I stand in a barren void that’s featureless
No sight or sound can penetrate at all
Though silent storms may try to tear me down
When dusk descends, I’ll still be standing tall
Daylight breaks and shatters empty skies
Has nothing changed for better or for worse?
The cycle just repeats itself again
Can’t tell if I am blessed or I am cursed
– Opening Lament of the Priests of Dune
This session of the Spiral Confederacy opens with our characters standing forlorn on the deck of their tiny ship, the Come As You Are, watching the CNS Reckless fade from view before their eyes. For a few moments after Captain Noulgrim and his pet psion disappeared the ship hung there, vast and ominous in the night sky, lights flickering and sparkling invitingly in the darkness. Then it began to fade, the lights merging and blurring so that it looked like a huge piece of quartz orbiting the sandy planet, and then fading out like a vast, lake-sized ghost.
Then they were alone, Dune’s distant, brilliant white star returned to its place in the sky and the CNS Reckless drifting out threateningly beyond their view. With no escape from their mission, they turned their ship slowly about and headed to the wreck of the Dune starport.
It took only an hour to reach the starport, but as they set their course they registered the presence of several other ships at the edge of the system, perhaps 8 hours’ travel away. These ships being too far away for easy contact they decided to ignore them and do their salvage job quickly, before the ships could get into attack range. They approached the zone where the starport had broken apart and found it drifting in three pieces. Two of these had begun to drift towards Dune’s orbit, but a third piece was falling away from the planet, spinning slowly in space and shedding atmosphere and wreckage to the void in silvery plumes. It was in this section of the starport that their target was buried, sending off its mysterious alarm signal. They approached this section in a fast loop, Ahmose bringing them in with a carefully coordinated manoeuvre that put their ship into the same rotation pattern, so they could lock onto its side. Once they were locked on Alpha sent out a surveillance drone, threading it through the broken superstructure of the starport until he could find the location of their hidden treasure. With this drone he could confirm that they were seeking their prize in one of the cargo holds at the edge of the wrecked starport, and they wouldn’t be able to go in through the superstructure. Instead, they located a nearby mining drone and brought it close to the entrance of the cargo hold. Having set up the drone, Ahmose and Alpha set out for the starport, while Simon Simon stayed in the cockpit of the Come As You Are, guiding the drone.
They drifted across the tangled wreckage of the starport’s outer surface, watching as the stars spun by dizzyingly, and from the disorienting horizon of the starport pieces of wreckage drifted out into empty space like strange moons – fridges, pieces of household furniture, chunks of ice and other debris spilling out from distant holes and quietly spiraling out into the ether. When they reached the cargo hold doors Simon Simon used the drone’s controls to force them open, and they drifted inside. With their surveillance drone they had identified a container with some possible loot, but first they sped across the cargo hold to their target.
They pulled a few small objects away from the target and dragged it out. They had suspected as much, but once they had it in the light of their vacc suit torches their worst suspicions were confirmed. Their target was a pair of cryopods, each holding a body. Cryopods have their own batteries, and when their power is disconnected they send out a general alarm. Someone had somehow managed to stow two crypods – with actual people in them – inside the cargo hold of the starport, presumably intending for someone else to pick up the frozen cargo, and now our heroes found themselves in possession of two humans in cryogenic stasis.
Which meant they would have to find, and break, a human-trafficking ring capable of smuggling living people out of a blockaded planet under the nose of a Lake Class starship. A disturbing choice of enemy…
They drew the cryopods quickly from the cargo hold and into the waiting mining drone. Once this was done they dove back into the hold to investigate the other cargo, finding a crate full of laser carbines that they also loaded into the mining drone. They flew this drone quickly back to dock with their ship, loaded everything into their own cargo hold, and headed quickly back into space.
They headed straight to a jump point. On the way they had a brief, terse exchange with the distant salvage ships, but it passed without incident. Those ships were still far enough away that a routine evasive pattern would make it impossible for laser weapons to hit them, and rockets would not reach them before they made it to the jump point. They jumped, heading to Niscorp 1743.
Jump takes a week, and there is no way to prolong the time in jump or to speed it up – it is fixed. During this week of jump they had an ideal opportunity to investigate their mysterious cargo, completely unimpeded by any outsiders. They had actually rescued two crypods, one of which had been smashed during the destruction of the starport. This smashed cryopod had a shaft of broken metal struck through it, so that its occupant had been pierced through the chest, and the preservative liquids drained out. The occupant was already registered as dead, but the other was intact and alive. This occupant was a small, intensely-muscled man in just a loin cloth, intact, well and fast asleep. Both had dusty gold skin, and the dead one wore a necklace in the form of a pendant made with a very similar crystal to the one they had turned over to Kong the Younger.
They removed the dead victim from the cryopod for investigation. She appeared to be female, but her physical structure, though vaguely similar to standard human, differed in a few remarkable respects: she was short, much more muscly than an average human female, and her reproductive organs completely different: it appeared that she was an egg layer, a kind of genetic change that none of our heroes had ever heard of. Knowing nothing about the extent of genetic modification available to the Confederacy, they could not judge the uniqueness of such a change. Had the people of Dune evolved such a property since the collapse, or had they been genetically engineered to such a strange modification before the collapse? In any case, it appeared they were dealing with a human at the edge of publicly understood genetic diversity. An interesting specimen indeed.
They put the dead Dune woman into deep freeze in the medical bay, and headed towards Niscorp 1743. Through their own stupidity they now found themselves entangled with human traffickers. What was special about their living cargo, and what evil organization had they unwittingly fallen into conflict with …?