Crossing the Line

"Mercy is only possible towards one who is beneath you. If you must strike against an equal, do so with all your strength, for he will not give you leave to strike a second time."

-- Strategos Ambros Nomarche, On Conflict

New Light -> Gateway

People finish the last of their errands on New Light, and Cassandra unveils her painting of Hippocrates from space:
The painting is mostly black, a starscape. Most of the stars are dull and faded, but the star in the center is smaller and a clear piercing white, the light from which extends further out from the central star. The painting is signed with the traditional pattern of five stars.
Max, who is channeling an elementalist, buys some gemstones and a fancy cigarette lighter. Hippocrates reminds everyone that there might be Sharra zombies, and they shouldn't be destroyed - they need to be thrown in the Clear tube as part of the test. Max sets a small air elemental to guard the room and tell him if anyone comes out of a tube. Hippocrates goes shopping for military equipment. Sharra comes out of the tubes, causing the air elemental to dash to Max in a panic, but as Sharra seems to have no inclination to eat anyone's brains, it's probably okay.

Hippocrates warns Jim about Dylanna - don't jump on the grenade. From talking to her before she left, Hippocrates thinks if Dylanna thinks that Jim is going to sacrifice himself to save her, she's going to make sure she doesn't survive to need to be saved.

A message arrives, requesting that the party speak to the Hegemon immediately. When they arrive, Donella is in her study with Michael. She asks them to sit down, and asks Michael to tell them what he just told her. He diplomatically tries to say this is not the best time to be calling upon vigilantes. Donella diplomatically says yes, well, tell them anyway.

Michael briefs them on the last intelligence they received from Red before a lot of communications went down and things went truly haywire. Blue had an agent inside the Red military investigation, and this agent reports that evidence was found implicating Klothos in the destruction of Viktor's transport and Viktor's death. As far as Red is concerned, the evidence is "incontrovertible". As far as the agent is concerned, nothing is incontrovertible, but it looks like good evidence. At this point, Donella dismisses Michael again.

Donella thanks the party for the great service that they have previously carried out. She understands that she does not have any undue claims on their loyalty...

"...but we both know what has to be done here." -Donella
"Oh, yeah." -Dr. Kye
< everyone else looks at Hippocrates >
"My plan has been to offer Shaddam Marchant our assistance in rectifying the situation." -Hippocrates.
Donella is dubious at Hippocrates' plan - she doesn't know Shaddam well, of course, but from what she's gathered of him, the one time he wouldn't accept any help is in putting down an insurrection against his personal authority. (Hippocrates decides that she's overgeneralizing, but that Shaddam is in some cases better at accepting help after the fact than asking for help.)

Anyway, Donella just doesn't want to see the situation go unresolved. Hippocrates tries to discern if she's actually explicitly asking them to take out Klothos - no, definitely not explicitly. She's just trying to say "Will no one rid the universe of this meddlesome Blacklord?" as clearly as possible.

The party discusses the plan of getting to Gateway. At first, going through Riden is the front-runner, as that will allow the party to offer their assistance and will also allow Max to try to search the hyperspace between Riden and Gateway for Viktor. But with the new point of view on Shaddam, perhaps going through Tinara will be a better idea - then they can offer their assistance to the Tinara fleet instead, and avoid having to talk to Shaddam, who might realize prematurely that the party was involved in setting Klothos up if he actually talks to them.

Hippocrates asks Donella if she's sure that Viktor was actually killed. She seems a little surprised at the question at this point; she hasn't seen the evidence herself, of course, but nobody in Red seems to doubt it.

Meanwhile, at Gateway, Watts and his ship the Turtle are being drafted into the Gateway military. Apparently, a Terran plot has killed Viktor and fooled the Hegemon into blaming Klothos, causing the civil war. Gateway just needs to hold out until the Hegemon can come to his senses. Watts isn't clear that the Turtle is such a combat ship, but he's assigned a partner (a whiterunner) and they're assigned a spot in a squadron. Watts was just here to pick up Juliana and some information for Belle, but he hears she's been arrested and jailed as possibly disloyal.

Donella dismissed the party: "Off you go." Everyone there gets a bonus fortune pool that they can throw in to the plan of "Get Klothos".

Back on the Hippocrates, Dr. Kye suggests to Sharra that he can arrange to have the rest of the party captured, and the two of them can sneak on board and slaughter everyone while the rest of the party is being tortured. Sharra isn't convinced that this is the best plan, despite Kye's assurances.

The party heads off through Sundown and to Vircus, to check in with Jayla and Janzur to see if they can provide fleet support, before going back to Tinara. Jayla reports that Janzur isn't there - he's on Stannis Law. Vircus isn't getting involved in the Red civil war, but Jayla does warn them that there's no time left - the fleet from Tinara has already left for Gateway. The Hippocrates offloads the plasma bomb, after some argument, and heads to Gateway, skipping Tinara.

