"When choosing between two evils, I always like to try the one I've never tried before."
|Some time around 2778.255 AS
They take the Elite shuttle, and also borrow a thousand asters from the treasury, just in case. On the jump in, there is a reasonable amount of traffic to and from the jump gate, but there is also a ship just hanging out near the jumpgate, not going one way or the other. A transponder ping identifies it as the Sirocco, registered to Citizen Madrakand. Best not to bother it.
Landing at the spaceport near Joyous Gard, the pair buy tourist visas (50 asters each) and then buy tourist visa insurance (25 asters each). They begin to wander through the city. The first thing of interest encountered is something of a flying circus: an open square has been commandeered, with ropes strung between neighboring buildings. On the ropes are gymnasts and acrobats, clad in feathers and tattoos, swinging and twirling about. Upon further watching, they appear to actually have feathers, not just wear them, though they are otherwise human looking. There are carved wood donation boxes set up underneath them, and working the crowd are several shills who are talking up the performers and encouraging donations. Jayla talks to one of the shills, and gets a recommendation of where to get feathers, and then when the show is over, talks to one of the performers as the crowd breaks up. He's happy to talk about his art - he seems to enjoy it, though it's wearing. They'd really like to get an audition to perform in Joyous Gard - that would be a great deal - but that'd be hard and probably costly (though he shies away from talking too much about this).
Then, it's off to the less touristy areas. After a little while, Janzur notes that they're being followed, though he uses the hand signal for "Company" rather than "Hostile." They walk a little faster, and the guy runs to catch up. Gentle sir, gracious lady, surely they have lost their way? Do they need a local guide? Someone to direct them to the sights and best places? Jayla doesn't think so, they don't want to see the tourist sights, they're doing fine as they are. Do they want any errands run? Their ship washed? Er, no. Well, what sorts of things do they want to see? Just normal people. Including the ones who don't want to talk to Tourists? Actually, yes. Maybe it's worth hiring him after all. He asks for 5 asters; Jayla counter-offers three. Done, he says. Hmm. Well, he's certainly up to something, but it's not clear what. He introduces himself as Jotha Prince. Jayla introduces herself, Janzur is silent.
Well, where do they want to head? Someplace that regular people eat. He knows a good noodle bar, but they're not really going to fit in well, they're dressed like Tourists. He takes them into a local store to have them buy two brown coats much like his. The shopkeeper is a bit taken aback, and is a little suspicious of Jotha, but their money is good. Then it's off to the noodle bar; Jayla has to try to convince Janzur to slouch a bit more. It's a big room with a lot of communal tables, and a few booths. There's a counter where you can get noodles with broth for very cheap; there's only the one flavor, but there's a counter full of things like hot sauce and fish sauce to add. Noodles are purchased, and conversations eavesdropped on. They sound like normal people - some of them are complaining about work, some of them are discussing the upcoming Wild Games. Off in one corner, an argument starts to break out - one guy saw the other guy "with her" the other night. No she wasn't! Yes she was! People clear away from their table as it erupts in fisticuffs.
Jayla and Janzur watch; Jotha mostly watches Jayla, looking like he's trying to figure something out. The fight ends with a broken nose and a lot of bruises; the one guy flees and the other one stomps out, vowing that this isn't over. Noodles get finished up. Where to now? Well, where do people who live here go? A bar, Jotha ventures? All right, to a bar, then. Jotha wants to know what sort - the hard drinking kind or the meeting people kind? The latter. He takes them to a singles bar.
There's more talking to people, but it does become slightly evident that they're Tourists rather than locals at some point; this causes people to shy away, some more nervously than others. Jayla asks one of the less nervous looking people why this is - he explains that there's usually only one reason that Tourists come slumming, and that's because they've read the pamplets and take it to mean that they can beat up Garrisalds on down. It's not quite as simple as that, and people can always defend themselves, but you have to be careful, and it's not always easy to prove that you threw the first punch. Jayla is aghast, of course that's not why she's here. Of course, the guy agrees, eying Janzur.
A cop wanders in, asks everyone if they're enjoying themselves. Everyone says yes. He has a drink at the bar without paying, and wanders off again. Jayla wonders if anyone ever says "no." Well, sure, you can, and then they want to know why and so on. Most people don't want to spend a lot of time answering questions for a cop.
