Imaginary Friends Part 1

"Yesterday upon the stair
  I met a man who wasn't there.
  He wasn't there again today.
  I wish that man would go away."

-- Ancient poem

2779.203 - 2779.212 AS
the Well -> Craterrock

It's getting to be time to leave everyone's favorite planet, the Well. But before that, there are a few last putterings to get in. Janzur and Eva meet Victor for lunch at Richard's Cafeteria; they tell him what Eva's been deducing about Khan and the leak. Victor says that it's something they've been looking into. He also says to convey to Sook that her offer of help was appreciated, but it isn't really feasible to let her in on all their internal secrets, which is what would have to be done to let her investigate. If the Matrix knows they're aiding the resistance, though, he advises that they leave planet.

Kith tries to find out more about the transition from Mainwell to the Well, but hits the infowars. They are willing to look into more "vigorous research" and greater "assertivness in obtaining additional documentation", but Kith decides she can't really afford the fees.

Kith: "I wouldn't want anyone to get hurt."
Librarian: "OK, that will lower the price a bit."
Maury clamors to cash in the 50,000 aster passbook. ("So it causes the people who we want to find to come and try to jump us. Where's the downside here?") Eva is less willing to try to battle both the Terrans and the Matrix at the same time, however, so the passbook is left alone, much to Maury's disgruntlement.

The Hippocrates finally gets ready to leave. However, there seems to be a long line at the spaceport. No ships are currently being permitted to leave. The delay lasts for a short while, and then ships start being given landing clearance. The Hippocrates is asked to confirm its crew complement - they give out the number of awake people, to match any sensor scans.

The ship takes off without incident, and heads towards the jump gate. Hippocrates takes the opportunity to try to sync into his new body - there's the sudden sound of hard drives thrashing in the computer room, and the lights go off all over the ship. Sook hurriedly puts everything onto manual control, and checks what the problem is with Hippocrates - he's apparently having some self-induced psychological trauma over the fact that he's not a ship. Sook chases him back into the ship mainframe where he can sort it out and come back to his senses. Jim is sent to check for a stowaway who may have caused the trouble, but none is found.

The Hippocrates begins to catch up to the ship which left before them, the Casa Novela; it seems to be having some sort of engine trouble and is slowing down. Those on the bridge also note that there are three ships closing in from behind; it eventually becomes clear that they're closing in on the Casa Novela, not the Hippocrates.

The trailing ships transponders' don't have identification - it's classified. Jim dashes off to scramble a fighter, as they look pretty threatening. Maury tries to hail the Casa Novela; they're generating a lot of static, and communication is difficult. They seem to be having trouble, and their scanners are blind. Maury tries to tell them that there's three ships bearing down on them, but it's unclear if they've heard.

The question arises - should Maury try to fix their ship? What if they're bad guys?

"HMS Hippocrates, please stand down and move out of the way. You will not be harmed" - The lead black ship
Okay, the guys behind are probably the bad guys. They're not even trying to sound legitimate. The Hippocrates chases after the Casa Novela and Maury teleports himself and Mirris there, and then into the ship. Meanwhile, the black ships open fire on the Casa Novela - they're armed with hull reavers! Okay, they're definitely the bad guys. Jim launches the Clarke's Honor.
"You have made first agressive actions on an unresponsive ship. Please identify yourselves and stand down or prepare to be fired upon." -Jim
Needless to say, the black ships do not stand down; Jim opens fire, along with Janzur and Dr. Kye on the Hippocrates guns. Combat ensues; the Clarke's Honor takes a lot of damage, and the Hippocrates is hit several times with the hull reavers. Sophia's quarters, Kye's quarters, and Mirris's quarters are all breached. Sook starts manning bulkhead control, keeping things shut except to let Kith and Sharra run about to patch holes in the ship, and pumping the air out of nonessential outside rooms into nonessential internal rooms which can be overpressurized.
"I take a spare brain cell and punch the button on the damn rat." - Sook
In a display of piloting worthy of a Starship Pickpocket, Eva swings the Hippocrates by the leaking Casa Novela, and scoops it into the docking bay, in the empty space where the Dancer isn't. Maury appears on the bridge; Mirris has to walk from the shuttle bay. Two of the black ships have been defeated; the third, which has been careening around wildly, careens away and escapes.