Jim briefs people on space formations on the trip to Gateway. Additionally, he's has done a lot of homework tactically preparing for the assault, which will let the group declare that they've planned for particular aspects of it along the way.

The Hippocrates arrives (through the closed gate from Vircus), and the Starguard warns them that this system isn't safe. They ask to talk to someone higher up.

"Tell me you've brought good news." -Admiral DeGaulle
"We've brought a fighter squadron" -Hippocrates
DeGaulle explains that the big problem is the battlestation's tractor beam - it has a much larger range than either the station weapons or ship weapons. So when their fleet engages the Gateway fleet, the tractor beams pull ships in, one at a time, to the station's huge plasma cannons to be destroyed. So the battle so far has been a series of skirmishes without anyone committing fully - as long as the Tinara/Riden fleets stay back, the station leaves them alone.

There are three possible plans that the Hippocrates, by far the highest-power ship in the combat, can carry out, as far as DeGaulle and Jim can figure.

  1. Sneak in past the tractor beam and plasma cannon, board, and assault by themselves. This would be by far the hardest on-board combat.
  2. Provide a round of distraction and some amount of covering fire, and assault the back while the rest of the fleet assaults the front.
  3. Provide a distraction and then stay until the battle is done, taking out the rear sentries themselves. This is the "Bring it On" plan.
Ace, who's been in the tubes so far, steps out of his tube. Sharra steps out of her tube. This is all well and good, until Sharra turns to Ace, grabs him, and tries to eat his brain. Ace dimly remembers that there was something about zombies going on, and shoots the zombie. The two boy scouts on duty in the Kaufman facilty warn him: "No, Mr. Ace! We need it alive!" Some grappling ensues - the Smeerps dose the zombie with turquoise, and it starts to melt. Ace shoots it with his neural disruptor, and it comes to its sense: "Woah, I'm melting. Sorry about that. I had better get into the tubes." The Sharra zombie tries to get back into the Green tube, but Ace and the Smeerps stuff it into the Clear tube, against its protests. It dies, and they put it in the morgue.

The crew decides to start with plan 2, and segue into plan 3 if the battle goes well. Jim sets up a circular "flow of motion", adding speed to everyone going in that direction. Between Ace and Max, nobody is able to spot the Hippocrates before the ship gets very close to the Gateway sentries. Max sets up a sensor illusion that the ship is actually six small fighters; this costs the foe several shots that pass harmlessly through the illusions, while Ace sets up crazy-dodging.

Watts, in one of the Gateway ships, declares that he's going to shoot Ace out of the sky. Then he fails to cut his mike, and remarks to his pilot, "We're screwed, man". The wing commander snaps out an order to buck up, cut the chatter, and that they totally outnumber one ship, but the Gateway draftees still lose a round to intimidation.

The station attempts to hit the Hippocrates with its tractor beam, but Ace manages to dodge it away. The non-draftee fleet proves to be coordinated, and gets some damage through; the ship's gunners start picking off the smaller ships despite the difficulty of the shot during a crazy dodge. Sharra starts directing her repair robots to fix the damage, while several more Sharras step out of the Kaufman tubes.

Max identifies one of the ships as the source of the coordination shtick, and tells everyone to get him. This clashes a little with Jim's tactical plan of "get the closest guy!" but then when the Gateway fleet charges, the commander is closest again.

The tractor beam hooks them for a moment, setting them on a fast velocity towards the station, but Ace's piloting keeps them from getting too close to the zone of death.

Down in the Kaufman room, the Smeerps report that it's getting a bit difficult, as zombies keep coming out of the tubes. They have most of them temporarily immobilized, but they could use some backup. Kye goes down to help them.

The space combat continues, and the crew decides that it's been successful enough that they can go to Plan Three and try to take out the rest of the backfield. The Gateway fighters keep getting picked off; Watts convinces his pilot to try and join up with the Hippocrates, though the pilot draws the line at actually shooting the other Gateway ships (Watts manages to do that once before the pilot shuts him down).

Hippocrates and one of the Gateway ships drift into the same hex, but Sharra quickly patches the holes. Kye stuffs a Sharra zombie into the clear tube, and it swiftly dies.

The Vircan fighter squadron launches, with an announcement by Jim:

"Attention insurgent forces! This is the HMS Hippocrates with a fully armed battle squadron, you are ordered to stand down!"
They are suitably demoralized, and the draftees all flee. Hippocrates and Jim head down to the Kaufman facility to help with the zombies, and there is much grappling. Jim shoots a bunch of the zombies with the neural disruptor - this does cause them to stop attacking, but they become eerily logical (like Sharra) and head to "make repairs" in Engineering, doing more damage than the Gateway fleet. However, one of the clear-tubed zombies has gotten back out, and that Sharra seems to be attempting to fix the zombie damage too. There are just too many Sharras to be really sure who is doing what at this point, though the original Sharra is careful to not leave the bridge lest she be confused with a zombie.

