- Jonny Stone, Darren's science-minded bounty hunter
- 21, aka "Slim", Drew's mute mechanic monkey
- Jack Burton, Ernest's "best pilot evah"
- Fiona Fyre, Sharla's brilliant-yet-clueless mechanic
- Rutherford Hayes, Blair's 6-gun-wielding navigator
Seventy-five years later, Into The Black II transpired...
2099: Limited nuclear war in Middle East. Jerusalem & Mecca are utterly demolished in one night, and 14 million people die from radiation in the 6 months following the blasts. United Nations granted much greater authority and control in the following years.
2150: Identification of the habitability of Epsilon Eridani's planets, 11 light years from Earth.
2220: Invention of reactionless space drive, enabling space travel at fast enough speeds to be worthwhile. The technology improves over the next hundred years from 0.4 light speed to 0.99 light speed.
2260: Explorers land on Eridani Prime. Full-scale colonization begins shortly thereafter. This is coordinated, overseen, and largely funded by the United Nations, to whom all Earth countries have ceded governance of space colonization.
The Eridani planetary system
Eridani Prime, the most Earth-like of the four habitable planets, has been the focus of human activities, and this is where the campaign starts out. The other three planets (officially known as Eridani Beta, Eridani Gamma, and Delta) have more inhospitable conditions, but already are home to thousands of frontier settlers. Moons of each planet (numbering in the dozens), despite having harsh conditions, are also being developed by settlers in anticipation of future environmental manipulation technology.
No intelligent species have been encountered on any planets thus far. Flora and Fauna discovered on various planets largely comply with biological principles developed and understood on Earth. Fish, birds, reptiles, insects, and mammals are different than Earth-evolved species, but their configurations are still generally familiar to humans.
Politics and Society
Nationality (such as American or Russian) has been forgotten, except among the residents of increasingly abandoned Earth (still home to 12 billion souls). The United Nations runs the bureaucracy of governance on all civilized planets to a greater or lesser degree. Frontier worlds are left to their own devices and provided neither support nor oversight. However, once a colony is established and fruitful, the UN sends in troops to establish government infrastructure, with varying degrees of acceptance.
A growing faction within the UN leadership believes it is inevitable that hostile and sophisticated species will eventually be encountered, and the past 20 years have seen a gradual buildup of military technology, arsenal, and personnel.
To maintain control of an organically growing and far-flung civilization, in which basic communication can take years to conduct, the UN has become increasingly authoritarian and invasive over the past 50 years, requiring regular dispatches from local technocrats and developing a strictly defined chain of command. Laser weapons are completely illegal (excepting military), and other weapons are strictly regulated on Eridani Prime. These laws apply on other settlements but are rarely enforced unless UN security forces are present.
Inevitably this has resulted in factions that resent UN rule, and seeds of discontent are gradually brewing outside Eridani Prime. Civil unrest and rebellion are not uncommon on recently (<50 years) established human settlements, while older colonies are generally peaceful and civilized. However, no group or rebellion seriously threatens UN hegemony.
A rash of excessive “enhancement” in the 2200s has led to the outlaw of most cybernetic implants. Bionic limb and organ replacement to save a life is universally accepted and commonly practiced, but voluntary unnecessary bionic enhancement is illegal and culturally frowned upon. However certain elite units of the security forces are known enhance their troops, causing endless societal debate.
An underground market for enhancement or “chroming” exists. Costs listed in Cyberpunk book are doubled.
Space travel speed has “maxed out” at the speed of light. However, “jump points” have been mathematically proven and identified in the galaxy. Scientists have been laboring for decades to work out a way to use them to “skip” huge distances in space. It is anticipated that the technology is within a few years of actual testing (transferring small amounts of inanimate matter is the first test); governments and corporations are spending vast sums of money and resources to do it.
Recently, enthusiasm abounds for further space travel because of the development of stasis chambers. When engulfed in one of these gel-filled “cocoons”, humans age 90% slower, allowing a 20-year journey to have little effect on the perceived age of the traveler. This is a far cry from the initial journey to the Eridani system, during which babies were born and grew to adulthood on the transport vessels, only setting foot on a planet well into their thirties.
However, the cocoon technology is imperfect, and the risks associated with long ”hibernation” periods is still substantial. To minimize this, travelers are brought out of stasis for a few weeks of each traveling year to recuperate. There's a trade-off though, because the special biomatter gel is bulky and expensive, and must be entirely replaced before re-entering stasis.
