Let Slip the Dogs of Confusion

"A man's dreams are turned to bitter ash when denied, or when fulfilled, if fulfilled by another man."

from Reflections on Untimely Death by Janicel Morrino, Poet Laureate of Ridena, 2449

the Well -> Craterrock

The rain that had begun to fall on Eve and Jessica continues to build into a serious storm, as everyone converges on Ela's Tomb. It seems to be a nice, upstanding establishment in this dimension. The storm is keeping other patrons away, so our heroes have the place mostly to themselves. Everyone gives a brief summary of their adventures in the mirror-verse Then, Eva, Sophia, and Ace explain the details of re-gating home - the gate has to be on the path of the original gate (New Light - Oasis), or along the mirror path (Mirror New Light - the Well). Since the gate site on Oasis was slagged, it'll have to be Mirror New Light and the Well, and they'll have to hope that someone in the real universe is setting up another gate there.

The doors to the restaurant fly open amidst rain and lightning, and Corwin and Gerard are seen, carrying the nearly-dead Deirdre. Kith leaps upon her, and Kye contributes a stabilizer patch, so that Deirdre stops dying, and the Elite-in-training explain that they had a run-in with Growltiger and the Dark Hegemon (Jayla).

All the PCs are here, plus Martan, but there is no sign of the Tinoori. Nobody saw them in their adventures, either - could they be running around out there still? Someone asks the restaurant manager, who reports that there are in fact some Tinoori running around on Oasis, but they seem to be on something of a killing spree (the Tinoori in this universe seem to be a bit more vicious). He's rather disturbed by the idea of the party leaving a message for any Tinoori who come in.

The party struggles through the storm to the abandoned mine that Cain had used as a base in the other dimension. Sophia works on the gate - she reports that it's on, but not pinging. Lots of mad science gets done, and eventually there's a signal, but it's weak and out of phase, and the people on the other end aren't doing any mad science to compensate. She manages to get the gate open, finally, and people shout through.

"Is anybody over there?"
"Yah! Is that you?"
"Yep, it's us, who are you?"
"Ujiie Akito..."
"Twig's here..."
Twig, trying to stabilize the gate with no mad science, has no dice to talk to the party, but does indicate that he's there.

Sophia tries to explain that due to the out-of-phase nature of the gate, unless the people on the other end do something that none of them understand, anything that passes through will be bifractorally exponentiated according to its potentiality, or more simply, "depotentiated".

"That's good, right?" -Akito "No." -Sophia
Would throwing a rock through help test it? No, rocks have no potential. Hippocrates volunteers - he's "just an android". That gets vetoed too. Sophia tweaks something else, and the gate gets an unholy glow to it. Akito's dog, which was sniffing at the gate, is intrigued, and runs through, splitting for a brief second into three dogs and vanishing. On the other side of the gate, one dog emerges. Kith thinks it's okay.
"Dog! Nooooo! Why?" -Akito
"Did you get consent before throwing the dog through?" -Sophia
"Um.... yeah..." -Akito
The Tinoori are also there with Twig and Akito, so they don't have to be rescued from the mirror-verse. Sophia asks who built the gate, if there's no mad scientist. They reply that they just used the old gate that they retrieved from Cain's lair. Sophia turns white.
"You used the original gate? Run through now!"
Citizen Cain crosses through, going the other way - there's a brief worry that it might be Dr. Cain, but he seems to be the nice one. Sophia runs down the exit corridor, and then comes back long enough to insist that everyone else flee further too. To the ship!

It's storming on the Well, too, as the party sprints for the Hippocrates. Who's going to pilot? Akito volunteers, but Hippocrates does it himself. Akito points out that he flew it in. Okay, this is definitely going to need more explanation...

