TRU Echo

Season 2, Episode 1: The Sickle and Star (Part 1) [Session 28]

Session 28
Session Date: 6 December 2012
Players: Brad, Braon, Lenora, Lex, TJ

Game Date: 10 November 2012
Location: Amsterdam, the Netherlands

With Shepherd barking out directions, Hawkeye navigates the streets southeast of the Hague.  “There,” Shepherd says, pointing to a highway on-ramp, “take the A4 north.  We’re heading to Amsterdam.”
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“In this boat?” Martin asks.

“Well, it’s all we got for now.  We’ll find something more…discreet…as soon as possible.”

Jack finally gets Kamal patched up, then yells up to Shepherd, “Boss, it’s good to see you again…..by the way where in the blazes were you!? What exactly happened at Department B?"

Once he helps Hawkeye get on the highway, Shepherd makes his way to the back of the van.  He rests a hand on Kamal’s shoulder.  “You’re going to be ok.”

Kamal grimaces in response.

Shepherd sits down.  He looks tired, stressed.  “It’s a long story, but I’ll try to be quick.  We can talk about it more in Amsterdam.  I was fired by the powers that be, but now I’m not sure how legit the whole thing was.  I don’t have a lot of contacts back in Department B, that’s just the way things are – very compartmentalized.  But from what I hear there was some sort of internal shake-up around the time I got fired.  Hell, they didn’t even do it in person, just sent me the paperwork.  Now, from what I hear, everything is in shambles because of Antarctica.”

The members of TRU Echo begin to explain the situation, but Shepherd stops them with an upheld hand.  “I’m not saying it’s your fault.  I think it was a setup.  Something about the whole situation stinks.  Anyway, I had to get you out of there.  I’ve still got ties to…well you know now…the Basement.  Sorry I had to keep it from you all in the past.  Orders, know what I mean?  But fuck orders now.  We’re on our own.  We’ve got some friends: Kamal and his buds, Carla is in Amsterdam…there are others.  But it’s not much.  Anyway, something big is going on; there’s a buzz running through the Basement circles like crazy.  I think it has to do with North Korea and Red Sickle – you know, that string we were trying to unravel before I was kicked out.”

“Anyway, Department B is gone.  The TRUs are gone.  From now on, we’re just Echo.”

Shepherd takes another swig from his flask and offers it to the rest of the group.

Hawkeye grabs the flask and takes a long drink. A couple members of the group eye him, a bit surprised he’d drink and drive without hesitation.

As the group continues the drive toward Amsterdam, Martin settles into his seat and askes Shepherd, “Why did you rescue us?”

When Shepherd looks at Martin to reply, Martin can’t help but see how haggard and tired Shepherd looks.  The man – who was probably no more than 40 – looks at least 10 to 20 years older.  Sure the alcohol and Shepherd’s unkempt appearance contributes to this, but there is something else…almost as if Shepherd has lost his vitality, his strength.  "What else was I going to do," Shepherd replies with a shrug and half-hearted chuckle.  "Department B was all I had.  And like I said, there’s something big going on I’m afraid.  I can’t stop it by myself, that’s for sure."  

As Shepherd speaks, most of the group pays him close attention, and it is clear that there is more to Shepherd’s story.  It doesn’t seem that Shepherd is trying to decisive the group,  but rather that his past ties to Department B, and perhaps even the Basement by extension, goes further than his profession.

“This exit?  To Amsterdam?  OK, got it.  Pretty convenient that Amsterdam is spelled the same in English and in whatever the hell language they speak here…I should be able to follow the signs, but help me out if anyone sees anything.  We ain’t got no GPS and I’ve never driven here before, so just keep an eye out for me.

“No offense, but you look like shit, Shepherd.  But it’s good to see you again.  You too, Kamal.  It’s weird to see you without you being mostly dead.

“So, what’s waiting for us in Amsterdam?  And who’s waiting for us?  And for fuck’s sake, tell us everything you know about the Basement, because I think I can speak for the rest of us when I say that we are damned sick and tired of running around like a chicken with its head cut off not knowing what the hell we’re doing! 

