"Their path is neither wholly of Light or of Dark, nor wholly of the Firmament or of the Void. We know only that it begins with us and that it ends with us."
-- the Book of Light
|2784.089 and then, the future
The party gets invited to wedding reception 3A. They have four tables. While waiting for the Hegemonic couple to arrive, all are provided with drinks and good food and a fine time is had. Just before dessert - Viktor & Donella arrive. DeGaulle makes a toast, the cake is cut, and then it's time for dancing. The goal of the party seems to be "be urbane enough to keep the happy couple at this reception past the time when they should be at the next."
The Hegemon and her husband take the floor to dance, and are then joined by many party members. Just as the second song is started, Ace, Max (who is channeling the last Farseer of Pierogi), and Xanthippe (who is dancing with Jim), all get premonitions of danger incoming. Ace manages to get Katya off the floor while Max/Cassandra and Jim/Xanthippe attempt to cut in on Viktor and Donella.
Suddenly, around the dance floor, three large Terminator-style space-time tears appear, and armored battle platforms materialize and begin disgorging killer robots. In the center of this mess, H. G. Wells' time machine appears and begins disgorging aged men. (None of them are H. G. Wells.)
Trying to get them out of the line of fire, Max grabs Donella and Viktor and vanishes towards the bar. Jim considers the killer robots and discovers that his Tactics skill indicates that this particular battle is unwinnable. Elite begin attacking the killer robots and old men. They take an old man down, but the killer robots seem a bit tougher. Sharra manages to take control of a couple of robots, and have them attack the others, but no one can make any progress against the battle platforms.
Kye leaps upon the central time machine ("I call shotgun!") and starts trying to figure out how it works. It seems to be on automatic recall, but is waiting for the party to get on. Meanwhile, Mirris sucks the background from one of the old men just before a killer robot takes him out and shouts, "Oh no, they're killing the Smeerp troop from the future here to save the future from the present!"
Ruehan reads the minds of one of the ancient Smeerps and finds that his mission is to get the party onto the time machine. Sharra attempts to jam the guns on one of the battle platforms, but she is totally rebuffed, as if it was protected by time and space itself. Max, from his new location across the room, thinks Cassandra might not be fast enough to get to the central time machine. So he has Viktor pick her up and carry her to the machine. (Sadly, Viktor is not on the list of people the time machine is waiting for.)
Jim gets a couple of old Smeerps onto the platform. Seeing the battle platforms about to unleash mass death, the rest of the party attempts to jump on the machine before drift. In drift, more robots appear and the battle platforms open up with their chainguns, and hose down everyone in the area. Luckily for the party, people on the time machine's list seem to be protected by time and space itself (TM), but the old Smeerps and Viktor are not. Xanthippe protects Viktor using her sublime powers, but the Smeerps go down hard. Suddenly, the time machine lurches and the party finds itself alone, in the swirling mists of space-time.
They discover a box on the machine that contains all of their normal weapons and equipment (a good thing, as they didn't get to bring them to the wedding), medical supplies, and a briefing.
To the crew of the HMS Hippocrates:
If things go as expected, we probably won't be available to convey the most important information, so here is a summary of all of the essentials you'll need to set things right.
After the Unification, pretty much everyone believed that a new golden age was at hand. While not directly part of the greater Flames defense, the Scouts carried on their ancient trust to prepare to resurrect society after the inevitable chaos, and guard against a nadir event. (We presume that these and other psychohistorical terms are familiar to you from your discussions with Jim, but he can clarify any that are not understood.)
Psychohistory itself entered a golden age --- with the advent of the Powell transformations to population states, even other races could finally be modeled as parts of society rather than simply dampening, enhancing, or pendulum effects. With this power at our disposal, the security of the Linked Worlds until the next Flames seemed certain.
Unfortunately, there was a single great fallacy in our assumptions. It is a fundamental principle of psychohistory that population states can be treated in aggregate without regard to the actions of individuals. While the Powell transformation from human to AI basis systems did exist, the fact that there have never been very many AIs, even today, prevented us from complicating the models by trying to simulate the effects of such a small population state. Whether it was hubris, laziness, or simply an oversight is difficult to say, but the argument is irrelevant given the events that followed. Whatever it was, it was a catastrophe.
