"No matter what the level of your ability, you have more potential than you can ever develop in a lifetime."
- Chancel Rowland, Strategos of the Hegemony, AS 1213
Riden -> New Light
Eva thinks that she can get an official ambassador from the Red Hegemon, to fly past Gateway, but that this will require being Good, and not provoking Klothos. However, that will take a little while to set up properly, and the Blue Hegemon really does need to be talked to soon. So the Hippocrates heads off to New Light.
At the gate to Nurl, the Red Fleet wants to know why they're going to Blue. "We're sharing Kaufman technology with the Blue military." The lieutenant on the radio wants to know if they have a permit for that. Hippocrates says, rather sternly, that he's never needed a permit before. The lieutenant points out that there's a war on. A scan of the Hippocrates, however, causes some distress - they have a fully armed fighter! What? Oh, the greenliner. A customs shuttle comes aboard. The party explains that it's for research purposes, and that the crew can't actually fly it or fire it, and that it belongs to the outworlds. They refrain from mentioning that it's a HORRIBLE BIOLOGICAL WEAPON (or that they wrested possession of it away from the outworld that wanted to keep it.)
Kith, as an official outworlds ambassador, is called upon to sign an agreement saying that the greenliner is outworlds property and will not be permitted to be researched by Blue. Documents signed, the ship proceeds into the jumpgate for Nurl.
A short time later, there's a giant explosion in Lab 3. Ciernan starts running towards the lab, followed by nearly everyone else. There's an expanding heat wave effect that rushes out from Lab 3; in the lab is Sophia, and Akito, and Dog, all unconscious. No, Akito seems OK but won't wake up. Into the tubes with him! Wait, no, no... Bad plan.
Sophia wakes up, and explains that she was trying to investigate Dog and his depotentiated state. She's pretty sure there's five potential versions of him; she was trying to find out where they are. Ciernan notes that Dog's Str of Body is currently zero. Sophia asks after the strange wave that passed through the ship - has anyone gotten any scans of what it affected outside? No, the ship is in jump space, and nobody is looking outside. Oh, Sophia hadn't realized that they were in jumpspace. That's probably what caused the explosion. Someone should announce these things, she thinks. Hippocrates writes some protocols to do just that.
Hippocrates worriedly runs diagnostics, checking the ship's current state to the one that it went into jump space with. It seems to be fine - there shouldn't be a problem exiting.
In the excitement, Rizzo's cage seems to have fallen off of the counter, and the crash-proof bubble inflated. But the cage door has popped open, too, and Rizzo has escaped. Ciernan calls him back.
The exiting jumpgate is coming up soon - is there any danger of the ship being in a different configuration? Should Ace abort? Hippocrates thinks it's okay. Out they go - and a heat wave effect rushes back in to Sophia, and Rizzo, as the ship arrives in the Nurl system.
Unlike Red, Blue is perfectly happy about the Hippocrates bringing in medical technology to give to Blue. Ciernan heals the bit of damage Rizzo took from the falling cage. Kith is intrigued by Ciernan's abilities, and wants to know if he has any qualms about experimentation on animals. He supposes not. It looks like the beginning of a working partnership.
Sophia figures out what caused the explosion. In trying to find the location of Dog's other five dog-alikes, she was trying to map the links between his potential and their potentials. However, the physics of jump space is a localized phenomenon (whereas in the "real" world physics is the same everywhere) so when the ship entered jumpspace, she was in essence trying to scan the whole universe, but the universe was very very small, which caused everything to snap back and rebound.
Since Donella is about to be briefed about the Flames, time is taken to brief Ciernan. After several abortive attempts to get people in the conference room, Ciernan is told about the Flames and the Terrans, though not about Katya, Jayla, or First Frost of Autumn. So, more trusted than Phaeton, but not as trusted as Commander Branch.
The jump to Highguard commences, with everyone watching everything else very carefully. Nothing terribly interesting happens. Hippocrates reviews his tapes of the "wave" effect, and notes that the effect seemed to bounce off of Akito. Sophia notes that she's suffering from some sort of instability - her stats aren't stable.
