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Traveller: Session 32

 


This session was run on June 8, 2023.

 

The crew of the Far Horizon woke from their five-year voyage from Tartarus in 2105 C.E. to find themselves in a different world. The political situation between Earth, Mars, and Luna had degraded and, eventually, resulted in outright war. This was humanity’s first orbital war, and it was almost its last. Mars and Luna had long complained about the Earth powers’ economic exploitation of them, and the war resulted from Luna’s declaration of independence. The U.N. cut them off, to show them how dependent they were on imported resources. Perhaps this would have worked over the long run but Luna didn’t plan on starving. They interpreted the U.N.’s actions as an attempt to wipe them out and played their only card; the high ground.

It only took five rocks for Earth to surrender but those rocks killed over two billion people and left vast swathes of the surface uninhabitable for generations. The crew returned to a world where no one owned the Far Horizon and there was no space agency left to give the faster-than-light drive model to. They had what might be the single most important scientific discovery in human history, and there was almost no one left to make use of it.

They decided that they could not trust any of the factions currently engaged in an interplanetary cold war backed by kinetic doomsday weapons and stashed the FTL model, and the data they had collected, on a nameless asteroid. They found that there was still work for a ship as capable as the Far Horizon, some of it even scientific, and took whatever jobs they could find to keep the lights on.

 

116-2108 C.E.

They were returning to Mars from a scientific survey mission to Enceladus when they picked up a S.O.S. signal from the Star of Rhea. The ship, which was less capable than the Far Horizon, was travelling from Titan to Mars when, five months into its journey, it was hit by a micrometeorite and suffered massive air loss. The message indicated that there were two men aboard, Dieter Park and Sam Wilson. They estimated they had only one month of air left, with two months remaining before they reached Mars. The Far Horizon could reach the Star of Rhea in two weeks if they slowed down. There did not appear to be any other ship that could reach her within the timeframe required.

Lukas attempted to inform the Star of Rhea that they would be able to reach them in time, but was unable to establish radio contact. They proceeded to decelerate in order to make the rendezvous anyway.

 

130-2108 C.E.

As the Far Horizon approached the Star of Rhea, they could see the damage caused by the micrometeorite hit through the common area. They could not raise the crew by radio or get a response to coded flashes of their exterior lights. Lukas made the call to send a team over using the shuttle to provide assistance. Sven, Kurt, Bob, Katiya, Jason, and Vic suited up.

 Bob had no difficulty docking and they split up once they were aboard. Bob and Vic headed for the bridge, while Kurt and Katiya headed for the habitation deck. Jason and Sven stayed with the shuttle for safety. Bob got to work on recovering the black box for CASS to analyze while Vic ran some life support diagnostics. He was surprised to see that oxygen depletion over the last week and a half was consistent with one person and not two. A preliminary scan of the black box information confirmed the incident and loss of air volume as reported. Bob also noticed that the crew logs initially called for three members but Dave Pendleton got sick two days before departure. The owners of the ship were able to get a safety waiver processed allowing the trip to proceed with only two crew members. In Bob’s experience, these kinds of waivers were rarely granted.

Kurt and Katiya found the common area of the habitation deck still in a state of disrepair, with papers and small items laying where they had blown following the impact. Kurt took a brief inventory of the common ship supplies in the common area and noticed a discrepancy in the medical kit. One syringe was missing from the supply and the bottle of atracurium, a paralytic used for operations, had a large dose missing. Katiya examined the holes left by the impact on either side of the common room and reported that she could not determine which was the entrance hole and which was the exit. Both seemed to have been subjected to an inward force. She admitted that it was possible that this was because of something that happened during the patching process, and said she would need to EVA and examine from the outside to be sure. Next, the two turned to the cabins. One was neat and tidy, with hardly any personal effects beyond clothes and toiletries. The second had clearly not been used at all. The final cabin had several copies of the Bible and pamphlets about The Church of Heavenly Stigmata strewn about.

Having not found anyone in the two most likely places, they decided to move about the ship some more. They decided that Bob and Kurt would head to the launch deck, Vic and Sven would go to engineering, while Katiya would return to the shuttle with Jason and prepare for her EVA.

When Bob and Kurt reached the launch deck, they noticed a table set up on the floor in the center of the room. Looking around, the only place that they saw where someone could be hiding was in the lander itself. Bob opened the door to the lander and found a man sleeping on the floor. He was middle-aged and disheveled. The man jerked awake as the door opened, and blinked several times, confused by the appearance of space-suited strangers.

Bob turned on his external speakers, “We are the crew of the Far Horizon. We are responding to your distress signal and are here to rescue you. What is your name and where is the other crew member?”

“I am Sam Wilson, the only surviving crew member of the Star of Rhea.”