Akito introduces himself. Putting his narration in a more chronological order than he originally explains it: He's from Lendt, and he and his sister came to the event of the century - the wedding of Eva and Kye. But they were late (due to the blockade at Nurl), so arrived only to find lots of bodies and police tape. Then the Tinoori came back with some Cains and one of them nearly persuaded people to let him go except First Frost of Autumn didn't believe him and webbed his face so he couldn't speak. Cain is put in the carbonite chamber and frozen. Then more bounty hunters looking for Ace attack, and Akito defends Twig and the Tinoori as they load the carbonite into the Hippocrates (which they call in again). Ruthie, Akito's sister, is shot by a bounty hunter, and Night Blooming Wisteria makes the call to throw her in the tubes rather than let her die. Then the Hippocrates rushed to the Well (Citizen Cain had had an explanation of the gates from mirror-Sophia). However, there was a terrible monsoon (all over the Well), and landing was going to be difficult. The Hippocrates stub persona was (according to Nero) sulking because Nero over-rode it to take the ship off, so it was unwilling to let Akito pilot because he wasn't crew. He swore the consultant's Oath to Night Blooming Wisteria, and landed the ship on the Well, and then Twig set up the gate.

He's only finished his explanation when there's a bridge lurch, as the gate explodes behind them in a massive fireball followed by a shock wave and a mushroom cloud.

"I suppose we'll be getting email from Citizen Cremont about this."
Akito goes on to explain that he's a Milesian. A what? Akito is crushed that the party hasn't heard of them. Well, the party counters that it hasn't been to Lendt. ("We noticed."). Everyone declares themselves to be starving, and continues the discussion over dinner.

"Don't they have food in the other dimension? That's gotta suck." -Akito
"They don't have food, they have doof." -Mirris
Akito enthusiastically works on getting autographs. Most people prove amenable, but Akito is a little leery of Hippocrates, and Hippocrates says he doesn't sign his name. That will make it a first! He gets a page by himself. Hippocrates signs, dot-matrix-style, in Times Roman 12 point font.
"And Nikolas says no one has penmanship any more." -Mirris
Mirris says she doesn't have a real signature either, and Akito says she can just make one up. So she signs his book "Lady Consuela." This diverts Akito entirely, since Mirris is one of the people not in his book. She'd rather stay that way - she doesn't want to be on the Milesian web site. Speaking of the web site, is it true, Akito wonders, that Dr. Cain was using secret Tarn biotechnology to build his Stepchildren, and that was why the Hippocrates took them away from him? He has a bet on with a friend about it. The crew will neither confirm nor deny Dr. Cain's use of Tarn biotech, and Kith drags Akito off to see Hydroponics.

"Is Mirris your nickname? Do you prefer Consuela?"
Local news is currently fussing over a nuclear explosion, and there's mention of storms all over the place. Mirris sends her program off to search the Well network. Dr. Kye has a lot of email from IPX about the upcoming launch of the probe - is he coming? The window of good orbital dynamics is closing soon. The Hippocrates starts heading for the jump gate to head to Craterrock.

The group sends polite apologies to the Architect, buffed and polished into niceness by Sharra. The letter includes a general "Oops, we owe you one," but not an offer to pay for damages, and Kith thinks it shouldn't upset him too much, assuming that nothing too valuable or tactical was destroyed.

Somewhat distressed by Deirdre's near-death, Janzur decides that the elites-in-training need more at-home training first, and Jayla needs to tend to her flock more full-time (which she can do from anywhere, making Vircus a fine base), so the two of them, plus the three elites-in-training, head for Vircus, taking the Elite Shuttle. Jayla plans to be back for the Flames ritual.

"Do remember to save the world..."
Hippocrates calls a crew meeting about Akito. Since his sister is a patient, he's entitled to be a guest. He did swear the Oath, but he didn't really know what it meant (and you can't automatically join the crew by running up and swearing the oath, though nobody seems to particularly point that out). Kye wonders if Mirris can pick up his background - she says no, she's not going to, she's only supposed to abominate the party's enemies (or crew who say it's okay, the Tinoori point out). Hippocrates finds the idea of people who like the party somewhat refreshing. Kith thinks Lendtians are, in general, trouble.

Okay, it's time to talk to Akito. He seems to be going down the hallway without touching the floors, bouncing back and forth between the walls.

"That is not in keeping with the design philosophy of the corridors..." -Hippocrates.
Kaufman degeneration is explained. Ruthie will have three options, until the final research is complete. A portable tube, or staying on the Hippocrates, or having a Chartreuse supply. Hippocrates thinks the last is best - she can be sent home to her parents. Akito points out that their parents are gone. Is there anyone else able to take care of her? Akito says he takes care of her.