"My strength of mind is dropping and Ace is talking to me! Perhaps it's causal!"Sophia tries to put Rizzo back in his cage, but he shakes his head no, he doesn't want to. Well, that's interesting. Kith asks if he'd like a cookie. He nods yes. Kith gets him a cookie, which he nibbles on and then hides. The mad science half of the run wonders what happens if you power project in jump space! It could be exciting!
Kith bribes Rizzo with sunflower seeds to solve one of First Frost's puzzles with a ball in the middle. He chews the strings to get the ball out - probably not what the designers intended, but technically it does get the ball out. Kith goes to get sunflower seeds, and Rizzo sneaks after her to figure out where she keeps them. Ciernan notices Rizzo sneaking off (though Kith doesn't), and starts to ride him (seeing through his eyes). This makes Rizzo somewhat nervous, as if he's being mysteriously watched.
The ship reaches Tyrell's Folly without incident. Rizzo raids the sunflower seed supply. Ciernan notes this, but doesn't think it's his plot.
Rizzo, sneaking back through the vents, suddenly detects danger, as Sasha pounces towards him. Rizzo sprints for the lab and leaps onto Sophia's head. Sasha hisses from the vents.
"That thing is dangerous and shouldn't get to run around in the vents." -Rizzo, gesturing expressivelyAce wakes up after his twelve-hour sleep (courtesy of Kith), and heads for the bridge. There's no one there! Who's flying the ship? Er, Hippocrates is. Well, okay. Ace sits in the chair anyway, and starts teaching Rizzo to play poker (to see how smart he is).
"That's why you don't normally run around." -Sophia
Sophia think that the way to fix her potential instability (not only are her stats swapping, but they're going down, too) is to cause another explosion with a similar device. But she can't build the same device again, so another mad scientist would have to. And she can't tell them very much, or they'll just be duplicating her device instead... hmm. Well, Rizzo isn't a very brilliant mad scientist rat yet, but he does seem to be getting smarter.
With the remnants of her experiments, Sophia builds a potentiator, and takes the potential out of a steel bar and puts it in her lab coat. This is to set the tone for the rest of the run, in which the potential is sucked out of nearly everything and put in everything left over.
Eva tests Rizzo with a written description of how to find hidden food on the bridge. Yup, he can read.
Finally, the party reaches New Light. Sophia has begun to teach Rizzo about electronics, using various kits - interestingly, all Rizzo's suggestions make things more mad and perilous. This seems a good excuse to start teaching him Mad Science.
On the way down to the planet, the Hippocrates is hailed.
"Cargo freighter, this is Shuttle. Please respond." - Mysterious ShuttleMoments thereafter, however, there's a small explosion in the shuttle's port engine, and it starts spiraling out of control. Eva wonders what's up, and thinks it's a trap, but not for the Hippocrates. Hippocrates sweeps the shuttle with his sensors - it has a critical engine breach and a cracked plasma lens. And the engine damage occurred from the outside. Kith senses emotion on the shuttle - they're scared. Jim heads for the Diversity to launch, as everyone else heads for the bridge.
< the shuttle is quickly scanned - it appears to be an ATC. The party decides to play along. >
"This is Cargo Freighter." - the Hippocrates
"We should have realized it was you. Everyone ready for docking? We've got the package." - Mysterious Shuttle
"All clear for docking!" - Hippocrates
The shuttle broadcasts a short encrypted signal. Eva breaks the encryption, but it's just a code string. Hippocrates translates it out of military command code as "Missile test drone 234-D launch successful. Fire at will." In other words, "Shoot me now!" Jim tells them to turn off their communications, which they do, but that doesn't seem to turn off the broadcast. Eva broadcasts to the missile command frequency to abort the missile test, but it's probably not actually listening to Intergal.
Missiles appear around the Hippocrates and the out-of-control shuttle. Ciernan, from the shuttle bay, lightning bolts one of them, while Eva broadcasts the "shoot me now!" code to try and draw fire and Jim launches the Diversity to try to dock with the shuttle. The shuttle is hit by the first of the missiles.
