Lily Pond Politics

``Do you see me?
 Do you see me see you?
 Do you see me see you seeing me?''

- Engraving on the Dome of Mirrors, Joyeaux Gard

2778.122.00.00 AS

The crew recalls that there is still a locked safe in Janzur's stateroom. Jayla bets Ace five asters that he cannot open it in twelve hours, correctly guessing that this will serve as incentive for him. He gets it open in four. Inside are one hundred 100 Aster commemorative chits, each stamped with the visage of Hegemon Vissarion. Also are a few disks of Captain Bellarion's personal correspondence. Finally, there is a small purple plastic block with something inside. The block is labeled "Classified - Command Personnel Only". After people fuss about it for a few moments, wondering if there might be some sort of security on it, Sook breaks the chit open. Inside is a piece of paper - after Sook looks at it for a bit, she says that it's the emergency shutdown code for use by the captain in case Hippocrates goes bad, and that this code has already been changed. The correspondence is turned over to Hippocrates for his perusal.

There is still the question of the bugs that the Gateway "pilot" planted on the bridge. Since a new set of people is awake, they all search too. One more bug is found.

Before heading to Riden, a detour is scheduled to the planet of Gateway, so Sook can pick up some things from her apartment. The ship lands at the local space port, and Sook and Dr. Symphony-Hayes head out to go to Sook's apartment. Ace goes shopping for supplies and a list of technical widgets that Sook gave him. While out, Ace also buys four "Big-grab A-packs!" of White at Jayla's request.

Sook is attacked by a bird. Sophia, also there, finds this a bit odd, but it's not a killer robo-bird or anything. It seems to have just crashed into her. They take the poor thing to Sook's apartment where, after some TLC, it's released out the window and flies away. Sook grabs some stuff from her attic, and reads her e-mail and the pair return to the Hippocrates.

Ace finds a local purveyor of "previously owned" technical devices, and acquires twenty encryptable radios. ("Hegemonic military grade encryption, guaranteed!") Then he talks to the salesmen and finds out the name of a psi who can verify somewhere as "safe." He makes arrangements to meet the guy over dinner to discuss things.

On the two days to the planet, Jayla talks to Calvin, in the hopes of getting him to turn over a new leaf, and discovers that he's lying about his story. Sadly, she isn't able to get the real story out of him. She demands to know what he's really up to. He says he's not up to anything, he just wants to go home. That part appears to be true. Still, carting around a slightly suspicious character any further than necessary seems foolish, so Calvin is released on Gateway. He thanks everyone and flees.

Jayla decides that fur and leathers may not be the ideal costume for meeting inworld Hegemons, so goes shopping for new clothes. After some discussion, she settles on "respected upper-middle class, though more exotic than corporate, somewhat like Eva but also sort of like Ruehan, then more weighted towards the Cruxian lobbyists" as a style, and buys some outfits that seem to fall into that category.

The Red Hegemony messenger disembarks the ship for a few hours (as long as they're waiting on planet). He returns, still carrying his briefcase, leaves it in his room, and heads to dinner. Ace wants to search the room and the briefcase, but Hippocrates won't let him. A review of the cameras from his stateroom show him putting the briefcase on the desk and pressing a button on it before he leaves - in fact, he's done this this every time he leaves the room, the whole time he's been on board.

Ace and Jayla go to meet the "safe house verifier" at dinner; everyone else goes to dinner at the same restaurant nearby. The psi's name is Lizst. His normal rate is 50 asters for a one-shot with no complication; they offer him 75 Asters for this one, since it comes with a lot of surveillance of their own. The two groups head back to the Hippocrates and meet up on the way; Lizst seems unsurprised to discover that another group from dinner is associated with Jayla and Ace. The group proceeds to the bridge via the Approved Path. Lizst is somewhat disconcerted by the fact that everything on the bridge is listening. Privacy mode gets engaged, but now it's more like Hippocrates is an inactive bug, not a nonexistent one. He goes and touches all the bridge consoles to rule them out, then asks if he can see the computer. There's a big pause, the group confers outside. In the end, they download Hippocrates into the device Sharra put together. Lizst doesn't really believe that this laptop thing is the ship computer (it's not even on the network!) He and Sook snap at each other a bit; he wants to know how it can be the ship computer and she says it doesn't matter, does it work for him or not? In the end, if Ace holds the device up by the one of the cameras, it works more than not. He thinks there's something in this area here, as well as something that can listen but isn't at the moment. Maybe it's the Hegemonic envoys? Or psis elsewhere on board? Hard to say. One bug is found in the area that he indicated, and other than that he thinks it's clean now (except for the weird not-listening listeners). They give him a tip and he takes off.