Ace picks up the Turtle in the shuttle bay, and Watts herds his pilot to the bridge: "Throw your weapons down and come with me if you want to live".

"Sharra to bridge. I can't keep in front of these evil Sharra zombies much longer." -the "good" Sharra in Engineering
The space battle wraps up as the last of the non-draftees are taken down. The crew finishes stuffing the last of the zombies in the tubes. Most of the zombies die when put in Clear, but two "evil Sharras" do come out, in addition to the "good Sharra" who was fixing things earlier. The good Sharra heads up to the bridge; the evil Sharras head to the computer core to take it over, but are captured and put in the brig.

Watts's pilot is interrogated, and reports that people Klothos considers "disloyal" have been imprisoned. He figures at this point he's screwed either way; both Klothos and Shaddam will consider him a traitor. Would they consider letting him go in Blue? He gets locked in the conference room.

Then, there's much argument about what to do with the other "good Sharra". Hippocrates thinks psychologically she's just like the original Sharra, and she remembers everything that Sharra ought to, but she doesn't have all of Sharra's equipment. Not having Sharra's boots doesn't seem like sufficient reason to space her, though everyone is deeply suspicious of her.

The Hippocrates makes a mad dash for the station, crossing the Line of Death with only one shot from the battlestation. It nearly kills some of the smaller crew members, except that Jim had planned for it. The ship proceeds to forcibly dock with the battlestation, while Jim fills in the party's map with important locations, such as tractor beam control, security control, and where Marcia and Juliana are likely to be. The station defenses include automatic blasters, gas dispensers, gravitic panels, and "guard spawn points" that bring in guards from other sections. However, because of the space battle still ongoing, the guards aren't as perfectly alert to the intruders as they should be.

Max brings a full set of elementals - the fire elemental definitely scares the guards. Hippocrates integrates into the comm system and gets to hear some warnings about a hull breach, but that's not so helpful. Jim sets up a dual-pronged flow of motion, with one party heading to the tractor beam control, while the other heads to security control.

Much fighting ensues. Both Sharra and "good Sharra" (who has agreed to go by 'Leonora') prove useful in getting through doors and disabling station defenses, while Kye, Ace, Watts, and Jim are destroyers of guards.

Ace accidentally jams his plasma disruptor - Leonora promises to fix it as soon as she gets there, but she's busy disabling a guard transfer point. Gas grenades get tossed about willy-nilly, causing a good deal of trouble for the guards. Sharra finds that the tractor beam control is going to be a long slog to disable, and uses a shaped charge plus seven karma in order to destroy in a way that causes the Red fleet to be docked. Jim spends a bunch of his tactical points to "have planned for this" and hits the guards with morale-crushing overwhelming tactical superiority. (Guards no longer enter this section, and can be more easily taken off the board).

The last few guards take Watts down as he's guarding Leonora. At that, Juliana manages to escape from her cell and chops the guard (Hey! She has shticks too! Who knew?) Ace gives Watts some pain killers, which (surprisingly) wakes him up, but then he's immediately shot some more - so Juliana chops that guard. Marcia gets released too, though she's not as combat-effective as Juliana.

Watts tries to intimidate the last guards - they try to take Marcia and Juliana hostage, but that doesn't last long. Marcia and Juliana have the passwords for the airlock to the central spoke (as well as to security control and beam control). Max stays behind to hold security control, while everyone else heads for the spoke.

The two guards in the spoke surrender (though it takes the crew a little while to realize that) and the deathtraps are slowly disabled.

"Are the guards in the next room surrendering?"
"...In a way."
The guards say that they have been instructed to let the crew in. They escort them past the rest of the defenses, and through what appears to be a more deserted central section, into Klothos' throne. Klothos and Ryan Waites are the only ones there. This seems a little too easy (though readers should realize that it's about 9pm in the real world at this point); Kye thinks that from a deathtrap point of view, they've been led by all the deathtraps except for the plasma turret above the throne. (Jim points out the tactical places to stand that won't be hit).
"Ah. It is to you I am to tender my resignation?" -Klothos
Ace is the first to react, noting "I brought the handcuffs" and pulling out the crystal rope. Kye, on the other hand, is not interested in talking, and shoots them both (Klothos and Waites, that is). Klothos attempts to trigger her turret, but Jim's already dealt with that particular defense, and Hippocrates remotely frotzes the controls in her throne to make them harder to use.

