Looking over the costs for repairing Illyria’s shotgun compared to purchasing a new one, the party investigates and learns that while there are none immediately for sale on Cardinia Colony, a free trader has just docked at Rhineback colony, and among the cargo are various personal defense weapons, including shotguns, and the ship intends to stop at Cardinia Colony in the next day or two.
That’s when Roger’s new datapad beeps. The monthly e-newsletter update for Colonial Field and Stream Monthly has arrived.
He is immediately concerned.
It’s not that he feels he’s missing out on wilderland adventure, but rather he knows this is a message from his former covert agency. Spending some time deciphering the innocuous looking extra-net newsletter he extracts the following message:
“Bats seen flying amid Hawks recently. A phoenix should avoid Tragedy among the Curling seas.”
Given that it’s a new e-net mail, it has to have arrived with a recent ship as Dulko, the colony “mailman”, isn’t due to head out for another week. The group quickly comes to the conclusion that Batarian agents have been spotted in the Hawking Eta cluster, where Etamis is located. Trying to figure out if there is a ship that might give a hint, they query the colony ship registry and discover that the very same vessel bearing shotguns is the batarian free trader the “Tragic Mistake”, registered to a Captain Bassal Kurl.
Those with even a little underworld knowledge know the name: a freelance cargo hauler and bounty hunter, considered quite capable, and suspected of slaving. Suspected only, as not once in years of active hunting has any evidence of slaving been pinned on him by any Citadel aligned security forces.
While discussing options for hiding or leaving Etamis briefly are put forth, the conversation turns quickly to laying an ambush for the bounty hunter, and where a good ambush in the surrounding systems might occur. Considering that Kurl is a known bounty hunter, the group is wary of engaging him in a space battle, figuring that he probably has a more heavily armed and armored vessel than the Albatross.
In the end, the group decides to use the Ripple Hills cave system – they know it, and no one else seems to, it’s not explicitly inside any of the Etamis colonial domains though it would be within Cardinia’s purview archaeolgically speaking, and they can lay a trail to draw the bounty hunter there without having to encounter him in the Colony.
The group purchases parts for Illyria’s shotgun, and repairs it rather than waiting for Kurl’s shipment. Roger then tracks down one of the few xenobiologists on Cardinia, an asari by the name of Caelene B’asiri, known to be a fairly shrewd bargainer, but fair and tending to eschew underworld contacts. When the samples of body parts and the live immature drop beetle are produced, however, it’s clear to Roger that they have gotten her interest. All the samples are unknown to her, or to any currently peer shared biological investigation of Etamis.
A few minutes of back and forth later, Roger signs a digital contract with Caelene which she deposits in the colony’s legal library datastore, and provides a medical quality specimen collection kit in exchange for the first samples. Roger states that he and his crew will be heading out in the morning to acquire more samples.
With the conspicuous bread crumb trail planted, the group shelters in the ship overnight, and at breakfast watches a sad and horrifying set of video and journal recordings from the data store of the quarian they found in the ruins.
The quarian was one Cirna’Melli nar Chano, a young quarian female, excellent at computer security and data research. Hired by Professor Bellcasi as an “intern” for his research, with a share of information or objects found to help her complete her pilgrimage. Quietly smitten with Nari, an asari crewmate. The rest of the crew were Professor Adrian Bellcasi, a middle aged human male and captain of the Conoscenza (aka the Albatross); Hanto Nekanseri, Turian pilot with a no nonsense attitude, and clear military combat training; Touri An’Sara, an asari biotic and scouting specialist; Patrick O’Reilly, a human male medic, and student of xeno-biology; Nari S’zea, an asari survivalist, huntress, and climbing/spelunking specialist.
Bellcasi had bought some chunks of strange carbon material from a spiger hunter, and got coordinates of the location, only to stumble upon the entrance to the Ripple Hill ruins during an initial scout. Determining that he had a a potentially immense caverns system to explore, he returned and hired on specialists to help him with the exploration (namely Touri and Nari).
After a scout of the ruins with the new crew and several remote drones (revealing the drop beetle swarms, the squirrelbats, and the shaft, and that remote comms were experiencing heavy interference), the crew returned to the ship, and prepped gear that as specialists they had already acquired expecting a potential caving expedition.
