by Stefan Jones
This adventure begins on Shelvimayas, one of the corporate worlds described in Space Atlas 2.
The bars and clubs of Kloakka (Shelvimayas' starport) are buzzing with news and rumors of a new "startup." Golden Helix Facilitators, a genetic engineering firm, is building a base on Rock-In-The-Middle, a volcanic island in Impolite Pointer Sea. A gang of laborers who helped erect the base claim that GHF is adapting baleen whales to breathe methane and eat Shelvimayan sea life.
Properly modified, these creatures could replace the inefficient algae-skimming fleets, endangering the fortunes of Shelvimayas' other corporate inhabitants.
Soon after the rumors start, the adventurers (who are new arrivals themselves, without strong ties to any of the local firms) are approached by agents from AmBio, an immense Interstellar whose relatively tiny Shelvimayan branch is the largest chemical operation on the planet. The corporates offer the characters $5,000 each (and, if required, quick transportation off-planet) to infiltrate GHF's new base and report on the goings-on. The first $1,000 of the fee is paid immediately; the rest is placed in an escrow account. The agents make vague hints about "bonuses" for especially good work . . . but their exact meaning is not clear. Characters familiar with AmBio reputation will know that the company has an excellent reputation and does not initiate terrorism (though, like any megacorp, it will hit back if attacked violently).
Though Golden Helix's security is tight (the island and surrounding sea are patrolled by armed hovercraft) characters who are curious about the operation will find themselves presented with a "Golden Opportunity." GHF begins advertising for skilled seamen and bargehands . . . none of whom show up at GHF's Kloakka recruiting office. It seems GHF has a bad reputation; they pay high but demand a lot from their workers and enforce strict discipline during work hours. PCs who are not scared off by these rumors will be able to negotiate a fairly lucrative five-week contract. (It's an "Average" job with a cumula-tive weekly bonus, payable at the end of the job. The bonus is $500 the first week, $1,000 the next, $1,500 the third and so on.)
Transportation to Rock-In-The-Middle island is via a rickety airbus. As the craft approaches the base, ominous plumes of steam can be seen rising from cracks in the ground and bubbling out of the sea. GHF personnel will assure the PCs that this is "of no danger," and that the geothermal activity of the region helps power the facility. The base's barracks and shops are crude and uncomfortable; recreational facilities consist of a plain room with two couches and a jukebox. As rumored, the work schedule is harsh and supervisors intolerant of laziness. The first weeks on the job will be spent finishing a cracking plant – sure sign that algae-processing will be going on – but no one is permitted the shore, where furious activity is taking place behind fences and armed patrols.
Finally, the PCs will get what they came for, a ride on Great Moby II, a 150-yard cyborg sea creature. It is definitely not a whale . . . the beast was airlifted in from another methane-atmosphere world. Careful inquiries will reveal that it was a product of genetic engineering, but not by humans. The Golden Helix biologists explain that it was modified by a long-extinct civilization to help "terraform" new methane worlds by scooping up and destroying life of one biochemical base and replacing it with another, mutually incompatible strain. After removing the beast's higher brain centers and disabling the organs that produced the alternate biota, GHF engineers implanted living quarters, filters to catch the algae and nerve-stimulators to let the crew steer the creature. The adventurers will note with great relief that the animal floats on the surface, diving only in dire emergency.
The adventurers will find the cruise interesting, to say the least. While they brave horrid weather to tend deck gear and algae compressors, the klutzy, imperious bioengineers who "cyborged" the beast will fight a constant battle to keep the control systems going and life support working. Rapid acceleration, pitching and startling course changes will be commonplace; leaks in the cabins will develop as the animal's crazed twists and turns warp the hull-metal. Several days into the cruise the creature's "terraforming" organs will finish their regeneration (the people who built the animal in the first place wanted it to last) and kick into gear, poisoning the seas for kilometers around with inimical microbes.
The party's first challenge is to survive. Then, if they choose, they can report back to AmBio. AmBio will be fascinated by the report and will want the agents to return and learn more. The adventure could soon go offplanet, either to the Golden Helix home base or to the world where Great Moby was originally discovered. And even Golden Helix doesn't know that Great Moby wasn't a peaceful terraforming tool. His race was actually a very successful biological weapon, designed to wreck ecologies. And he's getting ready to bud, back on Shelvimayas . . .
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