That's about it for Gateway, so off the group heads for the jump gate to Riden. Wilson comes out of the Kaufman tubes, asks where the group is, and is told they're heading to Riden. He looks a little startled that they're not done with that yet. Then, after lunch, he declares himself to be headachey and heads for the tubes again. Sook deems this highly suspicious and pounces on him. She squishes him like a bug, and determines that he's married; his wife is on Riden, and he was really hoping to be out of commission so that he didn't have to deal with seeing her. He doesn't think he can really hide on the ship; he can't go to the planet and not see her. Heading through the jumpgate, Jim flies Janzur's shuttle with Ace as copilot (after much discussion as to whether or not it's permitted) while Hippocrates flies himself.

After exiting the jump gate, Hippocrates is met by the Starguard escort ship Zachary Staughton. Both Ace and Sophia are rather surprised to hear the name, and Sophia asks why the ship is named after him. The second officer tells the story of how, in the fall of the Hegemony, there was a feint by the rebels that drew off most of the planetary defenses. Then, an attack came in from another direction. Zachary Staughton was a pilot who had not left with the rest; he was still at his favorite bar in Piriksburg, the Red Rider. When he heard of the incoming attack, he declared that he wasn't going to let the rebels destroy the bar, and took off. His defense held off the rebels long enough for the main fleet to return, but he was killed in the battle. In fact, down in Piriksburg, there's still a statue of Staughton, across from the Red Rider, which is still there.

On the way down to the planet, Hippocrates notes an Ajax-class battle cruiser docked at the space station. That was the most recently constructed battlecruier class of ship when Hippocrates was frozen. This is deemed worrisome, but there's not a lot to be done about it. Once landed, the ship is met by Jacques, Lord SanCostille, the Minister of Diplomatic Relations. He regrets that their audience with the Hegemon and his advisors will have to wait until tomorrow morning; there is an Event this evening, the Floating Quadrillion, to which the crew of the Hippocrates is invited. They can pick up their official invitations at the Protocol Office. Some time during this initial chat, Wilson arrives; he and Lord SanCostille stare at each other, Lord SanCostille says "You!", and Wilson beats a hasty retreat. Regaining his composure, Lord SanCostille apologizes for his sudden display, and reaffirms the invitations to the Quadrillion for the entire crew, Wilson included. Cornering the poor guy once more, the crew finally gets the whole sad story out of Wilson. His wife, daughter of Lord SanCostille, and he don't really get along, yet they can't divorce because then his wife would be forced into a political marriage, and the father really despises Wilson for these reasons, etc,. etc., etc. It's a bit of a mess, but he refuses the immediate offers of help, saying he'll figure out how to deal with it.

Jim and Jayla head to the Protocol Office to pick up invitations, and learn that one, people have to show up in person for security reasons, and two, Jim doesn't get an invitation, he's too young. He makes sad eyes at the Protocol Officer, who feels guilty enough to say that the Heir Presumptive was demanding an invitation and couldn't get one either, but not guilty enough to give him one. He says oh well, he'll go and work on his piloting report on the ship. The protocol officer also mentions "The dress may be rather... the Hegemon is not married." Dr. Symphony-Hayes wonders whether she should wear her SkyGuard uniform. On the one hand, it could cause difficulties if it's seen as a repudiation of the Red Hegemony. On the other hand, it's technically insulting if she doesn't wear the uniform if she should be wearing it for reasons of protocol. In the end, she decides to wear it.

"I suppose I can go look for a formalwear store that's not open..." - Ace
"No! No! Go look for one that is open! These things have to be fitted! You can't just steal something off the rack!" - Jayla
Sook and Ace go shopping for "new duds"; Sook has the Tinoori do her hair (it's interesting, in a slightly spidery sense, and it smells nice), so looks for "funky" clothes to go with the new 'do.

After the whole party heads off to the Floating Quadrillion, leaving poor Jim alone on the Hippocrates, a visitor appears. Walking up in a StarGuard uniform, (with no rank insignia), is Viktor Marchant, the Heir Presumptive of the Red Hegemony, flanked by two of the Elite Guardsmen. He asks to get a tour of the Hippocrates, but instead Jim comes out to talk to him. Viktor realized that they left Jim behind for the same reason he got left behind. No invitations to the Quadrillion for the young. Plotting revenge, Jim and Viktor head back to the Crystal Palace. Upon their arrival, Viktor shows Jim a secret passage leading out his rooms into the ventilation system which they can use to get around the palace. A few minutes later, they are seventy five feet above the Quadrillion looking down on the festivities below. Luckily for the pair, Jim seems to have a pair of opera glasses on him, so they get a great bird's eye view.

The rest of the party proceeds to the party, as it were. The Quadrillion takes place in a huge indoor reflecting pool, lit both by the glowing walls of the Crystal Pavilion and thousands of candles. Floating inches above the pool are what look like matte black lily pads; these drift around the room, merging and separating with each other in an intricate dance. The servers at the edge of the pool, who are helping people onto their lily pads, advise everyone to look in the direction of the people they want to talk to, and the computer will handle the rest. (Those asking around at the party discover more details; people can generally only initiate talking to people up to somewhat more important than them, but can earn karma for talking to more important people by the previous people they talked to being impressed with them. There are also random factors and trying to match together similar types.)

