The Edge of Humanity
Reprinted from the online Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society in the July/August 2018 issue with kind permission of Marc Miller.
This a Traveller adventure for 4 to 8 people using the Orbital setting by Paul Elliott (Zozer, 2013). Six PCs represent the crew of a deep space cargo vehicle (DCV) and if two additional players are available, there are a pair of SARA (Space Activities Regulation Agency) marshals who can also be used as PCs. This is laid out in the style of the example with a Situation, the Complications that arise, the Agendas which may or may not be obvious and Resolution.
The DCV Far Horizon is coming to the end of the outward bound leg of a long mission to deliver supplies to Nereid, the third largest moon of Neptune. The crew of six consists of Galvin, the command pilot; Thornberg, the first co-pilot; Crawtree, the second co-pilot; Real, the astrogator; Yaako, the engineer; and Haslari, the medic. There is no payload specialist as Haslari has been cross-training to fulfill the role – though exams have not yet been passed – and all of the crew have helped with loading and will help with unloading. The vessel itself is a Wu-Ketai built DCV Wayfarer as described on page 78 of the rulebook. It has a 400 ton hull, delta-V of 65km/s, 4 staterooms, and a 156 ton cargo capacity.
As described in the Orbital rulebook, Nereid (E000200-5 Lo) has a colony with a population of just 230 split into several factions, gangs and individuals who are running amok in the breakdown of any governance following a virus outbreak and the collapse of VisonTech. At least, that was the situation when the last supply ship reported six months back. The exact nature of the virus is unknown, the survivor groups are not communicating with the solar system outside, and there’s the possibility no one is left in the colony at all.
The mission of the Far Horizon is to deliver two SARA marshals, Vertiggsen and Kang, who will attempt to restore order, as well as 150 tons of food, hydroponic gear and other equipment. If possible, the two ESDA representatives left there previously should be brought back if contact can be made with them.
It’s a long and lonely mission out to the edges of the solar system, out to the edges of any human habitation and the crew will have been cooped up for over two years (28 months) just to reach this point. With two strangers amongst them as well causing added friction in such a small space, tempers may be more frayed than usual.
As the Far Horizon approaches Neptune and its radiation, the flare damper malfunctions due to a small gasket failure. For immediate protection the storm shelter can be used, but only temporarily. A replacement part should be in the stores of the DCV but Yaako has replaced the contents of the relevant bin with a supply of alcohol. In the absence of a payload specialist, Crawtree should have checked the ship’s own stores before departure, but Haslari insisted he join him and Real on a night “on the town” before they left. Meanwhile, Thornberg should have carried out visual checks of the flare damper which would have revealed the problem but was wrapped up with a “family crisis” concerning an ageing aunt. Or so he says. Galvin, of course, has overall responsibility for her ship and crew. In any case, there’s plenty of blame to go around. A jury-rigged repair can be made with a piece of fabric from a stuffed mascot of one of the crew, but it’s not a long term solution. There’s probably a replacement part amongst the gear of the colony if it hasn’t been destroyed and if it can be located.
On arrival it will take over 100 trips in the Palomino Heavy Lander, called BigBug, to ferry the cargo to Nereid. The marshals will want to initially make voice contact with the colony, but if they get no response, will soon want to be taken down the moon to see for themselves. Their first aim will be to see if they can make contact with the ESDA representatives, or in lieu of them, anyone who will appear to be willing to work with them. They’ll be well armed and extremely cautious but may yet have to deputize the crew if they feel they need help.
Each crew character has the main goal of delivering the cargo and returning home, but additionally will have agendas of their own:
Thornberg and Real are in the employ of ESDA to ensure that the supplies get to the people they’re supposed to be helping; they’re to report on the situation and to identify the ESDA representatives that should be there and may need help or evacuation. However, just because they both work for the same organization, doesn’t necessarily mean that they see eye-to-eye. Real is a fundamentalist Christian who thinks the only true way to ‘save’ people is for them to become a believer. Thornberg believes anything but, and is a staunch atheist. Alternatively, one of the pair could be an undercover LOPS agent who really wants to align Nereid with Luna if at all possible.