Jim tells everyone to deal with Waites while he deals with Klothos. As it turns out, it's pretty much an even match between Waites and everyone else; Waites is trying to kill Kye, who is dodging madly, and everyone else is trying to tie Waites up in the crystal rope. Meanwhile, Jim is motionless, stuck in the moral dilemma of what to do with Klothos. What is her plan? He thinks she thinks if she can just stall or keep them from killing her until the Red troops arrive, she'll survive this. That's surprising - why does she think she won't be executed for treason? Well, if she's starting to realize that she's been set up by Dylanna. She might not realize that the crew is behind Dylanna, but she's starting to figure out that she's been maneuvered into treason by Dylanna, who is kind of known for this sort of manipulation.

Ace and Watts finally succeed in tying Waites up so he can't escape, and Jim comes to a decision. He removes Ace's dagger in his backpack, and walks up to Klothos (who doesn't yet seem particularly scared of an old-looking knife).

"I am sorry, but all things must come to an end." -Jim, stabbing Klothos for 29 successes
Klothos screams and collapses onto her throne, though she isn't quite dying yet. Now, she looks scared of the knife.
"Why is it, whenever I go do something with you, we off someone?" -Watts
Ryan Waites, unable to move, looks pleadingly at Hippocrates, and with expressive gestures, manages to convey "You must not let this come to pass." Hippocrates stares back, unmoved, and says nothing. Ace protests: "Why don't we turn him over to the Red Hegemon for his justice?" Jim, at the same time, stabs Klothos again, and now she is bleeding to death. Jim drops the knife, looking shaken.

Everyone looks around. There appears to be nothing left to do.

"We're done, right? We're letting her die?" -Dr. Kye
"You don't need to throw it in my face, Kye" -Hippocrates
Kye picks up Klothos's body. Even before he moves, people start to protest.
"No, you're not doing it. Put her down." -Hippocrates
"I've been wanting to do this for five years." -Kye
"Sometimes you've been wanting to do things for five years and you just do them" -Ace, shooting Dr. Kye with a neural disruptor
The crew appears to be at an impasse. Whether or not to kill Klothos appears to have not needed discussion, but the disposition of her body afterwards will prove to take an hour of argument.

"I have sacrificed a lot to let you get this far, but I will not sacrifice more." -Hippocrates
"Why do you care? She's dead." -Kye
"I'm absolutely certain that you wouldn't understand." -Hippocrates
"There are things one does not do, even to one's enemies." -Jim
< people look at each other some more >

"What's the difference between an archaeologist and a grave robber?" -Ace
"Not a lot." -Kye "Oh... I thought it was 'respect'." -Ace
Jim surrenders himself into Hippocrates' custody. Watts contemplates how much legal trouble he's in (since the last time the party assassinated someone, he was the one that ended up in jail for a while). Juliana definitely thinks not standing over Klothos's body by the time the Red troops arrive would be a good thing.

"I think that everyone who isn't carrying a corpse is welcome on my ship." -Ace
"I wasn't going to be carrying one." -Kye
Kye offers a counter-proposal: if he can't space Klothos, then he gets to loot the place. Ace can support that.

Hippocrates offers a different counter-proposal to let Kye walk away without burning any more bridges:

"You can do whatever you want if you resign your position as a crew member of my ship." -Hippocrates
"Does that mean we're not looting the place?" -Ace
Ace and Watts contemplate the legal ramifications of spacing bodies - it's illegal, though compared to murder, desecration of a corpse is fairly small potatoes. Will it muddy the evidence in Jim's murder trial? Well, not so much, as there are probably recordings and there's definitely one tied-up witness in Waites. Unless they kill him too, which nobody seems to be planning on doing.

Watts and Juliana decide that it's time to go now, regardless. Ace points out that regardless of its legality, spacing Klothos's body will darken the reputation of everyone present. And that's not the way the video game would end, tossing her out the airlock.

"I think you should walk away." -Ace, to Kye
"But if he doesn't, I think you should let him." -Ace, to Hippocrates
Hippocrates says that he is not prepared to defend it as an action, or explain why he allowed it. So if Kye does space her, then he's out.

Ace says that the more they make it personal, the less it's a good story. Does Kye care about the story? Kye says he's trying to decide if he does or not.

"Then, I'll just say Please'" -Jim
"I will, too." -Sharra
Kye agrees to take the compromise: he'll leave the body because Jim and Sharra asked. But he's taking the loot, and Hippocrates can kick him off if he wants. Hippocrates says he's off the crew, but they'll take him back to Blue before he has to get off the ship.

Jim and Hippocrates, and both Sharras, stay for the Red troops to find. Everyone else returns to the Hippocrates, to discover that the two evil Sharras escaped from the brig, overpowered the Smeerps, but then began to fight about which one would rule the universe. One killed the other, before being taken down by the Smeerps and put back in the brig. Well, that might make disposing of the remaining one a lot simpler - she's murdered someone, so the legal system can deal.