Throwback Thursday: Space Cowboys, Season 2 #5 – “Scurvy Sea Dogs”

by mshrm

It might be helpful, at this stage of the story, to know something about the “guest starring actors” in the story at hand. The conceit, remember, was that the game was based on a TV show that never was. We bounced back and forth between different visions of the show. At one point, there was talk of the Little House on the Prairie intro, for the 1970’s western version. On another occasion, we joked about the opening theme and credits montage, if the show came from the 1980’s and aired opposite The A-Team. I liked to think of it as a contemporary program (on cable, of course) that spent a lot on cutting-edge special effects to simulate the look of crappy 1970’s special effects… 

At any rate, I made a point of casting memorable guest stars.

I knew this story was heading towards the wind-down of the campaign. Since Jasmine’s plot involved bringing aboard a group of pirates under the cover of being paying passengers, I took special care with the cast, knowing they would step out of the background and onto center stage.

First, there was the leader of the little group, Mick Colquholn (pronounced like “Calhoun”), played by Lenny “The Guv`nor” Mclean, seen here in Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels:

Why, yes, I did just figure out how to embed images from remote URLs. Why do you ask?

Before the mutiny, Mick took pains to come across as a benign, slightly daffy older gentleman. Afterwards, he took on his more accurate “hard man” persona, as can be seen below.

I was absolutely dying for someone to ask him about Jasmine, so he could say “Well, she’s a fookin’ feef, now ain’t she?”, but it sadly never came around. These things hardly ever do, if you think of them ahead of time, it seems.

Mick’s second-in-command was Roger Sutton, played by Steve Sweeney, also appearing in Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels.

Notice the theme, yet? I was really trying to tip ’em off, really I was…

Next, we have Dirk Hackett and his putative young son, Waylon. I found their pics by searching for “soccer hooligan” on Google Images, rather than picking out famous actors (which is why I’m not sharing). The kid looks about five, and he’s throwing a vigorous bird at (one hopes) the opposing team. The guy cast as the father has a shaved head and a long-suffering, half-exasperated expression. As it turned out, the two weren’t actually father-and-son, but (as I recall) brothers. Waylon wasn’t even really a kid. He was in his 30’s, but his growth had been arrested during childhood by advanced biotech. The pirates had used his apparent age as cover, concealing weapons in toys and so forth.

Finally, there were the two guys that the pirates had hired as muscle, Earl Perkins and Jamison Connelly. For them, I went local. Earl was cast as the player of Osolo (and TKotBO, in the DF game), while Jamison was a player in the original Old West game that got us going with 4th edition. This choice, originally a bit of a joke, turned out to be something more in play, when Osolo came face-to-face with his true self. From what I understand, the player found this to be an unexpectedly powerful moment.

* * *

Psychic powers. Yup, I never said “No!” to psychic powers. Way back when originally putting the game together, I had a list of things that would never, ever appear. Magic was on the list, but psychics weren’t. In fact, back during season 1, we had talked about it, and I pointed out that if you looked at the crew in the right light, they were all psychic, somehow. Osolo and Bubba had their psychic twin connection. Hal warped probability, being lucky, unlucky, and equipped with Serendipity. Mel, Dr Nanika, had Empathy and sufficient exploits in-game to support being somewhat telepathic. Samale’s skill at piloting was nigh-supernatural, such that he could claim to be “strong in the Force” and nobody would have room to dispute him. 

So, the surprise wasn’t that Jasmine had psychic powers. It was that a player finally decided to break the seal and go overt. Jasmine was a little telepathic, enough to add a devastating +4 to her already-high social skills. At least once, she failed a telepathy roll and gave Osolo a weird feeling, which (being unfamiliar with telepathy) he explained away. 

And, yeah, she had been built from the ground up as a PC meant to betray the group. This experience caused me to re-think my approach to PC secrets. It’s a big reason why I’m trying so hard to play the DF game “cards up”, to the point of having Needles’ player announce at the table when Needles is ripping off the other PCs, and having the contest of Perception versus whatever-sneakiness-he’s-committing rolled in the open.

There’s probably a whole post, if not more, that could be dedicated to this one incident… so rather than get into it here, I’ll just note it, and leave the re-opening of old wounds for a later date.

Hal had Intolerance (Pirates) after previous bad experiences.

What Happened:

The pirates spread out to secure the Cabra, leaving Jasmine, Mick, and the Hackett kid in the kitchen. Mick mentioned that he had overheard Jasmine mention reading minds. She claimed it was just a bit of misdirection. He said that’s what he figured, because otherwise, she would read his mind right now. While verbally scoffing, she, of course, peeked into his mind, as she had done before, when hiring him.

The first time she had read his mind, Jasmine had been amazed at how much of his thoughts were taken up with the game of soccer. This time, he revealed that the wall of soccer statistics was a cover for his true thoughts. Then, he showed her his first memory of her, as a half-starved waif in rags, selling matches in a small asteroid spaceport, directly contradicting her own memories of a wealthy childhood in the Core Worlds. Finally, he let her see his memory of just before coming into the kitchen, when he told the kid, “And while’s she’s looking at me, you shoot her in the fookin’ head.”