“If you want our help, and I’m guessing by the fact that you rescued us from UN prosecution that you must, you need to give us as much information as you have.  What the hell is the Basement.  How do we get there and how does whatever lives there get here? 

“Look, we’ve seen several people, mostly Red Sickle, with strange mutations and powers — is that related to the Basement?  If so, how?  Is that a side-effect or a purposeful change? 

“We also saw a girl get transformed into some kind of beast by a grenade.” [I describe the grenade-thing that transformed Shannon McLeod in some detail.] "What the f#ck was that and how do we protect ourselves if our enemies are wielding that kind of power?

“And finally, what do you know about the current leadership of Dept B.  Because they’re at the top of my Fucked-With-The-Wrong-Person list.”

Hawkeye continues to rant for a little while more before Shepherd can calm him down with another offer of the flask. The two trade the flask back and forth for a couple more drinks before Shepherd discards it in the floor of the van. “There will be time for talking at the apartment in Amsterdam,” Shepherd says. First, let’s get to Central Station, ditch this heap of metal, and get the apartment so we can lay low.”

  • The group ditches the van near the busy area of Amsterdam known as Central Station. Jack cleans the van out, trying to make sure they leave no evidence behind, and they remove the van’s license plate, hoping to buy themselves a little more time before the police find the van.
  • Once the group finds the apartment, which is just a few blocks off the Red Light District, they discover that Carla is there waiting. She eagerly greets Adrian and even seems to be relieved that the rest of the group is ok. Kamal tends to his wounds, gets cleaned up, and tells the group he has to leave. He explains that he was helping Shepherd out as a favor to the group and that the Mossad doesn’t even know what’s going on. Before leaving, though, he admits that he knows about the Basement, and that his assignment within the Mossad is to ensure Israel’s enemies – especially Iran – doesn’t gain access to the Basement.
  • After everyone settles in, Shepherd begins to explain to the group what he knows about the Basement. First, he caveats the information by saying that he has only been to the Basement on a couple of occasions, and both of those times were only for a brief period. He explains that the Basement is a sort of world that is somewhat parallel to the “normal” world, though physically linked by subterranean “gateways” created through nuclear testings. Apparently the initial Gateways to the Basement were create by the US and USSR in the 1950s during nuclear subsurface tests. Shepherd goes on to explain that the Cold War was really more about a race to gain access and control of the Basement than it was any sort of ideological, economic, political, or overt military conflict. In the 1970s, when other countries began learning about the Basement and wanting to gain access to it, the US, USSR, and other key nations realized the danger in widespread access to the Basement. This led to the Limited Test Ban Treaty, which the US and USSR sought to use as an instrument to limit other countries’ access to the Basement. In recent years, countries such as India, Pakistan, and North Korea have all sought to create their own Gateways, with limited success. The belief is that North Korea tried to create Gateways in 2006 and 2009 but was unsuccessful.
  • Shepherd goes on to explain that there are three main “levels” to the Basement, which are roughly divided into “Landings.” The First Landing is used as a base of operations for further excursions into the Basement. This is where humans establish base camps with medical, research, and military facilities. This is also where Basement exploration teams deploy out of. Occasionally, Basement creatures venture into the First Landing, but they are weaker there. The Second Landing is where most exploration takes place. On the Second Landing, exploration teams often encounter the more monstrous, less intelligence Basement creatures. This area is “psycho-reactive” in nature, with a morphing landscape that cannot be accurately mapped. The Third Landing is by far the most dangerous, but also the most lucrative for exploration. This is where intelligent creatures have been contacted, and this is where powerful “Artifacts” can most often be found and brought back to the surface world for study. These artifacts are most often objects made of materials not native to Earth and possess strange powers. The Third Landing also features inconsistent physical relativity to the Earth surface world, and can be used to transverse the equivalent of long-distances on the surface world in just a short period of time. Conversely, it is possible to travel for long periods of time on the Third Landing, only to discover that the travel has accomplished little more than returning to an exploration team’s starting point.
