Hedion 05

Admiral Duck Sauce 2011-02-09 06:17:06
Zero hour

The rectenna array is certainly impressive. Even without the false Arena trappings and superstructure, the multiple dishes and antennae sprout from the colossus’ main regulators like Chris Moore or Peter Elson’s artwork started tripping balls. It shadows nearly the entire footprint of the old Array 11 village, a testament to quick work (Shoddily thrown together as fast as possible by corrupt construction crews working under the threat of annihilation) and quality components (Barely-functioning knock-offs with tolerances nowhere near what was needed, installed in place of the proper components thanks to Segal Iyuzo’s clandestine control over Akis’ imports business) procured for good prices (Smuggled parts, paid for in roundabout promises or supplied pro bono through government intimidation).

You’re amazed it doesn’t collapse under the weight of its own hype.

Hugh and Angel are on their way back with the off-grid self-powered utility skimmer they stashed during the initial recon mission when Luis spots the telltale signs of a surface-to-orbit Cortex connection. Keji’s AI isn’t bothering to probe for a vulnerable mariposa first; it simply rockets skyward, a nearly-invisible shimmering avian made out of swords. Luis grabs Davis’ Cortex presence and gives chase. The swordhawk cleaves neatly through Imperial orbital firewalls, slipping between the falling obsidian structures even as it rebuilds them from the other side. It’s so fast. Luis barely makes it through the AI’s entry before the mariposa network’s countermeasures regenerate, but they DO make it in.


On the mariposa itself, red warning glyphs scatter lounging techs to their stations. No use! They’re locked out, their own overrides used against them almost before they could think to use them themselves. The techs watch with horror as a global systems update queues up for transmission...


Planting the code is simple work. Luis and Davis edge closer as the AI, now disguised as a mariposa update-crab, opens portals to nowhere and everywhere with its myriad limbs.

It’s not Luis’ code, though. The AI must have discovered Luis’ true purpose during countless simulations and reverted the payload to its own version. Luis checks his virtual satchel in a brief flash of paranoia, but his code is still there, an oversized syringe full of green virus-code.

“Zakest Nasa, come to guarantee your treachery goes unmolested,” the pseudo-crab says in a voice that is remote and cold yet eerily familiar. “And Arakuna, not as gone as we believed.” It stops its code injection and retracts its vulnerable subroutines in an instant. Gone is the crab, replaced by a small-statured old noble rendered in shades of crimson.

“Your code changes resulted in a resonance cascade and subsequent catastrophic power failure in 95% of my simulations,” the ‘man’ says quietly. “Inquiries would be made, scapegoats would be found, and in the end, your wanton sabotage would destroy my family - would destroy me,” the AI accuses. “Whereas my unmodified injection operated within projected safety parameters in 100% of my simulations. My family will be elevated and my sons’ feud will end at last now that Keji can benefit from the advantages of total control of a planet’s power grid.”
Admiral Duck Sauce 2011-02-09 21:34:25
Action is our heroes' only reply. The AI is quick - indeed, it forms its flattened palm into a glowering red blade even as Davis leaps at it. The Iyuzo patriarch's robot ghost impales Davis' construct and rakes his defense subroutines from his grasp, but all too late Iyuzo sees his error.

Luis is fast too, and Davis was just a distraction. Luis plunges the green syringe of sabotaged code into the exposed mariposa systems and merges it.

"No!" shouts Iyuzo. "NO!" Davis kicks him in the face while he rants and frees himself from the blade. Bytespray splashes the folder trees that sway gently around the wounded programs.

Luis turns to start in on Iyuzo as well. It doesn't take long. When the Iyuzotron's pieces stop twitching, Luis reaches for a handful of gritty bits and autopsies a backtrace down to a remote storage unit owned by a series of dummy industriums owned in turn by Keji Iyuzo.


Davis and Luis snap back from their Cortex immersion as the first of many power surges blank out their connections. The mariposa hack is working. Cheers go up from the construction techs around the monstrous rectenna as it performs a flawless intake of its normal daily power.

You send the signal to evacuate while there's still broadcast power for the lower-end voxes. One by one, the orbital mariposa satellites all redirect their energy output at Array 11. At this point, you're leaving the mesa in the utility skimmer with the Quises, flying across Hedion scrub at breakneck speed.

You didn't think the array was going to flash blue-white lightning arcs across the sky and incinerate two of the hovering Kansat skimmers, but then not even Davis knew Segal had swapped out substandard parts in addition to contracting Arketta to sabotage the machinery. What were they filled with, gasoli-

Wow. That's a bright flash. The rectenna sags where its conduits blew out superstructure, and without it centered on the incoming microwave beams, the combined energy of almost a third of Hedion's mariposas destroys the construction yard in relentless fashion. Up ahead of you, Akis goes dark.
Gatac 2011-02-09 22:43:49
"Big fucking explosion, check, planetary blackout, check," Hugh mumbles to himself. "Kinda wish I could see Segal's face right now."
punkey 2011-02-09 22:49:16
Davis is already on his vox, coordinating with Maq on their escape plans and what he and Gorlan need to do next. He takes a moment to look at the burning superstructure as it buckles and begins to slide off the top of the mesa under it's own weight and smiles. "I'm pretty sure that's enough of an opening and boost for our agents, huh?" he asks.
skullandscythe 2011-02-09 23:29:16
Zaef takes a moment to peek at the rearview just in time to see what used to be the rectenna slough off the mesa.

"Of course." He mutters. "It's just not a proper getaway without something blowing up."
Admiral Duck Sauce 2011-02-10 22:00:55
In the Skimmer

Luis' eyes adjust for the light levels as the rectenna goes up, but by the time they compensate, it's already over. The damage is...worse then predicted. He grimaces slightly, and tries not to think about the fate of anyone still in the camp when the rectenna failed. He turns away from the window as Davis and Zaef banter, looking towards Ody and Arlana, sitting across from Arketta and himself. The two of them are sitting on their packed bags filled with the important parts of their previous life, holding hands and watching the burning rectenna slide off the mesa, while Arketta does the same, holding Luis' hand. In the dim light of the skimmer's interior and the burning rectenna, she looks almost identical to her mother.

