Friends and Enemies

"A politician will tell you - we are winning, the war will be over soon. But winning is never soon - you can only end a war quickly by losing it."

- Ferdinand Wolfe, Genereis Siege Commander, 2721 AS

Stannis Law -> Nurl

The last of the Stannis Law errands are wrapped up. Lowell Pierpont is left with IPX; Hippocrates keeps the "psi dog" and claims one of the staterooms as his own to keep his dog in. Max buys a tricorder on sale (500 asters, a great price). At Jim's request, he checks to see if there are any shady men in trenchcoats offering to sell him flamethrowers, but nobody appears to be trying that hard. Jim would like one, but they're not legal for personal ownership on Stannis Law (albeit likely for sale somewhere). Max suggests Jim pick one up next time they're on the Well.

News on Stannis Law indicates that the blockade at Nurl has been lifted, but some Red ships are still being turned back to Riden, and some ships which look like profitable trade with Red are not being permitted through. Blue controls the system, but has not landed troops on the planet.

On the jump to Nurl, there's a voice from the Kaufman room: "Hello? He-llo!?" Hippocrates calls Akito in, and Mirris, nearby, also heads in to talk to Ruthie. They discuss how many of the bad guys' butts Ruthie kicked until Akito shows up. Ruthie demands to know whether Akito got her a blaster from the bad guys like he said he would.

Akito explains that they're on the Hippocrates. Ruthie is a little less impressed than Akito was - couldn't he have found her a real ship? They head down to the cafeteria for something to eat. Ruthie and First Frost of Autumn bond. First Frost wants to show Ruthie the Dr.-Cain-sicle. Mirris declares that that area is currently off limits. First Frost is jealous to hear that Ruthie gets to go in the room he's not allowed to try to perceive, and Hippocrates tells FFA's parents that he's now allowed to go into the room, just not into the tubes. Woo! He wants to go see the room now, so he and Ruthie head back to perceive it. Hippocrates takes the opportunity to check Ruthie over - she seems pretty good, as she did just come out of the tubes. Ruthie asks if Hippocrates is one of the Hippocrates' crew. Akito makes shushing faces at her. Hippocrates explains that this is the android body for the ship. Ruthie says oh, another Hegemonic thing? Hippocrates admits the android is more contemporary. Ruthie pounces - ahah, it's not as cool as the tech that's on the Inopportune Moment. Hippocrates is already tired of hearing about the Inopportune Moment, but alas, is not likely to have heard the last of this particular opinion.

The ship proceeds to Nurl, where the Blue fleet asks about their business. They say they're returning a resident home. Twig doesn't have so much ID at this point, but is clearly a Brochoah. After a little delay, there is a bureaucrat on the radio who is very apologetic for the delay and asks them to proceed along a particular flight path to Nurl. Two military exclusion zones are indicated - a pie-wedge-shaped piece of space on the other side of the system, and the area just outside the (secure-mode) Juice jumpgate.

Jim and Max look around at the Blue deployment. The news has indicated that there are more ships here than there used to be, but only about a quarter of the fleet is at the Riden jumpgate, and another eighth immediately in evidence. The rest could be in the exclusion zone on the other side of the sun, and not easily detectable. Hmm.

The Hippocrates is asked to take a parking orbit while a shuttle is sent up to verify the identity of their passenger.

Around the planet itself is a small Blue sentry force and a small Gloryweb sentry force. The Gloryweb shipyards still seem to be under Nurl control, though there's a single Blue military vessel docked at the shipyard. From the local news and comm traffic, the Brochoan Protectorate seems to still be running Nurl - that doesn't mean the Brochoah are the only ones in charge, but they're definitely heavily involved in the government now. Nurl traffic control warns the Hippocrates about the military exclusion zones as well, more along the lines of a traveler's advisory.

First Frost of Autumn gives Ruthie a tour of the ventilator shafts and Jeffries tubes.

