"Hostages, like small children, should not be left to their own devices for very long, or they will become restless. It is best to keep them engaged with simple activity and careful discipline."
- The Grey House: Operations manual, chapter 6, section 8 "Hostage-taking"
The Red Hegemon greets the party, and says he's glad that they can take the time to keep him informed. A couple of preliminary issues - several Terran operatives have been discovered in the Red security forces, such that it is time to give the Terrans some more immediate attention, but getting information from them has been difficult. To that end, Garan Hans has a plan to extract more useful information, but in order to succeed, he will need some of the crew's specialized talents, in addition to that of Mr. Murdoch here (the previously unknown guy). Everyone assures Shaddam that they're willing to assist in any way that they can. Murdoch notes that he would appreciate it if the party keeps him in the loop, as his security precautions should be adequate for their needs.
The rest of the briefing continues, as Garan Hans and Murdoch excuse themselves. (The two Elite Guards are still there; Ciernan examines them closely for possible Terran agent-ness. They're both Red Colonels (it appears that the Blue Hegemony is chess, and the Red Hegemony is Stratego)).
The first order of business Hippocrates wants to discuss is the logistics of the Flames Protection Ritual. Shaddam understands that he's going to have a "fairly significant guest." Hippocrates would prefer to move beyond vague generalities. Very well - when will Donella be arriving? Hippocrates goes through the sequence of events: the four principals will all start at the quarry on Gateway. Having moved beyond vague generalities, Shaddam asks who the principals are. That would be Donella, Katya, Jayla, and First Frost of Autumn. Hmm, he had not understood that the Tinoori were a part of the bloodlines. It is explained that Dr. Cain caused that particular disruption, and the patch involved First Frost of Autumn. Shaddam enquires whether Dr. Cain is fully informed on the process of the ritual. No, he's not, at least, not unless he figured it out on his own. Which he might have. Is Dr. Cain still in custody? Yes, though Shaddam is considering whether or not to have him transferred. Shaddam asks if he can speak to Jayla, as well. The crew can try to arrange that, though she's no longer on board.
Anyhow. The four principals start at the quarry; from then, Donella and First Frost of Autumn go to Craterrock, and Jayla goes to Juice. The quarry (currently held by Klothos and inactive) will need to be reactivated - this is what would let it power things like shields around the planet. The people in the ritual will need complete access, and nobody else should be there.
While the party doesn't entirely understand the cause and effect, they expect that the relevant facilities will come under assault. And keeping Klothos from meddling is important, too. Shaddam says it's been suggested to him that he call a "council of war" to call all of his planetary governors, including Klothos, to Riden - this is certainly a possibility. Hippocrates infers from this that some things will be official sanction and some won't - either way, he'd prefer that what they're doing is at Shaddam's direction.
Still, if Shaddam is to be staking his government and his heir's future on all of this, he will need to speak to Donella beforehand. Hippocrates says he was going to get to that later. Shaddam explains that so far he has been providing support without formally entangling the bureacracy of the Hegemony; taking an open stand will complicate matters.
Hippocrates allows as various members of the crew have more or less influence with Donella, and are willing to take whatever steps are necessary to provide a direct negotiation. (Hmm. Are they offering to kidnap her? Or him?) But Shaddam does understand that they have time constraints. Hippocrates asks if a real time conversation through an intermediary would be sufficient? Shaddam would want to be confident of security, both of the confidentiality of the intermediary and the security against other parties overhearing. Failing that, Hippocrates can carry messages. Shaddam will consider that.
Next point of information: the ritual has a bunch of components. Only a few are subject to total failure, but many are subject to disruption. The party's current speculation is that even a successful defense will result in some number of casualties, and that any disruption will result in more casualties.
Next, the group finds themselves with a shortage of people skilled at precision of psi. Shaddam thought that the party's contacts in the outworlds would be more helpful than that, but Ciernan explains that outworlds mages are better at power than control. Shaddam explains that Klothos has been doing a lot of gathering up of psychically powerful individuals - is she informed on the details of the ritual? The group suspects that she is instead experimenting with the Bowl. Oh, and in addition to the human psis, there will be a ship full of Tinoori as well.
(Akito begins to find the discussion somewhat interminable. He also notes that the Elite Guards aren't moving at all, which makes him feel even fidgetier. And his knee itches.)
As a separate matter, Hippocrates explains that they've learned more about the Terran ship which seems to be their command center. The ship is described, and people suggest that Katya send him pictures of it. Shaddam doesn't think he needs the particular visual details so much, and suggests that they brief Garan Hans about the details.