"Thank the First it's going the other way," Ody says. "Is everyone -"
"Already on their way to Akis," Arlana finishes. She shifts a bit closer to her husband.

Luis clasps Arketta's hand tighter for a moment, then tries a smile. "Ready to go home?" he asks.

"Yes," both Quis women answer in unison. Arketta smiles and returns the squeeze. "I think you'll both love Diego Garcia, mother and father. The oceans on Narsai are beautiful."
"You'll both have to show us around," Ody says. "Where is this...Dee-eggo Gar-cia?"
"It's an island in one of our oceans, we're using it as our main Gateport for the moment," Luis says, "I like it, but the weather's a bit of a change for someone who grew up with New England winters. I even start missing the snow and slush after a while."

Ody and Arlana both nod and listen to Luis, but he can tell they're not quite following him. "New Eng-land? Is that where you grew up? What is it like?" Ody asks.
"It's a very pretty place," Arketta says before Luis can respond. "Lots of trees."
"There will be plenty of time to question Luis about Narsai on the ship to the orbital," Arlana says to Ody, then looks back at Luis. "Thank you, Luis. For taking care of Arketta, for taking us from Hedion, for all of this. I wish it could have been easier, but sometimes there is no other way." The hard look in her eyes in that last sentence reminds Luis of the Samal Arlana Quis used to be.

Luis nods, "Yeah. I would have done anything to do this for Arketta. This whole mission was for her."
Fortunately, this is exactly the kind of situation where schmaltzy comments like that feel appropriate, and almost no one in the skimmer rolls their eyes. For their part, Arlana and Ody smile and lean against each other, while Arketta leans closer, putting her cheek against the helm attached to his head, and whispers something about finding a quiet location during the half-hour or so they have at Maq's before they board their ship outsystem.


A Quiet Location

Arketta walks around the tiny sleeping cabinet (calling the space a "bedroom" seems too generous), kicking the loose articles of clothing around on the floor while Luis watches from the bed. Stopping for a moment, she turns to Luis and puts her hands on her hips. "Have you seen my underwear?"

Luis grins, "Well, yes, I have, but I'm not sure where they are at this moment." He looks around, then points, "Is that them?"
"Ah!" Arketta grabs the underwear off the small shelf unit built into the wall of the hab and slides them back on her legs, then sits back down on the bed. She rubs a hand on Luis' shoulder. "We did it, Luis."

Luis smiles, and kisses Arketta's forehead lightly. "Yes, we did." A relaxed silence hangs for a moment, then he speaks up again, "If this all ends, what do you want to do next? Always wanted to be an astronaut when I was a kid. Ate up the stories where the intrepid hero sets out to the stars to find adventure and beautiful women, but I guess I've kind of done that."
Arketta frowns slightly and wrinkles her brow. "What do you mean, if this ends?"

Luis shrugs, "I don't know. I just was trying to think of a future after this war is over, and realizing I don't have a clue. I joined the Army for lack of anything better to do, and now look."
Arketta smiles again. "Luis, you've been talking about this since...since we had that meat dish with ketchup at your parents' house." She lays down next to him on her side, eyes level with his. "Maybe instead of you asking me about what you want to..." She takes his hand. "Luis, what do you want to do next? I know what I want for me, for us. Tell me what you want."

Luis thinks it over for another moment, "I want you in my life. I want you happy. I'd like to do something constructive after all this destruction. Build something, research something, discover something, found something, I don't know. Beyond that...I don't know. I've been just taking whatever came I think I've forgotten how to plan this sort of thing."
"A life of adventure, doing good deeds and discovering new things with you sounds pretty good to me," Arketta says. "The rest, we'll figure out when we get there." She kisses him again.

"Mmm...put it that way, and I think I can live with that," Luis says, and pulls Arketta close again.

When the team finally reaches the underhive, Zaef pins Mac down in between his status reports and constant fiddling over an archaic stickyboard covered in notes. The data pirate smiles to see his old acquaintance and hands him a quickly-thawing bottle of something from a cooler that actually did run on broadcast.

"We're drinkin' 'em while they're cold, both to celebrate and so they don't go to waste," Mac tells Zaef.

"We wouldn't want that, would we?" Zaef grins as he takes the bottle. He pops it open and raises it up for a toast.

"Here's hoping we did the best for this rock today."

"Heh," the grizzled fixer agrees. "Coulda done worse, that's for sure."

"Yeah," Zaef chuckles. "Coulda blown up another Kansat skimmer like the last time I was here."

"I don't know what you're talking about," Mac says wryly. "I have never nor ever intend to engage in violent action against Imperial authorities." He can't stop the dry laugh that escapes his comment.

Zaef just grins and takes another swig.
He puts the bottle down and looks at Maq, noticing, not for the first time, the wrinkles on his face and the gray in his hair.

"Good. You're too old to be running around acting like an idiot." He chuckles a little too loudly. "Like I'm one to talk."

"Have kids," the man replies. "Make them run around for you. I've been down here the entire time. Still plan to stay down here. But upstairs, it's goddamn party time. My people are all over it."

Zaef's smile dies a little. "Maybe I will, someday. Maybe."

He starts twisting the bottle around in his hand. "Mac, I've heard stories and tall tales before. I'm sure you've heard even more. But..." Zaef frowns and spits. "Fuck, I'm no good at this. I understand if you don't want to talk about it-I've learned that sometimes it's best to bury the past and move on. But I gotta know. Are you really Narsai?"

Mac sighs in initial annoyance, then realizes Zaef's not just one of his runners asking him the same thing over and over and catches himself. "Yep," Mac replies. "'Course, I suspect it looks a bit different now compared to when I was there last. Flying cars and whatnot?"

Zaef shakes his head slowly. "None that I've seen." He turns the bottle over in his hand again, then looks back up at Maq. "Still looks better than this shithole. You think you'll..." Zaef has to force himself to swallow, his throat's gone dry,"ever go back?"

"Nope," he says quickly. "Probably more alien now than Bashakra was when I got dumped there. And besides... I can help Earth from here."

