Invasion: Episode V

" 'The enemy of my enemy is my friend.' It sounds good, but how often do you have the luxury of a conflict with only two sides?"

-- Strategos Chancel Rowland, AS 1204


During all of the continuing crisis conferences, Cassandra decides to head down to the planet to check on an art Gallery that is supposedly doing an exhibition of some of her recent work, and perhaps get in a little shopping. Seeing that almost everyone else is busy, she asks Niles if he could possibly accompany her down there and assist. Niles considers it for a bit and decides that everything is pretty much ready should Ruehan come out of the tubes early, so he probably has some time. The two of them get tickets on one of the station/planet shuttles and head down to Gateway.

The next day, on the ship, Linnet and Ruthie are casting around for a new patch to work on, having finished Politics during the long period of being lost. They install some new encryption software into their e-mail accounts (which they received from Clarise and Darcy who finished their Computers badge) and send a message to the two of them saying they're sorry they had to rush off, but it was a big emergency, and maybe they could all four start working on a patch over e-mail. Are there any good e-mail patches that the other two need too?

Mail sent, they decide that since there are two of them, they can work on two patches on the same time, so they also start reading through the requirements for General Infantry. The first requirement wants them to walk around somewhere that there are off-duty military people and examine their uniforms in order to determine their likely rank hierarchy and organizational structure.

Puzzling over that, they decide they can probably take care of that wandering around the Battlestation, as there are a lot of military people around, and surely they don't all have to be off-duty for it to work. Unfortunately, it seems clear they will get in trouble if they wander around the battlestation without an adult supervising them. They go talk to Deirdre, but she's busy taking care of Martya right now and is pretty sure Hegemon Katya didn't want Martya taken around the battlestation.

"Hmph, she's always messing up our patch requirements." -Ruthie
"I think she thinks it builds character." -Linnet
"We have enough character already!"
Casting around some more, they find that a surprising number of adults are either in the tubes, busy in committee meetings, or down on the planet. Eventually, they approach Twig with their request. He has been getting a little bit stir crazy it seems and is quite happy to accompany them and explain what little he knows about military uniforms. They insist that they just want him to watch out so the crew knows they are safe and not actually interfere with their patch much, as they should probably figure the rank things out by themselves until they get stuck. Then they'll ask for help.

Twig considers this for a while and then suggests that he can just happen to be taking his... um... robot for a walk nearby where they are working and they don't have to talk to him at all.

"Oh! We can use one of Sharra's robots!" -Ruthie
*Rustle* *rustle* -Twig
"Um, OK. This is weird, right?" -Linnet
"Absolutely" -Ruthie
"Good, just checking." -Linnet
*Rustle* *rustle* -Twig
So, Linnet and Ruthie head out into the battlestation to scout military assets while Twig takes Sharra Contraption 3 (C3) for a walk nearby.

Cassandra and Niles arrive at the art exhibit. It seems that the exhibit is actually only displaying one piece by Cassandra, but using her name to drag people in, by proclaiming the whole thing a Cassandra Lyrae exhibit. Cassandra is slightly perturbed by this, especially the misleading labeling on some of the lesser works by local artists, and asks to contact the owner of the only authentic piece being shown. It seems the piece is on loan from Mighty Klothos herself. Hmm, Cassandra considers just how much of a fuss to raise, but Niles points out to her that it has been his observation that ill-trained servants will occasionally act beyond their authority. Perhaps Klothos herself has very little to do with this affair, and it is the gallery owner who should be properly chastised. Sadly, the owner is not in, so they make an appointment to speak with him the next morning, and search about for some way to amuse themselves until he returns. On the way out, Niles surreptitiously "corrects" one of the misleading signs making it clear that Cassandra herself did not actually have anything to do with this work "inspired" by her previous work.

Meanwhile, as one of the few people hanging around the ship, First Frost of Autumn feels a presence he has not felt in quite some time. He realizes it is Jayla, standing just on the other side of the outer bulkhead nearest Katya's room. Sadly, she walks away into the battlestation before he can get a good read on if she's Good Jayla or Evil Jayla. With just a moment before she gets away completely he has to decide between telling someone and following. Sensing very few competent adults around in general, he decides to grab a radio and follow and tell someone as soon as he spots her again. After all, he wouldn't want to unnecessarily disturb the worldviews of the crew by being mistaken. Very stealthily, he sneaks onto the battlestation.

It takes him some time to penetrate the Jeffries tubes in the station, but he finally manages to find his way around unseen. He makes his way closer to the center of the station where he thinks his prey might be and after searching several rooms empty of anything but humming equipment, finds the mysterious and ghostly Jayla talking to Klothos.

