Reunion: Sayonara Sook

"When I fall, let my blood serve as mortar, let my bones serve as brick. Build with them a rampart for my fellows to inhabit, to resist the enemy still."

- the Red Demagogue, AS 2687-2732

the Well

Having excaped from the Matrix's space dock, but finding all exits out of the system blocked and its engines damaged, the Hippocrates is currently hiding out in a Lagrange point, under Max's silent-running orders and Ace's stealth. Nevertheless, it can still receive signals, so email starts to appear.

x-encrypt: none
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x-encrypt: RGP [hippocrates public key]
Subject: Safety

You are hunted now.  You know you cannot escape.  The jump gates are
guarded, the Matrix will have you and you will suffer for longer years
than you can imagine.  I know whereof I speak. 

Safety can be yours, if you but stretch out your hand.   New lives, or
an opened gate out of the system.  

Your days are numbered otherwise.  Contact me.

x-encrypt: RGP [hippocrates public key]
Subject: We can help!

Comrades!  What a strike against the Blacklord and his pervasive evil!
Such banditry, such artistry!  But What will you do now, where will you go?

No easy hopes or lies
Shall bring us to our goal,
But iron sacrifice
Of body, will, and soul.
There is but one task for all --
For each one life to give.
Who stands if freedom fall?
Who dies if freedom live?

We can help you - join with the Rebellion and we shall overturn the
cruel and oppresive Matrix, for liberty for all!

Or, if you simply need shelter, a place to weather the coming storm,
we can provide that as well.  

You have but to ask and your needs shall be answered.
x-encrypt: RGP [hippocrates public key]
Subject: Negotiations

My congratulations on upsetting quite a hornet's nest.

I would be interested in discussing matters to see if some arrangement
could be reached to our mutual benefit.  Enclosed find safe routes to
a landing location, which will be usable without detection by patrols,
for the next four days, and a transponder ID which is not currently
the subject of a system-wide search.  I invite you to make use of
these; I would very much appreciate the opportunity to open

Your safety is guaranteed, to the extent I am able to make it so, for
the duration of your visit.   If a later route is required, contact me at
this address.

- Aldersai Cremont, Citizen

[ data packet involving space patrol movements, with timed routes marked so
   as to avoid notice, down to a particular landing area on Citizen
   Cremont's lands, and a Well-registry transponder ID for the
   _Kirabelle_, a transport frigate about the size of the Hippocrates ]

Additional enclosure: 

Dear Friends,

Citizen Cremont has said that he has a proposal to set before you, and
has asked me to vouch for him.

I do not know what his plans or intentions are, but I do know that he
has dealt well and honorably with me.  He has allowed me to continue
my work in your absence, and has provided comfortable quarters and
adequate medical treatment for Cassandra, Sasha, Rizzo, the parrot and
myself.  I am sure he will continue to do so if you elect to leave
the system.

If you choose to approach the Well, this seems to be a good
opportunity to arrive safely.  Those of you with concerns on the Well
should find Citizen Cremont a valuable ally.  Those seeking to regain
possessions will find him to be a skillful but fair negotiator.

I am sorry that I was unable to protect Hippocrates and his contents
when the Well security team arrived.  I am particularly concerned for
the well-being of our youngest crew member.  I hope you and he will
forgive me, and that you have all fared well while we have been apart.

Kith of Creek
Dramatic readings of the various emails are given. Jayla ponders answering the "We can help" email versus the Citizen Cremont email - the former seems like a trap, whereas the latter seems to be what it appears to be. (Jayla is disappointed that Kith has not put Hegemonic checksums in her contribution, to verify that it's really her, but what can you do...) The RGP encryption means that only the Hippocrates (or someone with the Hippocrates computer data) can read the letter so at least no one else got them.

On the way down to the planet, a false label appears on Mirris's stateroom (or, at least, the one she's staying in.) It's now labeled "airlock" which Mirris claims makes no sense, as it's an internal room. Is the ship haunted, or is something else at work here...