Zaef shakes his head again and takes another swig. "Fuck, you _are_ one of them. Always puttin' your homeworld before yourselves." He looks at Maq with a half-grin. "I wonder if I'll ever understand you guys."

"Well, what have you done since you got here?" Mac asks. "Been running around, cavorting with gangsters, all the while thinking only of your own personal gain, I suspect?" he jokes. "You forget how much I see. No, you're doin' fine, Zaef. A little too fond of knives, but you're fine."

Zaef pulls the bottle away from his lips. "You really think so?"

"You're the right guy in the right place at the right time, which is a damn sight better than my father managed most of the time," is the response. "Speakin' of time, we'd better get you outta here before every dumbshit with a ship clogs up the Gateway."

"Hey, just cause I don't have a ship anymore doesn't mean you can keep calling me a dumbshit." Zaef downs the rest of the bottle and passes Maq a scrawled-out note with a vox channel on it. "You'll keep in touch, right?"

"As much as I can, now I know who you run with and vice versa," he says as he rises. The empty bottle goes out one of the thick inset windows to smash against what sounds like a pile of its fellows. "Good luck with your war, Zaef."

"Take care, Maq." Zaef frowns a little before shrugging and follows it up with "And, uh, good luck with the family, too."

Mac hesitates until Zaef is on his way then calls, "You too." He realizes his erroneous reciprocity and follows that with a "...oh, fuck it. BOY!" He shouts at Buck. "Beer me!"

"What t'hell is beer?" Buck calls back.
CrazyIvan 2011-02-11 07:08:24
Angel watches the pyrotechnics for longer than is strictly necessary, the sky burning a remarkably pleasant color.

Any larger a fire my dear, and poor Davis will have to start calling it 'Operation Death Star' or the like. And he's already far too pleased with himself as it is. There would be no living with him. I hope this will do for now.

He turns, his face set in something not quite a frown. "Well, it's a start."
Admiral Duck Sauce 2011-02-11 19:38:07
And so the dominoes topple. What awaits you once you breach the gaping arcology entrances (for they lock open in the case of power failure) is pure bottled nightmare. Consider how much value the Imperium places on its ubiquitous surveillance. Now think back to all the places where the cameras were broken, vandalized, or simply not there anymore. The cameras are outward signs of the deep rot inside the arcology's bones. Consider how often secondary reactors and backup energy systems are given their due maintenance in a city that has never needed them in living memory, yet also produces such a steady output of entropy that a place like the Underhive even exists?

The arcology's failsafes, deprived of their massive supply of constant mariposa-juice, switch over to emergency power and countless backup generators fail to even start. A dutiful handful do start, then immediately overload and join their long-dead brethren. No, no, all the citizens for whom a power outage was something fleeting at worst, something to talk about the next day about how their lights dimmed for five whole minutes, these same citizens are plunged into darkness. There is no reassurance from their government, only eerie spotlights from self-powered Kansat skimmers and the ever-growing number of fires throughout the city.

While we're on the topic of skimmers, let's talk about parking. A vast majority of Akis' traffic runs off the arcology's broadcast power grid. Without that, every commuter and passenger inside a drone taxi or their own vehicle sees the "warning - must land NOW" glyphs flash on. Panic sets in as everyone gets that at once. Here's an interesting bit of trivia about Akis. By the time of the Hedion Mariposa Blackout, there were more skimmers in Akis than there was parking for them.

The team alternates navigating Luis by memory through the frantic, furballing airways and looking out for falling drone skimmers. People begin making their own parking pretty soon. Skimmers wind up in hab-top pools, glittering with broken glass inside panoramic luxury sunrooms, or ditched on crowded skywalks or in tubeway tunnels.

The Kansat sirens are everywhere. And when the Kansatai are trying to look everywhere, they end up seeing nothing. Looters and bandits, hive-gangs and disgruntled wage-cogs alike realize that this mayhem is their gold rush. And so begins a low rumble of street warfare. Terrified civilians lock themselves in their dark apartments with unpowered atmospheric feeds and think about who to blame for the ever-staler air and the terrible inconvenience of it all. Hundreds if not thousands of more intelligent people flock to medicae centers - no matter what, they have power from the precious Groi reactors. The other places with uninterrupted power become havens, and for every terrible story about murders in the dark there is a samaritan to counter it. Of course, many of those murders are assistants and secretaries to important Imperial figures, or in some cases it's the industrium heads and bureaucrats themselves who tragically lose their lives to the mayhem following the rectenna's destruction. Holes are punched in the Imperial Stewardship and the rebels plug them in less than an hour.

Raiding Keji Iyuzo’s storage for the AI server is ridiculously easy. Traces around the facility indicate whatever guards might have been there took off to join the looters or see to their families. The ones who chose looting started with the storage containers, of course, but the intricate and frankly indecipherable server is left intact on account of not looking like anything a peddler would want to resell. From there, well, you have a working vehicle and a truckload of armed men and women. The Underhive swallows the team, the great rotten Underhive where the only difference the power outage makes is in the noises from above.

Mac is pleased to meet the team and Gorlan is astounded that the city above is in such complete disarray. It’s a short visit, however - Mac soon busies himself orchestrating his runners’ influence on the chaotic arcology and Gorlan is anxious to be safely offworld as soon as possible. And so, with Gorlan and then Vortala’s help, you find yourself blasting past the mariposas in the damp and curving interior of a Cyllan freighter, heading for the Gateway and home.
Admiral Duck Sauce 2011-02-11 19:39:19

In the end, seven arcologies suffer severe or total power loss as a result of the Hedion Mariposa Blackout. The flagrant sabotage, outright violence, and highly suspicious events leading up to the incident are nothing compared to the public outcry once power is restored. Almost as if mention of its name was a portent, the Ethics Gradient does in fact appear in near orbit along with the Wandering Gallows. A team of Imperial investigators, fully-equipped with the latest advances in education matrices and not one but three Truthseekers, land in Akis and the remains of Array 11 to delve into the truth.

