Friday, June 28, 2013

USS Carter 12

12: Battle for the Burning Nebula

Synopsis: The joint Federation-Betazed fleet moves in to engage the Klingon stations in the Burning Nebula. To their surprise, the conflict is shortened by the appearance of the Tholian Assembly, who have claimed the center of the Nebula as a territorial annex. The Tholains yank the Klingon ships, along with the USS Petrov, into the interphase. Only the Carter has a chance to get the Petrov back by following them through an interphase rift and negotiating with the enigmatic silicon life forms.

This session's Hook is the arrival of a Medusan[1] scientist Kkrek who will educate the science and engineering staff, along with a stretched thin Captain Sakhet, on his race’s knowledge of the Interphase. It’s pretty clear after the Han implosion that this intra-dimensional space is how Bardek & the Klingons are evading Federation patrols. I expect that Sakhet will set the techie types towards building a way to block, reverse, sense or otherwise alter Interphase space while she returns to the planning.

That planning, and the trip into the Nebula is Plot Turn 1. In addition to the science cruisers Carter, Champollion, Fourrier, & Linneas, cruisers Aerie, Lenov, Potemkin & Farragut[2], destroyers Mowbry, Asante & Frost, and the Adlai Stevenson acting as a communications relay we have the Betazed ships Peacekeeper, Vigilance & Nix. The Andorian P'tel Keth volunteered six vessels as navigators & medical platforms - each one holds a Deltan navigator. At his request, the Deltan Dro remains on the Carter. This is the largest fleet since the Anaxar rebellion, and the little Carter is the flagship.

Once we have some scenes with Sakhet and Funk getting control of the disparate command egos (And, if Jason can make it, they’ll be things with the Betazed as well) the players can get down to planning, with some of NPCs chiming in. The validity of any plan will be driven in part with how clever I think it is but mostly how well Sakhet and Funk do on their Tactics – Space and Tactics – Klingon rolls: the PCs are certainly superior to the players on this, but I don’t want the player contribution to be nothing but throwing some dice. The most important NPC present is Capt. Benjamin Saleah, Sakhet’s romantic interest. If I think we have time, I’ll fit in a scene with them trading back rubs or something. Then the ships head into the nebula – cue some tense music, but keep things moving quickly.

The actual fight is Pinch 1, and while I will play it straight for the Carter I’ll be doing a lot of abstracting of damage to the other ships: there are just too many pieces in play, but I had to put in a lot of pieces to show the scale of the event. As the fight is going on the science crew will pick up growing points of interphasic energy signatures surrounding the center of the nebula, which is also the battlefield. The players will have evidence that there might be a larger problem, though they might think it’s a mass of new Klingon ships preparing to materialize.

Hopefully the Midpoint will take them a little off guard, though it is well grounded in the original show’s canon: 24 Tholian webships will appear around the edges of the battle and a) begin encasing the area with a force web b) state that they will no longer tolerate the intrusions into the interphase by inhabitants of this universe and c) declare this area and five others in the nebula Tholain Annexation Zones. Some Klingon ships engage them and fall to concentrated fire, and I expect the Federation ships will move out of the area to assess what’s happening – something the Klingons can’t do because it would mean abandoning their space stations. Of the Federation ships the Lenov (Saleah’s ship) is the most hurt and will be unable to escape before the Tholains yank everything inside the force field into Interphasic space. Benjamin’s Gone!

Pinch 2 is likely to be an assessment of their chances at getting the Lenov back, and the Carter is the only ship with the prototype Interphasic device. Hard core technobabble will let them re-open an interphasic pinhole left by one of the Tholian ships – a real chance for the engineering and science crews to excel. Once in the Interphase they, and the Lenov, will be surrounded by Tholain ships claiming that everything from the annexation zone is now property of the Tholain assembly, and they should be prepared for assessment.

Plot Turn 2 returns the game to its diplomatic roots: the Lenov needs to be repaired or its crew needs to be beamed over to the Carter (Stephen once lovingly calculated the amount of people the Carter could hold in an emergency, so that might be an issue here), which means delaying or treating with the Tholains in a pure first contact situation with an extra-dimensional, silicon based life form. The Tholians are a highly ordered species – they have castes based on specialized job functions, with individual members physically growing into the needs of their function: a cross between an insect hive and Niven & Pournell’s Moties.

In other words, forcing a common ground will be hard, but someone will have to do so. And to my mind the most logical choice is Dr. Knox. The good doctor has had less screen time this season, in part because we have been focusing on Kristen’s other PC, Pelski, and his romance with Lt. Raven, but also because I have had a lot of hard science puzzles or military encounters. Since Knox is meant to be Kristen’s primary PC I want to give her some spotlight time on this. I might be wrong: Sakhet might claim the job, or Dr. Mark with her Cultural Flexibility & Xenology skills, or they might outfit Coy Mahn and have her go over & start blasting! They’re players, after all, and I can only predict so much. I do really want to see Knox leaping through the interphase to the Tholain ship in her highly personalized belter space suit

I’m hoping the Resolution can be run as parallel threads: one with the cultural contact with the Tholians and one with trying to rescue people from the Lenov (or repair the Lenov) without the Tholians noticing. It is just impossible for the cultural divide with the Tholians to be bridged in this sort a time – especially as they are an on again/off again threat race into Kirk’s time in command – but much of the design of next season will be based on how well the PCs do here.  Or, if the PCs totally bollux things up, they’ll have to activate their “get out of Interphase free” device when their representative is still off the ship, leaving the Lenov behind. Now that would be a cliffhanger for next season – especially if Captain Saleah is still trapped as well!
Regardless of how that plays out, the immediate threat from the Klingons will be resolved: the Tholains will stamp down on anyone trying to fly a ship through the Interphase again, which is why it doesn’t happen going forward, and the Tholains retain a monopoly on Trek’s only hyperspace drives. The Klingon bases are gone from the quadrant, and without the interphase they have no quick or safe way to re-stock. Without the Klingons there’s no one trying to start a war in the Federation’s back yard.

It’s not wine and roses, however. Affairs with the Betazeds are still tricky (especially if any of their ships were lost in this action) and the Federation has essentially traded the enemy they knew for one they don’t in the Tholians. The silicon life forms aren’t inherently hostile, but they are all but incomprehensible and possessed of incredibly powerful alien technologies.