What legal status does everyone have? Well, Max still has his own caste, and "Shan" (Mirris) has a techie identity and caste, but the latter is probably hunted now or at least dead. Everyone else is an illegal, and landing at Joyous Gard to get official tourist visas will probably not go well. Max warns everyone about faked visas and impersonating the Matrix and such:

"The penalty for all those horrible offenses is death." -Max
"Well, what's one more, then?" -Jayla
Sook traces back the emails as best she can given the blackouts - other than the pharmacy spam, they all appear to come from anonymizers, systems where one gets a new address to cloak one's real identity. Max says that Trillium is a fictional pirate; there doesn't seem to be any indication that he's also a real person.

At breakfast just before landing, everyone appears except for Dr. Kye. He calls Sook:

"Is something up with the doors?" - Dr. Kye
"Not mine." - Sook
"That's why I said doors." - Dr. Kye
"Your door is fragged. But that's hardware." - Sook
There seems to be an assumption that doors, being computer-controlled, are the province of the computer department, so Sook goes to look. Taking off an access panel, she determines that one of the runner tracks for the door has come unscrewed and is hanging down. Sook has vaguely seen such esoteric engineering tools as screwdrivers, though usually she remembers them being two inches long. She knows where Sharra keeps the duct tape however and tapes the end of the track back up, freeing Dr. Kye.

Jayla is very disturbed by the mysterious goings-on (is the ship really haunted?). Kye explains that if someone was going to have something happen to them, he should deserve it. Hmm. Things are left at that, and the Hippocrates lands next to one of Citizen Cremont's bean field.

The area is deserted, and there's a large van parked next to a dirt road. Jayla ponders whether half the party should stay behind - no, they'll just get bored and might run amok. Mirris disguises herself enough to look like something between Eva and Mirris, to keep it from being clear who she is. The group proceeds to the van - it has no steering wheel, just a green button. They get in, Janzur and Sook at the front, and Janzur presses the button. The van starts driving down the road.

Sook breaks into the van's very small computer brain - it knows how to get to a particular parking area, but it's deleting the route as it goes, so it doesn't know how to get back. Sook stores the how-to-get-back path. The van eventually gets to a parking area by a ranch house - Kith comes out. Hugs for everyone, including what is clearly Eva-who-botched-her-disguise-roll. She wants to know how First Frost of Autumn is, and is a little worried to hear that he's still hiding. Kith has finished the Chartreuse research project, and Cassandra is doing well except for being a slave, though she's not around at the moment.

At this point, Kith also explains Citizen Cremont's condition: they can't come before him armed. They can leave their stuff here, but nobody considers that Safe, so Sook reprograms the van to take everyone back to the ship. Kith calls the overseer:

"There will be a slight delay; they need to change their attire."
"Did you tell them about the conditions?"
"That's what they need to change."
Weapons are left back at the Hippocrates, and then the party returns to the ranch house to acquire Kith and proceed further.
Heidi: "I'm, whatever that caste under Sentarist is."
Rose, instantly: "Indigene."
< everyone stares at Rose in astonishment >
Rose: "I... studied it in Captain class" (Mirris is semi-disguised as Eva)
Jayla introduces herself to Citizen Cremont's overseer, who introduces himself as Citizen Cremont's overseer. What name does he use when he's not on duty, Jayla asks - he's always on duty. The group proceeds down a long doorless corridor which scans the heck out of them. Sook asks if she can start hacking now, or if she should be good, and Jayla tells her to be polite and only use public interfaces. These seem to include a web connection, local email, and some little games. Kye pokes with interest at all the deathtraps in the corridor: "Look, this is a gas nozzle, these are electric..." Happily, none of them go off.

Finally the group is ushered into Citizen Cremont's study. Everyone is introduced, including "Evis." Citizen Cremont asks if the group has any current plans for the current contents of their ship, and basically offers to buy said contents for a lot of money. Jayla counter-offers: Cassandra, all their stuff, and a lot of money. Citizen Cremont doesn't seem to consider that he "owes" them their stuff back, but is willing to negotiate as a new deal. For a while, some are unclear just what it is the negotiations are about, but Maury clues them in.

