Conspiracy Theories

"Never think you can see the truth of a matter with your eyes, touch it with your fingers. You can only conceive of it with your imagination, and for that reason, there is always one more truth of the matter than there are people who imagine it."

Professor Lila Rubiyan, Sabbati Doneval: "On Politics", AS 1623

2780.044 - 065
The Well -> Many Places -> New Light

All shopping and puttering done, it's time again to leave the Well. However, jumping to Juice will require interacting with Blue being a war zone for the first time - and neither Hegemony currently permits "foreign warships" in their space. This involves ship guns, including those on the fighters, and probably the plasma bomb too. The group decides to go leave the plasma bomb (possibly leaving the fighters too, though that's still up in the air) on Vircus, and let Maury disable the guns. (Hippocrates suggests avoiding secure jump gates once the guns are disabled, because the Terrans might know to set a trap there, and they can shoot immediately upon the Hippocrates coming out of a jump gate).

The gate to Vircus is, as always, unguarded, and the Hippocrates heads through. As they get towards the planet, they hail the Star of Judgement. As always, the people manning the Star insist that their hearts are bound by the Chains of Command and they are at the service of the Sky Guards. Should the Vocari be notified? There is brief argument as to whether they should say that the Vocari should not be woken, but when in Vircus, do as the Vircans do, and Vocari Dyvas FirstJudged is summoned. He calls them shortly after that, and asks if they're there for the funeral. The First Dagger died during a checkout flight of one of their fighter prototypes. When the Hippocrates says yes, they're here for the funeral, they hear "Postpone the funeral!" in the background. Eva gets a pained look.

Engine No. 9 arrives at the Star of Judgement, and begins unloading. It looks like Engine No. 9 is now armed. And there's a guy in an EVA suit, cleaning up wreckage outside a launch bay; probably the results of the First Dagger's prototype flight.

"Does anyone else find it disturbing that they arm their utility ships in a system where they're the only people?" -Eva
"I find the whole system disturbing." -Maury
Vocari Dyvas and Grandmother Clara meet them, and Vocari Dyvas briefs the Sky Guards on what's new on Vircus. The fighter prototyping has lost three prototypes, but they were successful tests. Population is up another half a percent. Training casualties are down 10% since they got lectured by Sophia and Sharra last time. The last dome is nearly fully sealed, and the sociology projects are proceeding. Grandmother Clara herself is somewhat conflicted - she seems both relieved and apprehensive at the party's arrival, though she masks it well.

If the group doesn't need rest or to use the Star facilities, the funeral will be assembling in twenty minutes in full dress uniform on the hangar deck. Hippocrates manufactures a SkyGuard full dress uniform for him - he also has one in Eva's size, since she's entitled now. The new First Dagger shows up to request a very brief audience on a matter of protocol: Normally they would launch the body in a decaying orbit into the planet, but, is the Hippocrates here to deliver the body directly to the Hegemon? Eva winces.

Ruehan is the one who meets the First Dagger, and explains that it is most appropriate to return him to the universe at the place at which he fell. The First Dagger is mortified to have not realized this without bothering the Sky Guards about it. Janzur and Hippocrates concur that Ruehan made the right call, though.

The funeral ceremony happens. Ruehan wears a spiffy militant-looking non-Skyguard uniform, and looks quite sharp in it. Maury wears a chain with the Hippocrates symbol, and his toolbelt, but all his tools are newly polished. Janzur and Hippocrates wear their dress uniforms. Everyone is instructed to not discuss what Eva wears.

Vocari Dyvas speaks first, saying that the First Dagger goes now to be at the hand of the Hegemon. They do not grieve at his falling, but they grieve at the diminishment of their strength. It is a somewhat haphazard ceremony, patching together the books of Skyguard regulations that the crew recently gave to Vircus and their old traditions.

Vocari Dyvas asks if the Servants of the Sky Guards wish to say anything. Janzur says simple-yet-heartfelt things, ending up with "as long as we stand together, where there is one there are all." Ruehan speaks about the First Dagger's courage and valor, and Hippocrates thanks him for keeping faith and duty. All the Vircans salute, and Vocari Dyvas proclaims that their hearts are all bound by the chains of command, and so shall his be forevermore. The coffin is launched from the docking bay into a decaying orbit around the planet, where it burns away. Dyvas closes with something from the Book of the Hegemon: "Go in Peace, serve the Hegemon." Training will resume at 6am.