As it turns out, Abe Saloma’s decreased participation in the events leading up to the blackout were not entirely due to his doctored drug bowls and erratic behavior. Once his staff learned of the blatant blackmail perpetrated upon him during his impaired state, they took it upon themselves, out of self-preservation if nothing else, to detox their Steward. Abe was quite far along on his way to recovery when the investigators took him, which made it all the more tragic that Saloma was fully aware during his interrogation. It was perhaps the drugs that saved him, however, for they blurred his memories and made his true intentions hard to discern. The investigation concluded that Saloma was a dupe of multiple, more malicious conspirators, and so was transferred to the rank of Imperial Steward of Whiirr, a world that, while currently unreachable by Gateway, was most certainly reachable in a human lifetime at near-lightspeed once time dilation was taken into account.

Quon Quorona was already the second-most well-known conspirator even before the investigators discovered that Quon and Tealni orchestrated and contracted out a heinous Cortex attack on Hedion’s mariposas. Faxom-Io already inundated Akis with marketing pieces proclaiming Quon’s subindustriums would be “introducing this revelation in energy” and so on. Quon didn’t go easy, though. He ran, and then he fought, and then he died, much to the chagrin of his wife, Tealni. Under Truthseeker interrogation, however, the widow Quorona’s insistence that the hack was only meant to steal energy, not destroy the infrastructure, led investigators to Keji Iyuzo. Unfortunately for Tealni, the Truthseekers’ ministrations irrevocably damaged her mind. Happily, the Imperial agents were able to recover her cybernetic equipment before disposing of the now-useless container.

Despite his father’s AI/ghost/upload/digital personality having been destroyed and the incriminating hardware removed, Keji’s thoughts betrayed him to the Cyllans. Keji Iyuzo was spot-executed in his foyer for computational heresy and his estate was claimed by the state.

Segal, however, dodged the formal investigation by virtue of having turned his aim to base sabotage early on in the events leading up to the Blackout. He provided no actual funding, and although it was true he was indeed approached by agents of the mysterious and very, very, very wanted man Haralin Arakuna, he played no part in the array’s ownership. For a brief, shining moment, Segal Iyuzo was victorious, Champion of his own political Arena of sorts. The glory lasted for two entire days before the teams tearing apart dead Keji’s holdings linked the Iyuzo family to the various shipping cartels on Akis. From there, it wasn’t hard to determine that Segal had the rectenna sabotaged with shoddy components. Segal ran, but was unable to kill himself before agents captured him with help arising from plea-deals with Segal’s two henchmen. Segal had much to offer under interrogation, and a great culling of corrupt Kansatai, lesser nobles, and port authorities followed with great rapidity. He was honored to finally battle in the Arena against Tor and Mohawk (part of their plea-deal was a trial by combat against their former employer), but to everyone’s great surprise, Segal won his bout, killing both men with elegance and skill.

He died the following round. Xaero Beaknoi, the Meatripper, stove in Segal’s skull with a common rock, much to the delight of the live audience.

The last Iyuzo, Kohan, well, nobody knows what happened to him. The killings of agent Perus, Kos the Truthseeker, and the other Throne agents were attributed to him, and remain so in case he should appear healthy and whole one day.

Now, to happier matters. Gorlan Kesh returned to Akis to find his family holdings in shambles but a vast advancement opportunity for him at Faxom-Io. In the shuffling around following Quon’s death, Gorlan moves several ranks up the corporate ladder and clears his name of besmirchment. He uses his late brother’s stored caches of blackmail to subtly influence Akis nobility to consider matters more friendly to liberty and justice, but soon finds those crutches unnecessary due to the common people's appreciation and approval.

Benair Fahlan, the new Steward of Akis, is a hard-nosed man of few if any vices and a vast family fortune. Thus girded, he proves nigh-unassailable by blackmail, bribe, or banter. He is of course ably assisted by a wide array of planted staff members with rebel sympathies. The Steward knows nothing of his agents’ loyalties, which sees him through many periodic official evaluations, evaluations which are becoming more and more common with incidents like the Blackout.

You know of course Benair’s counterpart, the Homeworlder known as Mac. His shadow network of spies and couriers is complemented by a new ally - a Sheen server enclosure. The machines continually scrape the planetary Cortex looking for advantages against the Imperium.

As for the Imperium as a whole, the Hedion Blackout proves to be the last straw for People’s Emperor Sun Shenmai. Boranai was Kao’s fault of course, but Whiirr? Whiirr was a devastating blow to the status quo, and more importantly, it was a wake-up call to the Whiirr spread thin throughout the Imperium. Nowhere was this call heard louder than in the barracks and training halls of the Alef-ka, the Jade Caretakers. Their homeworld was free, and they suddenly had something to yearn for, a singular wish that the Imperium could not grant them. They were finally able to be bribed.

Their ally came in the form of a popular hardliner named Thrax, who elevated himself to Speaker of the People in a short time during Shenmai’s reign. The ambitious Speaker had his eyes on the Throne but lacked both the support for his own position and enough villification towards Shenmai to act. The Blackout was a godsend for Thrax. Regardless of whether it was caused by corruption in the government, terrorist conspiracies, or combinations of both (and all manner of theories more fantastical than the last are put forth as to who or what Haralin Arakuna was), Hedion killed everyone’s confidence in the Emperor. The late Emperor Kao may have bungled the greatest opportunity to restore peace and completeness to a long-lost portion of the Imperium, but even his colossal blunders did not affect people’s daily lives like the Blackout or the loss of Whiirr did.

Thrax made his move hardly a week after the events on Hedion. He gathered Shenmai’s enemies and dedicated himself to destroying the rebellion that had cost the Imperium so much. He gathered his supporters and promised them advantage and position within his administration. He even swore to the Caretakers that they would be free to make their way home any way they pleased if they would assist him.

Emperor Sun Shenmai’s lifeblood stained the floor of the Court of Heavenly Purity and the usurper, the self-made Emperor Thrax, took up the Throne. He did indeed free the Jade Caretakers - and nearly immediately instituted an ever-growing number of stringent protocols that strangle the Imperium’s meager freedoms even now. The measures put in place are temporary, of course. Once the rebellion is put down and order restored, the restrictions will be lifted and Imperial citizens will enjoy a golden age of harmony after the long and bitter night.

