The Rutan Strain


The Night's Dream, by adamkop. Please do not use without permission

Background

The Rutans share a kind of group consciousness, and each sees itself as a mere cell in the organism that is the Rutan species. They perceive other races as collective organisms, too. Yet it would be wrong to say that they know nothing of individuality. They understand it perfectly well, but in their own terms, as a phenomenon that causes the "cells" of a healthy species-organism to go out of control and attack it.

The Rutans, in short, see individuality as a kind of cancer.

Nor has it escaped their notice that their great enemy, the Sontarans, have gone to great lengths to immunize themselves from the disease. The Sontarans' vast legions of cloned shock troops are genetically modified to limit their intelligence and initiative, and conditioned into conformity and obedience.

And so, about sixty years ago, the Rutans decided to try an experiment. Shapeshifted Rutan agents, carefully infiltrated into the Sontarans' medical and environmental division, altered the programming of half a dozen hatcheries. Millions of Sontaran clones, intended to be obedient, unimaginative, dull-witted, expendable cannon fodder, were instead endowed with levels of intelligence, imagination and creativity not seen in the Sontaran race in centuries.

And the Rutans belatedly realized that they'd made a terrible mistake. In their ignorance of the power of social conditioning and simple mob psychology, they had assumed that merely increasing the Sontarans' intelligence and imagination would be enough to make them more rebellious. Instead, the cocktail of heightened mental capacity and Sontaran military conditioning created troops who were not only far more effective and dangerous than their counterparts, but also even more fanatically devoted to the Sontaran cause than their more intellectually challenged comrades.

By the time the Rutan modifications to the cloning vats were discovered, most of the enhanced troops had fallen victim to that fanaticism, and to the normal (which is to say, colossal) attrition rate of the Sontarans' endless war with the Rutans - although not before they'd wreaked total havoc on the Rutan forces across several battle fronts. Still, the relatively few survivors made the Sontaran officer class very nervous, and the Koda - the Sontaran internal security branch - was tasked with eliminating them.

Perhaps the officers' fears were justified. The Koda, it turned out, was no match for the wits and resourcefulness of the "Rutan strain", as the High Command took to calling them. Several hundred of them - the cleverest and most cunning of them all - simply vanished from the Sontaran ranks before the purge could be completed.

Elsewhere in the galaxy, a rising new empire was experiencing problems of its own...

IMC and the Lyttell Geste

By the late 25th century, the Interplanetary Mining Corporation (IMC), had become a byword for ruthlessness. One of its favorite tactics was to offer to pay the up-front costs of setting up a new colony world, and then keep the colonists in a state of indentured servitude until they'd repaid that initial investment. Since IMC charged a ruinous rate of compound interest, many colonies had no chance of ever doing that, and entire generations of colonists lived and died as slaves by any other name.

But four years ago, IMC's happy world of morality-free profit came under attack. Cargo ship after cargo ship was hijacked by a pirate group that called itself the "Lyttell Geste" - a name taken from the earliest tale of Robin Hood. The Lyttell Geste posted messages to the public datanets, claiming to be motivated by a desire to strike back against IMC's "corporate oppression" of the colony worlds. Not only were the company's profit margins being eroded by the pirate raids, it was also having to spend vast sums repairing and bolstering its corporate image.

IMC tried time and again to ambush the pirates, but all such attempts ended either in the pirates not showing up at all, or in the ambushers vanishing without trace. IMC Security is certain that they must have an internal security leak, but they've no idea who's responsible.

Agnessa Ihalainen, the Head of IMC Security and the newest member of the company's Board, has conceived a high-risk strategy to lure the Lyttell Geste into a trap. IMC's annual general meeting is being held aboard a luxury space liner, the Night's Dream. Officially, IMC is relying on the fact that the liner's route is highly classified to keep the VIPs aboard safe. In reality, Ihalainen is assuming that the pirates' mole inside the company will leak the liner's course, and that the pirates won't be able to resist the chance to take a shot at all of IMC's Board members and major investors at once. In the utmost secrecy, she's arranged for an IMC battle cruiser to shadow the Night's Dream, lurking just out of sensor range, but waiting to pounce the moment the Lyttell Geste show up.

Ihalainen is right about the Lyttell Geste. The mastermind behind the group is Ramon Delfino, a major IMC shareholder and one of the senior Board members. Delfino is revolted by IMC's near-enslavement of entire planetary populations, but he doesn't control a big enough block of voting stock to force a change in the company's policies. And so he pretends to be an enthusiastic supporter of even its most ethically questionable corporate practices, while at the same time secretly sabotaging its operations.