Most of the crew head down with the Hippocrates to fly Grandmother Clara and the supplies the Hippocrates has brought, to the planet. Maury stays on the Star of Judgement, and grabs an engineer to look at the prototype plans. He notes that the prototype is very light on safety (which makes it very fast and maneuverable, but requires a very good pilot), and the prototype tests are good but very high-risk. He tries to talk them into more safety features, focusing on conservation of resources rather than lack of danger - they listen, and will think on it, but there's a definite unstated reaction that the Sky Guards engineers don't need to still parent them any longer.

On the planet, people make a courtesy call on the Patriarch - Ruehan notices that Grandmother Arabella, who doesn't often leave him, has her healing dice held down. Hippocrates pulls a surprise inspection on the medics for the various combat teams, and Ruehan notes that the average Vircan is even less psi-active than the average inworlder.

Maury would like to borrow Engine No. 9 to take the Santa Maria to Vircus; plan "One less thing for Memento Mori to get" is made so! The Elite Shuttle is left behind, and the Hippocrates sets back off for the Well and Craterrock with the Engine. The Vircans promise that the shuttle will be repainted by the time the Sky Guards return. Janzur flies Engine No. 9, and the two ships proceed to Craterrock, pick up the Santa Maria, and start heading back.

It takes a while for Engine No. 9 to tow the asteroid that the Santa Maria has crashed into across the Well outer system to the jumpgate to Vircus. They're soon joined by another ship.

"This is the Growling Tiger. You guys are towing an asteroid. Why?"
"We're building a very large pyramid, and we need some rock." -Eva
"Which Citizen do you work for?"
"We're friends of the Architect. Are you done bothering us now?"
"I'm just going to fly away now and start many rumors."
Over the course of the day (towing an asteroid is slow!), lots of ships fly by, just casually scanning things. Then the Hippocrates and the Engine go through the Secret Jump Gate. Oooh. More rumors will no doubt be spread.

The Santa Maria gets left at Vircus, with strict instructions not to touch it. Engine No. 9 is traded back for the shuttle, which has been newly painted and scrubbed. Maury disables the guns on the Hippocrates and the fighters, and then it's off to Sundown (so as to avoid more gossip on the Well).

Some time on the trip from Vircus, there is the traditional Winterfair celebration, with the Tinoori preparing Highguard dishes and little presents from Eva at everyone's place.

The Vircus/Sundown gate isn't very guarded, but there is a patrol ship, which hails them. They're asked to go through the clearance protocols at the Sundown/New Light gate, which they do, getting the daylights scanned out of them. Since they're not themselves a warship, not carrying any warships, and not carrying any weapons of mass destruction, they're free to pass to New Light.

"Flight plan and destination?"
"Homeground and Sanctuary".
"What it is your business on the capital?"
"We have refugees from the Well."
"Refugees to Sanctuary. How novel."
when the ship gets into the New Light system some encrypted e-mail arrives disgused as spam:
1) Regards, Eva Thorssen, Commanding Officer, HMF

2) Message Received

3) Communications compromised in insecure

4) Nurlian Identification Protocols Enclosed

<ID Protocol for identifing yourself when insystem
with others so equipped>

5) Delivery requested to Nurl system.  Hazard fees
   not authorized. Standard shipping pace requested.
   Minimum payment guaranteed to replenishment acct,
   HMF Hippocrates.  Value re-evaluation on delivery.

6) Requested message delivery in progress.  Delivery
   fees to be charged to replenishment acct, HMF
This takes a little while to figure out. Ahah, Eva sent mail to Commander Branch saying that they had the heartwood from Craterrock, and the message in point six is probably when she said something like "if you know where Twig is, let him know I'd like to talk to him." Hippocrates explains that a "replenishment account" is an administrative fiction having to do with getting your expenses paid back, and that it isn't really a fixed amount of money.

The ship (finally) gets to Sanctuary. No civilian landings are permitted in the actual capital, but there are shuttles permitted from the other nearby starports. The first stop is Sharra's house - Eva, Hippocrates and Ruehan go. The house has uniformed guards out front, but the group is permitted in after an ID check. Then, there's a big desk with a harried-looking woman doing a bunch of paperwork, and a nurse comes out of a back room with another stack of papers: "He has another set for you".

Ivan Wade has met Ruehan, and knows who the other two are - he is pleased that they're back, and wants to know what Sharra is up to. The nurse says they're not to tire him out, and the secretary rolls her eyes - like that's going to happen. Eva explains about surviving the Deciders with "experimental medical technology" which requires re-treatment, and Sharra needs hers right now, which is why she can't be here.