Heidi: "He seems to think we have something he wants."
Mike: "Oh yes..."
Charles: (pantomiming in the background) "B L A C K!"
Jayla suggests that the Black is worth a lot more than Cassandra is - Cremont says that there's only one Cassandra Lyrae.

At this point, the overseer calls in - there are some Matrix guards here. They won't wait. They're - ack, hey, don't go in there! Two Matrix stormtroopers come into the study before Citizen Cremont can get out to head them off. They say that after further consideration of the research Kith has been involved in, both Kith and Cassandra and all their research are to be taken immediately to the Matrix. Cremont says that this was not the arrangement they had agreed to. The stormtroopers say that the arrangement has been altered. Cremont says that his hand is upon Kith's shoulder - do they really think they can attack a Citizen? (Some of Cremont's infantry has begun to come up behind them). If the Matrix wishes to come in person to issue his orders, then Cremont will of course abide by them, but in the meantime, he does not take orders from soldiers. The two guards leave.

Kith thinks that this is not an act of defiance that Cremont had really been planning to make just yet, but that she and Cassandra have managed to push him into this position, and he's somewhat unsettled to find himself here. Jayla asks what he expects to happen - he thinks it will take the Matrix a day or so to settle on a response, as acting against another Citizen who has done nothing offensive will almost certainly spark even greater resistance and resentment than acting against Citizen Archibald did.

The overseer details the disposition of the items from the Hippocrates:

The final bargain is reached: Cassandra and all her previous paintings, plus 30K now and 25K after proceeds from the auction, in exchange for the Hippocrates Black supply and blueprints for the portable Kaufman tube, and one painting a year from Cassandra at commercial price. Max asks if he would like them to keep some Black so that if he loses his they can give him more - he looks like he'd like to say no, but can't actually verify that they give him all of what they have, and so acquiesces.

Sook acquires the titles of the auction lots, with minimum bids - the redliner and the scooter seem likely to get above the party's ability to buy them. (A new Diluvian Starline Scooter would run 18-20K; the party decides to not bid above that, on the theory that Jim is not so attached to that scooter as having a scooter).

Citizen Cremont's tech crew comes and removes the Black and a copy of blueprints - the party retains a couple of gallons for personal use ... er ... research. Max and Jayla call Citizen Claria's overseer, and arrange to contact her on a secure line in an hour.

Mirris disguises herself as a high-caste businesswoman, and goes to cash in the 50K passbook. She is given the money without much fuss, though the teller makes several phone calls before turning it over, and Max sweeps her up in an SEP field as she goes around a corner. They return to the Hippocrates, where Kye takes a picture of the 80,000 asters and slips it under Ace's door.

Jayla and Max call Citizen Claria, and Max explains that he needs her help getting back some of their confiscated stuff. She wants to know how it got confiscated. Max would rather explain that in person. They arrange to meet her at her estate at 10pm.

Meanwhile, everyone else has gone to the Succor Society to buy back the various personal effects. It's not too expensive to get most of the stuff back, but Janzur's jacket has an unsightly crease in it, and Zach Staughton's jacket has been bought by an old homeless guy. The party descends on him to try and get it back - Katya makes Zach's jacket vibrate uncomfortably, and Mirris explains that it's infested by the rare and dangerous cow-bug. However, Mirris will arrange for its sterilization, and even compensate the guy by paying him 5 Asters. (Several times what he paid for it.) The guy complains that even though it's infested, he needs to stay warm at night. Janzur offers him his leather jacket complete with crease, and a deal is struck. Seeing the party's generosity, the manager of the Succor Society Thrift Store asks if they have anything to spare for the poor and unfortunate residents of the Well. Janzur tosses the guy 20 asters to get rid of him and they all head back to the ship.

