Angle of Incidence
This article was the featured adventure in the June/July 2014 issue.
Synopsis: An obsessed researcher hatches a dangerous plot to reunite with his late wife.
Setting: An Imperial Research Station. The adventure can start from any Imperial world. The time is sometime after the Fifth Frontier War (1107-1110).
Skills and Equipment Required: Starship handling skills.
Prologue: Ever Drifting Down the Stream
Feric McDonough is anxious and sweating heavily in his rumpled suit. He clearly has a problem. A shipload of supplies for an Imperial research station should have lifted a day ago; its crew is nowhere to be found; and McDonough’s boss has been hospitalized with an acute case of gurratu fever. His desperation grows as he explains all this to the PCs in the course of hiring them to ferry the goods. He offers them triple standard rates to make the run.
The station is several jumps away, in orbit around a black hole. Assuming PC (and player) anxiety, he hastens to add that this is not the first time his company has run cargo to the station, and it is his understanding that the station has been in a stable orbit around it for years. McDonough is frantic and will sweeten the deal as much as necessary.
The starship is a Type A2 Far Trader with a full hold. McDonough also gives the team permit codes and papers for use on arrival at the station and vouchers for fuel purchases and port fees en route.
I: Our Attitudes and Expectations
Traveller lacks rules for the placement of black holes, but common sense will serve. The referee should place the anomaly within any void of 2 or more parsecs radius. Obviously, no x-boat routes will link to it, and it will be classified a Red Zone.
Attempts to gather information beforehand on the station fail—the work ongoing there and the personnel is classified. They can only find the generalized research station Library Data such as that mentioned in Adventure 2: Research Station Gamma. The referee may refer to the information in Imperial Research Station Sigma below.
The adventurers arrive in-system with a bang, literally. Moments after breakout from jump, a key component of the drive fails explosively. Anyone nearby at the time takes 4D damage. The explosion also damages the power plant, which fails completely in 17D minutes. The maneuver drives are undamaged. Distress calls to the station are answered by an officious woman who seemingly ignores the heroes’ growing concern in order to gather information. The first instance of dialogue (including communications lag time) takes 30 minutes and consists of questions concerning the team’s business in the system, and verification and authorization of any information they supply. At the end of 30 minutes, the referee throws her reaction (DMs: PCs’ Liaison skill; prior Naval service, +1; exceptional persuasiveness on the players’ part, as determined by the referee, +1; transmitting the codes supplied by McDonough, +3.) A positive reaction grants permission to approach the station. A negative reaction results in another 30 minutes of questions and answers, but automatic access to the station.
If the group approaches the station without permission, or without first transmitting McDonough’s codes, they are fired on as soon as they are in range.
Upon arrival, the team is greeted by Dr Agata Dorlais (whose voice they recognize as the one on the comm) and an engineer introducing himself as Kinnaird Vashu, both attended by an armed security guard. Dorlais is all business, confining her interactions to informing the team of the station rules, assigning them temporary quarters, and once again verifying their information using a hand computer. Vashu is much friendlier. Not only is he eager to examine the ship’s damaged drives, he seems pleased to see the PCs.
Vashu gets right to work upon gaining permission. Upon getting any of the PCs alone, he begins speaking oddly: throwing non sequiturs, seemingly nonsensical slogans, and turns of phrase that do not really fit into the conversation. The heroes may throw INT or less to realize that he is feeding them passphrases and is waiting for the proper countersigns. After a few awkward exchanges, Vashu also realizes this and asks quietly if they are there to back him up. Obviously they are not.
Vashu then takes them into his confidence: he is actually an undercover Imperial agent, investigating possible criminal activity on board the station. He was expecting fellow operatives as backup. Once apprised of the situation, he understands. He explains that McDonough was not part of the organization and could not have known to replace the original ship’s crew with another team of agents, thus grabbing the first available crew. The drives were deliberately sabotaged to give the agents a reason to linger at the station; they knew to avoid the explosion. Vashu was to work on repairing the drives while his colleagues took over the investigation, coincidentally finishing once the culprits were exposed. Now he must work the adventurers into the plan. He offers to deputize them, promising payment later if the mission is successful. Any PC taking the offer will get one throw on the Scout Mustering Out Cash Table after the adventure.
II: In Which Everyone Shows Their Image
Before leaving them, Vashu gives the team important information: they are not to violate anyone’s rights, and must bring any useful information to him. He warns them that maintaining his cover is paramount; he must disavow any illegal actions they are caught undertaking. Finally, the station is a firearm-free zone, but Security is not so restricted, and they are loyal to station director Dr Anson Ogele. Otherwise, the group should stay alert.