Delfino's original plan was to use Lyttell Geste to erode investor confidence in IMC and drive the stock price low enough to allow him to buy up a majority shareholding in the corporation. But as the adventure begins, he believes that he's discovered a short-cut.

Shortly after he founded Lyttell Geste, Delfino was contacted by a Sontaran General named Loknur. The few encounters which Earth had had with the Sontarans made Delfino reluctant to trust one, but Loknur was persuasive. He and his men, he claimed, were refugees who'd been targeted for extermination by the Sontaran state because their genetic coding was considered defective. They wanted asylum in Earth space, but they knew the Earth government would never trust them. Delfino was a private individual, but he had sufficient resources to set the Sontaran renegades up in their own small colony. In exchange, Loknur would offer his tactical expertise - and the firepower of the three light destroyers which he and his men had stolen from the Sontaran fleet - to Delfino's pirate operations. Delfino was suspicious for quite a while - years, in fact - but Loknur and his followers stuck scrupulously to both the spirit and the letter of the agreement, and Delfino finally allowed himself to be convinced of their sincerity.

So he listened with interest when Loknur proposed a modification to Lyttell Geste's original plan to attack the Night's Dream. Rather than just embarrass the IMC Board in front of the shareholders by raiding the liner, the Sontaran suggested, why not replace the Board - and the key shareholders - altogether? Sontaran cloning technology could create almost undetectable duplicates of all of IMC's important players, duplicates that could be programmed to obey Delfino. With the clones under his control, Delfino would be able to reform IMC now, not in ten or fifteen years time once its share price collapsed.

The Sontaran Stratagem

Like all the best lies, almost everything that Loknur has ever told Delfino is basically true. But Delfino is blissfully ignorant of the true scope of Loknur's ambitions.

Loknur remains fanatically loyal to the Sontaran Empire, even though it has marked him and his followers for death. When he was denied any chance to serve as a Sontaran officer, he simply started looking for another way to advance his species' war aims. Earth's own nascent empire is his chosen tool for doing just that. Seizing control of IMC - one of the largest and richest corporations in Earth space - is only the first step in his plan. Ultimately, he intends to infiltrate his programmed clones into every facet of Earth's political, military, and industrial complex. Then he means to manipulate Earth into a full-scale conflict with the Rutan Host, forcing the Host to fight a two-front war that will leave it weak enough for Sontarans to destroy at last. As a side benefit, the war will focus human ingenuity and creativity onto weapons development. Loknur has a great deal of respect for human inventiveness. In a paltry four centuries, they've advanced from primitive atomics to an interstellar civilization, while Sontaran technology has remained essentially stagnant for far longer than that. As the hidden puppet-master of the governments and corporations doing the war research, Loknur will be in a position to feed its fruits straight the the Sontaran High Command.

The "baseline" scenario

The PCs could intervene in the course of events in a number of ways and at a number of points. It's impossible to predict all the possible permutations.

In an "unchanged" scenario in which history follows its original course, the Night's Dream will disengage its hyperdrive in the vicinity of Teshub, a blue gas giant on the fringes of one of IMC's satrap systems. Teshub is famous throughout Earth space for the colorful electrical storms - most of them larger than Earth - which ravage its atmosphere, and the liner will swing close to the huge planet so that its guests can get a good look at the spectacle.

The Lyttell Geste has hidden a small attack force, made up of three Dagger-class scout ships, behind one of Teshub's many moons. They will wait until the Night's Dream has dropped too deeply into Teshub's gravity well to re-engage its hyperdrive or maneuver, and then emerge from concealment and swoop down on the liner.

The pirates' plan is to disable the Night's Dream's hyperdrive and weapons with precision fire, and then dock with it. Normally, that would be a foolish tactic; a Dagger-class scout ship has a maximum crew of eight, including the pilot, while the Night's Dream can comfortably support more than four thousand people. But each of the scout ships is fitted with a Sontaran quantum locator beacon that allows an osmic projector to lock onto it. Once they have docked with the liner, the Lyttell Geste are expecting Loknur to beam across more than a hundred of their own people, a heavily armed strike team, to overwhelm resistance aboard the liner and kidnap IMC's top management and investors in a lightning raid.

The Lyttell Geste are about to find out what happens to the best laid plans of mice and men who are stupid enough to trust a Sontaran. The moment that their attack force emerges from concealment, so does a heavily armed IMC battle cruiser supported by a dozen short-range fighters. The pirates have no choice but to surrender; Ihalainen anticipated that Teshub would make a perfect place for a pirate ambush, and stationed her forces in the ideal position to blast them to bits.

