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The Asklepios Recovery

This article originally appeared in the December 2014 issue.

Synopsis:
The adventurers help a doctor find and salvage a shipment of drugs believed lost in order to stop a viral pandemic.

The Asklepios Recovery is designed for 4-6 Classic Traveller characters of varied career backgrounds. The group may have worked together before the adventure, or the referee can use the events to bring them together for the first time. Vacc suit skill and access to a spacegoing vessel (their own or someone else’s) is necessary for the adventure; Medical skill is very useful. Characters with former careers of Doctor or Rogue (Supplement 4: Citizens of the Imperium) are also useful.

Pre-Adventure Preparation

The referee should select or create the following items:

Phase One

A viral outbreak years ago was put down through heroic efforts of the planet’s medical community. Working hand-in-hand with local scientists, the illness was stopped in its tracks. With a subsequent vaccination program, a once-deadly disease was rendered nearly harmless.

Recently, however, the virus mutated and returned with a vengeance. Entire communities were quickly infected, and the world’s medical resources have been badly strained as unprecedented numbers of patients flood the hospitals. Predictions of a global pandemic dominate local newsfeeds. Worse, the new malady has a much higher mortality rate; if it spreads worldwide, the death toll will be dire.

The Imperium, in an effort to contain the contagion, has declared the world an Amber Zone, and is ready to impose a full interdiction if it looks as though the disease will jump the planet on departing starships. Meanwhile, casual travelers to the world are advised against making planetfall and are directed to the highport. The highport has seen traffic rise exponentially.

With regular traffic to the planet’s downport drying up, independent operators – including smugglers – have rushed to fill the void, unmindful of the risk. While nowhere near the world’s previous volume, trade is nonetheless taking place. As a champion of commerce, the Imperium hasn’t moved to stop the independents, although all ships approaching the planet directly are warned of the risk and that upon departure, they are to submit to an inspection to ensure they aren’t carrying the virus offworld. Refusal to do so means immediate destruction.

The adventurers are in-system conducting whatever business brought them here. If they have their own starship, they have a choice as to whether or not they are high or down. They make the acquaintance of a young doctor, Shafiq Rodriguez (see NPCs below), who is looking for a group for what could be an errand of mercy.

When the mutated virus made its appearance, the world’s medical and scientific communities were caught flatfooted, but nonetheless went to work on the problem. They quickly learned of this version of the disease’s deadliness, and its ability to shrug off most antiviral medicines.

Several months ago, a research team discovered that a quirk in the bug’s mutation rendered it vulnerable to an older drug, metaparaxevirin-A. Unfortunately, Mepaxevir (its main trade name) is no longer manufactured; it made an excellent chemical precursor for a powerful street drug that is the scourge of several neighboring systems. To stop its spread, the Imperium quietly put pressure on Mepaxevir’s manufacturers to stop making the drug, destroyed all offworld shipments that they could find, and declared it a controlled substance.

Rodriguez heard through several patients who lived on the seamier side of society that perhaps not all of the Mepaxevir shipments were destroyed. If one could be located, he has contacts that he is certain could synthesize more of the drug and head off a catastrophe. He needs the PCs to help him navigate the rough company he must come into contact with in the course of locating some Mepaxevir. He is willing to pay them Cr40,000 (all he has) for their help. If they object to the figure, he can call in some favors and get an additional Cr40,000, but this costs extra time: one extra week and its consequences per “Phase Two” below.

Phase Two

In their search for the Mepaxevir, the adventurers may pick up information that points them to their goal, leads them astray or gets them into trouble. Each week, they throw on the task below. If successful, they hear a rumor concerning their quest; a throw of 1D+1D on the Rumor table below determines what they learn. Not all the data is true; some are outright lies, and others are highly subjective. Each rumor should only be used once, except for the General rumors, which may be used multiple times, changed slightly with each use.

To hear rumors of possible Mepaxevir sources:
DIFFICULT; Streetwise, Carousing; 1 hour
REFEREE: Former Intelligence operatives get a DM of +1
 

Rumor Table
2nd Die 1st Die
1 2 3 4 5 6
1 A B C D E F
2 G U U W W H
3 I U Y Y W J
4 K X Z Z V L
5 M X X V V N
6 O P Q R S T

DMs: if Streetwise skill
ex-Rogue or ex-Pirate: -1 on first die
if offworld, +1 per die

Rumors in italics are partially or wholly false.