Crawtree is on the payroll of Bartholemew who was one of the founders of VisionTech and who is now putting a new company together. He wants to see what might be salvaged of the situation on Nereid and wants Crawtree to report back with as much detail of functioning infrastructure and remaining equipment as he can.
Yaako has an alcohol dependency problem and might even compromise the DCV’s medical supplies if push came to shove. She has a history of foul-ups related to her problem which have never killed anyone—yet. She’ll do anything not to have the storage bin ‘incident’ as she calls it, put on her record.
Haslari is being employed by Parkfield Biolabs to see if there is something amidst the agri-farms which could be reused or redeveloped into a working and profitable enterprise.
The two marshals, Kang and Vertiggsen, want to see law and order restored on the colony. They are armed, ready for anything and will use any means they can to restore a ‘proper’ authority. While they would prefer to see a leader put in place while they provide support, they won’t hesitate to take that leadership themselves until additional support arrives if they feel it’s the only solution. Any such support is likely to be some months if not years away.
Of course, this might be all a very straightforward, deliver the marshals and the supplies, ask the colony for a spare part and head home. Life’s never that straightforward, however. Aside from the usual risks and dangers involved in achieving an orbit close to Nereid and making dozens of trips to its surface with the heavy lander (a Palomino as described on page 72 of the rulebook), there are many other possibilities for what the players will encounter on Nereid.
Everything could be relatively simple. The colony has, under the leadership of a particularly powerful or charismatic survivor, come back to some semblance of order. He or she will be somewhat paranoid about the intentions of the new arrivals and will not want the marshals to even enter the colony tunnels or farms. But the cargo can be offloaded and the needed part obtained. There won’t be room for the two ESDA representatives (who could only be evacuated on the premise that the marshals remained behind), but arrangements can be made for a future supply ship to remove them. The reason the colony has been silent is because order has only recently been restored and the new leader has been more concerned with rooting out any remaining gangs before declaring the emergency over.
More likely, the colony is still in a state of complete disarray with no one person or group in charge and multiple factions to deal with in order to interact with anyone on the moon. It may be that any communications equipment has been destroyed or so badly damaged it can’t be repaired. In fact, once the fact that the Far Horizon is delivering supplies becomes known there could be considerable danger as different groups fight over the food and gear. The marshals may be able to establish a ‘beachhead’ and persuade some of the former colonists to join them in a “legal authority”. The fresh supplies should be a powerful bargaining chip. Whether they simply become another faction, or whether they manage to instill some form of regulation, remains to be seen.
Finally, the situation could be even more chaotic with the original virus still running rampant and causing anything from a mild cold to severe psychosis and even more extreme behaviour! It could be anything but simple getting into the colony to see if the spare part can be found. Haslari might well have a lot to do medically—both of the marshals have some first aid ability if required. If the situation really is serious and things have descended to some kind of zombie nightmare, the marshals may well give the colony up as a bad job and expect to return with the crew, but they will help with the retrieval of spare parts—fighting if necessary. Whether the cargo of food is even left behind under these conditions could become an interesting moral question. PC agendas may well have to be adjusted in light of what they find.
The referee should bear in mind throughout that Nereid really is at the edge of the universe as far as humankind is concerned. With Pluto as yet unsettled and the nearest other people the sixty (see note below, though) scientists on Triton (and only another 620 back at Uranus), help and the comforts of home are a long, long way away.
In fact, Orbital isn’t very clear exactly how many people are on Triton. The UWP on page 189 and again on page 190 suggests thousands, the profile says 60, and the text says 60 Luna scientists have been joined by 50 ESDA scientists and two squads of eight IAU police for a total of 126. And just to confuse the issue further the two UWPs aren’t identical but seem to be reflecting the changes since the “beginning of the year” when the situation there became, well, changeable. The UWP given in the listing for Neptune’s moons is no doubt correct up to the start of the year; the UWP given for the world description reflects the more recent changes with the government becoming ‘balkanized’ and the Law Level descending to 0. In both cases however the population digit is 3, thousands, and can only be correct if for some reason the other descriptions are only counting scientists and not their support or families or some such.
In any case, the point remains that there is little in the way of help to call on.