It starts getting pretty late, and Jotha thinks it might be worth getting them back to their hotel. It's not completely safe once it's very late. But didn't they just find out that nobody mugs Tourists, it's the other way around? Well, they're not dressed like Tourists. And it's a crime to attack a Tourist, but there are criminals. They take off their brown coats to look more like Tourists, and the one street gang they see lurking ominously in an alley leaves them be.
When they return to the hotel, there's a message:
"Need your assistance on matter of gravest urgency. Meet tomorrow, noon, the Green Canary."Jotha agrees to meet them back at the hotel at 0800.
The Green Canary is in one of the Hightown touristy areas, so the morning is devoted to wandering the tourist areas. "Flaming Breakfasts" are had, and Jothra shows them a high-tech karaoke palace; if you turn the tweak high enough, it'll compensate for all manner of failure to stick to the beat or the tune. There's different little stages, a lounge with a piano (the woman there is quite good), a symphony hall (the man there seems to have a little less to do with the actual music you can hear). Jotha is encouraged to demonstrate; he uses medium tweak and does a passable job of a little cabaret soft-shuffle song. He tries to convince Jayla to try - luckily, she doesn't know any of the songs. Janzur is decidedly not trying.
A few more tourist spots later, it's time for lunch. They arrive at the Green Canary a bit early; there are a number of booths with privacy fields. Janzur and Jayla take a booth, and agree to meet Jotha back at the hotel. The waitress brings drinks, and asks if the gentleman over there could join them. Yes, he can. An older man who sounds a bit like Peter Lorre joins them. He introduces himself as "Walker." He is given to understand that they may be sympathetic to the cause of change on the Well, and he is also given to understand that they may be able to get people out of the system without the normal method of passing through the jump gates. There is someone who is very important to the cause, for whom this needs to be done. A little more background is requested.
The man in question, Victor (known to the rebellion as "Keyman"), was a majordomo to Citizen Madrakand, and used his position to further the cause of change, assisting others to escape or alter their circumstances. However, he was found out, and his caste was downgraded. More problematically, for his work, he had a computer implant, and the Citizen has a code which will overload the implant. There is a ship stationed by each of the two jump gates, which broadcasts this code, and soon enough if he is still on the well, the Citizen will also find him. No surgeon on the Well will touch a Citizen's implant. However, if he can have it removed elsewhere, he can return, and it is important for the cause that that be done. (I think it didn't actually come out in the conversation, but Walker is a pilot who normally deals with transport out-system for the Underground; he can't in this case because of the ships at the jumpgates.) It seems clear that Walker has been told (by "Mother") that they can do the getting-someone-out part, but that he hasn't been told how.
Jayla tries to find out why Walker in particular supports the rebellion; he lists several reasons as reasons why people should, but upon pressing, says that his own reasons are personal. The Rebellion itself is strictly non-violent, and Walker might not hold to this as personal philosophy, but it's mandated from on high. Jayla is a little dubious about this, and doesn't admit any actual sympathy for the cause, but does have sympathy for a man with explosives in his head. However, before agreeing to anything, they want to meet Victor. Walker will arrange this. The meeting breaks up.
Janzur and Jayla try and figure out what to do with Jotha. How much trouble will he get in for just having been associated with them at all, once they've gone? On the other hand, he might well be helpful for future dealings with the Underground. Jayla tries to consider him as a very small Hegemony, and consider the best thing for him; all she can really figure out is that both dumping him and keeping him have good potential and bad potential, it really depends on how things go.
They decide to tell him more about what's going on, and go back to talk to him.
<dramatically>He seems a little out of his depth for a bit as the storyline shifts under his feet. The explanation of why he hooked up with them comes out; he lost his temper at his boss, and was fired, so he has no upcaste protection. He doesn't expect that the boss will hold a grudge for very long, but until that all settles out, he was hoping to be employed by a Tourist. They have to impress on him that this is Really Dangerous, but he ends up recruited anyway.
"This is Elite Janzur Therive, and I am Hegemon Jayla, of the Hippocrates."
"Oh. Um, what do you mean by 'Hegemon'?"
