Brennender Himmel has long been isolated from the rest of the galaxy. It has the knowledge and technology to build quite advanced starships, but the civilizations in its stellar neighborhood either have nothing that the Brennender Himmel is interested in buying, or else aren't interested in buying anything that Brennender Himmel has to sell. So interstellar travel is considered a waste of precious resources, and largely neglected.
Sis months ago, the rest of the galaxy intruded on the world's isolation. A small, high-tech vessel, not much larger than an escape pod, came down in the desert outside one of the abandoned resort complexes, and was discovered - much to their regret - by the small band of pirates who had taken the old resort over and were using it as a base for attacks on passing shipping. The pirates are still alive, technically, but they aren't quite themselves any more.
The pod contained a war criminal - or more accurately, what was left of one. Erine Kranesh was a government scientist working for the Perseus Imperium, a self-awarded and self-aggrandizing title for an interstellar banana republic comprising half-a-dozen sparsely populated worlds. The military junta that ruled it wanted a tactical advantage against the larger, richer and more democratic Sagittarian Federal Alliance from which the Imperium had seceded. Dr Kranesh, as lead researcher in their Science Ministry, was charged with providing one. And she succeeded - for a while. By adapting and combining technologies scavenged from a number of other races, including the Cybermen, she devised a new weapon, the "neural web".
The web was essentially a kind of cybernetic infection. It worked by infiltrating a small number of nano-devices into a host, something that could easily be done by lacing the target's food or drink. The nanomachines grew and expanded, linking up to form a sort of parallel nervous system that entwined with the victim's own and took control of him, or her. The neural web functioned as a crude AI with a programmed loyalty to the Perseus Imperium and its agents. It wasn't particularly smart, by itself, but it didn't need to be - it could "delegate" the raw data-processing tasks to the host brain. It was, as Dr. Kranesh boasted proudly to her masters, a way to infect a living brain with a computer virus.
By the time the Alliance discovered the nature of the threat, most of their political, economic and military establishment were infected by neural webs, and had actively helped the Imperium to invade and subjugate many Alliance worlds. Detecting the web was simple once the Alliance knew what to look for, but removing it from an infected host was an agonizingly painful process with a fifty percent mortality rate.
Rather than respond with an all-out war, the Alliance choose a grim kind of poetic justice. They reverse-engineered the technology and used it to take control of the Imperium junta and its secret police, decapitating the regime at a stroke. Erine Kranesh was captured and executed after she was infected by her own creation.
Or so the Alliance thought. Sadly, they'd under-estimated her. The neural web was far from her only project. One of her other achievements was a self-aware bio-mechanical computer system that melded advanced electronic components with tissue grown from human brain cells. As the neural web took control of her, Dr Kranesh downloaded her entire consciousness into the experimental computer. The computerized mind of Dr Kranesh then fled in a state-of-the-art military scout ship, laden with the other fruits of "her" research. Alliance police ships gave chase and damaged the scout, but it was faster than they were, and managed to outrun them.
Kranesh chose Brennender Himmel as her destination because it was an isolated backwater, but one with the technology and resources she needed to recreate herself. She's fairly confident that she can download her consciousness back into a compatible human body if she has access to the right equipment. And, of course, access to a compatible human body, which ideally means a clone of her original one. Ishanshyr has the right equipment, or at least the means to build it; the Thousand Gardens have the bioengineering skills to create a forced-growth clone of Dr Kranesh's body. But neither of them, she suspects, would be willing to co-operate with a scheme to resurrect a human war criminal. So she means to see to it that they don't have any choice in the matter. The luckless pirates, now possessed by neural webs and little more than puppets to her will, are her tools for achieving that.
Her years of working for a paranoid military dictatorship have given her an acute, if warped, instinct for political dynamics and human emotional weaknesses. Having (correctly) identified Nexus as the most corrupt and politically unstable of the Three Great Cities, she spent several months spying on its rulers, building up a picture of who was up, who was down - and who was out. Through her pirate minions, she approached a few of the more prominent members of the latter group, and made them an offer. If they were willing to provide her with laboratory facilities and resources, she would adapt the neural-web technology to work on Martians and Silurians. The leaders of the Three Great Cities would all be present in Nexus for the Festival of Sail. It would be a perfect opportunity to infect all of them at once, allowing the new leaders of Nexus to seize control of the entire planet.
Kranesh and her nominal allies intend to double-cross each other at the first opportunity, naturally, but that won't be until after the Festival of Sail takes place. For now, they're united, and racing to be ready in time. Kranesh's pirates, allied with mercenaries hired by her Nexan allies, have kidnapped a number of Silurians and Martians from isolated settlements - test subjects for her experiments in adjusting the neural web to work on non-humans. These unfortunates are being held captive in a secret laboratory deep in one of Nexus' satellite islands. Kranesh is confident that she can make the web work on Silurians, and she's confident that she can iron out the "teething troubles" in the Martian version by the time the Festival opens in five days time.
As the adventure begins, Kranesh's plans begin to unravel as one of her Martian test subjects escapes. She sends agents to recapture him, but in Headlong from the Ethereal Sky, he stumbles into the path of the PCs (and perhaps, the City Watch, Nexus' police force). If either succeed in rescuing him, he can give them their first glimpse of Kranesh's conspiracy (The Martian's Chronicle). The PCs could choose to involve the Watch at this point (Somebody's Watching). If they do, Kranesh will make a hasty and clumsy attempt to abort the Watch's investigation by destroying any evidence they've collected (The Enemy Within).
Whether or not the Watch gets involved, the PCs may attempt to devise a cure for the neural web (Oh, What a Tangled Web). They might come up with various short-term countermeasures, but their best option would be to "hack" it and shut it down, for which they need a copy of its programming. That means a visit to Kranesh's hidden lab. They might also want to sneak into the lab in order to rescue the captives who are still there. In Will you Walk into my Parlour? they find the lab fully or partially evacuated, but they still have a chance to recover the technical information that they need, as well as vital clues to Kranesh's next move.
Kranesh's original scheme was to infect the leaders of all three cities with neural webs during the diplomatic reception prior to the opening ceremonies for the Festival of Sail. But she knows that once the Watch has been alerted to the existence of the web, it will take such stringent precautions to protect the VIPs that she's unlikely to get the chance. So she implements a contingency plan. From her pirate slaves, she's learned of a cargo vessel, the Stormswift, that specializes in borderline-illegal work. She hires the vessel, telling its crew that she wants them to transport a consignment of illicit narcotics to Ishanshyr.
