Session # 26 Recap
The pilots of Beta Flight have successfully insinuated themselves into the Imperial Warlord Grand Moff Kain's Pentastar Alignment. But the information they've gathered thus far is cryptic, and putting the pieces together will require even deeper infiltration. How far will they go before it's too late to escape?
Aboard the Imperial vessel Thunderer, the undercover operatives of Mynock Squadron receive a briefing from the ship’s commander, Captain Vidas. Vidas says that upper echelons have caught wind of the newly-arrived TIE-Defenders, and has ordered the vessels and their pilots transferred elsewhere. After a routine cargo escort mission to the surface of Orbit1, the pilots will be billeted in barracks for a night and then undergo a security clearance with the Pentastar Alignment’s Executive Flight Commander and await further orders. Vidas says his guess is that the Defenders will be showcased at the Alignment Military Review that will take place planetside the day after tomorrow.
As the pilots head towards the hangar bay, Kero tells Warik that he’s pretty good at military stuff and asks if they’re going to follow this all the way through. Warik says they will. In the hangar, a technician is downloading flight logs from the Defenders. While they wait for launch permission, Keth polishes his starfighter and Kero makes several suggestions regarding vitamin supplements for the others. Once in space, the Defenders form up around a large cargo shuttle and escort it down towards the surface of the nearby planet. The group fly over what looks like the bulk of the Alignment’s fleet, including many vessels not designed for terrestial landings. Even more intriguing, several ziggurat-like pyramids of black basalt have been constructed in the area, and Kero and Warik can discern that the structures have been erected relatively recently.
The cargo drop-off point is a large, squat building with hangar doors on each sides; a massive prefab shipping container lays adjacent to one of the doors. The cargo shuttle lands on the opposite side and several stormtroopers descend the landing ramp to take up guard positions. Civilians begin filing out of the shuttle and into the building, and Mikaela recognizes from their clothing that they’re the same people recently abducted from Planet 3201. As the Mynocks circle the area, they notice someone wriggling out through a small crack in the side of the building! Once free, the civilian crouches low to the ground and waits for several others to emerge in a similar fashion. The group then dash, unseen by the stormtroopers at the doors, toward the perimeter of the area and potential escape. Warik, however, decides that he and the other pilots must maintain their cover as loyal Imperials. He brings his Defender down to hover over the escapees and broadcasts through his loudspeaker to get down on the ground or he’ll open fire. Warik’s threat is taken seriously, and the escapees obey while Mikaela comms the guards to round them up. Even from the air, Kero can tell that the escapees act like they’re recovering from sedation. Once the escapees are returned inside the building, some time passes until the cargo shuttle flies to the far side of the building and is loaded with the shipping container. It then departs spaceward, and the Defenders are given clearance to set down at a landing field nearby that appears to be a small part of a major military base.
The pilots are assigned bunks and left to their own devices for the rest of the day. Kero inspects the medical facilities available and lambastes their poor quality. Mikaela scouts the perimeter and tries to gain entry to a stormtrooper barracks, but is told that space jockeys aren’t welcome. Warik uses a computer terminal to skim as much material as his current security classification will allow, and his diligent efforts are rewarded when he comes across a startling document: orders from the Alignment’s Executive Flight Commander to Captain Vidas to dispatch a Gamma-class Assault Shuttle “to investigate long-range sensor anomalies and perform a mineral survey” of the planetoid known to the Mynocks as XM-315: the exact location the Gatecrasher is currently orbiting! Warik takes his squad out for calisthenics and, when away from unfriendly ears, tells them about the message. Mikaela suggests igniting nearby fuel drums as a distraction and then sending a warning from a nearby communications center, but Kero knows that any messages transmitted from within the Imperial security net may be intercepted and monitored. Instead, the group decides to try to convince the base commander to allow them to go on an ostensibly routine practice flight to get ready for the upcoming military parade. Although the base commander is reluctant, Warik and Kero manage to persuade him how important it is that the pilots be able to fly in formation and carry off some impressive maneuvers.
Once they’re in space, Warik leads the group on a roundabout path until they’ve drifted out of the Imperial security net and are beyond sensor detection. Then the pilots accelerate their Defenders to maximum speed in a bid to get to the Gatecrasher in time to deliver the warning. Kero and Mikaela’s vessels suffer some minor mechanical problems and are unable to keep up, but Warik and Keth continue on. Major Dei and Lt. Tuvolo are waiting for them inside the Gatecrasher’s hangar bay, and Warik quickly explains that he and the others have successfully infiltrated the Alignment and have witnessed the Imperials abducting and perhaps indoctrinating the locals; more, there are “planet-buster” starships being constructed in orbit around Planet 2505. Warik tells of the impending military review, and then adds the most important information of all: the impending arrival of the Imperial shuttle. Major Dei says the Gatecrasher will likely have to head to the nearby asteroid field, but that the priority for Beta Flight is to maintain their cover, identify the full nature of these starships under construction, and investigate whether the abducted locals might form the core of a rebel force. When asked, Dei tells Warik that if an opportunity presents itself, Grand Moff Kain should be considered a legitimate military target. As Warik and Keth return to their Defenders, they receive a rare word of praise from Tuvolo.
On the return flight to Imperial space, Warik forges fake flight records for the group, and the quality of his deception is masterful. In addition, he puts the team through some delta formation barrel rolls and practice runs so they’ll have something to show for their time away. After they return to the base, Mikaela has little luck gathering word from the tight-lipped Imperials about the Alignment’s command crew, and Kero continues her medical research. When night falls, the pilots decide to get some shuteye so they’re fresh for their security clearance meeting in the morning.
