Countdown Revisited

The follow Adventure Seed draws on the basic concept of the FASA adventure ‘Countdown’ with a different spin on the antagonists. The outline was also posted to the Dr Who: Adventures in Time & Space message board.

The time travellers find themselves aboard a medical frigate completing a courier run to the Maia system. The people of that system have been struck by a plague, the cure for which can only be synthesized from materials available outside the system. The medical frigate crew show determination in their task, but significant paranoia about the strangers in their midst, as the medicine they carry holds an intrinsic and significant value on the black market.

Currently only mid-journey, and experiencing some sporadic engine problems that the travellers might well assist with, the crew pick up a distress transmission from a nearby ship. Closer investigation reveals an ancient-looking colony ship dangerously low on power reserves, but showing clear life signatures on bio-scans. Research reveals colony ships of this model carried colonists in suspended animation tended by robotic maintenance crews and a generational commander, and his family, passing the role of captain down during the ships lengthy voyage.

Investigation reveals a lot of tunnels and cavernous bays filled with semi-functional technology. When the characters find the hibernation deck, they find scenes of sickening devastation, with shattered stasis tubes and savaged colonists. It should appear that some alien invader penetrated the ship and attacked the colonists in their sleep (and playing up the ‘Alien’-angle may well increase the tension).

However, in reality the generational command family died out from a genetic disease and the ship gradually floated into a interstitual rift, where it and the medical frigate currently sit – leaking power. The robotic crew, seeking to both maintain the ship and save the colonists, started cannabilising organic parts as their internal systems failed. Experimentation, and dozens of pointless deaths, allowed half-a-dozen robots to stabilize themselves in a cybernetic half-life where brains and re-purposed organs keep them functional and capable of sustaining what few colonists still remain.

The Cybermen seek to claim the medical frigate – equipped with cargo holds and cryogenic systems – to serve as a new colony ship, shifting across the few remain colonists. The existing cargo of the frigate doesn’t matter to them – it’s just consuming valuable space, nor do the crew who fall outside their functional parameters and therefore serve no purpose – except, perhaps, to provide more replacements part for their continually degenerating robotic systems.

As the Cybermen try to secure control of the frigate, the crew and characters need to stop them and release the locking mechanisms holdings the vessels together. However, while systems fail and the Cybermen start to convert the frigate to their purposes, the situation gets yet more dire with the arrival of a small group of Draconian corsairs intent on looting both ships for booty and slaves…

Antagonists and things to tackle: Suspicious crew of the medical frigate. Cold-blooded Draconian pirates. Degenerating Cybermen. Deterioration in all shipboard and handheld devices because of the interstitial rift.

Problems: Once the crew of the medical frigate attempt to aid the colony vessel, the Cybermen lock the vessels together – effectively sealing their mutual doom unless the link can be broken. The pirates intended to take advantage of vessels in distress, but moving into range of the interstitial rift and boarding the frigate rapidly endangers them, too. The time travellers need to find a way to separate one of the ships, repair failing systems and get out of range of the rift before time runs out.

Things that need prepared: A rough sketch of the internal layout of the three ships, as the characters will almost certainly need to venture into all three – at least as far as the airlocks – to allow separation.

Continuing the Adventure: Whether the colony ship remains in the rift or somehow pulls free, these new Cybermen may pose a future threat to the time travellers – and pose a worrying prospect should they prosper and, perhaps, discover the existence of other similar Cyber-lifeforms. Might the time travellers in some way influence the rise of the Cyber-Empire? Refer to Ahistory: An Unauthorised History of the Doctor Who Universe for discussion about the Empire and, perhaps, a few ideas for future encounters.

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