"You are in violation of subsection 23a, part 7 of the agreement."
"Part 7? There's a part 7? What's in part 7?"
"Part 7 requires all parties to read the contract in full *before signing*."

-- Recorded testimony, United Labor Union Negotiations, AS 1929

2779.182 - 2779.188 AS
Riden -> Nurl

As people head into the tubes with headaches, the last of the puttering on Riden finishes up. Maury talks Sophia into an EM-based tractor beam experiment, as a test of the redliner defense. After checking out a number of supply houses, she finally gets a good huge archaic magnetron for 70 asters.

The magnetron supply mission loads their magnetron onto a dolly, and heads back to the starport. It's in a shielded box, with a big warning sign saying "Do Not Open This Anywhere Near Any Sort Of Electronic Device". Passing through the starport, they happen by the customer service counter, where Dr. Asimov Smith is causing a fuss. What do they mean, his tickets haven't arrived yet? His postdoc sent them from Nurl! Bah! Fine! He'll pay their usurous fees. Janzur invites Dr. Smith to come along with the Hippocrates, which is also traveling to Nurl.

Everyone heads off to work on their own projects: on the Decider Amulet project, Katya and Ruehan do mental scans of Maury and Sook. Sophia puts up electromagnetic shielding around the shuttle bay; after a few hours of work, she has shielding fully sufficient to work against a magnetron of an inch or two larger than the one they have. Jim works on writing a letter to Vocari Seldon to complain about Gateway.

Maury brings up the idea of having Eva's spies contact the Ghost, to find out from him the contact information where he was supposed to deliver the bowl. That way, the Hippocrates can deliver the bowl there and the Ghost can get the credit. No one else finds this a very good idea - why is the bowl not being given to Dr. Smith? Or to the Brochoah? Giving the bowl to the guys who hired the Ghost doesn't really seem ideal. Or perhaps the plan would be to lie to the Ghost, but then he'd probably be mad when it didn't happen. Anyway, the idea of contacting the Ghost is vetoed.

Dr. Smith, having been brought on board and then left to his own devices, starts to wander a bit. He finds Ace, and asks eagerly if he can see the main computer room. Ace says no. Oh. Um, can he use a terminal? Ace points him to the terminal in the rec room. He spends the next while trying to search the Hippocrates system for records about Nurl or Brochoah. Sook watches to see what he's doing; he's not trying to hack in anywhere, but he's not really finding anything useful, because the Brochoah are listed as a Secret, and the system isn't set to provide Secrets to people who don't have crew acls. He gets a little frustrated, but he's sure it must be in here somewhere. Katya reads his mind for a little while - he really is just trying to find the vast reams of Brochoah data that Jayla alluded to. Janzur comes and talks to him, and then Sook changes the permissions on Nerele and the Brochoah, to let him find them.

Sook makes a hedgehog for Ruehan to scan, then a fish. Ruehan gets enough Hive data, then Sook gets the animals back. Off the Hippocrates goes to Nurl.

Once in system, the EM tractor beam is set up. Janzur is stationed in one fighter, which Maury has set up with the redliner defense. Jim is in the fighter which has been equipped with Sophia's EM Cannon of Death. Janzur is in a space suit, and without his plasma brand. Jim presses the button to activate the EM tractor - it begins to power up, and a door slides open, revealing the actual trigger. It keeps charging. And keeps charging. Jim's fighter begins to glow. Eventually, he shoots his eleven-die EM cannon at Janzur's fighter, which mostly dodges; a little tap gets through.

Jim tries to call Janzur to see how he's doing; there's no answer. Over in the Janzur fighter, there's no power, no radio, no maneuvering, no nothing. Back in the Jim fighter, the EM cannon is charging again. Jim calls Sophia:

"Sophia, how do I power it down?"
"Power it down?"
Jim shoots at nothing in particular, and then Ace swoops in to pick up both fighters with the Hippocrates. Sophia leaps for the EM device and gets it de-powered. Maury examines the redliner defense - as it's an electronic device, it's pretty well fried and will have to be rebuilt, but it's a successful test.