This is good, because he's the only one who knows where Richards Cafeteria is, where the meeting with Victor is set up for dinner. This is a crowded noisy cafeteria in the low-rent district ("poor man's privacy screens"). Janzur, Jayla, and Jotha get trays and sit down, a short time after which a tall man joins them. They interrogate him a bit, and he talks extraordinarily passionately about the cause of the Rebellion, and non-violent methods. He is deemed worth saving, and they arrange to meet with him two days hence, inside the starport (he can manage sneaking past customs to the ship, with some advance warning).
Jotha, who had previously been orbiting Jayla, has gotten all starry-eyed over Victor. "You didn't tell me you were working with the Rebellion!". He'll leave the planet too - there's room to stuff two people in the back of the Elite shuttle, if they don't mind being friendly. Immigration papers are arranged for Jotha; apparently the fees are higher the lower class you are, yet more evidence of the Well's perfidy. Jayla pays half of the 350 aster fee.
When they return, there's yet another note; Janzur Therive and guest are invited to lunch the next day with Citizen Trask. A limo arrives to pick them up, and they are driven out away from the city, up to a great estate. They are shown in, and into an elevator which travels down some amount, to open in a luxurious indoor garden. An impeccably dressed man, Citzen Trask, welcomes them, and offers them some hors d'oeuvres (even better than the Tinoori's cooking!) After some small talk about how they are enjoying their visit, he brings up the reason he called them here today.
He has a colleage who took some interest in an institution called the Grey House. Because of this, some interesting footage has fallen into his hands. He taps some keys on the table, and a holodisplay pops up - it shows Janzur zooshing the plasma brand about, chopping tables and guards and whatnot. Is that a plasma brand? Yes, he knew it. How did Janzur come to have it? It was given to him by Vissarion Nomarche. Indeed? How did he come to be here, then? And do tell about Vissarion - what did he like?
The normally taciturn Janzur is for once voluble, as he begins to expound with all his heart upon the topic of Vissarion. However, it soon becomes clear that Janzur's focus and Trask's focus are a little different; Janzur is talking about vision and honor and stability and justice, and Trask wants to hear about what he wore and what sort of marble the palace had, and such.
Eventually, Trask comes to terms: "I must have it. How much do you ask for it? Thirty thousand asters? (Jayla looks insulted). Fifty thousand? A ship? An island? What does he want?" Janzur says it's not for sale.
Hmm. Well, come this way, Trask says, let him show them his collection. One level up in the elevator, there is a vast hall, containing pedestals and wall mounts and such. There is a complicated and dangerous looking gun, a suit of armor, various objets d'art, all sorts of things varying from arcane to technical, and all very valuable looking and well preserved. They reach an empty alcove, more like a shrine, with a pedestal. Trask gestures to the pedestal - imagine the plasma brand, here, with a picture of Vissarion Nomarche, a picture of Janzur, preserved forever, revered. No, it is still not for sale.
The Citizen gestures to the plasma brand, and the niche. May he, just to demonstrate? Under no circumstance, Janzur glowers.
"You understand, this is a thing I desire..."Well, if he does not wish money, look at these other things! Choose! Any of them will be Janzur's in exchange. There are no other plasma brands in the collection, nor magic doorbells, so Janzur again declines. Jayla suggests that perhaps they could find him another one? Citizen Trask sadly says that if there were another one available, he would surely have tracked it down. The King of Highguard, alas, does not return his letters.
"That has been made clear to me."
Back to the garden, where Trask bids them goodbye. They look briefly for stairs, but none are to be seen. So it is into the elevator, watching nervously for gas nozzles or fleets of guards. However, the elevator just heads up again, but stops in a different place. The top folds up, and then the walls fold into the ground, leaving them in the center of the Maze of Death. From speakers overhead, Citizen Trask says "If you will not sell it, then, I offer you a wager. If you can escape, you may keep it."
