Serenity RPG - The Valcyr's Tale

Introduction | Session 1 | Session 2 | Session 3 | Session 4 | Session 5 | Session 6
Session 7 | Session 8 | Session 9 | Session 10 | Session 11 | Session 12 | Session 13
GM's Notes

Introduction

As our tale begins, the crew of the Valcyr is as follows:

Lai Zheng Ho, Captain - A chinese man with an odd way about him and more superstitions than a dog has fleas. He stands out in any crowd with his commanding manner and peculiar idiosyncrasies.

Thomas Clarice "TC" Knightsford, Owner and Engineer - Scion of a rich Core family with a talent for making mechanical things do his bidding. Owns the Valcyr through his family. Phobic about flying in atmo, would you believe it.

Wilks, Pilot - Son of a pair of wandering teachers. Book reading nerd with an absolute gift for flying. The only targets he's good at hitting with his pistol are cans and bottles.

Cale, Weapons Expert - Big, tough, none too bright, loves his guns. If you can point him in the right direction he's a powerful asset. Otherwise, watch out.

Lincoln Booth, Doctor - The newest addition to the crew and still something of a mystery. His skills are only matched by his ornery nature.


Session 1

...was held up by a last bit of character creation, so we did not get as much done as we could have. Nothing ever goes smooth...


Our story starts on Regina. Having secured cargo and two passengers to Athens, the crew takes it's ease before leaving the world behind. Naturally, this means a bar.

Zheng and Booth decide to indulge in a game of cards (at different tables) with the locals, who are all miners relaxing after a hard day's work. The captain, with his, ah, significant people skills, decides to work the game and the other players to his advantage. The others at his table don't like this much, but the presence of the hulking Cale, a round of drinks for the whole bar and Zheng's quick retreat back to the ship forestalls any trouble. For now...

Everyone seems eager to leave, but the first thing that holds them up is that the passengers, a Mr and Mrs Parker (a rich lookin' couple who seem to be slumming it out on the Rim), won't be ready and booked out of their hotel for an hour. The second is the arrival of one Mr Morris O'Bannon, a gentleman in the employ of a fellow by the name of Durden. Durden is a name known to those whose who traffic with the underworld... and it's familiar to Captain Zheng.

O'Bannon, and thus Durden, would like Zheng and his ship to take an extra bit of cargo to Athens: some cases of 'machine parts'. Upon arrival in port Zheng is to seek out a man called Christof in a bar called "Weyland's Redoubt" to see about offloading the crates. Zheng quickly agrees, eager to flee before any angry miners show up, but is not pleased to discover he has to wait for half an hour for the goods to arrive.

His fears are realised when, while indulging in one of his favourite superstitions (Zheng must simply, absolutely, kiss the valkyrie painted on the side of the boat before take-off - and he has to climb along the side of the ship to reach it!), the captain spots a group of miners almost large enough to be called a mob approaching, led by some familiar faces.

When they arrive at the ship, the miners want their money back. Having spent all his winnings on peace-making drinks, Zheng has only a couple of credits to offer. There's a bit of a scuffle as Cale wades in eager to spill blood and TC keeps some of their foes at bay with the threat of his rifle. Flying dust from the engines, fired up by Wilks from the cockpit, and a few more threats takes the last of the fight out of them.

Unhappy, but less inclined to violence, the miners leave, and the crew are free to prepare for the arrival of their passengers and the extra cargo...


Session 2

Some of the crew are worried about, well, everything it would seem. But mostly about the special cargo and the passengers they are expecting.

Eventually O'Bannon arrives with three big crates roughly of a size with coffins. They aren't coffins, though, they are clearly crates of machine parts covered with little stickers saying 'machine parts'. His men carry them off the little truck he brought them on and load them onto the Valcyr. The ship's cat, Brunhilde, puts in an appearance. There talk between O'Bannon and Zheng about keeping people's attention away from the crates, not just official people but it's implied it extends to crew-type folks too.

So, naturally, as soon as O'Bannon is gone it's time to open up the crates. Being average wooden crates that are only nailed shut, this is quite easy. Inside are.... machine parts, for tractors and farming equipment. But they are machine parts that may have something hidden within them...

The passengers arrive, in a rickshaw pulled by a large, nordic fellow. The Parkers, Joshua and Rachel, are a middle-aged couple, well dressed but not to Core standards, and they seem a little worried. It might be related to the hotel they just vacated, or possibly something else. But despite his concerns (and he has alot of them) the captain allows them to come aboard.

Everything is finally ready - they can leave!

...except for the banging on the cargo door, that is. Someone, it seems, wants in.

The door in the ramp is opened to reveal the surprising presence of a young, pretty sixteen year old girl, waiting breathlessly outside. It seems 'they' want passage to Athens, and the Valcyr is the last ship in port going there. Alarm bells ring in Zheng's mind as an older man, in his sixties at least, comes into view. Everyone starts thinking about the probably improper nature of their relationship without any evidence to back it up. But the duo can pay, so such things are considered to be none of the crew's business.

Yeah, right.

The girl is all intent is looking around at this ship she's never seen before, while the old man is sizing up the captain. He introduces himself as Harrison Cartwright, and Zheng shows the two new additions to their rooms. And, at last, with the passengers settled in and TC on his sedatives so he doesn't lose it too much during the flight through atmo, Wilks (who has a taste for garishly coloured tracksuits and posters of sci-fi pinups) gives everyone a gentle and easy flight up to the Black.

Once they reach space, the passengers are introduced to the ship rules (stay in the passenger area, call if they need anything, etc etc) and given their supposedly routine medical check. After a quick whispered conference between those crew members not in their bunks, Doctor Booth also takes some blood samples, mainly so he can see if the young girl is pregnant or not. They still have some funny ideas about what the two of them are up to. They finally find out that "the girl" is called Jessie-Lee Clarke, and she is not pregnant. Neither is anyone else. The young Miss Clarke reiterates that her travelling companion is Harrison Cartwright.

This means nothing to anyone until Rachel Parker asks Doctor Booth if the fellow really is Harrison Cartwright, the gunslinger and bounty hunter who made a name for himself on the Border and Rim Worlds back before the war. Booth says that he thinks he is, despite not having a clue if he is or not, never having heard of the man before today. But when the doctor approaches Zheng, who is taking his customary after take-off snooze in the cockpit, and tells him this fact, Zheng and Wilks confirm that they have heard of him.

Seems that twenty years ago Cartwright was a gun-for-hire, a bounty hunter and a righter of wrongs, sometimes for money, sometimes out of a sense of justice. The stories vary on that last part. But he has not been heard of since the war started. Everyone starts to take bets that he was a Browncoat, another example of making guesses based on absolutely no facts at all.

As soon as the Valcyr is on it's way, Zheng offers to show the passsengers the view from the rear viewing lounge, what would normally be the shuttle bay on a regular Mustang. It's now a well-appointed room with a big window facing aft. Mr Parker declines, being perhaps overly interested in his newspaper, but his wife, Jessie-Lee and Cartwright accept. Zheng uses the opportunity to take Cartwright aside and let the man know the captain knows who he is, and if there's any trouble he should know about.

Cartwright says everything is okay. He'd been retired since before the war, he says, which is lucky because most folks in his line of work don't get to live long enough to retire. But Jessie-Lee's story interested him... 'sides, he was getting a mite bored. Zheng asks what her story is, and Cartwright tells him her village is in trouble, the sort of trouble that needs his sort of help. He goes on to say that unless Zheng has cargo crates filled with bandits, they should all be fine.

This statement seems to make Zheng a tad twitchy. Or rather, more twitchy.

Meanwhile, TC has recovered from being curled up in a foetal ball and has taken a piece of spare farm machinery part out of it's crate and to the engine room. He uses a fibreoptic camera wand thing to look inside this particular piece, and makes an interesting discovery: it appears to contain gun parts. A quick conference with Cale confirms that it is from a older model bolt-action rifle, the sort of solid, dependable weapon common out on the Rim.

Theories abound as to the eventual destination of the rifles: either it's for the village, or the bandits. In either case, the crew wants them gone as soon as possible, so Zheng orders Wilks to pick up the speed a little, cutting a roughly three day journey down to a day and a half, tops.

Lunch the next day is interrupted by shouting from the passenger deck. Everyone flocks to see what the ruckus is all about, to find Joshua Parker loudly insisting that Harrison Cartwright explain exactly what he is intending to do on Athens. Jessie-Lee, seemingly ever the innocent, can't seem to understand what the problem is. Zheng and Booth defuse the situation, remembering Parker's earlier nervousness, by suggesting that perhaps everyone might like to explain what they are up to? Parker looks like he's about to say something but instead stomps off to his room, meekly accompanied by Rachel.

