Double Cross

"Everyone has a dream.
   Everyone has a fantasy.
      Everyone has a moment they have been waiting to live.
            Find yours, at Joyous Gard."

-- Marketing brochure, 2712

2779.191 - 2779.199 AS
Nurl -> the Well

While sitting on the landing pad on Nurl discussing various options for how to proceed, a messenger shows up to deliver something to Max. He claims to be from Citizen Antonis of the well, and delivers a small scroll when he meets Max. It turns out to be an invitation to a wedding of a citizen on the Well. Max comments that it is someone who he helped out once, long ago, and she appears to be marrying up, to the point that she'll be made citizen at the ceremony. He'd like to attend if possible.

Meanwhile, Hippocrates has gotten an email:

Jump-Fees: inworld

Hello, friends!  

I hope your travels have found you well.  I remember your visit
fondly, especially now that I've returned to my old haunts.  Jotha
also says hello.  

I'd love to see you again - might you be able to drop by some time

So, between the two of these events, it seems a fine time to head to everyone's favorite pleasure planet.

First, there is a little cleaning up to be done on Nurl. Commander Branch, when asked, insists that the Brochoah cannot ask that Dr. Smith be dissuaded from presenting his obligation, nor can they put conditions on it. After a fair bit of discussion, in which everyone notes that Sophia makes numerous cogent and well-phrased arguments, people decide to send in Dr. Smith with his bowl and Dr. Kye to watch, hoping for the best. Ideally, they'd like to get Dr. Smith in on an NDA, but he seems a bit against it.

The interview with a Brochoah goes well, and Drs. Kye and Smith get to ask many questions about Brochoan life. In the end, the Brochoah try to entice Dr. Smith into signing an NDA, offering funding and other inducements, but he holds firm. He leaves the situation as, "I won't tell anyone about you today if you come back and talk to me tomorrow." The crew, impressed by Smith's will rolls, decide he's probably got the situation under control and wish him well.

On the way out, Max convinces people to stop at the GloryWeb shipping orbital, as he's convinced that the trail to whoever hired the Ghost leads there. In fact, it leads to GloryWeb Secure Slip #2, to which (after a fair bit of chicanery by Ace) Max, Ace, and Dr. Kye pay a little visit. Posing as maintainence workers, they manage to get into an office where they discover the box the bowl was in, in the trash, along with a note indicating when it would arrive. Dr. Kye's power reveals that the note was written by a high management type with a nice office and given to a guy who was supposed to pick up the bowl, until he discovered the box was empty. Max takes numerous fingerprints and discovers that the note was given to the very GloryWeb guy whose office this is, so no outside involvement seems likely. Kye also decides that the cardboard box itself is very sure that it belongs to Sophia.

"I've never seen such devotion in a cardbord box before." - Kye
Sophia makes a number of truly insightful comments about cardboard boxes, and the party begins to settle in for the long trip to the Well. Kith writes a poem:
Knowing nanotech
Sophia Symphony-Hayes
Sprightly immortal
At one point, Dr. Kye is spotted wandering around casually near Sophia's lab, flipping a vial of affection in his hands. This causes some small panic, after which Ace steals the vial and it is made clear that:
"For the record, the crew is not a mated group." Anya
Hippocrates decides to convene a briefing session on the Well, at which all current information about the Well is disscussed, in case the crew comes across anything relevant while on planet. Sophia mostly dominates the meeting with her sheer presence and command of the relevant materials, but Hippocrates does manage to keep everyone involved.

Kith hopes that perhaps Black can be acquired on the Well, but Ace gives a short lecuture about how, while that is possible, it instantly gets you put on the short list of people who are watched all the time. In addition, it's not like they sell you Black to take with you. The way it works is: you pay the foolish sum of money for a hit of Black, you go into the Matrix's palace, they shoot you up with Black, and you leave. There's certainly no "taking some Black home with you" for study involved.

There's much discussion of the wedding Max will attend, as everyone questions the natives as to proper protocol regarding Citizen weddings:

"I'm an Indigene. Do you know how many Citizen weddings I've ever been to?" -Max
"Let me count them on my trunk." -Ace
It is decided however that while the exact protocols might be unknown, Max does have to bring a suitable gift. After much debate about possible gifts, Sophia forges a grand compromise, and it is decided that the gift shall consist of a private sitting with Cassandra Lyrae, a vial of affection, and some Pierogi wine.