Needless to say, the rebels’ recruitment has never been better.

Finally, with support from Ody and Arlana Quis, the GHRDI obtains permission to build a protected reservation for Imperial expatriates who wish to relocate to Earth. The military lobbies against the proposal, but too many forward-thinking multinational corporations are willing to front both land and money to the endeavor, and the Quises are the first to break ground on the project. The groundbreaking ceremony is also the last recorded sighting of the Groi avatar, Chauncey. Whatever intelligence controlled it (or him, as most of you tend to think) disengages from the Ansible inside the machine’s torso as it takes the podium at the ceremony. Its last words were strangely approving:

"After careful and extensive consideration, I do not believe you need our help after all."
punkey 2011-02-18 22:34:13
Back on Hedion, +0.48 minutes after blackout

When Vortala told you that he could get you out of the system in a Cyllan freighter, none of you stopped to consider the logistics of the situation. After waiting a prudent amount of time for the mad dash of skimmers landing on any available flat surface, the team plus Gorlan reassembled on the edges of Maq's compound, where a heavy lifter drone carrying a rust-stained double-decker cargo container was waiting. Luis and Arketta finished reassembling their gear after a conspicuously rushed exit from the hab blocks nearby, Gorlan shook Maq's hand and wished him luck and the old rebel wished him the same, and the rest of the team simply looked pleased to be able to be themselves again instead of someone else.

It was the explained to the confused group that the cargo container was their transport off of Hedion. Cyllan ships, being filled with water, are both necessarily smaller on the inside than human vessels to allow for the increased mass of their living environment, and incapable of carrying humans as passengers. The container was, in fact, designed for carrying human passengers, but was now covered with the necessary disguise to make it past the harried Imperial gateway control.

Once inside, it turned out that the container was actually clean and well-lit, if cramped. The first level was nothing but crash couches, enough for everyone on board and where they would presumably sleep as well, and a small lavatory closet; the second level was essentially a common area for the team to pass the time on the trip, stocked with a small autochef and a tank of water. It was at least more comfortable and less noisy than the C-130 out of Diego Garcia, although Gorlan was obviously less enthusiastic.

One half-hour bumpy ride to orbit later (including a rocky docking procedure in low Hedion orbit), you were informed that due to the massive panic and general disarray caused by some air-sucking asshole (there was a distinct pause at that point as the translator gear struggled to parse the Cyllan captain's cursing) shutting down the power to a half-dozen arcologies, it would take an estimated twelve hours to reach the orbital Gate, and then another eighteen to transit to dock with Atea, by way of a few backwater systems for security. At that, it was realized just how tired everyone was.


A day of cramped quarters, card games and year-old holovids later, the Cyllan freighter slowly slides up against the side of Atea, the docking umbillicus harness clanging into place against the airlock. Computer handshakes and air pressures are exchanged, and with the array of check-out lights all flicked from red to green, the airlock doors slide open. As you all walk through the umbilicus, Davis' robotic luggage train seems all the more comical now that he's wearing his Turai armor instead of the ridiculous array of holographic planets he left with.

On the other side, a small array of rebel leaders stands waiting. Onas, Bello, a few other officers that a few of you recognize stand with Brinai, the eldest rebel looking much better than she did when you left her. The officers give the team a round of applause, catching the attention of some of the other dock workers nearby. "The news of your success has spread quickly," Brinai says. "Seven arcologies lost all but emergency power."
"And thanks to your advance warning, we have been able to completely penetrate and in most cases take over their Steward's offices," Bello adds, the tall man looking about as pleased as he was skeptical when the plan was first proposed.
"With time and preparation, Hedion will be as inhospitable to Imperial control as Whiirr or Narsai," Brinai says. In fact, the old woman is beaming, standing up straight and tall. "You have all done very well."
Gatac 2011-02-19 10:36:08
"The party was a blast, it's sneaking back into the house that's gonna suck," Hugh quips. "Any word from Earth? Somehow I doubt that they're celebrating the successful liberation of Hedion."
e of pi 2011-02-21 03:20:17
Luis grins at Hugh, "What? You mean they aren't already planing our ticker-tape parade?" He turns more serious as his attention returns to Brinai, "How recently have they been informed?"
punkey 2011-02-21 04:51:36
Brinai shrugs. "I suppose they found out at the same time we did, when it hit the Cortex. I was informed by your GRHDI that your unpleasant Agent Simmons would be gating in in a few hours and that he requested an audience with each of you, individually."

"Perfect," Davis says. "Well, before we're forced to go through that, Brinai, let me introduce you to Gorlan Kesh, new head of the Kesh family."
Brinai bows in greeting. "The same as Reno Kesh?"
"The same family line, but not the same mentality," Gorlan says. He doesn't know what to do with Brinai's Bashakran greeting, so he simply extends his hand. "A pleasure, Brinai. I hope that our partnership makes up for the last few days."
Brinai shakes his hand. "I'm sure you do. I heard about your sister, my condolences."
Gorlan stiffens up for a moment. "Thank you."
There's an awkward silence between the two of them that Brinai breaks. "Well, we have a good berth cleared for you for the next two days. Our private quarters might not be up to a noble's liking -" just a hint of anger comes through when she says "noble".
"It will do nicely, I'm sure." Gorlan half-forces a smile. "It certainly would be more comfortable than how I spent the last day."
"As soon as we're done here, I will show you to your quarters myself," Brinai says. Gorlan nods in reply.

Bello looks to the team. "What does this Simmons man want with you all?"
"Probably nothing good," Davis replies.
punkey 2011-02-21 23:57:38
"Simmons is a Grade-A asshole from the CIA, the people I used to work for," Davis replies. "Probably wants to ask about if you're loyal to Narsai or not, that's what he grilled Ngawai and me on last time."
punkey 2011-02-22 00:05:12
Davis smiles. "Oh, and you'll love Simmons."
"Oh, and speaking of your wife, she's waiting for you in your temporary quarters near your team's common area," Brinai says to Davis.

