This article originally appeared in Issue #013, January 2011, of the downloadable PDF magazine.
The party is approached very obliquely by a representative of Tukera Security, the Vermene, to investigate labor unrest on a major ship of the line, a Tukera Majesta-class freighter, the Catherine the Great.
This adventure takes place before the Solomani Rim War (990 - 1002) but long after the Great Merchant Strike of 904—perhaps some time about 985. This could be part of the events and provocations leading up to the Solomani Rim War.
Tukera Security is concerned about the possibility of another general strike aboard the megamerchant class ships. Many of the gains achieved by the crews in the Great Strike have eroded over time, particularly in the face of the many planetary depressions and recessions experienced in the wake of the Strike.
Rumors of another Strike have surfaced. Vermene has little concrete evidence of any plot, simply a single report from an agent who has since vanished, concerning a possible labor action possibly involving Solomani influence, and a hunch by Mildur Troygvan, head of Vermene. Troygvan’s hunches have played out before, so Sildas Tukera heeds his security chief on these matters.
The Great Strike cost Tukera a great deal, both financially and politically, and Sildas is determined to avoid another at any cost. He has authorized Troygvan to carry out ‘black’ operation of the highest order. Sildas simply wants Troygvan to enlist agents entirely outside of Tukera to infiltrate, if possible, the plot, and either expose or neutralize the leaders. Tukera has had some problems with Solomani infiltration of Vermene in the last few years, so Sildas wants things to be extremely tight on this mission. The entire affair is to be his and Troygvan’s eyes only. In reality, Troygvan cannot handle all the matters himself, so some of his most closely trusted staff will also be involved.
The player characters have to have never had any substantive dealings with Tukera, or else such dealings have been very well hidden. They should also be racial Solomani, be able to pass for such, or have homeworlds in the Solomani sphere of influence. If the PCs do not fit this profile they will have to give Troygvan very good reason to believe they can still accomplish this mission.
Troygvan will, if possible, contact the party through a patron they have dealt with previously. He will come to this patron with impeccable credentials...all false, but the head of security for one of the largest megacorps has awesome resources at his command.
Troygvan will at first attempt to convince the PCs that he is merely a middle man dealing for an anonymous corporate client, perhaps an upper manager in the Tukera organization, attempting to keep a blemish off of his bottom line.
However, if the PCs are observant, they will soon notice some touches that belie this notion. Troygvan habitually travels with a security escort, three ex-Marine commandos, and two ex-Scout special forces recon specialists. The security will ‘make’ the PCs long before the PCs will ‘make’ them (if the PCs ever do).
Troygan himself will travel armed (small silenced autopistol) to any meeting, and his guards will be heavily armed, sawed off shotguns, silenced smgs, and flash-bang grenades, and wearing ‘bulletproof’ trench coats. Any outdoor meeting, or one accessible from the outdoors, like a restaurant window setting, will be covered by one of the Scout recons acting as a sniper with a heavy gauss rifle.
Troygvan is not a well known person; however, if one of the characters gets a picture of him, and feeds it through a large enough photo database, Troygvan will be identified as an executive for Tukera. At any rate, his expensive clothes, mannerisms and clear attitude of command make it clear that he isn’t just any middleman. With extensive research, if the player characters can actually access the data sources they need, they may even be able to identify him as the probable head of Tukera security.
Troygvan will readily agree to more than one meeting; the first will be more ‘feeling out’ for both parties, no substantive information will be given to either side unless all parties agree. Troygvan is looking for a cautious, methodical, professional group to do this. If the party seems to ready to agree to anything sight unseen, he may back out; given the current state of political affairs in the Imperium, with rising tensions with the Solomani Confederation, some major planetary systems fighting recession, Tukera cannot afford anything that could spark a strike, or give it bad press.
The only thing Troygvan will say about the assignment is that it is an internal security matter on a starship, and the PCs are being recruited for an undercover operation, the pay will be generous, and that while there are very real dangers associated with the mission, it isn’t anticipated to involve combat, that the PC’s are primarily being asked to gather intel.
If the group agrees to work for Troygvan, he will suggest a meeting aboard his ship, a Tukera executive vessel. The PCs will be searched politely but firmly, on boarding the ship. Any weapons, recorders, etc, will be taken from them. They will receive a receipt, and be asked to sign it, for ‘Items in the Ships Locker’, listing anything taken from them.
The PCs will be shown to the wardroom, and offered refreshments. Soon the lift warning comes over the ship’s intercom, and the ship will lift from the planet and head off into interplanetary space. The two marine commandos will be in the room with them at all times, clearly guarding the PC’s. They will not be talkative.
About 15 minutes after lift, Troygvan will come into the room, and dismiss the guards. and begin talking.