A Gloryweb Q-ship docks with the Hippocrates, and a pair of human guards and a Brochoah come aboard. The Brochoah offers greetings and identification as a member of the Brochoan Protectorate Financial Council. The ID transmitted (Twig's) has not been identified in some time. The Brochoah points out that the penalties for fraud are very stiff (people find this a little surprising - the Brochoah should only care if there's a contract or other money at stake, right?)

Twig and the other Brochoah are permitted the use of the conference room; the two guards hang about outside. One of the guards asks about the mess hall - does it take standard asters? There's a little bit of surprise that he'd eat on duty, but he explains that he's off duty and he and the other guard swap.

"We provide our guests with food."
"Oh, right, I remember those days."
The off-duty guard comments sarcastically that they're liberated now, and have no free lunches. Katya and Jim and Max take him to the mess hall and have lunch, and ask him about the current state of things. He describes it as "Independence, with the Big Blue Brother watching," and notes that they've given preferred trading status to Blue, and humanitarian trade only is permitted with Red. He doesn't think he's particularly bad off in the new regime - things are more organized, you don't get a job that's supposed to be 40 hours a week and then get expected to work for 60 and not clock your overtime or be considered not a team player. And if you get a break every hour, you actually get a break every hour. But there's more administration, and things like lunch isn't free (unless it's required).

He knows a little bit more about the Blue exclusion zone - they put in an orbital station around the gas giant, and then shut down all the traffic in that area.

The conversation between Twig and the other Brochoah concludes, and they're invited to land on the planet. Twig wonders if the crew is familiar with the financial entity known as Gloryweb. Yes, they are. Does it have significant resources? Yes, it does. Twig says that due to the fiduciary linkages through his line, he is an owner of Gloryweb in 0.04%. Everyone is very impressed.

Landing at the spaceport, the Hippocrates receives a message: "Can it be?" Katya immediately suspects Elmer Triconian. And, in fact, it is. Elmer is terribly pleased to see the Noble Hippocrates, and invites them all to dinner to tell stories of everyone's adventures.

Hippocrates sends a message to Commander Branch with his schedule, asking if they can talk. He gets an appointment the next morning at the Brochoan Protectorate Defense Ministry.

A little while later, the ship receives a call from Elmer's captain. He says he knows Elmer invited everyone to dinner, but... well, Elmer is very enthusiastic, but what with losing all the Goldrunners in the war, they're... well, maybe dinner can be Dutch treat? The crew says they'll insist that Elmer come over to their place for dinner. They, um, can't leave the ship with no Watch Officers. Elmer is convinced, and the Tinoori send Max shopping for proper feast ingredients.

Twig hasn't left yet, and seems to be staying in his guest cabin for the moment. Hmm.

Recent events in the news are the formal severing of relations with Red; the Nurl governmental representatives are being recalled. People with politics skill ponder the situation - how happy is Blue likely to be with the "preferred trading status but independent" situation? Well, they'll be happier with that than Nurl still resisting, but it's not as good as Nurl joining the Blue Hegemony.

Five guests arrive for dinner: Elmer TRICONIAN! and his captain, and Eon and Ella, the shield generators. And Ryan Waites, Elmer's "business contact", from Gateway. Katya immediately tries to read his mind, but he's quite adept at blocking.

Ruthie, Eon, Ella, and First Frost of Autumn all get to sit at the kids' table. Ruthie interrogates Eon and Ella about the Inopportune Moment, which they've met. The twins say that the Hippocrates rescues them more often, though.

How long has Mr. Waites been with Elmer? Oh, just for the current project - setting up some trade between here and Nonesuch. Elmer thinks hiding things from his Noble Friends on the Hippocrates is foolish, and explains in greater detail - they will be shipping various things to Nonesuch, and then smuggling them back to Gateway. Waites has a look that says Elmer is Mad to be confessing this, but doesn't disagree. Elmer thinks they'll make millions! And Waites is his Gateway contact to make sure that goes smoothly.

Are these various things on the exclusion list for Red trade? Well, they'll be building supplies and the like, not weapons, but narrow-minded bureaucrats are the ones drawing up the list, so yes, they're on it, which is why it needs to be smuggled to the outworlds and back.