As another separate matter, does the Red Hegemony have access to battlefield healing that's better than what the Hippocrates has, that can be used during the ritual? No, the party has pretty much state of the art past-cutting-edge medical tech.
(Akito starts edging towards the door, very very slowly.)
Hippocrates points out that they do need to make plans for the future beyond the flames with Shaddam because he's the Hegemon of three systems. Shaddam is not necessarily pleased to have this put to him quite that way, but he says that specific details are unlikely to come before he has had a discussion with her. He understands that the party's influence is strong, but her command over her own forces is unreliable, and not only because of the Terrans.
Hippocrates says that as far as the future (that is, the next Flames) goes, Katya is willing to participate in arrangements with him to make sure that the defense works in the future. Well versed in having women offered to him, the Hegemon says, smoothly, "That is something that I will keep in mind."
The briefing finally finished, the party heads out - Akito has nearly made it out the door already.
Then, it's to the meeting with Garan Hans, Murdoch, and the three mice. Their plan (as Murdoch ends up explaining), is that if they can find a Terran, instead of having his brain melt when questioned, they can combine a telepath who can extract their whole background, with a telepath capable of a gathering, with Murdoch, who has replaced the parts of the brain holding his long-term memory with hardware. Thus, the thoughts and memory of the Terran could be shunted through Mirris and Katya (who would need to not look, lest they bitey-shield themselves to death) and into Murdoch's write-only non-execute memory. Then that can be removed and examined by techies without ever thinking the thoughts inside.
Most of Murdoch's clients are rather cagey - that's why they hire him. After the job is done, the Terran memories will be given to Garan Hans, and all his other memories of the mission will be wiped, and he'll just have his standard firmware install. So he will remember nothing of the Hippocrates crew. People ask if his memories can be accessed via a network connection - he says no, that would defeat the purpose of his security. Hippocrates warns him that there's probably at least some tech out there that can download him without physical access - this worries Murdoch, and Hippocrates agrees to tell him about it later.
Now, the only problem is how to find a high-ranking Terran. What was Hans' plan for that? Well, actually, he was hoping that the Hippocrates crew would have some ideas about that - they seem to stumble across Terrans left and right (the ones that the Reds have caught have either been hired goons or have now self-destructed). Hans leaves the party with Murdoch and the three mice, to let them plan what to do.
The idea that Akito is a "trouble magnet" is suggested - perhaps they should just wander Akito around until he's jumped by Terrans?
Deciding Garan Hans need not hear all of their crazy pre-planning plans, the party heads out, promising to report back when they've caught a Terran. Mirris discusses Murdoch's enhancements - his fashion sense apparently resides in in his firmware, so isn't destroyed when he wipes his memory.
On the way back to the ship, the party passes a young girl sitting on the edge of the street, crying. The group heads over to see what the problem is - Sally says her cat Frisky is sick and is going to die. Ciernan and Kith head back to her house with her, and check out the cat, as Sally's mother apologizes for the trouble her daughter has put them to. Ciernan and Kith note that the cat has one of the diseases cats are prone to, and between the two of them, heal it.
Sally is ecstatic. Sally's mother is again apologetic, and asks if there is a charge. No, no charge.
"I have a soft spot for kids." -CiernanSally continues to chatter at the pair, learning that they're from Sparta and Creek. Ciernan takes Sally for a brief flight around, which worries her mother to no end. Sally declares that she's going to learn how to fly - Murdoch tells her to start her practice from very short things.
"If you have some someday, that might change".
Murdoch checks out a back alley where he might have stashed something - sure enough, there's an ominous-looking black bag that he pulls out. Mirris still thinks that permanent firmware combined with this controllable memory-editing is all totally cool, and starts asking about the necessary surgery. It is pointed out to her that Dr. Kye is the other crew member who's had brain surgery.
"Just when you least expect it, you find something in common with Voriig Kye" -MirrisThe next morning, Ciernan comes up with the idea of going to a Bibbler service and looking around for "playing cards". Akito offers to join him. A van with extra damage insurance is rented, since everyone is hoping for problems. The nearest Bibbler church is a ways out from the capital; when the group arrives, they find that there are daily services at 5:30 in the morning, weekly services tomorrow evening at 7:30, and weekly services two days from now at 9, 11, 1:30, and 5.
"Some people keep diaries, or journals - you might consider that as an alternative to surgery" -Kith to MirrisWhen the group returns, they find Sally and Tommy (another kid), wandering the starport with a turtle, looking for Ciernan. It has a sprained fin, as Tommy's big sister kicked it. Ciernan fixes the turtle, and gets invited to lunch.