The Casa Novela crew appears to have no idea what was going on; Mirris has checked their computer logs, but their computers aren't very tidy. Sharra fixes the rest of the air leaks while Kith goes to patch up the Casa Novela crew. They're quite upset, having been attacked, then boarded, and now captured.

Kith reassures them that they're not captured, they're rescued, and they can be let go now if they want, or after their ship is fixed. Somewhat cautiously, they agree to "after their ship is fixed."

The two black ships are docked with; their crews are, however, dead. That's surprising, as the Hippocrates wasn't using hull reavers. Sook and Mirris head off to interrogate their computers, and find that they were basically sent to destroy the Casa Novela, they don't know (or care) why. Sook in particular unearths that all of the Casa Novela crew and passengers were supposed to die, with no potential for escape.

As the investigation continues, Kith notes that there's a mild influence on the captain, but that it's fading now. Maury determines that the Casa Novela was pushing too hard to go too fast, and overloaded its engine cooling systems, causing the engine trouble and radiative static. Sharra looks at the black ships, and is horrified to discover that they have a device installed that causes them to auto-vent if they lose power. They were able to go so fast because they didn't waste energy on frivolous things like radiation shielding for the pilot.

Kith further notices that both Maury and Mirris are influenced. And, come to think of it, so is Kith, and she's also holding a psi die down. How strange. Interrogation of the captain commences - he's from the Haiganese fleet, and was here for... personal business. It sounds like the personal business is embarassing rather than illegal, so the interrogators don't push too hard. They were just leaving, on their way home again. So why was he pushing the engines so hard? Well, they were trying to flee the black ships. No, they were pushing before the black ships showed up. He's confused.

Kith tries to counter the influence on herself or the others, but she's not strong enough. Maury and Eva compare psychic theory notes, and decide that they're in some sort of gathering; that's why they're each holding a die down. Janzur decides that the reason the influence has shifted was that there was an invisible stowaway on their ship, influencing them not to notice; now it's on the Hippocrates.

The black ships are registered to the private fleet of Citizen Archibald. The Casa Novela captain has no idea why Citizen Archibald would be after him, but he's never going back to the Well again. Nobody knows much about Citizen Archibald. The Hippocrates reaches the jump gate; Janzur and Maury take off in the Elite Shuttle to let the Hippocrates go through first. Maury holds down a lot of blink (a disturbingly large amount; he seems to not be there very much of the time, as Janzur watches). A few hours later, the gathering has faded. The influence hasn't, though; that'll probably take a lot longer.

On the other side of the jumpgate, the Hippocrates wonders how long they're supposed to wait. That part hadn't been arranged. Well, going back for them is pointless - they'll just cross in the jumpgate. Eventually, several hours later, the Elite Shuttle transits through.

Maury starts to think about the gathering, and then notes that it would be easier to concentrate on it if it weren't for the darned beeping! His armband is blinking "Blue Red Red"! Janzur and Maury rejoin the group, and pop back into the gathering. Maury tries to scan the system for whatever is broadcasting, but it's strangely integrated into the background radiation, it's hard to localize.

Maury and Sharra start work on building a psi jammer, as the Hippocrates proceeds towards Craterrock. The beeping begins to speed up. Hmm. Is that because they're getting closer? Or just because the signal is speeding up? It seems like the latter. Maury wraps the armband in a towel and they continue work. The psi jammer is completed, but it causes damage to everyone using psi in the immediate area (which is everyone). To clarify, this is not a function of the gathering in particular that people take damage, but of the fact that it's a cobbled-together psi jammer.

For the the next episode in the series of Flying All Over, Janzur, Maury, and Kith take the psi jammer and head six hours away. The gathering fades, but they're still under an influence. Turning on the psi jammer doesn't cause any damage (no active psi), but it doesn't turn off the influence, either.

Hippocrates has mostly come out of his traumatized catatonia; Mirris and Sook get him up and running again. Still feeling somewhat stressed, he goes back to recompiling his databases, which he finds soothing. The Elite Shuttle party returns, and everyone nearby takes damage until they shut their psi damper off. The trio pop back into the gathering again.

Kye thinks that if there's anything like the armband in the system, it's in the asteroid belt. On the other hand, Sook wants to go down to the planet. On to the planet! The Hippocrates lands near the coordinates given for the Brochoah base - Sook goes off in the shuttle, and returns shortly thereafter with an adorably cute creature resembling a koala bear. Janzur notes that it's dangerous, and Kith notes that the koala bear has also become mysteriously influenced.