Kye takes this time to examine the passbook in further detail. It does seem to be real, as far as he can tell, but it's primary function is still "Bait", so it's decided not to deal with it except in emergencies. With all of the briefings and discussions acomplished it's off to the Well.

The first stage of the trip is a high energy secure jump from Nurl to Juice. When they pop out, the whole of the Blue fleet seems to be waiting for them, and there's some brief tension as targetting systems come on line, until Hippocrates identifies himself. "Oh it's you," the Blue Fleet says, and off the party proceeds to the jump to the Well.

Landing on the planet, 300 asters are spent buying tourist visas for all, though it is decided that since Hippocrates can probably handle further payments remotely, tourist visa insurance is not necessary. (Ace spends 100 asters (included above) getting through "the smugglers door", while Kith has her embassy pay for her visa.). Ace reminds everyone not to buy drugs while on the planet, because while it's legal, they'll just mess it up.

Clarifying the details of the wedding as he confirms his attendance, Max finds that he can bring both a companion and a retinue with him (this is in fact standard practice for those attending Citizen weddings, though it's not so standard practice for those who are Indigenes). Kith volunteers to be his companion, and much of the rest of the crew make up the retinue. There is much shopping and designing of proper attire. Everyone but Sophia and Ace decide to attend.

Another 50 Asters is spent getting most of the party into Joyous Gard, where Kith registers as an ambassador with the Matrix's palace (she's given an ID, and "epsilon" upgrade to her visa, and 150 asters worth of matching casino chips), Dr. Kye begins learning the finer points of gambling, and most everyone takes the free Gondola ride. During the ride, Kye determines that the dome and central palace are all that remain of the original construction, though the palace has been significantly improved since its original configuration.

Katya notes that someone seems to have recognized Ace.

Back at the Hippocrates, a lower-class guy comes and offers to wash the ship for three asters. While covering one of the sensors with a paper to keep it from getting wet, Hippocrates can read that the other side of the paper says "Richards Cafeteria, noon, tomorrow."

Back in Joyous Gard, Kye buys a three-night combo ticket to the Wild Games (a team game, a gladiator tournament fight, and a miscellaneous non-arena fight). Kith goes to the gardens, which she deems very nicely done. Kye gets a pamplet for the pleasure palaces. A nice young man spots Anya as dangerous-looking and tries to recruit her for the Wild Games. A groupie tries to get introduced to Sophia, drawn by her mesmerizing charm and flair, but Kith tells the groupie that Sophia doesn't meet the public in person.

Anya mentions considering playing in the Wild Games. Max tries to talk her out of it, and Kye tries to talk her into it, though he does mention the gladiatorial fighter he's heard of who has a specialty of chopping people's hands off so that they can't tap out a surrender, and he gets to kill them instead. Meanwhile Ace, who has been talking to people here and there, says that the official word on the street is that there is a Resistance, but that the Matrix has crushed it. The unofficial word is that it may not be all the way crushed, but it's definitely in the process of going down.

Kye gets lured into playing roulette, where a woman flirts with him and tries to get him to keep betting. Kith investigates the prices for companionship, and determines that nothing is available for three asters; you have to start at five.

"What kind of companionship can you get for three asters without gambling?" -Kith
Kye watches a tiger fight; Anya is about to head over to watch a different Wild Game when Hippocrates calls everyone back in. Ace briefs people on the Resistance. Hippocrates shows video of the ship-washer and his note. A plan is concocted: Katya, Ace, and Anya will go to the meeting, while everyone else lurks nearby in the van. Ace whips up some poor disguises, but at least the group looks less like tourists than they did before. They don't spot the person they're supposed to contact, and while Ace tries to subtly flash around a Hippocrates crew button, nobody seems to see it. Katya finally notices someone wondering to themselves where Janzur and Jayla are, and Ace goes over to talk to him.

Ace introduces himself, and says that Jayla couldn't come. The guy claims (somewhat unconvincingly) not to know Jayla - could Ace describe her? Ace does. Janzur is mentioned: "...and he's got a... [leading pause]" "woooooowwwwm". Credentials have been verified. The guy admits to being Jotha, and says that they have to help them, they're getting killed. Can the party meet with Victor?

How long has he been in the game, Ace asks. Since Jayla recruited him, of course. What changed now? Well, now all the secret cells have been being killed, that's changed. Victor would like to meet with them at the warehouse where the last cell was killed - he's hoping that they'll be able to find out more of a clue as to what happened. Can they meet him there at 2am? Ace agrees to it, and Jotha heads off, looking jumpy and overly paranoid. Anya goes with him, to walk him to work and interrogate him a bit, but he doesn't know a lot more.

