“The pale woman may sleep at last…” (Session 2: 2019-09-15)
WARNING: SPOILERS! This session report is for the “Dark Flowers” adventure included in the Coriolis quick-start.
The crew of Narzalus – Dr. Wana, Rouya, Nima, Simioh and Zebo – have been exploring IARS-18, an ancient research station found adrift out of the ecliptic plane in the Dabaran system. They’re searching for a professor - Dr. Sayab Dahiljaba – at the request of the Foundation for Astronic Research, who contacted them through their fixer, Sallan Al-Atrash.
There’s more to this than a simple missing person’s case.
A previously-unclassified plant has taken over the station. Everywhere, its vines form a carpet on the floors, climb the walls, and dangle from the ceilings. The plant’s dark purple flowers seek light at windows and under the bio-dome on the top of the station. Equally mysterious, the team has spotted elaborately woven carpets in unusual locations: hanging from vines off the ceiling, mounted on walls, rolled in corners of labs or medical bays where no carpets should be. The first one they found (in the engineering section) included a fragment of a story - shaved, plucked or possibly chemically-burned into the carpet’s fibres in an out-dated Dabaran dialect.
Having explored the lower levels of the space station and powered up an elevator, they’ve been stopping at each of the upper levels to have a brief look as the doors open. Their quick elevator tour ended at the bio-dome, where they spotted a ghostly-pale human female in antiquated clothing, who stepped back and disappeared into the vines…
The team debates their choices. As they do, the elevator doors close and they start to descend. Somebody stabs the emergency stop button. An alarm sounds, and they force the doors to reveal the blank wall of the elevator shaft. The team decides to explore the medical lab so they push the button for the med level. The alarm stops, the doors close, and the elevator continues its journey.
The med lab contains several trauma and diagnostic stations, cabinets of medical gear and supplies, and eight stasis beds. Three of the beds have been destroyed, and closer investigation reveals they exploded from the inside. Another three beds are partially disassembled, or broken. Two beds remain intact. As the crew examines these, they find a man cowering in one of them. It’s the professor!
Siyab Dahiljaba is in shock. He quakes in fear, can’t focus on his would-be rescuers, and mumbles nonsense - about a mistake, and death. The crew is able to calm him enough to learn that he’d stumbled across a reference to IARS-18 in the university archives, had done some calculations and then used a radio telescope to confirm his findings, leading him to hire Shamza to bring him here. The ship arrived with himself, two assistants, and a crew of five. Their exploration of the station started out well, but when a ghostly being surprised them, one of the crew panicked and shot it.
At that point, the Icons abandoned them, and the ghostly beings onboard the station started hunting the explorers. The professor has seen both of his assistants and several members of the Shamza crew killed. He was able to make his way to the med lab, where he hid in a statis bed and prayed for rescue. He does not know if anyone else is still alive, although at least one other – Shamza’s security officer - was the last time he saw her, being chased by ghostly beings.
The crew also finds a carpet here, with another message worked into its fibres. This one tells of a battle during the Portal Wars, and a devastating torpedo strike against the research station. The author admits that as their end approached, “our salvation could only be found within the plant itself”.
The crew takes Siyab with them, and heads for the research lab level. The elevator doors open on a reception area facing a large lab behind ceramic glass walls. The walls have been shattered: glass is everywhere. The lab area itself is filled with row upon row of ceramic glass capsules. There are thousands of these, and inside each, a dead plant of some kind. The dark vines grow everywhere here, and tendrils appear to have shattered many of the capsules. There are a dozen work stations in the lab, with research computers and other gear.
Samioh is able to power up a terminal and poke around. He finds a huge database of indecipherable data and copies it to his tabula. But he also discovers a message to “Chief Scientist Wahina Adala”, berating her for the lack of progress on her holy mission. The message reminds her that the fate of the emirate depends upon her work and ends, “If you fail, history will not be kind”.
Their exploration of the lab is interrupted by a shudder through the space station. Clouds of dust and pollen shake loose from the growth and billow through the lab. This is quickly followed by a voice that projects from speakers placed throughout the room. It’s a woman’s voice – strained, tired and asthmatic – which says, “Two. Four. Stop her,” before falling silent.
Zebo decides to collect some samples of the vine in one of the unbroken ceramic glass capsules.
Samioh continues to poke around the lab computer, and finds logs for the lab’s cameras. They only go back a few hours, to around the time that the crew restored power to IARS-18. As a consequence, they show an unchanging view of the lab, in darkness. But then, a flash across the recording: a ghostly person moving through the lab! Based on camera locations, Samioh determines the figure likely came from the elevator area, and may still be in the lab somewhere!
Rouya patrols the lab and discovers a ghostly male figure near a wall of vines at the far end of the lab. He’s probably been watching the crew, secure in the darkness. When he realizes he’s been spotted, he steps back into the vines: they fold around him and he disappears. Rouya investigates where he stood but can find no evidence of him – just occasional ripples in the thick wall of greenery. She tries to speak to him, but there’s no response. He’s gone.
There is another carpet here, lying on top of the plant matter in an aisle. Again, it has been cut or shaved to tell a story. The author injected bio-matter into themself in a desperate attempt to survive. The recent arrival of a ship brought hope, but the new arrivals attacked the author and killed an assistant. The author has been defending themself since then, “disposing of these murderous heathens”.
The crew debate their next move…
Their original mission was to find out what happened to Shamza and its crew, and to try to find Dr. Dahiljaba. This, they have done: they could return to Narzalus with the professor and head for Dabaran, and their reward. But there’s more here: a greater mystery to solve. The crew realizes that although they’ve been observed by ghostly beings, they have not been threatened or attacked. They decide to approach the mysterious woman in the bio-dome to see if she will speak with them.