The settling of the Eridani planets has led to a thriving human population, which, when combined with rapid advances in technology, has resulted in the planning of additional colonization of surrounding star systems. First is the twin system of Sirius A &B 16 light years away, which are orbited by at least two planets. Data from exploration drones indicates both may be habitable, and human exploration teams are en route.
The UN has decreed hundreds of planets within 100 light years as “fair game” for settlement, and future colonists are organizing resources for the land rush. These groups of adventurous souls generally consist of two types, profiteers or idealists, and those founders' attributes will inevitably leave their mark on the culture that will develop in each colony.
Over the past 120 years, numerous aspiring colonists of like-mind have launched massive 5,000-person superliners in the direction of various theoretically habitable worlds, and have not been heard from again; their status is unknown.
Additionally, “terraforming” technology is being developed. This will involve massive machines capable of producing air and water from local elements. On smaller planets and moons, optimistic technocrats are estimating 10-20 years to turn a barren rock to a habitable but harsh home for humans. Such deployments are already underway on moons in the Eridani system.
This will be a mix of TL 9 & 10. 4th edition Ultra-Tech rates technologies and equipment based on both TL and whether the item is considered 'superscience'; we'll be skipping the superscience items as a general rule but there will be some exceptions (such as gravity manipulation).
- We're re-imagining the Milky Way as having numerous stars with habitable planets within a few dozen light years of Earth.
- We're ignoring Einsteinian time dilation. If you travel at the speed of light for 15 years, then 15 years pass for the departure point, travelers, and at the destination.
- Gravity Manipulation: We're generally adopting the Firefly-esque concept of standard on-board gravity in space – as long as the ship is pressurized with breathable air, normal gravity is present. However there are some nuances:
- Internal artificial gravitational field generators are common on all space-faring craft. These generators are rated on the Gs they can override, so even if your reactionless drive can accelerate/maneuver faster, the Gs might crush you if the internal compensator can't keep up.
- In the upper ranges of acceleration for which a gravity generator can compensate, gravity is experienced as palpably 'off'. Eddies of spurious anti-grav can cause nausea, dizziness, headaches, fatigue, euphoria and localized earthquake-like tremors. (see B434, "Space Sickness" and "High Acceleration" for some ideas)
- New technology has been developed (and trademarked under the name Grav-Right) that overcome all these limitations, and provide a perfect experience of 1G within a craft, but it is only available on very high end small (< 5 passenger) luxury craft and one-man military attack craft, neither of which is capable of long distance travel.
The scrappy settlements on the other habitable planets and moons of the Eridani system are often beyond the reach of UN laws and regulations. This has led to a sort of "wild west" of regional pseudo-authorities and a thriving black market for:
- Weapons - technology has brought about devastating weapons; the UN restricts many weapons to uniformed troops.
- Slaves - the only thing better than cheap labor is free labor.
- ChromeTech - banned cybernetic/genetic human enhancement/augmentation technology
- Drugs - the list of synthetic drugs prohibited by the UN now numbers in the millions.
- Regulated goods - alcohol, fuel, and certain technology and equipment that are legal but require transfer licenses, fees, inspections, regulations.
The thriving black market has generated an ever-increasing UN 'Wanted: dead or alive" list.
Which has led to a secondary (tertiary?) market for bounty hunters. Of course, some roguish individuals play the role of hunted and hunter at different times.
Your Team & Vessel
You are part of the crew on WTF5309, a small cargo shuttle capable of travel throughout the inhabited Eridani system. Like many other vessels, yours is part of the gray-market/bounty hunter ecosystem. As a group, you might be considered "chaotic good", not caring much for the laws and regulations of the UN, but generally hewing to principles of justice and fairness -- as long as you can make a buck in the process. (You'd rather collect a bounty on a slave trader than make the same money buying and selling slaves, for example.)
Whether your team has a 'smash and grab' style or a more diplomatic approach to encounters depends on the characters created.
The WTF5309 can be manually operated by just two people. Is is quick and nimble for its class, but has no offensive capabilities (a strictly regulated configuration). It is equipped with a relatively modern medical bay, private bunks for 12, and an excellent array of tools, cargo rigging, and containers. To support your occasional dalliance in smuggling contraband, there are multiple small secret cargo holds that typical inspectors almost never find. Finally, you have one all-terrain ground transport vehicle; it's pretty banged up, but reliable.