Maury, Kith, Kye, and Mirris begin to repair the engines - Jayla thinks that if they're going to start, it would be good if they finished soon, so they buckle down to work through the night. Max goes and talks to an acquaintance of his, who arranges for fake tourist visas for everyone in the crew using stock photos. (Maury's looks like an exotic cat dancer...)

Max and Jayla (and maybe some other people) go to visit Citizen Claria, and explain what happened with the Hippocrates. She is briefly confused - the Hippocrates was working for Citizen Archibald? Or the Matrix? (The public story seems to leave out some bits, and is basically "Citizen Archibald kidnapped the Blue Heir, and then was smashed by the Matrix for it"). She writes Max out a note directing him to acquire interesting furnishings and artifacts should he come across any in auction (It's written broadly enough to let him buy the torpedo). She also thinks she can arrange reasonably subtly to get the document originals back from Citizen Ambagis after they've been scanned; the party figures they can get Sook to break in and erase the scans afterwards. Assuming no one has actually gone through the information yet, no trace should remain.

Meanwhile, Sook has been exchanging further email with Trillium, who continues to sound like an overly pretentious goof. Sook recruits Janzur who agrees to accompany her to a meeting with Trillium in a secluded park at midnight, so they can evaluate his usefulness/danger. In the park, they find Trilium dressed in black, reading a book in the dark, with only a small yellow flower on his jacket giving him away as not part of the scenery. Janzur and Sook verbally spar with the man for several minutes trying to acertain exactly what assistance he can offer them in their current plight.

"Do you have guns, a fleet of ships?" -Janzur
"Guns, ships... What use are these in freeing the beleagured soul?" -Trillium
Eventually Trillium asks if they will bring their companions to meet with him, but Janzur decides to try the cut and fit of his assistance before recommending it to his friends. Trillium agrees and head off into the night. "You need only follow."

They are lead to a black van which everyone get in. Trillium drives in silence and Janzur examines the van and notices that there is a partition that can separate the driver from the passengers, but doesn't see any gas nozzles, so they continue. The van drives around the backside of Joyous Gard and enters through a non-public gate. The guards don't stop it. Then the van heads down an underground ramp to a parking area, where everyone gets out. (Tsugi, seeing the people in the hallway ahead, stays with the van.) Trillium leads our intrepid pair past a couple of the Matrix's stormtrooper guards, who merely salute when Trillium shows his ID. Finally, Trillium escorts them to a small sitting room, and invites them to enter. They do so, after a brief pause in which they wonder how it came to this...

Trillium turns to one of the Matrix Stormtroopers for his final remark.

"As I said, 'Entirely without incident.' " -Trillium
He closes the pair inside and lo, they are captured.

About one in the morning, Sook radios Jayla to report that they've been captured. Sook doesn't seem to think it's much of a problem, as their captor was a goof. Where are they now? In a cell under Joyous Gard, with a bunch of Matrix stormtroopers. Jayla thinks this is worth a little more fretting than Janzur and Sook seem willing to do, but exactly what to do is unclear. Storming Joyous Gard could be problematic, especially given that the starboard engine is disassembled and the ship unable to fly.

"They're totally bait. That's why we're not getting them." -Maury
Maury and his assistants work through the night on the engine; everyone else goes to bed. In the morning, Max, Jayla, and Katya rent a moving van and go to the auction, reserving a private box with Citizen Claria's authority. Things of particular interest in the auction are the cryo-frozen corpse of Dorotha Olivarri (there are questions from the floor as to whether she has all her implants), and the Scooter (There is a question from the floor as to the serial number: DLVN-X00001. Ooooh. It is Jim Powell's scooter! There is much murmuring after that.)

The auction begins. The alien ship is the first up, and the group passes. Other than that, though, they tend to go after most of the lots.