Her real intention is to infect the vessel's crew with neural webs and then have them "crash" it in the desert, near the flight path of the diplomatic barge carrying the Martian representatives from Ishanshyr to Nexus. When the Martian ship responds to the "distress call" from the Stormswift, the "rescued" crew members can ask for passage back to Nexus on board the Martian vessel, giving them a perfect opportunity to infect the Martians with neural webs. (Kranesh has been experimenting with the Martian variant of the web since the failed trial run on Azantlyr, and she's reasonably sure she's worked the bugs out). Meanwhile, she's dispatched her original pirate minions to perform the same trick on the Silurian delegation.
In Stop that Ship! Blast Them! the PCs, having discovered Kranesh's connection with the Stormswift, must stop the ship from leaving the Nexus sky-dock. Hopefully, in the process they can rescue some of Kranesh's possessed minions and recover the data from her lab, both of which are aboard the ship.
The PCs may learn of the pirate group targeting the Silurian delegation from the data left in Kranesh's lab, or on the Stormswift, or from one of Kranesh's victims if they've devised a temporary or permanent way to free them from the neural web. In Run Up The Moonrakers, they intercept and capture the pirates.
Back in Nexus, Kranesh's Nexian allies need to be found and stopped before they can inflict neural webs on Nexus leaders (Treason Doth Never Prosper).
In The Spider, as Kranesh decides to cut her losses and flee the planet, the PCs must track her down and finally bring her reign of terror to an end.
It's not hard to find reasons why a party of player characters might want to visit the Festival of Sail. The eleventh Doctor could still be trying to find a vacation spot that doesn't involve aliens shooting at Rory and Amy (alas, he's due for yet another disappointment). But virtually any experienced time traveler might think of it as a holiday destination.
The adventure begins five days before the Festival is due to start. The characters have already been in Nexus for a couple of days, getting familiar with the place before the opening ceremony and making sure they'll have good seats. As the story opens, the characters are sightseeing, wandering along one of the massive suspension bridges that links Nexus to its outlying island outposts. The bridge is an immense structure, three kilometers long and almost fifty meters wide. It's primarily made of the marble-like black stone, inlaid with red and gold filigree work that sparkles brilliantly in the fierce light from the burning sky overhead. Several lanes of traffic run along the center of the bridge. The vehicles are a hangover from the planet's ancient past as a tourist trap. They look like elaborate horse-drawn carriages, but rather than horses, they're pulled along by steam-powered robots built to resemble a fantastic array of heraldic beasts. To either side of the vehicular traffic are broad pedestrian thoroughfares, crammed with people. At the edge of the bridge, elaborate balustrades of armored glass interwoven with stone and metal latticework offer a spectacular view of the shallow, swampy oceans more than a hundred meters below.
The characters hear a violent commotion from up ahead; there are screams of fear, and the crowd is starting to stampede. Then they start to hear panicked cries from behind them, as well, leaving them trapped between the two.
A figure bursts out of the milling mob ahead of them. He's a Martian, dressed in armor that characters familiar with the Ice Warriors might mistake for that of an Ice Lord. There's a nasty scorch mark on his right shoulder, which any character with the right background will know at once must have been caused by a near-miss from a blaster bolt. More blaster fire comes from behind him, striking several innocent bystanders, as he staggers towards the characters.
The Martian lifts his head as he hears the cries coming from ahead of him. His shoulders slump in despair as he realizes that he's trapped, and he stumbles towards the balustrade at the edge of the bridge. Lifting his arm, he fires some sort of sonic device at the armored glass, which shudders, cracks, and bursts apart in a sudden, violent explosion, falling towards the ocean far below. The Martian lurches towards the gap, apparently intent on throwing himself through it.
The players will presumably want to help the poor fugitive to evade his pursuers. There are several ways that they could do that. The robot-drawn carriages are only moving at about twenty or so miles an hour; a cinematic option would be to leap aboard one, get it to stop, and persuade the occupants to hide the Martian before his pursuers catch up; or perhaps to try to use it as a getaway vehicle. If any of them are wearing long cloaks or coats, and they can persuade the runaway to vacate his armored shell, then they could try to fool the pursuers by throwing the armor through the gap in the balustrade while pretending that they're struggling to stop the Martian from jumping. The robot animals drawing the carriages have fairly simple electronic brains that are programmed to stick to the correct traffic lanes, but a sonic screwdriver - especially the more capable models of the New Series era - could override their programming and make them pull their carriages into the pedestrian lane, obstructing the hunters. This would be a risky tactic, because there is a large, panicked crowd on the street who might get hurt, but it could be tried as a desperation measure.
There are half a dozen attackers coming from each direction, so even if - unusually for Dr Who - the players are carrying weapons, things will probably go badly if they try to stand their ground and fight. Ace's Nitro-9 might be able to take out the attackers, but it would kill a large number of innocent pedestrians in the process, and a K9 unit could stun a few of them, but wouldn't be able to deal with them all before being damaged or destroyed by concentrated blaster fire from the others. Discretion is definitely the better part of valor.
The players will have a brief grace period to decide what to do before two groups of heavily armed thugs emerge from the crowds ahead of them and behind them. If they don't manage to make a clean escape, rescue will eventually come from the City Watch; squads of Ogron troopers will charge across the bridge, stunning the attackers or driving them off. The Ogrons will take the player characters into custody for questioning, leading to the Somebody's Watching scene.
It's possible that the players don't succeed in saving the Martian at all; that would be unfortunate, but won't derail the adventure, which can again continue in Somebody's Watching scene.
If any of the attackers are injured or killed, either in the fight with the characters or simply through being knocked over and trampled by a panicked crowd, they will be taken to the medical facility - or the morgue - at the Watch headquarters.
If the player characters manage to get the fleeing Martian to safety, he'll be quite willing to tell them his story. He's desperately worried about his crew-mates, who are still being held captive or enslaved by neural webs, and willing to accept any allies he can find to rescue them.
My name's Azantlyr. I am - I was - the engineer on the Dawn Chaser. She's a cargo barge, big hold, small crew, carries low-value high-bulk cargoes between the Three Cities. Or she used to. I don't know if she's still salvageable. We were about three hundred klicks out from Ishanshyr when a pirate ship overhauled us. We couldn't outrun them and we could see that they had us outgunned, so we let them board. We thought they'd just take the cargo and let us go, so I planted some tracker bugs in it so we could find it again afterwards. But they weren't interested in the cargo. Just us.