As they settle in, Dr Dorlais issues the PCs access codes to the living quarters and the laboratories and reveals the station routine: First Watch (0900-1700) is devoted to research and station maintenance. Second Watch (1700-0100) is for recreation and personal time; and Third Watch (0100-0900) is reserved for rest. The adventurers will be expected to adhere to this general schedule.
Dorlais does not reveal the security schedule. Security work 12-hour shifts in pairs. The security chief is always “on-call”. Ex-military PCs will note that five guards for a crew of 43 is excessive; a clue that something is not as it seems.
The referee should throw for the crew’s initial reactions to the PCs. Especially positive or negative reactions may require ongoing monitoring. If asked about their opinions of the station leaders, the scientists will express nothing but confidence and loyalty in Ogele and Dorlais.
Each day the PCs interact with the station staff, they have a chance
to pick up useful information. The adventurers may throw 8+ once per day
to gain a clue. If successful, throw 1D+1D (DMs on 1st die only: If
investigator is a Scout or Scientist, -1; if investigator is
Engineer-3+, +1) on the table below to determine exactly what
information is gained. Not all the data is true; some are outright lies,
and others are highly subjective. Each clue or a rumor should only be
used once, except as noted below:
- It is very unusual for the Scouts to so extensively refit a decommissioned Purcell. Someone somewhere pulled some strings to make it happen.
- The station medic—who is also a trained psychologist—is worried that Ogele is obsessed, but there is not enough evidence of insanity to relieve him of duty… yet.
- Ogele is a workaholic. When he is not on the bridge, he can usually be found in the main astrophysics lab running programs that seem to take a lot of processing power.
- A popular video on the station’s entertainment channel is a documentary by a prominent astrophysicist discussing the likelihood of parallel universes.
- A low-ranking scientist mentions he was late for a duty shift last week. Dr. Ogele did not seem overly upset. The problem was that the researcher’s clock was running slow. “Come to think of it, all of the clocks were off that day; we had to have a station-wide synchronization.”
- The computer holds two sets of research reports. The first set (submitted to the Imperium) recounts slow progress in the study of the black hole. Another set (encrypted and passcode-protected [hacked on a throw of 14+, DM: Computer skill]) mentions success in detecting unstable wormholes in the black hole’s event horizon, progress with a mysterious project, and the results of jump drive tests, apparently in support of that project. Failure to hack the passcode will alert security to the intruder’s location.
- Navigational data indicates that the station is not where it should be in its orbit, given how long it has been in the system. The only way to explain the discrepancy is that it would have had to “blink” in its orbit several times.
- The investigator discovers very complex mathematical calculations. Their purpose is not immediately evident. On a throw of 15+ (DM: INT/5) a Scientist can deduce that the calculations deal with space-time formulae.
- The Chief Engineer has carelessly left specs for a Darrian-built jump drive out. Engineer-3+ can determine the specs match the auxiliary jump drive in the Drive Room.
- A technician mentions Dr. Ogele’s hatred of Zhodani and speculates that the reason is there’s a Zho spy on board somewhere.
- Two of the station scientists are overheard in the mess hall engaged in an animated discussion of wormholes.
- Some of the most recently-accessed files in the ship’s library computer involve Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and Schwarzschild coordinates.
- A look at the station’s financial records shows some irregularities. Digging deeper will reveal that massive payments were made to a Darrian jump drive manufacturer and an Imperial manufacturer of jump grids. Payments were also made to consultants to aid with installation. The books were cooked to cover up the expenditures.
- A computer file holds sensor data that allows the computer to build a representation of the black hole’s interior structure.
- Two security guards are overheard discussing “the operation.” They seem to be anxious about it, but will clam up if confronted.
- The station has installed a second jump drive and jump grid.
- One of the scientists is seen reading a book of Darrian poetry that she received as a gift.
- An encrypted computer file (same chances to hack as F above, but with no alarms) holds a very complex program designed to precisely control the operation of the jump drive, the auxiliary drive, and the supplemental jump field.
- About a year ago, the station hosted a delegation of Darrian scientists and engineers. The engineers spent a lot of time installing a jump drive.
- The navigator recalls being asked hypothetically by Dr. Ogele how long it would take for the station to travel to the hole from its current orbit. The answer is about 24 hours, including acceleration due to the increasing gravity.