Minister Wade briefs them a bit more on the details of Two Seventy Nine. The Avocate wasn't in session, so most of them were okay. Of the Cabinet, about half were killed - generally the ones with more day-to-day governmental duties. (cabinet details) The Hegmon is currently in her private retreat, for her protection (he frowns a bit at this). Access is very limited. So, what is the evidence for the explosion having been carried out by Red? If you ask someone in private, then the physical evidence points to Red, but it might have been really this secret conspiracy trying to start a war. In public, everyone sticks to the party line of "the evidence points to the Red Hegemony." And, of course, there was Donella's first and only appearance, which was a call to arms against the Red enemy.

Eva says well, of course, Donella is brainwashed. Minister Wade hadn't heard that, but he had had some suspicion that there was something up with her being "in retreat", but that he hasn't been able to figure out what from his bed.

Meanwhile, Maury and Janzur have gone shopping. Maury buys a tabloidy history of the Blue Hegemonic Line, and Rein in Lightning, the biography of Doraine Melcamot. And some toys.

Returning first to the Hippocrates, Maury and Janzur meet a guy at the airlock ringing the doorbell. He says his name is George Callahan, and he has an appointment to talk to Dr. Voriig Kye. He's writing a set of memoirs for Dr. Kye - he works for Stardust Publishing - but he's having trouble seeing him. They say that Dr. Kye is busy right now, and they're not sure when he'll be able to make time for another interview. Well, in the meantime, can Mr. Callahan interview them about their impressions of Dr. Kye? (Grimblemaury is crushed that George recognizes Janzur and not him.) What are their impressions? What's the first thing that strikes them?

"Dr. Kye is really a remarkable man. He is totally dedicated to his profession. He deals quite well with the rest of the crew." - Maury
George asks if Dr. Kye has any close friends, or other relationships. What exactly is he asking, Maury wants to know. What should he be asking, he counters, and Maury is quite inclined to tell him. Except that Maury doesn't really have anything good to suggest that he should be asking. George suggests that stories about romantic entanglements would be great, but other relationships are fine too. Janzur declares coldly that the interview is over.

George tries to suggest "lunch tomorrow", and says he'll send Maury email. He shakes Maury's hand (Janzur refuses) - why look, there's a little bug in his fur afterwards. Janzur says "Amateurish" into it, and breaks it. The rest of the group gathers back at the ship. Maury looks on the web for Stardust publishing - no sign of it.

The doorbell rings again. This time it's Tiercel Rensuli - the martial arts expert from the Brotherhood of the Word. Janzur heads down to the airlock, while Hippocrates enquires over the intercom what this is about. Tiercel says that Marlin would like to invite the group to have a brief discussion with him on "matters he considers important." All right, how about now? Everyone heads off to Marlin's house.

Marlin Orodyne, as always, is at home. Tiercel stands behind him in classic bodyguard manner while Marlin talks. The Brotherhood of the Word has noticed that as a group, the crew has high contacts in many places, and they are looking for advice for which of those contacts might be useful. There are those with whom they have contact because of their goals, there are those they with whom they have contact because they are scholars, and then there are those who they have contact with because there is a shared bond among those who have been cast out. This last group includes more troublesome groups than they normally choose to deal with, but such groups have their uses. Recently, one of these groups has come to the Brotherhood with a very disturbing tale. They were approached because they are loyal to the Hegemon above all else, though not necessarily so to the government, and this group has come "seeking aid in what they believe is a needed rescue attempt, of the only person we would find worth rescuing." The plan would be to liberate her from the people holding her, and blow the conspiracy open.

Eva states: "At this point, we are not necessarily prepared to advise you. It could be the right thing, or the wrong thing."

Marlin does not find this entirely helpful. They have not yet been asked to act, but when they are asked, apparently the window of opportunity will be short. Eva says there is a group which wants to control or kill the Hegemon, but they could be anywhere - if that's this group, that would be very bad.

The Brotherhood will prepare and seek answers - does the Hippocrates crew wish to be kept at a distance, or involved? "We wish to be kept informed."

Then, it's off to Gabriel's house. Eva notes a mark on the sidewalk indicating "Don't go here. Go to the secret stash in the library." Everyone is very impressed. The secret stash in the library has a note from Gabriel saying that he's under orders to have no communications with her, but that they need to talk anyway. If Eva leaves him a message drop, then he'll meet her at a park in six hours.

"I do sort of have a reputation for being a loose cannon" -Eva
"It's not that inaccurate of a rep" -Ruehan
Six hours later, at the park, there's a guy with a floppy hat reading his book on a park bench. Eva heads in to talk to him, while everyone else lurks around the park looking for other people lurking around the park (there don't seem to be), and Ruehan puts up a mind link with Eva. Gabriel is glad to see Eva, and glad she's not dead. She wants to know where the van, and its contents, are - the van was sold as part of paying for quick passage off of the Well. The contents are locked up at the new Intelligence HQ, theoretically being studied, but not really very hard right now. What does Intelligence think happened? Gabriel admits that's a politically charged question. Answer one, the Terrans co-opted a Red tac nuke and some Red spies. Answer two, the Terrans are the only part with no direct evidence.

