Date: Thu, 17 Apr 2003 20:04:13 +0000
From: "Larsen E. Whipsnade"
Subject: [TML] Amber Zone - Smoke Test
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Again, my folly is your boon.
The probe is currently orbiting the largest moon of the system's outermost gas giant. It has been in position for 120 standard days conducting was is, hopefully, an extremely detailed survey and analysis of that moon's geophysical nature. All of the probe's data, both test records and operational logs, must be recovered, collated, and transmitted back to the firm as soon as practical. A physical assessment of the probe will also be performed.
If the probe is found to be physically sound and the records of its operation warrant it, the probe may be refurbished on site and re-deployed at the end of the mission.
If the players own a ship, the firm will wish to arrange a charter. The local firm will offer to pay standard charter rates. If the player's vessel needs to be modified in some minor manner, the firm will pay for the modifications as well as pay charter rates during the amount of time the work requires. A bonus upon the successful completion of the mission will also be offered.
In order to be considered for the charter, a vessel must have at least 50 dTons of cargo space and facilities to house a five-man technical team. The large amount of cargo space is necessary for various reasons. The probe will be housed aboard while it is being inspected and serviced, so specialized cradle will be needed. Also, two small docking arms will be used to capture the probe and transport it into the cargo bay. Finally, diagnostic equipment, supplies, and materials will need to be shipped aboard.
If the players do not have access to a ship, the firm will require crewmen to man a leased ship taking the technical team out to the probe. In this situation, the firm will have already leased a Beowulf-class free trader and finished the necessary modifications. Pay during the contract will be in line with normal crew salaries and skill bonuses. A bonus upon the successful completion of the mission will also be offered.
The sector nobility, wary of undue megacorp influence over the program, set aside a portion of the grant moneys for medium and small sized companies and institutes. After some hurried work, the local firm made a proposal for an autonomous, orbital, geophysical surveyor. They were awarded funding and immediately went to work in producing a prototype. Development of the probe has gone fairly well and this test deployment is the last major hurdle to clear before the R&D consortium signs off on the project.
If the probe succeeds in this test, the local firm stands to make billions from licensing fees and sales. The local firm has kept its efforts low key, not wanting to draw unwanted and potentially dangerous interest from any possible rivals. However, news of the firm's success has slowly trickled out and interest by various third parties has begun to appear.
The PCs and tech team will arrive off the gas giant moon and find the probe orbiting as planned. The tech team will now begin to direct the PCs through all the steps required to bring the probe aboard.
The probe itself is a lumpy cylinder of approximately 5 dTons displacement. The longest axis will fit easily within the ship's cargo bay. A small onboard fusion reactor powers the probe. Solar panels have also been installed but, because the test has taken place in the system's outer reaches, the probe has not deployed those panels. Various surveying instruments are housed along the probe's length. Other surveying instruments are deployed as necessary outwards from the body of the probe on several retractable arms.
The forward half of the probe contains most of the onboard sensors and signal processors. Housed amidships are the probe's CPUs, data storage cores, and communications equipment. The folded solar panel arrays are located here also. The aft half of the probe contains a few additional sensors along with the fusion reactor, onboard fuel supply, and thrusters.
Most of the instrumentation and equipment aboard the probe can be accessed through removable, surface mounted panels. Additionally, there are three maintenance 'cubbies' however, one each forward, amidships, and aft. These cubbies are large enough to allow a single person with tools and diagnostic equipment to reach those portions of the probe not easily accessible from the normal maintenance panels.
The retrieval of the probe for inspection and servicing will follow a precise, time consuming procedure. Soon after making orbit around the gas giant moon, the R&D firm's tech team will contact the probe via radio and maser. The probe's current operations will be shut down one by one, any deployed sensor booms will be retracted, and the power plant will be first ramped down and then secured. Each step in the procedure will be double-checked and independently certified before proceeding to the next task. The firm's tech team will explain that all of this painstaking procedural compliance is driven by the grant requirements; they must prove what they have accomplished, and not because the probe is either dangerous or delicate.
Eventually, the probe will be shut down and made ready to bring aboard. The PC's vessel will have to approach to probe very closely. Vacc-suited tech team members will then use the installed docking arms to capture the probe and transport it to the waiting cradle. After the probe is aboard, the cargo hold can be sealed and pressurized to convert it back into laboratory space.
Examination and refurbishment of the probe will 24 - 36 hours with the R&D firm's tech team working in round-the-clock shifts. Redeployment of the probe will follow in reverse the same steps as the power down and capture procedures performed earlier. The entire capture, examination, refurbishment, and redeployment effort should last about 48 hours.
Whether the PCs helped handle, examine, or refurbish the probe or not, they will be approached in the near future by individuals wishing to ask them questions about the probe. Some will pay for any information, some will ask politely, and some will ask with clubs or worse. The PCs may find themselves swept into the shenanigans surrounding industrial espionage.
If the seeker crew removed equipment from the probe, the PCs will find themselves in the midst of a legal battle. The R&D firm will file suit and ask that the PCs testify. Whether the probe actually damaged the seeker or not, the seeker crew will counter sue claiming the probe is dangerous. Either way the legal battle develops, the PCs may find themselves embroiled in legal difficulties for months to come.
If the probe hijackers were successfully or not, the PCs will find themselves in far more legal and extra-legal troubles. The authorities will wish to debrief the PCs and check on their stories. The hijackers and those who paid them will wish to 'handle' any potential witnesses to the crime. If the PCs win the fight with the hijackers, there will be bodies to explain. If the PCs lose the fight with the hijackers, they may be left in orbit around a distant gas giant moon aboard a badly damaged ship.