“I’m sorry for the rude treatment, but this is a matter of the highest importance to Tukera Lines, and the utmost precautions must be taken. We have reason to believe that an illicit labor group is organizing on a major ship of our line, possibly to provoke a strike. I want you to go on board as employees of Tukera, and determine if there is such a conspiracy, and if so, who is involved. We do not know how high the conspiracy reaches, so you are being introduced as complete outsiders. You will be in under very deep cover. Vermene has agents working in the ships looking for these people. They will not be told of your existence, indeed, you will have to avoid them, since I cannot compromise your cover by interfering with this or allowing anyone else to know about it.
“The following is for your eyes only...No one else but myself and Sildas Tukera himself know of your relationship to Tukera, and I am prepared to take the most extreme measures to ensure that this remains the case.”
Troygvan has not changed expression, but the tone in his voice is clear, the PCs will be killed before they can expose anything.
“Naturally, I’ll reward success, even partial success, handsomely...I know that I am putting you in an extremely tight position, and potentially in great danger, but if you succeed I can bring all the resources of Tukera to bear in your behalf.
“The ship involved is the Catherine the Great, a Majesta-class freighter currently in the Diaspora sector. There is a scheduled layover of five weeks at their next port of call, more than enough time for us to get there. You will be put on board as part of normal crew replacements, into the sections that we suspect of having organizing activity. From there on, you will be entirely on your own. When you have achieved your mission, you will bring the evidence to the one of the designated Tukera offices on the list in your packets, get off the ship and stay there.”
He hands each of the PCs a package. It contains a folder with the outline of their identities, ID cards, and ship’s transfer papers assigning them to positions appropriate to their skills, aboard the Catherine. The PCs will be assigned to areas and shifts in the ship close to them; this way they will be able to maintain some contact. About two thirds of the party will have identities that show they worked on another Tukera ship, quite a distance away from the Catherine’s regular route. Their personnel files will also show that they were transferred for unspecified disciplinary reasons. Tukera takes a rather hard stance toward labor organization, and it will be inferred from their files that they were suspected of being involved in either labor problems or smuggling. There will also be a list of ports that the Catherine will be calling at, which have Tukera offices that the PCs can report at.
The disappearance of his agent has Troygvan suspecting that the conspiracy, if there is one, has access to the ship’s personnel records, either through illicit means, or by a highly ranking co-conspirator with legitimate access, since the agent had a classified personnel docket identifying them as a security agent.
Troygvan gives the PCs a moment to look through the materials, then continues.
“It is vital that you do not lose your identity cards—they have a special code that will identify you as a high ranking agent, reporting only to a few people within the Vermene organization. If you are successful, report to the Tukera office at any of the ports on that list, and only at those offices. I cannot guarantee your safety anywhere else. From there, you will be taken to a Vermene safe house for debriefing. I, or one of my associates will debrief you.
“One final bit of assistance. Your quarters on the Catherine will contain a silenced snub pistol, with eight rounds of ammunition. Recognize that this is highly illegal, and if these are found while you are on board you will be arrested and interrogated. Use them only as a last resort, as I cannot guarantee your safety aboard the Catherine, high security clearance or not.
“You will use the information in this packet to develop a detailed identity for yourselves while we are in transit to the Catherine. Upon arrival, you will be given new clothing, what possessions you would be expected to have, and your identity card and papers. Your belongings on this ship will be returned to you upon the mission completion.”
The time frame Troygvan has given the PCs, gives them 1 to 6 months to achieve their goals, based on the itinerary of the Catherine. Transit time to the Catherine will be two jumps. While in jumpspace the PCs will be required to develop their identites; they will be grilled by Troygvan and his associates, until they have everything perfect. If not, the failing PC will be left behind, or the mission will be aborted, the PCs will be compensated lightly for their time, and returned to where they met Troygvan, with the warning to forget that the episode ever happened.
Aboard the Catherine the Great
The PCs, if they have never been aboard a merchant of the Majesta class, will find themselves hard pressed to maintain their cover the first time they are on board. The crew is larger than the population of many small cities, and the ship itself is huge. When a Majesta comes into port, it takes over. Often Imperial Navy auxiliaries clear all non-Tukera or Naval vessels from the starport. The crew then takes over the starport. Depending on the ship’s schedule, the crew’s disposition, and the number and nature of the dependents on board, the port is either flooded with crewmembers shopping and enjoying a few days’ shore leave, to a wild carousal.
The PCs, however, should be able to settle down rather quickly into the routine of shipboard life. Naturally, as the newbies on board, they will get questions regarding their previous ship, why they’re now on the Catherine, etc.
After about a week on board, if the PCs are observant, they will notice that they have occasionally seen someone who looks remarkably like one of the bodyguards who accompanied Troygvan to the meetings, and may have been aboard Troygvan’s ship. If contacted the person will deny ever having met them before, and unless the PCs talking to the woman makes a difficult perception check, will come away thinking that it is merely a case of mistaken identity. In reality, it is one of the scouts sent by Troygvan to keep an eye on the PCs.