Some Previous Jobs
- Transported some wealthy religious pilgrims from Eridani Prime to a distant moon colony. ($250,000)
- Stole and sold fuel from a fuel thief ($50,000)
- Tracked down and delivered to the UN an obnoxious gun-runner ($200,000 plus a very nice illegal sniper rifle that mysteriously went missing)
- Rescued a mining company's shuttle with 200 burly miners aboard ($100,000 plus a full tank of fuel)
The GM will build out the character after you provide:
- wealth (poor / struggling / average / wealthy / rich)
- profession / role
- your specialty, if any
- personality / mannerisms / addictions / compulsions / habits
- enemies, if any
- secrets, if any
- allies, if any
- contacts, if any
- cybernetic/genetic enhancements, if any
- These are 150-point humans, Tech Level 10
- Max -50 Disadvantages plus up to -5 in quirks
- Any genetic/cybernetic enhancement requires an additional 5 point Unusual Background advantage and is subject to GM approval
- One or more characters should have some Skills in:
- Navigation (Space)
- Legal Enforcement Powers (bounty hunting license)
- Piloting (High-Performance Spacecraft)
- Mechanic (High-Performance Spacecraft)
Just a Fuel Stop
On a remote mining moon bathed in whipping winds and clinging dust, the WTF5309 team stops to spend the last of their cash on fuel rods. Whilst lugging the 80-lb cases back to the ship, an explosion rocks the urban streets, and debris falls all around.
Meanwhile, the remaining crew on the ship conclude the explosion was too close for comfort, and agree to rendezvous with the fuel-fetchers in a field south of the settlement.
As white-armored and mirror-faced "unis" emerge from buildings to investigate the blast, 21 hotwires a cargo hovercraft and inexpertly blasts down the road to help with the cases. Out of control, he runs down a uni before picking up the team and cargo.
Jack takes over and blasts south, only to encounter 3 unis in the middle of the road gesturing for the team to halt. Their weapons are ready, but Jack accelerates and smashes through them as they open fire.
Fatally damaged by high-velocity rounds, the hovercraft careens into a sand dune a few hundred yards later.
The WTF5309 crew picks up the away team and fires the atmo-buster engines, rapidly ascending above the dusty settlement and blasting into space.
Breakin the Law
It's the UN - they demand that the team halt and prepare to be boarded for the mayhem on the surface. Jack fires the thrusters and the WTF5309 darts into deep space.
Safely away, Jack makes a delicious meal while BAIDER monitors their travels. During his cooking session, Jack notices that food supplies are very low and that will need to be the next stop.
The team makes for Station XXX, now a pleasure station orbiting an enormous ball of iron that contained more precious metals before the mining industry had their way. There also happens to be a fugitive (Malcolm the slaver) last spotted on the station and Jonny's thinking about the $100k bounty, now that the team is penniless. Problem is that the station has a $5k docking fee.
A solution is concocted after reaching out to the Dolphin, a luxury cruiser, to make a trade of fuel for food.
As Fiona Fyre retrieves the rods for the deal, she notices that half the rods they just purchased are counterfeit - worthless. So the ship is at something like 60% fuel now, rather than 90%.
During the transfer of goods, 21 sneaks aboard the cruiser with ideas of adventure and booty, but is overcome by his cowardice and stays hunkered down in the utility cart in which he boarded.
After much debate, internal and external subterfuge, hacking, counter-hacking, and desperation, Jack simply reached out to Tabitha, the Dolphin's owner, and says he has misplaced his "pet". He is allowed to re-board and collected the mischievous little monkey, but not before the simian trickster has stolen a segment of an enormous green crystal rod, origins unknown.
With that, the WTF5309 peels away from the Dolphin and Station XXX and heads for a previously detected "ghost ship", a heavy transport believed lost more than twenty years ago...
Still millions of miles from the ghost ship, sensors detect a 2-meter object lazily drifting in their direction and emitting a signal. It turns out to be a man, frozen solid in deep space, wearing nothing but a synthetic bodysuit. And he's been shot through with a military blaster.