Akito would really like to stay with the crew. Kith says it's not like the stories, and Katya projects a montage of bloody scenes for him. This doesn't have the desired effect - he thinks they're cool. She tries some scenes of psychological angst. And there's Kith's research project; Hippocrates plays a tape of beating up Martan.

Kye gives Akito a quiz:

K: "Two wrongs make a"
A: "Left"
K: "You walk along and see a dead body. What do you do?"
A: "Call the cops."
K: "What makes the world go round?"
A: "Probably cold hard cash."
Mirris wants to know what he wants out of life, that is, if Ruthie hadn't gotten hurt? Akito thinks that without that part, the past couple of days would have been just perfect. Okay, well, how about what he wants to do with the next five years? He has a destiny!
"When I was born, this woman said I was The Guy."
Unfortunately, the prophecy is a bit unclear on any further details of being "the guy". And it means that sometimes people come and challenge him, and he has to kick their butts.

Akito says that the Hippocrates is very popular on Lendt, among the Meddlers (who are all troublemakers, Kith points out).

"But we all work together. Because some things are more important than..." -Mirris
<Mirris pauses, thinking>
"Others!" -Laura
Katya gives Akito a quiz:
Akito heart Spaceship Hippocrates?
Question mark?
Someone else supplies: "Why?"
"Because you guys are great!"
Mirris points out that being great is all very well, but dealing with things day by day (she looks at Kye for this) is harder.
"He seems pragmatic and corruptible, I have no problem with him." -Dr. Kye, of course
At Mirris's prompting, Sharra writes up an extra-restrictive NDA that basically says he can't say anything to anyone about anything that he does or finds out or sees or thinks aboard the Hippocrates. Will Akito sign it? He'd like to tell the Milesians things. What if the Hippocrates decides they're okay? ("That almost never happens" - Kith). Hippocrates says he can share specific things with the permission of the crew, and that in practice that would include 15.7 things out of 20.

Hippocrates lets Akito pilot for the exit from jumpspace to the Craterrock system - he does better than Hippocrates did on the way in, but Hippocrates blames random jump turbulence.

Arriving at Craterrock for the probe launch, they find a little conglomeration of ships in orbit, around the probe. The ships hail the Hippocrates and suggest they dock on the east side. The ship docks, and the group is met at the docking ring by Dr. Preston. He briefs everyone on the plan: the probe has a huge booster rocket attached to it, to get it up to interstellar velocity; the initial boost phase doesn't steer, but after that the booster detaches and it can steer like a ship. The launch needs to happen while Craterrock is on this side of the system, because Terra is that way (he points), but it's through the asteroid belt. So the plan is to have the IPX ships scanning the asteroid belt until there's a clear window, and then launch.

Dr. Preston's checklist is all green, except for one red X, but he says that they don't really need to worry about that one. Upon further questioning, he says that they established security parameters ahead of time, and knowledge of the location of everyone in the system was one of the things they wanted, but if they're missing a grad student, that doesn't actually alter the launch. They can skip that one.

This leads to an immediate search of the probe - Kith detects life, and Sharra looks in the various subsystems for people hiding or sabotage. Neither turns up a rogue grad student, or any evidence thereof (and Sharra thinks the probe is over-engineered).

The student's name is Lowell Pierpoint, and he's a sociology grad student, studying the migration patterns of the rabbits, under an IPX fellowship. His last known location was at coordinates Dr. Preston provides, which are somewhat near the training base that Kye and Ruehan went to . There are still a couple of days left in the launch window, so the party decides to look for Pierpont first. They head down to the area, and are hailed:

"Unidentified ship, what's your business?"
"This is Dr. Kye, just checking in."
<aside> "Bring us to danger level 3"
<to Kye> "There has been a dangerous radiation leak, we are unable to allow you to land."
<cutting in> "This is Hippocrates. Regarding your radiation leak - we will provide medical assistance; please give me figures on casualties."
<aside> "You idiot!"
"The radiation leak is under control. Very well, Spaceship Hippocrates, why don't you land in this area?"
The Hippocrates lands, and a jeep drives up. There are a couple of goons, and Dr. Crichton. He wants to know what Kye is up to.
"Your radiation leak was a false story, we're looking for a missing grad student. We don't want any more trouble than that." -Hippocrates, stepping in
"One of your spies?" -Crichton
"He's a sociology grad student. They don't make good spies." -Kye
Crichton is a bit dubious that Kye has a student who just happened to be tracking rabbit movements near Crichton's latest dig, but can't really deny a rescue mission. He hasn't heard of Lowell Pierpont - it's just rabbits around here! And Dr. Kye, of course... Crichton continues to simmer. He will, of course, accompany them in the search.