Specific Rumors

  1. The last time the planet had to deal with an infection of this scope was 150 years ago.
  2. The virus is similar to Terra’s Spanish Flu, which decimated the planet during its First World War.
  3. The virus spreads fast and hits its victims hard. Some have died within hours of infection. Children and the elderly are particularly at risk.
  4. A starship getting lost in a Kuiper Belt can forget about rescue anytime soon. Even IISS sensors can’t pick out a ship from the debris nearby.
  5. A restaurant server is overheard humming a popular tune; a ballad of a ship lost in a system several parsecs away, and the enduring love the captain had for his wife.*
  6. A well-dressed young woman lets on that she and some friends stumbled onto a warehouse full of Mepaxevir and is willing to show the group where it is. But when they arrive, the girl’s “friends” try to rob the adventurers in order to get money for food and medicine.*
  7. Several cargo ships made runs to the world through a certain system not far away during the Fifth Frontier War; ship captains got used to running cargoes through that system and kept it up even after the war.* (see Rumor X, below)
  8. Although hardy and immune to many anti-viral drugs, the virus isn’t invincible. In fact, it was quie manageable until it mutated.
  9. Unlike many anti-viral drugs, Mepaxevir works not by interfering with viral protein synthesis, but the exact opposite: causing a virus to synthesize protein in runaway fashion until it burns itself out.*
  10. The virus is nothing of the sort; it’s a nanotech plague engineered by the planetary government to render the population docile and compliant. It only looks like a viral outbreak.
  11. Anti-virals are drugs used to treat viral infections. Different drugs have different ways of doing so, usually by interfering with viruses’ life stages.
  12. Kuiper Belt Objects (ikhumilir in Vilani) are leftovers from the birth of a star system. They can be thought of as comet nurseries. KBOs (as they’re also called) are of all sizes and shapes—from a few meters in diameter to dwarf planets several hundred kilometers across—and are typically made of ice and frozen gases.
  13. Pirates sometimes hide out in a Kuiper Belt until the heat’s off.*
  14. There are a few systems along the old smuggling route used during the Fifth Frontier War. All of them have extensive Kuiper Belts. (see Rumor X, below)
  15. A new acquaintance of the team tells them, “You might wanna keep your mouths shut. Word gets out about where that stuff is, half the crooks in the subsector will be trying to get it.”
  16. Metaparaxevirin-A is a common “precursor” drug, used to make a much more powerful (and addictive) street drug. As a result, the Imperium has declared Mepaxevir a controlled substance. Harsh penalties await anyone caught with even small quantities of it.
  17. If a worldwide pandemic ensues, the Imperium will immediately declare the planet a Red Zone.
  18. Criminals are always in the market for Mepaxevir due to its scarcity. Gang wars have broken out over discovered stocks.
  19. Pharmaceutical cargoes can fetch a nice price; Cr300,000 per ton is average.
  20. A man claiming to be a doctor refuses to discuss the virus in detail, imploring the team to “follow the credits” before disappearing into the night.*

General Rumors

  1. Most systems have a Kuiper Belt; it’s the rare system that doesn’t.
  2. Taking a ship into a Kuiper Belt is a surefire way to get it ground into metal shavings.*
  3. The planetary government keeps extensive and detailed manuals on infection protocols. Most of the works are offered free to citizens.
  4. The world the virus has arisen on is on an old “backdoor” trade route favored by smugglers and pirates.
  5. Metaparaxevirin-A proved very effective against minor viruses that cropped up from time to time. It has never been used against the current virus, so lab results are the only indication of success.*
  6. The virus was introduced to the world by the Zhodani, who want to wipe out the Imperial population and replace it with their own.

The entries marked with an asterisk (*) on the table trigger a special circumstance if they are thrown, or the referee can impose the circumstance to raise the stakes; see “Phase 3” below. In addition, throw 12 exactly on 2D for Imperial authorities to hear of the team’s search. If they do, two agents pay the group a visit to learn more about why they’re trying to find a controlled substance and to determine if they're up to criminal activity. They have questions for the adventurers:

To allay the Imperial Agents’ suspicions:
ROUTINE; Liaison, SOC; 10 minutes
REFEREE: If Rodriguez is with the group, his presence supplies a DM of +3.

A throw of “2” means the agents attempt to arrest the team. If the task throw succeeds, the agents determine no crime is being committed and don’t harass the heroes further unless the team commits a crime in the course of their search.

Unfortunately for the heroes, the plague marches on. Given the virus’ resistance to current drugs, the best the medical community can do is fight a holding action and hope that research can produce a solution. But time is running out. Each week, the world takes one more step toward a global—and nigh-unstoppable—pandemic.

Each week, the planetary authorities must collectively throw 8+ just to hold ground against the disease and buy the world another week. If the throw fails, a throw of 1D+4, with the result expressed as a percentage, represents the segment of the population newly affected. 50% are already sick or dying, so this means that left unchecked, the organism claims 5-10% of the population each week. The result is also cumulative. If the medical throw is a “2”, double the percentage of the population victimized; if the result is “12”, the authorities manage to stave off the bug for two weeks. This procedure continues until the PCs find the Mepaxevir or the entire planet is infected. This gives the heroes only 5-10 weeks to accomplish their task. Note that the march of the virus can’t be reversed, only halted.

If the crew and Rodriguez return with Mepaxevir in time, see Phase Four below for conducting the final struggle against the virus.