Jayla says that Klothos is not truly loyal to the Red Hegemon in her heart, she can sense it. Actually, yeah, First Frost of Autumn can sense it too, so he's glad Jayla is starting out by telling the truth. Unfortunately, the conversation goes downhill from there. It seems there will be room in the new order for those who can see which way the wind is blowing and adjust accordingly. How would Klothos like to be Warlord of Gateway and the Outworlds, in the new Hegemony?

Klothos notes that it has been a week filled with interesting but vaguely insubstantial offers and asks what evidence Jayla has that she can actually deliver what she offers. Just then a cleaning droid starts moving through the Jeffries tube that First Frost of Autumn is in and forces him out of position lest he be anti-rust treated.

Cassandra decides that as long as they are down here, the crew would probably appreciate some sort of report on the state of the Bowl. Heading over there, they discover that, in fact, a whole bunch of activity is just starting. It seems some sort of Fun Fair like carnival set up is being constructed just outside the security perimeter. They observe for a while, while the thing is set up. Niles notes that the Fun Fair equipment has been packed rather carefully so that the whole thing can be set up at a moments notice, but isn't otherwise really optimally portable. (He does seem to be quite an expert on packing.) Cassandra and Niles puzzle over why one would want a portable Fun Fair that can be set up at a moments notice just outside the bowl. Suspicious, they decide to stop observing from afar and head in to investigate.

Shortly after they arrive, they notice a couple busloads of students from the local middle school is arriving as well. Hmm, not only instant set-up, but instant clients as well. Niles is impressed with how well orchestrated the whole affair is, but even after examining several games of chance and tarot reading tables and cotton candy vendors, it's entirely unclear what the point would be. The kids do start immediately having fun though. They continue observing.

Back on the station Linnet and Ruthie are putting the finishing touches on their military org chart. They think they've got most of it worked out, but there's this one confusing group of Klothos' military technicians who, one, don't have the right uniforms to actually be a team, and two aren't properly deferent to people with better uniforms the way they should be. The decide to ask a randomly passing tree monster and his robot for an opinion. Twig agrees that they are fairly odd, but, quite sensibly, vetoes all plans including "get them". The trio decides to observe them and see what they do. Around this time, the suspicious people get a couple of radio messages, and rush off. Twig thinks the direction they are heading is likely to be something to do with the station's tractor beams, given their direction, but can't be more precise than that.

Finally persuaded that they are probably bad in some way, even if they are legal or whatnot, Twig starts trying to reconfigure C3 as a remote camera broadcast contraption with Ruthie's help. They suspect a little robot might be able to go unnoticed after the mysterious team in a way that two girls and their tree probably can not.

Around this time, Ruthie and Linnet realize that they have not eaten all day. So while Twig spends some time maneuvering the robot into position, they head off to get some refreshment at nearest public cafeteria.

Meanwhile, First Frost has managed to get back into position just in time to hear that Jayla is pleased Klothos has decided to accept her terms, but now requires some demonstration of commitment from Klothos before they proceed. Klothos heads to a terminal and starts typing out coded orders. Hmm, First Frost is going to have to practice perceiving the meaning of coded messages, because just sensing the words she's typing isn't really helping.

Twig calls Ruthie and Linnet on the radio when they don't come back from the cafeteria right away. They assure him they are fine. They discovered an ice cream vendor who was offering free tasting if they filled out a little survey about the ice cream, so they're doing that since Ruthie is really hungry.

"You're hungry too." -Ruthie
"Yeah, but not hungry enough to do homework..." -Linnet
Klothos informs Jayla that she's taken a pair of hostages as suggested. She shows Jayla video of armed guards outside a door that Ruthie and Linnet just went through and assures her the two girls aren't going anywhere. Seeing this, FFA begins to panic and turns on his radio to call for help. As soon as the radio comes on though, Jayla turns to look up towards the Jeffries tube, so he quickly turns it off. Jayla peers quite closely in his direction, but it seems her perception is not so great as FFA's stealth, and she dismisses it as nothing. Seemingly unable to use the radio without being detected, FFA starts sneaking back out to warn people.

Down on the planet, Cassandra and Niles notice a glamorous woman at the Fun Fair. She's drifting around attempting to get the boys to play the games of chance and win prizes for herself and various girls. Niles seems quite puzzled. It seems he thinks she's Lady Dela, a Vertaki archetype, but that doesn't make sense.