They locked me and Seyleetha - she's an Earth Reptile, our medic and cook - in their brig and took the rest of the crew away. I didn't think they'd be able to keep us all guarded, but they didn't need to. When I saw the others again, they'd changed. They were like living machines, or the walking dead. They'd no personality, no selves. And they were working for the pirates. The Captain and the First Officer had a chance to let us go, but they just stared at us and turned away.
They took us to Nexus. I didn't know that then, only when I escaped. All I knew then was that they transferred us from the pirate brig to a sealed carriage and then to some kind of underground lab. They stripped me out of my shell and put me into some kind of scanner. It looked as though they were trying to map my nervous system, but I'm not a medic. Then they injected me with something. I think I know what happened to my shipmates, now.
The pain doesn't stop. I can feel it in my head, in my limbs, everywhere. I haven't truly slept in days. And the pain isn't just pain. It - it thinks. I can feel it, whispering to me, trying to tell me to obey, to give up who I am and become like my friends, like a walking corpse.
I'm sorry. I've had too little sleep, and the pain stops me from thinking straight. It must be some kind of cyborg implant. It doesn't work properly on me. I think that's why Seyleetha and I were taken. They want to adapt it to our neural physiology.
I pretended to pass out and fell onto a lab bench. They didn't notice when I palmed a micro-welder. I managed to rewire the lock on my cell door and get out. I found where they were keeping my exo-shell and I was going to get Seyleetha out, but they realized that I was free and sounded the alarm. I would have tried to fight, but they were too clever.
Those men you saw chasing me? They were my shipmates. They were my friends. And they were trying to kill me. I couldn't fight them. I couldn't risk killing my friends. There's a grapple line built into my armor. I thought I could use it to swing under the bridge and get out of their line of fire and away from them, but then you showed up.
I have to get to Ishanshyr. I have to find out what they did to me and how to fix it. I can't save the others unless I've got a way to free them. They'll be able to find out what's wrong with me in Ishanshyr. If I can get there.
The characters could come into contact with the City Watch in several different ways. The Watch might rescue them from the firefight on the bridge in the first scene. The PCs, or Azantlyr, or both, might decide to inform the city authorities of what's happening, although if they know anything at all about Nexus, they might well suspect those same authorities of involvement. Following the encounter on the bridge - whether Azantlyr survives or not - the Watch might track the players down, wanting to know how - or if - they're mixed up with the trouble.
The Watch has its headquarters in a low ziggurat in the middle of a large, walled plaza on the outskirts of the city. The plaza is off-limits to ordinary citizens of Nexus; this is a deliberate defensive measure on the part of the Watch. Any mob planning to attack them would need to scale a twenty-foot reinforced wall fitted with heavy gun emplacements, and then cross a hundred and fifty meters of bare ground which is entirely exposed to fire from the Watch's headquarters. The upper levels of the ziggurat, including the aircraft landing pad on top, are protected by powerful deflector shields and anti-aircraft guns. Watch Commander Grunveld doesn't always see eye-to-eye with his alleged masters on the city council, but they agree that the best way to keep the peace is through superior firepower.
There's a massive blockhouse set into the plaza's wall; this is the only way in or out. If the characters present themselves to the Watch voluntarily, they'll be shown to a spartan but reasonably comfortable reception area before being escorted to Commander Grunveld's office. If they're suspected of involvement in the events on the bridge, and/or have been brought in under duress, they'll spend some time locked in cells which are even more spartan and a lot less comfortable before they're taken to see Grunveld.
Either way, they'll be thoroughly scanned for concealed weapons, before being taken through a massively armored door at the back of the blockhouse, and across the plaza. The plaza is paved in plain red stone, with no decoration of any kind. It's dominated by a seven-story black ziggurat in the center, a squat, broad structure boasting ranks of narrow, heavily tinted windows interspersed with heavy energy cannons. Once through a second armored door and inside the ziggurat, they'll be whisked up to the top level by elevator and escorted into Grunveld's office.
The office is slightly less austere than the cells, but not as well-appointed as the reception area. The one luxury is a huge floor-to-ceiling window looking out across the city towards the sky-dock. There's a large, slightly battered desk, empty apart from a computer terminal with a keyboard adapted to thick Ogron fingers. There's an advanced but functional holographic projector surrounded by a ring of padded leather chairs, and there's a large oil painting of a sky-ship - a plain, merchant barge. The painting is the only splash of color in the entire room, which is otherwise decorated in shades of utilitarian gray.
Grunveld is seated behind his desk. The only other person in the room is a woman sitting in one of the chairs around the holo-projector. Short and broad, she has a rounded, friendly face with plenty of laughter lines around sharp blue eyes, and fair hair just starting to turn white. Like Grunveld, she's wearing the plain black uniform of the Watch, although she has a crisp white lab coat over it. Grunveld introduces her as Dr. Jesselyn Feltarn, the Watch's chief pathologist and head of its scientific division
How Grunveld reacts to the characters depends on the circumstances in which they came here, but even in the best of circumstances, he's curt and to the point. A violent, armed disturbance has broken out in a public area only a few days before the start of Nexus' biggest and most crowded festival in ten years, and he has no idea of who is responsible or why. He's being pressed for answers by the city authorities and getting nowhere, he's got a hundred and one other worries on his mind, and he's in no mood to be messed about.
The characters' best option would be to cooperate. Grunveld genuinely wants the truth, and he's got no agenda beyond dealing with a threat to public safety. Honesty and an apparent wish to help will win the PCs points, the more so if they went to the Watch HQ of their own volition. If they have useful information - such as a scan of the attackers taken from a sonic screwdriver, K9 unit, or other similar Gadget - Grunveld will immediately beckon Dr. Feltarn forward and have her take over the questioning. If Azantlyr is will them, Grunveld will listen to his story in attentive silence before involving Dr. Feltarn.
Dr. Feltarn has a friendly, almost maternal manner, but like Grunveld, she has little time for prevarication. If she hears Azantlyr's story, she'll realize instantly that the Watch is in danger of infiltration. She'll insist that the characters accompany her to her laboratory immediately, and Grunveld will make it clear that this isn't a request if the characters appear reluctant. Azantlyr will be eager to co-operate; he'd prefer to be examined in Ishanshyr, whose facilities are far more advanced than anything available to the Watch, but any kind of proper scientific analysis might lead to a cure for his condition.
Dr. Kranesh has been keeping the Watch headquarters under discreet surveillance ever since she arrived in Nexus. So far, she's managed to infect a dozen human Watchmen with neural webs. She hasn't made any use of those involuntary agents until now, fearful of tipping her hand prematurely, but two things might force her to take the risk. If some of the attackers from the bridge are brought into the Watch's headquarters - alive or dead - it's possible that the Watch's scientists will discover the neural web technology by examining them. Even worse, from her point of view, would be Azantlyr showing up at Watch headquarters, alive and able to relate his story. If that happens, she'll panic.
