Punch Bowl

"When you must choose between alliance with a friend and alliance with an enemy, choose the latter. Then there are no questions of gratitude or loyalty to weigh upon your actions."

-Ozymandias, Advice from my Enemy, private printing, 2765.023

New Light -> Gateway

When last we left our heroes, some of them were speaking with the Blue Hegemon. To recap: Then, it's to space, to Riden to talk to Shaddam about the meeting plan, and to reacquire Ciernan from his potential brainwashers.

Ace is a bit feverish from his last Kaufman experiment, so the sky is extra-dodgey, but he hits it anyway. The Hippocrates starts up the Spine towards Red space.

A few jumps later, Ace is persuaded to sleep, and Akito pilots. Akito starts to think that the tunnel through jump space feels somewhat curved, as if the ship is sliding and turning, but it looks straight. He resists the urge to steer, and calls Max to the bridge. Max notes that the gravlift rotates him a bit, but doesn't see anything odd about jumpspace. Akito calls Ace to the bridge, resulting in him appearing, dripping, in a towel.

"How awake are you?" -Akito
"All of it." -Ace
By now pretty much everyone is on the bridge. Katya notes that there's some sort of presence floating in the air. Battle stations are called. Woop! Woop! Woop!
"Gun deployment: un-recommended" - Twig, in Engineering
Kith senses emotion, picking up tension and nervousness and general curviness. First Frost of Autumn is summoned to the bridge - he notes no particularly extraordinary curviness, and is impressed that humans are perceiving things that aren't there any more. Katya and Kith both note that the presence is gone again.

Max scans jumpspace, looking for whatever it was. Kith grumbles - if someone was going to be bad, she wanted it to be her. Max asks if Twig can check the jump engines? He starts off. Max clarifies: he didn't mean disassemble them. Twig seems to have needed the clarification.

The crossing from Blue into Red at Nurl includes a bit of interrogation - what's their purpose and destination? They're picking up a crew member on Riden. What's his business there? R&R. The Blue picket ship comments that Riden isn't really a safe place to be recreationing right now - Ace says that's okay, he's not really a safe person. Well, that's interesting - who would that be? Ciernan McPherson. Oh - he's a permanent crew member now? Interesting.

Banter concluded, the party jumps to Riden. The Red fleet warns them to watch out for the fleet maneuvers - the Bellarion is out showing the colors since the Hegemon is not on planet: this week he's on Gateway as part of a whirlwind tour of the Red Hegemony.

Email from Ciernan arrives:

Investigations continue. Ties are likely. Laundry not done yet.
It seems fated to go to Gateway, then. An agenda is drawn up:
  1. Extract Ciernan
  2. Clean Ciernan
  3. Set up Shaddam Set up Meeting with Shaddam
For when they meet Ciernan, the party agrees on a code phrase to mean "I've read his mind and we should get him!": "Nice shoes."

On the way to Gateway, Red fleet security asks their business. Max tells them "Speculative trading." The picket ship is amused: is that what they call it now? Proceed. Oh, and please stand by for a message. A few minutes later, a call is routed to the Hippocrates - it's Commodore DeGaulle, who extends his condolences to the crew, and asks if there is anything he can do. They say they'd like to arrange for a meeting some time. The Hippocrates signs off and continues down to Gateway.

"Can you remind me what the consorts you've met look like, because I have a mind like a steel potato." -Ace
Akito's synapses fuse, and he falls out of his chair, arms and legs twitching.

Ace is interested in finding Ryan Waites in particular. Akito thinks that would be good - can Max find Ryan Waites? Max thinks that landing on the planet would be a good first start.

Meanwhile, Ciernan, who has been going over final preparations with Dr. Trine at the quarry, get a visit from Ryan Waites. It seems that Mr. Waites wants to talk to to the crew as soon as possible. He has some information regarding a possible kidnapping attempt on a crew member, in fact. Ciernan tells Waites that he'll see what they can do.

More email from Ciernan arrives:

Wrapping up. May need transport rather than meeting you somewhere. See you soon.
Katya speculates that this is code for "Help! They got me!" Well, "Extract Ciernan" is the first thing on the list.