Sook calls Jayla again, and says that having spent all night watching their communications over their own wireless network, she has determined that their captors are about to drug their food, and that they're going to pretend to eat it and let themselves be taken to Weapons Research Lab 2 where they will presumably be tortured for all of their extensive plasma bomb knowledge. Jayla is a bit worried about this too, but it's the middle of the auction.

"Is this a long term plan or are you doing it right now?" -Jayla
"They just sent in the soup." -Sook
Feigning full stomachs and unconsciousness, the pair are put in another van and driven about three hours out of Joyous Gard. They are searched, and all of their stuff is taken en route, but Janzur manages to secure his plasma brand out of sight during the searching. A little under three hours into the trip, Jayla gets a feeling that something very important is about to be missed (she's trying to hold down her fortune dice for this, so it's not so clear what it means). Then Sook and Janzur cross the security perimeter into somewhere, and vanish from all contact. Oh dear. The auction continues.

There are a psi (who notices Katya reading him) and a mad scientist interested (jointly) in the bidding on Dorotha Oliverri as well; as the party keeps bidding them up, the psi comes to offer 2K for a scan of the body instead. They end up taking the mad scientist's tricorder for Max in lieu of the 2K and let him have a scan of the body just so long as he stops bidding.

On the way out, Max notes that there's a motorcycle following. They pull over into a rest stop, and Max talks to the motorcycle driver. He appears to be curious rather than malicious; Max says his Citizen wouldn't be pleased by the interest. He doesn't flee immediately, but asks for a hint. Max says she wouldn't like that. He waves and leaves. Max also spots a bug in the wheelwell, which he removes, and notes that there's a Lojack transponder. They stop for a while at a bunch of places on the way to the bean field so the Lojack won't notice the Hippocrates location in particular.

Now, it's probably time to go after Sook and Janzur. The old van is traded in for a new passenger van with extra insurance. Unfortunately, Max can't tell where they are (any more than he can tell where the plasma bomb is). Hmm... now what.

Many crazy plans are discussed including sending the parakeet off into the wild in the hopes that it will do something clever, but before anything serious happends, Jayla gets email from Sook, who has managed to hack into a guard's e-mail account. She doesn't know where she is, but sends Jayla a copy of her traceroute logs on mail bounced to Hippocrates. The mail says also includes maps of the weapons research center and a note that they are both fine, and not to worry because Janzur still has his plasma brand.

"What do you mean 'still has his plasma brand'. They've been captured for a whole day!" -Maury
"That what the mail says! 'Still has his plasma brand.' " -Jayla
(with a flourish) "Elite magic!" -Eon
Maury is given the e-mail and notes that the routing information indicates that the mail trace is from Hippocrates to the big Class 1 router in Joyous Gard to a smaller Class 2 router in a nearby city to a smaller Class 3 router in a suburban outskirt to a big Class 1 router serving a couple of farms. Hmmmm.

Kith sets up email to be sent from a throwaway account warning the Resistance and Citizen Cremont that there may be trouble, since they're hitting the Matrix's secret research base where he's looking into plasma bomb technology. Then the group heads towards the "farm".

"We have Max and Mirris. Why don't the two of you just report for duty?"
The farm looks like a farmhouse and a barn. However, scanning the area reveals nothing at all. That is, there's a great void of the end of the world, no farmhouses. Well, that would probably be the security perimeter than Janzur and Sook crossed. The group heads across the perimeter. Jayla notices that All People have suddenly vanished; the number of people she's responsible for has become quite small. Max and Kith head towards the barn, not anyone's problem, and Kith puts the two people in the barn to sleep. Now Sook and Janzur are reachable by radio, though. They've broken into the office next door to the cell, through the wall, and Sook is at the computer.

Max tampers with the cameras so they just show the same scene (Sook keeps the camera from reporting to anyone but her), and everyone dashes to the barn. There's an elevator down, with a cardkey and a keypad. Katya gets five out of six numbers for the code from the guard; Max looks at the keypad and determines that only those five numbers have his fingerprint. Mirris "guesses" and narrows the last number down to two numbers from that, and then Jayla gets the last one with her "either or" powers.