Things are quiet as evening comes around and the planet of Athens comes into view. The landing is uneventful, and Zheng waits as the ramp descends, poised for trouble of any kind. He is instead confronted with the first round of landing field junk sellers, almost as terrifying a sight as a platoon of Feds. He buys a melon for the crew and a shiny and disproportionately expensive lucky horseshoe trinket for himself.

The Parkers quickly depart the ship and are soon gone from sight. Jessie-Lee and Cartwright are, as yet, nowhere to be seen. Unconcerned by this, Zheng, Cale and Booth go in search of the bar called "Weyland's Reboubt"; TC goes to check the local spare parts dealers; and Wilks stays with the boat to watch over the unloading of the regular cargo.

The bar is much like any other on the fringe of the system. Asking around for Christof, the barman directs them to a man with a goatee beard near the back. A little question and answer session seems to confirm that Zheng is indeed from the ship carrying the goods Christof is expecting. So he gathers a few burly chaps and they all head for the Valcyr. The cargo is quickly taken away on a trailer pulled by a motorbike and the transaction ends with payment and a discretionary "quick delivery" bonus from Christof.

Zheng finally lets go of the horseshoe trinket. It has left quite an indentation in his palm.

Everyone is just commenting on how well it all went when a scream cuts through the conversation. Unable to resist the urge to find the source of the blood-curdling scream, everyone runs for the passenger deck and finds:

A sobbing Jessie-Lee standing over the dead but uninjured body of Harrison Cartwright, still abed.

Fade to black...


Session 3

...where not much really seems to happen.

TC goes to inform the sheriff of the largest town still standing on Athens about the death of one of their passengers. Since there is no next of kin readily available, the sheriff leaves it to the crew to make whatever arrangements they think appropriate.

Once he hears he is free to do an autopsy, Doctor Booth gets to work. He quickly finds that there is no evidence of foul play; Harrison Cartwright died in his sleep from a heart attack.

Cale, meanwhile, wants a drink. Zheng instructs Wilks of all people to accompany him and keep him out of trouble. The two of them find a bar and Cale orders the very strongest drink they have. Naturally, this is the sort of drink that comes in small, thick sided glasses and melts plastics. Everyone in the bar is mildly surprised when Cale downs the first. There is a feeling of expectation when he sinks the second. And there is an audible gasp when the third follows.

It seems they had not taken into account his remarkable tolerance for alcohol, even if the drink is the town's specialty ethanol-based Drink Of Doom.

A large, bearded man comes forward. He is very impressed with Cale's drinking skills and intends to match him drink for drink. So, another three drinks are set up for each of them. The drink, it turns out, makes the man's beard crinkle like it's being held to a flame. They each drink their three glasses of brain rot, and even Cale is feeling the effects; wobbly legs, hot, sweaty, blurred vision. At this point Cale reminds the large fellow that he is three drinks behind, so Beardy lines up the next three.

The second topples him over backwards. Alf, for that is his name, is left to lay where he is, partly out of kindness and partly because tradition is keeping everyone busy ordering celebratory drinks... on Cale's tab. He is blissfully unaware and equally blissfully drunk. Wilks, meanwhile, smugly takes a seat (near the door, in case of an emergency) and awaits the fun.

And through all this, Captain Lai Zheng Ho is feeling the weight of inevitable future events pressing down in him. He is comforting Jessie-Lee, who speaks of the troubles her village has been having, and how she went to find someone who might help when no one else was willing to do so. For months a gang of bandits have been taking from their harvests and their profits and their homes, with the people of the village unable to stop them.

Succumbing to some crazy urge, Zheng says that he and his crew will give them the help they so desperately need.

Young Jessie-Lee is almost overcome with joy at the news, and goes to make her new hero a nice stew (or as nice as resequenced protein pretending to be stew can be).

Back at the bar, TC arrives bearing a long-handled hammer as part of his long-standing Norse religion fixation. Patrons are leaving as night comes down, and soon it becomes clear that Cale, his brains even more fuzzled than they usually are (and that's saying something), does not have enough cash to cover the bill. TC pays the rest, but sometime soon he is going to have to explain to Cale that it is coming out of his wages.

With everyone back at the boat, Wilks upsets Jessie-Lee by demanding stew of his own and she complies, with assistance from TC who donates a few tomatoes from the "garden box", a kind of micro-greenhouse in the lower cargo bay. At this point Zheng starts to let people know what lies in their future.

Not everyone is happy at the prospect, it must be said.

Wilks goes to work on the Cortex, trying to see if some kind of land claim, precious mineral discovery, or train line construction is involved. But unlike on all those fine Cortex dramas, he is unable to find anything like that going on. Zheng meanwhile ponders what he knows of the local underworld and recalls that Durden, the criminal boss who had the guns brought in, is in direct conflict with the governer of Athens who, understandably, does not want an up-and-coming crime kingpin setting up shop on his world.

But for the moment, having decided that those guns they brought to Athens are almost certainly on the way to the bandits, their first step the following morning will be to track down Christof for a word or two.


Session 4

... with a definite "middle chapter" feel to it.

It's the next morning. Doctor Booth manages to resist the urge to do something nasty to the patient in his care (which is fortunate, since Cale is the person most likely to do him horrible injury without a second thought) so Cale wakes up with nothing more than a bit of a headache and a bad taste in his mouth.

Over breakfast, plans are made. Wilks will take Jessie-Lee out for a jaunt in the passenger shuttle so they can take a look at the village and the terrain, while Zheng takes Cale and Booth out to look for Christof. TC, unfortunately trapped by his phobia of flying in atmo, is left behind to watch over the ship and do maintenance, which mostly seems to involve taking the main engines apart.

In "Weyland's Redoubt" Zheng speaks to the barkeep and determines that, basically, 'Christof' is just the name used to identify who someone wants to speak to, rather than the name of the actual person. The name and the person to be met varies, and he doesn't ask too many questions; it's best not to. Both Cale and, oddly, Booth seem to want to try force to learn more from the man, but the captain convinces them that he thinks the barman really does not know anything more than he as already told them. So they head off to try and contact persons of a decidely shady nature, to see what they have to say.

Meanwhile, Wilks impresses his young passenger with some fancy flying before getting down to the business of looking at the land around the village of Sawyer. After a quick conflab with the captain they decide they might as well deliver Jessie-Lee back to her family while he is there, so he sets the shuttle down in one of the fallow fields... right next to the church and graveyard.


CLICK ON IMAGE TO SEE BIGGER MAP

Wilks seems surprised that they are met by some very worried looking villagers; they had, of course, spotted the shuttle flying around and seen it land, so they arrive with pitchforks and old rifles at the ready. Things look bad, then they get worse: a couple with a clear family resemblance to Jessie-Lee push their way through the crowd. The mother is happy and crying, sweeping her daughter into a welcoming embrace, while the father stands back, anger clear on his face. Eventually he speaks.

"Do you know what you've done?"

So saying, he grabs her by the wrist and drags her off... towards the graveyard.

Back in town, Zheng finally locates a suitably dodgy looking fellow on a street corner and approaches him. He inquires about contacting someone who could get him a few minutes with 'Christof' but the guy claims he really does not get too involved in that kind of thing. The captain basically waves the threat of the burly Cale and the suddenly mean-looking Lincoln Booth in his face and the bloke takes exception to the unnecessary manner of persuasion. He gives them the address of a warehouse where someone might be able to help them, and for free, too. Doesn't stop Zheng paying him though. The guy shrugs and takes his leave.

It's at this point that Wilks' frantic calls on the radio makes his crewmates spring into action. It seems he thinks there might be a lynching on the horizon.

Wilks has found himself escorted to the graveyard behind the family reunion, and he sees the tombstone they have stopped infront of: Tadd Clarke. By the dates he was a couple of years older than his sister... and he died two weeks ago. Apparently, everyone thought Jessie-Lee had been taken by the bandits so, when they arrived a week or two early, her brother and others tried to fight them. Tadd died, others were injured, including someone called Steven. Steven might not live through the week, and Jessie-Lee takes this news almost as badly as she took her brother's death.

Zheng and co end up back at the ship to find TC has rendered it temporarily unflyable. So they all pile into the other shuttle. After another quick chat with Wilks, Booth brings his medical gear. Which is helpful because, of course, TC needs knocking out before his yelling makes Zheng's flying worse than it already is.

Mr Clarke has words with Wilks, and soon determines that the pilot is not to blame for anything, which relieves Wilks no end. Then the mayor, Sigmund Reed, arrives and invites Wilks, Jessie-Lee, and the Clarkes (Jonathon and Martha) to his home, Once there, they tak more about the bandits, how Jessie-Lee was trying to get everyone to agree to find someone to help them, and about Wilks' life on his ship.

The Valcyr's other shuttle arrives and the crew heads off to do their own things. Booth is escorted to the infirmary where he meets Doctor Donnelly, who seems very... casual. Without the best training and the best equipment (such as what Booth has) he could only make young Steven comfortable, but not really better. The very relaxed Donnelly is impressed with Booth's Core World medical skills and decides to celebrate with some of his whiskey, which is kept behind the bar in the saloon for him.