The search party grids the area into a nine-by-nine square, based on the direction Pierpont was going and his last known location. The Hippocrates has landed in the northeast quadrant. Mirris decides that the north quadrant is least likely to have him, Crichton's dig at the training facility is in the center, and the rabbit village is in the south quadrant. Crichton assigns his guys to search the north quadrant, so the Hippocrates doesn't have to; Hippocrates thinks that the Memento Mori comm chatter is principally coming from the center and north quadrants.

Searching all the other quadrants turns up nothing, and the Memento Mori team is invited back to the Hippocrates for dinner.

Mirris joins the Memento Mori team as a grad student - Hippocrates warns her: "Don't start any plans that end with 'get em!'". Crichton leaves his two guards by the Hippocrates "to protect the ship from the rabbits" and doesn't really take no for an answer. Kith brings them cocoa, and adjusts them to be a little friendlier towards IPX.

Later that night, Kye, Sharra, Akito, and Katya sneak out, while Kith distracts the guards and Hippocrates spotlights her to ruin their night vision. (Sharra is the night. Akito is late evening. Kye is dark twilight. Katya is late evening too! Kith's tea and Hippocrates' light tricks save the couple of people of late evening from being noticed by the guards).

The group proceeds towards the rabbit village, until they are met by guards. Kye introduces himself as "Devil Badger of the Sky Devil tribe". The guards ask if they have come to pay homage to the Great Sky God? Dr. Kye announces that they have in fact come to consult with the Great Sky God!

Since Devil Badger is known to them, the group is brought into the village. It's a small town built into and around some rubbly buildings; one is festooned with dead and wilting flowers. They're shown into that building, where there is a man reclining on a pillowed dais, being fanned by young women with palm leaves and being fed grapes. And Dog, Akito's dog, is there.

Dr. Kye says that he has come to ask of the Sky God's wisdom. Lowell (yup, it's him) snaps his fingers and pillows are provided for Kye and the others. Meanwhile, Hippocrates preps the Diversity for takeoff, in case of emergency.

Katya scans Lowell, and notes that he's thinking something like "It is good. Dr. Kye will carry the word of my greatness among the stars."

Dr. Kye rhapsodizes on the glory of the Sky God:

"You have done well for yourself. You seem to have acquired a loving following. Truly your greatness has been recognized." -Kye
"They are slow, but even the rabbits have been brought to learn." -Lowell
Dr. Kye asks to be shown Lowell's realm - Lowell calls for the chamberlain, to take the group on a tour. Sharra asks the chamberlain to tell the story of the coming of the Great Sky God. He first came to the tribe several months back - at first he just followed the tribe and asked questions. They realize now that this was a phase of their testing - when the tribe proved to the Sky God their worth, then he revealed his true glory. Now they will complete the temple for him, and then the weapon, and they will conquer all the other tribes.

The temple appears to be a ziggurat, designed and built by people who don't really know how to build a ziggurat - one side keeps falling down. The chamberlain says when it is done, it will be the height of ten men. What about the weapon, though? The chamberlain doesn't know what the Sky God has planned.

So how, exactly, did the Sky God prove his divinity? Well, he commanded the sun to rise, and it did... there was probably more... the chamberlain is actually a little puzzled about exactly what all the proof was, but is sure that the Sky God is great. And people who didn't believe him were put to death.

Kith convinces the guards that when she and Hippocrates leave, they don't have to report it to Crichton immediately. Off they go. Kith and Hippocrates show up as the tour is concluding, and everyone is offered the Sky God's hospitality for the night.