Meanwhile, Katya has begun to think that the food is less than tasty - the Tinoori aren't up to their usual standards. Which is, itself, very unusual. Hippocrates notes to Waites that he must think that he's in close with Klothos, to arrange this. He lets slip to Katya's mind probe that he's glad he has a backup plan since Elmer seems to be blowing the first one, while telling the crew that he's met Klothos on occasion given his business at Gateway.

Katya heads back into the kitchen, followed by Jim, to talk to the Tinoori. They list the ingredients for her food, and confirm that her cleared plate has those things and no other in it. Jim calls everyone on the radio to warn them that Waites has some plan in addition to the one he's working on for Elmer.

The kids' table generates a protective shield around it. The kids all think that's great, since the adults can't get in. Then Elmer's party heads out. Ruthie is jealous - the other ship is cooler. Katya makes Ruthie fly around some, which she inexplicably attributes to the Tinoori being cool.

Mirris didn't pick up much from Waites, but one interesting bit is that now that he's immortal, he has a lot more opportunities. Jim suddenly remembers where the name Ryan Waites came up before - he was one of the subjects in the Bowl, the one who used the talent "Immortality" when he was really powered up.

Akito and Max head out after the other group, only to find that they have gone to the Elmer's Gold and nowhere more interesting. However, Waites heads out again afterwards, trailed by Max and Akito.

Hippocrates examines Katya - she seems to be suffering from physical Black withdrawal again. There's no obvious chemical cause, though she's had something of a biochemical shift; it looks natural rather than artificially induced. Katya ponders whether it's possible to do something like that with psi - why, yes, it's the sort of thing Kith does quite easily.

Twig heads out of the ship, but says he will return, and please do not discard his possessions. Katya curls up in the bed in sickbay, hovered over by Martan.

Waites goes to a public email kiosk and sends some mail - Max only manages to bug the kiosk well enough to get audio of his keystrokes, but not a visual of what he was sending, except for the end, which was signed "Eighth Consort of Klothos".

People ponder whether Elmer was pressured into some sort of Terrible Arrangement with Klothos.

"They might have thought they were trying to apply pressure and he just said YES!" -Jim
Max leaves a camera to watch the Elmer's Gold. Mirris and Jim and Max head off to check the comm booth. Nero asks Mirris where she recommends he might get 5700 asters for a hardware upgrade. Mirris notes that he has some money from his bet with Ace. Yes, but that's just ten asters, which is a little low. Other people leap into the conversation - Max suggests a loan from ship's funds.

Mirris manages to hack into a log of the previous message at the comm booth - it's Max sending a message to his account on the Hippocrates. He says that was to record keystrokes. Oops. Well, the previous message has left to the mail servers to Gateway.

"How hard is hacking into the mail servers?" -Mirris
"Sook always made it look easy" -Hippocrates
"Well, Sook had the whole nyyyyyyyngh thing going on, and I just have these" <wiggles fingers> - Mirris
"How do I not feel safe with Jim around? What do you not have in your backpack that shoots things?" -Mirris
"A flamethrower." -Jim, somewhat sadly
Max finds the bug that Waites left in the mess hall, but doesn't remove it, just in case misinformation is called for. The party heads to an internet cafe, and works on breaking into the Nurl/Ridena mail server (the mail has to wait for a registered ship going through). After a long hacking session, the body of the message is read: it's a report to the Third Consort that the plan with Elmer is proceeding, with final negotiations to be in two days and the pipeline set up. Unfortunately, Elmer is as much of a fool as he appears, and he has blabbed the plan to the crew of the Hippocrates. He is following his previous suggestions for what to do if he encounters Katya Lavalor.

The first of many discussions as to whether the plan should be "Get 'im!" or not ensues. Akito, on his second mochaccino, is all for it. Sadly, Waites has long since gone back to the Elmer's Gold for the night, so there's nothing to do but go to bed (or, in the case of Akito, practice kata all night).