Eva says no, she meant what does Intelligence think happened on the Well? The official story is that Gabriel rescued Donella; he left the Hippocrates out of the story as much as possible, since he's somewhat confused about exactly what happened (he remembers too many different things for it to make sense) and he thought they'd not want to be dragged in.

Gabriel says that only about a third of the Cabinet knows Donella is brainwashed - Rufino, Hornberg, Veller, Michael, and Deroche. She's not really at her retreat, that's her body double (who sadly needs work). Donella thinks she was kidnapped by the Reds and rescued by Stone, and is also very fuzzy on the final bits, including whether Stone died, and whether she died. They've been trying to unbrainwash her, but she's been uncooperative; therapy hasn't been sufficient, and they've been unwilling to use hard-core tactics sufficient to cause personality breakdown. They've tried to use psis to show her her old memories, but that just upsets her, and her bitey shields damage the psis.

"What do you remember?"
"Officially I remember rescuing the Hegemon. Unofficially I remember being rescued with the Hegemon."
Gabriel's own position is somewhat awkward - he has a lot of access to the Hegemon, as she often wants to talk to him, but because he's not Minister-level, his own ability to talk to other people is much more curtailed. Hence his orders to not talk to Eva. Unfortunately, Vance, who had been her best friend, is now in the Fleet stationed at Highguard, waiting to be deployed to Nurl. She's not willing to pull Vance back from anything as glorious as fighting the Reds, even for her own comfort. Gabriel tells Eva where the actual clinic is that the Hegemon is being kept.

The party has two spare neutrino radios - Maury suggests giving Gabriel one, so they can stay in contact. Then, off he goes.

The party regroups back at the ship again to decide what to do. The mysterious people trying to rescue her are deemed to have a 50 percent chance of being Terrans. Ruehan briefs everyone on the Ritual of Palos Xi, the Secret Unbrainwashing Ritual of his People. It involves people who knew the brainwashed target, and enough strong psis to power them.

Maury suggest the first of the Mad Plans: go along with the kidnapping, kidnap her from the kidnappers, and do the ritual! Other plans considered: give the ritual to the government for them to do. Or tell the government about the ritual, and insist that it can't be taught, Ruehan's needed in order to do it. Or try and thwart the kidnappers, or kill them, because they're Terrans. Or try and go along with the kidnappers and betray them at some arbitrary point along the plan. Or maybe the plan should wait until next run, when there are more powerful psis. Since it's not really clear whether the would-be kidnappers are actually bad or just misguided, and it's not really clear whether the government conspiracy is bad or protecting the Hegemon from making a public fool out of herself, it's not at all clear which plans are best. Having no Jayla to ask, they have to resort to argument, which takes quite some time, and in the end, decides that more information is needed, involving talking to Gabriel again and the Brotherhood of the Word.

Gabriel gets called on the radio, and arranges to take a shower and call them while the water running masks the conversation. They tell him about the ritual, and wonder whether it will be possible to get access to Donella to perform it. He thinks that will be unlikely without showing the ministers who are in on the conspiracy the ritual first, so they can take a look - Maury thinks this is basically equivalent to giving it to them.

More pondering ensues. Maybe the ship should go to Highguard and kidnap Vance, and then come back and help kidnap the Hegemon and do the ritual. Or try and talk to King Maximilian to get him to demand to reassign Vance back to New Light.

Oh, I see, I'm not going to be in the next run, because I'm going to be in jail. -Kate
Before an even longer amount of time is spent wondering which of many mad plans is the best, Marlin calls and says that the mysterious other group has determined the information they need to know, and that Marlin is inclined to help them, if given no other advice. Eva tells him that Donella was brainwashed by the people who kidnapped her, in order to prevent her from doing What She Needs To Do (that is, the thing that the Lost Book of Telemon talks cryptically about). The people currently holding her are attempting to cure her of the brainwashing.

Marlin admits that changes things somewhat. The party thinks that it's still impossible to tell whether the plan is "get 'em" or "team up and kidnap her ourselves", however. Marlin goes into a little more detail about the other group - they're the Fundamental Realists, a minor political party, and basically, they're very rigid, so that when they see a wrong, they move against it. Compromise is unacceptable, which is why they're only a minor party.

They were requesting manpower from the Brotherhood of the Word - he said he could provide Tiercel and perhaps another, but they will be very suspicious if he shows up with more than two.