A quick stroll through the Maze of Death ensues; when they stop for too long, such as to try to cut through a wall, they are set upon by a huge white ball which tries to engulf them. (Janzur manages to cut it up before being swallowed; it dissolves and Jayla takes a sample of goo). Along the way, Jayla has a rib cracked by a catapult; a gas cloud makes everyone a little stupider, a hapless guy with a sword falls quickly to Janzur, and a room full of fire singes them several times. One of the last encounters is a fountain with a gargoyle sitting on it. Janzur tries to edge the pair of them past, but Jayla begins to see how the maze works - "it's a game to him" - and goes and drinks, before Janzur can leap in the way. The gargoyle claws her, and blood flies everywhere, but she quickly demonstrates that she is not actually injured, it's just ink. Janzur also drinks, taking a "bloody" slash across the face, but both of them find the fountain pleasantly healing. One last pass through the fire later (and with most of the maze left unexplored), they have found the exit.
("This card is hiding under the others. It must be good." -Eon, drawing the exit card from the middle of the deck.)
At the exit is the butler - will they be needing a ride back to town? Yes, they will, and a change of clothes, please. The butler fetches new clothes for both of them, which are similar in cut and color to what they had before, but much finer.
"How was it?" - JothaThe next day is set aside for visiting Joyous Gard (as part of operation "Learn About The Well."). Entering the dome, they come from darkness into sensory overload. It looks like about five Las Vegases next to each other, with Disneylands in between, far too much to take in. They take a balloon ride across the dome - off in one direction is the Wild Games stadium, in another, there's a group of people with strap-on wings, flying; there's the Grand Casino in the center, the adult entertainment area over that way, a huge garden with riotous masses of flowers down there, and so on. Janzur also sees, engraved on the underside of one of the great-circle girders, a serial number and construction mark for Skyguard Construction Batallion number two.
"It went fairly well, I think. His Death Maze wasn't so bad." - Jayla
Janzur gets very quiet for a while, but this isn't really different than normal Janzur behavior, so Jayla doesn't notice until she realizes that he's not really paying attention to where she is or nearby threatening-looking things any longer, which is more unusual. Once the balloon lands, Jayla asks various friendly staff about when Joyous Gard was built; nobody knows the exact answer, but one finally directs her to an information terminal. She can't figure out how to turn off the initial animation with the mist special effects, but does finally find a bit about the history of it; it doesn't say when, but that it was built by the legendary Nomarches.
Off to the flying pavilion. It's ten credits each for a forty-five minute lesson and then an hour of flying, with supervised lifeguards. During the course, Janzur starts to recall that he took a class in something like this at the Academy. Then, it's off into the sky (well, the dome). Jayla makes careful circles, while Janzur is a swoopy Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
That's enough excitement for the day, so it's through the Grand Casino to the exit, and back to the hotel again.
The next day, the time that Victor is supposed to show up comes and goes. A little bit later, Walker comes running up - a bounty hunter has grabbed Victor. Walker has a car, come on, they can catch up before he gets to the Citzen's estate. Jothra gets given Jayla's blaster. Walker drives like a madman, and they manage to set an ambush for the bounty hunter's APC.
Combat ensues; Janzur quickly cuts the rocket launcher off of the roof of the APC before it can fire. Then people exchange blaster fire with the driver and two soldiers from the back. Unfortunately, Janzur deflects a blaster shot into Walker, who falls. The three soldiers have been dispatched when the armored bounty hunter appears from the back of the APC, holding Victor by the throat. Janzur disarms him of Victor, and faces his blaster and shoulder-mounted autogun. Eventually, he's wounded Janzur badly and Janzur has wounded him even more badly. He flees to the back of the APC again, only to meet Jotha (with Jayla's blaster), who has finally worked up his courage. Jotha shoots him and he falls.
The APC and all the bodies are blown up with the explosives found in the back, and the group drives back to the starport.
"I'm not worth three lives."Walker has been first-aided enough to not be dying, but he's still unconscious. Victor inquires whether they're going to be leaving immediately? Yes, they're about to go. He concentrates for a moment, and then says he's called Mother to pick up Walker. They'll have the signal from his implant and know he sent some sort of message, so Madrakand's men will be here looking for him in about an hour. Okay, now it's really time to go.
"Your task now is to endeavor to be."
Off they go, through the closed jump gate. Jayla talks some to Victor about political theory and the Well and such - he thinks it's good that she tried to see things outside the tourist areas, but she still didn't get outside the city. Most of the planet is just Drudges, on Citizen-owned land. Things do need to change. Jayla ponders that his non-violent way had better get the job done soon, or as soon as she has enough power to do it, she's coming back with the flame and the sword.