Zheng meanwhile goes to the mayor's house with Cale and TC. There is more talk about the bandits, and Zheng makes his offer to help. The mayor is... sceptical. Cale speaks perhaps too truthfully, which doesn't help much. TC offers to spread his technical expertise around a bit by going around people's houses and fixing their broken stuff. Wilks goes with him. And the mayor agrees to let the famous Harrison Cartwright be buried in their humble graveyard, since he was on his way to help them. It's only fair, after all.

Eventually they all end up in the village's only bar, the Marble Saloon. They meet the barman, Dave, and TC plays pool with the owner, Douglas Hauptman. Plans are made to train some of the villagers to be more effective for when the bandits return...

Whenever that is...


Session 5

The next day, everyone starts to do their thing. Mainly this involves TC looking for mechanical things and tricks they can use for defence, while the captain and Cale take a look at the people. Wilks gets bored instead, waiting in the shuttle for TC so they can go fix the boat and return in it.

Plans are made, involving maybe tripwires, or clotheslines, depending on who they want to take out, the men or the horses. TC finds an old bulldozer (less it's big blade thing) and gets to work figuring out if it can be made to run again. As it turns out, it needs a few parts, but they should be able to get them from the town where they landed. Also in the shopping list are ropes, wires, poles, bags for dirt (no sand, see), and sundry items. And guns, ammo, and dynamite; three vital ingredients for a Wild West style village battle.

Zheng speaks with the mayor some more, and finds out that it seems no one want to help the beleagured Sawyer. The local wandering sheriff is not interested, and the mayor gives the impression he does not think much of him. The 'local' Feds are either too far away or "too busy". Well, says Zheng, that's why we're here.

But our good captain is suspicious. He seems to think Mr Reed is a little too un-bothered by all this bandit malarcky. Is there reason to doubt his intentions? Does he have a vested interest in the bandits succeeding? Zheng questions his somewhat laid back attitude and Sigmund tell him he is tired... tired of having to lead the villagers when he has no answers for them, when he can offer no hope. Maybe when this is all over, he'll retire from the position.

Then the gallant, heroical captain decides it's time to rally the troops with some rousing speechifying. He fires one of Cale's guns into the air and villagers come running, some even with guns! Dramatically standing astride a horse trough, he tells them how things will be different, how he and his crew will teach them to fight, to defend their homes. His audience seem mildly impressed, though to tell the truth they aren't much accustomed to people giving speeches.

The end of the speech is punctuated with one of the shuttles wooshing overhead as TC and Wilks finally head back to town. Once there, TC sees about those repairs while Wilks goes shopping. The guns especially empty the ship's coffers quite drastically; fortunately, they had already refuelled, by something of an under the table arrangement with the criminals they had shipped guns in for. You remember them, I'm sure.

They surely remember Zheng and his questions from the previous day, which is why, when Wilks is away, the gangsters will play. If you call knocking on the door of the Valcyr and sticking a gun in TC's face playing, that is. They were not willing to take "the captain is not here" for an answer, see, since, well, what reason do they have to believe one of his crew? So they push their way in and kinda take over. The boss and his friend keep and eye on the engineer while the other two search the ship. I mean, that slippery captain could be anywhere, right? And they want to talk to the captain, because he had some questions he wanted answering... questions TC was not aware he had even asked, so he was not quite aware of just who he was dealing with.

TC offers to call the captain during his important, days-long business meetings in Rollington (a village north of Sawyer) so they take him up to the bridge. On the way they are joined by one of the searchers, TC gets snarky, and they smack him around a bit, but TC remains defiant, even with a gun barrel in his ear. By the time they reach the bridge, Wilks has been warned by cunning radio shennanigans that Something Is Up and called Zheng, who happens to come on the radio as the little group enters. TC is sent out, so he makes sandwiches in the crew lounge while formulating a devious escape plan.

Meanwhile, over the radio, Zheng makes some vague and roundabout inquiries as to where the "machine parts" (i.e. guns) might have ended up, wanting to know if the "parts" had ended up in the hands of any bandits (not that he ever actually said that). The man he was talking to said it was nothing to do with him, not his 'department'. Zheng would have to ask 'sales'. When the captain pressed the unnamed kidnapper-come-messenger a little, the fellow said "you know I can not tell you that that" and the conversation was over.

The gangsters took their leave of the boat, probably wishing they could have shot that annoying grease monkey. And Wilks, now that things are safe, returned to the Valcyr. He's not the type to go in guns blazing, after all. He begins to search the ship for TC, for either his healthy self or a bloody corpse, and finds nothing... till he arrives in the bridge, where TC's irritated smack around the back of the pilot's head makes Wilks fire off a couple of ill-considered shots from his pistol. Fortunately the ricochets hit nothing important, nor do they hit TC.

It's time to get out of Dodge... if that town was called Dodge. Which it's not.


Session 6

...and much delayed session...

Once TC put the engines back together again, Wilks signalled the departure of the Valcyr from the town by radio, and indicated that something was up. This worried his captain somewhat, but he and his other trusty cohorts set about planning the village's defence. This is primarily achieved by drinking Doctor Donnelly's whiskey in the saloon.

Once the boat sets down, Zheng presses his pilot to explain his previous comments. It seems that something totally unexpected has happened - Wilks' parents (teachers who travel the Rim in a ship of their own) have arrived somewhere on Athens! Worse than that... they want to see their son! Since the captain knows Mrs Wilks is a formidable woman, he relents on the condition that the guy brings back a note from his mummy to explain his non-attendance at their heroic battle. So, off he went in the passenger shuttle.

{In other words... we were down a player. The parents was the first reason I thought of, not realising quite how pathetic it made him sound}

The next day, fortification began in earnest. Poles were placed between the many fields to hold aloft man-on-horse chest-level tripwires of barbed wire. Holes were dug so that metal hides, like miniature bunkers, could be buried for villagers to fire out of. The mayor's house was boarded up to hold off a potential siege. And the digging of trenches and large holes was begun to faciliate the creation of a 'swamp' at two of the entrances to the village.

Meanwhile, TC got busy with his bulldozer. Once he got it moving again he got help (in the form of the village blacksmith and some others) to get it turned into... well... as near to a tank as he could. Metal plates were bent and welded into place, protecting the cabin and important engine parts, and a new blade was attached to the front.

Work was interrupted by a visitor in the form of the local, roving Shephard, Joseph Chambers. He had spent the last week or so in the nearby village of Rollington. He had no news of any more bandit activity to report, and quickly became another person for Zheng to be suspicious of. You can never have enough of them, apparently.

With his work done, TC was feeling very satisfied with his work. Even the dodgy paint job done by the village children didn't dampen his spirits. The two men on horses that he could see when he stood up in the cabin's 'turret' did a fair spot of dampening, however. There was some panicing, some reaching for rifles, but they were out of range.

Zheng decided to talk to them. It was a long walk to their position, but he perservered.... until they got bored of watching him and rode off. So the captain rushed off back to his ship and tried to follow in the remaining shuttle. He found them... or another pair of horsemen, anyways. He zigged and zagged ahead of them to try and find signs of a bandit base camp, but only found fields, hills and woodland... and three more riders, whose horses were extremely freaked out by being buzzed by a shuttle.

No (more?) bandits were found. No bases, no masses of angry armed men in search of loot. The captain was instead filled with the suspicion (as always) that he had buzzed the sheriff rather than bandit scouts... which was not such a good idea as it sounded.

Zheng returned to the village, to prepare for the inevitable bandit attack.... or his arrest, whichever came first.


Session 7

...was one of those short ones where not a lot really happened.

With Zheng's return the village, everyone got back to work while TC took a friend (his rifle) and a spare villager up into the church belltower to watch out for approaching bandits. Zheng, feeling a need to get himself some luck, hunted high and low for some sort of lucky charm, and settled on some little red flowers, not unlike buttercups, that a local said were called Hodgson's Cups. The fellow was also able to reveal that they were in no way toxic.

Cale, meanwhile, took it into his tiny brain to test the strength of the bulldozer's armour plating... by whacking it with a spade. Alot. Quite a few people complained and the captain decided to put a stop to it. Just as he was thinking of something for the big chap to do, a villager came running up saying there were some people ready for weapons training.

This news perked up Cale somewhat. He loves his guns.

So, Zheng sets up a target made of a spare sheet of 'armour plate' while Cale takes his recruits through basic weapons care and whatnot. Being already somewhat familiar with firearms this part went quickly, and they also did well on the initial target shooting. Meanwhile, everyone was busy being amazed at how suddenly intelligent and knowledgeable their gun bunny seemed to be.... only to have TC make him spoil that seemingness. Because TC decided to join in on the target shooting from his vantage point in the tower, only to have Cale suddenly turn round and blast the tower top with a long burst of full-auto.