These rumors and clues can be used multiple times, changing it slightly each time:
- Black holes are fairly common in the galaxy, but seem quite rare in Charted Space.
- A staffer says that it is his understanding that between the times it was an Xboat Tender and a research station, the ship was a prison barge.
- The system consists not only of the black hole, but two gas giants, an asteroid belt, and a rocky iceball world. The station refuels from the giants.
- A researcher surmises that an Ancient site exists in the black hole; why else would the Imperium devote a whole research station to studying it?
- Dr Ogele was once a respected researcher on Regina, but when his wife was killed in the Fifth Frontier War, something in him died as well.
- A researcher swears he saw a report that other interstellar governments are using black holes to regularly travel to other parts of the galaxy. The Imperium had better get that technology if it wants to keep up.
Vashu also gathers information in this manner. He will debrief the heroes once per week, using a weekly poker game as cover. During this time, the group can report their findings, brainstorm the solution to the puzzle, and formulate plans to stop it.
In the meantime, he has his station engineering duties to attend to in addition to repairing the team’s ship. Once per 24 hour period, he must throw 9+ to make temporary repairs sufficient to allow a jump to the nearest system (he does not have the equipment or parts necessary to make permanent repairs; a shipyard is necessary for that.) If it looks like the investigation is dragging, he can extend the time it takes to fix the drive to buy the PCs and himself time.
On any throw of a natural 2 during the information-gathering, an adventurer has raised suspicion in some way. Make an immediate Reaction throw for that individual at -2; any positive result gives the victim a chance to talk his or her way out of trouble (subject to the referee’s determination.) Any negative result means Security takes that person straight to Dr Ogele.
Whether any of them are taken to Ogele or not, the entire group is now under suspicion and constant monitoring. They will also be restricted to the habitat decks (except for the bridge) and their own ship. Any deviation from station routine or non-restricted areas results in the group being confined to an empty stateroom until their ship is repaired.
The referee should also throw 11+ each day for a special event to occur (see “At Once Air and Stone” below) related to the testing of the supplemental jump drive, and implement the indicated result.
To start them off, Vashu can supply what he has already found:
- Ogele has made substantial changes to the station personnel; including replacing key staffers and letting go those who do not seem to fit into some sort of project.
- The station has been fitted with an extra jump drive of odd configuration. He does not know the purpose of the drive, and has been unable to investigate further without raising suspicion.
- Vashu is no psychologist, but it seems Ogele is developing a number of obsessions. One is a fixation on images of his late wife Loret. Another is a hyperfocus on the black hole.
Vashu does not yet have enough evidence to bring Ogele up on charges, and in any case he was waiting for his backup. He urges the heroes to find something he can pin on Ogele and expose whatever he is involved in. But however they go about it, subtlety is vital. A handful of station staffers have simply disappeared, and Vashu suspects they ended up in the black hole.
III: A True Soul Mate
If any of the heroes are detained and taken to Dr. Ogele, he can be found on the bridge during the first two watches. There is a chance he can be found there during Third Watch as well; roll 8+ on 2D.
Anson Ogele is not a nice man. His loss has deeply traumatized him. That trauma has caused him to turn his tremendous intellect to devising a scheme to cheat death. He does not care that its chances of working are slim, and far more likely to cause death and destruction.
He will barely even acknowledge the heroes’ presence. He is totally focused on his goal and the black hole beyond. He will distantly regard any charges brought against the team, but will essentially leave their disposition to the security squad.
Each adventurer may throw 10+ to get a glance at Ogele’s control panel, which displays several colored lines leading into an image of the black hole. PCs with Navigator skill recognize an approach vector modeling program. However, they only get a glance—Ogele quickly switches the panel off or blocks it from view. If asked about it, Ogele obliquely answers the question with a lengthy rant of the capricious nature of life and death, then of his wife and their love for one another. Finally he rails against how she was taken from him by “the accursed Zhodani” and recounts how he found prior research into the possibilities of parallel universes and realized that he could see his beloved again.
Ogele’s rambling answer allows the heroes to put the final pieces of the puzzle into place: Ogele has hatched a mad scheme to travel through the black hole to a parallel universe!
IV: Crack’d From Side to Side
After Ogele orders security to deal with the adventurers, he washes his hands of them and returns to his work. How the guards deal with the PCs is up to them. If they cause no trouble, the guards simply lock them in a spare stateroom. Otherwise, the guards gun them down without mercy.
In no instance will Vashu break cover. He will attempt to get a subtle, coded message to the group (throw 7+ for success, DMs depending on the method used), but will not act overtly.
