First session of my new Mothership campaign Something to Burn. The players — a ragtag team of ‘cowboys’ — are the crew of IMV The Machine, an old blockade runner from the Franchise Wars, mortgaged by Matsundai Heavy Industries. The crew:
I used tables from A Pound of Flesh to flesh out the Eye.
Thirteen hours ago, the crew arrived at the space station Needle’s Eye to look for work. As soon as they left the airlock, they knew they’d made a mistake. Last week, the station was “franchised” (annexed) by Matsundai. That means that there’s nothing much there for them anymore. The station’s full of cowboys competing over the few jobs still available and trying to hitch a ride out.
After waking up in a capsule hotel, Jeremiah decides to join the others at a bar on the other side of the station. A grainy sun/moon animation on wall-mounted CRT screens are the Eye’s equivalent to a day/night cycle. They tell him it’s early evening. It’s February 15th, the day after St. Valentine’s Day, and old plastic roses and flabby helium balloons litter the streets. There are also “Pick-Me-Up” vending machines, recently installed by Matsundai, stocking various drugs: stimpacks, pain pills, adrenalin needles for ODs.
The bar’s a dive filled with cowboys looking for work; there’s one like it in every backwater station. This is the place to go to hire mercs. Everyone’s watching the TV. It’s an interview with this guy Kovacs, a cowboy who became a huge celebrity after he killed a Warmind. He’s promoting his new book.
Each player made up a megacorp at Session 0; Sinneslöschen are the system’s entertainment conglomerate.
As the crew regroup over Bloody Maries made with imitation tomato juice, they’re approached by a Sinneslöschen coolhunter called Erika. Erika’s job is to hunt down hyper-specific local subcultures and trends for the company to exploit for the artificial fad cycle. (If the PCs want they can do this too, but they don’t seem interested.) Erika wants to use the crew as a focus group — apparently chaebol runners are going to be the next big thing — and they answer her questions with varying degrees of enthusiasm. As thanks, she gives the team hammer and sickle t-shirts (Bolshwave was last month’s fad). Alfie puts his on on the spot, then covers it up with his flight jacket and says he’s going to visit the local Matsundai rep to discuss his life-debt.
Androids are usually created owing a debt to the company which built them. After spending years or decades working for freedom, most ‘choose’ to stay with that company.
The rep’s name is Allan Mtene. He seems honestly happy to see Alfie. Mtene tells Alfie there’s only 36 hours of work to go on his birth-debt to Matsundai, and asks if he’ll stay with the company on the Accelerated Placement Plan. With his exemplary service record, Alfie could be overseer on a mining rig within the week. Alfie says he hasn’t come to a decision yet. Then Mtene asks Alfie to describe the other crew members for Matsundai records, which Alfie is more than happy to do. He proceeds to snitch on his teammates in remarkable detail: Vassey is an addict probably self-medicating from a Pick-Me-Up machine right now, Zhi might not actually be a doctor, and Jeremiah’s on the run from gangsters.
Meanwhile, the rest of the team heads over the one bounty kiosk on the Needle’s Eye. There’s an office everywhere there are cowboys, and they’re all interlinked: you can pick up a job from one kiosk, do the job, and collect pay from another planet. Most of the jobs on offer are low-paying and booked-out; only one hasn’t been claimed, because applicants need their own spaceship. It’s a salvage-and-destroy mission: a research vessel called the Gossamer has dropped out of hyperspace near the Eye with no signs of life aboard. It’s drifting towards the space station, and Matsundai wants someone to destroy it to prevent a collision. Payment is whatever you can salvage before blowing it up. The team sign for the job and take off.
The Machine isn’t jump-capable, so it takes a day to reach the Gossamer. Vassey is in their cabin taking methadone they bought from a vending machine on the Eye. Zhi checks on them occasionally. The rest of the crew is in the common room teaching Alfie to play poker. Once Alfie learns the rules of the game, he’s frighteningly good at bluffing. The humans are unsettled at how convincingly he lies.
Eventually, Vassey wakes up screaming from their nightmare (Zhi: “Captain’s up”), and the Gossamer comes into view. Scans indicate dangerous and regular power fluctuations aboard ship. After some debate, the crew come up with a plan: they’re going to try and board it.
To be continued…