Phase Three

If the adventurers and Rodriguez throw a Rumor marked with an asterisk (*), their efforts unfortunately reach the wrong set of ears: a criminal organization hears about the team’s attempts to find Mepaxevir and starts shadowing them to find out more. Although the enemies try to stay discreet, the heroes may yet discover them:

To detect the pursuing criminals:
DIFFICULT; Streetwise, INT

The enemies get the same throw (at ROUTINE difficulty) to realize they’ve been spotted; if so, they withdraw and try to pick up the adventurers’ trail later.

If at any time a PC is alone, (s)he will be kidnapped. Two goons grab the hero (using a hypo if necessary) while another two keep watch or fight off arriving allies. Captured heroes are taken to the criminals’ regional boss, located in a plush penthouse in the nearest large city, to be questioned and if necessary, used as bait to draw in his or her allies. The capo wants to know what the group is up to, and how close they are to finding a fresh source of Mepaxevir. He is not above using torture to get the information. If the adventurer won’t talk, at least two goons are summoned to loosen the hero’s tongue:

To resist being broken by torture:
DIFFICULT; END; 1 minute; multiple tries allowed

Failure means the PC divulges everything the group is doing, to the best of his/her knowledge: the criminals get the benefit of all the rumors the group has picked up, and may throw on the table for one more, to reflect what they’re hearing from their own sources. The gang also gets a +1 DM in all future encounters with the heroes. Succeeding in the throw three times in a row ends the torture; the capo believes the PC can’t be broken and he or she withdraws with all but one or two lieutenants to discuss their next move. This may give the hero a chance to escape or for his/her friends to come to the rescue. Of course, if the adventurer is simply being used as bait, the goons will be prepared when the allies show up. If Rodriguez is the one captured, he automatically talks.

If the criminals can’t capture a team member, there are other ways to get information from them. Some suggestions: secretly planting a listening or tracking device on one or more heroes; getting one or more of them drunk in a bar and chatting them up (use the Resisting Torture task from above, except the difficulty becomes FORMIDABLE to reflect intoxication); breaking into their rooms, or if possible, their ship, to glean information; or just a good old-fashioned beating in a back alley somewhere (again, use the Torture task above).

Once the mobsters find out what the PCs know, how they handle the information depends on how close the heroes are to their goal. If the team is relatively close, the villains try to do away with them and claim the Mepaxevir for themselves. Or they simply race to the drugs in an attempt to beat the adventurers to them. If the heroes are still putting the clues together; the criminals shadow them as before until they get concrete information.

Phase Four

The object of the adventurers’ search is an old merchant vessel, which crashed on a Kuiper Belt Object in a neighboring system. Even though the group located the system, the ship still has to be found. This is far easier said than done; the group must find a relatively tiny starship among a belt swirling with thousands upon thousands of comets.

The ship’s sensors are certainly up to the task, but the team must navigate to the proper place in the belt and feed the proper search parameters into the equipment:

To locate the crashed ship in the Kuiper Belt:
IMPOSSIBLE; Electronics, Computer; 2.5 hours
REFEREE: apply the following DMs to the task throw:
Utilizing ship's sensors: +2
utilizing Scout ship or other IISS sensors: +4
ex-Pirates: +1.

The group can substitute Navigation skill for either of the indicated skills above.

The ship may not be intact (Referee’s decision), but the cargo is. The referee should determine the size of the cargo per the system in Book 3: Worlds and Adventures, or Book 7: Merchant Prince. The entire cargo consists of metaparaxevirin-A.

If the team has avoided or shaken off pursuit, the drugs are theirs for the taking. They will need vacc suits, of course, but they also have no opposition. If the criminals got the information out of one of the adventurers, it’s a race to the prize. Regardless of who arrives first, the other party may be right behind them. The villains will fight fiercely to get control of the drugs, which have a very high street value.

Remember that the KBO has no atmosphere whatsoever and little gravity; the heroes should consider how they go about recovering the drugs and/or defeating the opposition.

Phase Five

Assuming the heroes recover the Mepaxevir, they must get it back to the planet in time. And the Mepaxevir must be replicated in enough quantities to treat the infected population. This takes 1D+7 weeks; medical authority throws (see above) continue during this time.

If the disease hasn’t yet infected the entire population (reached 100%), the medical authorities make the same throws as above, except that each success cures 10% of the population until the percentage reaches 0 (zero) and the bug is considered eradicated. If the entire population (100%) is infected, the throw to treat the population is 10+. In this case, the referee again throws 1D+4%; this is the percentage of the population that acts as a “reservoir” for the virus, ensuring another outbreak at some point. Rodriguez can explain the above to the heroes.

If 100% of the population was infected, the referee should consider if the Imperium has had time to put a planetary interdiction in place. If so, the adventurers must get past it to land and begin rendering aid.

The referee should determine the flow of subsequent events.

NPCs

Dr. Shafiq Rodríguez
866BC9 Age 30 Cr40,000
3 terms Doctor
Medic-3, Computer-1, Electronics-1
Instruments

Rodriguez is an idealistic young man who lost both parents to the previous epidemic. The loss drove him to become a doctor and researcher in an effort to fight any reappearance of the organism responsible. He sometimes displays moments of naivete, but his dedication to his patients is without question.