The next morning, the Tinoori are instructed to make food that will distract Waites from his mental shields. They think that the crew places too much faith in the power of cooking, but are willing to serve lobster and other distracting things.

The next morning, Twig returns for breakfast, seeming somewhat subdued. How is he, people ask. Physical condition, acceptable, he says. Is he having a chance to meet people he hasn't seen in a long time? He's not sure. "Uninteresting, academic." Jim asks if he will go back to Highguard or stay here. "Initial impression, Highguard."

Max and Akito stake out the Elmer's Gold in preparation for following Waites, while everyone else goes to see Commander Branch. Commander Branch's new office is in the Defense Ministry, which is new construction somewhat reminiscent of the Hippocrates layout, with wide tall corridors that a Brochoah can walk upright in.

There's a little while of waiting in a reception area, until a previous meeting breaks up. Some people, both human and Brochoah, leave, saying they'll speak again later. Commander Branch comes out to meet the group. Hippocrates asks about his rank - he says he is still Commander, with concurrent rank in Planetary Defense and Skyguard. Mirris is introduced.

Status is exchanged - the Hippocrates ship systems are functional, and the political status of Nerele and the Brochoan Protectorate is described. Nerele is independent, better than technically, but not fully secured. Military construction has slowed, due to lack of resources. Blue military domination has slowed, due to the war with Red. The Financial Council negotiated truce, as a result of the blockade, allowing for independence, with privileged trading status for Blue. Commander Branch thinks this is not permanently settled, but stable.

Commander Branch discusses some further speculations of his. The current situation is adequate, resulting as it did from the Blue blockade. The blockade was a significant tactical development - in his opinion (and that of the other Brochoah) a sane development, conflict without the destruction of resources. However, in his personal opinion, Blue may be contemplating insanity of some sort. Their demeanor is that of expecting a major victory over Red in the upcoming future, and his experience is that when humans behave so optimistically, it is because they are contemplating something rash.

He believes that of the two military exclusion zones, the area near the Juice jump gate was used for training and maneuvers, while the far side of the system is where they are conducting research and development. It is his personal belief that there is some new aspect of the war being embarked upon. Does the Hippocrates crew know anything?

Hippocrates mentions his discussions with General Hornberg, and his belief that Hornberg won't do anything too destructive. Commander Branch points out that Hornberg isn't in tactical control here in Nerele. There is significant local security, and that it is entirely possible that not all of the Blue military chain of command is involved. He doesn't say the words "plasma bomb" but he seems worried about something of that magnitude. Commander Branch admits that his local intelligence assets are insufficient, and any assistance is appreciated.

Hippocrates thinks if they want to know what's going on in the military exclusion zone, they'll have to conduct reconnaissance. Commander Branch forwards information that he has about the Blue fleet patrols. Jim asks about Dylanna - Commander Branch isn't aware of her presence here, but will pass along any intelligence he receives. While they're asking for things - are there powerful Brochoan psis available for pursuit of the Prime Obligation? Yes, Commander Branch will inquire and then will forward a list of those who could be available.

Meanwhile, Max and Akito follow Elmer's contingent. Max manages to plant a bug on the captain, but shortly thereafter, Elmer sends the kids and the captain to the dining hall, while he and Waites continue on to the meeting. Oops. Max and Akito sneak in and look around at the conference rooms. Max tries to locate Elmer's gold waistcoat, and narrows it down to a couple of rooms. They sneak by some secretaries, and after a few more checks for the waistcoat, bug the door that the meeting is taking place in.

Max and Akito head out again, but some guards are coming in. They have a scanner of some sort, and keep picking Akito up. They ask him to move out of the way so they can track whatever it is, which results in him continually being in the way... Max manages to jam the sensor long enough for them to escape.

The conversation seems to be going in a circle. The Brochoah don't want to screw up the relationship with Blue, but Waites is pretty sure that any Nonesuch/Gateway connection doesn't incriminate them. The sticking point is that the thing that the Brochoah would get out of the deal is money, and they don't need money so much as they need resources, things to buy with money, and that's harder for Waites to commit to. Nobody seems to think that the other side is negotiating in bad faith, but they're not reaching an agreement very easily. They'll have another set of talks tomorrow.