The shuttle breaks radio silence again:
"Hippocrates, this is Hornberg, what the hell is going on?"The Hippocrates dashes towards the shuttle, as crew dash towards gun emplacements to turn them back on and the Diversity tries to catch up. The shuttle goes down under several more missiles, while Ace dodges several barrages, and then scoops up the shuttle into the docking bay (where it promptly drifts into the side during drift). Jim manages to catch the Diversity up, and Hippocrates ejects Ace from the pilot's chair in time to catch the Diversity up as well.
The Hippocrates sprints away from the missiles, and Ace takes the helm back. Jim and Ciernan work on getting the door to the shuttle (which is now lying on its side) open. There are four wounded bodies in spacesuits; Jim manages to get their helmets open to heal patch them, and then he and Hippocrates drag them out of the shuttle.
Kith heals the four shuttle casualties as Ace dodges the last of the missiles, and then throws the shuttle out again, where it is pounced upon by more missiles and destroyed.
General Hornberg and his aides are taken to the sickbay, where he continues to want to know what happened. People ask him what happened. He thinks the port side engine blew, but without the ship, it'll be hard to gather evidence. General Hornberg calls down to the planet, to discover that there's a "standard missile drill" underway.
Kith checks out Hornberg's motives while Jim asks him some more questions. He seems to be angry and confused. Ciernan thinks that of the four, Hornberg is the only player in his plot.
Eva wants to know why he was coming out here. Belatedly, she adds a "sir." Hornberg is pleased that she remembered. He explains that his office received, from Intelligence, an arrangement for a clandestine meeting. The reasons are classified, but it received the highest possible clearance. The missiles, however, were not supposed to be part of the meeting. People ask how they snuck up so well - that's what he built them to do. What? He built them? Not personally, but he reminds everyone he's the Minister of Defense.
There is apparently a lot of pressure from the highest levels to renew the offensive, and Hornberg has been leading the charge against that. Eva thinks that if he were killed, the war would ramp up again pretty much immediately.
Eva wants to know how Hornberg and Michael are getting along. Hornberg says that Michael is a strong supporter of the current regime, but then is suspicious as to how much Eva knows about Michael.
Sophia and Rizzo build him a telepathic translation helmet to allow him to talk.
Hippocrates introduces everyone else to General Hornberg; he's seen the recent news regarding Jim. Jim points out that it was an imposter. Ciernan and Hornberg exchange significant glances. Hornberg pulls some strings to get the Hippocrates to land in the capitol spaceport (currently military-only).
(Eva thinks about reputations - Hornbergs's a solid military guy, an early supporter of the war, recently less so. Michael's reputaton is that of a spy, a proponent of the old-fashioned black op, but cooler heads have frequently prevailed.)
Both Defense and Intelligence have been trying to find out what went wrong in the recent invasion. There's a lot of finger-pointing as to whether it was a giant failure of intelligence, or a military screw-up. Tension is high between the two ministries, and then there's the continuing pressure from the highest levels to ramp up the war again, so this attack is going to be hard to investigate properly.
Rizzo starts learning potentio-physics.
Hippocrates gives Hornberg his report on the medical efforts after the battle in Riden. He gets to the list of the missing people, and Hornberg points out that he's mistaken - the list of the missing people (like Vance) includes Colonel McLendo, who's not missing. Colonel McLendo is Hornberg's XO, recently returned from the front.
"Sir, you have a serious problem."Ace tries power projecting his fortune into Dog. It doesn't work, so he tries again harder. This results in his becoming somewhat mookish; Rizzo thinks he's a random crewman, and nobody can remember who besides Jim and other random pilots usually flies the ship.
Eva slips Hornberg her passport with her real name so he knows who she really is. He confirms that Colonel McLendo was on the Paramount, and ejected in a life pod, only to to be rescued by Blue ships and returned to Blue.
"Hey, who's the stiff?" -RizzoJim runs a web search on McLendo. He doesn't have a lot of personal appearances recently that don't have to do with Hornberg. He's career military. Jim does get his address and phone number, though. Ciernan heads off to check in with the local office, to see if they have anything useful. Rizzo runs some potentiality experiments on a bunch of crew members at random, all of whom are Ace.
"Er, I escort General Hornberg off the ship" - Jim
Rizzo works on putting together a potentiality scanner; Sophia is in potentiality flux. And Ace has somehow had some potential modified oddly.