Fortunately, no one was hurt and Cale was dragged back from starting a crazed one-man assault. He even managed to cover himself well by saying it was an example of how *not* to go shooting in combat.

Meanwhile, Doctor Booth was busy preparing his emergency infirmary in the mayor's house, and made the acquaintence of his personal guard, a bloke caled Alf Harker. Alf revealed that he had fought in the war with the Independants, but only for two battles; he had gotten captured and spent the rest of the war in a prison camp. Booth commented that he had heard a few of them were quite bad, but Alf seemed undecided if his was one of those or not. There had been something odd about it, though...

Then, left alone, Booth seemed suddenly overcome with larcenous tendancies, and hunted around the house for a) evidence incriminating Sigmund in his still suspected involvement with the bandits, and b) something worth nicking. He did not find either, but he did find some accounts books for the village that were a dull and mostly uninformative read.

As the day came to an end, TC headed back into the boat for some private religious time, and Zheng arranged for patrols and lookout duties. His job finally done for the day, he met with Cale in the saloon for a well-earned drink. They had not been there long when they heard a scuffle outside...

...and the doors burst open as a villager was flung through them, followed by four well-armed men who pointed their guns at those in the room.

"Don't move," the leader ordered, looking at them all over the barrel of his shotgun.

Dum-dum-DUUURR!!


Session 8

The moment freezes as Zheng and Cale stare at the three bandits and the man with the shotgun, and they stare back. Then they erupt into action!

Cale moves first, drawing his big pistol and blasting the lead man practically off his feet before he can bring his shotgun to bear. Zheng is next, drawing his revolver as two of the bandits lift their rifles and the third begins to look as if he has filled his underwear. Two more gunshots and both targets go down, one with a solid thump and one with a groan. The last man looks ready to flee, but a bullet ripping up the floorboards between his feet convinces him otherwise.

Combat rule #1: He who shoots first, lives longest.

As Zheng grapples with the last man standing, pressing him for information, Cale decides to even the odds some more. Or he's taken a random and intense dislike to these particular bandits. Or maybe there's some other reason for why he calmly collects his shotgun and blasts the head of the lead bandit to pulp at close range, spoiling his captain's boots and whatever remained of the clean parts of the captured bandit's pants. This ever so slightly unHeroic action is also followed by some random vomiting from amongst the saloon clientele.

The live bandit is now a mite concerned about his own predicament, even more than he was before. Mayhap that's why he now feels free to reveal there are other bandits around... and that they have hostages, in a house on the edge of town. The captain takes exception to such nasty behaviour, and tells his captive to take them there. He also calls in TC from the ship and the doctor from... well, a drugged stupor, though he's not to know that, is he?

The house, as it turns out, is one of the ones on the west side of the village. Mr Bandit isn't being very helpful overall; he seems a bit rubbish at the banditry trade, really. He's not sure where their horses are stashed, for one thing, but at least he knows which house to send them to. TC tags along at a distance and a tangent, getting a glimpse of the bodies being removed from the saloon on the way. He elects to approach the farmhouse in question from the rear, while Zheng and Cale, accompanied by a vague Lincoln Booth, head around the side. They have left their bandit buddy with some villagers who, alerted by all the gunfire, have come nosing around.

Through a gap in the curtains of the kitchen window, the following scene: a woman and two young children, watched over by two armed bandits. Despite Cale's big feet and the doctor's almost total lack of stealthiness, the threesome are undetected. A nod, some pointing and a bit of confusion later, and a plan is put into effect.

BANG! Zheng shoots through the glass of the window and nails one bandit squarely in the chest, knocking him back against a dresser and smashing some plates.

RAT-TA-TAT-TAT! Cale blasts the two of them with a hefty burst of fire that shreds their chests and sends them staggering everywhere.

PLINK! Booth shoots one of the tumbling corpses as they fall to the ground in a bloody mess.

Combat rule #2: Them that ambushes call the shots. And the undertaker.

Zheng vaults through the broken window in a heroic-but-stumbling fashion, followed by a more agile Cale. Booth can't be bothered with that sort of thing, and goes in through the front door, narrowly avoiding getting shot by Cale. Judging by Cale's recent successes in this particular field of endeavour, he's very lucky. Cale searches the house room by room, leaving Zheng to head back to his captive. Maybe Booth isn't the best person to deal with screaming women and children, but he does his best, offering to make some tea. While the kettle is boiling, he searches the bloodsoaked bodies for, um, clues, yes, clues. Defnitely not whatever they've got in their pockets, no.

Cale searches his last room and finds the window open, curtains blowing in the wind. Looking out, he sees a man, running as fast as he can. He takes hasty aim, hoping to hit him before he gets so far away the darkness will hide him, but he misses. This, of course, only makes the fellow run that bit faster. This does not him save from the mad sharpshooter skillz of TC, who ably stops the man in his tracks. The bandit does a lovely starjump before he falls, too.

The captain is having much less luck with his bandit captive. He has saved him from being clubbed to death by irate villagers, only to be rewarded with an interview with possibly the dumbest man in the whole gang. And he's not just dumb: he's only been with the gang for a week. So he's still not quite sure where the horses they rode in on are, and he claims to have no clue where the bandit's base of operations is, either. His excuse is that he's new, and it was dark, and he was just following the others.

This makes the captain a tad vexed. He also airs the suspicion that all the bandits are just as useless as this fellow. It's possible that this is what annoys him the most about the whole situation. He decides to make the bandit take him to where the horses are tied up, so off they go out into the darkness, accompanied by Cale... and, er, no light source.

TC, content with his shooting exploits, heads back to saloon to check the place out. He finds one of the "bodies" is in fact still alive, if only just. He tries to offer the man an exchange: information for medical care. All he gets is groaning and gurgling, even when the man's head is dunked in a horse trough. With no insider secrets of banditry forthcoming, TC leaves the poor man to his fate, which tuns out to be a messy death from his wounds about five minutes later.

The engineer uses those last minutes to send a Wave to Wilks, who has exchanged all the adventure of gunplay and late night running around for a nice spot of tea and cake with his parents and a shepherd friend of theirs. Wilks is perfectly happy to rejoin the fun in the morning, though, and settles for another piece of cake instead.

Zheng meanwhile gets bored with his (almost) midnight stroll, suspecting there might in fact be an ambush ahead, and the three head back to the centre of the village. Zheng takes the bandit to the Valcyr and locks him up in one of the secure holds... with the temperature set a little low. Cale tries to get a drink at the saloon, and gets turned back. The owner doesn't seem to care that they are there to save his village and his life, just that the big guy turned a man's head to paste on his doorstep for no real reason.

The day's fun ends with everyone back on the ship. Some talk, some change the lock code on the secure hold, and some plan their own late night escapades...


Session 9

....AKA a comedy of errors.

The next day starts bright and early. Everyone decides to pay a visit to their prisoner, who's been more than a mite chilly kept overnight in what amounts to a big fridge, wearing only boots, shirt and trousers. He's fed, quite well actually, at least until the big, intimidating captain interrupts. It's interrogation time again, see.

The guy still doesn't know anything useful. He doesn't know where the camp is, or anything like that. He used to be a farmhand or some such thing, and got hired for the bandit gig in his local town. That town isn't Hackard, where the Valcyr originally landed, but Jacksonville, which is a bit futher away. The 'word on the street' a few months back was that bodies were needed for some kind of job, and he and some friends were picked up in a van and shipped off... somewhere. The camp was run all proper, like the army or something.

So, in the end, the unnamed captive bandit does know something useful!

Zheng decides the time is ripe for a new career: banditry! His first step is to get the horses the bandits left behind the night before, so he heads off to find them. Cale tags along, because he doesn't seem to have anything better to do. TC helps Booth do doctor-y things with their prisoner, check his injuries (bruises and such from his treatment at the hands of the villagers and his keepers) and all that.

Eventually, Zheng locates the horses - well, horse - tied up in a copse of trees and bushes just over a little rise less than a mile from Sawyer. Other branches and patches of grass look disturbed - were there other horses? Zheng tries to get control of the skittish horse, and this is where things get squirly.

Cale seems to think his captain is under attack, so he... punches the horse in the face. The horse is mighty annoyed by such treatment and rears, kicking out at the two men. Zheng ducks and covers most efficiently, getting well out of the way, but Cale is caught a glancing blow with a flailing hoof. This doesn't seem to slow him down any, however, especially when he... gets ahold of his shotgun and blasts the rearing horse right in the chest at point blank range. This kills the poor beast dead instantly, and Cale only just gets out from under it as it collapses upon him, catching his legs as it writhes in it's death throes.

Everybody say awwww.