"Ciernan is pretty powerful. How do we knock him out? Where are the gas grenades? " -Max
"Not the gas grenades! He's a weather mage!" -Akito
More email arrives, this from Artemus (one of the mice working for Garan Hans). They have important information for the Hippocrates crew. The agenda expands:
  1. Extract Ciernan
  2. Clean Ciernan
  3. Set up Meeting with Shaddam
  4. Deal with Artemus Meet Artemus
A van (with extra insurance) is rented.
"We want it for a week; we'll come back for a new one tomrrow." -Andrea
News reports say that there's a big ceremony at Klothos Stadium tomorrow, with the Hegemon and Klothos. Tickets are generally available.

Ciernan is extracted from his hotel, at top speed. Ace checks for people following them, and Max checks for bugs. There don't seem to be any of either. Kith looks for influences on Ciernan - he's one of the least influenced people she's seen in a while. Well, that seems to be what the Bibblers are doing.

Ciernan's briefing:

"I'm not as loyal to the Hippocrates any more. You're great guys and all, but I don't feel like I have to follow Eva's orders any more." -Ciernan
"That's probably good, because she's been kidnapped." -Ace
"How are his shoes?" -Akito, suspiciously
More items are added to the to-do list:
  1. Extract Ciernan
  2. Clean Ciernan
  3. Set up Meeting with Shaddam
  4. Meet Artemus
  5. Thump Ryan Waites
  6. Drain Bowl
Max and Akito go off to get tickets for the Klothos and Hegemon show. Max (channeling a Pierogi precog) thinks the fact that they're meeting is important - where the party is in the seats, whether they go or not, isn't as relevant. That might mean there won't be an assassination attempt, but nobody is really willing to not go, just in case. In addition to their tickets, Max and Akito end up with coupons for Super Grab Pax: 20% off at any registered dealer!

The airlock doorbell buzzes. It's a guy in a Starguard uniform, and Ryan Waites. Akito dashes for the airlock. Ace dashes after him, as everyone yells at Akito "Don't get him!" Kith prepares tea in the conference room.

Akito answers the door, glowering, but doesn't actually hit Waites yet. Waites introduces the Starguard officer as Lieutenant Waverly, of Diplomatic Protection. Akito invites them in. Lt. Waverly is dubious - Akito is clearly a threat. Ciernan assures them that Akito won't be a problem, but Waverly is unconvinced. Waites assures Waverly that it will be fine. Waverly is exasperated - he doesn't know why Waites brought him as security if Waites is going to ignore his recommendations, and go on board a clearly hostile ship. Waites says that they'll be good as long as Lt. Waverly is there. Waites and Waverly are escorted into the conference room.

"The Hippocrates' hospitality, I remember it well."
Kith checks out his motives: he wants to secure cooperation, and thinks that whatever it is he's here to do is important.

Waites cuts to the heart of his briefing: Mighty Klothos was recently alerted to a threat to the Hegemony (as well as other parties) known as the Terrans. Now, as Governor of Gateway, Mighty Klothos has investigated a number of leads related to this Terran threat, and has come across a hired thug who was attempting to watch Mr. McPherson. This thug was dealt with, but possessed certain technology that is... problematic. This technology appears to have been recently acquired, for use on this particular mission. Interrogation revealed that his current mission was, in fact, to kidnap or kill Ms. Lavalor. This was unacceptable to Mighty Klothos, who wishes to protect her esteemed visitors from other worlds, and so she has sent Waites, to represent her interests in protecting Ms. Lavalor. Ciernan says that they are always grateful to Mighty Klothos.

The technology in question is currently at the lab, being investigated - it renders the wearer difficult to detect, or easy to detect, just not where you're looking. It's a strange physical effect, not a mental one. There is some correlation with a recent briefing he's seen regarding the Blue technology used at the recent victory in Riden. In this particular instantiation, dealing with someone equipped with the tech requires reacting quickly - Waites says he assumes that he and "the kid" can take care of it if someone leaps out at Katya. Akito scowls.

Ciernan talks to Waites about getting other members of the crew involved in tomorrow's endeavor at the bowl - Dr. Trine may be nervous. Waites says that he'll talk to Dr. Trine about it, and make sure that the appropriate waivers get signed.