Kith reports in to the outworlds embassy on New Light, and arranges for an outworlds spy to watch McLendo. The poor guy assigned gets completely swamped by everyone else doing it as things proceed and is not heard from until after it's all over.
Hornberg faxes over a file - it contains Colonel McLendo's report and service record. Hornberg comments that his investigation is somewhat bogged down due to the political infighting among the departments, so he will not be getting any further information very fast. Well, that's probably unofficial carte blanche to investigate.
Eva runs an intelligence analysis on McLendo's service record. There are some small timing discrepancies that are only noticable because the Hippocrates was out there in the battlefield cleanup - McLendo appears to have about four days unaccounted for between when he would have ejected from the Paramount and when he turned up again.
Ace and Jim go to an internet cafe to hack into the phone company. The phone company appears to have forgotten to install computer security, and they pull out a list of his phone calls. He has a lot of calls to and from work, and he orders takeout from a particular Japanese place a lot, and he gets occasional late-night phone calls from pay phones. Ace installs a back door in the phone company system - Jim thinks maybe they should be installing some security in the phone company system.
"They can't prosecute me, I'm a rat. Give me the gun." -RizzoAce and Jim head out to look at the area that the pay phones are in. Jim takes two of each grenade, just in case. The phones do appear to have been picked for their non-camera location, but Ace asks around with the neighbors, and gets a vague description of a guy with dark hair. No obvious weapon, no obvious backup.
Meanwhile, the potentiation experiments continue.
"The phone booth now has dynamite potential!"An invitation to a seminar on Kaufman tech to be held tomorrow at noon is sent to General Hornberg, noting that no doubt he's busy but he should send someone appropriate. Hint hint hint, the letter essentially says, send your XO.
Hippocrates is given the mimicry potential from some black goo. Now he's flexible at the level of his highest stat rather than his lowest, but that's still six. Some Gouda cheese is given the potential of Brie. It's very good. An audio tape is given the potential of a vial of Alertness and played over the ship's speakers. Ace realizes he won't be sleeping for a week.
Jim and Ace pick up a random cell phone, and then install a tap at the phone company to call them for any calls he makes or receives. Ciernan and Eva go to the park to meet Gabriel, and everyone else messes around more with the potentiometer.
Eventually it's late evening. McLendo calls out for Japanese food, triggering the cell phone tap. Well, that's not interesting. A little while after that, there's an outgoing call:
"Bernard. It's me. He won't wake up for an hour. I'm searching the place now."Bernard. Bernard bernard bernard. Where has the party heard that name before? Eva suddenly recalls Bernard Wing, the Fundamental Realist! Which would probably make the guy calling Blake Amon. These were the people who wanted to rescue/kidnap the Hegemon from her "captors" back in Conspiracy Theories. There is some confusion as to whether that makes them good guys or bad guys, and whether they should be thumped or talked to.
Meanwhile Gabriel is met by Eva, with Ciernan running backup in a local park. Gabriel warns Eva that he's uncovered what appears to be a consipracy in Intelligence to blame the mess in the battle on her, but he's still looking into it. Eva brushes that aside and wants to know what's going on with the Hornberg affair. Gabriel doesn't think Michael had much to do with it, but will try to look into it further.
One way or the other, the group (sans Eva and Ciernan) heads for McLendo's house. Rizzo takes point, sneaking in through a drain. He manages to spot a man in a tuxedo and a domino mask (which isn't easy), but Amon also spots Rizzo (also not easy), and manages to reel him in with a grappling gun.
Rizzo says "Hippocrates wants to talk to you! He's outside!", which surprises the gentleman a bit - he puts his finger to his lips, and then stuffs Rizzo in his bag. Rizzo is intrigued that he seems to be filed under "Rat". Other things getting picked up get filed separately; Rizzo tries to get to the place where evidence is in the bag, but only manages to get to "evidence of there being a rat".
The burglar comes back out - he doesn't actually look much like the Blake Amon they met before, the domino mask is apparently pretty good - and talks to the group lurking outside. He agrees to meet them at his house, Stately Amon Manor. Ace breaks in on the way out, and doses McLendo with Turquoise, but he doesn't find anything incriminating that Amon has left behind. Meanwile, Ciernan and Eva have already headed towards Amon's manor, and are escorted into the parlor by the butler and served wine.