Davis bows in return and gives the rest of the team a big smile. "Well, be sure to let Simmons know where I'll be. You all have fun with him now!" Davis calls back to the team as he walks backwards down the corridor, then turns around and starts jogging.
skullandscythe 2011-02-22 02:34:38
Zaef received Simmons' vox almost as soon as the team left the docking bay. The Atea berth where Simmons is set up is nearby the Gateway, just a storage room with a lightstrip along the ceiling and a folding table with two chairs set up inside. Simmons sat facing the door, a laptop and stack of paper folders next to him.

Once Zaef appears in the doorway, Simmons stands up and gives him a smile, a close cousin of Davis' smile. The one he shows marks, not his friends. "Mr. Utari, please, take a seat."

He even smiles like Davis. It's like he wants to be punched in the face. "I'll stand."

"Have it your way," Simmons says, mangling the pronounciation of the Imperial phrase. He sits back down himself. "Sorry, did I get that right? My Imperial is still not as good as it could be."

Zaef just looks at Simmons with an eyebrow raised. "You called me here for a reason."

"Yes, well, the United States military and intelligence groups -" he slightly mangles that too, "- are very interested in how Task Force 815 is doing, how everyone in it is getting along, thoughts about the missions and so on." Simmons gives him that same smile again. "Think of this as just a routine check-up, making sure everything's working as it should. Please, take a seat, Mr. Utari. Or Zaef, if you prefer."

Zaef shrugs. "I'm fine. Perhaps you would like a translator, if you wish to speak in Imperial?" He says in stiff, accented English.

Simmons shakes his head. "No, if I don't practice, I'll never get it, right?" He opens the top file, containing a few sheets of paper written in English and a picture of Zaef. "So, my first question. How would you describe the way that Task Force 815 runs their missions? What do you think of how they operate?"

"We make a plan using the information we have, plan for some of the possible consequences and play the rest by ear. Flexible and efficient. We also work hard to keep civilian and enemy casualties to a minimum. Not afraid to talk things out and negotiate if it will keep people from both sides from dying and still meet our goals. It's good work."

Simmons nods. "And what do you think of that work? How about Garrett Davis and Hugh Verrill? What do you think of their leadership?"

"Davis talks too much and Verrill is pretty stiff, but they're incredibly good at what they do. Know when to talk and when to kill, with an excellent understanding of the capabilities of each team member." Zaef pauses for a bit, scratching his chin. "Probably couldn't ask for better."

"Good, good," Simmons says, and makes a note. "And what do you think your part in the team is? Strengths, and maybe what does anyone in charge of Task Force 815 have to look out for?"

Zaef blinks. "I don't think I understand the last part."

"Well, you do bring a lot to the table as far as skills go." Simmons starts flipping through the folder. "You were a captain of a freighter and in command of seven others. About fifteen years ago, the Imperials raided your ship, a fight ensued and most of your crew was killed and your ship destroyed. You were found guilty of smuggling and resisting Imperial control and put into the Arena, where you gained the nickname 'Bloodwraith' and eventually gained your freedom through becoming an Arena Champion. Now, you're fighting for the Bashakrans and are considered the one of, if not the best pilot on Atea." He looks up from the folder at Zaef. "You can see where we might be interested in hearing what you think about what problems and baggage you bring to Task Force 815."

Zaef stares at Simmons, still and unblinking. After a long pause, he speaks, slow and soft. "I'm sorry, but I don't know why you'd care to hear about what I think, since you've already gone rooting around in my past without thinking of asking me yourself. Like you don't trust me to tell you the truth. You already have your opinions about what problems I have, what baggage I carry. I'm interested, Simmons-what exactly do you think of me?"

"I think that you're a skilled pilot and close-quarters combatant," Simmons says. "I also think that those rumors I've heard about you partaking in chemical enhancers during your time in the Arena are true, more likely than not." Zaef notices that whatever small flaws Simmons had with his Imperial have mysteriously vanished. "So, you're reckless with your crew, and an addict to boot. Not to mention your loyalty problem. You don't have any particular allegiance to anyone other than yourself, let alone any ties at all to Earth. Not a recipe for trust, we think."

Zaef scratches his chin and takes a look around the small room, then eyes the door lock for a few seconds. He looks back at Simmons and the barely concealed contempt hidden behind the CIA agent's face and his face splits apart with a smile. "Trust must be earned, Simmons, and you must give opportunity for trust to be earned. I watched Earth capture Boranai, and I watched Earth open the Repository while putting bullets into the Emperor's Avatar, and I felt it was more than sufficient for me to give Earth my trust in return. Earth has, in turn, watched me fight on Whiirr and act on Hedion, and I hope that they will find that I have earned their trust as well. If that is not enough, then Earth will hopefully give me more opportunies so that I may not fail them in the future."

"We are willing to trust, Zaef, and overlook your past problems," Simmons says. "We just need to know where your loyalties lie. With Earth, or elsewhere."

Zaef waves his hand past the door lock, and the door shffs open. "And I have just answered your very question. I believe we are done here, Simmons, since you, individually, have made it pretty clear that you won't give anyone on this worldship a single opportunity to earn what little trust you have. There is no convincing you, and no point to trying." Zaef walks through the door, still smiling as he makes his parting shot.

" 'Course, holding people at arm's length didn't do the Imperium any good, did it?"

The door shuts before Simmons can speak. He finds himself muttering with the door as his only audience.
punkey 2011-02-28 23:16:17
When Luis arrives at the location Simmons voxed him to meet at (a storage closet near the Gateway, of all places), he finds the door closed. A few minutes of waiting later, the door slides open. "Come in, Agent Stanhill," Simmons calls from inside.

Luis steps in. "Reporting as requested."

Simmons looks up and motions for Luis to take a seat, then does a double-take. It's the first time he's seen Simmons taken aback by anything. "If you could take off that thing on your head, Luis?"

Luis feels his face where Simmons is looking, and find the helmet, which still hasn't dinged. "Oh, that. I can't, at least for the moment."

"Why? What happened on Hedion, how were you wounded?" Simmons has Luis' file flipped open in front of him, and he starts taking notes. "Is it permanent? Any disability?"