Ciernan continues to study up on Bibblers. Apparently the Bibbler holy book is only permitted to be given away, not sold.
"Why are we reading about Bibblers?" -AkitoThere aren't any obvious current events going on that look likely to be Terran agents mucking around. Are there back channel negotiations between Red and Blue that the Terrans could be trying to disrupt?
"The Terrans in the mirror world were Bibblers..." -Ciernan
"That's pretty thin."
Wait - Cassandra painted Cain at the wedding and that made him likely to come, right? Akito heads off to convince Cassandra to paint everyone in a fight with the Terrans. Some while later, Cassandra finishes her painting:
A painting of Akito, Ciernan, Mirris, Kith, Hippocrates, Katya, and Murdoch fighting against a group of men in white. In the background, an easel has fallen to the ground. On the fallen easel is a painting - in fact, a painting of the party fighting men in white, with a fallen easel, bearing yet another painting, smaller and smaller all the way down. Crouched in front of the easel is Mirris, holding up a yin/yang amulet with an angry expression. The painting is signed with a familiar pattern of five stars.The group does a test run on the gathering, downloading some of Kith's memories into Murdoch. This involves building two gatherings, the first to put Mirris's adding-dice ability together with Katya's gathering (because Murdoch doesn't have a lot of psi), so the Mirris to Katya to Murdoch roll will have enough dice.
A commotion seems to be happening outside the ship: Ruthie has gotten into a disagreement with some local kids, who claim that Ruthie has been lying to them about Ciernan not being able to teach them to fly, so they beat her up. Akito gets paged to the outside ramp, and starts taking names.
While he's doing this, Akito notices another kid sneaking onto the ship, and sounds the alert. First Frost of Autumn gets sent to find whoever it was who snuck on, but he reports that the child who has entered the ship is one that he has been instructed to keep away from. Ah, that would be Linnet. Hippocrates checks his cameras, and sure enough, she went down the gangplank, looked around, and came back in. Mirris goes to talk to Linnet - does she want to go out? Linnet shrugs - if Mirris wants to. Was Linnet looking for Mirris earlier? She didn't check in with the ship. Linnet didn't know she was supposed to.
Hippocrates warns the Tinoori about Murdoch, though it boils down to "This guy is insane. Take no data from him. He asked me to compliment your cooking."
Cassandra wants to go to a gallery show that has some of her paintings showing - because of the ominous other painting, she asks Akito to go with her. However, Akito has to be put to sleep for another memory-transfer test, so she waits impatiently. (Mirris ends up sleepy too, though Murdoch resists). The group very nearly doesn't wake Akito up (which would have been unfortunate, as Cassandra would have gone on her own), but eventually Akito is awoken and everyone proceeds to the gallery, as surely this is the Terran trap.
Murdoch tries to borrow a bunch of spare guns, but Mirris is sure that his black bag must have guns in it. The party sets up the Mirris / Katya / Murdoch gathering, and heads to the art gallery. Akito flanks Cassandra, while Ciernan works the room, and Katya scans for bitey shields.
Ciernan and another guy suddenly leave the gallery, wander across the street to a cafe, and have coffee. The two chat for a while as the leader has noticed Ciernan "and his crew" arrive, and doesn't want there to be unnecessary complications today. They negotiate briefly, and then return to the gallery.
When he returns, Ciernan fills people in that there's a group of art thieves here, who are offering to stay away from Cassandra's paintings if the party clears out and doesn't cause trouble. After conferring with the crew, Ciernan tells Sammy Purple (the head of the art thieves) that he can't make any promises.
"If art thieves come to attack the gallery, what is our position?"After some consideration, the crew decides that the initial plan will be to not interfere.
Then, a man dressed in white (the leader who spoke with Ciernan) announces: "Attention please. I don't want to alarm anyone, so if you could all just... get up against the wall!" Everyone quickly backs to the nearest wall.
The men in white (the art thieves) start spreading out, covering the gallery patrons, while several head for the office (where Akito and Cassandra are) to demand that the safe be opened. Katya notes that a random guy she's observing (we'll call him part of the red team) thinks that he can probably take out the two white team who are covering him.
Unfortunately for him, when he steps away from the wall, the white team gets free shots at him. Ciernan notes that he's the "three of diamonds" (and Cassandra is the "queen of diamonds"), so he's probably one of the Terrans.
Akito traps Cassandra behind a desk and tells her to hide. Ciernan starts filling the place with fog. Mirris sends another of the Terran's backgrounds to Murdoch. Kith starts making art thieves sleepy - the fog must be sleep gas!