In the morning, the pilots are taken to the base's fortified HQ for their security clearance meeting with the Alignment's Executive Flight Commander. When the door to the Commander's office swishes open, Warik is startled to see a figure from his past in the role: Jax! Warik and Jax had shared tumultuous times as friends and then lovers throughout their training to be Imperial pilots before serving together in the elite Black Squadron. The relationship ended with hard feelings, and Jax believed Warik had died during the explosion that led to his cybernetic reconstruction.
Jax remains curt as she orders the pilots to stand at attention and explains that she was surprised to see Warik's name appear on her data-terminal as part of the very fortuitous arrival of four TIE-Defenders on this side of Dorval's Wall. She interrogates the pilots about their story but they stick to it doggedly. At last, she dismisses everyone but Warik. The two discuss the concept of loyalty, and Jax asks Warik to explain how he survived the explosion that destroyed so much of his body. "By a measure of grace," he explains, leading Jax to say she suspects that's the first true thing he's told her this day. Nonetheless, she authorises security clearances for the group, telling Warik that if he betrays her again as he did before, it will be the last time.
The pilots return to their assigned barracks. Mikaela and Kero discuss ships, Keth relaxes, and Warik concentrates almost obsessively on shining his new Imperial uniform. Kero keeps a close eye on their silent leader, but there are no further incidents that evening.
At 0500 the following morning, Warik wakes the others for calisthenics. When they're away from prying eyes, he tells the others that they'll be walking a tightrope as they're sure to be under heavy observation. He explains how he grew up with Jax and was involved with her in the past, and that she's not a woman to trifle with as it's not easy being female and rising to a position of authority in the Empire. Mikaela says that being a fellow woman with an Imperial past might give her a way to ingratiate herself with Jax for intelligence-gathering purposes. Warik suggests Kero should continue using her medical expertise as a cover for snooping around, but Kero seems confused by the idea. Keth is told that because no one ever pays any attention to him, he may have a good opportunity to slip away and investigate what the Imperials are doing here. When asked what the overall plan is, Warik says that although they have a kill authorization on Kain, they won't take it yet--they need to insinuate themselves further into the Alignment.
After calisthenics, the pilots head towards a briefing room for instructions on their role during the military review. On the way, Kero whispers to Mikaela and Keth that she thinks Warik might be cracking up--he called her "doctor"! During the briefing, the pilots are told that they're to follow the rest of the fleet's TIEs in formation, and then to wheel away and put on an impressive demonstration of the Defender's abilities before landing on the third terrace from the top of the grandstand to salute Kain.
The day progresses until time for the review arrives. The undercover members of Beta Flight take their TIE-Defenders into the sky and join up with a formation of thousands of other TIEs. Flying about fifty kilometers from the base, they see a massive ziggurat-shaped temple serving as the grandstand for the Alignment's leadership hierarchy. Imperial ground forces and Naval officers march past the temple in lockstep, and it's clear to Warik that almost the entire membership of the entire fleet must have been temporarily stripped of their regular duties to put on such an impressive display. The time for the flyover comes and the huge armada of TIEs, flying in close ranks, almost blocks out the sun. When the Defenders roll away in a delta formation and begin their maneuvers, Keth and Kero perform adequately and Warik looks impressive. But Mikaela's freestyling tests the Defender's capability to the limits in an awesome display of flying skill that draws appreciative shouts and whistles from the crowd below.
The pilots land on the third terrace from the top of the pyramid and offer their salutes to Grand Moff Kain. Kero and Warik notice a hooded figure in the shadows behind him, and both Warik and Mikaela feel a familiar sense of unease. After receiving their salutes, Kain begins his speech to the assembled masses, his voice amplified by technology. He explains how the Alignment's apparent retreat behind Dorval's Wall was planned long in advance in order for the Second Empire Protocol to have time to develop. As he speaks, the three gigantic pyramid-shaped vessels that the pilots had earlier seen in orbit under construction touch down on one side of the parade grounds. From another, rhythmic marching can be heard as legions of silver figures stream past and into the vessels. Grand Moff Kain's master plan is revealed: by infecting thousands of civilians with the nanoshape virus, he's created an unstoppable army that will only grow stronger as it spreads by invasion and contagion. And to deliver this heinous payload, three massive vessels constructed with but one purpose: to drop out of hyperspace, crash into a vital New Republic planet, and set loose the nanoshaped to convert the populace and bring the planet irrevocably under Kain's absolute control. As the pilots of Mynock Squadron watch helplessly, Kain finishes his speech by promising that this time, the Rebel pretenders will be brought to their knees and the Empire will be reborn.
Director's Commentary (31/03/2017)
We're getting into the last handful of sessions of the campaign. I've mentioned before that I was often crammed for prep time with this one, so I had to do a lot of improv. Fortunately, Star Wars Saga Edition is more forgiving in that respect than some game systems (like Pathfinder). This was also a really stressful period in my life and, despite the players and the game itself being great, running this became a chore that I often couldn't wait to finish. All part of my later avowal that I'll never again run two campaigns simultaneously!
I liked the moral dilemma forced on the PCs when they had to decide whether to allow the prisoners to escape and risk their undercover roles being discovered, or stop the escape and consign the prisoners to whatever fate (and the Imperials) had in store for them. Good, naturally occuring moral dilemmas like this are too rare in gaming.
I was happy with the twist of the Pentastar Alignment's Executive Flight Commander being an NPC from Warik's backstory. It's not always easy to make PC backstories relevant, but I try to when I can so they know that the time they put into writing them isn't wasted. The hard part is that role-playing them (as a GM) might not match up to how the player imagined them.
The bad guys' ultimate plan revealed! I thought the idea of the massive ships being nothing but engines and deflector shields to allow them to crash into planets and release the Nanoshaped was pretty cool. And, the PCs got the first hint of a mysterious power behind Grand Moff Kain . . .