There was just enough time for her stomach to heave once before a laser killed her.

* * *

Osolo awoke slowly, still groggy from the drugs. A half-familiar woman’s face came into his field of view.

Uncle Osolo? Wake up, we need you. And don’t kill the guy, he’s OK!”

It was Haloes Nor, one of the passengers on the other cargo ship. Or, rather, the image of Haloes, on a tablet being held by a fearful Earl, one of the junior pirates.

Osolo listened as she filled him in on the events of the last few hours: During routine scans, Abe had observed someone coming out of the Cabra, through the engine room airlock. He had assumed it was Hal, doing some kind of middle-of-the-night maintenance. The figure had thrown some things into space, and shortly afterward, the cargo ship’s sails had suffered severe damage from multiple explosions. Caleb had gone out to attempt heroic repairs, only to die when the sails violently decircularized, cutting him in half. Since then, chaos had reigned, with the brothers being distraught and overwhelmed with the emergency. Haloes reported that she had gotten them mostly headed in one direction, but it was rough going. They had figured out that something bad was happening on the Cabra, but could offer no assistance. No one had responded to the radio, so she had turned to the ‘net, with no luck, until she made a connection with Earl.

Earl interjected that he had just being going along with his buddy Jamison’s plan. They had just hired on for theft, he said, not killing – nobody was supposed to get hurt.

Osolo took all of this in, then asked one question of Haloes: “Who are you?”

She removed her veil, revealing herself to be a surprisingly grown-up Rahne. (“Haloes Nor” being an anagram of “Rahne Solo”, naturally.) She quickly explained that she had cranked up the speed of puberty when she had realized she wasn’t going to stay with “those a–holes”, referring to her two stepfathers. Finally up to speed, Osolo asked for some privacy while he got dressed and ransacked Jasmine’s room.

Meanwhile, having been bought off by Jasmine before she was “paid off”, Felix had the run of the ship. He idly wandered down to the sick bay, finding the place torn apart by a previous search. He also discovered Mel, lying unconscious on one of her own beds. After an efficient look around, he turned up a half-full box of smelling salts, apparently the target of the previous searcher, as well. He applied the stuff, bringing Mel around. After a quick summary of everything that had happened, including how Felix had accepted the pirate’s offer in an effort at subterfuge, Mel was ready to hunt down the pirates and throw them out the airlock, one and all. And Jasmine, twice.

On the upper cargo deck, Hal came to, with both his squirrels working together to smack him awake. He skulked about, making sure that he was alone. Looking out through the windows in the cargo bay door, he saw that the ships were no longer flying in formation. One of the other ship’s sails were missing, while the other was far more distant than it should have been. At the same time, he heard the distinctive sound of magnetic boots on the ship’s hull over his head. Considering the evidence, Hal concluded that they were in the hands of pirates. Declaring that having his sails working for pirates was an insult beyond bearing, he entered the engine room, ready to take it back if he found it occupied. Luckily, it was not. He went directly to the main controls for the sails, and cut the power, causing them to instantly go slack.  (If the Cabra were a car, this would be the equivalent of throwing sugar in the gas tank. If it were a sailing ship, it would be like setting fire to the mainsail. Hal was righteously furious.)  All around the ship, people were thrown off-balance as the thrust from the sails unexpectedly stopped.

Felix and Mel proceeded up to the control room, planning to take control of the ship, with Felix leading the way. Outside the control room, they found Terreno, sleeping, cuddling his bottle of drugged tequila. They woke him, using more of the smelling salts, and entered. Inside, they surprised Jamison having a moment with his bong, causing an unfortunate spill on the controls. Terreno applied a sleeper hold to the hapless hireling while Mel surveyed the damage, which turned out to be fixable, but not in a hurry. While the control room crew took care of business, Felix headed towards the engine room to see what could be done about the sails.

Back in Jasmine’s room, Osolo discovered her stash of TL10 makeup, but little of use. Having a sudden feeling that Bubba was alive and in trouble, he dropped his search and left. Taking Earl with him as a lookout, he went to his room to arm up, then moved towards the central cargo bay through the ship’s crawlspaces, with an eye towards manning his cargo loading suit.

Rahne made contact with Mel through the ‘net, briefly, and filled her in on the details. Aside from what she had already told Osolo, she added that they had observed two people on the hull. The connection failed as Jarvis began acting in an erratic fashion. In short order, the program failed entirely under external attack. Having had enough of all this, Mel moved towards the kitchen, looking to take down as many pirates as she could.