Dr. Smith, having exhausted the few paragraphs on Nerele and the Brochoah, begins to interview everyone he can get his hands on about what they know about Brochoah. Katya, the first person he starts with, proves not very informative.

"That man has a learning curve like a small asteroid." -Ace
Sophia, however, has actually met and spoken to Brochoah, and has some xenobiology, so Dr. Smith pumps her for a while. Next, Jim shows him some pictures in his book. He is first fascinated by the pictures, and then fascinated by the book. Jim says it's a Hegemonic Explorer Scout Manual. He's also terribly jealous of Dr. Kye, who has all these exciting people to interrogate. Where the heck is Dr. Kye? Why is he not here interviewing them too?

Down to the planet! In orbit there's the big GloryWeb shipyards; there's a lot of ships there, but no pressing need to visit. Sook was from near Summerstead, where there's a spaceport; Dr. Smith suggests near Midford, near the forest where his dig is. Sophia brings up the question of the bowl again. Should they give it to him? What about the footstool? What about the desk? No, no, the desk is a different plot.

Janzur presents Dr. Smith with his bowl. He's ecstatic. "The artifact! However did you recover it?" A moment later, he leaps to the conclusion that it must have been the party who stole it, and lo, they have now succesfully managed to kidnap him. This is no doubt part of their nefarious plan to do something having to do with the Brochoah, because isn't that everyone's first priority? Janzur explains that it was recoverd from the starport, before it was shipped off planet. That starport stole it? In a mild fit of paranoia, he thanks them, then goes to his stateroom and hides it in his suitcase. Since the party hasn't filled him in on privacy mode, he's observed the whole way. Ace and Maury consider stealing it out of his suitcase and returning it to him again.

Ace shows him the footstool. Another artifact! Where did they find it? That's a long story, it was a gift. He looks at it, and confirms that it's Brochoah wood, but that it's different - it doesn't seem to be complete. Not all of the pressure lines connect together. Could it be part of a set, Ace suggests. It could be.

So where did Dr. Smith get his bowl? At his dig site, of course, in one of the forests. Sook is impressed. In one of the Haunted Forests that they don't let people go in? Yes, he has a permit. And he didn't go crazy? He pulls himself up a bit and says that archaeologists are better trained to distinguish between cultural superstitions and reality.

At the starport, Dr. Smith acquires a rental jeep, and most everyone else piles into the van, with Jim's scooter on top. Sook briefs people on the non-archaeologist scoop on the Haunted Forests. People on Nurl tend to live in the highlands; the lowlands have forests, not all of which are haunted. Sook also recalls that there was a computer full of infowar viruses here. They're over near Summerstead. She'll have to remember to look into that before leaving the planet.

Janzur, rather startlingly, is not dressed in his Elite uniform, but is dressed in black leather pants, dark green turtleneck, black leather duster, and shades. Dr. Smith leads the way to a Midford building, where he unlocks the door to a hallway with offices. At his office, there are a bunch of newspapers and mail is piled in front of the office door. Hmm. He lets the group into the office - it seems to be a little dusty. There's a big note on the whiteboard that says "Remember to send these to Riden" and tickets.

Ace offers to bet Dr. Smith fifty asters that something happened to hist students in the forest. Dr. Smith doesn't think anything could possibly have happened to them, it's just a dig. Everyone else shushes Ace. A knock sounds at the door. "Is that you, Dr. Winchel?" someone outside shouts. Whoever it is says he can hear them in there. Janzur follows Dr. Smith downstairs; Maury and Sook ransack the office for clues, but there really aren't too many. Nobody seems to have been here since a grocery run three weeks ago. The guy at the door proves to be the landlord of the office building - nobody has paid the rent. Dr. Smith pays him, and he leaves again, still cranky but mollified.

Considering the timing, it sounds like only a few days passed between discovery of the bowl and when Dr. Smith left the planet with it. Could that have provoked the problem? Ace offers him five to one that he'll find a live Brochoah. He mostly disregards the offer, not really taking Ace seriously. Ace keeps trying, and finally Sook finally takes his bet. Sophia and Jim give a little briefing about Brochoah, about bargains and long term planning and resource acquisition and labor unions.