The party thanks Waites for the information - was there anything else? He'll just be in the motel by the starport, and will be happy to escort Katya anywhere she goes once she leaves the ship. He's shown out, again. On the way out, he tries to make small talk:

"Staying long?" -Waites
"As long as it takes." - Kith
"Ujiie Akito, Deck Swabber, Serial Number 0004." -Akito
Waites and Waverly head ostentatiously to the spaceport motel. Lt. Waverly takes up a guard position outside, earning him sympathy points with the party.

The group calls Armand DeGaulle back.

"We need to talk to Shaddam." -Max
"I expect that Hegemon Marchant will be interested in speaking with you. I'll arrange something for this evening after the presentation." -Armand
Ciernan sets up a meeting with Artemus at the military starport. Ace disguises Katya as Isra, though whether this is to fool the Terrans or Ryan Waites is less than clear. Akito brings Lt. Waverly a cup of coffee. Ace is busy interacting with a bunch of invisible glowing luck particles, which worries both Katya and Kith.

The party starts to go to meet the mice, and are met exiting the ship by Ryan. He's clearly puzzled - he seems to think Katya is there, but isn't sure if it's Kith or Isra. Kith puts on sunglasses, to look more like Katya-in-disguise. Ciernan invites him along.

The mice provide a briefing acquired from the downloaded Terran's brain:

  1. The Terrans who are here do not expect to survive the Flames. However, the Return Captain on their ship will survive, and will take it back to Terra at that point to let them know the plan worked.
  2. Terrans are theoretically organized into 12 equal houses, but in actuality only four still exist, and one currently dominates.
  3. The Terran ship and main base is in the New Light system, well hidden in the asteroid belt.
  4. Though they do use psis they have compromised, Terrans have a great disdain/distrust of psionics and have thus developed explicit defenses against them. Terrans are not encouraged to cultivate psi talents.
  5. Most ministers in Donella Melcamot's cabinet have a Terran agent as an underminister. Michael and Mason Willoby are the two exceptions; Michael is too paranoid and Willoby isn't considered relevant.
  6. Nobody close to Shaddam Marchant is an active Terran agent, because he's able to spot them. However, Red does have several well-placed one-shot sleeper agents, who are very hard to detect until activated.
  7. Something important in Red got compromised during the assassination attempt against Shaddam Marchant. The Terrans consider the assassination attempt a success, even though he lived, and Powell was cleared.
  8. The death of the two middle Marchant siblings in a shuttle crash was in fact caused by the Terrans in an attempt to frame the Blues. However, a lack of concrete evidence meant that Marchant didn't go on the warpath.
  9. The explosion on New Light and death of Doraine Melcamot was in fact caused by the Terrans in an attempt to frame the Reds. That worked pretty darned well indeed.
The mice also have the device that Waites got off of the thug; they bring it out, claiming that it is impossible to understand. Waites provides a demonstration, putting it on and telling Akito to watch him very carefully. He walks over to Ciernan, and hits him (Ciernan takes no damage), but there's a brief flash of his being near Akito, hitting him instead. Only Akito spots it, because everyone else was watching Waites over by Ciernan.

In addition to this puzzling combat effect, there is another setting. He turns a knob, and fades out completely, though Max and Kith still have an idea of where he is. He fades back in, and notes that it appears to let you walk through walls. Well, that's especially no good.

Then, it's time for the big public event. Kith (with Akito as escort, though he brings a Gameboy, as he expects this to be boring) gets VIP seats. Everyone else gets general admission. Waites checks to see if Katya wants to go to the VIP section instead; no, she doesn't.

In the pre-event festivities, Ace's seat number is announced as A Winner! He gets brought to the prize area and asked to sign a release for advertising purposes. He demurs. He doesn't want the stack of brightly colored inhalers? No, no, he doesn't. He gets to go back to his seat. Akito is also a winner - there appears to have been some confusion over his place in the VIP area, but having a regular ticket. It's a bit embarassing for the organizers. Akito takes the cash equivalent of 250 asters, and gets his picture taken.

The local mayor introduces their beloved Governor, Mighty Klothos, who gives a speech about how honored they are that the Hegemon (who is very busy) has come here. Then the Hegemon gives a speech, honoring Klothos with a public service award. Then Klothos declares a Day of Planetary Celebration tomorrow - holidays for all!

