A Clockwork Empire
While exploring the uncharted space between the Gorn and Romulan empires, sensors detect a system with two class M planets. Concentrated scans detect that both are inhabited, with one being at the Industrial Revolution level of development, while the other is at a late Iron Age stage, with neither one being a united world. The more advanced one has a level of technology and society like that of late 19th century Earth and has begun "colonizing" (i.e. conquering) the more primitive planet.
The amazing discovery however, is that the advanced world shouldn't have the technology to reach the other planet – by all the rules of physics, their "Etheric Skyships" shouldn't work. Nor should they be in possession of, albeit crude, anti-grav, these stunning revelations require investigation. Since the advanced planet is still limited to blink signals and telegraph, there aren’t any communications the ship can tap into remotely. The advanced society is comprised of standard humans and is in all likelihood a Preserver seeded world, while the second is likely to be a naturally evolved humanoid race. It will take a Landing Party to unravel the mysteries of the Planet dubbed Victoria.
Properly attired, the Landing Party will beam down and have to reply heavily on their Universal Translators to be able to communicate as the lack of a media that can be intercepted means they will not have time to study the local languages before departing.
Beaming down to a remote area of one of the larger cities gives the Landing Party chance to arrive undetected. Communicating takes a bit longer than hoped as the Universal Translator does not immediately understand the local language, taking two hours to break down the language. Once able to communicate, the Landing Party finds the locals to very friendly and that observing the High Port is a favorite past time of even those who have lived in the city for a long time. Careful observation along with Mechanical Engineering, Physics, Astronautics, or Warp Drive Technology will show that the while the Skyships are sound and locally produced, they still shouldn’t work.
It will take a Streetwise and one of the above rolls to get one of the ship hands to talk about their ships to get a better feel for what powers these impossible vessels. The crewman will freely talk about the miracle GhostRock and how it burns hundreds of times longer and hotter per kilo than the finest coke on the planet. In addition, a by-product of this amazing power output is the “Etheric” wave it generates. This is what allows the tremendous speed that makes travel between the worlds possible.
If approaching a crewman on the docks fails, there is always the myriad of pubs within short walking distance of the docks to meet with crew. Buying a couple rounds and a Streetwise roll will learn about GhostRock in one of the seedier pubs. As will visiting a teahouse and making one of the above technology rolls to impress one of the more learned ship’s officers.
Once this bit of information is discovered, asking to actually see some the GhostRock proves to be more difficult. The mineral is so valuable that the ship’s supply is closely guarded. It’s not for sale to any one but government-licensed brokers. The mines are so heavily guarded that they are like unto fortresses manned by the finest soldiers in the empire and penalties for a person in possession of even a small fragment are extremely severe. The nations of Stepun have fought several pitched battles for control of GhostRock deposits. Fortunately, it this miracle stone is fairly common, with even small nations fielding a few Skyships. Either local knows the location of the nearest government-licensed broker here in Giliad City.
The origins of the discovery of GhostRock’s “Etheric” powers will require a conversation with an officer to get the story explained in any detail, The common sailors only know of that a mysterious figure who hides in the shadows, providing funding and "guidance" to folk used to call mad scientists.
An officer or university professor will know that while it is true that mankind’s benefactor is reclusive in the extreme, there is nothing truly mysterious about the still unidentified man. For the last 60 years, scientific advancement has been assisted by a man that has kept his identity hidden while providing funding and guidance to visionary scientists, giving them the intuitive leaps they needed to turn "GhostRock" into the source of the Etheric wave that not only provides the lift for Skyships to defy gravity, but the thrust to drive them between worlds.
If the PCs do venture to see the GhostRock broker, he is an affable man willing to discuss in general terms the nature of his business. The raw mineral is quarried and pressed into 50-kilo bricks right at the mine, then an armored train transports the bricks directly to Giliad City and three other high ports. The train stops right at the brokerage, where the bricks are stored under heavy guard. It is the broker’s job to negotiate with the ship owners for a fair price per brick. Once the price is agreed to and paid, the brokerage uses a small well guarded switch engine to deliver the bricks via the dock spur line directly to the high port where it is transferred to the Skyship’s fuel bunker.