Dr. Smith heads to the offices of the Environmental Nurl Terrain Society, which manages access (or not) to the Haunted Forests. He lists the party as all going to assist him in the dig. They point out that there's a personnel limitation. Dr. Smith points out that ALL OF THE REST OF HIS PERSONNEL ARE MISSING. Forms are filled out and fines are paid and pictures are taken for badges; Ace declines to have a form filled out for him; he's not going.

The party tells Dr. Smith to bring the bowl; they don't bring the footstool. There's some discussion of getting pictures of the original dig staff: Jerry Winchel (post-doc in charge), Jeff McDonald and "Mitch" Michaels (grad students), and Harmony Lassidar (undergraduate). Ace thinks about stealing copies; Sook goes back and asks for copies of their permits. They charge her a 5 aster printing fee, but do provide her with copies. The suspicion is raised that Harmony Lassidar is actually the Hegemonic Girl Scout, but, happily, nobody seems too completely convinced of that.

Then, the group proceeds to the entrance to the forest. The rangers (who work for the Environmental Nurl Terrain Society) warn them that no cameras or videocameras are permitted, due to persistent accidents and insurance concerns (cameras are always being broken). Ace sneaks out of the car, and then over the fence. Everyone else is let through the gate one at a time, with their badges carefully scanned. As Sophia goes through, she sees a bright flash; this may be something that her night-vision contacts picked up. The gate is shut behind the group, and they proceed into the Haunted Forest as the sun begins to set.

Around a couple of bends in the path, Ace shows up, leaning against a tree. Dr. Smith is a little distressed, but says not to tell anyone. A chill wind picks up, and Sook starts playing eerie background music. Up ahead, there are large flapping noises which echo strangely. Ruehan thinks it's just a tent flap, and sure enough, it does turn out to be just a tent flap. The tents in the camp have partially unrooted themselves, and on the long-dead campfire, food has been burnt onto a pot.

Happily, Janzur took a seminar in tracking at the Academy, and is able to find some tracks going west. Maury and Moment Before Dawn think there's a bad smell on the wind; the Tinoori clarifies that it's "the smell of bad" on the wind. Ace wants to know what else smells like that - nothing else that she can think of.

The tracks to the west seem to indicate that there's been some traffic back and forth in that direction. Sook starts up a running commentary over the net connection to the Hippocrates, and then turns up a journal entry which stops ominously in the middle of a sentence. Ruehan, looking for enemies, senses a mind in a tree - he and Janzur converge on it, to be fallen upon by Ace, who they do not shoot (though it's close).

"Party unity is starting to falter. The weak ones are showing signs of cracking." - Sook, dictacting to her Blair Witch Weblog
It starts to get dark. What shall they do for the night? Surely they must camp here in the deserted and forlorn camp site for the night! Jim is a blur of scouting efficiency and sets the camp site back up the way it should be.

Janzur spots a pair of red eyes and something scrabbling at the ground. He shines a flashlight at it - Sophia, with her night-vision contacts is blinded!

"Someone tried to blind me!" -Sophia
"With a fork?" -Sook
Sophia puts reflective tape on her jacket, grumbling.

Sophia begins to suspect some sort of psychoactive chemical in the air, so she heads up on Jim's scooter, taking air samples and collecting particulate matter. They see some strange little ripples in the tops of the trees, heading for the camp; they call back to the camp on the radio and warn them that something is incoming. Just as the "it should be appearing now" happens, the scooter also enters the clearing. Nobody shoots it, though. Maury smells predator on the wind, as does Moment Before Dawn; Maury takes a dose of Gold.

Jim and Janzur do a perimeter scan, circling around the outside. Ruehan notices that some creatures might be folling Janzur, or maybe it's just coincidental. Then there are some more creatures, maybe setting up an ambush. He keeps Janzur well-briefed by radio, but Janzur doesn't see anything other than some squirrels. Jim and Janzur do accidentally run into each other going opposite directions around the clearing; they don't shoot each other. Back in the campsite, Sophia works on analyzing the particulate matter, and finds some pollen and some soot.

