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The Derelict

This adventure was obtained from the author’s blog, and reprinted in the July/August 2017 issue.

Players’ Information

Time during Jump is usually fairly routine. The process is so well understood that only rarely do malfunctions occur. Usually these are fatal—mis-jumping often places the ship in deep space and without fuel while jumping close to a planet ends in a fiery death. Sometimes there are other problems…

The players are relaxing while their ship is making the necessary transition through Jump-Space to reach its destination. Everything has gone smoothly, with only a couple of minor problems. Abruptly the computer begins to blink a warning, there seems to be a gravitational disturbance which could endanger the ship. Before the crew have a chance to react, the computer pulls the ship out of Jump (and danger) and into normal space. There is a large explosion and bits of the jump drive splatter across the walls of the drive room. The ship is stranded…

The source of the gravitational anomaly rapidly becomes apparent. There is a huge alien derelict starcraft present, around which are orbiting the remains of other, more familiar, starships. Perhaps there are enough components amongst the wreckage to repair the fatally injured jump drive.

Referee’s Information

The derelict is an alien starship of a type never encountered before. Where it is from the players can only speculate. Its purpose and destination are equally unknown. The design is distinctly organic in texture, and is based overall upon the aliens themselves. Chambers within the ship are filled with a thick, watery liquid and represent parts and organs of the aliens' bodies.

The ship has been dead for many centuries and the power plant is inactive, but might be recovered. There is no computer as such, but certain members of the crew seem to be genetically grafted into the structure of the ship. The craft is closer to an animal than a starship.

Although the craft is inactive and the crew dead it is far from lifeless. A parasitic organism known as the Vang inhabits the ship. The Vang is very dangerous, and remarkably intelligent. It can take over the nervous system of a host and control all bodily functions while the host watches on helplessly. It adapts and changes its own structure with alarming rapidity to account for new eventualities.

During the ages that the derelict has drifted it has gathered a number of ships about it. All have attempted to fathom the derelict, but all succumbed to the Vang. There is wreckage of five ships in orbit, two of which are still intact and are connected to the main ship by a sinewy cord. This is part of the Vang.

Of these two ships only one has an active powerplant. The Vang is not sentient and only by trial and error has managed to preserve this power source. It could sense the power in the others, but destroyed them while trying to get to it. The secret of jump drive is completely beyond the Vang. However, if a small part of it is carried to a planet by the players then it will spread.

The players have several important tasks. First they have to identify the components in their drive that require replacement. Then they have to search and cannibalize the other ships for spare parts. Finally they have to find enough fuel to make a jump to the nearest system. Everything they require is present, but with the Vang complicating matters it may take a bit of finding.

The players need not explore the derelict at all, indeed, it is safer if they do not attempt to approach it. There are enough warnings around for them to heed, in particular one ship—the Virgin’s Promise—holds several important clues.

The Virgin’s Promise was caught by the derelict only a week before the players’ ship. It is the ship that has the active powerplant, although the jump drive is in even worse shape. The computer is still active, and can be communicated with by radio without entering the ship. Aided by computer skill the players will be able to find the captain’s log and discover the threat of the Vang. They will also discover that there might be a survivor.

In the final battle against the alien parasite, one of the crew sealed himself in the bridge of the Virgin’s Promise. As the Vang broke through he found himself without weapon and, in desperation, grabbed a fire extinguisher. The resultant emptying of the extinguisher over the Vang caused it to die immediately—but unfortunately the crewman was trapped.

The computer registers that one crewmember is in the bridge, but cannot tell whether he is still alive. If he is, then he cannot last long. It also knows that the Virgin’s Promise is infested with an alien lifeform, one that is tapping the power supply.

If the players can make it to the bridge they can destroy the Vang with enough fire extinguishers. It does not seem to be able to resist to the chemical fire retardant and dies quickly, amputating itself to prevent further infection. Destroying it gives them a fascinating ship to explore and removes a menace to the spacelanes.

Library Data

Jump Drive:
This is the means by which ships are propelled to the stars. By jumping into hyperspace starships can cross gulfs of many light years in little over a week. The method does have its problems, and is particularly susceptible to gravitational fields, such as planetary bodies. More on the Traveller wiki.
A note on the Vang:
The Vang is taken directly from Christopher Rowley’s The Vang series (Starhammer, The Vang: The Military Form, and The Vang: The Battlemaster). It is described in more detail in the novels, which are rich with other science fiction inventions. In the book, the Vang was combatted by razing the entire surface of the infected world from orbit. Strangely enough, one of the interdicted worlds in a neighbouring sector is rumoured to have been totally nuked from orbit by the Imperial Navy…