"During the Hedion operations, I was given the chance to have some augmentation performed. It was partly for my cover identity, and something I'd been thinking about for a while." He indicates the headgear. "This is part of the recuperation equipment, it'll be ready to come off soon, as soon as I finish recovering."

Simmons stops writing once he hears that Luis is wearing the white plastic and metal headgear because of augmentations, and puts the pen down entirely when he hears that it was done voluntarily. "What augmentations do you have?" he asks.

"A headjack, an onboard vox, and optic replacements."

"And you had this done voluntarily?"

"Yes." Luis cocks his head. "Why?"

"Well, it's..." Simmons reaches for the correct words. "It's that there's some concern about your future back at Langley, and elsewhere. I'm pretty sure that you can guess I'm not here for a social call."

Luis chuckles at that. "No, I didn't really see you as the social call type."

"There's a lot of concern about who's driving the car when it comes to Task Force 815, especially after this last mission." Simmons picks at a page in Luis' file. "They're worried about influences, especially on you."

Luis leans forward, "Influences?"

"Garrett Davis, for example. The man's head-over-heels for the Imperium, dressing in their clothes, speaks mostly in Imperial, when he's not chatting with that walking carpet in his language, and -"

"Swims-the-Black has done as much as if not more than anyone on Task Force 815," Luis breaks in. His face has gone from a half-amused "tell me more" to a glare. "Certainly more than you have. He deserves your respect, which would start with not regarding him as a 'walking carpet.' Garret's about as straightforward as a corkscrew, but he gets the cork out, got it? He may have his issues with Earth, and he's certainly been immersing in Imperium culture, but it started to better understand the people we're fighting against and working alongside, and if it's been getting more deeply rooted, it's because of the continued reluctance of Earth to give the issues at hand the proper consideration and respect."

Simmons puts his hands up in mock surrender. "You're right, I'm sorry. Swims-the-Black has given up a lot for us. But now that the Earth knows about the Imperium, we're not worried about having skilled fighters anymore. We have to worry about loyalties. And I have to ask you, how much of your affinity for the Imperium has to do with Davis? How much of it has to do with Corporal Quis? We know that your relationship with her had a good deal to do with Davis requesting your transfer to the CIA. Davis and his wife are skilled at manipulation, and Quis might be as well, her Turai file is in the gaps of our Cortex knowledge. Are you so sure that they're not pressuring or influencing you into your perspectives on the Bashakrans and the Imperium, and on Earth?" His voice isn't harsh, more concerned. Of course, who knows how much of that concern is real.

Luis takes a few determined breaths as Simmons talks, reigning in his anger, focusing on controlling it. "Agent Simmons, I love Earth, I love the United States of America. That's why I spent my last leave driving across it. I love the land, the smell of a New England harbor in the morning, the color of cornfields at sunset. I like the people," he raises an eyebrow, "With occasional exceptions. I believe in the rights afforded to her citizens by God and affirmed in her laws, and I believe that the Imperium's citizens have those same right, from the same source, even if their laws don't recognize it. I admire the Imperium's technology, I like many of their people. But the hope I believe they deserve is that of the place I love. I'd love to see the US and the rest of the world working towards that same purpose. Corporal Quis and I are in agreement on that point, and I believe if you could make Davis give a straight answer, he'd say something of the same thing."

Simmons nods. "I see. And that is why you let them take out your eyes?" He leans forward. "You can understand their concern about this. They want to know that if you have to make a choice, that you'll choose the right one, and with Davis and Quis whispering in your ear, they're not so sure." Simmons folds his hands. "So, that's what they need to hear. That you're still on our side with this, that you're not letting them tilt you one way or the other."

Luis nods but his eyes are still narrowed, "I can understand that, and I can assure you of that. However, I'd appreciate it if Earth was a little more on my side in exchange. Can you assure me of that? That they're making the right decisions, for the right reasons?"

"Luis, of course we're making the right decisions. The question is whether or not Davis, Quis and the Bashakrans are, if they have Earth's best interests at heart. And their influence on the rest of the team raises those same questions about all of you." Simmons points towards the camera sconces in Luis' helm. "Look at what you've done to yourself. The question has to be asked, if they're swaying you to their side. Right?"

"Imagining that Davis, the Bakasharans, and Arketta are all on some side that holds beliefs different then you, that's what would seem to require questions, I'd say. Maybe America and her allies don't believe in hope anymore, or in helping those who groan under oppression and seek to throw it off. II hope they haven't. But if there are sides here, it's because you're deserting ours, not because we're leaving yours. Have a good afternoon, Agent Simmons." Without waiting to be dismissed, Luis stands to leave.

"Regardless of what you think now, I want you to think over what I said about their influence on you," Simmons says. "You've got a bright future with Task Force 815, Luis. Don't let others talk you into throwing it away."
punkey 2011-02-28 23:17:10
Arketta raises an eyebrow upon seeing Simmons' accomidations. The door to the room is shut, so she leans against the wall and looks around. The Gateway hums through the bulkhead next to her, and she gives a nod and a smile to the few rebels that walk past, congratulating her on the mission. She was hoping to meet Luis as he was coming out of his interview, but the ex-Delta medic is nowhere to be found. She hasn't seen Zaef yet either, so she's slightly nervous about going in to see Simmons blind. Ngawai didn't exactly have complimentary things to say about him afterwards, back on Diego Garcia.

After a few minutes, Arketta grows tired of waiting, and knocks on the door.
"Oh, you're early!" Simmons' voice sounds from the other side of the door. Arketta checks her vox, she's actually right on time. The door whooshes open to reveal Simmons' little temporary office: table, chairs and Narsai computer. "Please, come in, Corporal."
Arketta ducks through the doorway (ships had always been a problem for her), then snaps to attention and salutes Simmons. "Corporal Arketta Quis, reporting as requested, sir," she says in English.
Simmons smiles, and replies in Imperial. "At ease, soldier." He motions to the empty chair on her side of the table. "Please, take a seat."

