This adventure originally appeared in the September/October 2016 issue.
Your Humble Editor posted a solicitation/challenge to a community forum, promising that the response he liked best would be printed in Freelance Traveller. The two responses here were, in the editor’s opinion, the best of those submitted.
The manager, such as he is, of the local starport (nominally class C, but more like a class D in reality) calls you, the captain of a free trader landed here, to what passes as his office, near the entrance to the extrality zone. When you get there, he gestures at a person sitting bound in a chair, somewhat the worse for wear, with an odd-looking hat-and-mask covering his head and face, and explains…
“I found him like this at the gate, with just a note in a local dialect that I can barely puzzle out if I’m lucky. The note seems to say that he can’t stay on the planet any more—but he’s clearly a native, so I may have misunderstood something. The note refers to him as “Jabru”, but it’s not clear whether that’s his name, or some sort of descriptor. When I called the mayor of the nearest town to see if he could tell me anything more, he took one look at my ‘guest’ and literally spat the word “Jabru”, said if he were seen anywhere off the port, he’d be killed, and walked away. He won’t take my calls now; his assistant says he won’t talk to me until “Jabru”—or maybe “the Jabru”—is gone.”
The PCs, out of compassion or hoped-for renumeration, take the poor soul aboard.
At the very least, the Captain reasons, he can earn his way with some labor-intensive, easily trained tasks. (the chief engineer has been complaining about flaky electronics connections, which means spending hours in dusty wiring boxes, and access panels checking and cleaning (and replacing) old, brittle Molex connections. Boring, but a trained monkey could do it, like washing dishes for your restaurant meal, if washing dishes led to bashing your knuckles on sharp box edges repeatedly.)
The first hitch happens almost immediately. When the “Jabru” is delivered to the ship, the steward starts to untie him.
Immediately the dock crew starts yelling and drops their tools, including the 10M containers they were loading. “No! No! JABRU!!!!” is about all the crew can make out in the panic.
Only a hasty application of a sizable bribe and a promise that the “Jabru” will remain visible, outside, next to the airlock, hooded and tied to the chair until the ship is sealed for takeoff, will the locals resume loading the ship.
The PCs will likely make a note to not ever come back to this backwards, superstitious port again.
“Not even the expensive beer was good!” says the gunner.
Upon departure, the poor “Jabru” is finally untied, revealing a slight young woman, dressed in rough, typically male local clothes (accounting for the port manager’s confusion). She’s been tied up for quite some time and is dehydrated, hungry and has numerous bruises, old and new, superficial cuts and burns, cracked ribs, etc. Not seriously injured, but pretty clearly tortured.
The very first problem the crew has is that she doesn’t speak anything but a local dialect that is distantly related to common languages in the sector.
Any crew member with multiple language facility will be able to make themselves understood. Otherwise a fair amount of time will be spent establishing communications.
The second striking thing that the crew notices is that the ‘white’ of her eyes are deep purple. After a while (and suitable language rolls) she’s able to explain that this is what is the ‘Mark of the Jabru’. It is a demon/monster/boogeyman from her culture; and it most often manifests in young people 18-25 years old. They’re considered dangerous and immediately killed or banished.
In the past they were killed in a ritual fashion, but some centuries ago, after first contact from the Imperium, offworld banishment became the norm, at least for those wealthy enough to afford it.
She turns out to be quite good at the tasks given to her, and rapidly grows to be a well-liked shipboard member.
It might occur to some PCs that they came to like her awfully quickly….
Possible Directions for This Scenario
“It’s Only Business”
She was the co-heir to a sizable on-world business/criminal empire. Her brother wanted everything for himself, and contracted with an off-world cosmetic surgeon for a vial of eye dye, a temporary eye-coloring agent used in some cultures as cosmetic enhancement. Once her eyes turned purple, he was able to get her beaten and banished as ‘Jabru’ in order to claim the family business entirely as his own.
