Crew, who they dismiss contemptuously as company drones, (see below) have been working there. This squad is currently camped about 25km further south, about 500m in from the drop. If your squad do not turn off their headsets The Stone Wings will barely speak, simply exchanging hollow pleasantries. Having concluded the exchange they will go back to sample collection, allowing your group to continue. They should reach the third installation without a problem.
On the fourth 'day' of trekking the group can either go straight to the next installation, or take a detour inland to see The Walk Tall Crew and risk missing the fourth installation. Alternatively they can contact them by radio. The Walk Tall Crew are:
Lance Hoeg - Human, Business, Squad Leader
Veer - Stormer 313, Death Squad
Toki - Stormer 313, Kick Murder
Ht't'Tkrr - Shaktar, Strike
Vrr'Kd't - Shaktar, Scout
However they are contacted, Hoeg will do almost all of the talking. He comes across as an uber-dedicated company man, living the SLA dream. Veer and Toki seem either strangely devoid of individuality or very thoroughly trained, following every order with precision. The two Shaktars seem similarly efficient, and are equally dedicated to Hoeg, who bears a braid of friendship from each of them. Hoeg will not disclose any information about their BPN. (They have actually been exterminating the very last aboriginal village left on the plateau.) They have some sample collection equipment with them, but not enough to justify a BPN. In general Hoeg will be disdainful of your squad, especially if they broke from their allotted route to come see him. You might want to make your squad make navigation rolls at this point. Failure would cost them several frustrating hours during which they search for the fourth installation.
Basically, we look for the ones with the fat asses
On the fifth 'day', when they will notice a marked drop in the number of gas floaters in the air, the group will meet the final SLA squad working on Filigree. This squad, called Vaudville Daze, will come upon your Ops in their 'morning'. They are:
Lucius Pearl - Human, Investigation, squad leader
Meef - Wraith, Scout
Clyde MacGiver - Frother, Death Squad
Gregor MacGiver - Frother, Death Squad
They have been on their BPN in the southernmost part of the plateau for almost 30 days, collecting a species of salamander with 'an enlarged thorax region', for that entire time. Needless to say, the Frothers are almost out of their minds with boredom. The only interesting piece of information they have is that 15 days ago Meef scaled the first slope of one of the mountains and thought he saw muzzle flash to the north. They are ambivalent towards the other squads working here, and will be towards yours too, unless they make an impression.
Towards the end of this 'day', when they have found the final installation and entered the code, they will see a dropship descend through the atmosphere to the landing site. They should also notice that there are next to no gas floaters in the air, even over the mainland. There are lots lying deflated in the swamps though.
'Day' six will be a depressing trudge back toward the camp, through swamps that look noticeably different from a few days ago. All of the sponge-like plants (Which make up the majority) seem to be shrinking and turning a sickly shade of grey. There are also many corpses floating on the surface of the pools, mainly from the salamander-esque species. Even some of the insect life is absent. If they speak to Vaudville Daze they will discover that all of their captured specimens have died. (They're furious.)
In the 'evening' a SCAF bike will scream out of nowhere and crash into the swamp 100m from them. When they investigate they will find a badly injured (12.7mm gutshot) human. After they have stabilised his condition he will be able to tell them his name is Henry Mayawall, he works for Karma, his team was sent to investigate some suspicious orders. He went out to perform reconnaissance today and saw what looked like a village in the centre of the plateau, but before he could report in he was shot. (By Walk Tall Crew) He believes Leigh and Chong have gone rogue from SLA, or at the least are trying to defraud Karma on a massive scale. He says that Karma will protect them if they can keep him alive.
At this point the Cloak team, who are dangerously unbalanced, will radio the squad for a status check. If they immediately kill Mayawall and say he died on impact, they might be OK. This will depend on whether they acted cynical during the briefing or turned their radio off when encountering The Stone Wings. If they did neither of these things Chong and Leigh will trust them. If not
Leigh will immediately demand that they kill Mayawall if still alive. Regardless of whether they comply, Chong will then issue a general order to all squads to move in and eliminate your Ops, citing them as accomplices to the DarkNight spy that just flew overhead on a SCAF.
How the squads react depends on how they were treated when encountered. The Stone Wings are furthest away (Closest to camp) and would not willingly attack the group whatever happened. However, if your Ops turned off their headsets when they first met them, and now appeal to them over the headsets telling them what's occurring, they will actively help. (They will be able to slow Leigh and Chong down if nothing else.) Otherwise they will try to keep themselves out of harms way while appearing to follow orders.
The Walk Tall Crew are second closest, having relocated to the village yesterday. They will of course attack, following the orders of SLA like good little drones. They cannot be reasoned with. They should be very dangerous, and as they will leave Hoeg behind, they can move comparatively quickly.
Vaudville Daze, who are closest, will react according to the impression they have formed (assuming your group radio them and try to argue them round). If your Ops impressed them, and if they make some persuasive arguments Vaudville Daze will come over to their side. If not, they will attack.
How you play the running (wading?) battle is up to you. There will possibly be full days between skirmishes as squads cover ground, and if your team use terrain to their advantage they might just have the edge. Basically, the outcome of the battle was decided when they did their socialising earlier. If they made some friends they stand a chance. If not, not. If they defeat the Walk Tall Crew in style it's possible Leigh and Chong will offer them a deal, particularly if they voluntarily killed Mayawall. Leigh will then tell the other squads the previous orders were a trick to confuse the enemy, and Walk Talk Crew were traitors. (Pretty damn unlikely, but Leigh and Chong really have lost it at this point.)
How will it end?
Your squad will be dead. Nuff said.
Your squad (and their remaining friends) will have killed everyone else. They can then await pickup and hope Karma can protect them long enough for Cloak to finish its investigation and find Leigh and Chong at fault.
Your squad will have made a deal with Cloak, or will have averted the firefight with their obedience. They will be picked up on schedule and become Cloak's new toy.
With these last two, they will have to make their way back to the pickup point, and it will become abundantly clear that almost everything native to the planet is either dead or dying. You should probably drop hints until they know it's partially their fault.