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Kira's Story

The following essay was written by one of my players in the last big Traveller campaign that I ran (1997), Steve Hatherley. Steve shares his own views on how the game of Traveller worked for him below. He has been published a number of times, with material for Call of Cthulhu, Mythos and GURPS still around....

Twilight's Peak: Steve on Kira

I don't like playing opposite-sex characters. It confuses the hell out of me when people do it. I also don't think I can play women particularly well, so I try to steer clear. Usually.

I joined Dominic's already-established game with Greg and Allison. Together, with Jac (Captain) and Rob (gunner) we made five. Dominic had a couple of pre-generated characters and gave them to Greg and myself. (Allison rolled her own.) Pregenerated characters suit me because I cannot be bothered with the hassle of rolling up. I am lazy. By chance, my character was female but my initial thought was to ignore that. I planned to play a bloke, as usual.

Dominic introduced the game. We were joining the crew of the Empress Nichole, which was a few men short of a crew. In particular, it needed a pilot and an engineer, positions Greg and Allison filled. Me, I was the steward. Unfortunately, the Captain required that each crew member invest Cr:15,000 in the "Partnership." I looked at my mustering out benefits: none. I looked at Greg's - he had sixty grand. Hmmm. I had a problem.

(I guess I could have discussed it with Dominic. He would probably have given the character some cash to allow me to join the crew, but it didn't cross my mind. As far as I was concerned, my character was broke.)

I don't know where it came from, but I had a flash of inspiration: "Greg, let's be married. I'll play your wife." There was a look of horror on his face, and he refused. I started getting excited about the idea: I've never played in a married couple before (I am not married myself) and it struck me as not only a challenge, but also utterly different. It took me ten minutes to convince Greg. He agreed reluctantly, with one condition. We weren't really married, but that's what we would tell everyone else. Fine. I didn't mind. Say hello to Kira (me) and her husband, Art (Greg).

The game started.

To me, Traveller is about ordinary people in a fantastic universe. We're not heroes saving the world, we don't have awesome powers and abilities. We're simply a bunch of people trying to scrape a living. That's Traveller at its best - and it's a good description of Dominic's game. Twilight's Peak is in there somewhere, but mostly it's restaurants, hangovers, cargo, fuel, management theory and business practice. Up until our first and only firefight the only combat situation occurred when Hunter (Rob's gunner) provoked Tlankhu (Allison's Aslan engineer) and was cuffed as a result. Hunter pulled a gun which resulted in disciplinary hearings and Hunter being sacked. Characters wander around in dressing gowns, clutching cups of coffee rather than wearing cloth and brandishing snub pistols. As I said, ordinary people.

I don't know if playing a wife changed my perceptions, but I became aware of a blindspot in Traveller (actually, in most games). The thing about ordinary people is that their lives are dominated by relationships. Couples are everywhere. Girlfriends, boyfriends, husbands, wives - the world is full of them. Yet what I find remarkable in Traveller is the sheer absense of relationships.

I don't mean rules and tables for determining star signs and compatibility, but just that the feel of the game (in its adventures and descriptions) ignores relationships.

Marriage seems particularly alien. I cut my roleplaying teeth on Traveller but I don't ever remember reading anything that suggested that people got married. Staterooms, for example, seem mighty cramped when you're sharing!

I put these thoughts aside (they had no effect on the game) and continued playing.

A few weeks later I was chatting with some friends and they jokingly suggested that I should become pregnant to spook Greg. I laughed, but the idea lodged in my mind. I already knew that Kira's goal was to raise enough money so she could settle down and raise a family (ordinary people, remember). I was already paying close attention to the book-keeping. And pregnancy, even unplanned pregnancy, seemed appropriate enough. (And hell, if I was going to the trouble of playing a woman, why not go the distance?)

Of course, if Traveller lacked when it came to accommodating married couples, families were right out. Yet where are the family-run Free Traders? Ships with kids aboard, ships passed down from generation to generation. Ships that are homes as well as businesses. Think about it for a while. I did. So where are they?
Once I had decided that I was going to be pregnant, the trick was finding the right moment for the announcement. I also discovered (to my surprise) that it wasn't going to be easy. To my surprise, I was nervous.

It was several weeks before the opportunity arose.

Our one and only firefight had far-reaching consequences. Kira wasn't personally involved in the incident, she was brooding aboard the Empress, but the pivotal moment took place during the escape. In order to appear "natural" in front of some cops, Art kissed the Captain. It was just a short kiss, hardly romantic or passionate. The Captain was as shocked as everyone else. (Actually, it was unlike Art. Unfortunately, Greg was away and Art had been "loaned" to Nickey who was planning on joining the group. I don't think Greg would have kissed the Captain, but it was too late to go back.) Comments were rife, particularly concerning what Kira would do to Art should she ever find out. But, as it happened, everyone kept quiet (at least, around Kira) and she didn't find out. Not for a few weeks, certainly.