The Headquarters is too well defended for an external attack to succeed, and its armory, although extensive, has no explosive devices - Grunveld has a stock of gas grenades for emergency crowd control, but he won't countenance the Watch using weapons that might cause indiscriminate mass civilian casualties. Kranesh's first priority, if Azantlyr is present, will be to eliminate him and anyone he's spoken to. Her next objective will be to destroy the bodies of any of her henchmen who were captured or killed during the attack on the bridge. The final item on her "to-do" list will be to engineer a power surge that burns out the memory banks of the Watch's computers, thereby eliminating any data that the Watch has already managed to gather on the neural webs.
Whether she succeeds in any of these goals largely depends on the PCs. If they alerted Dr. Feltarn to the threat posed by the Web technology, she'll be able to calibrate the Headquarters' internal sensors to scan for its distinctive energy signature - which she could get from scanning Azantlyr (if he's there), sensor readings supplied by the PCs (if they have any), or scans of Kranesh's victim-lackeys from the bridge (if any of them were captured alive, either by the Watch or, perhaps, the PCs).
If the PCs co-operated with Feltarn and Grunveld and warned them of the danger, they'll get some advance warning of a group of web-afflicted Watchmen moving through the building towards Feltarn's laboratory. If not, they'll be taken by surprise when the possessed Watchmen burst in to Dr Feltarn's lab and start shooting.
Even if the characters were carrying weapons when they arrived at Watch Headquarters, they would have been disarmed before being admitted (a K9 unit would have been denied admittance unless its blaster had been rendered inoperative, and any weapon emplacements in Azantlyr's shell will similarly have been disabled). They do have one advantage, however. The possessed Watchmen are struggling against the effect of the neural web technology, and their reflexes are just a little bit slower than they otherwise would be thanks to that internal conflict. In game terms, they always go last in any combat round, which means the PCs will have vital seconds to react even if taken by surprise.
There are no actual weapons in Dr. Feltarn's lab, but there are chemicals and electronic components which might be used to create improvised smoke bombs or flash grenades, or "oil slick" effects to trip the Watchmen up. The lab has a fire-suppression system which a sonic screwdriver or improvised incendiary could trigger, distracting the attackers.
Grunveld will send reinforcements as soon as he's aware that there's a problem, but the lab's communication systems have been cut off by Kranesh's unwilling henchmen, so the characters need to escape in order to raise the alarm. The lab has only one doorway, but it does have a panoramic window that opens out onto a ledge about a foot wide which runs around the entire length of the headquarters ziggurat. If the PCs can somehow distract or incapacitate the attackers - or seal the lab door before they arrive - they should be able to make it out through the window and along the ledge to a section with functioning comms.
The corridors around the lab have an emergency security measure, which Feltarn might choose to reveal in extremis. They can be sealed with blast doors and flooded with anesthetic gas in the event of a terror attack within the headquarters building itself. Only senior Watch officers know about the emergency protocol, so Kranesh's Watchmen haven't disabled it, but the players will need to make some difficult technical rolls to trigger it. The difficulty would be lowered to moderate if they just try to trigger the release mechanisms directly, without activating the proper security protocol to close the blast doors as well, but it they do that, they'll probably end up taking a nap alongside their attackers.
If any of the PCs have technical and/or medical skill, they may want to examine someone who's been infected by the web - perhaps Azantlyr, perhaps the possessed Watchmen - to see if they can figure out a way to neutralize it. The appropriate skill in the FASA or Time Lord rules is be Cybernetics; for the DWAITAS rules, use Technology, ideally with a specialism is Cybernetics.
Characters who hail from civilizations more primitive than the late Earth Empire - below TL7, if using the DWAITAS rules - will have no chance of removing the web completely. Characters from an interstellar-capable culture - TL6 or above in DWAITAS terms - might be able to devise some sort of EM pulse device that renders it dormant for a few minutes - or, on an exceptional result, hours - if they succeed in a very difficult technical roll.
With an easy technical roll, any technologically advanced character will know that surgically removing the web is impossible without crippling or killing the subject - it infiltrates the nervous system too extensively and too intimately. The only way to clean it out is through a tailored nanotech "virus" that attacks and dismantles it on a microscopic level. Unfortunately, as the Sagittarian Federal Alliance discovered, an active neural web starts "misfiring" as it breaks down, sending out random signals and garbled commands. And thanks to that extensive, intimate connection with the target's nervous system, this can cause problems ranging from agonizing pain, to seizures, strokes, and shutdown of critical autonomic functions - like breathing.
To remove the neural web without the risk of killing the subject, it's necessary to "hack" it and order it to shut itself down, a method of attack that Kranesh specifically designed it to resist. To have a reasonable chance of success, the characters would need to analyze its programming, and the best way to get at that would be to examine the computers in Kranesh's hidden lab. They should then be able to engineer a strain of injectable nanites that interface with the web, close it down, and take it apart in situ.
A particularly clever group of players might come up with novel ways to administer the cure. For example, if they were to build some kind of dart gun that fired hypodermic "darts" to inject the nanites, they could administer the cure at a distance, and in a combat situation.
Depending on how the story has progressed, the PCs could have several different reasons for sneaking into Kranesh's hidden lab on the outskirts of Nexus.
The lab is in the basement level of a tall, gherkin-shaped skyscraper located on Artemis, one of the satellite islands surrounding Nexus. Most of the skyscraper is filled with low-rent accommodation, mainly occupied by laborers who work in the sky docks. The majority of the occupants live on the upper levels, since the surrounding buildings cut off sunlight from the lower floors, leaving them in a state of perpetual twilight. Various criminal types, squatters and assorted ne'er-do-wells have moved into the unoccupied apartments, which most of the local population consequently steer well clear of. This gave Kranesh's operations an added layer of security - at least until Azantlyr managed to escape.
Once Azantlyr got away, Kranesh assumed that it was only a matter of time before the lab was discovered and raided, and accelerated her plans. Depending on how quickly the PCs (and perhaps the Watch) arrive, the place will either be completely deserted, or in the process of being evacuated. If the evacuation is still under way when the PCs arrive, the lab will be guarded by a dozen minor local criminals (use the stats for "possessed watchmen", above), but some of the computers and equipment will still be intact. If the lab is deserted, the computers will already have been trashed and their memories erased, but Kranesh's minions didn't have time to do a thorough job before fleeing, and it might be possible to reconstruct the data with a difficult technical roll.