  • Prolonged, repeated exposure to the Basement almost always leads to physical transformation, manifestation of mutations, and the occasional development of a Basement-like supernatural ability. The most common physical traits are nuclear burns, elongated body parts, exaggerated facial features, and coloration changes in the skin, hair, eyes, etc. More radical changes are possible with increased exposure, especially on the Second and Third Landings.
  • Shepherd’s experience in the Basement came through two trips to a Gateway in Chernobyl. The Chernobyl Gateway, commonly called the Trap Door, is run by a combination of the Russian and Ukrainian mafia and ultimately headed by Ivan Gregori Masarov, the Godfather of the Soviet Mafia. Masarov was thought to have died in the 1990s, but in fact he went into hiding to run the Trap Door Gateway full time. Passage into the Trap Door can be bought for the right price ($50,000 US per person for a week), and Masarov and his men can also be sought ought for information about the Basement, its inhabitants, and goings-on.
  • Taking all this information about the Basement in, the conversation shifts briefly to Adrian’s brother, Andrew, and the Ukrainian ship captain who betrayed the group, Leonid Kuchma. Shepherd reveals that Andrew was originally a member of TRU Alpha and that Shepherd was his handler. It was because of Andrew’s success that Department B recruited Adrian. Andrew eventually transferred to TRU Bravo, which was headed by a friend of Shepherd’s named Carlos Frost. After a stint with TRU Bravo, Andrew was assigned to a Subterrestrial Operational Theater Exploration Team and based out of the Tartarus Gateway in the Nevada desert. Shepherd believes that whatever happened with Department B probably also affected the Basement exploration teams and that Andrew may have been trying to warn Adrian. Shepherd is also worried that Andrew may be in trouble and perhaps even trapped in the Basement. The only lead Shepherd has to contact Andrew is Carlos Frost, and the only way Shepherd knows to contact Frost is through a special radio frequency transmitter device ties to the Basement at the Trap Door Gateway (the same way Shepherd was able to contact the group).
  • As for Kuchma, Shepherd followed his activities after the incident in Antarctica. Immediately following the incident, Kuchma took his ship, the Kapitan Belousov, to New York City, where it was docked for a few days. After that, Kuchma conducted operations primarily in the Black Sea for the next few months. Eventually the Kapitan Belousov was decommissioned in the military naval port of Nikolaev. Kuchma then began using a much smaller cargo ship called the Star and Sickle, which was also based out of Nikolaev. Once Shepherd started planning to break the group out of the ICC, he didn’t have time to monitor Kuchma, and so he hadn’t followed his activities over the last few months.
  • The group considers their options. They toss around the idea of traveling to the US and seeing what became of their safehouse, but dismiss the idea because of concerns of traveling to the US. They also debate whether they should spend their limited resources on buying passage into the Trap Door Gateway in Ukraine in search of clues leading to Andrew. Eventually they decide the best course of action is to track down Kuchma and the Star and Sickle so they can interrogate the captain. They are able to dig up a good deal about the ship, to include pictures, specifications used during its initial sea trials, registry information for its current activities, etc. They learn that Kuchma is current transferring classified military cargo from Ukraine to the North Korean port of Songjin. They are able to track the ship via its transponder and learn that it is currently transiting the western Indian Ocean. They deduce that it will likely pass through the Malacca Straight in about four or five days, and so they set a plan into motion to board the ship.
  • Adrian leads the effort in creating false identification papers for the group, to include a pilot license for Hawkeye. Meanwhile, Martin is able to purchase plain tickets from Istanbul to Jakarta using their new fake identities and hide his online purchasing information. The group drives to Istanbul, flies to Jakarta, and then splits up. Adrian and Hawkeye go to a local tourism company, Transwisata, where Adrian is able to smooth talk her way into the company allowing her to rent a helicopter. Meanwhile, Jack, Lincoln, and Martin work the Jakarta black market, meeting up with some street thugs who are able to supply the group with a hunting rifle, a shot gun, six pistols, two bulletproof vests, and some camouflaged fatigues. The group is also able to acquire gear for repelling out of the helicopter and Adrian is able to locate common chemical substances necessary for building a homemade bomb.
  • The group continues to track the progress of the Star and Sickle, and on the evening of the day after they arrived in Jakarta, the Star and Sickle begins transiting the Malacca Straight. The group immediately heads out on the tourist helicopter to intercept the ship.

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