Any request to see a sample of GhostRock is met with a polite, but firm refusal and will end the meeting immediately, having made the broker quite nervous. He will remain courteous and escort the PCs to the door, but he will refuse to see them if they return to the brokerage again.
Unable to obtain a sample of this mysterious GhostRock in the city, the next logical step is to obtain a sample from another source. Ship’s sensors are only able to locate the mineral with careful calibration. There is a –60% penalty to locate GhostRock initially and the accuracy is very poor only being able to get with 2D10 kilometers of a deposit. One thing that is immediately apparent about the mineral is that it has an extremely unstable quantum matrix that scrambles not only sensors, but transporters as well. Beaming out a sample or precisely beaming into a location with any substantial quantities is impossible While beaming a sample up to the ship is not possible, despite it being clear it is unstable on a quantum level, it is as inert as coal and as safe to move as coal via shuttle.
The PCs can be transported to within walking distance of the nearest quarry as even the nearest deposit is over a hundred kilometers from the city. The beam in will go without problem, but will leave the PCs 5+1D10 kilometers from the quarry. On reaching the edge of the quarry, the facility is obviously very heavily guarded. Even at night there are mounted ten-man patrols within five kilometers of the mine. Anyone found inside this area is immediately challenged by the patrols and either escorted out of the area (Successful collective LUC or Streetwise roll) or taken to one of the many outposts ringing the facility (Failure of both the above) for additional questioning. It will take a Streetwise roll with a –20% penalty to talk their way out of detention. Otherwise, an officer arrives with two guards per PC to take them before the local magistrate to be charged with trespass. This is a fifty-shilling fine or five days in the local jail crime. The trail is nothing more than a statement of facts by the troopers, the magistrate saying “guilty,” and offering the terms of fine or jail time. There are no appeals and if they PCs cannot
pay (unlikely), they are immediately taken to their cell. The jail is far enough away from the quarry that a sub-cutaneous transponder will allow a beam out.
During daylight, a Small Unit Tactics, Security Procedures, or INT –20% roll will figure out that the chances of sneaking into the quarry unchallenged is not possible. A nighttime foray has a much better chance of success. It will take three DEX rolls to move quietly enough to avoid the patrol. If any of these rolls fail, that PC gets one LUC roll to find enough cover to hide, if not they are spotted and the alarm is raised. Once the alarm is raised, there is no chance to sneak into the quarry.
If the PCs remain undetected, they will have to make another DEX roll to climb the fence and enter the quarry proper. A fail results in 1D10 from Current Op End from a bad landing. The easiest sample to obtain is at the tailings pile. However, due to the trace amount of actual GhostRock present, all analysis rolls will be at a –20% penalty.
The purest samples are the pressed bricks ready for transport, but they are in the main storage warehouse and closely guarded. The only entrances are the large main doors that swing open to allow a boxcar to take on a load of bricks and the one smaller personnel door to the left of the main doors. The only way to enter the personnel door is through the guard post and the six soldiers on duty. Due to the length of time since the last attempted raid of a GhostRock quarry, the guards are somewhat complacent and do not maintain the roving patrols that used to circle the inside of the facility. Moving to the back of the warehouse and using a phaser to make an opening is the easiest way inside. The corrugated tin warehouse wall can be cut slowly with a phaser set on heat or blasted open with a disintegrate setting. Heat will take 10 charges and 10 rounds to make the opening. A disintegrate uses the standard 4 charges and will only take a millisecond, but will require a collective LUC roll for the bright flash to remain unseen. If spotted the alarm is raised and escape becomes extremely difficult. It will take three DEX rolls –40% to evade the guards and a single DEX roll to climb the fence again with the same penalty for failing. If spotted, there is no chance to hide, fighting is the only means left to escape. Initially, four soldiers will spot the PC and four more will arrive every 2D3 rounds.