"Lady Dela doesn't prey on the young, she prefers mature men to ensnare." -Niles
"Ensnare?" -Cassandra, raising an eyebrow
"Er... or so I'm told."
Watching for a time, they notice that no one who attracts Lady Dela's attentions are successful at their games for long. Niles watches her face for a bit and decides that she's definitely feeding. She's got that self satisfied look that Vertaki get when they, um, you know.

FFA gets back to the ship and discovers its practically empty still. He briefs Deirdre about the kidnapping, and she looks particularly anguished but insists she's not taking Martya off the ship at such a time, and not leaving her in the care of the Smeerps alone while Osric and Random are off with Katya. Deirdre will start trying to contact other people on the crew, but sends the Smeerps off with FFA to figure out what is going on.

The smeerps tell FFA they work better as a team, so probably shouldn't split up. He should head back to keep tabs on Jayla and Klothos while they go plan a rescue for Linnet and Ruthie.

Meanwhile, Ruthie and Linnet get into an involved game with one of the people in the ice cream room, as the last part of the ice cream questionnaire. Suddenly, one of the other kids accuses Ruthie and Linnet of cheating. Then his eyes glaze over a bit and he shakes his head. Ruthie is definitely cheating. The guy in charge says that everyone should just calm down. He explains that while he's sure no one is cheating it's important that everything look as honest as it is, so people should probably put all of their portable radios and computers and the like over in the corner until the game is finished.

Ruthie and Linnet are not easily convinced, but eventually, it comes to pass that they just don't have enough dice, so they tell Twig they're going to turn their radios off until they are finished with the ice cream, and put them in the corner.

Twig, on the other hand, has used his radio to boost the range of C3's communication-and-control circuit for the final part of its infiltration into a shielded area and so does not hear their message, nor Deirdre and the Smeerps' calls for help. He maneuvers C3 into what appears to be an auxiliary control room for the tractor beams and watches as the aforementioned techies start doing "routine maintenance". After watching their maintenance for a bit, he becomes sure that they are actually committing sabotage, but the other workers in the room seem to ignore them thanks to their uniforms.

Deciding to uncover their perfidy, Twig maneuvers C3 over to one of the saboteurs and then in a burst of over-acting, C3 goes into a fit of hopping and sparking as if he's just been zapped. This draws the attention of the other workers in the area, but Twig overdid it a little bit and his connection to C3 goes dead.

Cassandra and Nile watch as Lady Dela works her way through all of the teenagers, through sunset. Just as they've begun to have enough and decide to intervene in some way, Lady Dela gets a message from a soldier at the Bowl and departs. Once she departs the carnies announce the Fun Fair is closing and students start getting back on busses. Many of them have headaches in any case and want to go home so this news is not too disappointing.

Now that it's getting dark, Cassandra and Niles start heading closer into the the security fences around the bowl. It turns out Cassandra can navigate in darkness just as well as she can navigate in the daytime, so she proves quite competent at avoiding and pointing out obstacles as they creep their way through the densest cover they can find towards the bowl. They manage to find a place where they can climb over the fence and decide to do so. Cassandra wishes they had more backup, but the crew is well out of radio range and the Bowl is too important to let this sort of thing go on unobserved. They manage to get close to one of the communications shacks from which they can see the goings on in the bowl and stop there to wait.

Dela seems to be organizing several people down in the center of the bowl into a circular formation. Niles suspects it's a ritual. But to do what?

Back on the station, the Smeerps enact Plan Rescue! George and Dale take out the left door guard, Jeff and Chris take out the right door guard, while Ryan and Bobby carry a large piece of cardboard past them screening this violence from view of the crowd. George misses his attack, so his guard doesn't go down in the surprise round, but goes down in the next round as he tries to draw his weapon, but finds himself covered with four boys.

They relieve the guards of their weapons, set the cardboard screen down in front of the bodies and the doors, unlock the door, and rush in guns blazing! Ruthie and Linnet look up shocked from their ice cream score card, some of the other kids screams, and the ice cream vendor draws a gun!

The Smeerps manage to subdue the ice cream vendor and the two assistants, though the battle goes not at all as well as their graceful takedown of the door guards.

"What the heck are you doing!?"
"We're rescuing you!"
"Rescuing us from what? Overeating!? The dessert contest is over! You don't need to oppress ice cream anymore!"
"Whatever, let's just get out of here."
"Bah, girls."
"Bah, boys."
The Smeerps and the Girls run out of the ice cream tasting, and start to head back for the ship, but the girls insist on checking on Twig, so the whole mob starts heading that way.

First Frost of Autumn manages to get back to his observation point, in time to see Klothos annoyed. She's done the things that she's agreed, and thinks it's time for Jayla to give her what she was promised. Jayla says she'll receive everything she deserves "once they're dead".