Returning the next day, but soon to be affected by the Raskeni VI poison, the drop beetles were avoided with a combination of light flashes and flamer effectively set to smoke, tricking the beetles into trying to avoid a lichen fire, and the group proceeded to the shaft to accelerate identifying what was below before performing a detailed search and sift the areas already overviewed with drones.
Halfway through the shaft setup, was when the first signs of the drugs kicked in, the group became argumentative and paranoid. When the squirrelbat swarm was disturbed, the chaos ensued, and plagued by hallucinations, Hanto screamed unfamiliar names, and shot Nari followed by a rifle butt which knocked her screaming into the abyss, which escalated into a maddened fight between Patrick and Hanto, and Professor Bellcasi ran screaming back toward the main chamber. Touri used her biotics to knock Patrick away, only to have Cirna shoot Hanto causing him to stumble and fall down the shaft. Touri shot Cirna, only to get clubbed by Patrick as he ran. Touri shot wildly, striking Patrick, and gave chase.
Cirna faded in an out of consciousness, having hallucination of Nari returning to caress her and make the pain go away…which links up with the suit audio and video footage of a drop beetle swarm descending on the lone, injured and feverish quarian.
Not overly buoyed in spirit by what they see, they depart to prep the ambush.
Back at the ruins, the crew sets the ship down in a small bowl among the hills between the cave entrance and the crate wall of Cardinia Crater. Making sure they can see the Albatross from the plain outside the cave, they place one of the remote drones from the Iskelli Cache further out looking back at the cave and the Albatross.
The Blazemaster is parked just outside the cave mouth where it can maintain radio contact with the drone. Nero programs the drone to watch the skies for ships, or the ground for bipeds or vehicles. If it notes them, it transmits an alert to the Blazemaster’s comm. In addition, the group takes some communication cable from the Albatross and hooks it up to the Blazemaster’s computer.
Using the tricks they learned in their last foray, and the tweaks learned from the former crew, they temporarily disperse the drop beetle swarms, and move to the empty elevator shaft room to set up their ambush. The comm cable is laid down to the corner, and connected to a datapad so they can query the drone’s camera despite the radio interference, and the group prepares. The group moves the dessicated and devoured corpse of the quarian to one side, but not before successfully capturing two adult drop beetles in specimen jars. A place is made for Roger to sit in sight of the corridor, and comfortable seating is arranged with Nero on one side, armed with the Light Accelerator Cannon from the Blazemaster, while Illyria, Kassana, and Milo take up the northern side, with Milo armed with Nero’s Flame Projector.
The flood lamp is set to trigger on motion from down the hall in order to blind incoming enemies, and rigged to easily aim down into the hole, to initiate a bat swarm if necessary.
They discuss exploring while waiting and decide that’s a bad idea if the bounty hunter should happen upon them while they are engaged with a new underground horror. Cards are played, data books are read, and the hours pass uneventfully…the hour gets late and rather than nod off where drop beetles could return, the group heads to the Blazemaster, and piles in to sleep through the night.
In the wee hours of the morning, still hours before dawn, the drone triggered alarm goes off, waking the group from slumber. A light freighter class ship circles the area at a fair distance, and then disappears over the edge of Cardinia Crater. The crew of the Albatross, wipes the sleep from their eyes and heads to the ambush zone using the smoking/light flash technique to clear the path, hopefully with enough time for the drop beetles to return and give the bounty hunter a nasty surprise.
It’s about 20 minutes from the alert when the hover personnel transport crosses the crater lip, and descend to the Albatross. There is stops and stays for about 15 minutes, though no detail can be made out as to what happens. The hover truck then heads down the gully that leads to the cave entrance and pulls out into the field out of site of the cave itself, and several figures debark. What looks like a squad of mechs heads toward the cave and the Blazemaster, while a lone, darker figure sprints away to one side.
When the mechs are about halfway to the Blazemaster, the drone sees movement on the hilltop above the cave entrance. A minute or two passes by, and then there is a muzzle flash, and the drone stops transmitting. Nero drops the datapad and moves into his hidden position.
About 10 minutes later some kind of scuffle is heard, strange popping sounds, and gun fire. A minute or so later, the fwoosh of flame projectors is heard…for a good minute or two. The smell of mold and smoke follows, and 5 more minutes go by with the distant sound of burning lichen and fleeing vermin.
Finally the sound of metal clad feet can be heard in the distance, closing.