Anyone captured will be chained in the quarry’s stockade with a ten-man guard to prevent their escape. The camp commandant will arrive within half an hour and begin interrogating the prisoner(s). This will not be a pleasant time and will require an END roll to avoid a D10 from Max Op End from the brutal questioning. When the first PC loses consciousness, the questioning will stop and a doctor will be brought in to tend to their wounds. Under no circumstances will the PCs be killed before they can talk. The quarry will increase it’s alert standing to include roving guards inside and outside the compound again. This results in all DEX rolls to sneak into the facility gaining a –20% penalty. The next morning, an armored stagecoach will arrive to pick up the prisoner(s). Locked inside, a dozen mounted men and two drivers head for the nearest military facility for additional questioning and trial. However, once outside the GhostRock induced transporter interference, the PC(s) can be beamed directly out of the stagecoach. Leaving the escorts with one hell of a mess to explain when they arrive at the headquarters.
Once in possession of a sample, it will be a trivial matter to transport the GhostRock to the ship via shuttle. At night, there won’t be any witnesses to worry about. During the day, sensors will easily find an area clear of witnesses for the shuttle to land unseen.
Examination of the GhostRock sample on the ship will yield several startling discoveries with successful Geology, Physics, and Astrophysics rolls. First, GhostRock is indeed a material exclusive to Victoria. In addition to its incredible power output, its use also generates an interaction with trans-dimensional space on a quantum level. The mineral has naturally occurring anti-gravitic properties that only requires it be ignited to activate, it is also responsible for creating the Etheric wave. If ignited while aligned between two planet-sized masses, it warps the quantum state between the two resulting in reduced resistance from the distant object. This pushes the Skyship toward the distant mass, at the halfway point, the ship disengages the Etheric drive and uses it’s accumulated velocity to coast to the targeted planet. Pilots use the gravity well of the target planet to cancel momentum and land via the GhostRock’s unaligned anti-gravitic ability.
After being analyzed, the sensors can be calibrated to compensate for the mineral’s chaotic quantum matrix. This reduces the sensors penalty to –20% and likewise reduces the transporter interference to a radius of 1D4+1 kilometers unfettered use or a –20% penalty to Transporter Operations inside that zone.
A second Astrophysics roll will reveal the more disturbing discovery of the effect the Etheric wave is doing to the space between Victoria and Edward the Iron Age planet. The trans-dimensional vibrations are weakening the quantum structure of this dimension creating a natural gate between this and some unknown dimension.
The anti-gravitic reaction to being burned only effects objects in contact with the material, thus the GhostRock itself does not float while burning. Any engine using GhostRock fuel as long as it was bolted down, would not float either, the anti-grav effects being dissipated by metal grounding. Only if burned in a proper metallic vessel, unfettered and ungrounded do the anti-grav properties work, a sequence of events unlikely without outside assistance. And none of these amazing properties, beyond the massive caloric energy, would be detectable by a steam level society, which in turn leads to this mysterious benefactor that has influenced local scientific discovery for the better part of the century. Locating this person is now of primary importance.
Given the nature of the quantum level science far beyond the native’s capabilities, there is obviously an extra-Victorian and most likely extra-dimensional force behind the deliberate manipulation of the Victorian’s scientific endeavors to induce them to travel between the two planets and unwittingly weaken the barrier between dimensions.
Finding this person will require returning to the planet, so the Landing Party can research the past 60 years of newspapers and scientific journals to track the movements of the man known only as “The Teacher.” It will take 2D4 days of research at libraries to gather the information needed. A tricorder can scan the data in their hotel rooms at night to enable faster correlation and retrieval of the data.