Unlike Delfino, Loknur guessed all along that the voyage of the Night's Dream was nothing more than bait in a trap. He also anticipated that IMC would be desperate to capture at least some members of the Lyttell Geste, for interrogation. As soon as the IMC cruiser brings the pirates' three scout ships into its docking bay, he activates his osmic projectors - but instead of the Lyttell Geste strike team, who he leaves stranded in their staging area on a nearby colony world, he sends through hundreds and hundreds of Sontaran shock troops. Delfino believed that the small colony he helped Loknur to establish contained fewer than a hundred Sontaran refugees, but Loknur has spent several years establishing new cloning facilities and weapons plants there, and now his forces are battle-ready.

It takes less than an hour for the Sontarans to overwhelm the astonished IMC crew and take possession of the battle cruiser. The Night's Dream remains unaware than anything has gone wrong, at first, because the Sontarans use signal jammers aboard the three captured scout ships to block all communications. By the time Ihalainen and her people realize what's happening, it's too take; the Sontarans have seized control of the cruiser's guns, and the liner is in their sights. The cruiser's support fighters are still crewed by loyal IMC personnel, but even if they were willing to fire on their own command ship, their weapons are no match for its deflector shields, and they'd quickly be picked off by its heavier guns.

The Sontarans dock the battle cruiser with the Night's Dream, and board the liner in force. It's only when they drag him away along with the rest of the Board that Delfino realizes that he's been betrayed. The Sontaran troops take anyone they identify as important to IMC, in whatever capacity, and use the osmic projectors in the scout ships to transport their captives to Loknur's base for cloning. Since Loknur's plan requires that the kidnap victims, (or rather, their clones), be "rescued", the Sontarans will leave most of the passengers and crew of both ships alive to act as witnesses to the kidnapping, although they won't hesitate to kill anyone who gets in their way.. The one exception are the Lyttell Geste pilots, who know too much about the real plan to be left alive.

A few months later, following a daring rescue that makes the news headlines throughout Earth space, the captives are rescued. Stage one of Loknur's plan is complete...

Somehow, the PCs have to prevent all this from happening.

Involving the PCs

One obvious way to begin the adventure is to assume that Loknur's plan, if allowed to proceed, will succeed, completely disrupting the history of Earth's Empire, the Federation that emerges from its collapse, and ultimately, the ability of Mutters Spiral to resist the Dalek Master Plan. The Celestial Intervention Agency will naturally want to prevent that from happening. If the Doctor is leading the players' group, then any Doctor from the third to the eighth would be a suitable target for CIA manipulation. If the GM allows the semi-canon theory that the second Doctor worked for the CIA prior to his exile, then the second Doctor could also be used. If the player group is led by a Time Lord who works for the CIA, they could simply be ordered to stop Loknur by the Agency.

If the campaign is set post-Time War, there are other ways to draw the PCs in. The Night's Dream is a luxury liner. It's been chartered by IMC, but if the PCs felt like a holiday, they could have sneaked themselves onto the guest list. That would be very much in keeping with the eleventh Doctor's tradition of providing the Ponds with a free luxury holiday that turns into a deadly struggle with a ruthless alien menace. The players' TARDIS could also pick up a distress call from the Night's Dream as it comes under attack by the Lyttell Geste. It's also possible that their TARDIS either detects, or is affected by, the vortex turbulence caused by Loknur's heavy use of his osmic projectors.

The PCs could find themselves arriving on the Night's Dream itself, one of the pirate scouts, or even on the IMC battle cruiser. The IMC crew will probably assume that they're Lyttell Geste spies and, in time-honoured Dr. Who fashion, lock them up pending interrogation. The pirate scout ships only have two crew members aboard, a pilot and a co-pilot, since they're expecting to be reinforced via osmic projector when the time comes, but they, in turn, will probably assume that the PCs are IMC agents who've somehow sneaked aboard. Only aboard the liner will the PCs have relative freedom before the attack begins, but even there, they won't be totally safe. Ihalainen is expecting Lyttell Geste saboteurs or spies to show up at some point, and she's actively looking for them among the liner's passengers and crew. If she arrests the PCs, Delfino will be surprised and worried - he knows they aren't members of the Lyttell Geste, but he doesn't know who or what they are, and he'll do as much as he can to find out without blowing his cover. He may send his personal assistant, Joel Pearce, to investigate and interrogate them; this could be a way for the PCs to form an alliance with the Lyttell Geste before the Sontarans show up.

Of course, it's always possible that the PCs, or some of them, could actually begin play as Lyttell Geste members themselves - this would be a way to introduce a new PC into a campaign.