Ciernan tries to parse the battle in the subtext: Shaddam scored points by having the ceremony on the planet, thus making Klothos leave her battlestation. Klothos, on the other hand, scored points by managing to organize a huge celebration at the drop of a hat. Shaddam seems to be playing it as best he can, given that he had to come to Gateway. Unfortunately, the subtext doesn't include why he had to come.

Ace putpockets a note onto Waites: "Just remember it would still be inadvisable to try anything funny".

Then, it's off to the meeting with the Red Hegemon. Lt. Waverly gets ditched outside the official security perimeter; then IDs and weapons get checked, before the group is shown in. It's a sort of smaller throne room, with two angled chairs - Shaddam's is taller, while Klothos's is shinier. The two rulers conclude their talk:

"I suppose that will do it, then. Well done, good work." -Shaddam
"I am, of course, always at your service." -Klothos
"Of course." -Shaddam
Klothos deigns to notice the party:
"Oh, the crew of the Hippocrates. How wonderful." -Klothos
"You've met before?" -Shaddam
"On numerous occasions. We're practically old friends." -Klothos
"I see. And there's your, um -" -Shaddam
"Minister." -Klothos
Ace asks Klothos how she has been enjoying her artwork. Yes, yes, she's very happy with it. Shaddam dismisses Klothos. Waites, on the other hand, is still there. Ace tries to dismiss him, and, with some extra Significant Looking from the Red Hegemon, he leaves.

Shaddam greets them, scratching his temple with more Significant Looking. Katya reads his thoughts, and then passes along: "Klothos with ear to the door. Shaddam with finger to lips." Everyone chats about the "security problem", and then Ciernan fills in on the Terran/Bibbler connection that he's been investigating, while Katya relays the message that they've arranged for a meeting on Stannis Law. Shaddam doesn't think going through Blue is feasible, but Katya says the Hippocrates can take him. "Soon" is decided on as the time frame.

He overtly offers his condolences on Eva's going missing inside of Blue. Akito decides this is all very boring, and Katya surreptitiously TK-pokes him. Via Katya, again, he explains that he's here to determine how much he'll be able to exercise domain over the quarry when the time comes. The idea of talking to Klothos about it is broached - they'll talk more on (or en route to) Stannis Law, so as to not need to discuss it via picture relay. Their principal mission accomplished, the group heads out again, re-acquiring Waites and then Lt. Waverly.

Max casts about for the closest weird tech device - he gets bitten by a bitey shield, but tries to home in on it. The party drives off after it, into the city. Waites and Waverly follow, somewhat puzzled. The group gets close, and then the device fades out. Ace tries to get a lucky break, and Max notes another device fading in again from a different direction. Everyone gets onto the roof to ambush whoever it is.

Two cars are coming down the road - the front car is swerving back and forth, and the back car is tailgating behind it. Max determines that the back car is the one with the device. The party gets clearance from Waites to go after the Terrans, so Ciernan puts a wall of earth in front of the first car. The lead car promptly crashes into the wall, and the tailgating car crashes into the lead car. Ace and Ciernan unload some plasma disruption and lightning at the back car, for good measure.

Waites tells Akito "Come on, kid, let's go" and jumps off the building. Akito also jumps off the building, but Akito hangs in midair, while Waites hits the ground.

Kith notes that both cars have seriously fading life signs in them, but is stuck on the roof. Martan flies her down, where she starts pulling unconscious people out of the (now on fire) cars. Ciernan starts a rainstorm, keeping the fire from getting too out of control. Max manages to grab the device, which is being worn by the guy from the back car - he attempts to attack Max (though it looks like attacking Akito), but is promptly pummeled some more. Katya reads his thoughts - he was trying to go to the nearby safe house, and he really hates frat boys.

Kith continues to pull unconscious bodies out of the burning lead car, but everyone else is still distracted by the thug from the back car. Katya reads some more memories, shielding against bitey shields - she gets the location of the safe house, where he was going to meet with his superior and get checked out on the new technology. (The safe house appears to be on fire now too). Where did the order come from to kill Katya? From Stone. But that melts him. The party does confiscate his Weird Device.