Ace fills everyone else in on the meeting. Hippocrates has been trying to monitor the police band since landing, but there haven't been any calls regarding the warehouse that he's picked up so far. The group considers how one would use psi to find "all resistance members" - if Max were to start, well, there's Jotha. Or he could troll around being dissatisfied, and see who tried to recruit him. Okay, maybe Max wouldn't be the best one to try this. Katya could just try reading everyone's mind and see what people think about the Resistance. Hmm.

The group proceeds early to the warehouse, where Ace cases the joint - it is negligbly guarded, and is such that a giant rabbit with a cymbal could set up an ambush and not be noticed. Ace and Max sneak in, and find the big blood-stained part of the floor with the crumpled up police tape. There seems to be no one here now, except for the guy with the sniper rifle in the rafters. Well, he's a problem. Max goes out and gets Kith, and brings her in as not a problem. The two of them creep up to the rafters, where Kith concentrates for a bit. After a few minutes, the sniper falls asleep, and plummets to the floor below. Thud. Oops.

Everyone (except Dr. Kye and Sophia, guarding the van) dashes in, where Anya hits the fallen guy with heal patches and Kith mends some broken ribs. He's still unconscious, though. Katya tries to sift through his memories, and gets that he was one of the rebels who got shot at, and he was here to shoot Victor, in case Victor came back, because Victor betrayed them. Katya motions that this guy is a white hat (leaving aside the shooting Victor part). They hide his unconscious body behind some boxes.

Outside in the van, a policeman with a gun asks if Dr. Kye and Sophia are enjoying themselves. Dr. Kye snuggles with Sophia, and she blushes. Yes, they are. Well, could they be moving along? They do so, taking the van about a block away, where Dr. Kye gets out a pocket scrabble set.

"So.... should we continue our cover?" -Dr. Kye, alluringly.
The van team warns the inside team that there's a policeman outside, and Katya sticks her head out to look for him just as he goes to open the door. He points his gun at her and asks if she's enjoying herself. She gives him a suggestive look, and nods, while checking to see what he's thinking. He's thinking "Why are all these people making out at my meet, and how do I get them to go away?" Ace reaches out over Katya's head, and waves his Hippocrates button, and the cop comes in. It's Victor. Ace calls Sophia and Kye to come in too.

Victor gives them the quick briefing. The only ones who know all the cells are Victor and Mother. For some reason, the cells keep breaking cover, coming to places like this terrible deathtrap of a warehouse, and being gunned down. Meanwhile, Katya is back poking through the sniper's memories, and he's pretty sure that their cell was contacted by Victor, who told them to come here. Then he met them here, and they got gunned down. Katya tries to read Victor, but he's pretty hard to read, and she can't confirm what he's thinking. Kith doesn't think either Claude (the sniper) or Victor is particularly influenced.

Katya finally gets through enough to briefly read Victor and determine that he seems sincere, and doesn't seem to know how the ambushes are being set up. Ace begins to grow tired of the Deathtrap Warehouse, and wants to move the conversation to the Hippocrates. Max, who has been poking around using detective skills, is pretty sure that a bunch of people came here, stood in the kill zone, and then got ambushed from above - he tries to put himself in the same frame of mind as in Donella's car, and promptly passes out. Kith brings him around, and he tells people that what he saw was a group of people meeting there, and Victor joining them and calling them all into the killing zone. He says "I have a problem, and that problem is... all of you", whereupon the snipers open up on the crowd.

Once Max is better again, the party regroups at the Hippocrates. Max tells Victor that either he's betraying them all, or there's a guy who looks just like him. He finds both hard to believe, but would prefer to believe choice 2 to choice 1.

The group brings Claude around. He starts by claiming to not know anything about the resistance. Nobody believes him, and tells him that the Victor he saw is an impersonator. He doesn't believe that, though this makes his claim he doesn't know anything about the resistance a bit more sketchy. He confirms Max's story, and says that he was shot at, but escaped by using the body of his best friend as a shield... He doesn't have enough of the code to contact Mother himself, he's on his own. Which is why he's going to shoot Victor!