At this date, I am sad to report that the Scouts have failed, and the Nadir Event has occurred. Society, as currently formulated, crushes the liberties of any who speak out against it, and it looks like we are powerless to prevent it. All simulations indicate that the influence of Scouting will be gone within just a few zed, as psychohistorical leverage is now wielded directly against us, and increasing our own ability to affect the trend vectors pushing the population states, is, as Jim will explain, the one thing we can not use psychohistory to do.
Thus we have enacted one last desperate plan. As the only remaining members of the Supreme Council of Phoenices with free voices, we returned to our home and searched out the one thing that we could conceivably use to prevent this disaster in the only way left to us: stopping it before it happened.
We found H. G. Wells' time machine in the warehouse, where he presumably intended us to find it, in case of just such an emergency. We have used all of our psychohistorical skill to calculate the three most pivotal Seminal Events which lead to the disaster. These events must be prevented. Thus we set out to change them. We were not unfamiliar with Dr. Symphony-Hayes' treatise on the hazards of causality disruption, but knew that these events must be changed. Unfortunately, that was our second mistake. Each of our changes caused other failure points until the unimaginable happened, and at one of our temporal insertions, the government managed to learn the essential nature of our mission and back-construct the technology after our deaths. Given that our time travel technology is essentially the same as that of our enemies, we are easily tracked, and the forces of our enemy arrive wherever we go. You, however, are causally unrelated to our folly, or at least will be in the instant we arrive. They will not be able to track you at first, so you should have some time to act before our enemy begins to send opposition to stop you.
Thus we traveled to this day, the last day in all of time that the crew of the Hippocrates was united in one place.
We have failed in our mission. Though it is unfair to ask it of you, we must hand it over to you to repair our mistakes.
May you do a good deed this day.
Smeerp Patrol, Scout Troop 1, formerly of the HMS Hippocrates.
Many pages of math follow. Really arcane, crazy math that really just shouldn't be done. People with psychohistory skill can roll for 11s to examine it. People with Xenopsychohistory skill can roll for 7s.After reading the briefing, the party divides up into three groups to go prevent the future.
After the math there is a listing of three crucial events and space-time coordinates summarized as follows:
All three objectives must be attempted simultaneously, as you only have one window during which the enemy will not start out being able to track you. After this first attempt, he will be able to flood you with resources as he did us, and your failure is assured.
- Seminal Event 1:
While Jim and Viktor Marchant drifted further and further apart in the zed following the Unification, Jim, as required by his mission, kept his eyes on the Hegemon and her family to ensure that The Great Plan got off to a good start.
When he learned of the planned assination of Donella's first-born, Gideon, by Ryan Waites, the escaped madman who blamed the party for the death of all he held dear, he knew that he had to act. Gideon was the primary focus of the emotional resonance of Unification, for the peoples of both Hegemonies. Jim's warnings were unheeded, though, and so he himself journeyed to prevent the assassination. Embittered by zed of separation, neither Viktor nor Jim would budge and thus the assassination attempt almost succeeded. At the last moment, Jim arrived, in defiance of Viktor's orders and prevented Waites from plunging his dagger into Viktor's heir. But he was not able to prevent the death of Donella. When Viktor tried to lay the blame for this fiasco on Jim's interference, Jim lashed out one last time at his lost friend, consumed by the pain of many zed of isolation. He declared Donella's death an acceptable loss and stalked out. The two never spoke again
You must travel to the scene of the assassination attempt and prevent the deaths of all four parties, Donella, Viktor, Jim, and the young Gideon.
<Space-time coordinates included.>
- Seminal Event 2:
After the death of Mirris Heart, Hippocrates programmed his mainframe to properly mourn his lost love. During his mourning period, an emergency arose, and members of his crew begged him to deactivate the mourning protocol in order to more forcefully address the situation and save lives. This he did, but his guilt was further magnified. Organics can't simply stop mourning when it becomes inconvenient, so why could he?
Thus Hippocrates programmed the six month mourning period once more, but this time hard locked it so that not only could he not override it, he would be incapable of trying or allowing others to try. Unfortunately, it was during this mourning period that he conversed with Deep Blue and expressed his dis-satisfaction with the fragility of the human condition.
You must travel to the Hippocrates before this conversation and forcibly remove the mourning program for the good of all humanity.