Troygvan’s tactics are clear: there are three layers of investigation going on simultaneously on the Catherine: The “official” investigation, the PCs deep cover investigation, and the scout, whose only job is to watch the PCs. If the PCs are blown or killed, it is the scout’s job to get off the ship and return with the information to Troygvan. If it has become clear that the PCs have uncovered a conspiracy, the scout will attempt to assassinate any identified leader, then escape the ship. In either case, the scout’s escape route is a specially prepared scout/courier in one of the cargo modules. Using this escape route will gather a great deal of attention, since it will involve blowing the doors of the module open with explosives and firing the scout’s thrusters to leave the ship. This will cause considerable damage to the ship, but Troygvan considers the risks worthwhile, if another Great Strike is averted.
What Will They Find?
From here the adventure could follow several scenarios:
The Solomani Provocation.
The PCs are soon contacted by a person who hints that they might well be able to continue their labor organizing. If they express interest, they will be slowly drawn into a conspiracy, led by a SolSec team, to foment a Solomani-centric strike by the crew during the ships closest approach to the Solomani Confederation some ten ports along the itinerary. SolSec has four or five agents placed throughout the ship, including one agent in the higher command structure, such as an assistant chief security officer.
The PCs will be asked to recruit others in preparation for the strike, or to perform some act of sabotage on the ship as proof of their bona fides. If they are successful at this, they will be allowed access to the higher levels of the conspiracy.
The SolSec agents are quite ruthless, and the PCs could well have a fatal “accident” if their covers are compromised.
The “Molly Maguires”
There is an anti-Imperial labor movement underway aboard the ship, but it has nothing to do with SolSec. A group of engineers are plotting a violent strike against Tukera for the gradual loss of the concessions gained in the Great Strike. They feel that success in this will encourage other starship crews to strike, and that another Great Strike will ensue. This time they hope to gain permanent concessions from Tukera, the other megacorps, and even the Imperium for the labor movement.
The conspiracy does not have any assistance from the command structure of the ship, but have hacked into the data systems for their detailed knowledge of personnel and other files.
The ship is carrying classified Naval hardware in one of the cargo containers. The ship’s captain is aware of this, and being a Solomani sympathizer is desirous of hijacking the ship to Solomani space. The srtike (with accompanying sabotage) is a ruse to draw the 25 Imperial Marines out of their specially prepared cargo module, whereupon in the confusion the captain will hijack the ship, put the crew out in the lifeboats, and fake the destruction of the Catherine.
He has the absolute loyalty of the upper levels of command, except for the highest ranking security officer.
The PCs discover a labor movement afoot, but it is one that addresses real abuses by Tukera. In fact, if the labor organizers are persuasive enough, the PCs could well decide to side with them. The organizers want to set up a legitimate, recognized union to negotiate with Tukera. Tukera wants to squash it. In this case, the PCs will have been largely lied to by Troygvan, particularly regarding the involvement of Solmani interests. He is using the players to find the leaders. Their subsequent murders will be blamed on the PCs.
The PCs discover that the original agent, whose report and disappearance started this whole affair, is simply a ruse. The agent had embezzled a great deal of money from Tukera, and filed the report and staged his disappearance to hide his trail. The PCs get involved in no conspiracy greater than a scheme to win a g-ball game between two engineering shifts, since one of the PCs resembles a semi-pro player known by the captain of one team.
This will not go over well with Troygvan, who really wants to believe there is a conspiracy afoot. He could well decide the PCs are lying, at worst, covering their own part in the conspiracy, or simply incompetent at best, and they were unable to find what was “right under their noses”.
The main thing for GMs to keep in mind is the sheer size of one of these ships. It’s over one and a half kilometers long. It has a crew larger than the population of many small cities. No matter what scenario the GM chooses, the ship should be a significant player in any plot. The PCs, for instance, could hide on one for months, scurrying from place to place. They could find interesting ways to bug various parts of the ship. Also, since this ship should really be run less as a ship than as a company town, there are ample roleplaying opporunities beyond the normal shipboard stuff. The conspiracy could, for instance, take place in conjunction with the the ongoing g-ball tournament between different parts and shifts on the ship...what better excuse for people to travel around the ship without attracting attention? There could be entire shipboard cultures unique to one of these class of ships, or even an individual ship. There could be things like luxury hotels built into standard cargo modules, along with power supply, life support, etc. A “cruise” company contracts with Tukera to transport their modules along, and avoids ship maintenence or construction costs, all of which are covered in the lease, which Tukera shouldn’t charge too much for, because in their minds, a cargo container is a cargo container.
With these behemoths in service, suddenly the trade tables from the various incarnations of Traveller start (notice I said only start) to make sense. Anyone on the scale of a PC is only going to be getting the odd spot shipment or charter...the big trade goes on these things. It would be sort of like attempting to figure out how current maritime trade makes economic sense if all you knew about were ships like the dhow that Michael Palin rode across the Indian Ocean in “Around the World in 80 Days”. When someone tells you that there are also giant kilometer-long container ships cruising around, it makes much more sense.