Sook, still connected to the net via the satellite uplink that Wilson built her, hacks into the ENTS servers. She finds one web server, and one backup server doing more interesting things. On the ENTS backup server, the area around the camp is blinking red as a security violation; they appear to be going to bring in more people. The ENTS don't know specifically what the security violation is; they got the alert from somewhere else. After some backtracking, she trails the original signal bouncing off a Gloryweb satellite, and back to another computer in the forest. So there's another hacker in the forest, calling in some sort of security airstrike? Sook tries to go after him, but at the end point, he's got a very good firewall.

The plan is suggested of "Get 'im!" as Sook has an approximate location for the other hacker. The planning is distracted as a fight erupts in a nearby tent. It seems to be Dr. Smith, who has had some sort of trouble with his sleeping bag. Jim puts on a gas mask he has in his backpack, and startles Martan half to death. Sook panics - someone just tried to hack her brain! Oops, Ruehan admits it was him - he was trying to put up an "everything is all right" field. He is scolded that he should tell people when he's doing something like that - he protests that this sort of thing doesn't work so well when you actually tell people you're doing it. Martan seems to be calmed down some, though.

Janzur and Ace disagree as to the proper course to be taking at this point - Janzur thinks that the party should charge pell-mell and unprepared along the tracks towards the possibly dangerous hacker, in the middle of the night. Ace thinks that it's time for a strategic retreat to return later with gas masks and psionic defenses, during the day. Sophia reminds people that they should remember that their minds are being played with. Martan doesn't think that's reassuring; Sophia says it wasn't meant to be.

The group follows the tracks for about fifteen minutes westward into the more central forest, whereupon they peter out. Janzur notes that they seem to have been brushed away. "This is far too interesting, and we are not ready for it," Janzur declares. Back they go to the path between the campsite and the gate, and head for the gate; Sook notes that the security alert area is following the group, not staying back at the campsite.

Ace doesn't want to go back out through the gate either; he talks Jim into taking him over the fence on the scooter, after talking Dr. Smith into giving Jim the bowl. Jim scoots Ace out, and drops him and the bowl outside the fence. Sook notes that the security alert is outside, where Ace and the bowl are. Sook hacks the computer to have the security alert show up where the party is now, stay there for a bit, and then go back to the campsite.

The rest of the group (including Jim) gets back to the gate. There are a lot of extra rangers now, several with blaster rifles. They say there was an Incident, but it's okay now, the archaeologists needn't worry about it. People try to fish for what it was, but the rangers are mostly just reassuring. Sophia makes sure she's the last one through the gate - she steps through and sees the flash again. She dances back and forth in and out, and sees a flash each time she goes through the gate. The guards look at her a little oddly, but don't comment. Janzur reports that the people at the camp were missing, and that this group got spooked and will come back later.

Outside the fence, Ace stashes the bowl and then goes to get caught by the rangers. He's taken down to the station to talk to the Captain.

"Is he awake?" - Ace
"He is now." - a ranger
In the ranger jeep, Ace surreptitiously turns on his radio, and asks how long he'll have to be at the station. Until it gets sorted out, they tell him. Sook, via radio, asks if there are any items with him. Ace extemporizes: "Will my stuff be picked up? That is, the stuff on me, are you going to keep it? I don't have anything on me." The point is finally made to the party, but the rangers find this all completely confusing and suspicious, and searches him; everything but the neural disruptor and the radio (which Ace is particularly trying to hide) are found.

Everyone else gets in the van and heads back to the ship. Ruehan notes that the guard was relieved that they were scared. The van stops out of sight of the gate, and Jim and Moment Before Dawn head back to look for the bowl. The Tinoori finds is, and the pair heads back to the van.

The captain of the ENTS goes to interrogate Ace, who lets the story be pried out of him that he was looking for a good place in the woods to meet up with a woman later. The captain asks who the woman is - her husband wouldn't understand, Ace admits.

The captain finds this an interesting story, but it does leave out the part where he hopped over the fence, went over to the camp site, then came back and hopped the fence again. Well, that's true, it does. The captain fixes Ace with a glare. He thinks he knows what happened. He thinks Ace was planning to rob those poor archaeologists, but that he spooked them and then had to run for the wall.