Back to Victor. He's spent a little time trying to use Hippocrates' wireless network, but Hippocrates tells him that he doesn't think such a thing can be permitted securely. He'd like to report in to Mother. The party points out to him that Mother is the only other person that could find the cells, but he finds it inconceivable that Mother is the bad guy. Where was he when the last cell got taken out? With Jotha. Hmm, that's probably an alibi.

The group briefly decides that it must be Terrans behind it all, because the Terrans had a duplicate Donella, and have a presence on the Well. Max mentions that it would be about 50 asters a day to put Claude in something like the Grey house (or less for long-term). No, if they need to keep him, they can keep him in the medlab for the moment, or in the brig if it's utterly necessary. Claude, who originally thought he was a prisoner, and then was beginning to be convinced that he was with allies, has it explained to him that he's temporarily a valuable prisoner again.

The party finds Jotha and confirm Victor's alibi. They return.

"Can you give my poker chips to Kye?" -Kith to Ace, who has taken Kith's chips
"Kye can pick up his own damn women." -Ace
Ace and Anya escort Victor to a cybercafe, where he goes to the third cube on the left, switches ethernet cables, and sends mail to Mother. On the way back, they get jumped by Louie, an old acquaintance of Ace's. Louie is quickly disposed of by Anya, and Ace pockets Louie's plasma disruptor.

Then, it's time to go to the wedding. Ace and Sophia decline to go, and Victor and Claude are still in protective custody, but everyone else (including Cassandra) does. The wedding is very extravagant, and the ceremony is something like a cross between a romantic religious ceremony and a corporate merger. Afterwards, during the reception, Max manages to introduce Cassandra to the couple, and is given a small gold card by the newly made Citizen Claria. It reads:

Be made aware that what Maximilian Sinclair does, he does at my behest and request.
My hand is upon his shoulder.

Citizen Claria

She tells him "Don't embarass me", but softens it with also hoping that it will come in handy in the future, if there are ever future instances such as the one in which they met.

Meanwhile, Hippocrates gets an email from a throwaway address saying that resistance cell 27-B has been contacted by Victor and told to go to a particular construction site. (There's some confusion as to whether they will actually go; Victor assumes not, unless the group thinks it would be a good idea that they do so.)

The party gears up for a fight, stocking up on neural disruptors for use in capturing the fake Victor. Claude is given a neural disruptor, and assured that he can shoot that Victor with it. Victor is left behind on the Hippocrates.

Sophia, in a rented van, parks a few blocks away. Ace and Claude hide in the overgrown weeds at the back of the construction lot, while everyone else hides in a nearby alley. There are, in fact, a lot of snipers in the construction area, though they all seem set up to shoot at a particular concrete-pouring pit, rather than out into the street.

A car parks nearby, and three men get out of it - Victor and two thugs. Both Kith and Katya are sure that there are only two people there, though. As the trio passes where Claude and Ace are hiding, Victor spots Claude. At first he tries to bluster through actually being Victor, but when that doesn't seem to be working, he pulls two guns and starts shooting.

Combat ensues, in which it becomes clear that one, this fake Victor is quite the combat machine, two, after taking enough neural disruptor fire to stun a rhinoceros, he seems fine, and three, that he's inorganic. Only Katya's telekinetic shields keep Ace standing in the face of quite a lot of blaster fire, and she manages to fly him out of the way just as the robot Victor crushes his guns in frustration and starts punching. Astoundingly, Kith manages to dodge his pile-driver punch for the one more round necessary to take Victor down (Dr. Kye does the honors).

At the same time, Sophia has been speeding around the block to be ready to pick everyone up; a few careening dents later, she pulls up at the end of the combat, like an avenging Valkyrie, and everyone loses a round basking in her glory. The thugs are quickly knocked down, and everyone jumps into the van, dragging the robot and the two thugs. (Claude's neural disruptor lies abandoned where he dropped it when told to switch to blasters).

The party calls Victor at the Hippocrates, and arranges to meet at a place of Victor's recommendation. The thugs crack quickly, and confess to having been hired by Victor to protect him as he went to a meeting; they would hear nothing, and then protect him on the way back to the car. They've done this a few times before, but don't know any other clues. Kith geases them to not talk about it, and they're let go.

The Victor robot is examined - Sophia determines that it's a high-end animiform robot, with a very nice positronic computer in the chest, capable of storing a small AI even. Whatever was in it before, though, has been wiped, and all of the combat shticks it had seem to have been broken. Other than that, though, it would seem like it might well be suitable to put a clone of Hippocrates in.