"That's not what we agreed!" -Klothos
"I am altering the deal. Pray I do not alter it further." -Jayla
Klothos turns towards a control panel but then Jayla commands her to stop and comes down on her with the full force of her mind control. Klothos trembles for several long moments and then bows her head and kneels before Jayla. First Frost of Autumn thinks something is not quite the way he's perceiving it, but before he can figure it out, Jayla instructs Klothos to give the order to kill the Marchants.

Klothos says, "So be it." and walks to the control panel, triggers a comm and orders, "Execute alpha takedown."

Gah. Radio or not, this needs to be reported. He turns on the radio and start telling the Smeerps and Deirdre that Klothos appears with high probability to have just ordered the immediate assassination of the Marchants. Jayla turns once more up towards the Jeffries tube and says, "Ah, I know you are up there. Come out and you will not be killed." FFA is not fooled by her obvious lies, so he does not go out.

On the planet, a soldier comes out of the communications shed and shouts down into the bowl: "Execute takedown alpha!" Lady Dela nods and gives some quick instructions. All the people down in the bowl take what are probably doses of glitter, by their reactions, and the soldier starts organizing medical teams just outside the bowl.

They form their gathering, and Lady Dela holds her hand up to the sky and makes a pinching gesture as if to say, "I've got your head!" Then everyone in the bowl collapses to the ground.

Deirdre is on the bridge of the Hippocrates trying to reach Shaddam, or DeGaulle, or Hippocrates, or anyone to inform them of the immediate peril to the Red Hegemon. The Smeerps and the girls split up, and the girls continue towards Twig, while the Smeerps rush towards the military conference rooms where Viktor was last seen.

The girls catch up to Twig first and quickly brief him on what's going on. They aren't clear what the tractor beams have to do with it, but it's clearly finally time to "get them". The trio charge down the hall and burst into the tractor beam control room. Inside they find that the four "bad guys" are all tied up by the regular technicians and C3 is lying on the ground in pieces. Ruthie and Linnet collect the pieces, while Twig describes the sabotage to the workers. The workers insist that the tree and his kids need to leave here immediately, though they do thank him for his information. Linnet looks over to one of the "bad guys" and notices that he's sort of spacey looking. As the other techs question him, he claims not to remember why he's here.

Back with the bad guys, First Frost suddenly gets the strange perception that something very large is grabbing Jayla's head and squeezing. Jayla's head snaps up, and her nose is bleeding. Klothos looks perturbed that she's still standing at all. Jayla shouts, "You! You betrayed ME!" and reaches an insubstantial hand into Klothos's chest. Klothos staggers but nevertheless stays up and glares back at Jayla. "I might not be loyal to him, but I'll never grovel to a [bleep] like you!"

It's Jayla's turn to look perturbed now, and she replies, "Then you will die," as she squeezes once more. Klothos staggers to her knees, and Jayla is about to deliver what she clearly thinks is the final blow when suddenly, another, more frail-looking Jayla appears in front of her, between her and Klothos. "You are done here." says the new Jayla, and reaches for Evil Jayla. Both Jaylas vanish.

Klothos says "Damn, so close," and collapses to the floor.

Back on the planet the medical teams are leaping into the Bowl. They rush over to the psis and start pumping them full of various drugs and defibrillating some of them. After the flurry of activity, the chief medical guys reports back to the shed. Two of them will be down for weeks, but should recover partially. The rest need at least a week of bed rest, but should recover fully. Lady Dela didn't make it, as usual. Cassandra and Niles discuss the import of this for a minute or two, but then suddenly, Lady Dela stands up down in the bowl and some people help her into a recovery shack. One of the medics comments that this creeps him out every single time... People just shouldn't survive being killed. After that, the activity dies down, so Cassandra and Niles start heading their way back out before it gets light.

First Frost of Autumn reports that Klothos was faking being mind controlled by Jayla and the assassination attempt is with great likelihood a false truth perpetrated unintentionally on First Frost of Autumn. He finds that very annoying, but it causes Deirdre and the Smeerps to relax, and decide to inform just the crew rather than alert the whole Red military.

Linnet and Ruthie put all the C3 pieces into a backpack that they hang on one of Twig's branches, and the three of them head back to the ship. Linnet is sure they'll be getting in trouble for this.

"Nah, I think we saved the day!" -Ruthie
"From what?" -Linnet
"I'm not sure." -Ruthie
"*rustle* *rustle*" -Twig
On the shuttle back to the battlestation, Niles and Cassandra suddenly realize they missed their appointment with the gallery owner. Niles offers to send him a letter with her complaints. Cassandra supposes that "this will have to do."