Ace, after considering briefly how much trouble this will get him in, admits it. "Ya got me, copper." He has to fill out some forms (he claims that he drove in from Summerstead, which is the only other Nurlian town he can remember the name of" and gets a ticket for a 100 aster fine. He's left in the holding cell for the night and released in the morning.

Once everyone else has regrouped, they consider what they've found out. It sounds like the ENTS are working for the Brochoah and/or Gloryweb, and they have really good spiffy people-tracking. Nobody is willing to consider this surprising. Sophia does a bloodwork analysis on Martan, and finds a lot of natural adrenal reaction chemicals, and some organics that might be breakdown products of a quick-hit adrenal boost. Whatever it is, it's not in his system now, and doesn't seem likely to have any longterm effects. She then pulls an all-nighter analysing the air, and finds some plant-based psychoactives, much like what might correspond to the breakdown products in Martan's blood. Maury contacts the ENTS office, and asks about the missing people. They'll have some rangers search for them, but they don't seem to be particularly surprised.

Ace disguises himself to look like Martan, and takes Martan's badge. Martan, Moment Before Dawn, and Dr. Smith are all somewhat spooked by the forest and aren't interested in going back in on this trip. Gas masks are distributed. What with Ace disguising himself and Sophia spending a while finding the perfect purse, it's a slow start in the morning, and they arrive in the late afternoon. afternoon. Katya puts up psychic defenses against suggestion on everyone.

The group heads back through the gate; Sophia realizes she has forgotten her purse, and goes back to the van for it. Only with the dark-vision contacts does she see the flash, otherwise she doesn't. Onward! They stick to the path briefly, at least until they're out of sight of the gate, and then they put on gas masks and head towards the mysterious central forest area where the hacker was.

Somehow it doesn't seem as spooky this time - maybe it's the psychic defense and the gas masks? Ruehan finally notices a tree with a mind - it seems a little shorter and squatter than many of the other trees in the area. He goes over and introduces himself to it. Sook, who is hacked into the system again, notes another security alert starting, and promptly squashes it. The tree ignores Ruehan, and still seems to look like a tree. He says it's good to finally meet the tree. Katya tries to read its mind - she can, but it's not really thinking anything. Ruehan clarifies: they come in peace on matters of high importance. He speaks with great eloquence of the Flames, and the Deciders. Katya, still listening in the tree's mind, hears it think the one word "Bothered" and then stop thinking again. The security alert triggers again, and again Sook squashes it.

Suddenly, the night is torn apart by a scream! Ruehan politely takes his leave of the tree, which continues to ignore him. The party tears off towards the source of the scream at high speed - Janzur gets there first, to find a young woman, dirt-faced and with twigs in her hair, like a seventeen-year-old Newt. She's babbling wildly about the terrible things in the forest, and is well beyond hysterical . Sook tosses some Turquoise to Janzur. He knocks her out with it, and she gets put on Jim's scooter.

Ruehan identifies another tree with a mind, and Jim goes to stand by Ruehan to address the tree. "We'd like to make a trade, for the people who have been lost in the forest" Again, the tree doesn't do anything. As this seems to be getting nowhere, the party proceeds farther west, towards where Sook thinks the hacker is. They get to a closed-off grove, from whence shouting and screaming is coming. Ruehan also notes that there are a lot of minds in there.

Janzur heads to the entrance to the grove, and declares that he is Elite Janzur Therive and requires entrance. Nothing happens, so he heads in. Sook notes a new security alert: "Type 2 alert - standard pickup in 5 days." She squashes it too.

Though it's obviously a trap, it's a well-baited one. The woman (Harmony) is left outside, and everyone else charges in. The screaming seems to be coming from a whole bunch of hysterical men, shouting and running around. Sook, on the back of the scooter, works on narrowing down where the satellite uplink is. Katya picks a Brochoah tree and projects into its mind, a picture of Katya looking like the real Katya, shaking hands with a Brochoah. It thinks "Psionic. Ramp faster." The crazy guys start turning on the rescuers; Janzur grabs one, but gets punched by another.