It is at this moment that the group considers the fact that their ambush is set in a dead end hallway, with their backs to the wall, and the only escape a shaft which plummets into an abyss of darkness and bats. Roger takes cover rather than acting as bait.
The floodlight triggers, making the hallway bright as day as several figures clank around the corner…and a staticky voice can be heard from what appears to be the dog-like frame of a FENRIS mech, “So, Human, you are either the worst covert agent ever, or this is an ambush. I’m betting on ambush.”
With that there is a tink of cerametal and a sphere rolls out from the corner of the hall, bouncing of the wall and finally coming to a rest as tiny stops extend from it, and spiracles open, releasing an orange yellow gas with a hiss. Roger flips the floodlight down into the hole, and a disturbed squeaking is heard, but the squirrelbat swarm that arrives is pathetically small in comparison to the prior encounter. Of course, it is the middle of the night now, as opposed to midday, and the majority of the healthy bats are currently out hunting.
While not as disruptive as hoped, it is diagnostic, as many bats who pass through the orange gas crash to the ground, squealing and twitchng in agony from the tear gas like chemical.
The mech squad advances into the cloud, while the FENRIS runs forward to pounce on Roger but misses, it’s visual sensors still not fully adjusted to the floodlight switch. The 4 bipedal mechs aim their shoulder mounted grenade launchers and with a FOOMP, they fill the crew’s alcove with a blue white gas. Everyone but Kassana remembers that they brought breather masks, and fits them quickly, reducing the efficacy of the sleep gas, though it’s clear from the tingle that there is still some effect upon exposed skin.
Groggy and disoriented, Kassana stumbles over to the FENRIS mech to strike it, and while she misses any vital components, she ends up planting her combat staff perfectly, and in a moment of desperate strength flips the FENRIS into the abyssal shaft. Kassana belatedly gets her breather mask on, unsure if she will be able to stay awake for long.
Attacks are made against the remaining mechs, but their angled and hardened armor deflects most of the impact.
And then Nero leans out, and the report of the light accelerator cannon fills the hall like thunder. The automatic fire rocks through three of the mechs, blasting them into smoking pieces, and taking massive chunks out of the ancient concrete wall behind them.
Spirits rise, and then the sound of a precision rifle in action cuts the moment of stillness, and chunks of plastic and metal are ripped out of the accelerator cannon as the bounty hunter, hazily seen at the end of the hall, shatters chunks off Nero’s weapon. While still functional, Nero’s omnitool screams alarms about damage and misfire chances at him.
Nero takes the chance, and desperately steadying the weapon, destroys the last mech before it can actually use any other of it’s tricks or weapons. Milo races forward through the tear gas, and begins screaming in agony as the chemical set his skin to burning and his eyes watering. Closing on the hunter, he fires the flame projector and sets the batarian on fire. The bounty hunter, in his sealed combat armor, shrugs off most of the assault, but Milo notices the strange bands and contacts on the armor – and shouts in a strangled voice that the hunter’s armor has a taser system in it.
Kassana, groggy but still upright, focuses and makes a Biotic Charge…protected from the tear gas by her mass effect field as she passes through it. The burst at the end is barely noticed by the heavily armored enemy. Illyria covers the distance and also suffers from the tear gas, firing her shotgun to limited effect, but at least not hitting her allies.
Kurl gives Kassana an uppercut, discharging his taser armor into her. While rocking her back, she is a tough drell and weathers the blow well. Though it gives the batarian a chance to sprint down the hall for better cover.
Roger tries to catch up to the group to bolster their resolve and bring his tactical knowledge to bear, but is so thoroughly affected by the tear gas, that he is grateful he can still stand through the pain when he reaches the corridors end. Nero’s personal environmental suit protects him from the worst of the gasses, but Milo and Illyria’s shots have so confused the melee that the Batarian has taken opportunities to dash back to the main atrium by the time Nero gets to the first corner.
Milo refuses to give up though, and chases the batarian relentlessly, just barely in range, he fire the flame projector again, catching the bounty hunter full on…but in the process leaves himself open to counterattack. Kassana barrels into the room and tries to strike the hunter again, nicking him, but ending up slipping in the ash and rubble, landing on her back.