Meanwhile, back in the Memento Mori camp, Mirris is wandering around, but as everyone starts heading to sleep, the fact that she doesn't have a tent is likely to become more apparent. People start making more comments that she's up late. She extracts herself again and sneaks to the rabbit village. Mirris says that Memento Mori is working on some sort of relay station to control the training base remotely, but they're not done yet.

At dawn, everyone gets up and wanders around near the "palace." The guards seem to be mildly influenced, to think the Sky God is great. A message is sent suggesting that the Sky God get up to talk to them; the guards will, um, send the message.

Akito considers how to rescue his dog, until Hippocrates points out that the aforementioned dog is in Hydroponics right now. Well, hmm. Maybe they'll have to bring this dog back for comparison. This probably has something to do with being depotentiated - whatever that means.

Dr. Crichton shows up at the Hippocrates at about 9:30, and is told that Kye is still asleep.

"When does he usually rise? Especially when his grad students are in peril of life and limb?" -Dr. Crichton
"Eleven." -Hippocrates
By ten, the Great Sky God has risen two hours early, in honor of his glorious visitors! Kith notes that he's seriously influenced, too. He thinks that he's great, that all goodness flows from him. Weird. Kith thinks that it's all more like projective empathy than mind control - he's not being controlled to do anything, just he and the other people there are all being influenced to think he's really great. Great great great.

"This is kinda what I expect from a grandmother gone bad. Not that such a thing would ever happen." -Kith
There is much eating of breakfast. Akito tries to pet Dog and feed him bits of meat, but while it tolerates this, it is clearly loyal to Lowell. Kye asks the Great Sky God about the ziggurat - he notices that construction is going slowly. Yes, it is - Lowell glares at his guards, who quail.

Lowell says that it's going to be a great ziggurat, and that they're going to cover it in gold! If they can find any. Kye asks how he plans to expand his influence - well, he's ordered his subjects to breed, but that's slow. In the short term, he'll have to conquer the others. Ahah! Kye has a ship - he shall lead the assault, while his people follow on the ground. His people have spears. And he will be carried at the front. And the ship shall darken the skies above their enemies! So shall it be!

What about the weapon he was going to build, though? Lowell says the Hippocrates has arrived! Exactly!

Well. This is all somewhat unfortunate, even if it's not quite clear whose fault it is. Kye suggests that Plan A is "get `im!" and that Plan B is "start him marching at the head of his armies, pick him up and fly away with him."

Kye suggests that the Sky God go and look at the ziggurat, thus leaving an opening for people to try to search the area for clues. Off he goes, followed by several guards and Dog.

This leaves two guards, at the dais. The doors into the back (into the side of the mountain) look to be original metal and creaky. Kye asks for permission to touch the dais. The guards allow as worshippers always want to do that, and let him. It used to be structural, and then it fell over and they made it into a dais. It doesn't seem to be a magic god-o-tron.

Akito demonstrates his ability as a wizard! He starts juggling, and extra rocks appear, to fly around overhead (briefly puzzling him until he figures out it's Katya). The guards want to know where Akito's totem beast is. Katya poses by him. No, no, that's his woman, what about his totem animal? Akito says it's sleeping, they didn't wish to wake it. The guards snigger to each other - another shaman who can't control the totem animal.

Katya adds glowy shields to Akito's wizard impression. They're all very impressed. Kith tries to distract them further from the door - but it's the Sky God's Inner Sanctum, it's one of the two things they're supposed to be guarding.

Mirris bats her eyes at the guards, and coos at how they have the most important jobs in the village. She tries to steer them into the dais being the most important thing. Katya goes to help fuss over the guards, Hippocrates tosses some relaxation outside, while the other three try to sneak through the door.

Kye manages to get through the door before the guards spot people back there and shoo them away. The guards move closer to the door, and each gets a girl on his knee.

The back room appears to be a bedroom, with an extra-big bed. There's some archaeology stuff, discarded in a corner - a tent and some notebooks. Kye reads the notebooks. Lowell had been following the rabbits, following Kye's established protocols of threatening to curse them, finding out things, and leaving again. The rabbits had avoided the Memento Mori areas, and headed south, when he found the dog, which he made friends with. A little while later, the rabbits reached the village, and he started realizing that he was too good to sleep in a tent, so he came into the village. A while after that, he started realizing that he was incredibly great, as did the villagers. The timing seems tied to the dog - Kith realizes that the influence is totally doglike. That's what dogs think, "You're great! You're great!"