<Space-time coordinates included.>
- Seminal Event 3:
While the previous two events set the united Hegemony up for the fall, the third finally pushed it over the edge. Details are sketchy, as there were few, if any, survivors, but what is known is that an archaeological conference was being held on First Bastion concerning agreements for the exploration of Third Bastion. After that, little is known because half the moon was lost in a plasma bomb explosion.
You must travel to the First Bastion the day of the conference, and prevent the plasma bomb from destroying the moon, killing all of its inhabitants and pushing Deep Blue to decide that humanity could no longer be allowed to govern its own destiny.
Future Tom Corum
Future Travelling Turtle
Future Blake Amon
Future Economy of Motion
The first copy of the time machine arrives at the conference on Bastion where Dr. Kye is about to give the keynote address. It's not at all clear why he gets to the give the address, but everyone is sure that he does. The audience is divided up with his loyal IPX employees on one side, and Tom Corum's "New Polymath" people and other VIPs on the other.
The second arrives in the garden of the Hegemonic vacation palace. Ciernan opens by viewing the board. He finds that the Hegemonic safe room is sealed. Sadly, the Hegemon, her heir, five Elite, and Ryan Waites are inside. The Elite are in epic combat with Waites. Kith belatedly remembers to tell the palace guards in the garden that they are here to help, while Katya scans around for Jim.
"You sense a presence you haven't sensed in years." -Mike to TomThe third time machine arrives in the Perilous Activities Area of the newly refit Hippocrates. ("Wait, we landed where?") The ship seems deserted, so people disembark the time machine and start heading for the bridge to talk to Hippocrates.
At the conference, people start talking to security guards and inform them that they need to start searching for a bomb. ("Plasma bomb" is never mentioned.) Security starts helping the crew look around. Down in the main room, Kye starts his speech. It's a pretty good speech until someone stands up (in the Polymath side of the audience) and shouts "Die, Kye, die!" while opening fire. Tom Corum jumps into the line of fire to save Kye.
Back on the ship, Hippocrates says, "Attention intruders. I don't understand why you've come here, but it is better to leave immediately." Naturally, everyone ignores him and proceeds to pick their way through locks towards the bridge.
At the palace, Elegance of Motion, who was visiting with his ambassador, notices that the Hegemon is in danger and springs into action. (No really, he sprang.) Akito has made it inside by this time and is trying to get the palace guards to help the Hegemon. Sadly, they seem to insist on shooting him instead. Can all of the palace guards be in on it? It seems the only loyal guy left is Benedict, Donella's chief Elite bodyguard. Ciernan and Akito brief him on the dire situation. Ciernan details himself to taking care of the disloyal palace guards outside, and starts raining lightning down upon them, while everyone else heads in, shielded by Katya. Already inside, Blake Amon and Motion meet up and start making their way to the inner palace towards the saferoom.
Back at the conference, people are pretty quick to subdue the gunman. Davira mind controls him to stop that, while everyone else beats him into submission. Sadly, it seems this is not their only problem, as while everyone's attention is captured by the lone gunman, several of the security guards reveal they are dirty by attacking Doctor Kye. In the true spirit of Jaylaism, the bitter enemies, Kye and Travelling Turtle (Kith's rabbit protege), band together to take down some corrupt guards and prevent Kye from suffering. Max and several others are still looking for the plasma bomb, but Hippocrates, who has been puzzling over why no one has threatened anyone with it yet finally make the crucial leap in logic. He stalks up to Doctor Kye:
"You've put the plasma bomb on a deadman's switch?" -HippocratesOn the ship, Mirris asks Max/Farseer what would happen if she stays with Hippocrates. Max concludes that this is the future the party is actually trying to prevent, so it wouldn't be as bad as what would happen if the mission failed. However, any inducement Mirris can offer Hippocrates is swamped under by his annoyance with Dr. Kye being on the ship, again. Kye and Hippocrates argue, and it's determined that Kye should just head back to the time machine and go to another map. (At the conference, Hippocrates has just concluded he's had enough of Kye and stalks back towards the time machine to head to another map as well.)
"Of course!" -Kye
During drift, people are horrified as one of Donella's Elite goes down, and armored battle platforms complete with killer robots start appearing in all three locations. People realize they need to get into that saferoom to save Donella before she runs out of Elite.