Kurl drills a hole into Milo, leaving him gasping for air, horribly wounded but upright and alive. And then runs out of the cave, taking cover at the front end of the Blazemaster. Illyria hefts Roger on to Nero’s back, and Nero gallops his way to the main room. Nero, with Roger and Milo’s assistance puts some scratches into the Blazemaster but strikes the hunter, staggering him with the hail of accelerator cannon rounds.
And in that moment, a strange bit of luck comes their way, and the squirrelbat swarm returns from their nightly hunt, and Kurl hugs the Blazemaster for cover against the unexpected creatures, giving Kassana a chance to sprint to his location and deliver a neck cracking strike from her staff.
There is a moment where everything stops except for the stream of bats….and then the sounds of Illyria screaming in the hall followed by wild shotgun blasts as she is swarmed buy the bats…then a tremendous explosion from outside as the hover truck explodes in a conflagration….then a distance air shaking boom – the sound of a starship fusion core going critical…then a third explosion from somewhere in the rolling hills….and then Kassana notices the blinking red light under the middle fender of the Blazemaster, and she begins the run only to be launched through the air past the ducking trio of crewmates in the archway, landing with a few more scrapes and lacerations, but nothing worse.
Roger staggers back down the hall, and talks Illyria out of her panic attack…happy that she has clearly overloaded the heat sink in her shotgun by the time he wobbles down the hall.
The next few days is a bleak accounting of their fight. Though Milo will get better, he needs the week before spasms of pain don’t rock him during delicate or stressful work. While they are able to salvage material from the hovertruck and the bounty hunters ship to repair the Blazemaster, with a a thousand credits worth of scrap that might be useful, Nero’s cannon is severely damaged, and the Albatross’ engines were the other target of one of the hunter’s magnetic mines, crippling it’s speed and maneuverability until repaired.
Worse, while there is barely anything useful left in the slag heap that is the hunter’s ship without dedicated salvaging equipment, the burned and shredded bodies of humans, batarians and drell showcase that a hidden cargo of slaves or bounties was on board when the ship blew.
The crew take dna samples and move out. The only gain from the encounter is a dead bounty hunter, a single mostly intact combat droid, Kurl’s armor, and his precision battle rifle. No one feels that is a great exchange.
As they try to parse out what they are seeing, and what was brought against them, especially the dead man’s switch failsafe…it becomes clear that Kurl was clearly more than just a bounty hunter, but likely a sanctioned agent of the Batarian Hegemony. More importantly is the fact that Roger could not possibly be worth this kind effort given the operations he was involved in before getting his burn notice.
There has to be someone way more valuable and important hiding in the Hawking Eta sector. Roger just happened to be on a list of convenience bounties, and when the crew made themselves an easy catch, he likely diverted before moving on with his search for his main quarry.
It also means that if it’s that important, the signal that triggered the evidence cleansing bombs probably also sent a signal toward the comm-store for the planet or system to alert the hunter’s directors about failure, and where to start looking.
The group tries to autopsy Kurl, but is forced to fling his body off the ship on the medical table when the med scans re-activate the in-body dead man’s bomb that Kassana’s attack had disabled. Now they chalk up a replacement mass effect stretcher table to the costs of the encounter.
With only a few days downtime under their belts, they gingerly fly the Albatross back to Cardinia, and split up – part of the group reporting in to Caelene with the drop beetle specimens, who pays them 600 credits, and goes on an excited screel about biomechancally engineered life forms that have evolved past their original purpose, and possibly the single most important find on Etamis – possibly in the Hawking Eta cluster ever.
Roger takes the money and some replacement specimen jars, still not quite able to digest the science or the excitement of the asari biologist.
Meanwhile, the rest of the group meets with Chen Won, and reports the altercation, as well as filing for salvage rights to Kurl’s wrecks, and archaeological rights to the Ripple Hill cave. Chen, not particularly fond of the bounty hunter given his knowledge of him, nor his experience with him when the batarian was at Cardinia earlier that day, is still perplexed by the description of events, but doesn’t question the group’s story, clearly sensing the truth.
The crew wearily heads back to the Albatross to figure out their next steps, and how much they will cost, but resolved to finish their exploration of the ruins now that they “own” it, at least so much as anyone can among the wildcat colonies of Etamis.
End of Run
Music used during run:
| Zack Hemsey (The Way):
|| This is Our Legacy
| Zack Hemsey:
|| Mind Heist (Long Version)
| Mass Effect 2 Overlord:
|| Combat Troops