An utterly bemused captain calls in the rest of his crew. Cale doesn't seem too bad, despite his very bruised legs; he was very lucky, to be honest. When he arrives, Doctor Booth seems to think it's wise to refrain from giving his patient any painkillers, hoping to get a lesson to sneak in under that thick skull, but does patch him up. Cale appears unconcerned; he's a hardy fellow.

On the way back to the boat, a new plan is forged: the doctor will stay with Cale and see to getting him up and about again, while TC will accompany Zheng in the (one remaining) shuttle on a little trip to Jacksonville to see about becoming bandits. Booth asks for the lock code for the secured cargo bay should an emergency arise, but Zheng says Cale can provide it if required. And, before they leave, TC disable the engines and navigation systems so no-one can run off with the Valcyr.

Meanwhile, the captain is still in total not-understanding about Cale's actions... along with pretty much everyone else in the 'Verse. Even Wilks, who has yet to escape his parents, is confused, and he hasn't even heard the tale yet!

The flight to Jacksonville is uneventful... if you discount Zheng's so-called "flying" that almost drives them into a hillside. As they perform an act we shall laughably call "landing", Booth gets on the radio to tell them the captive has had some sort of allergic reaction to something in the food, maybe the eggs, while they've been gone, so he needs to lock code to make sure he's okay. Zheng shrugs and tell him the code, not knowing that things are not what they seem...

Unmindful of the doings back on his boat, Zheng and TC take a tour of the shady underworld of Jacksonville, sniffing out all rumours relating to the hiring of muscle and gunhands. They follow 'the word on the street' to a number of unsatisfying interviews... that is to say, they could easily have found gainful employment if they were interested but since none of the offers appeared to be linked to the bandits, they turned down several really quite generous offers.

As the saying goes, once the cat's away the mice will play. This time, though, the mouse in question turned out to be the little mouse that roared. Lincoln Booth, doctor and caregiver, reveals (some of) his true colours when he (very easily) convinces Cale to help him torture the captive bandit. So, all doctor-ed up in his medical gear and with several of his tools of the trade handy, he heads for the secure cargo bay and opens it up. Cale follows on behind, ready to menace and threaten with his mean-looking assault rifle, although he is limping somewhat, what with the bruises, cuts, bandages and painkillers.

{At this point Cale's player handed over a note... more on that soon!}

He's quite a weedy lookin' fella, is the doc, but the waving around of a scalpel will attract anyone's attention. As he gets closer and closer to his victim the lad gets more and more agitated. Eventually he tries to push him away and there's a brief wrestle that, amazingly, the doctor wins. Which puts him in the ideal position to slash his scalpel down the man's face.

The bloke don't like that overmuch, so he rushes the doctor and bowls him aside! Under the circumstances, it's understandable that he isn't much fazed by the sight of big ole Cale waving an assault rifle in his face. There's the briefest of pauses - and the momentary silence is broken by a loud CLICK.

Cale forgot to load his rifle. (Remember that note? Bonus plot points for Cale!)

The bandit continues his rush, and it's time for another wrestle. Alas, it's not a weakling doctor Mr Bandit is facing this time but a big dim Cale-type chap, so he gets a rifle in the face for his troubles. This sends him crashing back against the wall and provides Booth with an opportunity for revenge. Settling his foot on the chest of the downed, broken-nosed man, he pulls out a pair of pliers and wrenches out one of the man's (already weakened) teeth! A gurgle and a sigh later, and the guy is out for the count, and the duke too.

To cover their tracks (or so the idea goes) they tidy up a little and concoct a story of some kind of prisoner escape attempt, necessitating them tying him up and hanging him from the ceiling by his wrists using cargo tie cables. But they'd better think fast, because the captain and TC are on their way back...


Session 10

It's mid-afternoon by the time Zheng and TC return. The captain is treated to the interesting tale of how the prisoner tried to escape and got smacked down for his trouble, and how Booth had to drug him and get him tied up to stop it happening again. Neither the captain nor the engineer/owner have any real reason to suspect it was all anything other than Cale being a mite exhuberant... but TC seems a little reluctant to believe the story.

TC sets about restoring proper function the the Valcyr, and then he meets up with Zheng and the doctor in the cockpit. Zheng hears the story in more detail, as TC busies himself at a computer screen, watching something... but doesn't seem to learn much more than what he's heard already from Booth.

It looks as if the villagers have been keeping themselves busy with all the patrolling and such, and the two 'swamps' are getting proper muddy. However, while out on his rounds, Zheng finds a few of the patrols are less than attentive. So much so, in fact, that he is able to sneak up on a few of them and take one of the patrollers 'hostage'. The others grudglingly get the point and decide to pay more attention from that moment on.

Zheng shakes his head, unable to believe these people are supposed to be protecting their own family, friends and property.

TC does a bit of work in the engine room, making some 'surprises' for the bandits when they arrive. He keeps the exact nature of these 'surprises' secret, mainly to keep Cale from playing with them before time. Surely a wiser move was never made. Then, somehow instinctively knowing that somewhere nearby Cale is getting bored, he drags the bruiser and a villager named Amos out on a spot of recon in the mule. Amos asks Cale if he's "that fella who shot the horse" - Cale's legend begins!

Meanwhile, Booth has an inkling that there might be some kind of security setup on the ship, one which might have caught images of his previous misdeeds.... He looks, unsuccessfully, around the various ships systems in the cockpit for said security thingies, and clears out before anyone finds out he has been snooping.

Elsewhere, the folks on the mule drive around, give the aforementioned dead equine a lookover, and take a squint at the surrounding countryside with binoculars. There's not much to see; hills, trees, clouds, a small dark shape in the sky... and it's coming towards them. TC gets them driving back to the village pronto, alternating between driving and watching the approaching whatever-it-is. He radios Zheng and tells him to get into the cockpit to scan it, and as It gets closer it slowly becomes clear that it is a primitive aeroplane, a canvas two-engine prop plane to be precise.

By this point, TC is getting confused about Zheng's highly detailed description of the plane in question... mainly because he doesn't know the captain has left the cockpit and flown out to meet it in the last remaining shuttle.

Where is Wilks, anyways? Having more tea and buns, no doubt.

Zheng tells TC the ID numbers the plane has stencilled on it, and the engineer splits his attention between driving and using his portable computer/display glasses to get on the local Cortex and look them up. He quickly finds out who it belongs to.

Feds.

Now, Zheng, as we all know, ain't too hot at this piloting lark. But he manages to walk the fine line between hover-flying next to a slow old prop plane and smashing into the ground, all the while talking to the Feds on the radio. Seems flying one-handed is the way to go; he doesn't crash, and he feels kinda lucky, so he resolves to fly that way from that day forth. You have to pity the passenger that rides with him, really.

Anyways, the captain and the Feds get nattering, once they introduce themselves to each other. When he tells them why they are at the village, the Fed (Marshal Johnson, naturally) sharply points out that mercenary activity is illegal on Athens - that's okay, Zheng says, it's not like we're getting paid. Just, um, don't tell my crew that. There's a bit more talk about bandits, and why aren't the Feds stopping them, that kind of thing. Johnson says they've been busy fighting a major war with the local underworld.

By this point they are passing over Sawyer, and the Fed sounds clearly bemused regarding the so-called fortifications. He also takes note of the ID markers of the Valcyr... and it's at this point that Zheng realises the Feds know exactly who he is and which boat they came in on. Bummer.

Naturally, TC, having returned to the boat in question, decides now is the time to make things "worse "by revealing they have a prisoner onboard, who suffered some injuries while, um, being captured, yes, that's it. Mr Fed tells them to make absolutely sure that no harm - okay, no further harm - comes to him before the Feds come to get him. This, of course, should guarantee the bandit's survival till then... which should keep him safe from further "encounters".

The Feds depart, having completed the air recon they came to do, promising to return and bring justice with them, or something else suitably impressive-sounding. And once again, our heroes are left to face the terrible bandit horde alone!


Session 11

As everyone is recovering from the visit by El Federales, the much fattened-up pilot, Wilks, makes his return! He doesn't get much of a welcome, but is regaled with many exciting tales of the tomfoolrey his crewmates have been up to while he was away. Fights, shootouts, horse slaying, the works. Even the, um, accident their prisoner had.

Some plans are considered. Another fly-around-and-look is suggested, this time with a better pilot (ie Wilks) and someone else acting as spotter. Maybe the doctor, or Zheng. Fly out kinda west a ways and do some variety of spiral search pattern type thing.

It's at this point that Booth comes to discover the folly of trusting Cale with, well, anything, as the big guy mentions the whole torture thing in passing. Y'know, how the doctor cut the bloke's face and pulled some teeth and all that. Everyone is shocked; the captain draws his pistol and points it at Booth. In a moment of confusion, Cale does the same.