The party quickly confers with Benedict, and finds that the only way into the safe room is to deactivate the locks with systems operations rolls from both Elite security stations simultaneously. On the ship, the party decides to start hacking, but find they can't begin computer programming until they reconnect the power to the terminals with engineering. Of course, they can't begin engineering, until they enable the locked out power couplings with cryptography. At the conference, people expect they will need to make numerous disarming rolls on the plasma bomb, but they're still looking for it. Overall, it seems like a lot of running around making tech rolls while dodging killer robots is what lies in wait for our intrepid heroes.
At the next drift, fed up, Kye leaves the Hippocrates, and Hippocrates leave Kye, and they both arrive at the palace time machine:
"I just left you!" -KyeAt the palace, Ruehan is starting to get guards under control by mind controlling them into shooting each other, and the killer robots, while Benedict is busy shuttling people into the secure Elite unlocking stations.
"I just left you too! You're an idiot!" -Hippocrates
"Why did you put a plasma bomb on a dead man's switch?" -Hippocrates
"A dead man's switch? What a good idea! I'll have to remember that in the future." -Kye
Hippocrates, back on the Hippocrates, tells the crew that they may as well get about doing what they came to do, as he won't be assisting them no matter how much they plead. More doors lock, but our heroes are pretty good with doors. Jim explains the plot to Hippocrates, but Hippocrates has had it with emergencies:
"Always, with you, Jim, it has to be done..."Trying to get a handle on the disloyal security problem, the conference security chief gets some of those guys together and briefs them on the mutiny by some other guards. They of course, shoot him. And then shoot Kye.
Davira decides that the bomb is likely to be in a place Kye controls, and since it's not on his person, she asks Max to narrow the search to either Kye's room or Kye's ship. Max finally locates the bomb, as his readings indicate an unstable plasma source coming from Kye's ship.
Elsewhere at the conference, Kye is actually starting to get injured so Ace strides up to him and lays "the healing hands of God!" on him. No one is quite sure when Ace became an evangelical Bibbler, but there you go. Kye is healed up.
At this point, the killer robots on Hippocrates reveal themselves as agents of Deep Blue: "Hippocrates, the organics are here to alter your core programming. I'm deplying additional security assets to assist you. Give them full access to the ship." Sadly, Hippocrates doesn't cooperate with him either, especially when Talia starts carving up those same killer robots.
Tom Corum gives an impassioned plea to Kye:
"Think of the innocent people! The man on the street never hurt you!" -Tom CorumAnother drift: Another Elite goes down, more killer robots and battle platforms show up. It's looking grim, but Donella gets a little extra time when Ruthie shows up insider her safe room and gets in line to fight Ryan Waites.
"Nothing I can do about it. With all of the mind control going around, I'm not foolish enough to put an off switch on my dead man's trigger."-Kye
"You're an idiot!" -Hippocrates, from two maps away...
"Aaaarrrgggghhh!" -Akito.Bitter Jim argues with Katya that saving Gideon (Donella's heir) is the important thing, and everyone else is expendable. Katya argues that that's wrong.
Everyone on the conference map has retreated back towards Kye's ship, possibly looking to escape. There, they find that the dirty guards inside were just there to distract people from the dirty guards outside, who are busily trying to steal all the ships in the star port. Including the one with the plasma bomb inside. More combat ensues. In a disastrous couple of rolls, a battle platform and killer robots appears right outside the door to Kye's ship, and things at the conference start looking bad. Max/Farseer is pretty sure that there's not going to be any departures from the starport, one way or another.
Meanwhile Mirris has hacked through the cryptography locking down the engineering controls and finds that it needs a DNA sample to reactivate ahead of schedule. She tries her own, and obviously that works. Moving on, Sharra starts repowering the hacking controls, just as Jim manages to break into the core room - killer robots in hot pursuit.
So ends the first turn of combat.
The second turn starts with people settling down into their various sieges, trying to hold off the killer robots while various people make necessary rolls. Max and Leonora have made it into the plasma bomb room on Kye's ship and are attempting to disarm it, Mirris and Jim settle into some computer programming in the core of the Hippocrates, and Katya, Benedict, Blake Amon, and Hippocrates switch off trying to make systems operations rolls at the palace security stations to open the doors to the safe room.