The signal is coming from the deceased's bionic eyes. Over hours Jonny Stone hacks the eyeballs' firewall and snags a bit of video - the last few seconds of the gentleman's life, standing in an enormous biostasis chamber, confronted by Oxana Kavorkian, who kills him remorselessly. Further research determines that the Destination Eternity (the ghost ship) carried some 5000 pilgrims who worshiped an AI superintelligence they called Metatron, which had created a complete set of laws customs, and cultural traditions for them to implement in another solar system. Clearly, they never made it.
Hundreds of thousands of miles away, the team detects a shuttle leaving the crusty moon Gamma 33, headed for the Destination Eternity.
The team maneuvers the WTF5309 to the far side of the moon to consider their options. A mining scan assesses that the moon has a thin but breathable atmosphere, but is mildly radioactive, and the specific berkelium isotope is one mentioned in science literature as being useful in military experiments in classified stealth technology.
Oxana's ship is docked against the Destination Eternity and fitted with a military railgun. Nevertheless, the team flies the WTF5309 to the far side of the Destination Eternity, docks, breaks through the mile-long vessel's security, and Rutherford Hayes, Jonny Stone, 21, and Jack Burton board, using historic schematics that seem mostly accurate. The ship holds huge warehouses of construction and mining equipment, and much more.
They pass through one of several vast biostasis chambers and deduce that many of the thousands of suspended passengers are dead or dying in their pods.
They tangle with one of Oxana's goons, killing him and seizing his military blaster. They rendezvous on the bridge, where one ornate station labeled "GOD" is dark but for small blinking light that references deck coordinates. A quick check of schematics indicates it's the central data processing core, a room filled with supercomputers. Upon arrival, one of the supercomputers has evidently exploded or been bombed in some way. Debris and stains of smoke litter the area. GOD is dead.
A scheme is concocted in which the WTF5309 is discarded and the team takes possession of both the Destination and Oxana's ship, the Jade Arrow. The (NPC) crew is directed to file aboard.
The team makes their way to the airlock to which she is docked. Everything's wide open, but there are some thugs playing cards at the entrance. Shots are fired, one goon drops, but the airlock is now shut. Noises consistent with the ship undocking are heard.
As the team considers next steps, minutes later, crew members a mile away start yelling into the comm about "shots fired, man down".
Suddenly, the docking bay closes, locks, and begins venting air to space. The team suits up and considers options. Attempts to override the lock electronically or mechanically fail.
Oxana herself appears on a monitor and claims to be on a UN-sanction classified salvage mission. She suggests the team may be imprisoned or executed for interference, even treason.
Jonny Stone tries to negotiate, offering up details of the team's skill inventory. He also discovers anomalies in the Destination Eternity's security grid. It's been altered, but it's not clear how.
Oxana logs out and waits as the room drops to zero air and the team begins using their reserves. One by one, they pass out from lack of oxygen.
21 awakens, cold and naked and on a leash. Two leather-clad goons, one of whom has a long rifle, intend to hunt him for sport.
The rest of the team awakens cold and nearly naked, underground. They are soon herded to the mines below, where dozens of enslaved settlers use carbon-fiber instruments to scrape radioactive ore from tiny veins in the rocks.
But Jack Burton refuses to descend. A confrontation ends badly for him, with a blaster burn to the center of his chest. He succumbs to the injury and awakens later inside a sophisticated medical bay. Evidently his skills - or reputation - are worth something to Oxana.
Meanwhile on the surface, 21 is trying to escape assassination, and, after a series of close calls, requisitions a mining 'dozer and runs it off a cliff into the mine, crushing some thugs below but badly injuring himself in the process. He escapes the pit, only to be blasted to bits by the hunter's powerful rifle.
Over days, the rest of the team labors in the mines, giving Jonny and Fiona time to design and implement a small explosive device.
Once Jack's injuries are sufficiently healed by the flesh-reconstruction bot, he is herded with another crop of awakened settlers towards the shuttle bay. Sensing an opportunity, he struggles with one of Oxana's goons, eventually overcoming him with the assistance of a few settlers willing to help. Back in his element, Jack loads into the shuttle and heads for the surface.
On approach, he deftly vents the shuttle's afterburners upon a group of goons, blowing their charred husks into the pit. The violent gusts of dust and smoke within the mine create a perfect moment for the distraction of Jonny & Fiona's dirty bomb.
The team loads onto the shuttle with as many surviving settlers as can make it, and heads back to orbit...