Booth explains how Zheng was not getting anywhere with his prisoner and how, if things had gone somewhat more to plan than they actually did, Booth would've gotten loads of useful info out of the chap. Zheng just wants him off his boat, despite Booth's continual references to 'other reasons' that the captain seems uninterested in right then. So, the doctor packs up his stuff and leaves, heading for the saloon. It's a good place for drink and lodgings, amongst other things.

People busy themselves till nightfall, as it's decided that it's easier to find hidden camps at night, since they'll have lights or fires or something. Easier to see, see? Cale wanders around keeping an eye on the guard patrols and TC visits Jessie-Lee (who is doing okay, and has Steven looking after her now). He also pays a visit to the Mayor, and tells Mr Reed about the bandit and what happened to him. Sigmund is pretty much unconcerned; that fellow and his comrades have been harrasing his people for months, so it's hard for him to feel any pity for the captive.

Zheng and Wilks fly off for their little spot of reccie, and find quite a few lonely farmhouses and campsites, but nothing on the scale of a fully loaded bandit camp. They do scare some wild horses on the way back, however, so the night isn't a complete loss.

Booth's listening in on folk is interrupted by his infirmary guard, Alf, the ex-Browncoat who talks too much. They settle down for a chat and a drink or two.

TC takes up residence at the top of the church clocktower, dividing his time between watching out for the bandit attack he seems to think is about to happen, and searching on the Cortex for info relating to two of his crew. Y'know, criminal records, that kind of thing. He doesn't find much that's more than a couple of years old, and mostly relating to some of the previous, er, semi-legal exploits of the Valcyr. But then, there's a hell of a lot of stuff to look through. Too much for one person in a few hours.

When he returns, Zheng goes to find Booth. They talk, and Booth explains himself a bit further, saying that, basically, he can do what the captain obviously can't and thus save him the worry and the possible legal ramifications. Deniability, in other words.... a concept he seems both familiar and comfortable with... The captain, meanwhile, is stern, yet willing to give him a second chance. However, the doctor will have to smooth things out with TC himself, since the engineer is less forgiving than he is.

Speaking of TC, his friend from the previous mule-ride, Amos, pays him a visit up in the clocktower. The bloke seems to have a fairly level head on his shoulders, and TC asks him how well prepared he thinks the vilagers are for whenever the next attack is. Amos seems confident that they will acquit themselves well, but TC wants to know if he has a few friends they could definitely rely on, people to form a kind of core, tough unit for the others to rally around, or some such. So Amos agrees to check around, and takes a spare radio from the engineer.

Wilks, in the meantime, does some Cortex dipping of his own. For some reason, he's interested in the names and faces of those war criminals still at large and still very much wanted for their crimes...

The next morning Booth moves back in again and takes a more proper and doctorial look at the captive bandit. This then provides an opportunity for Wilks to try out his best 'good cop' on the farmhand-turned-bandit. He actually gets something of a result; that the camp is only a few hours ride away. The doctor goes to get some of his supplies, and meets TC in the hallway... who proceeds to grab him by the lapels, push him up against a wall, and inquire none too subtly what the good gorram the guy is doing back on his boat.

Cale is getting himself some chow; Wilks and Zheng are trying to get useful info out of the poor, mistreated bandit; Booth and TC are having a tussle, which the engineer wins with a solid blow that stuns the doctor; and the ship radios crackle to 'on' to fill the ship with the sound of a bell ringing.

The church bell. The alarm bell.

And then they can just hear Amos' voice over the din.

"They're here! The bandits are here!"


Session 12

.... tussle!

As the radio clicks off, everyone's for battle stations. For Cale that means joining Amos at the impromptu bulldozer-tank; for Zheng, standing alongside his villager army; and for Wilks, warming up the Valcyr for action. He doesn't like being shot at, but it's hard to be worried when you're wrapped up in tons of metal.

TC, meanwhile, grabs the still stunned Doctor Booth and drags him to the makeshift imfirmary at the mayor's house. He then heads for the clocktower with his scoped rifle and some special treats he prepared earlier.

The captain sees first one group of riders (about a dozen of them) and then a second, similar group come over a rise to the south of Sawyer. The time is right, he reckons, for some speechifying, so he leaps up atop a fence nearby, stands over the corner in a dramatic pose, and waxes eloquently about protecting home, family and friends from the nasty bandits, and revenge, and justice, and all that fi hu. After a warning from his lookout (TC) he learns that there's a third group of horsemen, further back, in what looks like a reserve position. A man on the other side, his gesturing and ten-gallon hat clearly visible across the fields, waves the bandits into motion and raises something to his head before getting on his horse.

Everyone gets geared up and ready to fight as Bandit Forces A and B start to approach, including Wilks, who gets the boat up into the air and set up for some kind of strafing run. Or it would be a strafing run if he, y'know, had any guns on the ship. Turns out, though, he don't need no steenking guns.

About now TC begins to hear the sound of engines coming from the north of the village. He takes a look and can see some smoke, engine exhuast type smoke, coming from just behind a nearby hill. There is a revving sound, and... two skiffs, about the size of large vans, coming roaring over the hill towards the village!

Things are looking a mite grim, that is until Wilks decides to even the odds somewhat. With only the scantist of warnings, the Valcyr screams in at a barely under supersonic speed and hurtles over the heads of Bandit Force B. The force of his passage, the slipstream, and the engine backwash scatters that group and hurls them around most forcefully, essentially taking them out of the fight and many of them out of their lives.

It is at this point that it becomes helpful to be able to see the detailed and highly helpful "battle map" that got more and more scribbled on as the session progressed. However, extra notes have been added for the sake of clarity. It all got a tad confusing by the end of it.


CLICK ON IMAGE TO SEE BIGGER MAP

click HERE to see original

Group B was obliterated, while group A split between those who stayed and those who ran for the hills, dragged away from the thrilling battle by their crazed horses. One of those men, as required by the rules of westerns everywhere, was being dragged along the ground because one foot that was caught in a stirrup. The two skiffs, s1 and s2, headed into the village at speed, smashing through those carefully prepared triplines and otherwise sturdy fences. The villagers, settled into cover at the ends of the southern fields, opened fire on the bandit remenants, and Zheng... well, he caught sight of Man In Hat again, and decided there should be a Boss vs Boss fight to complete the whole Hero Of Sawyer thing he was thinking on. So, against all sense (but acting perfectly sensibly, for Zheng at least) the captain draws his revolver and heads right for the supposed bandit chief at a run!

Meanwhile, over the horizon, Wilks is trying not to crash into any scenery, since he's going a bit too quick to do more than that just now. He begins to turn back towards Sawyer in a big loop.

TC has to think quick, as it seems one of the skiffs was going to pass by the church, right underneath him. So he prepares one of his surprise presents: a bundle of dynamite with fuse. Lit it, threw it... and watched it land just behind the skiff as it passed, exploding and throwing up a cloud of dirt. Did the skiff wobble slightly from the concussion? Maybe, maybe not. He decides to pick off a few of the bandits, especially the group A survivors between his captain and the captain's target.

Booth, bored at the infirmary, is spending his time watching the battle through one of the upstairs windows of the mayor's house. He's also tinkering with his radio, trying to find radio channels he can listen in on or call... someone... for no doubt nefarious reasons. Wilks is also trying to tune in on enemy comm-chatter (if he knew that was what it was called he would be, anyway), since he's now holding off at a distance awaiting what passes for orders in this caper, and they both find the channel the two skiff pilots are using to coordinate their actions.

As it turns out, skiff 2 decides to make another pass through the village and again, TC realises it's going to pass right underneath him. Maybe the pilot was too busy trying not to hit anything last time that he missed the explosion that almost took him out. Poor chap. Because this time the engineer is a bit more clever. Whipping out his sticky hull repair gloop gun from his ever-present toolbelt (handy thing, plot points) he applies some of it to the second of his dynamite bundles and carefully drops it towards the passing skiff.

It bounces on the roof. Then it catches and squelches to a sticky stop just between the engines.

A few seconds pass.

A big explosion flips the skiff up into the air and makes it explode some more, crashing back down to earth in several flaming pieces. Huzzah!

At this point, Cale gets bored with missing out on a lot of the fun and orders Amos to start moving the Bulldozer Of Dooooom towards some of the remaining bandits. Group C has moved forwards now and is starting to make life more difficult for the villagers, who up to now have had a fairly easy time of it. There are casualties on both sides, to be sure, but it could've been much worse had they not employed (if by 'employed' one means 'not actually paying') the valiant and more than a little crazed crew of the Valcr to help them.

Zheng is nearing his target; Man In Hat seems to be hanging back, possibly directing his men. Or trying to keep back from being annihilated, maybe. The captain is quite annoyed, therefore, when the bloke suddenly falls backwards off his horse, accompanied by the sound of a gunshot. Seems TC wants to spoil his captain's fun. Unsuccessfuly, though, because the supposed bandit chief (let's drop the 'supposed' shall we?) drags himself to his feet, wobbly and confused though he be, pulling his jacket open in time-honoured fashion to reveal the armour vest beneath. He then sees the wild-eyed man approaching him put his pistol away and set himself for fisticuffs.