Ogele is now certain the heroes are on to his plan and intend to interfere. In response, he decides to move his timetable up. He activates a secret computer program that engages the station’s autopilot and puts it on an approach vector into the hole. He then locks out any other operators with a complex memorized passcode. The computer will destroy the controls if it detects hacking attempts. Once the maneuver drive is engaged, the station will reach the event horizon in 24 hours.
The referee should keep careful track of time from this point forward. No one will know anything is wrong for at least an hour after Ogele activates the program. Until an hour before the station enters the throat, the team and Vashu still have time to stop the plot. Therefore, the group and Vashu have 22 hours to try and stop Ogele. If he activates the program on Third Watch, the heroes may have even less time to act.
Epilogue: Eternity Gazing At Itself
From this point, the resolution of the adventure rests on the heroes. They must realize what is occurring, escape their confinement, and either stop Ogele or escape the station. They will be up against the security team and a panicky ship’s crew. Vashu may or may not have finished repairing the group’s ship; regardless, he has a sense of duty to bring Ogele to justice. He is not a fool; if things seem hopeless, he will persuade the team to leave, saving as many of the station’s staff as possible.
If the team is aboard the station as it enters the event horizon, they have no choice but to pray that Ogele’s plan works. This depends on the referee: Ogele is either a madman, in which case the station is destroyed with all hands; or a visionary, in which case the group is part of the first group to cross over into another universe through a black hole.
If the referee decides that the station successfully crosses over, decisions need to be made. The first is where the station emerges. The trip through the black hole will cause a massive misjump. Regardless of where the station ends up, Ogele immediately goes in search of the new universe’s analogue of his wife. This could lead to an all new campaign.
The referee also needs to decide the nature of the new universe and the differences, if any, from the previous one. The referee might take the opportunity to introduce a different version of Traveller; perhaps the Rebellion and aftermath of Megatraveller or Traveller: The New Era; or the universe of GURPS Traveller. They could end up in the past or the distant future. The possibilities are endless.
If the group escapes the station, they will bear witness to the sight of the station falling ever more slowly into the anomaly, appearing redder and redder due to light dilation, until it seems to stop entirely, forever frozen just outside the event horizon, a permanent visual record of one man’s obsession.
The referee must determine the flow of subsequent events.
Anson Ogele 567FDC Age 60 Cr111,000
10 terms Scientist; Station Administrator
Admin-2, Computer-1, Electronics-2, Gravitics-3, Jack-O-T-1, Leader-1
Dr Ogele was a prominent astrophysicist affiliated with the University of Regina and a rising star in his field until his wife Loret died during the Fifth Frontier War. Her death left him traumatized, harboring an intense hatred of the Zhodani, and an obsession with finding a way to enter another universe where Loret might yet live. He is bereft of almost all emotion and this is reflected in his treatment of staff.
Kinnaird Vashu 8A7AB8 Age 35 Cr11,000
4 terms Investigator; Engineer Grade II (Imperial Inspector)
Computer-1, Engineering-1, Gun Cbt-1, Jack-O-T-1, Mechanical-1, Recon-1
Vashu is an undercover agent for an Imperial law enforcement organization similar to the FBI. His cover is an engineer, which gives him a good reason to snoop in discrete areas of the station. While he does not have the complete picture by the time the heroes show up, what he has discovered so far is disturbing. Vashu is dashing and efficient and is built with the Scout career template, with Recon skill (from Book 4: Mercenary) substituted for Pilot.
Agata Dorlais 466DD9 Age 55 Cr70,000
9 terms Scientist; Deputy Station Administrator
Admin-1, Computer-2, Electronics-1, Jack-O-T-1
In many ways, Dr Dorlais is a reflection of Dr Ogele. She witnessed the death of her fiancée during the Zhodani’s siege of Efate—and blames herself for his death. Like Ogele, untreated trauma has manifested as frostiness. Unlike Ogele, she is still salvageable; her interactions with the PCs will have undercurrents of a cry for help. If she is shown friendship, perhaps even love, she may switch sides and help the PCs.
The station personnel are not detailed here. The referee may generate them as needed, using the following parameters: thirty scientists and one medic (Supplement 4: Citizens of the Imperium); three engineers (a Chief Engineer with Engineer-3+, Vashu, and one other); and five Security guards, including the chief, equipped to Tech Level E and packing Auto Pistols. Referees who wish to put in the work may produce brief character descriptions of each of these NPCs to help bring them to life for the players.