On the ship, Science officers can run extended research of a different kind to determine the extent and nature of the damage to the dimensional barrier. It will take three successful Astrophysics rolls to gauge the extent of this damage. The rolls must be consecutive as any failure requires starting over. On completing the three rolls, the damage is severe and the barrier will be weak enough to allow passage within ten days. (5+1D5)
Knowing that the barrier is so close to being breeched, it stands to reason the architect of this project would not be far away. And the research into “The Teacher” reveals that he has recently received approval for his suggestion to have two research vessels make a simultaneous transit between worlds in a week. These ships will carry a specially modified form of the standard GhostRock power brick to attempt a higher speed passage than ever tried before that promises to revolutionize life for Victorians.
This dual transit is obviously staged to collapse the last of the dimensional barrier and open a passage for unknown reasons. Both the Landing Party and the Kearsarge will have to take immediate action to prevent this carefully concealed invasion.
The Landing Party has a couple options to disrupt the dual transit. The local newspapers are packed with information on the upcoming highly touted event and has the docking and departure schedule of the two ships. The dockyard is a busy place at all hours of the day, so it will be trivial to enter the dockyard unchallenged. Once the two ships dock, a guard will be in place to prevent unauthorized entry, but no guars will be aboard the ships themselves. A distraction can be caused by one PC with a Streetwise or INT –20% roll that will allow another PC to slip past the guards with a DEX roll. Once on the ship, the easiest means to sabotage the ship is to use a phaser and disintegrate the special GhostRock brick. It is also possible to beam directly onto the ships and do the same thing. The destruction of the power brick will go without hitch for the first ship, but seconds after entering the engine room of the second, one of the ship’s engineers will surprise the PCs. He is unarmed, but is a powerful fighter and the noise will bring assistance very quickly. If the PC hasn’t escaped in three rounds, 1D4+1 additional sailors arrive. Three of these men will be armed with clubs and two with pistols. If captured, they will be taken to the local jail and questioned as at the quarry.
The sabotage of the one ship is the news of the day and the entire city is buzzing both with the very idea that someone would do such a thing and that the Teacher, who normally is not to be found during such events even ones he’s orchestrated, has arrived to personally inspect the two ships and assist with the recreation of the special GhostRock brick(s), which he ensures will result in a delay of a mere few hours at most. All of this activity is at the dock under massive guard with the ships, dock, and the Teacher not approachable during this time.
Members of the Landing Party can be in the crowd that will witness the departure of the two ships. If they arrive early, they will be in the front of the stage and close to the ships as is possible. A DEX and Computer Operation rolls allow a surreptitious scan of the Teacher who stands off stage in the shadows. This scan will reveal he is not human and seems to be partially out of phase. If the DEX roll fails, one of the members of the crowd will want to know what the PC is carrying. A Streetwise or an INT –20% roll will clam the man or else he will scream “Saboteur!” and a general riot will break out. It will take LUC and a DEX roll in the same phase to slip free of the mob before getting hopelessly tangled in the flailing wave of humanity. PCs caught in the mob will have to make to hit Hand-to-Hand rolls to parry the punches that come from every direction. Failing results in 1D10+3 points of stun damage. Two sets of LUC and DEX rolls on consecutive rounds are needed to escape the brawl.
Even if the tricorder scan is successful, the Teacher will be instantly aware of it and immediately moves to escape. Each PC has one chance to first roll LUC to be in position to move and then make a DEX roll to successfully do so. The sudden flight and pursuit causes pandemonium to break out and prevents local authorities from joining the pursuit immediately. Rather than risk an additional delay, the signal is given and both ships lift for their historic tandem transit.
If the PCs do not choose to make a Tricorder scan, have every PC roll LUC, with the lowest resulting that PC looking up to see the Teacher staring right at him. Have the PC make a PSI roll with a success resulting in the PC feeling like someone tried to intrude in his mind and a failure meaning the intruder succeeding, either way, the Teacher knows that he has been discovered and bolts as above with the PCs having the same chance to pursue.