Just as Zheng launches himself forwards... just as his fist connects with the chief's jaw... the Valcyr tears across the field of battle like a horde of, well, valkyries. Group C gets sorely battered, and those that remain get shot or captured and beaten up by angry villagers.

The clash of the titans continues. A punch here, a dodge, a block. The two mighty leaders of men seem evenly matched...

Meanwhile, Cale decides he's gonna take out that last pesky skiff. So, as it passes by, intent on scattering villagers and breaking up their mostly ordered battle lines, he lets rips with a huge burst of automatic fire that stars a few windows, pings off the armour... and also hits Something Important. Because it only travels another few hundred yards before the skiff suddenly spins into a very tight turn and cuts a big furrow in the ground, coming to a stop half-buried and vibrating as the remaining engine tries to keep it moving.

TC, seeing this, starts to come down from his not-so-ivory tower.

Cale approaches the downed craft just as a man throws a door open and staggers out. He gets blasted to chowder for his troubles. Just as Cale is about to move closer to it, a burst of autofire fills the air, fired from somewhere within the crippled vehicle.

Across the field of almost-victory, Zheng's fist of fury (or at least slight annoyance) finally drops the bandit chief to the ground, and he stands triumphantly over his fallen foe.

It's at this point that a little bird seems to have whispered in Cale's ear, because what he hears sends him running towards the clocktower as TC is running out of it. They encounter each other halfway... except for 'encounter' read 'Cale tackles TC to the ground'. There's a bit of a wrestle as they each try and gain dominance, with Cale winning pretty much every time. Every scuffle is punctuated by Cale asking "why am I not being paid?" It's not long before things come to a head: Cale might have size and weight and a hard head to butt with, but TC has one of his guns stuck in Cale's throat.

A warning is given. It is ignored.

A single shot makes Cale roll off his 'victim', hands to his neck, gurgling as the blood pours out between his fingers...

Zheng sees the commotion and the blood from afar and comes running...

Wilks is hovering somewhere overhead observing the effects of his handywork...

...and the battle ain't quite over yet.


Session 13

....finale!

TC seems unconcerned about Cale's frantic flailings as the injured man lays on his side with one hand clamped to his neck, barely stemming the flow of blood. The other is searching in pockets for something... but by then the engineer is focused on the skiff before him, and the man climbing out of it holding a sub-machine gun.

Zheng is approaching from the other direction, behind the downed skiff, at a run, yelling to Booth on the radio to come and help, double-time! What he doesn't know is that the doctor is a little busy talking to Sawyer's mayor, and mentions in passing in that dripping-venom-into-the-ear way of his that TC had recently transacted with the bandits, selling them some weapons. You didn't think we came all this way just to help you, do you? he asks. Sigmund is a little ticked off at this 'revelation' and sends the doctor on his way.

This means that three people are soon converging on the skiff, but the one most in danger is TC as the SMG bloke opens up at him. TC dodges valiantly and whips a shot off at his opponent, as does Zheng from the other direction as he gets ever closer. Both miss, but no one seems to notice the captain's approach. Which is why TC lobs another bundle of dynamite at the skiff which, sadly, bounces over the top and down the other side.

There is a pause as the two men just stare at each other, after which there is no massive explosion or even a teeny tiny one. The skiff-er shrugs and blasts a hail'o'lead at TC again, who throws himself into the cover of the trench the skiff had gouged into the ground as it slid to a spiralling halt. Zheng meanwhile tries another shot - only to have his revolver go *click* in a most embarrassing manner.

(The player rolled all 1s and got an empty chamber - but only the one, the others were still loaded for bandit. He thought the gun was totally empty - an assumption that would have repercussions later...)

Cursing his luck, Zheng was too busy charging to spot the dynamite laying unexploded on his side of the skiff, and besides, he was "out of ammo" and wouldn't have been able to shoot it anyways. Instead, the captain decided it was high time for another Heroic Captain Moment, and primed himself to leap onto and over the skiff to kick the bandit in the head. He almost had it, but at the last second his leaping-off foot slipped and he simply dropped down on top of the guy instead. But hey, it worked.

It was at this point that TC tried again. A couple of sticks of dynamite lashed together, with hissing fuse, sailed over Zheng's head... bounced on one side of the open door in the skiff... bounced on the other... and then fell in. Quickly realising his predicament, the captain elbowed the other man's face into the mud and crawl-dived for the nearest cover... a trench that had the fortune of offering a TC-shaped soft landing.

With a satisfying big boom, the second skiff erupted into pieces, many of which took a long time to return to the ground. Booth gingerly approached and then entered the ensuing dust cloud to find Cale, who was almost passed out from pain and blood loss, had been lucky enough to escape further injury; a large piece of skiff hull was embedded in the ground barely an inch from his head.

The battle apparently over, Zheng yelled at Wilks to get landing pretty damn pronto as the doctor got to work stabilising the victim of his latest bit of meddling. His really quite exceptional medical skills were revealed and put to the test as he dragged Cale back from the brink, and prepared him for the move to the Valcyr's infirmary. Wilks landed the boat in it's usual spot and came running with a collapsable stretcher which was used to hustle their injured crewmate aboard. Though not without questions and recriminations flying back and forth over their injured collegue as they tried to work out what had prompted Cale's behaviour towards his employer.

In most people's minds, the finger pointed only one way.

In the infirmary, Booth got Cale stablised while their captive bandit looked on, worried if he was going to be under the knife again next. The others were content that it seemed their job was done, and Zheng decided he should announce this great victory to Mayor Reed. So off he trotted to the mayor's house.

Upon his arrival he was greeted with the sight of injured villagers who had been brought to the makeshift hospital. Then Mayor Reed walked into the room.... followed by a man who was holding the barrel of his shotgun to the back of Sigmund's neck. The man had a definite bandit-y air about him. Don't try anything, says he, we've got other hostages too. Drop your gun. Zheng shrugs, and drops his "useless" and "empty" pistol.

"Good. Now... where is he?" Zheng is confused. "The doctor. Where is he?" Zheng is more confused, and asks why. The chap says he wants to see him. One of his brothers is injured and... the other reason is personal.

At this juncture TC's voice squawks on the radio and asks after his captain. Zheng begins to answer but the bandit tells him to drop the radio to the floor. He does so... and, back on the Valcyr, TC and Wilks hear the command too. They begin to swing (although 'stumble' might be a better word) into action as Zheng obeys the second command he is given and smashes the radio with his foot.

Things remain at something of an impasse in the mayor's house as TC and Wilks, the most unlikely of rescuers, make their way around the back of the building. The geeky Wilks is surprisingly sneaky; TC, not so much. First he scrapes the wall with Mr Smashy (his Norse-ish hammer) as he sneaks up to a window. Fortunately, the kitchen is empty. But as they creep towards the next window TC kicks a bucket (fortunately not quite yet THE bucket) and when he looks in the next window he sees the face of a surprised bandit looking back at him.

The guy tries to bring his pistol to bear but gets a riflebutt slammed between his eyes through the window pane instead. This of course alerts the other bandits in the house, who tighten their grip on their hostages. The small room TC is looking in on is some kind of storeroom, and also has an external door. No other bandits yet. But they can see a very scared looking villager-type in the next room. So the Deadly Duo head on in.

The lead bandit tells Zheng that maybe he should tell his men to stand down or the hostages will die, but the captain thinks otherwise. He thinks the bandit will have more success with an order like that. So it's the bandit that makes the pointless appeal, which leaves him momentarily distracted...

Looking carefully into the next room from the cover of the doorway, TC sees a bandit and immediately shoots him down. A second glance reveals that the scared man they had spotted earlier was now being held at gunpoint as a bullet shield. So, quite inexplicably, TC tosses his rifle to Wilks, unslings Mr Smashy, and charges in full-tilt. Willks looks at the men, looks at the rifle, and gets himself ready. It's not that he's a bad shot, rather that he's not very good at it when it comes to being in a situation where people can shoot him.

The bandit tries the old stop-or-I-shoot-my-hostage routine on TC and gets no joy. So he pushes the villager hard towards the hammer-wielding loon running right at him. The two collide and begin to tumble to the floor, and the bandit seals the deal by shooting his one-time sheild twice in the back, to ensure he stays down. But, as he sights in on TC, Wilks drops him with a surprisingly steady shot that leaves the bandit nicely smeared down the wall. The person most surprised by this turn of events (only counting alive people) is probably Wilks.

In the meantime, Zheng has taken advantage of the aforementioned distraction to make a charge of his own. The bandit hurls Reed aside and the two men begin to wrestle over the shotgun. Things begin to go the captain's way, but then the bandit gets his shotgun loose and cracks Zheng in the face with the stock. This drops Zheng back on his ass, nose streaming wih blood, as the bandit turns his weapon around and begins to take aim...