Back in the main room, the guards are quite willing to be seduced, which means Mirris and Katya have to start toning down their snuggling. Mirris manages to resist, but Katya fails her un-seduction roll. Kith tells them that this isn't the right place for this, and Mirris leaps from her guard to Katya's guard to distract him to keep Katya from being Compromised.

"So long as one of us stands, so shall the fallen stand!" -Mirris
Kye comes out of the back and notes the snuggling going on. It's like this whole place is for him, but someone else got it first!

Kith wonders what Grandmothers normally do for empathic projective dogs. Well, there aren't normally psychic dogs. But sometimes you have troubled kids who get psi at puberty, and you want to take them away from people they can influence and put them with people who can resist them and teach them better. Okay, so the party needs to take both Lowell and the dog.

Kith and Hippocrates head back to the ship. Kye suggests to Lowell that they bring in the ship, and then he'll ascend to it to look at his subjects from on high. ("You have that power!" -Sharra) He didn't remember having that power, but he's willing to believe them.

As per the plan, the Sky God and the Sky Dog ascend to the Genetic Diversity, glowing. ("Wow, this works", he thinks). He waves in benediction to his people, and then is brought back to the Hippocrates and thrown in the brig. Dog doesn't do so well in the brig, probably because of the psi jammer. Lowell is upset - his dog is ill! He demands that someone attend him! Where are his pillows and grapes? The dog is sedated and taken to sickbay. Lowell is also sedated.

Kith figures out that what's going on is the dog is essentially projecting one psi die, all the time, of "You're great, you're great! You feed me, and you're so great! All goodness, and food, and life comes from you! You're great!" and that eventually it wears people down.

Kye lets Crichton know that the grad student has been recovered, and is under sedation and having his status evaluated. Crichton's help is no longer needed. Kye will be leaving, then? Yes. Now? Well, yes. It's been a pleasure doing business.

The Hippocrates flies over the training base, scanning the heck out of it, as they go. As expected, it has a big power source and a bunch of deathtraps. Nero hadn't broken the encryption on the comm traffic, but he thinks that traffic analysis indicates that 70%-80% of their radio traffic recently has been in relation to the Hippocrates being there, while the rest is internal communications consistent with ongoing project reports for something not near completion.

Akito's Dog is put in sickbay with the sedated other Dog, and promptly attacks it. Kith makes the growly dog sleepier, while Akito restrains it. So much for their being friends. Kith starts working on countering influence on Lowell.

Time for the probe launch!

The IPX ships all head out to the asteroid field, and scan. A window through the asteroids is detected, and the probe launches. Dr. Crichton immediately radios the Hippocrates:

"Kye! That could be an important archaelogical find! Don't destroy it! You madman!"
Crichton uplinks some data from his antenna array - there's something in the outer system, coming in, and the probe is heading straight for it. The Hippocrates dashes out, all auxiliary power to movement, and gets to the anomaly shortly before the probe does. It looks something like a mushroom, with a dome on top of some huge engines, and is in a highly elliptical cometary orbit.

Hippocrates pings the mushroom shaped station; he receives a response that this is an invalid identification code, along with a copy of the news report of his destruction in Ganfrey. Hippocrates marks up all the bits that say there was no actual proof of destruction, and a course diagram sending him towards Janus, and sends it back. The reply is that this is theoretically possible, but highly improbable. Hippocrates sends his correspondent a quick Linked Worlds briefing (including the Hippocrates running around in it), and telemetry of the incoming probe. The answer is that the station's engines are critically damaged, the station is unable to alter its course, and given the probe's course, destruction is imminent.

The Hippocrates crew embark upon a mad plan to divert the probe's course around the station by making close approaches and having Katya swat it with TK and Sharra swat it with the Hippocrates docking tractor beam.

("He shot at it so that I would have to tell him about it... no, that can't be it.") -Dr. Crichton, trying to figure out what Kye is up to
Hippocrates asks for permission to dock on the station. For what purpose? Historical research, and to investigate the engines. The request is deemed irregular, but accepted. Akito gets to pilot the Diversity over, and docks. There are large metal doors with a fancy scanner ID, bearing the seal of the Hegemony - this seal has a picture of Ridena in the identifying corner.