The lab itself is a bleakly functional space occupying a partitioned-off, concealed area stretching out over two floors of the building's basement. The entire place is ugly and depressing. The walls are unadorned black stonework, and the lighting is dingy and tinged with red. The atmosphere is cold and smells faintly of industrial chemicals. There's a single entrance, a pair of double doors hidden behind a set of shelves in a store-room. These open out into a triangular foyer with three doors leading off. The first door is a freight elevator that goes to the prison cells on the lower level. The second opens out into a short corridor with five smaller doors spaced at irregular intervals. The first of these opens onto a communal bathroom with basic washing and sanitary facilities, the second is a dormitory filled with simple bunk beds, and the other three are laboratories. The labs all follow the same pattern - a central couch with computer-controlled restraints attached to it, a sinister-looking device rather like a giant mechanical spider above the couch - the mechanism that generates and implants new neural web prototypes - and computer consoles around the walls.
The third door in the main foyer opens onto a control room containing the facility's main computer, which will be either partially or completely wrecked when the characters arrive.
The lower level of the lab is a simple prison facility, consisting of a large open area with a control console in the center, ringed with cells that are sealed by heavy metal bars set into the walls. The cells have bunks and basic sanitary facilities, the only variation between them being that different cells are tailored to the specific needs of one of Brennender Himmel's dominant races.
Even if the lab has only been partially evacuated, the characters will be left with the question of where Kranesh's victims and equipment have been taken. There are several ways that they might discover this information.
The cargo vessel Stormswift will flee Nexus as quickly as possible following Azantlyr's escape, even if Kranesh hasn't been forced to activate her agents in the City Watch. If the PCs act quickly enough, they should be able to intercept the Stormswift before it leaves.
The ship is presently docked at the Nexus sky-port, a four-tiered, four-sided ziggurat at the exact center of the city. The sky-port is hundreds of meters tall, built of the ubiquitous marble-like black stone that characterizes most of Nexus' buildings. Huge pools are set into the terraces of the ziggurat, each pool large enough to hold half-a dozen docked sky-ships, and each surrounded by repair and maintenance facilities capable of handling everything from simple carpentry (the ships are, after all, mostly wooden), to fixing an anti-gravity drive. The core of the ziggurat holds the immense warehouses where the goods carried by the sky-ships are stored.
Security around the sky-port isn't especially tight, except on the upmost tier (which is the seat of the city's government). Too many people work there, and too many traders constantly come and go, to make it practical to limit access to it. It does have sophisticated computerized scanners that watch for threats, but these are keyed to dangers that could threaten the sky-port itself, or large numbers of its personnel, such as explosives or heavy artillery. Visitors are permitted to carry side-arms for personal security, although anyone abusing this privilege will very quickly find themselves facing the Sky-Port Division of the City Watch (Unofficial motto: "When guns kill people, we kill the people with the guns"). The PCs will have no problem getting inside, even if they haven't enlisted the aid of the City Watch.
There are various different ways that the PCs could try to stop the Stormswift. If they're allied with the Watch at this point, they could take the "UNIT option" of a full-scale attack on the vessel; the Watch has the advantage of UNIT in that their weapons can be adjusted to stun. A sneakier (and probably smarter) option might be to warn the crew of what they're getting themselves into, and enlist their aid against Kranesh's people. The PCs would need some way to make sure that the Stormswift crew hadn't already been infected with neural webs, but if they've had a chance to do any kind of analysis of Azlantyr, or the possessed members of the City Watch, any technologically advanced character could easily rig up a scanner that would do this. Some of the "standard" equipment that some PC groups might possess - a new-series-era sonic screwdriver, a K9 unit, or the sensors in a Time Agent's Vortex Manipulator - could do it automatically.
The Captain of the Stormswift is a fiftysomething veteran of Himmel's cargo trade named Mala Taine. She's a tall, muscular woman with dark skin creased by laughter lines and weathered by the desert wind, and shoulder-length black hair shot through with gray. If the PCs arrive before the Stormswift leaves, they'll find her in one of the sky-port's warehouses, supervising her crew as they load cargo onto the ship.
Mala is a borderline-illegal operator with a healthy distrust of the Watch, and she won't react well to the kind of heavy-handed tactics which Grunveld will likely attempt if he's there and the PCs can't persuade him to ease off. She's faced down pirates, loan sharks and government bureaucrats, and she doesn't intimidate easily, but she's an intelligent woman with a highly developed sense of survival. If approached directly by a character with well-honed diplomatic skills and/or evident street smarts of his or her own, she'll listen with a reasonably open mind.
The Stormswift is a fairly simple design. It's a long, slender vessel with a single exposed main deck occupying two-thirds of its length. The deck runs above the cargo hold that takes up most of the space inside the ship. Aft of the cargo hold is an engine room that contains the ship's primary anti-gravity generator. Forward of the cargo hold is a short corridor with doors for crew quarters, guest cabins, equipment storage, and the ship's head. A locked door at the far end of this corridor opens into a secondary engine room in the ship's prow, which houses the backup anti-grav generator. The secondary engine isn't powerful enough to hold the ship aloft, but in the event that the primary generator fails, it can serve as a "parachute", allowing the ship to make a controlled glide back to the ground instead of crashing. In the prow, above the main deck level, is a raised forecastle that holds the ship's bridge and the Captain's quarters.
Five of Kranesh's minions are already aboard the Stormswift, along with the computer equipment from her lab. It may occur to the PCs, based on what they found at the lab, that Kranesh's people might try to trash the equipment and the data which it contains if they find themselves under attack. Sneaking aboard is definitely the best option if they haven't yet obtained an intact copy of the neural web's programming.
The PCs could try numerous different strategies for dealing with Kranesh's people. Since her agents are possessed by neural webs and working for her unwillingly, the job is at least partly a rescue mission, a point which Azlantyr will make forcefully if it doesn't occur to any of the PCs. If the PCs get into a fight with them, they risk hurting or killing innocent victims. Unfortunately, for as long as they are possessed by the neural webs, the innocent victims in question will do their best to hurt or kill the PCs. Capturing and subduing them will require some clever planning. If the PCs have joined forced with the Watch at this stage, Grunveld can supply them with anesthetic gas grenades that will knock Kranesh's minions out cold. If they've rigged up a temporary countermeasure that knocks out the web for a few minutes, they can free the possessed agents for the brief time that it will take them to surrender voluntarily. A technically inclined character might come up with something more inventive. The sky-port maintenance facilities are stuffed with anti-grav equipment; a character with the Boffin Trait (from DWAITAS) or the McGuffin ability (from Time Lord), could rig up some kind of device that would leave everything and everyone in its operational radius floating in mid-air, unable to move.