The trouble started, as it inevitably does, at a restaurant. I don't know what the Captain was up to, but she was drunk and playing sexual politics. After blowing hot and cold over Eneri (our new crewmember), she dragged me aside and told me about The Kiss. That Art snogged her. She sounded pleased. With nothing more to go on, I assumed the Captain had encouraged him. My head spun - as we weren't really married it shouldn't really matter whom Art kissed. But if Kira was pregnant, now was the time to do something about it. So I stormed across the restaurant, threw a drink over Art, and stomped out. The Captain tried to follow, but I made it quite clear that I wasn't happy with her, either. I took a taxi back to the Empress, alone, and had a good weep.

Back at the restaurant, Eneri decided to see how I was.

Unfortunately that left Art and the Captain alone in the restaurant, which set me off again. And then Eneri asked, "What's the matter? Tell me about it."

It went quiet. Everyone was watching. It was now or never. And I froze - I had major stage fright. Eventually (it seemed like ages) I blurted "I'm pregnant!" Everyone fell about laughing. Bastards! They're not supposed to do that - this is serious stuff. Greg's face was a picture - as was Dominic's. I could see him mentally tossing aside any hope of us meeting the scenario.

As for me, I was stunned. I had said it, and it was the hardest thing I have done in ages. I hadn't really recovered before we ended that night. Art proposed to me (properly) and I accepted and that was more-or-less it for that week.

What I hadn't expected was that announcing the fact that Kira was pregnant would be so liberating. Afterwards, once I had recovered from the shock, I felt good. Really, really good - it was a buzz that lasted a full 24 hours. (I had a great day at work.) Roleplaying has hit me like that once or twice before, but it's a rare feeling. Certainly I would never have imagined that announcing myself to be pregnant in a noisy, distracting games club would recreate feelings that have resulted from some of the most intense games I've played. Remarkable.

And to think that all this arose from a quirk on my character sheet and me grabbing the opportunity to spook Greg. Of course it backfired on me as Greg returned the compliment. In spades . . .
Greg was ill the following week, but he had explained to Dominic that he wasn't completely happy with the game. So Art walked out on me. I was, well, spooked. And then some. Over the next two sessions (covering a mere 48 hours game time - Greg was actually present for the second session) we scoured the starport but could not find him. Two sessions of me being teary and upset, the Captain rubbing everyone up the wrong way and Tlankhu, er, finding her own entertainment. (Trust me, it played better than it sounds.)

Then Art turned up. Just like that. I cried and accused him of leaving me. His explanation wasn't brilliant, and I became more upset. While this went on, the Captain really upset Tlankhu. Big time. Tlankhu stalked off and refused to answer her comlink. Gone for good, I thought.

It took a tragedy to bring her back. While I snarled at the Captain, explaining the finer points of Aslan etiquette, Art searched for Tlankhu. Then we got a call from the cops. Art had been involved in an incident. Oh god. Then we were directed to the infirmary. Oh god please no oh god. Art's been injured. He has been knifed, bad. No no no. And - he died. Kira went . . . well, she just went. I was stunned, and turned to Greg. "Bastard," I said.

Tlankhu comforted me at the infirmary, and lead me to where our ship was being refitted. It turned out that while Art was "missing" he had redecorated our room. And he had built a wooden cot. More tears, and Tlankhu left me alone. (I've not done this much weeping in a game before. I probably wouldn't describe Kira as especially emotional. It's just the way it worked out.)

The game wrapped up shortly after that. The Empress jumped and Dominic called the evening to a close. It seemed clear that it was more than just the evening though, as cracks were beginning to appear. Tlankhu had had enough and planned to resign as soon as possible. Kira needed to pick up the pieces of her life and the Empress Nichole, with a Captain she disliked and its growing reputation for piracy, probably wasn't the best place to do that.
So there it ended.
We never got to Twilight's Peak. We never saw much of Dominc's scenario. The Fifth Frontier War brewed in the background, but it was all overshadowed by the emotional turmoil generated by a few ordinary people and their very ordinary problems. And I wouldn't have it any other way - I've not played in such an entertaining game in a long while.

Next week I am playing an immortal elf in a political fantasy. Somehow, and despite playing a more "fantastic" character, I think it's going to be an anticlimax.

Copyright (c) 1997,1999 Steve Hatherley