People tracking Rizzo via the headsets note that he's gone off the edge of the map - which is actually rather odd, given that the map scrolls. In the secret hideout under Amon Manor, Rizzo is removed from the bag and put in a rat cage. Also removed from the bag are a set of papers, and a glowing yellow sphere that Amon quickly puts on a tripod under glass.
Rizzo easily deduces that the sphere is an optical mental conditioning reinforcement device. He asks Amon if he got that from the spy. Amon is shocked - Rizzo should be shielded from any outside projections. Not to mention, how does Rizzo know? He tries to reach in with tweezers to take Rizzo's hat. Rizzo dodges.
"Dude. I won't be able to talk to you if you take that. It's obvious by looking at it. Hello?" -RizzoThe butler lets Amon know that his guests are here - he's surprised they're so fast. The butler puts Rizzo on a silver covered tray, and after much clunking he appears upstairs (and back on the map). Shortly thereafter, Ciernan and Eva are joined both by the rest of the party and by Amon, in a suit without domino mask.
"Optics based?" -Amon
Kith senses motive - he's apparently curious, and amused, and a bit of a fop. A somewhat schizophrenic conversation ensues - Amon prefers to speak as if he's only heard of things like unusual brainwashing devices, and hasn't encountered them himself. The spies are fine with this sort of circumlocution, but not everyone else is.
"Dude, who are you acting for? We're all here." -RizzoAmon notes that some friends of his had observed McLendo acting somewhat erratically, since his return from the battle.
"Do you mind if we do some science during this conversation? We have something of a potential problem." -AceAll the spies look pained. Happily, there are no gauche points to be accrued. The science plan is, apparently, to depotentiate the (clearly interesting) bag and add the sorting potential to Sophia's deshtickinator, and then transfer the Mad Science shtick from Sophia to Rizzo.
"Can you put on your other hat? This would be a lot easier." -RizzoThe group retires to the library, whereupon the butler brings in the tripod and orb, and the black bag, and then returns with safety opera glasses for all concerned.
Ace tells Amon about the pay phones - Ciernan thinks it's likely that his bosses will want to clean him up soon. Rizzo picks up some skill in mental conditioning and brainwashing from books of Amon's, while Ace starts building a fake glowing yellow sphere.
Rizzo, Sophia, and Amon figure out how to deactivate the sphere. The butler enters to announce that there is a 12-24 in progress, and covers the sphere with a silver chafing dish until Amon can spray it with something. Apparently, when it was turned off it started transmitting!
Back to McLendo's house, then!
"I could keep your... friend... in communication... God, this is dumb." - RizzoThe tapped phone rings. It keeps ringing, since McLendo isn't answering, being dosed with Turquoise. Eva picks up, trying to mimic McLendo's voice, and she recognizes the voice on the other end as Stone.
"Hello?" -Eva as McLendoEva had thought to get a private number to contact Hornberg, so the group quickly calls him while Ace and Jim head back to their internet cafe to trace where the call came from. It's not a pay phone, it's an unlisted number. They pass this along to Amon. While they're looking up the address, they note that the system locks briefly for a couple of priority commands, and then frees again.
"Colonel McLendo. I'm afraid your contract has been terminated. You know what to do." -Stone
Ace and Jim head towards that address; the rest of the group heads to McLendo's. Hornberg is sending people to the Colonel's house, as well. Ciernan notes that the lock to McLendo's house has been picked a good five or six times already this week.
Jim & Ace head stealthily to a residential upscale area on the other side of town. Amon and Rizzo are also in the area, under separate stealth. At the address with the unlisted number there are a bunch of burly guys loading things into a van.
Ciernan, from over at McLendo's, suggests that they arrange to drive off with the van. That sounds like a good idea - Amon and Rizzo get to be the distraction. Eva calls Gabriel, just in case someone blows up a city block.