Dr. Kye starts Dumbo to dig through the crater glass covering the ostensible headquarters for Construction Battalion 1. As this progresses, a hunting tribe of rabbits, faces blackened with some sort of paint, hails the Sky Devils. They are of the Phoenix Scout tribe, and they wish to challenge the Sky Devils to a fight. Sook goes and changes into her Hot Caution clothes when people talk to them.

Why, exactly, do they want to fight? Well, they know that if a Sky Devil is beaten in a fight, he must give you a boon. Do they need a particular boon? Yes, their comrade is injured and needs healing. Yeah, yeah, whatever, says Maury. Can't the party just heal him? No, no, Sky Devils can't be trusted unless they're defeated in combat!

Dr. Kye seems to have been identified as the leader - they wish to know if he wants to fight first, or last? Last, he declares, cementing the idea that Sky Devils get fought for boons. Kith tries hard to arrange for a peaceful resolution, but they're pretty distrustful. How do they know that if you defeat a Sky Devil you get a boon? The woman-tribe Sky Devil let it slip, and then they defeated her and she also healed a comrade of theirs.

Jim pulls up an emblem in his book of the Phoenix Scout emblem. Is this their tribe symbol? Yes, it is - Jim has also gone to their holy naming site to see it? There have been too many Sky Devils coming and trooping in and out; perhaps they should move.

Janzur is volunteered to fight the hapless rabbit. The rabbit insists that he does not use any Sky Devil infernal powers; Janzur eventually agrees. They take their places in a fairly flattened field of glass, and begin to fight.

Meanwhile, Sook and Jim begin to interrogate one of the rabbits about the "woman tribe Sky Devil" and her wily wiles. They are dubious that she "let slip" the part about beating a Sky Devil in combat getting them a boon. He accidentally insults her by referring to her as a Sky Devil; she challenges him to a battle of totem animals, and he has to head back to the tribe to find the Phoenix Scout animal trainer. (He gets lost, however, as he is never to reappear in the story again).

Janzur finishes beating his opponent. He eventually wakes up, and is surprised that he is not in the hell of the Sky Devils. He will go and serve Janzur, then. Eva puts her foot down; they're not bringing a rabbit with them.

This has failed to accomplish the purpose of getting the comrade healed, however; Jim tries to let the rabbits challenge him to a fight, but Janzur and Kye declare that having been defeated, the rabbits cannot challenge again so quickly.

In the meantime, Sook works on convincing them that the previous Sky Devil was probably not to be trusted, and that trade would be better than battle ("a boon for a boon"), but is less convincing than she might be. They're not quite swayed when Eva comes in with stronger arguments, and convinces them somehow that the Sky Devils will give them one boon in exchange for two boons from the rabbits. Jim asks about their face paint - it protects them from the death wind.

Kith heals the rabbit comrade - he has an infected arm. Between "cure disease" and some antibiotic, he'll be doing well. The first boon is declared to be to take them to the Naming Place, which the other Sky Devil has apparently desecrated. By now, Dumbo has dug into the top of the Construction Battalion base. The top level is pretty well charred, and only the remnants of large furniture still remain. There's a staircase down into the basement, which has been choked with broken chunks of jagged fused glass.

The party starts clearing out the ragged glass boulders - Mirris is unlucky enough to lose her footing and fall underneath one, tearing her radiation suit. This convinces all the non-dextrous people to stop helping immediately, but eventually the stairwell is cleared.

The base has several bodies of Brochoah, old computers, locked filing cabinets full of degraded plastiflimsies, construction signout flimsies, a room with cabinets full of models, and a mapparium where a nasty species of acidic fungus has grown up over the maps. The most exciting bit involves Janzur wearing Jim's fireman's boots on his hands to clear away the fungus - he ends up melting the boots, but eventually gets the fungus off. The data is pieced together to give a somewhat tedious description of all of the materials that the Palatium Tamarch is made of; the bit deemed most relevant is that the spire and dome were constructed from emellium, mined on Gateway.