Distracting them from their efforts are various bitter arguments between past and future crew members, a few disloyal security guards, and ever-increasing numbers of unstoppable killer robots.
Sophia decides to test out some of her more esoteric creations and manages to freeze a pair of robots with her spritzer of "anomalous stasis" spray. Ruehan flies around the palace dodging guards as a mynoc until he can shift to his gith combat form, in which he can run around the palace dodging guards. Bitter Jim prepares everyone to unleash a fury of doom on Ryan Waites in the instant they get that door opened. Mirris and Hippocrates argue further, and he slams a door in her face.
The unfortunate people in the Hippocrates core start taking piles of damage from the killer robots and Hippocrates himself, and the ship is declared the place most in need of help. Jim shouts at Hippocrates, "You are a Medical Frigate! We are dying! Remember your name!" Sadly, it seems that Hippcorates is pretty hard-wired to not allow anyone to tamper with his grief programming. If they'd agree to leave the ship peacefully, he'd be happy to allow it, but as long as they insist on hacking his core mainframe, they must be stopped.
"Predictable logic, Jim, but we must face the fact that I was never very good at saving people, anyway." -Bitter HippocratesJust as the last Elite goes down and it's about to become Ruthie's turn to deal with Waites, the blast doors at the palace are finally opened and everyone leaps into it to deal with Waites. Sadly, they split their assault with about half of them attacking him, and the other half attempting to disarm him of his weapon, the Dagger of Death! (Which Jim has identified as his only real weakness.) Given their split efforts, Waites has just enough die pools to hold them off and accepts a fair bit of damage but gets to keep his dagger.
"Thus Jim becomes Bitter. Our Yet is in good shape." -Drew
Jim decides on a new strategy: "Dr. Kye, it is time to rectify our previous tactical error, read: take down Ryan Waites!"
"I come from the past, to kick your butt!" -AkitoAt the ship in the conference center space port, most of the party is crammed into Doctor Kye's airlock trying to hold off the now truly ludicrous numbers of killer robots swarming all over the place. Turtle is trying to buff people up and get the party through the interior door as she chants ancient rabbit aphorisms:
"The strongest lock will yield if you use the right key" -Travelling TurtleCiernan, who has moved from the conference center to the failing siege in Hippocrates' computer core, decides it's time to take the Glitter and bring it on. With his drug-enhanced psi powers, he manages to put a massive wall of wind between the crew and many of the advancing robots. This buys them some time while Sharra mind controls one of the frontmost robots to shoot his comrades, and Jim and Mirris take turns computer hacking and getting grabbed by the Hippocrates bot.
Around now, Viktor, (the future one) arrives in his spaceship, to save his wife. He sees that Jim is here - causing a mess of things as always - and the two immediately settle into bickering mode, while fighting killer robots and Waites, of course. Waites finally gets disarmed of his dagger by Akito, who gives the dagger to Jim.
"I'm the only one who can take Waites down. Don't waste your attacks on him." - Bitter JimJim starts stabbing away at Waites with the dagger's unhealable damage. Meanwhile, more robot generators show up inside the inner palace so things start getting a little tense.
"That's what you always say." - Bitter Viktor
"They sure are bitter." -Akito
On the Hippocrates, Mirris briefly finishes the final programming, only to have Hippocrates bot undo it all. Getting mad, she blows a wad of Karma to halve the number of successes she needs and begins again.
As Waites is about to fall, he turns to Akito, who had admonished him for being about to attack Ruthie and Donella. He says something like "You have no right to talk to me about killing women, kid."
Once Waites goes down, Viktor and Jim have time to get down to the real bitter recriminations. Jim protests.
"All I have done, I have done in your service and that of the Linked Worlds. Does that count for nothing?"-Bitter JimFinally, a third of the way through the third turn of combat (when the robots really get tough!), after much distress, a drift comes along in which Waites finally goes down, the palace targets are all still alive, the plasma bomb is disarmed, and Hippocrates is reprogrammed. Success!