The crew conducts a quick medical exam of the professor, who has been on the station for several weeks. Other than presenting as someone under a lot of stress, he appears to be fine: He certainly shows no sign of infection from the bio matter that he’s been breathing without benefit of an exo-suit all this time. Based on that, and recognizing that negotiations may be more effective in the open, two of the crew – Dr. Wana and Zebo – remove their helmets. The crew rides the elevator up to the bio-dome, with Dr. Dahiljaba in tow.
Without benefit of their helmets, the stench of rotten plants and foul water is overpowering. The bio-dome is hot and the thick, damp air is hard to breathe. Plant matter grows everywhere – on the floor, the walls, even the dome, which is covered in purple flowers that appear to be attracted to the feeble light of the Daraban system’s distant red sun. As before, the pale woman in vintage garb stands by the greenery at the far side of the dome. Two rolled carpets lie together, to one side.
Dr. Dahiljaba cowers in fear as vines unfurl from the wall to point at him and the same strained, wheezy voice they heard in the lab accuses him: “You… Murdered… Three.”
The crew convinces her that they come in peace and would like to help. They argue they will not make the same mistakes as the crew of Shamza – even as they insist that Dr. Dahiljaba is under their protection. The crew asks the pale woman who she is. Saying, “My story is here”, she points at the carpets. Vines curl around the carpets and they are carried across the room to be deposited and unfurled at the crew’s feet. From these, they learn the rest of the story:
The first carpet reveals that the pale woman is Chief Scientist Wahina Adala, who was on a great and desperate experiment – potentially, a holy mission - to save the people of Yehenna on Dabaran from a catastrophic crop failure.
(As the crew of Narzalus has learned from other carpets, the research station believed it had found salvation in the Flower of Heaven, only to have the mission cut down 101 Coriolis Cyles ago when IARS-18 became collateral damage during the dying days of the Portal Wars. Only Wahina Adala and a handful of her assistants survived, by injecting bio-matter from the plant. For a century, Wahina lamented that she had failed the emir, his people, and the Icons, only to have hope restored when Shamza arrived. But that too turned out to be false hope.)
The second carpet reveals new hope in the form of another ship (obviously Narzalus). It concludes, “I pray The Icons grant these new arrivals the wisdom they did not give the crew of the Shamza. I hope this new crew will help me finish my mission – for I must take the Seed of The Icons to Yehenna on Dabaran – at all costs!”
The creature that was Wahina Adala asks the crew for help and they engage in a lively debate about whether to aid it.
Should they help Adala finish her mission, and take the seed to Dabaran? By helping her, they could help fulfill the will of The Icons.
On the other hand, they would be introducing a significant bio-hazard onto Dabaran. The vines on the research station are obviously aggressive, and can survive in incredibly hostile conditions.
Again, the research station shudders. Again, Adala speaks: “Two… Four… stop her”. The team learns that Two and Four (and One) are the remains of her assistants – and that there’s another human – a crew member from the Shamza - aboard the station and trying to destroy it by tampering with the reactor. Adala has sent Two and Four to stop this.
Meanwhile, the crew considers Adala’s request. Can they even complete the mission? The Emir who charged Adala with finding the Flower of Heaven is long dead, and Yehenna is a fabled emirate lost to time. Nobody even knows where it was, although Adala assures the crew she can find it.
But if the vines are as aggressive and hardy as they appear, they could destroy the entire planet’s ecology – representing an extinction-level threat for millions of people on Dabaran.
The debate rages on.
In a moment of inspiration, the crew decides to meditate and pray to the Icons for guidance: As a group they are, after all, Seekers of Truth.
In response, they have a shared dream – the same one Nima experienced during stasis sleep upon entering the Dabaran system, all those weeks ago: a field of purple flowers spread across a desert – bringing life to a place where none could exist.
The crew decides this means they must help Adala, and take the Flower of Heaven to Yehenna.
The crew abandon the bio-dome, heading for their ship. At the airlock, they’re greeted by three more ghostly-pale figures – Adala’s remaining avatars. The four pale beings board Narzalus and the crew manages to get the frightened Professor Dahiljaba aboard.
Nima takes off as the reactor overloads on IARS-18: Under his expert guidance, Narzalus rides the shock wave as the station explodes. The last survivor of Shamza has failed in her effort to destroy the Flower of Heaven.
The three-week journey back to Dabaran passes without incident. The professor stays in his cabin, while the pale woman and her assistants remain secluded in the cargo space. Adala emerges as Narzalus comes into orbit and directs Nima to coordinates in the northern reaches. They land and emerge from Narzalus onto a baked plain – a lifeless desert. Adala says merely, “It is finished” – and she and her three companions dissolve into dust, which drifts across the sand.
(Zebo discovers that the vines he harvested have also disintegrated.)
Professor Dahiljaba is returned to the Zenithian Institute of Planar Research, and the Narzalus is rewarded handsomely for their good work.
But for the crew of Narzalus, questions remain. Did they do the right thing? Have they fulfilled an ancient, holy mission? Or have they introduced a world-destroying bio-hazard to Dabaran?
The crewmembers spend a couple of weeks in Dabaran’s capital city - celebrating, recuperating, training in new skills… and reflecting on the will and the mystery of the Icons.
And then their comms buzz with an incoming message: Their fixer, Sallan, wants a lunch meeting – tomorrow. He’s buying…
If the Icons are willing, the story will continue!