Frontier merchants wishing to exploit the abundance of Mishatan face the same astrographic problem: Skirl. This small polity sits between the X-Boat Coality trade lifeline and Mishatan. J-2 and J-3 ships must make a significant detour through unprofitable and dangerous backwater systems, or subject themselves to Skirl's heavy handed and unfriendly bureaucracy. The crew of the Dorothy hope to find a way to gain privileged status and avoid inspections, perhaps by delving into Skirl's narcotic underground, peddling the Psi-enhanching Sand they have purchased on spec from the Glass Wizards in Mishatan.
Act I: The Bust
Arriving in Skirl, the Dorothy is escorted to Skirl downport in the planet's primary urban megacity. Many of the facilities in Downport maintain Terran standard atmosphere. Otherwise, humans would have to wear face masks or the tainted atmosphere would lead to health issues. Due to this inconvenience and the Skirling general antipathy toward outworlders, most spacers confine themselves to this section of the city.
Jill makes contact with the Yang AG broker named Gryin (a pious New Buddhist who laments the red tape and xenophobia but is not motivated to do much about it, as she is making good money and is generally risk-averse), first met in Mission 03. She makes it clear that she has no avenues into any official privileged status that would let the Dorothy avoid inspections. She gets paid to follow the Byzantine Skirling bureaucracy to the letter. She makes somewhat vague promises to hook the crew up with a member of the Skirling Publicana (Skirl nobility), but it's clear that the crew will have to find their own avenue toward any exceptions.
The mandatory ship inspection at Downport goes smoothly. Dorothy is prepared and relatively clean. The crew stowed their supply of illegal drugs at Barnhard, anticipating rigorous inspection in Skirl. However, an alert member of the Skirl System Interdiction Network (SSIN) identified the Dorothy as the same 300dt ship that outran a SDB in Skirl system a half a year prior. This led to the officers' summary arrest, and the ship placed on lockdown pending trial for interstellar commerce crimes, possible piracy.
Jill DyVrii pulls out guild contacts through Gryin, and the officers meet a Skirl noble named haut Besulet, who makes arrangements for the crew to move to house arrest aboard the Dorothy pending hearings. Besulet identifies the Dorothy and crew as individuals who bear a skill set uniquely suited to solve a difficult problem, and makes them an offer they can't refuse.
Act II: Stone Dragons of Hueng
Disguised as Coality dilettantes on safari, the officers of the Dorothy are sent to the hellish diesel jungle of Hueng to stage an unfortunate accident of a political enemy of the Skirl.
Target is Lt. Idras Moran, IM veteran, wanted. He is travelling with a Coality safari company called Maxima Adventures, operating out of Right Angle. The current expedition contains ten clients plus two Maxima personnel, the expedition leader Jamus Nonagaard and an assistant. Maxima makes use of the sparse but seasoned infrastructure in place to support shore leave and safaris on Hueng.
Prior to leaving, research reveals the story is fabricated. This person does not exist. His unit does not exist. No criminal record exists. This person is not the man haut Besulet says he is. The crew does not confront their patron about this discrepancy, intending to resolve their questions themselves during their mission.
The crew is given a safari expert ("Sherpa") who they have dubbed Tenzig. Tenzig is the niece of haut Besulet, and seems to be somewhat savvy politically, sharing antipathy toward the Prokoetaal. She is probably more than just a safari expert. During conversations, Captain Quinn ingratiates himself to Tenzig by promising revealing information on the Prokoetaal fleet that the Dorothy has gathered from its expedition to PROKOETE.
The crew is undercover, disguised as Coality citizens Charpurram, Hunt, and Merced. They are on a contracted safari with a Skirl safari outfit named Gurruthial (translation is "Festival"), let by Tenzig. Gurruthial operates a mediocre Jump-1 starship G-1, adequate for the task of jumping Skirl to Hueng and back. The G-1 arrives at Hueng without incident.
Upon arrival, Tenzig sets about getting the erstwhile safari customers situated at North Base, a small cluster of pre-fab buildings on the north coast of a diesel sea favored by the vast herds of floating enzyme-eating jellyfish, in turn hunted by the sought-after Dragons of Hueng fame. Tenzig arranges for equipment rental and Ornithopters, and ornithopter training. Two two-seat Thopters are rented: one will have Captain Quinn and Jill, the other with Biscuit and a drone camera. Both are armed with cannon and net.
On the second night at North Base, the crew hacked into Maxima Adventures' computer and found medical records for Lt. Idras Moran, including a tattoo that places him as a Prokoetaal agent involved with the invasion of Mohan. This fact gives the crew some relief about the morality of the mission.
- d6 Thopter: Jet-powered, flex wing, two seat atmosphere craft. Speed: 400kph @ 8,000m, 200kph NOE. Maximum altitude: 22,000m. Comms, navigation, avionics. Armament: Tandem Chain Net launcher, range 100m, ten nets. Crew typically has vehicle mount weapons fired from the cockpit as well. Emergency features: ballistic parachute, autopilot, emergency beacon (FSS Standard).