Another member of the red team leaps onto a table: "You dare!?" He opens fire with a plasma disruptor at the white team, but unfortunately for him, he's not by the wall any more. A third red team guy attempts to pretend that he's Hegemonic security, as he sneaks towards the office (though Ciernan notes he's an eight of diamonds).
Katya and Kith psychically examine the guy on the table - he seems pretty transparent, actually - except that he has bitey shields! Mirris downloads the mind of the guy on the table to Murdoch, as well.
A hapless gallery security guard tries to get everyone to freeze, but is shot for his pains. Hippocrates instructs Akito to "take down all the bad guys in your sector". One of the red guys who is "fleeing" tries to tell everyone in the office to get out the back. Including Cassandra, of course.
More fighting happens. Murdoch takes out some walls, Akito bamboo-strikes Sammy Purple, and though he's given the chance to reconsider, takes him down. This puts the rest of the white team into berserk mode. Katya shields everyone from energy weapons.
"Step back repulse monkey!" -Akito, inexplicablyRed team keeps trying to get Cassandra out, but is thwarted by Ciernan's earth walls.
Sally comes into the gallery, carrying a different cat. "Mr. Ciernan! Mr. Ciernan!"
Hippocrates tries a bluff against the robbers:
"We have your boss down in the back room, and if you shoot any more civilians, we'll kill him!"Kith geases Sally to get out again, and Mirris grabs her and starts dragging her outside. A Terran in the office sets off an explosive to try and get through the earthwall, but accidentally takes down his companion. Another Terran goes after Murdoch with a garrotte.
Unfortunately for the Terrans, the only person who has time to get through the hole in the earthwall is Akito, before Ciernan puts up another.
The fog cloud disappears, but is replaced by a cloud of Painful Sensory Overload. Katya starts grabbing people. One of the Terrans sprays Kith with an aerosol, and tells her to try and kill her teammates, but he's still not amazingly convincing.
The robbers retaliate to Hippocrates' threat by pointing a gun at Mirris and threatening to kill her if they don't get Sammy Purple back. One of the security guards goes down, and Kith falls to backlash from bitey shields as she tries to put a Terran to sleep. Mirris tries an extraction on another Terran, but doesn't get through the bitey shields. He looks horrified at what almost just happened, shouts "For Honor!" and falls over.
Several other Terrans say "For Honor!" and fall over.
Several robbers punch Katya, who doesn't quite fall over until she realizes that her personal psi crystal has broken, and then she falls, wailing. All the gatherings and the shields go down.
The thieves start fleeing, chased by Murdoch and Ciernan. Akito stabilizes Sammy Purple. Mirris ends up fleeing with the thieves and Sally. Katya wakes up and bursts into tears. Murdoch starts picking up guns from the fallen thieves and Terrans, and manages to shoot another fleeing thief before he rounds a corner (that will be the second casualty of the fight, plus comatose Terrans).
Kith tries to keep the downed Terran from dying, but accidentally heals him awake. He blows out the outer wall, and pushes Cassandra out, shouting "I'll hold them, you run!" Cassandra starts running, much to everyone's shock.
The final Terran holds the hole in the wall against Akito, as Cassandra runs for a van which has come around the corner. Ciernan flies over the building towards the van, and Murdoch turns and runs back towards the gallery, shooting at the getaway van with two plasma disruptors he's picked up.
Unfortunately for the van, Ciernan walls it in and walls up the alley between it and Cassandra. Katya TK-grabs the final Terran, and flies after Cassandra to dose her with yellow, which does cause her to snap to her senses.
The driver of the van surrenders, but doesn't appear to know much. He seems to have been hired for the job. The final Terran suicides as Kith puts him to sleep.
Ciernan lays hands on Sally's new cat. Mirris goes through a Terran's pocket, and finds an amulet, at which point Akito pushes Cassandra's painting off the wall.
The party reports back to Garan Hans and the mice, that they have acquired two Terran downloads (the fighter and the assassin). The mice send a van over to pick everyone up.
Meanwhile, the art thieves are arrested and taken to regular jail - Kith goes to visit Sammy Purple, to convince him to use his talents to benefit mankind. She gives him the White King's card, just in case he wants to work with other people who use their "specialized talents" for good. He certainly seems willing to consider the notion, though being in jail will make it tricky.
Ciernan brings Sally and the new cat home, apologies are exchanged all around, and Ciernan is invited to dinner by Sally's mom.
Meanwhile, both Linnet and Ruthie are in sick bay, after having gotten into a fight that Twig and the Tinoori had to break up.