The New Republic ship Gatecrasher has penetrated Dorval's Wall in search of the always-dangerous Grand Moff Kain and his fleet. The Gatecrasher took heavy damage coming through the wall, and while repairs are underway its only hope of survival is to stay hidden at the edge of the planetary system. But information is paramount, and the pilots of the new iteration of Mynock Squadron's Beta Flight have been sent to scout the area and, if an opportunity presents itself, to infiltrate Kain's "Pentastar Alignment." With a new leader, a new member, and new ships, can they shoulder the burden?
The new members of Beta Flight work quickly to prepare for the dangerous mission ahead. The plan is for Warik and Mikaela to use their real identities and pose as former Imperials who found themselves in possession of the TIE-Defenders and now seek to rejoin the fold. Kero and Keth will pose as smugglers, with Kero code-named "Princess" and Keth code-named "Squeek." The team scuffs up their jumpsuits and Mikaela expertly adds some cosmetic wear and tear to the Defenders. When the initial passive sensors report of the surrounding planetary system comes in, it becomes clear that the Gatecrasher entered at a fortuitous location, shielded from detection by a nearby planetoid on the very brink of Dorval's Wall. Coreward, a binary star designated HR 8799 is orbited by three planets: one of them is habitable, one of them is a high-pressure environment, and the third is unknown. In addition to the planets, the sensors reveal a metallic debris field and a large asteroid belt in the system.
Once the four pilots have launched and left the Gatecrasher behind (with strict orders not to take any actions to reveal its presence), Warik decides that the first step on the scouting mission is to swing by the asteroid belt. Out of an abundance of caution, the active sensors on the TIE-Defenders remain turned off; a purely visual inspection reveals nothing more than a dense collection of rocks. Mikaela adroitly weaves through an outer layer of the field, but turns back before she penetrates too deeply into the interior. Warik gives the order to continue on to the large metallic debris field. In the time it takes to get there, it becomes obvious that Kero's Defender is suffering from mechanical difficulties, as she's been radio-silent the whole time. Still, she seems capable of trailing the others. When the Defenders approach the debris field, it is clear a massive battle has taken place as there are dozens of hulks of large vessels and hundreds of smaller ones. Some of the vessels are of Imperial design, but most are of unknown origin. Warik gives the word to activate sensors, and Mikaela picks up a steady, strong concentration of power near the center of the field. However, sensors also detect a vessel approaching the field from the far side--Warik's expertise in starship design tells him it's an MRX-84 Pacifier (an Imperial scout ship) that has been outfitted with special hardpoints to facilitate null-g deployment. Warik immediately opens a com-signal to the vessel. The startled commander of the scout ship says he wasn't expecting to find any other Imperial vessels in the area. Warik proceeds to spin his tale of having been part of a group continuing the fight against the New Republic when their base ship crashed through Dorval's Wall and disintegrated. After several minutes of radio silence while the scout ship communicates with parties unknown, the Defenders are ordered to form up, with weapons deactivated, in order to be escorted towards the planet nearest the system's sun.
When the Defenders approach the planet, they see no signs of the bulk of Grand Moff Kain's fleet--instead, a small collection of support ships and light cruisers are in orbit around the planet. The undercover pilots are ordered to land in the hangar bay of the the Imperial frigate Thunderer, and when they do so they see an armed contingent of stormtroopers waiting for them. Warik, Keth, and Mikaela exit their vessels just as the Thunderer's commander, a Captain Vidas, enters. Warik repeats his story about how the group came into possession of the Defenders and through Dorval's Wall. Noticing that no one has yet exited from the fourth Defender, Captain Vidas orders it breached and an Imperial team forcibly removes the canopy to reveal an unconscious Kero--clearly, another malfunction led to a perilous drop in oxygen. While Kero is taken to the ship's med-bay under armed guard, Vidas tells the others that they'll be restricted to a single secure deck of the ship while their stories are checked. Some hours later, an aide informs Warik and Mikaela that although the ship's computer databases suffered heavy damage during its passage through the Wall, sufficient personal history and biometric data could be found to validate their identity as having served as Imperial operatives at some point in recent history. The two are given expanded access to the ship while waiting for personnel administrators to decide on an assignment within the fleet. Keth, in the role of "Squeek," however, is treated as mercenary scum by an aide and told he has two options: volunteer for the Imperial Navy or be conscripted. He chooses the former and is assigned to a janitorial detail pending further evaluation. When Kero eventually awakens in the med-bay, she remembers to play her role as a mercenary but leverages her knowledge of battlefield medicine to get an assignment as a triage aide.
The next few days pass quickly as the undercover operatives use their new positions to try to gain intelligence on what the Pentastar Alignment is doing in the system. Most of the other Imperials are rather close-lipped around the newcomers, who are still watched by ship security, but they are able to glean a few pieces of information. Warik is able to delicately slice into some databases from the terminal in his quarters to discern that the ship is still undergoing repairs for recent battle damage and that large areas of the ship have been retrofitted as some sort of secure containment area for live cargo. Kero cleverly examines medical library requests and purchase orders to discover that the ship has been involved with high-pressure beings in relation to the second planet orbiting the system's sun. In addition, mass quantities of sedatives have been synthesized. The pilots are able to share most of this information with each other through a "chance" meeting in the mess hall.
Later, the Thunderer makes the short in-system journey to the third planet around the sun. Warik and Mikaela are given orders to fly escort for shuttles headed to the surface. The small gathering of ships descend quickly into the atmosphere of a lush planet and head toward what can only be the wreckage of several massive groundcrawlers. The shuttles land and stormtroopers begin scouring the wreckage--they find several humans hiding and force them, at gunpoint, to board the shuttles. When the stormtroopers signal that they've found everyone, the entire group of ships return to the Thunderer. Keth arranges to be cleaning up a spill in the hangar bay where the shuttles land, and he sees humans in ragged clothing, with their hands bound, being led away by stormtroopers. Keth asks one of the stormtroopers where they're headed, and is told "Deck 17--you know what that means."
When the Thunderer is back in geostationary orbit around the first planet around the system's sun, Mikaela and Warik are ordered to conduct some training flights to demonstrate the capabilities of the Defenders to Imperial pilots who are still mainly relying on early model TIE-Fighters and Bombers. Warik is careful to give slightly inaccurate information during these training missions. On one such jaunt, Mikaela and Warik take their trainees to the far side of the planet and witness a startling sight: three massive vessels, nearing the size of Star Destroyers but ziggurat-like in shape, are under construction and nearing completion. But Mikaela discerns something strange: the vessels include only shields, hyperdrives, and the most rudimentary nav-controls--with no life-support, crew quarters, or weaponry! Soon after she and Warik return, the two are summoned to a briefing room and find Kero there as well. The ship's flight commander explains that the three pilots will be heading to the planet below, and starts to provide details.
Director's Commentary (16/03/2017)
This session was a difficult one to prepare for, and I had to run much of it by the seat of my pants. I had a map of the solar system ready, but only very rough ideas in my mind of what would be on each planet. The challenge was that, unlike previous story arcs which were very clear "mission objective" based, the PCs were given a lot of latitude in this session and could have gone pretty much anywhere. The preparation challenge was exacerbated by the fact that I was simultaneously running a very crunch-heavy D&D 3.5 campaign, so I had very little spare time to get details ready for this one. Although it all seems to hang together in the recap, I'm always very stressed when directing sessions I'm not prepped for, and I enjoy the experience a lot less.
The PCs did surprisingly well with their early Deception checks to pose as Imperials, so it turned out there wasn't any action this session. They started to get the first hints of what the overall plot of this story arc would turn out to be.