"I could go into the middle of the room and start shouting. They wouldn't expect a talking rat." -RizzoRizzo advises Amon in setting up some explosives. This, of course, makes it Mad Demolitions. Explosions start going off, and the thugs head for the noise. Jim and Ace leap into the truck and drive off with it. Amon thinks for a moment, "Oh wait... that was next to the..." and starts running all-out. There's an extra-large distraction behind them at that point, as a fuel tank explodes.
"In general, when providing a distraction, it's best if we *leave* while the distraction is going on, not stand there and *be* the distraction" -Amon
Once away, Jim and Ace examine the boxes in the truck, and find that about half are arcane devices and half are heavy weaponry.
"It's Christmas, Jim!"(There is a small Christmas of a few weapons before the rest are turned over as evidence).
"It's evidence, Ace."
Ace calls the ship and asks First Frost of Autumn to let him know if there are any bugs approaching. He doesn't think so, but he's not yet good at figuring out perceiving things that can't perceive until they're fixed or put together.
General Hornberg's people secure the Colonel, while Gabriel's people secure the blown-up place - this includes one prisoner. Kith confirms that McLendo is brainwashed, but doesn't have bitey shields. Ciernan thinks he's a pawn of hearts. That's interesting, so he checks Gabriel - a blue knight about to be sacrificed for the blue queen - and Eva - a blue pawn sitting on the eighth rank. He is convinced he didn't have this weird power last month.
Blake drops off Rizzo, but doesn't come in for the tea and interrogation. Kith holds down some Counter Influence, and McLendo is temporarily not brainwashed (now he's a blue pawn). He's awoken.
Upon waking, McLendo tries to warn Hornberg, but it's too late now. He says his lifepod was captured by a ship in Riden, and there were lights, and drugs and things. There were a bunch of guys there - their leader (he describes Stone) wasn't around until later, when he got to New Light. There were several Horrible Doctors with blue-green pins on their collars, and a bunch of goons. Did these people get Vance too? McLendo doesn't recognize the name, but does recognize the description as one of the lancers who was also captured. He can provide something of a description of the ship, though doesn't know its registry.
The plan, McLendo thinks, was to take out General Hornberg while framing Intelligence for it. He sent Hornberg on the wild goose chase, claiming the information was from Intelligence; later, Stone was going to provide him more concrete documentation for that. He put the limpet mine on the engine, and the transmitter under the pilot's seat. Hornberg makes it clear that McLendo is a military prisoner, and not a prisoner of HegInt.
Meanwhile, in his extra-brilliant mode, Rizzo explains what happened to Ace when he became non-entityish. Power projection varies based on the stat, and the projection for fortune makes something more unique. However, Dog, due to his depotentiation, is completely non-unique. This made it impossible to project into him, and also made it perilous. Thus, when Ace got more ones than succesess, the projection backlashed and made Ace non-unique. Oh, and the more you power project, the more you use up your oomph for future power projections. So maybe Ace shouldn't go around power projecting into everything.
Rizzo finally builds his device. He notes that the reason Akito bounced the explosion is that he's a potentiality sink.
"What does that mean?"Everyone is put back where they were at the time of the explosion; this involves propping Sophia up, as she's out of Pre of Body completely. Lab three explodes once more; Ciernan starts running towards the lab, followed by nearly everyone else. There's an expanding heat wave effect that rushes out from Lab 3; in the lab are Sophia, and Akito, and Dog, all unconscious. They wake up, and Sophia can move again, while Rizzo realizes that he's getting stupider.
"That means he's the GUY." - Ciernan
"Shit. Shit shit shit. Feed me good. I should have stolen some of the cat's potential. What does the cat need with mind, anyway?"Rizzo and Sophia think that the mysterious devices are Terran-style tech, and they're generally brainwashing devices that stimulate the pleasure centers and pain centers. More professional than bright lights and beatings and sleep deprivation, but not totally beyond known tech. The party gets permission to have Kye look at them later, though not to take them.
Rizzo hides some of his spare food in easy-to-find places. And then builds a zappy device, which he straps to himself. He taunts Sasha into attacking him, which causes them both damage until Sasha runs away, and is promptly set upon by Dog, who is full of energy after having no Str of Body for days. Ciernan makes them all sit before things get any more out of hand.
Sophia returns Rizzo to his cage, his mind reduced to that of a normal rat.