The 200T False Trader
This was originally posted by the author on Reddit r/Traveller, with the following note:
Long post. Don’t have the time to develop this properly and don’t have a campaign at the moment. Hopefully someone else will find something worth stealing. If you are a player rather than a GM maybe don’t read past the synopsis.
The author granted reprint permission, and it was reprinted in the March/April 2023 issue.
The players are on the outer edges of a system when they pick up a very faint signal—only detectable due to a particular combination of circumstances. After carefully tracking down the source they find a dark, cold Far Trader drifting and with barely enough energy to put out the faintest SOS. It is so cold it clearly has been drifting for years, possibly longer than the 10-year limit which would make it “free salvage”, and all the players need to do is get it back to a starbase and submit the right paperwork and it is theirs—mortgage free.
The ship is barely above absolute zero—it will take the players a good 48 hours to get it to the level where it is safe to try activating subsystems and explore the vessel.
- The outer hull of the ship is a single dull grey—no markings at all
- The ship is so cold that what atmosphere there was has frozen (Nitrogen -210°C, CO2 -78°C, etc.) into tiny floating particles of sleet
- There are two frozen, shrunken bodies:
- The first is in a stateroom on a bunk with severe burning on his arms and chest
- The second is slumped in the cargo hold, hole in his head and a pistol in his hand.
- There is a note in his other hand, but even if they are careful there are only fragments that can be preserved
- Once the temperatures reach -50°C bodies and any other organics start to crumble and shatter as frozen gases within them expand and liquify then gassify.
- The cargo was mostly perfumes, cosmetics, high-priced
- The ships power plant shows signs of a short and damage, the fuel tanks are empty and the backup batteries 99% drained. Damage is not serious though and a double session of maintenance should make it work.
- The ship is well appointed. No low berths, but a couple of high passage staterooms and a ship’s library
- Probably 50 years old, from a shipyard a sector away—a company that went bust maybe 40 years ago. Slightly odd in places, but otherwise looks like a standard TL12 Far Trader.
- Powering up the ship’s systems changes the hull’s colouring and reveals its name—it’s not holographic, though; it seems to be something built into the fabric of the hull.
- Once the ship’s logs are available, it becomes clear that a misjump occurred and a year or more passed for the ship during jump and it then emerged near an icy asteroid somewhere in the system’s Oort cloud and has been drifting ever since.
- The ship has been missing for 15 years.
The Less Obvious
- A thorough inspection of the power and jump drives reveals this it TL12 on the surface only—it’s all TL15 beneath
- The interconnections are crazy—things have been crammed in to minimise space used in an extreme way.
- The drives are Jump 3, not 2
- The cargo bay walls are movable—the fuel tanks can expand internally
- There is a holographic projector to display shipping containers and conceal the moved walls.
- The computer system is also TL 15, but disguises itself as TL12 on startup.
- The sensor systems likewise are scout or military level rather than standard merchant stuff.
The Truly Hidden
- Most of the ships logs have been tampered with. This is difficult to detect, but there are gaps and the remaining entries have been stretched out to cover them.
- The ship’s transponder can change its call-sign. This is highly illegal and very difficult to do convincingly.
- Careful digging might reveal traces of the codes previously used.
- There is a hidden compartment with a catch you can only open from the inside.
- The ship was part of an overly complex Zhodani intelligence gathering operation. A dozen custom ships were built entirely with Imperial technology and attributed to a company that was in financial trouble. The company was bought, closed down and its records tampered with.
- The ships would perform a complicated dance around the borders of Zhodani/Imperial space. One ship would make a Jump 3 from a quiet spot to a hidden rendezvous. Intelligence would be downloaded and the ship refuelled. Six days before, its duplicate had left the rendezvous point and made its way to the publicly announced destination. If anyone bothered to take any notice of a Far Trader on the outskirts of the Imperium they’d have seen a series of Jump 2 trades carrying premium cargoes and passengers.
- Of course, all this relied on precise scheduling, carefully duplicated cargoes, crews that looked almost identical and forged papers to back that up. The cost of the custom-built ships was phenomenal, the ongoing costs tremendous and it turned out that the additional intelligence gathered just wasn’t worth the effort involved.
- The ships themselves were overly complex making them less reliable. The discovered ship misjumped first, but a sister ship did the same less than a year later. There were rumours picked up that Imperial Naval Intelligence had taken an interest in a couple of the ships. The whole project got shut down amid political infighting within months.
- The party have a shiny new ship for free—hooray!
- The party have a complicated unreliable ship that they can’t let any Imperial engineers look too closely at.
- The ship’s (current) call-sign is still on a watch-list and when re-registered this will eventually reach the notice of a retired Commodore in Naval Intelligence. He was obsessed with the ship before it disappeared. He is well connected and independently wealthy and wants to know what is going on.
- The ship’s (current) call-sign is on a Zhodani watch-list and they will want to make sure the contents of the hidden compartment are not revealed and possibly that the ship suffers some terminal accident.
- The Zhodani spy had a family within the Imperium and the eldest daughter grew up to be a lawyer and salvage laws be damned, that's her inheritance.