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The Umbra Retribution

This article originally appeared in Issue #012, December 2010, of the downloadable PDF magazine.

Synopsis: A disgruntled former employee of a mining firm hatches a revenge plot targeting its most profitable product.

Equipment required: a starship.

Setting: A vacuum world with UWP POP 1 or 2.

Players’ Information

The group is approached by Harlan Li, a former employee of a large mining corporation who claims to have been let go through no fault of his own. He is extremely bitter about this turn of events and has decided to exact revenge on his former employer. To enlist the PCs’ help, he divulges a top company secret: the manufacturing process behind a popular and expensive type of synthetic gemstone.

The jewels are the processed remnants of a biological coolant secreted by the planet’s only native life form, a small silicoid creature resembling an oversized louse. The coolant keeps the creatures from succumbing to the primary’s blistering heat as they cross exposed areas to reach distant shadows, their natural habitat. Once in shadow, the creature excretes the coolant, where it hardens and crystallizes in the cold vacuum into pearlescent precursor crystals. These crystals are then harvested using a system of small “gem farms” set up on a vacuum world devoted to their fabrication and refined using small fusion ovens into the precious gems. Proper cultivation and refinement of the gems processes them to a fiery iridescent finish, increasing their value by a factor of hundreds. The entire process is somewhat similar to the harvesting and processing of Terran pearls. After creation and refining, the corporation sells the gems through company-owned retail arms. This allows it to control exports and prices. Profits from the jewels make up a large part of the corporation’s finances.

The exact locations of the farms and the world on which they are based are corporate secrets, but Li is willing to reveal these, too. He proposes that the PCs travel to the world, sneak onto one of the farms, load up on precursor—the processing-ready raw minerals of the valuable gemstones—and get them offworld, where Li can complete the refinement process using equipment aboard the ship. In return for the information and the refined jewels (which could amount to a lot of money), Li asks for a share of the booty and passage offworld.

Li warns the team that the corporation is zealous in protecting its assets; company patrols have orders to kill intruders caught attempting to steal precursors or gems.

Referee’s Information

Although it’s not necessary to the adventure, the GM can prepare a map of the world’s surface; which is extensively marked with craters, ridges, and plain-like maria similar Earth’s moon. In fact, a map of the Moon, easily obtained from a number of sources, can substitute in a pinch.

The company’s six gem farms are scattered about the globe, in areas brightly lit by the primary, such as atop ridges, or on maria. The mining corporation’s headquarters is situated on the world’s south pole. Li will suggest the group hit the farm closest to the spaceport, but of course the final decision is theirs.

Each farm is several acres in size and consists of a large pressurized shelter, or “farmhouse”, a number of shallow pits bordered by low walls and movable sunshades within the pits. Each shade is large enough to shade large areas of the pits, which hold thousands of the tiny silicoids. In response to production demands, the pits can be alternately exposed to the sun and then shaded off, causing the creatures within to produce and then excrete their coolant. The Company “farmers” then collect the resulting precursors, sending most of them for security reasons to offworld refineries, where the finished gems are produced. A pound of precursor is required to produce one gram of processed jewels.

5D “farmers” and 1d+1 guards staff each site. The guards all have company-issued vacc suits and carry vacuum-sealed laser rifles. They move around the planet a lot, so they may not number the same each time a site is visited. On each farm, the guards patrol the perimeter and the farm buildings in shifts, so one-half to one-third of the guards are on duty at any given time. The others can easily be radioed for backup if necessary. If a guard spots an intruder, he or she will immediately open fire while calling for backup. The company-provided vacc suits all have a distinctive color and equipment pattern that helps distinguish friend from foe.

The precursors are stored in sealed containers inside the farmhouse. Bins accompanying farmers to the “fields” are kept out and uncovered for convenience. Each bin holds at any given time 5D kilograms of precursor (capacity 30 kilograms). Each PC can obtain one bin every 15 minutes.

The farms do not use electronic security, depending on the secrecy of their location as a defense against electronic intrusion. Depending on their efforts to remain unobserved and stealthy, the group may or may not be detected; every 30 minutes, throw 9+ for the PCs to encounter at least one farm worker. A further throw of 1 or 2 on 1D results in a run in with a guard. Farmers will immediately summon the guards while trying to escape; guards will immediately open fire while summoning backup, which arrives in 6D combat rounds. Guards will only refrain from opening fire if they have some reason to suspect they are attacking company personnel or if vital equipment may be damaged.

Typical Farm Guard 878677; Vacc Suit;
Laser Rifle-2, Recon-1, Vacc Suit-2, Zero-G Cbt-2

The adventurers’ pay will be directly impacted by the amount of precursor they gather. One kilogram of precursor refines into one gram of gem, which subsequently sells for Cr1000 per gram.

As always, there is the possibility things don’t go exactly as planned. The GM is encouraged to impose one or more of the following complications:

  1. Li is lying. His firing was justified; the result of a report by a former coworker who works at the very farm Li has supplied the location for. While the adventurers are busy collecting their ill-gotten gains, Li plans to find and kill the coworker, fleeing the planet on the team’s ship.
  2. Unknown to Li, he is being watched; the company is expecting him to carry out this sort of plan. As soon as the company knows for sure which farm the group is headed for, the guards in that location will be alerted and will be waiting for Li and the team upon their arrival. Li will be arrested for corporate espionage, and the team will be killed.
  3. Li’s coworker (mentioned in 1, above) is actually casting attention on Li to cover up misdeeds of his own. He knew Li would be bitter at his dismissal and would concoct this sort of revenge plan. The coworker will see to it that Li is killed “trying to rob Company assets along with a band of hooligans”. During the excitement, of course, the traitor will be using the farmhouse’s computer to transfer ill-gotten gains and sensitive documents to his personal account.
  4. Li is actually a company security agent who is using the group to test new procedures designed to stop this sort of plot. He will intervene to prevent the team from being killed and pay them handsomely for their unwitting involvement.
  5. As 4, except Li will not intervene, and will allow the team to be killed.
  6. The targeted farm has for some reason not been meeting its production quotas lately, and there are little precursor to be gained. Throw 1D, multiply by ten and subtract the result as a percentage from the amounts stated above. Otherwise the scenario runs as outlined above.

The GM must determine the flow of subsequent events.