At the referee’s discretion, she may have off-world contacts who will enable her to mount a mission of revenge…the PCs could profit handsomely if she’s successful in what ends up as a gangland-style war that they participate in.
“Burn Her; She’s a Witch!”
Her eye color is the result of a long-conserved mutation that made the possessor susceptible to infrequent fungal blooms in the local ecosystem. The bloom causes their eyes to become deep purple: in the past, “Jabru” or ‘purple eyes’ led to madness, usually violent. As a measure of communal protection, they started killing anyone subject to the mutation when it manifested. Although the gene that led to madness was long ago eliminated from the population, the related gene for ‘purple eyes’ was not.
The young woman is simply an unfortunate susceptible to the ‘purple eyes’ fungus; she’s otherwise an intelligent, talented person who will make a fine engineer if given the appropriate training, and will gladly join the crew for just room and board if offered a chance, almost like a ship’s mascot.
“The Incredible Hulk”
As above, but “Jabru” are still subject to fits of incoherent rage. She might seriously harm or even kill someone while in this rage state; she’ll come out of it with no memory of what happened.
She seriously maimed her cousin in such an incident. As she was an heir to an sizeable fortune, her family was able to have her banished instead of executed outright. With suitable treatment she may be able to supress the madness; she needs to never become angry. Her family will pay the crew a sizable amount to get her off-world to a treatment facility.
About 4 days into Jump someone sets her off and she attacks maniacally with anything to hand.
“Jabru” are the result of parasitization of a rare invertebrate on her planet. Like other parasites (http://io9.gizmodo.com/12-real-parasites-that-control-the-lives-of-their-hosts-461313366), these parasites control their victim’s central nervous systems. In this case, the parasite will cause the victim to be friendly, even (depending on the PG-to-X-rated-ness of the game) wantonly sexual, in order to infect others with the parasite, which is accomplished by a long, thin, bony structure used to inject a fetal parasite into the victim.
The crew may notice the young woman’s personality changing from the time they take her aboard, from a frightened young girl to a wanton seductress. As other crew are infected, the survivors will notice others with eyes that are turning purple; a sign of the impending maturity of the parasite.
“Jabru” are a locally conserved genetic strain of psions (think a genetic trait linked to greater survival like sickle-cell anemia: people with only one allele are more resistant to anemia, poor kids who get both genes from their parents get the disease; in this case they are psionic, the purple eye color is just something that tagged along for the ride, genetically). They are empaths whose ability is to appear to a person as someone else they know, often an idealized or desired version of that person. If you have a crush on someone, a Jabru will appear as that version of the person, reciprocating your affection.
When you meet the real one, as they say, ‘hijinx ensue’.
The referee can take this to light-hearted mistaken-identity comedy or take it as dark as Solaris (the definitive 1972 version, which remains, to me at least, one of the most haunting movies I’ve ever seen): “Your character meets your dead wife, real and in the flesh…she runs up and embraces you.”
If the Jabru has control over this and malevolent purpose this can go more towards version 6 below….
“American Horror Story: Starship”
“Jabru” are highly capable sociopathic psions with a number of talents: they can make you think they’re other people, they can ‘hear’ others thoughts and they have limited telekinetic powers; they can cause sensors to report the wrong conditions, thus suppress or create electronic warnings and make computer systems behave erratically. Keeping them hooded and tied up limits their power.
After freeing the Jabru, who appears to be the innocent young woman described above, the PCs start having odd ship failures during jump. When confronted, the Jabru can appear to be other PCs leading them to suspect each other in the failures.
The GM should reduce the ship to inconsistent emergency lights, flashing beacons, alert sirens, etc. Air systems fail (or appear to), producing copious clouds of water vapor; reactors report they’re going critical, all sorts of phantom errors happen. You push the elevator button for engineering, you land on cargo deck 3. Etc.
This would play out better on a larger ship, perhaps the PCs are passengers or crew on a liner.
A good excuse to run a horror-style adventure.