...only to find himself confronted with yet another charge, this time from TC. He futiley tries to bring his gun into a blocking position, but everyone in earshot knows he's been unsuccessful the moment they hear Mr Smashy make a loud THOK as it whacks him right between the eyes. Needless to say, he drops like a sack of particularly worthless potatoes.

There is a pause as they wait to see if there is another attack, or a yell of "we've got hostages" or "I surrender". But there's nothing... only the dying gurgle of a young man lying on one of the 'infirmary' tables, a man who has that bandit-type look to him. The brother in need of the doctor... and now only in need of the attentions of the undertaker.

Zheng announces their, um, victory as the mayor climbs to his feet. Reed takes that in his stride and says something like "So, Mr Knightsford.... tell me about the gun running."

Back on the Valcyr Booth has finished getting Cale stablised and tormenting their prisoner a little. He also tries to get Cale awake enough to be able to handle a gun... but he's much too wonky to be any use. So Booth wanders off to the cockpit. Nothing much seems to be happening there.... except for a flashing light on one console. The doctor goes over to have a look and finds that somehow some parts of the navigation system, and the autopilot, appear to be active, rather than locked down like the rest of the controls. Almost as if an overconfident engineer hadn't quite put things back together right, and crossed a few wires or a circuit or two....

Booth immediately sets about locking the ship up and powering up the engines.

At the mayor's house, there are looks of surprise, some stuttered attempts at replies or rebuffs, and a few very telling groans. Zheng cuts through it all and suggests that perhaps he and Sigmund should talk upstairs. Siggy nods, and orders TC out of his drinks cabinet, which the engineer had just started to invesigate. Of course, as soon as the mayor is out of sight TC and Wilks start to raid the cabinet anyway, especially Wilks, who needs something to settle his nerves after his recent unexpected gun-related successes.

Upstairs, Zheng is trying to explain how they ended up taking the sort of job one doesn't refuse, and which one definitely doesn't not complete once started. And how Jessie-Lee arrived on their ship after they took the job. And how he promised to help her village before they knew where the guns were going. Siggy was trying to accept this story when he wondered... what's that noise?

It was a noise both Zheng and TC (still downstairs) quickly recognised as the engines of their ship starting up. There was much yelling (including over the radio at Zheng, which was pointless because his was broken) and running and such as the three of them charged out the house towards their ship. Best estimates of everyone involved: two, maybe three minutes till lift-off. Sure, Wilks could've gotten it flying in seconds, but he's not a careful, finicky autopilot programmed by a committee.

How will they get in? The shuttles are hard to reach, the doors seem locked tight... Zheng takes the last dynamite bundle off TC and starts climbing up the ladder on the side of the ship. TC is trying to override the autopilot using his computer link, but, up in the cockpit, Booth keeps overriding the overrides. Eventually the engineer has to give up because the doctor does something sneaky enough to lock him out. TC instead decides to concentrate on getting the door within the cargo door open.

Meanwhile Zheng is up on the side of the ship (having given the painted Valkyrie the traditional good luck kiss on the way past) and hanging on next to the cockpit. He gets Booth's attention by tapping on the window... with the dynamite. The lit dynamite. He then leans it against the window and slides back down the ladder as fast as he can.

Down on the ground, TC has done a fantastical hotwiring of the door lock and gotten it open at last. He and Wilks scramble into the ship just as the dynamite goes off. Fortunately, it's not the world's greatest dynamite, and it's not been placed by a demolitions expert, and the cockpit windows and surrounding hull are very sturdy... so all Zheng gets is a lotta light and a lotta noise. Oh, and the ship shakes a mite, and Zheng ends up deaf for a bit.

Inside, TC runs for the engine room and unceremoniously tears out the various panels and circuits that will non-permanently cripple the ship. As Wilks heads for the cockpit Booth finds himself surrounded by flashing lights and warning signs indicating an emergency engine shutdown. So much for that plan. Booth is also now trapped, as he can clearly hear first Wilks and then TC outside the cockpit, armed and irritable. He closes and locks the door, but unfortunately TC opens it again easily.

Then Booth comes into view, pistol at the ready! As ready as Wilks and his pistol, in fact. And so it comes down to a sort of quickdraw shootout, or near enough, between the two most unlikely candidates for such a thing. But the pilot's reflexes and luck win the day, as his shot takes Booth low in the body and ruins the doctor's aim considerably. TC then closes the door (making Wilks' second shot ricochet around the lounge) and set about activating the cockpit fire suppression system. Lots of nasty flame retardent gasses begin to make Booth's day even less fun, and eventually he heeds the call to surrender.

Guns are passed out through the slightly opened door, and hands are bound with tape through same. As Zheng arrives, speaking rather louder than usual, the not-so-good doctor is dragged out and locked up in the same secure hold his torture victim was kept in.

And so, all the villains are brought to book. Or they would be, if he was there.



All that remains is the aftermath.

Most of the villagers were glad the bandits were defeated, but there were those who were unhappy with the amount of damage inflicted on their village and their fields.

Mayor Reed's sense of victory was marred by the other less-than-legal antics his 'heroes' had gotten up to recently, and was quite frankly glad to be rid of them.

The local sheriff finally decided he would make an appearance so as to arrest all the surviving bandits who had been captured. There was, oddly, no response from the Feds stationed somewhere in the area.

Booth's life went on something of a downturn. Not only did he have to treat his own wound with little more than strips of cloth from his own clothes, he also had to suffer cold turkey, what with his secret drug addiction and all. How he survived the next few days is anyone's guess.

TC repaired the damage he himself had inflicted enough to get the Valcyr back to the self-styled 'spaceport' at Hackard for better repairs.

According to Zheng's promise, the captured bandit (who no one ever bothered to ask for his name) was set free in Hackard... and he promptly headed for the nearest bar.

While in Hackard, the crew got a local medico type in to look over Cale and make sure he would recover from his injury. He would recover, they were told, but he'd never quite sound the same again. They found this out when Cale confirmed their suspicions by revealing that yes, Doctor Booth had told him about how he was not getting paid, which just hardened their resolve against the treacherous doctor even more.

As for the doctor's ultimate fate.... the Valcyr headed for the nearby moon of Whitefall, and dropped him off - literally - in the vicinity of the sort of backwater hicksville the moon is famous for. They were generous enough to kick him out only a few metres up and deposit him in a soft if thorny bush before heading back out to the Black. They left him with only the clothes on his back, however. Fortunately, doctors can always find employment....

Then, as they cleared atmo, they received a wave. Or rather Zheng did. It started off as a screen saying "DATE OF BIRTH" with three entry boxes. The captain shrugs and enters his. The screen changes to show an old man, maybe in his sixties, dressed well and sitting at a big desk. He greets Zheng, and thanks him for "all his help". If it hadn't been for him, the fellow continues, his plan might "never have worked".

Zheng, and everyone else, looks confused.

The old guy lifts up a newspaper, the biggest and most read on Athens. The headline reads GOVERNOR FORCED OUT OF OFFICE. Oh, he continues, I don't think you need to worry about the Feds coming after you either, they're a bit busy. He points to a smaller headline lower down the page: FEDERAL MARSHALS IN CORRUPTION INVESTIGATION.

The elderly gentleman says that if he ever needs someone to help him again, he'll know who to call. He's very polite, and so is the captain. The wave ends with a whole lot of politeness. Then Zheng orders Wilks to go to full burn, the fullest of full burns there has ever been, right now!

WHOOOOOSH!!!! And they are outta there!


THE END....


....for now....


And that was all she wrote.

Everyone said they enjoyed it, and oddly so did I. It has to have been the easiest game to run ever, despite the fact that I haven't actually run a game for years. I think part of it was that very little was truly planned, or at least scripted. Most of the big plot events were, obviously, but most of the sessions themselves were reactive, both on my part and the players.

Pretty much everything happened that I wanted to happen, though not always as I had envisioned it. It all worked in the end though. And it was fun for all involved. I played very loose with the rules, not overly worried with following them to the letter, and I think it saved alot of headaches and made everything go slicker and be more fun. People got good and interesting results rather than bad ones.

One thing I was wondering, though... how much of The Big Picture were/are the players aware of? Can they answer the questions of Why? and Who? Probably. I've not had the chance to discuss it with them yet, especially since one of them is vanishing off to the US for a month at the end of this week.


Oh, and Booth... His player said he wanted to play, well, a war criminal. A Doctor Mengele for the Alliance. The player in question likes playing nasty psychos, basically. He said he didn't want the guy to be after redemption, he was just hiding out from all the folks who'd want him dead or arrested. I warned him that guaranteed he would come to a sticky end... and so he did.

Except...

He's not dead. He's a nasty sort, and a manipulator.

He'll be back....


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