Hal suited up to go out and knock whoever it was off the outside of his ship. As he was entering the airlock, Felix arrived. They conferred briefly before Hal went on ahead, leaving Felix to find the spear guns. Outside on the hull, Hal found two suited figures already engaged in a cat-and-mouse shootout. He tackled the closer of the two, which gave the other, larger figure an opening. The big man put his fist through the grappled man’s helmet visor, exposing him to raw vacuum. Hal released the wounded man, turning towards the other. Just as he was about to attack, the other man raised his visor shade, showing his face.

It was Bubba. (!!) Hal reacted with understandable enthusiasm. Meanwhile, the pirate staggered away, making for the airlock in a desperate struggle for life. Just as he made it to the door, the airlock opened in front of him, revealing Felix, suited, bearing two loaded spear guns. Between a rock and a hard place, the man gestured wildly for several seconds before losing consciousness from lack of oxygen. Hal and Bubba grabbed him and hustled them all into the airlock. After introductions and some discussion, the three crew members left the airlock, then cycled it with the pirate still inside. Bubba declared that he was after Mung, but displayed a wanted notice with Sabra’s picture on it. (Sabra, remember, was the Core Worlder passenger who had been travelling with her own cargo since the start of Season 2. She had been all but forgotten in all the excitement.)

In the control room, Terreno finalized the course calculations. As it stood, the Cabra was headed for a landing on Earth-That-Was. Without the sails, even stretching the rockets to their utmost, they could not make stable orbit.

Mel found herself under the gun of the Hackett kid before she made it into the kitchen. Thinking quickly, she managed to dive for cover without being wounded, then took to the crawlspaces to flank him. Sneaking to a position over the dining room table, she peeked through a ventilation duct, seeing Mick and Sabra, the long-term passenger, playing a TL10 card game. She was just about to leap down in a frenzy of destruction when a voice in her head told her to come down and join the game. Unable to resist, she complied.

At the table, Mel realized that Sabra was in charge here. During their talk, Sabra revealed that she was the real Jasmine Mung. Their “Jasmine” had actually been a front the entire time. She had started life on a poor asteroid, then been picked up and given psychic brainwashing to give her a new identity. Her telepathic powers had actually been on loan from the real Mung. Playing on her insight into psychology, Mel finally distracted Mung and gathered enough willpower to take back control of her body, at least enough to drive a hypodermic into Mung’s hand – a previously-prepared hypodermic full of curare.

Her victory was short-lived, however, as Mick hit her upside her head with his pistol, knocking her unconscious.

In the main cargo bay, Osolo made it to his loader. Just as he was getting ready to slide into the bench seat, he was interrupted by the sound of a triple-barrel shotgun being racked and a voice ordering him to freeze. It was Dirk Hackett, the apparent elder of the two Hacketts. When Dirk quickly got tired of Osolo’s verbal sparring, he moved to shoot him in the knee, but Osolo dodged and threw a knife at the pirate, taking him in the abdomen. This caused the man to sit down and re-think his career choices, while Osolo quickly moved to secure the shotgun.

Mick interrupted the crew by announcing over the ship’s intercom that he had Mel. He demanded that everyone gather in the main cargo hold. Faced with a hostage situation, the crew mostly complied, and gathered to lurk in the hold. They rapidly barricaded many of the entrances, hoping to channel the pirate into a door of their choosing. This fell through when the kid came on ahead and blew open one of the welded doors with his laser pistol.

Mick entered, using Mel as a shield. He began to explain his take on things: while there was plenty of reason for hard feelings on all sides, the thing to do at this point was to work together to make sure everyone survived. His speech was cut abruptly short when Felix came out of the shadows and put a knife to his throat.

Mick was willing to give up his weapon, requesting only that they pry the cat off his leg. Looking down, Felix discovered that Nuku-chan had apparently had enough, too. She was latched on to Mick’s leg with both sets of front claws and her fangs.

Since he could see that things were going wrong, the kid was still a threat. Felix directed Nuku-chan to “go get ‘im!” She ran off. There was the sound of laser fire and screams of pain, then silence… before Nuku-chan popped up in the doorway, dragging the kid’s unconscious body by the scruff of the neck.

In the aftermath, Mel and Felix agreed to split Jasmine’s makeup stash. There was no particular protest to the idea of throwing all of the pirates, including Jasmine’s body, out the airlock, with the exception of Earl and Jamison, who were placed under lock. The crew got the bad news about their course from Terreno.

While securing the ship, the crew heard a banging from the shuttle bay, as if someone were ramming the van into the walls. Upon investigation, Bubba found that the van had been broken loose from its moorings, and the walls were badly damaged, particularly the rocket fuel. With no gravity, the entire shuttle bay was filled with floating balls of fuel. One of the shuttles was badly damaged, as well.

Free of pirates, the crew faced the problem of being adrift and headed towards Earth-That-Was.


– – – – –

A note about the crunch:  when Jasmine saw into Mick’s mind, I called for a Fright Check roll, with a penalty for learning that everything she thought she knew about herself was actually a lie. The dice and the system came together perfectly, giving a result that set her up, in accordance with Mick’s evil plan, to be blindsided by the “kid”.