"People of the Brochoah. My name is Jim Powell of the Hegemonic Explorer Scouts. I wish to bargain for the future of these people. The time has come that you cannot be hidden forever."
Sook pings at the firewall, and then sends in the Brochoah entry from the Hippocrates databaes, appended with "We are the crew from the HMS Hippocrates, we'd rather not fight," People start spotting symbols carved on trees. Maury notes that one has the great seal of the SkyGuard.

Reading another tree, Katya hears "Nomarche. Hippocrates. Not my problem. You deal with this." Pretty much all the trees except for the SkyGuard tree seem to think that it's the SkyGuard tree's problem. The Skyguard tree, on the other hand, thinks. "HMS Hippocrates. Elite. Impossible. Imposters." Katya sends the SkyGuard tree an image of Vissarion with his hands on her shoulders, both with the star-blue eyes. Jim starts looking up symbols in his book, and Janzur pulls his plasma brand and his holographic badge that identifies him as an Elite.

Jim invokes the six carved trees, as best as he can: "In the names of the Skyguard, the United Labor Union, the Praetor of Procurement, the family Fentoranalianoriathananthi, the family Peridonorinathicorolorridi, and the family Nicorallamedorinathioranni, I ask that we discuss this for both our long term best interests." Katya notes that the SkyGuard tree is beginning to be convinced. "Elite. Obligations."

There's rumbling beneath the ground. The SkyGuard Brochoah stretches and stands up - it's rather large and ominous looking. Katya screams and starts to flee. The Brochoah rubs its branches together, producing a creaky but understandable Integral: "Introductions." People introduce themselves, though Janzur introduces Katya. The Brochoah gestures up towards Katya, demanding that she descend. She's spooked and doesn't want to, causing Sook to lose her temper. Eventually Katya descends to within the reach of the Brochoah, which rustles a number of branches near her and declares that she has the Nomarche Sigil.

The Brochoah introduces himself as Commander Branchicaratoorani, Commander of the Second Brochoah Construction Battalion. Well. Where to start?

Janzur begins: "We have become aware of a threat to the linked worlds, the recurrent flames of which certain historical and other treatises speak. In order to divert these flames it will be necessary to create a surrogate for the silver spire that was unfortunately destroyed." Jim clarifies that the silver spire is the Paladium Tamarch, constructed by the First Brochoan Construction Battalion. There's a brief digression to the idea that conventional wisdom isn't that the Brochoah need to rebuild a spire, but that they can give a hint as to where the bowl is (believed to be on Nurl), since the bowl is where the material of the spire came from.

Commander Branch agrees that it was the First Construction Battalion, not the Second, that constructed the Palatium Tamarch. He adds: "Threat, linked worlds. Humanity. Insane." The party clarifies that the threat they're talking about is not actually humanity, but a force which will destroy all sentiences, including humans, Brochoah, and Tinoori. He is dubious: "Flames. Threat. Unknown."

Jim suggests negotations for long-term prosperity. "Bargain. Offered." Jim accepts, but then there is some dithering as to exactly what the bargain being discussed should be. The party explains that it has acquired, as a gift, an item that they believe is of the Brochoan people, which they could return to you, in exchange for freeing the people trapped have here. A picture of the footstool is given to Commander Branch, while Sook sends him an evidence packet regarding the Tarn. The photo is the first thing that the other Brochoah are willing to believe is not necessarily just Commander Branch's problem - it is passed from twig to twig around the circle of Brochoah, and then back to Commander Branch.

"Obligation. Non-negotiable. Binding several lines. Hegemony. Incomplete." What does he mean, incomplete? He indicates with several leaves that the footstool top is the middle third; several lines run out of the edge and don't return. Ace asks what exactly the obligation is. "Obligation. Line. Descendents. Baliathorlonimorndarrin. Hegemony. Details incomplete." Commander Branch gestures to the lines which disappear off the edge: "Incomplete. Unsustainable."

Katya asks a picture of Vissarion. He replies: " Vissarion. Personal. Line Unaffiliated. Skyguard Oath Personal." What about the bowl? "Palatium Tamarch, First Batallion, based Ridena". He sends Sook a specific planetary coordinate.