Maury tries to teleport a random thing to himself, and acquires a small silver key with the Skyguard logo, which Dr. Kye thinks is symbolic rather than functional. The map book is taken back to the ship; the party ponders what to do with the bodies. Nobody is very familiar with Brochoah funerary custom. Jim looks in his book, and it basically says that it has something to do with stripping away their outside covering, but it's done by Brochoah. The crew decides it wouldn't do it right if it tried, and leaves the bodies behind, planning to contact Commander Branch to ask.

This particular site is deemed to be tapped out, and the rabbits (who have been waiting nervously) are instructed to lead them to their holy naming place. They complain about it being dangerous now; the other Sky Devil descecrated it badly.

When the group arrives, they see a wall (old), constructed on top of the glassy craterstone, which has been surrounded with a (new) structure protecting it more from the elements. Also new are four cylindrical lights, and a set of poles with chains, keeping people back away from the wall. Finally, there's a rectangle of the craterglass which has been cut out and replaced, presumably as a tomb cover, with an etched picture of Andrew Prey in it.

The wall itself has two lists of names and dates. The first list is marked as "Lost to the Chaos." These names start in about 2440 with a few names, add a few more in the next years, and then there's a huge list of names in 2453, followed by a few more later. The second list has only two names: Andrew Prey, 2432, and Roger Lyle, 2438. The second section used to say something else, but that's been chiseled away and marked as "Sacrificed" instead. Do the rabbits know what it said before it got scratched out? Yes, it said "skipped." Kye tries to determine whether he thinks it said "skipped" - he thinks so, but more obviously, he thinks it's a deathtrap.

Mirris takes a closer look at the area, and thinks that it'll probably only trigger if someone touches the ground inside the chain, between the lights. Why would anyone want to touch the ground there? Well, Jim might want to scratch out "Sacrificed", and the rabbits normally come to meditate on their names of manhood, but now they are cursed by the Sky Devils and have to flee.

Jim mutters darkly about Dylanna having edited the memorial - he thinks it's irreverent. Mirris thinks Jim getting blasted all over the memorial is also irreverent, and to be avoided. The party goes into full trap-hunting mode. A rock is thrown into the central area, whereupon it is promptly blasted apart by four blaster turrets. Another rock is thrown, but this time Jim's ready, and shoots the blaster with his rifle. It breaks. This process is repeated, though a couple of times the blaster doesn't die completely in the first shot, and gets to shoot back a bit. Some small amount of scorching later, the blasters are defeated.

"Deathtraps don't seem very scouty." -Mirris
Does Dr. Kye have a chisel? A chisel? A chisel? Dr. Kye has an entire bandolier of chisels! At Jim's request, he chisels out "Sacrificed" and replaces it with "Skipped." What does Skipped mean, anyway? Jim explains further: Scouts who are Skipped should be honored as if dead. It's unclear if that's a better explanation, but it's something.

Off in search of the asteroid!

Maury and Sharra play around with the armband as Maury presses buttons and receives responses in various colors. Eva thinks about the returning signals and deduces that only the first two colors are sent on an outgoing signal, but three are sent incoming. BB? BBY BBR! GG? GGY! RR? RRRRRRRRR... After a few attempts to decipher meaning, it seems pretty inscrutable, and not quite sufficient to determine anything so people decide to simply search the asteroid belt.

Meanwhile, Sook and Eva whisper in a corner, ostensibly about computer lessons, but actually trying to figure out what they can do about the mysterious possibly invisible influencer. Eva intuits what she can about what's going on. Sook says when she reported in, she had them try to do a diff against the old Sook for changes, and when she got a messenger saying what the changes were, she mostly glossed over them as irrelevant. Creepy.

The party flies around the asteroid belt, using Dr. Kye as a vague sort of direction sense. However, the first couple asteroids they look at aren't right, and then there's an explosion off in the distance, as the ship they're looking for is hit by an asteroid. The Hippocrates zooshes over - it looks like the ship is seriouly battered (and has been hit many times before), but is still whole.

Sharra, Eva, and Sook stay behind on the Hippocrates, while everyone else heads over to the ship, which appears to be named the Santa Maria.

"Mmmmm. Many deathtraps." - Dr. Kye
The first dangerous looking spot is the ship's shuttle bay, which is a 3x3 grid of black and white squares, each of which is about large enough for a ship to land in. Jim hovers the shuttle over the landing area, while Janzur looks for places that look like they have shuttle footprints. The top left black square and the top right black square look a little more used. Mirris ponders landing on several squares, and decides that the top left black square is her favorite. Maury teleports down to that one, and nothing untoward happens to him. He jumps up and down a bit and doesn't explode. He teleports to the other black square, and waves the shuttle down onto the first one, after deciding that what seems to be going on is that the white squares have explosives wired to them.