Without some serious investigative digging the PCs will not know the world’s history. They may have only rumors to guide them in this scenario. The word Jabru refers to any person deemed to be a witch or sorcerer. Long ago, a Zhodani heavy cruiser suffered a crippling mis-Jump and arrived in this backwater system. Due to catastrophic system loses the remaining crew decided to scuttle the ship into the local star take their chances on the conveniently located habitable planet.
These survivors established an isolated community deep in the unsettled lands of this world. In time they spread from deserts to mountains to tundra; always away from local settlements but near enough to trade with a difficult journey in between. They fell back to the local tech. level (TL5 at the time) and established themselves as a monastic order who valued self-sufficiency and privacy. The locals were always suspicious of outsiders and of these ‘monks’ who always seemed to know a better way of making or doing things. Knowing that something is possible provides a big advantage when one is trying to figure out how to do it.
When the locals encroached upon the lands of the ‘monks’, the monks left everything behind and moved deeper into the wilderness. Eventually, there were no more open plains to cross. No more uninhabited forests or mountain valleys. The local civilization had grown and had now become accustomed to the ‘monks’ simply fleeing and leaving behind a ready-built community with aqueducts and bath houses and running water. When there were no more places to flee to the ‘monks’ defended themselves for the first time in recorded history. Things did not go well. The ‘monks’ had stealth and tactics on their side as well as the strength of conviction that comes from defending your homes against invasion. The ‘monks’ also had superior modern firearms and some modern unpowered armor. And a host of logistical items to allow them to stage a guerilla war for the next several generations. No engagement with Zho forces are complete without the elite psionics-using commandos. This really spurred the rumors of shadow-walking assassins getting past any sentry and into any fort.
But no matter how advanced the force the Zho survivors could field they were facing a war of attrition and knew their days were numbered. The ‘monks’ disbanded and fled as war refugees and blended in with the local population as best as they could. The locals still tell tales of the mysterious warrior-priests who could fight so well or could cure the grievous wounds for friends or foes alike. After contact with the Imperium, local historians began to see similarities in 4th Frontier war reports and their own historical accounts of the strange ‘monks’. Armed with this theory, the military rulers started to conduct a ‘witch-hunt’ to root out every last ‘stinking mind-raping Zho’ on their planet.
Now strangers are given random DNA tests to ID potential Zho as well as the good old fashioned teeth counting method. When a Jabru (monk) was found, they were shipped offworld and forgotten.
Possible Directions For This Scenario
- The Jabru is short, fair skinned, dirty, thirsty and exhausted. He will answer all questions but insist that he is no "Dirty Joe-Zho scum traitor. Nor does he have too many teeth to be base line Humaniti. His name is Jaceen Marduurn and he fell victim to this fear-mongering by a business rival who wished to see him stripped of his citizenship and deported so that he could take possession of his business and lands.
- The Jabru is tall, thin, and dark skinned. If checked, he does have too many teeth. He acknowledges using ‘Jaceen Marduurn’, but is really named Chashian Mardrmiepr and he wishes to be repatriated to the Zhodani Consulate at the soonest opportunity. He is civil and diplomatic, if just a bit arrogant.
- As #2 above, but Mardrmiepr will use his commando skills to commandeer the PCs’ ship in Jump.
- As #2 above, but Mardrmiepr wishes to stay on what he considers his Home World. A Home World with an independent government and established Zho colonies.
- As #2 above, but Jaceen Marduurm is really his name, and he is not actually Zho. He is under the impression that Zho space is friendlier than Imperial controlled space and is willing to do just about anything to get to Zho space.
- As #1 above, but he is of mixed heritage and mildly psionic. The accidental manifestation of his powers led to a local panic; the Old Enemy had re-surfaced and must be removed. Luckily the PCs were in port to take away this ‘dangerous war criminal’. Marduurm never hurt anyone, nor does he harbor any ill-will towards his fellow citizens. He just wishes to return to the simple life of an algae farmer.