Ace talks about the Fires. Does Branch believe in the great Fires? He hasn't heard of them before. Sook asks why the Brochoah are hiding. "Humanity, resources, mass destruction, unacceptable." Ace wants to know what happened in the civil war.

Strategos battle war deep expansion colonies.
Inworlds uprising protest
Hegemon protest support
Strategos [ five minute pause ] betrayal.
Katya: [ Strategos, Brochoah ]
Commander Branch: "Strategos Commander Skyguard"

Sook asks if they plan to hide forever. Maury comments that it's only been three hundred years, and is shushed. Commander Branch replies "Situation Stable". Ace asks if they're prosperous. They're waiting for the situation to improve.

Commander Branch wants to know where the footstool is. Why? "Obligation. Require preparation. Obligation destruction confirmed, preparation unnecessary." Maury clarifies that if they're cashing it in, they need to start prepping, which Commander Branch agrees is correct.

Sook asks if he could teach them how to read Brochoan. "Language Verbal, Heartwood Impression genetic." Could the Tinoori? "Maybe. Genetic incompatible, perception developed."

The conversation turns to the crazy prisoners. Why is this man (indicating one of Dr. Smith's crew) here? "Breach of obligation. Criminal. Punishment." What about the others? "Released. Contractual Obligations." With who? "Private." The ENTS? Shrug.

"Information required? Requested?"
"Requested, to prevent further misunderstandings."
"Security contractually provided."

But Dr. Smith has a permit, someone protests. He sends a thick data burst to Sook, containing images of the forms they filled out, and their permits. An area is indicated which is the zone they're permitted to excavate, and another trail is indicated where they actually ventured to, outside their permitted zone. Ace explains that the forest has effects that prevent people from being able to keep their bargains. Incorrect, Commander Branch states. But they experienced effects at the campsite, Ace clarifies. Explain, Commander Branch queries. There was an intruder alert the night they were in the camp... oh. Because they had an intruder. Commander Branch examines Ace more closely. "Mmm. Criminal. Mmmm. Disguise."

Further questions about the dig indicate that Dr. Smith is, in fact, permitted to have the bowl. Who hired the Ghost, then? Not Commander Branch. They show a picture of the bowl. He states that it's a small obligation. Are there many who would understand the significance of the bowl? "General, yes. Specific, Brochoah."

What is his position on the Tarn? "Tarn, attack enemies. Defend, destroy." Well, that makes sense, he's SkyGuard. What is the obligation of the bowl? "Line, obligation, attendants, once. Weak. Where is the bowl?" They point out again that it legally belongs to Dr. Asimov Smith. "Present bowl, obligation discharged."

Ruehan explains his reseach project and asks if it's okay to scan them. Commander Branch is willing to accept an exchange. Well, what does he want? Asters are acceptable currency. A bargain is arranged - three Brochoah to be scanned, for 75 asters. A contract is beamed to Sook, which has a lot of reasonable fine print.

Sook asks for a translation of the bowl into Intergal. Essentially, in gratitude for the friendship of several people, upon their deaths, the Brochoah who was their friend wishes his life and their worth to be spoken of to their kin and companions. The people in question are dead (as is the Brochoah, obviously), but because of the conditions of the debt, anyone who presents the bowl will be spoken to and the eulogies of the Brochoah's friends given.

Commander Branch wants to know if Katya is a claimant to the Hegemonic throne. Ruehan needs some more Brochoah to scan, so he hires another three, for 100 asters.

Will the party be permitted to leave? "Leaving, departure, obligation personal, allowed." What about the others? "Criminals. Offer?" Ruehan gets them to make a preliminary offer for the thirteen men in the clearing (three of whom are Dr. Smith's crew).

  1. Disinformation regarding the Haunted Forest.
  2. Security regarding this incident
  3. 12,000 asters
Ruehan thinks that condition 2 is non-negotiable, and that 3 is mostly pushing to see how much they can get; he expects he could get them down to a couple thousand. They decide to pass the buck to Eva, and get his highly-secure email address. The party heads back out of the clearing and the Forest, back to the Hippocrates.