Kye's keen archaeological sense tells him that the ship is very old, but that now it's a pirate lair. This being the Pirate's Key they're using to find it, this isn't so surprising.

"Did we scan for people on this ship?" -Mirris
"Well, no. But if there were people, it wouldn't have crashed into the asteroid." - Maury
Proceeding carefully, a simple routine is developed. Rooms seem to be separated by these strange double doors (doorlocks - like airlocks but with the doors closer together) that take a bit of getting used to. Mirris checks the doorlocks for locks and traps, and then disarms and unlocks them. Dr. Kye proceeds to the now open doorlock and proclaims the new room full of deathtraps. Maury teleports past all of the deathtraps and disarms them from the other side. (Minor variations are tried here and there, but that's the way it mostly proceeds.)

There are a couple of scares as no one can figure out why Dr. Kye thinks the mess hall is dangerous, and there is one corridor that Dr. Kye pronounces as "assured death". Luckily, there seems to be a way around that avoids that hallway, so it's not used.

Around the ship, they find quarters, maintainance bays (with deathtrap triggered grenades that Jim pockets), the main power room (the fact that the reactor is getting close to overload, due to collision damage, is repaired by Maury), the armory (no weapons within, only pirate treasure), and finally, the bridge.

When he steps onto the bridge wearing the armband, the computer recognizes Maury as the new captain. It tries to be quite helpful, but unfortunately, it only speaks Standard. Dr. Kye translates for the programmers and headway is made. However, while the computer is happy to be helpful, the deathtraps aren't actually under its control.

It's determined that the reason everything is connected by doorlocks is that the ship is quite modular and automatically configurable. It took all of the damaged areas and moved them off to one side for repair and or jettesoning, and left the habitable areas all connected together. While quite helpful, it seems the computer is not actually intelligent like Hippocrates. Kye and Mirris manage to decode the armband codes for Maury. Apparently, "Blue-Red-Red" meant "Collision Alert".

Meanwhile, back on the Hippocrates, Eva, Sharra, Sook try to figure out a way to tell who or what the mysterious influence is, and how to keep it from doing something Terrible to them, or escaping with all the ship's secrets. Sharra and Sook in particular ponder ways to keep the ship from going anywhere, even if they decide they want it to go. The ability to break something that can't then be fixed would probably involve actually jettisoning parts into the sun, or something equally pesky. On the other hand, the ship could be broken in such a way that it would be obvious if someone was fixing it. In the end, they decide not to do this, though. A further possibility that gets discussed is to take Kith down to where Sook talked to her secret masters, and see if Kith can keep out enough influence to let Sook figure out what they're saying. The plan will be introduced as asking Sook if she asked about the Terrans, so as to hide the plan from the Mysterious Influence.

The intrepid adventurers return from the Santa Maria, laden with loot. They have one pirate chest filled with gold, and one pirate chest filled with jewels and jewelry. Quite a haul. Maury is somewhat mollified for having missed out on the passbook. They also think that this is the perfect place to set up that sensor platform that the crew has been talking about, because it broadcasts an un-traceable signal! Of course, it only broadcasts a three-color signal, but maybe that's okay.

Eva feeds Sook the line "have any of your people been to Terra?" Sook and Kith head to the planet to ask them. Meanwhile, the rest of the group takes off in all directions, to see who the gathering stays with. Jim heads through the jumpgate in a fighter, to send email to Ace and Sophia about the terribleness. Maury, Sharra, and Kye go to the Santa Maria; Eva, Janzur, Martan and Mirris take the Hippocrates half a day away. Everyone still in system realizes eventually that they've dropped out of the gathering - this seems to indicate that Jim is the culprit. However, when he gets back, he's also out of the gathering. It looks like the Mysterious Influence was clever enough to drop it when it seemed like this might give it away.

Janzur has Mirris set up the Hippocrates intercom to broadcast "To the mysterious entity on board - if you need help, please talk to us!" So with that, it's time to head off to New Light to meet up with Ace, Sophia, and the Tinoori, who have hopefully gotten the warning email by now.