The party drifts on for a little while. Sook gets bored and starts hacking into the computer, where she discovers that there's another hacker already there (and in fact, is actually apparently physically at the mainframe). She refrains from changing any of the data herself to watch what he does. There are apparently six eligible women slated to be paraded in front of the Hegemon; the hacker is adjusting the position of Jennett Tyrell from number five to number three, and then protecting her position from disruption by random factors. Meanwhile, from the roof Jim has noticed much the same thing - everyone but three people are playing approximately the same game, are in the same dance. Jennett is drifting out-of-flow, and Sook and another lily pad are mostly ignoring everyone (at least, at the point at which Jennett is getting to the Hegemon). Jim calls Ace, who confers with the others, and the third lily pad is identified as Leonid Stace, a celebrity.

Just as Jennett's lily pad reaches the Hegemon, there is a power glitch. The lights flicker, the lily pads briefly dip, and the Elite around the edge of the pool get extra-jumpy. Sook reports that this was caused by the hacker setting off a "software bomb" to wipe his traces and pulling out. Nothing else ominous happens, but the Hegemon thereafter seems to be much more interested in Jennett, and her lily pad does a bunch of legitimate loops back to him before her total permitted duration expires. After that, one of the people she heads over to is Sophia, to find out if Sophia's uniform is representative of the nasty Blue Hegemony - she is somewhat mollified to learn that it isn't.

Jayla tries to use Silent-Hunter-Language to talk to Gareth venDolian, the head of the Elite (he actually has a plasma brand!). It's not clear whether he understands her or not, but he directs her lily pad over to the edge, and she briefs him on the whole hacker thing. Ace volunteers to be the hacker for the story, so Sook doesn't get in trouble, but Jayla doesn't think that'll work, so fingers Sook. At first Jayla explains how the Hegemon seems to have "lost control" during the blackout, but partway through the conversation realizes instead that what happened was that the psi damper in the room went down briefly. The Elite get detailed to grab Leonid and Jennett when they leave; the Hegemon doesn't seem to be letting them cause too much trouble, and nobody seems to be in current danger.

Jim and Viktor head up to the Bellarion, where Jim gets a tour. He gets to see the Cassandra Lyrae painting of Margot Bellarion, and notes that the ship has Lots of Guns and three pilots.

Leonid Stace tries to leave, and gets intercepted and taken away by the Elite. Sook goes and turns herself in to the Elite, who take her to a nice friendly lounge instead of an interrogation area with bright lights. They ask her to make a statement of what she learned, and that it be technically "verified." She asks for anonymity and confidentiality. They say sure; they can remove her from the list of publically attending people, but that might actually cause more trouble, if she's noticed to no longer be listed. They settle on not mentioning in the statement that she was actually at the party (plus the previously mentioned anonymity in the statement). "Verification" seems to involve sitting in a chair with numerous sensors, after drinking a tracer compound and swearing to the truth. They say verification is not fool-proof, but good enough that they believe anyone it registers truth on. Jayla also manages to get to talk to Jennett; she appears to be telling the truth and not know anything about a plot. However, Jayla's sense is that she's innocent, but that it's not her fault she's innocent.

Everyone (except Wilson) returns to the ship and trades information. Even Jim show up from his various travels, sporting a "Bellarion" hat (it is promptly checked for bugs). Discussion indicates that the ploy may have been intended to cause a more active war between the Blue and Red Hegemonies, given the strong anti-Blue tendencies Jennett demonstrated. Now that the Red Hegemon seems to be infatuated with her, a marriage might completely destabilize relations between the two powers. Jayla's later intuitions indicate that this event in itself won't push things over the edge, especially now that the Elite Guards know about it all, but it certainly can be a step.

The morning papers indicate that "noted celebrity Leonid Stace suffered a massive stroke, as he left the Quadrillion last evening, leaving him completely incapacitated." Jayla manages to talk to some of her more "tame" Elite Guardsmen, who reveal that he had some sort of mental cortex bomb that pretty much wiped the poor fool clean during the interrogation.

The duly-scheduled presentation to the Hegemon and his advisors happens. Most of the questioning is done by the military StarGuard officers, and by three uplifted mice introduced as Remus, Artemus, and Shamus. Jayla manages to evade some of the most pointed questions. The Hegemon leaves after the first hour, while extra points are thrashed out for another three or four by the advisors. During the later time, a polite offer is made that the Hippocrates join the StarGuard, but Jayla isn't quite persuaded to, and declines. The Hippocrates is asked to stay around for long enough for various people to take a look at the redliner and the Tarn.

The question comes up as to whether Jennett Tyrell was previously quite so anti-Blue, or if that was also perhaps a telepathic effect, and Wilson says he'll look into it.

Ace and Sophia make a day trip to Piriksburg; as promised, there is a statue of Zachary Staughton there, with a plaque: "For the honor of the Red Rider." They have a drink in his memory (Sophia has several), and Sophia leaves a flower at the foot of the statue.