Imperial Research Station Sigma
Refitted from a decommissioned 1000-ton Purcell-class Xboat Tender hull, Research Station Sigma is designed for long-term, cutting-edge astrophysical research, with a focus on detailed study of gravitic anomalies such as black holes. It mounts jump drive L, maneuver drive E and power plant L, giving performance of jump-2 and 1-G acceleration. Fuel tankage of 230 tons supports the power plant and allows one jump-2. Adjacent to the bridge is a model/7 computer. There are 35 double-occupancy staterooms and nine emergency low berths. There are three hardpoints and three tons allocated to fire control. Three single beam laser turrets are installed. There one ship’s vehicle: a 30-ton ship’s boat. Cargo capacity is 60 tons. The station is unstreamlined, but aerodynamic enough to allow fuel skimming from gas giants.
The station requires a crew of six: pilot, navigator, three engineers, and a medic; and can accommodate up to fifty scientists; thirty are currently on duty. In addition, there are five security personnel, who also operate the ship’s vehicle and the turrets. Including Ogele and Dorlais, the total station complement numbers 43.
Major changes to the Purcell hull included sealing off the vehicle bay and building decks, including another habitat deck and 107 tons of laboratory space, increasing the sizes of the jump drive, power plant and fuel tankage, and creating a smaller bay for the ship’s boat.
Anomalies of note are the presence of another jump drive of non-standard configuration; fuel tankage to support it; and an auxiliary jump grid, also of non-standard configuration.
The station orbits the black hole in a complicated and largely computer-controlled rosette pattern at roughly 0.5 AU.
At Once Air and Stone
Ogele is convinced he has found a way to use the black hole to travel to a parallel universe, where his beloved wife hopefully still lives. To accomplish this, he has had to make a number of changes to the station and its staff. The staffers are among the best and brightest in the field of astrophysics, although nowhere near Ogele’s level of understanding.
Through the use of probes, Ogele has determined that the object is a Kerr (rotating) black hole. The rotation produces an ellipsoidal field of energy (an ergosphere) around the event horizon. The ergosphere is key to his plan.
Through a combination of his personal fortune and misappropriation of Imperial funds, Ogele installed a cutting-edge, Darrian-built jump drive aboard the station and supplemented it with an auxiliary jump grid. This “phase drive”—as Ogele refers to it—is designed to hold the station in a phased state between normal space and jumpspace, existing in both and neither at the same time. The phase drive also causes two effects: localized relativistic effects, and an energy resonance that allows the vessel to “skip” across the ergosphere like a flat stone across water.
The entire plan involves powerful computing, split-millisecond timing, bleeding-edge technology, a critically-precise approach vector, and a lot of luck. During the operation of the phase drive (which lasts for only a few minutes), the sensors search for a specific energy signature indicating the formation of a momentary wormhole. Once one is found, the phase drive field is used to “skip” across the ergosphere and carom the station into the wormhole. At the exact moment of contact, the station’s conventional jump drive is engaged, allowing the vessel to pass through what would normally be an impassable barrier without being precipitated out into normal space. The effort will result in a massive misjump, but the crew will survive.
Every so often, Ogele orders the phase drive powered up for
calibration and testing. The result is relativistic effects aboard the
station. On a throw of 11+ as detailed above, Ogele has ordered the
testing of the drive. The test duration is 1D minutes; throw 2D on the
table below to determine the effect, which lasts 1D combat rounds except
|2||Station clocks run slightly faster in relation to the time outside, gaining 5D minutes. The heroes experience fugue on a throw of 9+.|
|3||The group notices the stars red-shifting (indicating rapid recession).|
|4-5||Sensor ghosts or odd optical effects outside the station are observed (for example, a projection of the station elsewhere in space or celestial bodies appearing much closer than they are).|
|6-7||Station clocks run slower relative to time outside. The clocks lose 1D hours. The heroes experience déjà vu on a throw of 9+.|
|8-9||Distances within the station will seem to be shorter (1-3) or longer (4-6) by a factor of 2D.|
|10||Red-shifted versions of the crew “replay” previous actions. The referee should determine the length of the replays based on the specific event.|
|11||Personnel aboard the station or the station itself briefly appear in two places at once. The effect lasts 2D seconds. On a throw of 12 exactly, the station may be in danger of colliding with itself!|
|12||A temporal effect similar to 10 above, except much more extreme; past events up to and including the arrival of the station several years ago replay. The referee may use the event to feed the adventurers more clues.|