Arketta sits down, crosses her legs and waits for Simmons to start.
"Well, first off, let me congratulate you on the mission, Corporal," he says. "Hedion's well on its way to rebellion, no casualties, and your family was rescued."
Arketta shifts in her seat slightly, the memory of the whole Tora debacle making her want to move about. "One casualty, sir. Tora Kesh was killed after agreeing to help us."

"Yes, sorry about that." Simmons opens up a folder. "I've got your AAR right here, great work, by the way. Everything went smoothly, then? Beyond the, well, the usual chaos that surrounds one of Garrett Davis' missions."
"Yes, sir." Arketta smiles a bit. "Davis usually has to scramble a bit once his big plans go wrong, but we tend to make it out the other side in one piece. Not really my thing, I just had to look mean and keep an eye out for anyone pointing a beamer our way."
"Of course." Simmons pauses for a moment. "And sabotage the rectenna, of course."
"Luis helped me take care of that, sir."
"And why did that responsibility fall to you, specifically?" Simmons asks.
Arketta feels Simmons prodding at her, trying to get a reaction. She keeps her answer neutral and her voice as businesslike as before. "I was there, Robin was busy watching Captain Verrill's back, Luis didn't have the right cover for the job. Even in the Turai, shit rolled downhill, it's no different here, sir."
Simmons nods. "And how was Captain Verrill?"
"We left with our Trin intact, I can't ask for more, sir," Arketta replies, then laughs. "He's a better Turai than he thinks, I had problems separating him from my last two Samals."
Simmons leans forward a bit. "What do you mean by that?"
Arketta drops the smile. "Just that he was a very convincing Samal, sir. Very believable in the role."
Simmons nods and makes a note. Damn, Arketta thinks.
"And your parents?" Simmons asks. "Where do they plan on staying, now that they're off Hedion?"
"It's a bit early to tell, sir. Luis and I are planning on showing them parts of the US, see what they like."

Simmons nods. "Okay, then. On that note, I think you and I need to have a talk about your future."
Arketta gives Simmons a confused look. "Future, sir?"
"With Earth." Simmons leans forward. "This whole mission, it was a great success. But you did it without our approval, Corporal, and that just raises some questions about you."
Arketta's eyes narrow at Simmons. "We tried to get Narsai's support, sir, you wouldn't give it to us."
"And with good reason," Simmons replies. "Just because Garrett Davis pulled another win out of his ass doesn't mean that this was a good idea."
Arketta crosses her arms and continues her stare at Simmons. "Rescuing my family and liberating a planet wasn't a good idea?"
Simmons continued like he hadn't heard what Arketta just said. "And the next time, Davis might not be so lucky."
"It wasn't luck that got us through Hedion, sir."
Simmons dismisses that with a wave of his hand. "Davis got lucky. He gets lucky a lot, but eventually that luck is going to run out, and you're going to have to ask yourself, where do you want to be? Running around the Imperium, playing hero is great, but now it's time to get serious and tell me where your loyalties lie."

Arketta doesn't understand Simmons' comment. "With Narsai, with the rebels, sir."
"Which one of those two trained you? Pulled you out of the Turai? Backed you on the mission to Napai?" Simmons looks Arketta in the eyes. "We're offering you the opportunity to be the very tip of the spear against the Imperium, but you need to realize a few things if you want to stay here."
Arketta's confusion deepens, but she keeps an even expression. "What do you mean, sir?"
"Earth is gracious enough to let your family stay there, in return for what you've done for us," Simmons says. "Earth rescued you from the Turai, and Earth is giving you the second chance to fight back and prove yourself, so it's time to stop dicking around with the hangers-on and get with the program, Corporal."
Arketta thinks about what the rebels had sacrificed and put on the line for them, and her blood boils at them being dismissed like that. Still, she keeps it together, mostly. "Hangers-on?"
"Earth is leading this charge," Simmons says. "Only Earth has the manpower and the might to get this job done. You need to remember who you're fighting for, and what's appropriate and what is not for someone like you."

Arketta has an idea of what Simmons means by that, but refuses to believe it. "Appropriate for someone like me, sir?"
"This fling you're having with Luis Stanhill. It's distracting him from his responsibilities and confusing him about where his loyalties are," Simmons says. "I mean, the man just had his eyes pulled out because he thinks that it's actually a good idea." He shakes his head. "If that's not Davis' and your doing, I don't know what is."
"Luis wanted to have the augmentations, I didn't suggest anything like that," Arketta shouts, stabbing the table with her finger. "I don't know what you're saying, but -"
"Then let me make myself perfectly clear, Corporal," Simmons says, his voice dropping to an ominously low and even tone. "Luis Stanhill is too important of an Earthling to be compromised by an Imperial like yourself."
Arketta's mouth drops open. Oh no, he did not just say that.

Simmons continues. "You need to be careful what you say and do to him. If we think that either one of you are compromising the team, your times with Task Force 815 might become more difficult."
The last threat stops her cold. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, we have considerable say about where you, a soldier in the United States Army, are assigned." Simmons flips open a file and shows her the contents. After a moment of mental translation from English bureaucratese to a real language, she realizes it's a transfer order, with her name and Luis' name already on it. "And if you, and Luis Stanhill, want to keep fighting the Imperium, you'll be careful about what you say and do. Is that clear?"

Arketta's hands clench the chair until her knuckles turn bone white as she contemplates the consequences of telling Simmons to go fuck himself, maybe throwing in a punch or two for good measure, but then she thinks about Luis. Her family could find a good world to settle on, there's plenty of rebel-friendly places that are nicer than the mesa, but Luis...Luis only has Narsai. His family is there, his friends are there, everything he knows and loves is on Narsai. Throwing this back in Simmons' face would get them both banished from Luis' home, and she can't do that to the man she loves.

Arketta bows her head as a few tears slide down her face. "Yes, sir. I understand."
"Good." Simmons closes the folder and sticks it back into the pile. "You're dismissed, Corporal."
Arketta slowly stands, still in shock about what just happened. She steps slowly out the door and into the hallway, head spinning as she thinks about what to do next. She reaches into her pocket and pulls out her vox, clipping it on her ear. "Call Luis," she dictates, and wipes her eyes. We need to talk.