If they can retrieve the data taken from Kranesh's lab, PCs with the appropriate technical skills should eventually be able to figure out how to to shut the web down so that it can be removed safely. But that will take time which they don't have. If they successfully interrogate their prisoners or check the recovered data for communications logs, they'll discover that the pirate vessel Flamespear is at this moment preparing to intercept the diplomatic convoy carrying the Silurian representatives from the Thousand Gardens to Nexus, and infect them with neural webs.
A second issue, only slightly less urgent, is that the five people that Kranesh had on the Stormswift are only a small percentage of the three dozen or so agents and captives she had in her lab. If the others haven't been killed, they must have been moved elsewhere, presumably somewhere else in Nexus, and still need to be rescued.
The Flamespear is supposed to follow the same strategy with the Silurian party that the Stormswift was going to use on the Martian party - land in the desert, pretend to have crashed, ask the Silurians for "rescue" and transportation back to Nexus, and infect them with neural webs en route. Different player groups and Gamemasters might come up with many ways to stop this from happening.
The first thing that might occur to them is to send a message to the Thousand Gardens, warning them of the plot. If they do, they'll learn that the city has just lost contact with the diplomatic party. The Silurian authorities haven't been overly alarmed by this; some of the desert sands have magnetic properties, and sandstorms have been known to disrupt communications from time to time. (In actuality, Kranesh's pirates have planted signal jammers in the desert to stop any warning from getting through). The Thousand Gardens will send security forces after their delegation if they're warned about Kranesh's plan, but the chances are that the Flamespear will reach the delegation's ship first.
The first problem is actually reaching the Flamespear. The pirates' intended interception point is several thousand kilometers from Nexus, just outside the south polar territories of the Thousand Gardens. If the players try to make the journey by sky-ship, they almost certainly won't get to the Flamespear before it makes contact with the Silurians. Nexus has a small number of fast aircraft, which Grunveld will be able to requisition, but they aren't designed for desert landings. The few transmats in the city are a relatively primitive type that require a terminal at both the sending and receiving end, and in any case, they're only designed to transport a few people at a time; they're normally only used for high-speed VIP transport between the three Great Cities. So the characters' options are relatively limited.
Depending on the individual tastes of the players and gamemaster, this scene could be a sneaky covert infiltration to sabotage the Flamespear, or it might be a highly cinematic airborne battle and boarding action - the earlier caveats about Kranesh's followers being unwilling victims apply to an extent, but although the crew of the Flamespear are involuntary conscripts, they're also ruthless pirates, a number of whom have blood on their hands. Especially if they get any hint that the PCs are affiliated with the Nexus City Watch, they'll be as dangerous when freed from the neural web as they were while under its influence.
The Flamespear is a larger vessel than the Stormswift, although it follows the same basic design. It has three decks, with a brig for holding prisoners taken for ransom, an armory, and limited deflector shielding that works against energy weapons fire but not material objects. Mounted on the deck are a couple of relatively low-powered disruptor cannons, designed to disable the antigrav drives of merchant vessels without destroying the ships themselves. There are thirty pirates aboard the ship, all armed with disruptor pistols, but only four or five of them are usually present on deck at any one time, unless the alarm has been raised.
It may occur to the characters to try to trace Kranesh's allies by finding out who paid for the lab and its equipment. If it doesn't,Grunveld or Feltarn could suggest it. The lab itself was rented anonymously through a property company, but many of the components used in the equipment were quite specialized, and only manufactured by a couple of companies in Ishanshyr.
If the GM wants to include a sightseeing tour of Ishanshyr in the adventure, the PCs could travel there, perhaps with Azantlyr, to find out who paid for the equipment. This would also give the PCs access to advanced laboratory and manufacturing facilities which they could use to construct a permanent cure for the neural web. Alternatively, Grunveld and the Watch could contact the Martian authorities to obtain this information. Either way, the trail will lead to Jafan Berand, a wealthy merchant and the leader of the Nexus conspiracy.
Berand is a rich man from a prominent trading dynasty, but his ambitions exceed his abilities. About ten years ago, he made a clumsy attempt to undermine several of his rivals - both inside and outside his own family - by hiring a pirate group to attack their cargo ships. He'd covered his tracks well enough that nobody could prove his involvement when the pirates were finally hunted down, but there was enough circumstantial evidence against him to make him a pariah. The ruling powers of Nexus have spent almost a decade subtly undermining his business interests, and his position is becoming increasingly precarious. Supporting Kranesh is a last, desperate throw of the dice for him; he knows that he's staring bankruptcy in the face in another few years unless something changes.
The leaders of Nexus will be quietly delighted if and when Grunveld alerts them to Berand's involvement in the plot. The wretched man has finally given them a valid pretext to dispose of him once and for all, with no more need to pussyfoot around sabotaging his commercial enterprises. They are, however, reluctant to have any visible part in his downfall. They don't want to face accusations that they disposed of a political and financial rival on trumped-up charges. They'd much prefer Grunveld - acknowledged even by his many enemies to be a straight shooter - to bring Berand down. But right now, they don't think the evidence against Berand is strong enough to convince the doubters, and Grunveld, reluctantly, agrees.
Although Berand is known among the city's rulers as a marked man, the more dilettante elements of the city's wealthy upper classes are unaware of his fall from grace and see him primarily as a wonderful host who gives simply fabulous parties. Berand is throwing one such party to celebrate the opening of the Festival of Sail. It provides an ideal opportunity for the PCs to get into his mansion and look around for the additional proof they need to bring Berand down - and hopefully, locate the other captives and possessed minions from Kranesh's lab. Grunveld's masters on the City Council will easily be able to get the characters' invitations, probably posing as the lackeys or hangers-on of one of the other guests,
Berand's mansion is located on Auric, another of Nexus outlying islands. This one is smaller than most, a sort of gated enclave used as a getaway by the city's wealthiest residents.
The mansion was designed, as Berand puts it, to "to make a statement", and if the statement in question is, "I have more money than taste", it succeeds splendidly. It's essentially a black and gold ovoid of marble and glass, with high towers worthy of Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria rising on each side, and a smaller, minaret-capped tower in the center. Half an acre of landscaped gardens spread out all around it, with topiary hedges, depicting humans, Silurians and Martians in heroic poses, rising twenty feet above broad ornamental fishponds.