“What happened to Dieter Park?”

“When we realized that we did not have enough air remaining for both of us to make it to safety, we drew straws to see who would live. Dieter drew the short straw and killed himself using the airlock.”

“We announced we were on our way to help you two weeks ago. Did you not get the message?”

“We were not able to receive any radio traffic after the accident. We were never sure whether our message even got out. We waited as long as we could before drawing straws.”

“Why are you sleeping in the lander?”

“Honestly, the idea of sleeping in the habitation deck with only those patches keeping the air in freaked me out. I know it doesn’t make sense, but I just could not feel safe there.”

Bob indicated that he understood and then asked a few more administrative questions while Kurt performed a short medical examination. Kurt indicated that he could find nothing wrong with Wilson. When asked, Wilson told them that he had been living in cabin number one.

Vic, hearing that they had located the only survivor on the ship, let Sven continue on to engineering and headed up to the launch deck. As soon as he stepped onto the deck and saw Sam Wilson, he motioned for Bob to come talk to him while Kurt was finishing up his medical tests.

“I don’t care what that man said his name was, he is the Reverend Kavanaugh from the Church of the Heavenly Stigmata. I would recognize him anywhere. Apparently, my mother became a follower while we were on the Tartarus mission. It is a full-on crazy cult that thinks Space Jesus left messages on Mars telling them how to get to some Garden of Eden planet. Mom and I had a big fight about it when I got back.”

As they were talking, Kurt gave the man something to drink and came over to talk with them. Vic quickly filled him in on the man’s real identity.

“So, we can’t believe anything he said about how Dieter died either?”

“I wouldn’t. It isn’t really our job to solve mysteries out here. Let’s just subdue him and put him in one of the cryo pods until we get to Mars.”

“I still have the bottle of paralytic drug I found in the medical kit. I assumed that Dieter used it before he spaced himself after he told us his story, now I am less sure. If one of you distracts him, I can jab him in the neck, he’ll go down in a few seconds.”

Vic nodded and the three walked back over to Kavanaugh.

“Reverend Kavanaugh, I am afraid we have a lot more questions for you.”

The shock barely had time to register on his face before Kurt plunged the needle into his neck.

“What the hell?”

Kavanaugh spun and saw Kurt behind him, needle in hand as Vic grabbed his arms from behind.

“Easy, buddy,” Vic said, “Just enjoy your nap.”

A long several seconds passed and the reverend was still standing. Kurt, confused, examined the bottle more closely.

“Wait, this is just water in here. What is going on?”

“I can explain,” Kavanaugh said, “When we first realized that there was only enough air for one of us to survive, Dieter… no, both of us… we went to a dark place. We became paranoid. One day I noticed that the seal had been broken on the medical kit. When I opened it, I saw that bottle’s label was facing the back. I realized that Dieter planned to poison me… or was at least thinking about it. I decided to take the option off the table and replaced the contents of the bottle with water. I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it had just been a moment of weakness. I was also afraid that, if I confronted him with what I knew, violence would be inevitable. The next day, during breakfast, he jabbed me with the needle. When it did not work, I confronted him, and he admitted his plan. It was then that we drew straws to see who would go out the airlock.”

“Why didn’t you tell us?” Vic asked.

“Because I liked Dieter. I cannot stress enough how dark those four days were. We were both paranoid. At some level, we were both thinking it. He did what was right at the end. I saw no reason to sully his name and harm his family.”

“Why did you lie to us about your name? Did you lie to Dieter too?”

“No, Dieter knew who I was. There are many people throughout the system who hate me for what I preach and believe. There have been at least three attempts on my life in the past. I always travel under a fake name.”

“We do not know what to believe at this point,” Bob said, “We are going to bring you back aboard our ship and put you in cryo until we get to Mars.”

“I understand.”

As they were taking Kavanaugh back to the habitation deck, Sven radioed to tell them that he had found two missing explosive bolts on a flange. The flange was on a pipe connected to the reactor area and the explosive bolts allowed it to be severed in case the reactor had to be separated. The flange had a total of twenty-five bolts.

At this point, they decided to go ahead with Katiya’s EVA to look at the impact damage from the outside. After twenty minutes, she reported back that it was clear that both openings were from a force focused inward. There was no exit wound. Furthermore, both holes had been formed by a small explosive charge, not a small rock. She also reported that she found a wrench jammed between two supports outside the hatch. It was likely it had been dropped by someone on EVA, or possibly blown out the airlock and got stuck.

While she was cycling back in, Jason inspected the crew suits and told them that only the suit with Dieter’s name on it had been used recently. When Katiya came through the airlock, Bob immediately noticed that the wrench had blood and hair on it.

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