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The Quality of Mercy

This article originally appeared in the August 2012 issue of Freelance Traveller magazine.

Synopsis: A starliner’s emergency stopover at a frontier starport spells trouble for the PCs as they find themselves opposing hijackers.

Setting: Any world with a Type D or E starport.

Players’ Information

While the PCs are taking care of business in port, one of the few admin staff of the port—most likely, the Portmaster himself—approaches them with an emergency proposition: a starliner, the Duchess Nyeri, has just arrived in orbit. Her captain relays that one of the passengers has fallen ill with a particularly stubborn virus and may have contaminated others. Imperial quarantine protocols require that the starship not land or disembark passengers under any circumstances until medical personnel have had an opportunity to board and assess the severity of the outbreak. So far, only one passenger has the disease, but in the close quarters of a starship, that will not be the case for long.

Fortunately, a group of medics was passing through the port en route to another world beyond. They are willing to board the liner and provide medical care in return for passage. The PCs’ ship is the only other ship currently in port. The port master is willing to sign a voucher good for free fuel and services in return for transporting the medics to the starliner if the PCs have their own ship; otherwise, the port can loan them a 30-ton ship’s boat, with an explanation that the local pilot is on compassionate leave, and cannot be reached to recall. If the adventurers express concern about exposure to the disease, the medics can assure them that they need not worry as long as the airlocks are in good condition and reasonable precautions are taken.

The medical team consists of a doctor, three nurses, and an assistant. They are fully equipped to tech level A, and their equipment—which can be transported by two individuals with ease—does not take up much cargo space. Statistics for the medical team are easily obtained from Supplement 1: 1001 Characters or generated from the Doctor tables in Supplement 4: Citizens of the Imperium if necessary.

The transit to orbit and docking with the liner proceeds smoothly. The liner itself is undamaged and nothing seems out of the ordinary except that most of the viewports have their shutters closed. Any crew member observing the Duchess Nyeri at the time of approach will notice an odd occurrence on an throw of INT or less: one of the few ports with open shutters shows a small human (possibly a child) within, watching the PCs’ ship approach. Suddenly, the figure disappears from view and another figure with what appears to be a submachine gun slung over his shoulder briefly appears before the shutter closes.

Obviously, something is amiss.

Referee’s Information

The Duchess Nyeri is a Stellar-class subsidized liner, of the type seen in Adventure 12: Signal GK. Deckplans from that publication are invaluable for use during the adventure. As always, the referee can substitute another type of ship.

Unknown to the PCs and their medical charges, the liner was boarded by a group of terrorist hijackers at its last port of call. Making their move while the ship was in jumpspace, the attackers have completely taken over the ship and killed several passengers to both demonstrate their resolve and serve as a warning to others. But unknown to the hijackers, one of the survivors was unknowingly carrying the virus within him and succumbed just after the captors gained control. At the time of the PCs’ arrival, the number of passengers infected (not counting the original victim) is approaching six, with two of those beginning to present symptoms.

There are 18 passengers remaining, including four children; fifteen low passengers; and eight remaining crew, including the captain. So far they are all physically unharmed, but have been cowed by the deaths. Three were killed for not following the assailants’ orders, and a ship’s steward was killed for attempting heroics. All of the bodies have been unceremoniously dumped into one of the aft passenger staterooms. The adventurers cannot count on any help whatsoever from the passengers, and no overt aid from the crew. Likewise, the medics accompanying the party cannot be counted on for undisguised help—they are doctors, not soldiers!

The referee should adjust the number and abilities of the enemies to the adventurers’ strength, but they will not number less than five. At the time of docking, the hijackers have taken up certain stations: the leader shadows the captain at all times, and is allaying suspicion by posing as a ship’s officer in a stolen uniform. One hijacker is in the engine room, two are guarding the surviving adult passengers in the midships common area; and one is guarding the children in a forward luxury stateroom. If the referee felt it necessary to add to the enemy forces to match the PCs’ abilities, then additional opponents will be placed strategically, including one guarding the captive crew members currently held in the low berth area. The terrorists are armed with SMGs except for the leader, who has a concealed auto pistol. If the referee added other opponents, they may be placed wherever needed.

When the adventurers call on the liner, they will be met by the ship’s captain and what appears to be the ship’s purser (actually the terrorist leader in disguise). The captain will be appreciative of the prompt help, but will do his best to get rid of the team as quickly as possible by whatever subtle means he can. Observant adventurers may notice that he seems to be especially agitated about something but is trying hard not to show it.

The referee should decide how best to give the team the information about the ship’s takeover; while they may guess something is not right, a cautious team may be reluctant to act without more info.

It is up to the team how to act against the terrorists. The enemies are fanatical but not nihilistic. They prefer not to become martyrs to their cause, but will fight to the death if engaged in combat. The referee should determine the flow of subsequent events.

The Disease

The referee may use a suitable malady of choice or use the following, created with the rules presented in the Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society, issue 13, pages 33-37:

The sickness affects the respiratory tract of its victims, similar to the Terran flu. It is spread by airborne particles (by sneezing, coughing, etc.) and touch. It is contracted on 8+ (apply the modifiers below) and has an incubation period of 1D days. Once symptoms start, it is moderately incapacitating, inflicting 2D wounds on the victim through internal hemorrhaging. With proper medical care (skill of Medical-3 or better), patients can expect to recover in around 12 days. Untreated, the disease can kill, especially the very young or very elderly.

Contagion DMs: The following modifiers assume that victims have not taken antiseptic or anti-pathogen measures such as face masks, strict attention to hygiene, etc:

-1 if character has END 10+, or has been inoculated, or is an ex-Scout

+1 if character has END 6-

+12 if character has END 4-

Other Disease Ideas: The situation can be made more muddled and uncertain if one of the symptoms of the disease is light-sensitivity. This could account for the shuttered ports; in such a case, when the team and medics come aboard, they should find (and expect) that all ship’s lighting is very subdued, in addition to previous description.