Down they go in the elevator. Sook tries to stomp as many alarms as she can before they go off. Sadly, there are a couple of stormtroopers waiting at the elevator to shoot when it opens. A brief firefight ensues, but between the group's firepower and psi, the two stormtroopers do eventually go down, though not before Max attaches a live grenade to one and does damage to just about everyone.

The group rendezvous with Janzur and Sook. There's a second elevator down to R1, R2, and R3. Max thinks the plasma bomb is "down" - they head down to R2. There's one stormtrooper there; he's shot at and then Maury teleports him into the elevator and closes the doors. Janzur cuts his hand and gun off, and some zapping later, down he goes. Max still thinks "down" so the process is repeated on level 3 with the initial elevator stormtrooper, but as the group proceeds into the research level, they encounter three more.

Alarms start going off - Sook can squash some, but not all of them. A fight begins with the new stormtroopers, and Sook hears over the base network: "Level 1 is clear. Cancel Nuclear self-destruct. Level 2 is clear. Cancel Nuclear self-destruct. Level 3 is compromised! There's gunfire!" Sensing his fear, Kith finds there's a techie two rooms over who's reporting this. Max sets up a breaching charge on the nearest wall to get to the techie faster. Jayla and Kith geas him to want to live, and he starts trying to counter the self-destruct, until a fourth stormtrooper shoots him. Sook rushes him with a heal patch and he gets up, with various party members trying to stand in the way of his being shot again. Maury takes one hit for him, but down he goes yet again.

Janzur scoops up Katya from the elevator and runs her towards the room with the plasma bomb and the self-destructing techie, leaving Mirris, at her suggestion, to handle the three (hand-less but still pretty tough) stormtroopers. The fourth stormtrooper stops trying to shoot the techie, and shoots the computer panel instead, before hitting his chest button multiple times and suiciding. Alarms annouce that the nuclear self-destruct is enabled, and blast doors slam shut. (Maury teleports Mirris back from the elevator past the blast doors). Sook's hand melts into the sparking wires, and she frowns for a moment: "Well, that's ironic."

Sook realizes that she can't stop the self-destruct, but she can delay it so long as she's standing there to do it - everyone else needs to go. Max tries to figure out where the nuclear device is - he thinks maybe if they went back and got Dumbo. Well, that's no good, she can't delay it for *that* long.

Goodbyes are said. Sook reaches into her chest and pulls out something that looks like a clam, and gives it to Jayla, asking her to drop it in the fountain in front of the library on Gateway. Jayla gives Sook her troth that this will be done. Jayla also tries to convince Sook that she doesn't need to die - can she just try and pull all the way back into the fourth dimension when the bomb goes off? Well, maybe that'll work. Sook asks Jayla if she's finished - Jayla doesn't know. Maury declares emphatically that Sook isn't finished. Kith gives her a bottle of Sparky Cola, and then the group flees for the exit, Katya floating the plasma bomb along with them. Maury manages to grab "something useful" from research level 2 - a blue glass bubble with some sort of gas in it.

The five techies from Level 3 are dragged along as well; those on levels 2 and 1 are deemed not rescuable in time, given that those levels still have six stormtroopers each to deal with. Jayla tells them over the intercom: "The Matrix has no way of knowing if you die here" and it sounds like some of them are trying to get out, but the stormtroopers sound like they're winning.

The party reaches the van, which is not boobytrapped - they grab the two sleeping guards too. The party, two guards, and five techies, are all stuffed in the van, and it starts fleeing. As they reach the security perimeter, the group radios Sook to let her know they're out.

Oh, one more thing - someone get the explosion on tape for me?"
Ten minutes later, as the van reaches minimum safe distance, the research base explodes in a small mushroom cloud...
Mike: "Do you try and pull yourself all the way into the 4th dimension?"
Marleigh: "Nah, I just said that to make Jayla feel better."
Drew: "Gah!"