The plan solidifies to:

"I do not like this plan, because this is a plan that involves fortune, not reliability" - Hippocrates
Eva calls Gabriel, saying that he needs to get the records demonstrating Donella is brainwashed, and come meet them. Gabriel says that if he does this, and ditches his handlers, this is it, there's no going back. Eva says yes, this is it, because if they don't do something, she's going to be talking to a TV studio next. Gabriel agrees, all right, this is it.

Janzur, Marlin, and Tiercel head publically for the rally point. Everyone else heads there faster, including Moment Before Dawn, as the expert in hiding, and hides in the woods around the rally point (which are near the clinic). Eva and Ruehan aren't very well hidden, despite Tinoori help, though.

The others show up; the other group here includes a group of mooks, plus the leader, a ninja, and Bruce Wayne (Their names will eventually turn out to be Bernard Wing (the leader of the Fundamental Realists), Lila Almaguer, and Blake Amon, so we'll just list them now). Lila starts searching around, as Ruehan pings each of them, one at a time, checking for people with bitey shields. He finishes confirming that none of them have the shields shortly after Lila finds Eva and captures her. Treachery!

"What were you doing hiding in the bushes?"
"We had to make sure you were ok before we explained things to you."
"Who are you to be making sure I'm okay?"
Eva starts explaining about the brainwashing. Bernard is not a very sympathetic person to explain to - he requires a lot of extra nailing down of things and isn't convinced by "She claims she was kidnapped by the Reds but she was really kidnapped by this other group" as convincing evidence. He ends up nailing down enough to believe that either she's brainwashed or Eva is really wrong about a number of things; happily, Gabriel shows up at this point with the medical evidence. Bernard rounds on Gabriel at this point - if she's been brainwashed for three months, why hasn't the government done anything about it? Or declared her unfit? Down with the shadow government!

Okay, they're fanatics, but they're probably on the same side as the party, given that Ruehan has the "do something about it" ritual. The plan, as provided by Bernard, is that Minister Ziller, as well as a bunch of people disguised as press, will show up at the front door of the clinic, insisting on seeing the Hegemon and causing a distraction. At that point, the strike team will break in through the back, grab her, and go.

The strike team heads for the back door, which is clearly alarmed. Ruehan mind controls the nearest inside guy into opening the back door, but unfortunately, there isn't an alarm disabling button on the door itself. So he calls the security desk and asks them to turn off the alarm, but then opens the door, and the alarm goes off.

The group charges in. Ruehan has a vague sense that there's something wrong with the number of minds around, but can't put his finger on it. Most of the doors are locked, but Blake has a "door depolarizer" which can make short work of a lock.

Combat ensues between the strike team and the clinic's mooks. Highlights of the combat include Lila and Tiercel as a scary double-team martial arts combination; Janzur chopping a plasma disruptor, which causes an exciting explosion; and First Frost of Autumn falling off of the ceiling when a gas grenade goes off in his area, so Ruehan has to rescue him.

"See, if you'd bought Unarmed Combat, that would be a success." - Eon, pointing at a "6"
The security detail guarding the Hegemon tries to escape with her - she seems to be unconscious - but between the distraction out front and Hippocrates on the security desk convincing them to turn around, they end up engaged with the point of the strike team, that being Janzur and Maury. Janzur manages to disarm the guard carrying Donella of his Hegemon, and Maury grabs her.
"If you shoot me, target really well, because you don't want to hit her."
Janzur is nearly taken out by the residual gas from one of Blake's gas grenades, when he puts a hole in the wall, but in the end, everyone gets away, and drives very fast to Blake's mansion. Maury takes a dose of Glitter (there are now two left floating around the party inventory), and Maury, Ruehan, Eva, and Gabriel attempt the ritual. They manage to reveal most of her brainwashing disads; the ritual requires that the participants take the root memories and disads onto themselves, and then substitute in more natural memories. People pick up disads:
However, then her bitey shield kicks in, and Eva and Gabriel fall over. Eva in particular is badly mentally damaged, having no psi to resist with and being already down quite a bit from the fight.

Hippocrates, Janzur, and the Tinoori head back to the ship with the unconscious Eva; Maury and Ruehan stay at Blake's mansion with the unconscious Donella, Gabriel and the three Fundamental Realists (who aren't letting the Hippocrates crew run off with Donella now).

First Frost of Autumn is grounded:

"Did I not say that I didn't want to perceive you here?" -Moment Before Dawn
"You didn't perceive me here!" -First Frost of Autumn
"I perceive you now, and you are here..."

During the flying around

During the actual puttering