The Teacher runs wildly from the pursuing PC for several rounds until reaching a dead end in one of the tangled streets in the dock. He spins around and lets loose with a brilliant green bolt centered on his forehead. The PC must make a PSI roll, a success is enough for the PC to stay on his feel, but he is drained 2D10 from Current Op End by the mind wrenching assault. A fail causes the PC to take 4D10+20 points from Max Op End and has to roll INT to be able to act at all next round. Despite his fearsome psionic powers, the Teacher’s molecular structure is not stable in this dimension. A single hit by a phaser or any setting and even if only a graze, results in him falling to his knees screaming. He seems to glow for a second then falls to the ground and begins to melt. Within seconds, there isn’t anything left but a rancid smelling greenish ichor. Once the two ships lift and the Teacher has been dealt with, the Landing Party should immediately return to the ship. If they do not, they will miss the final chapter of the story.
In orbit, the Science department has had several days to study the GhostRock and the effects the Etheric wave has had on the local space-time continuum. Three sets of Starship Sensors and Astrophysics rolls will deduce the best course of action to repair or at least seal the damage already done. The sets do not have to be consecutive, but they pairs have to succeed in the same round. With a solid understanding of the nature of the damage, a photon warhead can be adapted with a successful Starship Weapons Technology to explode at a resonant frequency that will seal the pending rift. The Kearsarge has more than enough speed to outrun the Skyships and must set off their photon before the ships engage the tandem Etheric waves.
It will take the two ships 15 minutes for the Skyships to break orbit and five more minutes for them to align with the planet Edward. It will take a Starship Weapons Operation roll to precisely target the blast so that it detonates at the proper place to seal the weak spot. The blast will cause the two Skyships to spiral out of control as their alignment with Edward is disrupted, but neither will suffer serious damage as they limp back to Victoria.
As the photons detonate, there will be a nova bright flare along the “seam” between the dimensions and for an instant, the outline of an impossibly large ship is seen before the collapsing rift throws it back into it’s own dimension and causing the massive ship to suffer the equivalent of a warp core breech. The huge flare, capable of engulfing the Kearsarge is mercifully cut off as the rift completes its collapse. The size of the ship waiting to cross over is a clear clue that an extra-dimensional invasion has been halted.
The Kearsarge will remain in orbit for a few days to monitor the effects of local space-time to make sure the seal is actually holding. Landing Parties can also beam down to monitor the effects of the disruption has on Etheric travel. The headlines scream that for once the Teacher has failed, his great attempt to advance space travel has somehow dissipated the Ether and has ended the most amazing phase of human exploration ever. The GhostRock will still be an unmatched power source, but even its ability to enable the Skyships to travel on Victoria is gone and never again will mankind travel between worlds. God help those brave souls trapped on Edward and now cut off from humanity. A scan of that world shows that the indigenous humanoids are engaged in combat in an attempt to reclaim the land the imperialistic humans have seen, but the humans are holding their own. A new society will have to develop, but it is not a wholesale slaughter that would require immediate intervention.
After departing Victoria, the Chief Science Officer presents his department’s final findings. Based on the scans of the Skyships, the Etheric wave, and GhostRock, the reason the drives ceased to function, is because they were actually powered by the Teacher’s prodigious psionic ability. It was his abilities that actually created both the Etheric wave and the anti-gravitic powers. The true power of GhostRock was its unmatched caloric energy and its ability to weaken the bonds between dimensions and fortunately nothing else.
Whether the entities from the other dimension will ever try to breech the rift again is unknown, but Starfleet will keep the twin planets under observation, both to check on the human colonists and to see if Skyships ever start plying the space between Victoria and Edward again.
The “Teacher” is an extra-dimensional alien that is using the peculiar qualities of GhostRock to destabilize the fabric of space in the area and create a gate that the extra-dimensional aliens can use to send in a scout and possibly an invasion force through. The reasons for using such primitives instead of an advanced civilization is the locals understanding of science is too limited to understand, and most importantly detect, the effects the Etheric drives are having on the stability local space-time.