"I believe you believe that. And I believe that you have acted in defense of the Linked Worlds. But I do not accept the service of assassins." -Bitter Viktor
Everyone in the party is sucked back into the swirling mists of spacetime. Sophia, Max and Xanthippe all declare that the last thing that needs to happen is that the time machine must be destroyed, so no one can undo what they have done. Returning to the wedding reception, (at which there was no combat with killer robots after all) Viktor polls everyone (except Kye) to see if anyone actually approves of the bitter future. Seeing the disasters ahead, all (even possibly Kye) agree to set aside their bitterness and stride forth into the Unified Hegemony as friends and comrades.
Ciernan leads an expedition into the third mirror dimension! The expedition proves heroes to the people of Mirror Pierogi, who are evacuated into this dimension. And, there's lots of loot.
When the brief, shattering war with the Communion comes, it is Hippocrates who stands off the principal greatship in an inspired bluff, preventing them from reaching the Hegemonic capital.
When Interim Strategos Hornberg retires, Viktor (their friendship newly restored) and Donella ask Jim to serve as the first Strategos of the United Hegemony. His command proves victorious during the brief, shattering war with the Communion, and his fame as the Strategos eclipses even his Sparky Cola days.
An IPX expedition discovers the route to the black goo planet. They return with several barrels of goo. Shortly thereafter, Kye vanishes on the Inopportune Moment for a zed. It is believed that he and Captain Megaera have come to an agreement, but Kye never explains what -- only smirks.
During the brief, shattering war with the Communion, Ace runs the blockade of Riden, bringing the decrypt key that turns the tide. A statue is eventually erected of him in Piriksburg next to the statue of Zachary Staughton.
Hero, the flying dolphin, single-flipperly saves an entire field trip of Juice third-graders from the Ghost Kraken. Few people believe the stories (other than the whales), but the third grade class grows up with a serious case of hero worship, and for most of the rest of his life, Hero receives cards and letters from the children he saved.
In their travels in the outworlds, Sharra and Leonora start hearing the jump gates talking to them. It takes them zed to totally understand everything the gates are saying, but in the end, these conversations will lead to the development of the Singularity Jump portals. The seminal paper on this subject is delayed for nearly a zed as the pair argues over who will get first author.
After nearly a century spent arranging it (and a lot of double-checking to make sure it won't be Catastrophic), Ruehan ascends. It is now his awesome responsibility to work for the Hand of Fate next Flames.
After Akito assists Talia in mastering her shadow self, her own rise to Master is swift. The two merge Tiger Crane and Shadow Form to develop the ultimate in both martial arts and attain the enlightenment of the Perfect Master, allowing them to briefly transcend physicality entirely.
Once Travelling Turtle's leadership has set the rabbits of Craterrock firmly on the path to civilization and canny negotiation with the Inworld colonies, Kith turns her gaze to the Deciders. Recruiting Ghier and others for her Envoy, she visits the Decider worlds and readies them for human contact by the time the great Gate is opened. By then, some of them are rumored to have Decided for Jayla.
Sophia declares that she will be founding a new Academy on Sundown. For exactly a zed, nothing visible happens. Then, overnight, one large island is completely covered in gleaming spires and clean airy buildings, and that island is totally free from the biohazardous environment found elsewhere. The speculation on how this is accomplished is wild, but Sophia only smiles.
Citizen Sinclair shocks the Linked Worlds by breaking down his Holdings and distributing shares amongst the Drudges who work for him. When asked, he shrugs and says ``I can always make another fortune. Or two.'' The newly self-owned ex-Sinclair Holdings are still immensely profitable, and serve as a nexus for Drudge empowerment all across the Well.
At age sixty, Mirris is the first experimental subject for the Holotypic Engram Imprint. Developed by DaVinci and based on holodeck technology rather than AI technology, the personality is a transfer from bioneural state to holoneural state, and is essentially lossless. Mirris instantiates as a hologram on the Hippocrates, and survives as long as he does.
Katya, Martya, and Chadan are returning from a family visit to Stannis Law when the brief, shattering war with the Communion erupts. Rather than run for the safety of the Santa Maria, the three Steadfasts link together to throw up a barrier that blocks the entering invaders for nearly half a day. In that time, ships carrying nearly a thousand civilians, including (this only comes out much later) the Hegemon herself, reach the safety of the fleet. The reputation and fame of the Lady Champion is ensured, and the "Emerald Wall" stays in the popular lexicon even centuries after the battle has been forgotten.