Resolving the adventure

The Sontaran forces are several hundred strong, but even so, they're thinly stretched. There are four thousand passengers and crew aboard the Night's Dream; the battle cruiser has a hundred crew and another hundred or so troops aboard. The Sontarans will strike quickly, using the emergency bulkheads on both ships to seal off as many areas as possible, but if the PCs can over-ride their lockdown and free the IMC troops and Ihalainen's people aboard the liner, the Sontarans will have a fight on their hands. Such a fight, however, could result in a lot of needless casualties.

If the PCs managed to form an alliance with Delfino before the Sontarans attack, he will be able to explain Loknur's plot. Even if he hasn't, a PC who makes a relatively easy technical roll to eavesdrop on Sontaran communications will be able to discover that their orders are to kidnap their targets and then withdraw. A smart approach might be to let the Sontarans leave, and then sneak into their base to rescue the captives. An osmic projector leaves a trail of delta particles that any TARDIS will be able to track. A character who makes some good social rolls might be able to convince the Sontarans that (s)he is one of the IMC movers and shakers who they were sent to seize, and infiltrate Loknur's base that way.

The Sontarans used osmic projectors in their base to reach the scout ships, and they will use osmic projectors on the scout ships to transfer back to their base. The weakness of an osmic projector, however, is that it can't transport more than a single captive and Sontaran guard at the same time. It might occur to especially clever PCs to re-program the projectors so that they send Sontarans accompanied by humans to one destination - the liner's hold, say - and Sontarans who aren't back to their own base. They'd need to make both stealth rolls to sneak aboard the scout ships undetected, and technical rolls to program the projectors, but they might be able to stage a diversion to give themselves cover, such as freeing the IMC troops.

Loknur's base

Loknur's cloning operation is based in a defunct IMC mining installation on a planet a couple of parsecs from Teshub. The planet was considered so uninteresting by Earth's survey corps that it wasn't even given a name, just a catalogue number. The atmosphere is thin and cold, containing barely enough oxygen for humans to breathe. The dominant flora are various species of fungus, and the dominant fauna are small, herbivorous crustaceans who feed on the fungus. Once the valuable minerals had been extracted, IMC abandoned the place and it's been forgotten ever since.

Loknur's base is an sprawling, labyrinthine mass of underground caves. The former IMC offices and ore processing facility - now occupied by Loknur and his troops - are well-lit, with precisely cut, squared-off walls and doorways. The former central ore smelting facility is a rectangular box about ninety feet long by fifty feet wide, with observation gantries around its upper level. The smelting equipment has been stripped out, and the floor is now completely occupied by Sontaran cloning vats filled with green nutrient solution.

The outer areas are rough rock, twisted into a variety of bizarre shapes by the ore extraction process. In several places, the tunnels open out onto chasms hundreds of feet deep, spanned by crude metal suspension bridges. There are lights set into the walls, but most are inoperative - an easy technical roll will get them working again, although they're poorly maintained and low on power, so their light will be dim and flickering. Loknur doesn't have access to a great deal of advanced sensor equipment, and the traces of metallic ore in the rock will interfere with scanning, so the played-out mine would be a good place for the PCs to hide if they manage to rescue the captives, although food and water will become a problem after a while.

If Loknur succeeds in taking at least some prisoners, IMC will send every combat-capable vessel they have to mount a rescue mission - once they know where the hostages are being held. Loknur's three light destroyers are in orbit around the planet, but if an IMC fleet shows up, they'll flee rather than fight. Although his ships are technologically superior to anything IMC can field, Loknur has no way to replace them if they're destroyed or critically damaged, and he won't risk them in a fight against a numerically superior foe when he has nothing to gain from it.

Loknur himself is more likely to be fled than dead by the end of the adventure. If IMC or Earth's government learn of his scheme to replace the company's leaders with programmed clones, they'll be on their guard against any further attempts at infiltration that he might make, which will be a partial victory in itself.

Of course, the PCs face a moral dilemma during this adventure - by saving the IMC leadership from Loknur, they are helping to protect a corrupt, oppressive company that is keeping hundreds of thousands of colonists in poverty and servitude. If they've allied themselves with Delfino, he may point out that the Lyttell Geste already has a hundred-strong strike team on standby - the team that Loknur was supposed to send to the Night's Dream - and that if the characters can transport at least some of the team to Loknur's base, they could help snatch IMC's senior echelon from the Sontarans' grasp and deliver them into the hands of the Lyttell Geste. That would leave Loknur defeated and IMC forced to negotiate a more ethical policy.