The interior is even worse. Directly inside the main doors, the entrance foyer rises up three floors. A sweeping staircase festooned with gold and scarlet filigree work rises majestically from the floor towards the upper levels. (Well... the effect is supposed to be majestic. At the very least, it never fails to impress people... in one way or another). White marble statues of heroically posed figures from the planet's three dominant races dot the atrium, a counterpart to the topiary figures outside. Berand, in his own mind, has an artist's eye for complementary variations on a theme. In everyone else's mind, he just doesn't have much imagination or subtlety.
Berand is hiding Kranesh's test subjects and spare equipment in an underground facility in his mansion - a combination art gallery and treasure room, where he keeps all the valuables and object d'art that he's acquired by dubious means and doesn't wish anyone else to see. It isn't a dungeon, but since all the subjects have now been infected by neural webs, it doesn't need to be - the captives are here "voluntarily". Nonetheless, the sole door to the hidden bolt-hole is securely locked, and can only be opened by a retinal scan of Berand's right eye. Berand is taking no chances on another escape, despite Kranesh's assurances that Azlantyr was a one-off.
The hidden facility is decorated in the same tasteless, scarlet-and-gold ostentatious luxury style as the mansion above. Statues, jewelry and sculptures are displayed in cases and on plinths throughout the complex, many of them clashing horribly with the decor and with each other. Low couches are scattered around at intervals, most of them in easy reach of a games console or holographic display screen.
In several of the rooms, a large area has been partitioned off behind thick armored glass. The purpose of these areas may not be apparent at first - they each appear to contain a large pool of swamp water about twenty meters square, with an expanse of muddy ground - containing scattered and heavily gnawed bones, in a couple of cases - at the water's edge.
These are Berand's "Seetus" pools. The Seetus are the mammalian crocodiles which infest the swamps around Nexus - the word is a corruption of "Ambulocetus", the prehistoric Earth predators which the creatures strongly resemble, although nobody on Brennender Himmel remembers that any more.
Berand is fascinated by the Seetus and has partially domesticated several of the wild ones as "pets". The pools in the partitioned areas contain underground channels which connect to the swamps surrounding Auric. The Seetus use these channels to swim right into Berand's mansion to be fed. Berand never tires of watching them. On rare occasions, he's also found them a convenient way of disposing of people who know too much - such as the leaders of the pirate group which he hired ten years ago.
Nights on Brennender Himmel are never truly dark. The sky, seemingly filled with dark blue flame, casts an ever-shifting azure twilight over everything. As the PCs arrive at the party, they will see that Berand has supplemented this natural illumination with small, seemingly flame-filled globes that drift through the air.
The party has the general appearance and atmosphere of a Masquerade Ball. Most of the attendees are human, but there are a scattering of Silurians and even a couple of ice warriors present. All are dressed in bizarre, elaborate costumes tailored to show off their wealth as ostentatiously as possible. Jewels, feathers and silks are the least of it. Many of the costumes have tiny holographic generators, making it appear as though the guests are coiled in the tendrils of giant, multi-hued snakes, or have small, fire-breathing dragons coiled around their necks, or are attended by hovering clouds of minute songbirds. A live orchestra is playing on an open stage in front of the house, performing an operatic ballad - about heroic warriors triumphing against the odds, naturally - to the accompaniment of more holographic special effects portraying the battles celebrated by the music. Large platters laden with food and drink are floating slowly through the crowds, supported by antigravs and directed by computers - there are no living waiters visible.
The PCs may assume that it will be easy to sneak into the mansion under cover of so many distractions, but Berand isn't a complete fool. The floating flame-globes aren't just novelty lights; they contain hidden surveillance equipment linked to a central security computer. If the PCs simply wander away from the party into the interior of the mansion and start trying to open locked doors, they'll be spotted almost at once, and half a dozen Ogron guards will appear to escort them off the premises. Berand is still a fool, though, even if not a complete one, and he's left several holes in his security arrangements.
The simplest way that the characters could find the captives would be to arrange to lead Berand aside for a private conversation - he's circulating through the crowd - and tell him some story about having been sent by Kranesh and needing access to the captives - that Kranesh has discovered a potential problem with the neural web that she needs to verify using a live test subject, for instance. Berand is distracted, busy, on edge, and not very bright. If the characters mention Kranesh, he'll believe that they must been sent by her, because he assumes that the Watch would be raiding the party in force if they'd learned of his arrangement with her. Actually, he's been having nightmares about that very possibility, and it's at the forefront of his mind. He'll immediately lead the characters away from the party and into the secure area where he's keeping the remaining prisoners if the PCs try this approach.
Another option would be to try "hacking" the serving platters. The computers that run the alarms and the surveillance network hidden in the lights are well-protected against external interference, but the network that runs the serving platters is almost completely open, and the serving platters have full access to the inner areas of the mansion - including the security control room and the guard barracks, because Berand has graciously allowed his security personnel to enjoy the party food while they're on duty, and the platters are making deliveries to them as well. The platters are equipped with basic audio/visual sensors, and, if reprogrammed, would make perfect spies. Admittedly, they don't venture into the basement level where Kranesh's remaining victims and equipment are being kept, but by allowing the characters to eavesdrop on the guards or see the video surveillance in the security control room (which is monitoring the prisoners as well as the party guests), they will allow the characters to see where the captives are.
If the characters notice that the lights are also surveillance devices - which would be easy for any character skilled in Technology (if using DWAITAS) or Electronics (if using the FASA or Time Lord games) - they might be able to deceive or evade them. The open-air stage at the front of the mansion has a hatchway leading down into the mansion's underground service and storage areas, intended for use by the musicians. The hatchway is concealed by the holographic spectacle that accompanies the concert. If the characters notice the musicians leaving the stage and disappearing into the holograms, they might infer the existence of the hatchway. With a little creative hacking and some clever timing, they could add images of themselves watching the concert to the holographic projection, and sneak backstage while apparently remaining in the mansion's grounds. They'll need to break through several electronic locks to get from the backstage area to the more secure sections of the mansion's basement, but they should be able to do it without any security staff coming after them, at least for a while. Normally, the hatchway entrance in the stage is in a visible open area with no cover, so the internal doors in the backstage area only have rudimentary alarms that should be easy for a technically adept character to bypass.
If the characters are feeling particularly daring and cinematic, there's one other tactic they might try - use the underwater Seetus channels to gain access to the secure area in the basement. They could find out about the channels by freeing and interrogating one of Kranesh's victims who has visited the mansion, or perhaps by seeing the mansion schematics in the security room via the sensors of a serving platter. The party will last for most of the night, so they'd have a chance to sneak away, put on some deep-water diving gear (which Grunveld can supply if they don't have any in their TARDIS), and swim under the swamps into one of the channels. Berand considers the Seetus themselves to be all the defence that the channels need, and hasn't fitted them with alarm systems of any kind.