Kith saves two of the drunken frat boys in the front car, but one is dead. Waites says he can keep "killed an innocent frat boy" from exploding, but he'll have to stay here for that, which means Katya has to stay here too.

Max, Akito, and Ace investigate the safe house, while Ciernan investigates the apartment of the thug. The safe house has a planning table with lots of pictures: Katya getting on and off of the Hippocrates, and Ciernan at the quarry. The apartment does not have a Bibbler book.

Then, it's back to the Hippocrates. Deirdre stands guard over Katya and Martan, causing Martan to sleep on the sofa.

In the morning, Dr. Trine calls Ciernan. What's all this about special guests? The Hippocrates just happened to show up yesterday? Kye is behind this, right? Ciernan says he doesn't think Dr. Kye is here, actually. Dr. Trine is only partially placated.

A stack of envelopes arrives, containing pardons for all crimes committed yesterday. Yesterday specifically, that is. Ace is psyched - they're hand-signed! This is seven different signatures from Klothos!

Nobody in the crew is competent enough with Weird Devices to make the device work; Twig's sysops skill lets him start it humming, but it's not clear what else it does. Ciernan invites him along to the bowl-draining, since environmental engineering may be useful.

Waites (on request) surrounds the ship with Red troops, and the party proceeds to the quarry. Dr. Trine is, as expected, nonplussed by the crowd, and even more worried by the idea that there might be some sort of attack. Akito refuses briefly to shake his hand (since he steals secrets!) but Ciernan makes it clear that if he doesn't, he's going back to the ship. He finally grudgingly does, and Dr. Trine appears satisfied that nobody is an Agent of Destruction from Dr. Kye.

Ciernan's first attempt to siphon off some of the water with tornadoes proves not very helpful (the mechanic being just too hard), but the main plan is to have Ciernan and the steadfasts damp the vibrations from huge pumps and drillers, to drain the water into an underground channel to a nearby river. They start (as symbolized by playing Jenga).

After a while of this, those with danger-sense or psi abilities start thinking that there's something up. The bad guys decloak and combat ensues.

Katya keeps taking to the air, only to be shot down by the thugs, and plummeting onto Waites (who keeps catching her and taking all the falling damage himself). He also donates four health to her, as she's not well-equipped to take a pile of damage.

Akito somehow proves able to break the Weird Devices; those whose devices are broken are easy prey, while the others can only be attacked directly after they've attacked someone else. Akito becomes a secondary target at this point, and Twig demonstrates that having his own weird device means he is accidentally attacked instead of the person the thugs really meant to attack. Twig is not sure this is a win.

The draining finally finishes, and Dr. Trine and Ruthie shut the pumps.

Ciernan tries a different tack, shouting out "I hear that the Great Lord's name is Stone! Who can confirm that for me?" Sadly, they don't all melt, but that earns him a place as tertiary target. Ciernan goes down; Akito puts a piece of paper with a Chinese character on it, on his forehead, which starts to slowly heal him. Akito is about to attack the leader, but is offered the chance to take it back, since he's the Guy - he does.

As the thugs are eventually taken down, one after another, the leader tries to flee with the unconscious Ciernan, but Akito's character glows and then explodes, flinging Akito and the leader across the field, unconscious, and causing Ciernan to start dying faster.

Ace accidentally plasma disrupts the pumping station (which was itself perilous). Unfortunately, Katya was hovering just above it, and she goes down again.

Kith keeps Katya from dying, and then keeps Ciernan from dying just moments before he would have had to be stuffed into a Kaufman tube. The field is theirs. The bodies are searched for devices, and put in a little pile, but as it turns out, there was only ever one, and Twig has it.

Dr. Trine searches the bodies (and the party), sure that one of these people is Dr. Kye, but fails to find him. He makes sure Ciernan knows the cost of the exploding pump is getting taken out of his payment, because it was one of Ciernan's guys who blew it up.

Bowl drained and danger (for the moment) averted, the party heads back to the Hippocrates. Akito decides that Waites taking over a hundred points of damage from Katya continually falling on him is probably enough thumpage for today, and shakes Waites' hand:

"I'm totally kicking your butt someday, but for now, it's been good working with you." -Akito
"Well, when that time comes, kid, it'll be a blast." -Waites