Max and Akito intercept Elmer, and convince him that dinner should be at the Hippocrates again, since Katya isn't feeling well (Max suggests that Waites would certainly want to see Katya again, but Waites isn't reacting, and Elmer doesn't see why anyone wouldn't want to see Katya...).

This time, the kids are sent off to the rec room, to watch a movie over dinner. Katya tries to read Waites's mind again, and picks up that he thinks he's still making her sick. Akito tries subtly to suggest "Get him?" and Mirris knocks a plate of food into Waites' lap. She takes him off to help clean him up. Waites thinks that she's trying to get him alone for some reason; Katya passes this along to Mirris.

"Is there something you wanted to discuss?" -Waites
"That's awfully forward of you..." -Mirris
Waites thinks that Mirris is certainly making a pass at him, but thinks that during dinner is an awkward time to go about it. He suggests later in the evening, after dinner.

Meanwhile, the kids have infested the Jeffries tubes and are seeing where they can get to.

Waites and Mirris come back from washing up. Hippocrates tells Waites that if he continues to take psionic actions against Katya, Hippocrates will have to decide between blowing his cover and taking off and spacing him. Elmer is shocked. The captain looks like he realizes this is when the shooting starts. There's always shooting when the Hippocrates shows up. Waites is offended - he says he'll be going and will discuss things with Elmer in the morning.

"Now it is time to sit down or I will be forced to seat you." -Akito
Katya notes that he's trying to decide between fighting to the death or appearing to surrender. He decides, for the moment, not to fight.
"You've been sent on a mission. We understand that. These things happen" -Hippocrates
"Well, as you say, these things happen. You win. She's safe. I'll take no further action against her, and I'll just be going." -Waites
Hippocrates wants to know if he's committing to his boss taking no further action. Well, no, he can really only speak for himself. That's not acceptable. Akito sits him down again. Katya sees his mind briefly go white with rage, but then he calms down again. No, still no fighting to the death. Hippocrates says they don't want a fight with Klothos. Waites says, well, what do they want him to tell her? He can pass whatever message along that they want. Jim says he needs to tell them all about Klothos's plan. He doesn't seem interested in doing that. Hippocrates tells Waites to tell Klothos "We don't want a fight, but back off of Katya." Jim sulks at the lack of confession going on.

Jim and Akito escort him off of the Hippocrates, commiserating over the lack of thumping. He heads back towards the Elmer's Gold. The two look at each other, and follow him. Jim is the night, and Akito slightly less so, so that Waites spots him.

"Kid, you better head back to your ship. You don't want none of this." -Waites
"My sister's not here to take my light work, but it's a free sidewalk." -Akito
Thence follows much handing of the other one phases, interspersed with mockery. Akito wants Waites to stand and fight; Waites isn't interested in fighting, and keeps trying to walk away, but Akito keeps calling him out and handing him a phase. On the other hand, Akito can't quite bring himself to hit a guy in the back who's walking away, and Waites keeps claiming nobody can take him in a fight, and he doesn't want to fight a kid, and gives some phases to Akito. Hippocrates finally tells Akito to back off just as he was about to give up and smack Waites regardless of having his back turned. Waites leaves, and Akito beats up a mailbox in frustration. Jim isn't sure he approves.

Max tries to brief Elmer - Waites works for Klothos. Yes, Elmer knows - that's why he's working with Waites on the smuggling stuff to Gateway project. Well, okay, but Waites was also psionically assaulting Katya, to try to make her go back to Klothos! Elmer is shocked. Wait, Katya is from Klothos? Go back? No, no. But Waites was trying to make Katya sick in a way that Klothos has a cure for, to put her under Klothos's thumb. This, at least, Elmer can understand, and deems it Nefarious. How devious! Unfortunately, Elmer himself is somewhat under Klothos's thumb, due to this big debt for the Goldrunners.