To be fair to Berand, the Seetus are a pretty formidable security measure. There are dozens of them swimming through the waters around Auric at any one time, and they have no fear of humans. Fighting them off, especially while wearing diving gear, will be a formidable challenge, and may require the assistance of the Watch.
The creatures' one weakness, however, is their reliance on echolocation for underwater hunting. A character with Electronics skill (from the FASA or Time Lord games), the McGuffin skill (from the Time Lord game), or the Boffin Trait (from DWAITAS), should be able to rig up an ultrasonic device that will cause the creatures intense discomfort, and drive them away for long enough for a raiding party to get into the mansion.
Berand's underground lair contains more than enough evidence to hang him out to dry, especially if the PCs have figured out a way to neutralize the neural web at this point, and can free the captives to testify against him. Berand will sing like the proverbial canary to avoid a death sentence, once he's taken into custody by the Watch, and will sell out his fellow conspirators without a second thought.
This scene is intended to be the final act of the adventure. The characters have defeated all three strands of Kranesh's plot - the Stormswift, the Flamewind, and Berand - and she's preparing to cut her losses and leave the planet. The PCs final task is to prevent her escape and deliver her to justice.
Kranesh's scout ship is hidden inside the abandoned resort complex that her pirate slaves were using as a base of operations before she ensnared them in her (literal and figurative) web. The scout is a slender, torpedo-shaped craft, about twenty-four meters long, presently parked in a dilapidated hanger originally intended for the use of small private aircraft.
The resort was once an elegant horse-shoe formation of spiraling towers made of white marble and tinted blue glass. The thin, dry desert atmosphere has preserved a great deal of it, but it's clearly a ruin; half the window glass has fallen out, black silica sand has piled out against the lower levels of all the buildings, and one of the towers is listing like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, as though about to fall over at any moment.The hangers are in the top level of a two-level ziggurat in the middle of the "horse shoe" formed by the towers. The lower portion of the ziggurat is now completely buried by sand, and the hangers look as though they're poking out of the top of an especially large dune.
Finding the resort will be the PCs first challenge, but that should be relatively simple if any of the Flamespear's crew were captured. Failing that, the Flamespear itself could contain computer logs, or the Watch could help the PCs cross-reference known sightings of the ship with the locations of abandoned habitations.
Most of Kranesh's pirates were on the Flamespear when it tried to infect the Silurian delegation. She only has half a dozen minions left in the complex, along with three battered but functional security robots, but if she comes under attack, she'll order them to fight to the death while she makes her escape. She intends to leave soon anyway, but she'd prefer to repair the damage that the Alliance did to her scout ship first. Her few remaining slaves are busy working on the ship.
The pirates set up automated sensors all around the resort to alert them if any cargo vessels - or police vessels - passed nearby. Taking Kranesh by surprise will be near-impossible if the characters approach the abandoned resort in a sky-ship or aircraft; they will then have to fight their way past her possessed slaves and security robots before she can complete her take-off preparations - which she can do in about ten minutes if she absolutely has to - and launches her scout. A better option would be to sneak in, either using the characters' TARDIS - if they can control it that precisely - or a modified transmat beam.
The characters' objectives for this scene are to stop Kranesh from making her escape - which means disabling her scout ship - and rescuing her remaining slaves. Different character group may choose to attach more importance to the first objective than the second, given that her remaining slaves are the dregs of a ruthless pirate band, but any pirates who are freed from the web will have a score to settle with Kranesh, and thus represent potential allies for the PCs, at least until she's stopped.
Disabling the scout should be relatively easy if a character can get near enough. Hull plates have been removed from the ship while the repairs are in progress, and a number of vital engine and control systems are exposed. A miniature explosive, blaster fire, or even a couple of whacks with a spanner against some especially vital and fragile component, would all be enough to stop Kranesh escaping before an attacking force can capture her. The difficult bit will be getting close enough to the scout to do that, and escaping afterwards. Kranesh has a dozen possessed minions, all armed, working on the scout ship itself, and three security robots patrolling outside the hanger building. The robots are in poor repair, and not very bright, but they have excellent eyesight and lethal weaponry. The PCs will need to get past them without alerting Kranesh to the fact that she has visitors. Stealthy characters could use the dunes all around for cover to sneak into the hangar, but once inside, there are thirty meters of exposed space between the entrance and the scout ship.
Inventive PCs could come up with a number of different solutions to this, however. The roof of the hangar is in poor repair. Most of it is solid enough, but there's a large hole near the scout ship. An athletic character could scramble up onto the roof, fire a blaster into the exposed engine components, and then duck out of sight before Kranesh's pirates could return fire, using the roof for cover. If the PCs have come up with the idea of administering the cure via dart-gun, the character might even free one or more of the pirates by shooting darts into them from the roof. A couple of the Watch's anaesthetic gas grenades dropped from the roof would incapacitate the pirates, and allow the PC to inject them with the cure and sabotage the ship at leisure - assuming that he or she has a way of rappeling down from the hole in the roof.
Another option would be to free at least one pirate from the neural web. Characters who succeed in an easy Awareness (for Time Lord or DWAITAS), or MNT (for the FASA game) roll, will notice that one of the resort's towers holds an extensive solar array that shows signs of recent repair - suggesting that the pirates have been using that for power. If they can cut the power to the hanger from the control room in the tower, Kranesh will send a couple of her minions to investigate. Normally, the control room would be guarded, but Kranesh wants the repairs on her ship completed as soon as possible, and she can't spare anyone from the work. The PCs will be able to just walk in and switch off the supply, although if they're clever, they may want to make it fluctuate wildly first, in order to simulate a fault of some kind.
If they can overpower and free the two pirates sent to the control room, the characters will have a chance to persuade them to sabotage Kranesh's ship, perhaps by planting a small explosive charge in the engine compartment.
Once the scout ship is disabled, the PCs can call in the cavalry, which in this case, means Grunveld and the Watch. The City Council's first impulse will probably be to execute Kranesh after a token show trial, but they wouldn't object to being owed a favor by the Sagittarian Federal Alliance. They'd be willing to extradite her - and supply the Alliance with the technical specifications of a safe cure for the neural web - in exchange for unspecified by no doubt lucrative "future considerations". This is, after all, the Great City of Nexus - and business is business...