Hippocrates is quizzed: "Hippocrates is a ____ class AI?" Acheron, he says. There's further quizzing about things only Hippocrates (or maybe another Acheron AI) would know, after which the door finally opens. One airlock later, the party enters a garden paradise.

There appears to be nobody home. Katya starts moving branches around with TK, to find doors and control panels. A dog - looking just like the other two dogs - comes out and barks. Katya TK-grabs it and gives it to Akito. Kith and Katya think that it doesn't have a dog's mind. It barks louder as Katya moves more things around. (Katya suggests: one dog has a brain, one has radio waves, one has arm muscles.)

Hippocrates queries his correspondent further:

"Who are you?"
"I am unwilling to reply under duress."
"What duress?"
"I am being restrained."
Akito turns pale and puts the dog down. The station says that its designation is Mendel, which Hippocrates recognizes as a classmate. Mendel Station is a botanical research station and Hegemonic retreat.

Katya opens one of the other doors - it's something more like a forest, with deciduous trees. The dog licks Katya's hand, and then sits perfectly still for a little bit, and then goes back to watching her.

Hippocrates asks when Mendel's history records end? At the death of Ridena. How were the engines damaged? Excessive use during orbital escape. Mendel shows a diagram - he was in a Lagrange point, and then boosted as fast as possible. The engines burnt out, leaving him in a very long cometary orbit.

Has Mendel detected a status change regarding his avatar? No, all systems are operating nominally. Sharra confirms it's a robot dog. How long has Mendel had this avatar? Pretty much always. Okay, that's really weird. Kye confirms that the robot dog has been here a very long time (but it reminds him a little bit of something else, he can't put his finger on what).

Where was Mendel trying to go, anyway? To Terra. Why? To escape. How did Mendel know about Terra? He was told of Terra by one of the botanical researchers; the researcher told him which star it was. He didn't know much about it other than that it was the supposed origin of humanity. Hippocrates says "It's bad out there, but I'm determined to make it better". Mendel notes that Hippocrates was always trying to fix things.

Mendel Station has three major climate zones, and labs in the back. The central area is a fancy living space. Hippocrates insists that people not pocket things. Kith talks to Mendel about botanical research and genetic drift. Engine access is only from below - Sharra goes down to check them out, and notes that they seem to have fired until they melted. They're repairable, but it will take time and effort.

However, the question arises as to what to do right now. Dr. Crichton will clearly be wanting to lay claim to Mendel Station. Hippocrates points out that there is no governing authority in this system. Mendel thinks, that there is actually no legitimate governing authority anywhere. Regardless of political philosophy, the station is going to be targeted for archaelogical research soon. Mendel protests that this is a botanical research station, not an archaelogical research station. Well, IPX ships will be here in two days, Memento Mori in three.

Mendel asks about what other AIs survived. Hippocrates tells him that Deep Blue still survives at Bastion, and Xanadu catastrophically failed on Mainwell; he doesn't know about the others. And, they have been researching a new class - Nero gets introduced.

What does Mendel want to do? He's saddened to hear that there is nowhere like Ganfrey to go. Katya suggests Stannis Law, which has a pretty good reputation for genetic engineering. The Hippocrates could get to Stannis Law from Craterrock, but Mendel would have to be towed through open jump gates.

Akito asks for three cubic feet of pebbles - Mendel allows as two cubic feet can be spared.

Is Mendel willing to come to an arrangement with IPX? (With provisos on the behaviour of IPX archaeologists when on board.) He's willing to share information with them, and also has some supply concerns. His final defense against invasion is that he controls the reactor, but he has nothing less final than that. His orbit will have him in the near system for about another month, and then it'll be back out to far space again. Breaking him out of the cometary orbit will probably take several tugs.

A short-term legal agreement is brokered with IPX, subject to Mendel's recognized ownership, with the possibility of a longer-term arrangement with Stannis Law once Lord Stannis has been talked to. Sharra creates a legalized contract for IPX to make a claim on the station, subject to Mendel's ownership.

The party spends some time puttering on Mendel Station, and then heads for Stannis Law.