This makes Elmer's situation somewhat difficult. He can't so easily run the deal without Klothos's help for the shipping. The crew convinces him to break with Klothos, with assurances that Gloryweb will be interested in filling in instead. Max dramatically finds Waites' bug, but Elmer is a little too dazed to properly figure out what it is.

The group escorts Elmer back to the ship; he takes Waites' stuff and leaves it on the loading dock, with a note. Max finds Waites leaving the email comm booth again - Waites goes back to Elmer's ship, finds his stuff, reads the note, shrugs, and takes his suitcases to a motel.

The party commandeers a new internet cafe, and again grabs Waites' mail. He reports that Katya's black addiction has been cured, and he's aborting the mission. The crew has threatened retaliation, and Klothos will need another way to get leverage on Stannis. He'll try to maintain the trade thing, but the Hippocrates has pretty much poisoned Elmer against him, so he's expecting to head back to Gateway in two weeks.

Max thinks about where he'd find someone who knows about the secret project. Well, he could start with the Blue delegation, or he could start with Hippocrates. Max decides to start with the Blue delegation, and manages to intercept a couple of MPs on a smoking break. Max chats with them while Katya mind-reams them. The project itself is definitely at the gas giant - the MPs don't know the details. The friendly guy doesn't know much at all, and the other guy knows more but is aware that Max is clearly trolling for information and is a little suspicious. The more suspicious guy thinks that the project isn't being tested right now, so there's nothing going on in the Juice gate exclusion zone, but that if the testing were all done, the exclusion zone would be closed down again.

Meanwhile, Twig is back and moping around the ship again. After some prodding and several psychology and alien relations rolls, Twig confesses that he's pretty depressed. He has lots of resources now, but didn't really make them himself, and while he's appreciative of those who invested his residual capital while he was rooted on Highguard, having all that resource without contributing to the well being of his line himself make him feel like such a consumer. Gasp! The crew suggests that perhaps he can team with Elmer on this smuggling thing and make a small pile himself with his new found GloryWeb connections. Twig seems to like the smuggling angle, as it reminds him of good times past, so says he'll stay on Nurl for a few days to try and set something up. But he'd definitely like that ride back to Highguard.

In the end, the party decides to try and see what they can find out about what the Blue fleet is up to. A silent inertial insertion is planned across the exclusion zone, and they launch one of the remaining ex-Momento Mori sensor drones to be even smaller and silenter and go closer by. Akito handles the insertion and Jim handles the flyby, with Max providing silent running. There's a brief blip as Ruthie starts playing a hand-held video game, but Akito manages to shush her.

The probe sees something of an exercise going on - there are two small fleets, and a ship with something odd mounted on it. One fleet is shooting off at nowhere. There is a brief jumping to the conclusion that the ship is really where they're shooting, and it has some sort of cloaking/illusion device claiming it's somewhere else, but nobody can find anything at all where they're shooting. The odd ship has a very high health and strength of tech, and not a lot else - it seems to be designed to do something, and not fall down for a long time. Max thinks that the ship is putting out some sort of odd jamming, like nothing he's ever seen before, directed at the group of ships that isn't shooting.

More conclusions are leapt to.

"Could it be hiding the combat on one side from the ships on the other?" -Max
"They're trying to do something that would let them fight near a jumpgate without making it look like it." -Hipppocrates
Everyone says Oooooh. People make tactical analyses on this as a plan. It does seem consistent with the exercise that they're doing. And if it works, it'd be a huge advantage in a strike into Riden. And the shielding would presumably be done on the jumpgate, so it wouldn't shut the jumpgate even if Red fired back, though they probably wouldn't for at least several rounds due to confusion. Jim points out that the media coverage in Blue has begun to suggest that the populace is losing confidence in a Long Drawn Out War.

Upon further consideration, and many rolls, people conclude: If this is the plan (and it seems highly likely to be the plan), it won't be happening immediately (that is, not next run) since they are not prepared and still testing. However, when it does happen, then one of three things will happen:

Thus, the party has a little while in which to consider which of these choices they prefer, and what, if anything, they want to do about it.