- Pilot Thopter: ENDURANCE + Drive (Jill DyVrii failed training and faces a d8 Untrained complication on any roll where she is piloting)
- Attack with Thopter: ENDURANCE + Shoot
- Communications and Navigation: INTELLIGENCE + Systems as normal
- Survive on Hueng: ENDURANCE + P-Suit
In order for the hit to work, the mark must be cut off from transmitting details of his assault. Hopefully, the mark has isolated himself, for reasons that are not clear. Maxima Adventures uses a common radio channel (Channel 10) to communicate with North Base. Biscuit has isolated this circuit, and instructed Tenzig on how to activate the cutoff. Tenzig will stay behind at North Base to do this, leaving the Crew on their own to complete the deed. Tenzig objects, as he is the only one experienced in the mechanics of the safari and is responsible for the crew's survival, but understands the necessity and complies.
Act III: Dogfight
Fresh off their minimal training, and without their experienced guide, the crew take the two Thopters to the diesel sea in search of their quarry. They encounter a makeshift camp on an island in the southwest of the sea, only to see their mark and his wingman disappear at top speed away from them.
The crew land at the common camp on Twin Peaks island in the Diesel Sea. The camp is a cleared airfield and a few standing prefab buildings set up for common use. It also has a repeater radio tower and some fuel drums that the safari company personnel keep topped off with refined jet fuel. The crew land and explore the camp, searching the common area as well as their targets' makeshift camp. There they find a cache of armor piercing rocket ammunition and two launchers.
After deliberation, the crew decide to take the rocket launchers and take to the air, heading northwest from the island in the general direction of the last known sighting of the dragon pod, sweeping the area and low to the ground, still getting a feel for the thopters. After a few hours of flying, Quinn spots dragons flying fast and low, and the two thopters pursue in a deadly cat and mouse. The dragons break off and surge upward right through the gunsights of the crews' thopters, breaking into high thermals in their own pursuit. At the higher altitude, the crew are spotted by their mark and his wingman, who radio the crew and tell them to disengage. Feigning innocence, the crew comply. The wingman escorts the two most of the way back to the island.
The crew regroup at the island, and decide to re-acquire their mark in the thopters, despite being outmatched. They fuel up and head west. They find the two other hunters where expected, and Quinn's craft (with Quinn and Jill) hovers in a cloud watching them. Biscuit (flying solo in the second thopter) is spotted, and angrily escorted south away from the hunting grounds by the wingman. Their mark remains behind as he is in pursuit of the alpha, and is close. Quinn and Jill see an opportunity as their mark is banking in and out of a cloudbank, and release a surprise attack, scoring a hit with the rocket launcher. But the wily opponent survives, expertly piloting his damaged thopter and staying in the fight. He signals his wingman to attack Biscuit's thopter, then swerves around to combat Quinn and Jill. Jill also signals home base to jam communication with a pre-arranged signal to Tenzig.
The wingman dives and fires, but Biscuit enters a power dive and successfully evades attack, staying close enough to lure the wingman to maintain his pursuit but far enough away to avoid being shot down. Biscuit's scene ends with him readying the camera drone, for what trick or purpose we do not know.
Meanwhile, a vicious but brief dogfight ensues. Quinn and Jill are in one craft firing the rocket launcher and dragon net, fighting the bad guy solo in his souped-up hunting thopter firing his ACR. In other words, the crew is going for the craft, while their opponent is clearly after the two crewmembers. Jill's suit is pierced by bullets and the cockpit is hammered with some expert marksmanship, and their thopter spirals down with Quinn struggling to maintain control, the hellish gasoline sea rushing up to meet the flailing craft.
Quinn and Jill's sputtering thopter spiraling down toward the hellish Diesel Sea, controls smashed by rifle fire, Jill's suit pierced and leaking flammable oxygen, the bad guy taking a victory loop and following them down to confirm the kill.
Biscuit comes out on top of the pursuing henchmen with some risky flying, the camera drone rigged like a bomb and dangling dangerously behind the Thopter like a kite's tail.
Meanwhile, Quinn and Jill are grounded, Thopter destroyed in the botched landing, Jill's P-suit leaking O2. They find some lava caves. Jill deploys the emergency bubble, but it gets punctured on the obsidian cave floor; however, its readout detects O2 in the cave. Quinn carries the unconscious First Officer to the back of the cave and she regains consciousness. Now the hunted becomes the hunter, as the Prokoetaal officer sends incendiary grenades into the lava bubbles, sounding for his quarry.
Biscuit comes back to the rescue, and aided by Quinn's distracting banter on the common band radio, manages to draw the Prokoetaal ACR fire. This sets him up for Quinn's dramatic coup. The enemy is killed by a head shot from Quinn.
Tenzig covers the team's tracks, getting everyone on board the starship and heading back to Skirl. During the trip, she reveals that it was her original mission to disappear the officers, but given their performance, has countermanded her orders. She is confident that her judgment will sway her Aunt into forging a friendship with the adventurers.
The J-1 Starship misjumps badly, however, arriving eight days late. The crew materializes in Skirl space just in time to avoid the seizure of the Dorothy and the arrest of the remaining crew. After another arrest (which includes Tenzig), all problems suddenly vanish once Quinn and the crew agree to promote arms sales to the hawkish noble.
A lucrative passenger contract plus finder's fee for hooking up the Skirl noble with Advanced Robotics, security advisers from high-tech Mishatan. Arrangements are made through the Minotaur in Mishatan, and through Tenzig in Skirl.