Podunk Scuffle game

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...Continued from the Zombie Game

Referee: RooK

Player(s): Dave

Contents

Prélude

Fourteen long months of sub-luminal interstellar travel to escape from zombie-strewn Aparecido is clearly beyond the fundamental psychological tolerance of most beings to coexist in close quarters. Things aren't quite as bad for Pavel and Sergei, because they can roam about the swift boat more freely - thanks to being immune to the ghastly effects of the zombie ship when it tries one of its "episodes". Most everybody else is crammed virtually full-time into the sloop and the bus tucked into the cargo hold. Most everybody else wants to go on a killing spree.

Fourteen long months is enough time for those beings so inclined to study something. Very few actually do so, however. Instead, there seems to be quite a popular interest in trying hibernation or suspended animation. Of course, this interest does seem to develop a bit too late to avoid the worst of the frayed nerves.

After fourteen months, when the etheric sensors and etheric comms finally appear to be functional, and a test with a superluminal drone demonstrates that they are out of the trap - even that emotional relief is bittersweet. Because superimposed upon the joy of escape from the Gloom System was the feeling of "FINALLY - I can get the zark away from these idiots."

And so the swift boat made its way swiftly to the nearest star system (away from Aparacido).

Landfall

The crew set down ashore of this uncharted desert isle -er, planet. The star exists in the old computer charts available on the swift boat only as one of the automatically-generated Confederation survey codes. Once within hailing range, though, there was a response from an orbital buoy from the one planet in a habitable orbit around the star - which, on the charts, was the same cryptic survey code with a dash FIVE. From up in orbit around AGCSC-5, nobody responded to any further hails, but sensor data showed signs of considerable mining activity some time in the past.

Eager to get out of the swift boat, the consensus was to land at one of the mining sites. It all looked pretty dead, save for a few crusty automated maintenance systems that kept sandstorm and erosion damage minimized. Failing to find anybody else was a little bit disappointing, but it did nothing to delay the crew from getting some distance from each other.

Abdul immediately set about extracting his sloop from the bay, and purging it of habitation stench.

The redshirts grabbed their individual gear, plus some hastily-fabricated camping accoutrements, and set off in arrayed directions to be hermits for a bit in the surrounding hills.

The Takolees stuck together, but also left the swift boat for an excursion to try to regain some sanity. They took the bus, and made a hop to an even more remote point on AGCSC-5.

Pavel and Sergei were left alone to air out the swift boat.


Ten days pass.

Some coded etheric communication burbles out of the void to talk with the mine automata. Which grumbles back, revealing a level of functionality heretofore unsuspected. Shortly thereafter, a shuttle can be detected approaching superluminally.


I hail Abdul, the red-shirts, and the Takolee's and let them know about the shuttle if they haven't seen it already. My guess is they are coming for a shipment of ore.

To Sergei: "I vote we chat with them and then kill them and then eat them. Well, chat with them anyway, the killing and eating can be decided when the chatting concludes." I request that our pilot red-shirt returns so we can go and meet the shuttle.


You get the barest of responses from Abdul and the Takolees, and hear nothing from the red shirts. By the time the shuttle drops out of hyperspace, well away from the planet, Pavel and Sergei are still by themselves at the mine.

"You know, bro, we're kind of sitting ducks. Maybe we should go looking for one of the pilots." Judging from his tone, you aren't entirely sure if Sergei means to conscript the pilot once found, or if he means to tack-weld the pilot to an ore barrel and use him for target practice.

Gladius pokes a centimeter out of his sheath to get a better look, then slides back in.

You're still undecided a few minutes later when the Silent Red Shirt hobbles into view at the edge of the clearing the swift boat is parked in. Seeing him struggling along on his not-quite-right legs, you get the sense that Sergei is less homicidal now. The poor guy got the legs before the medic Takolee finished his stage of biologist, and there was no opportunity afterwards for improvements because of how much the Takolees had developed resentment towards all humans. Also, the tendency to not say anything got even more pronounced with the Silent Red Shirt as the stress built and his camaraderie with his fellow red shirts fell apart.

The last 200 meters across the artificially flat scree and gravel take him less time than you might expect, judging from his awkwardness. Recognizing him, the ship opens up for him automatically, and you hear him climbing the ladders up to the control module. When he shows up, you can see that he's sweating with exertion and breathing hard. Of course, he says nothing. But he does pause a moment meet the gaze of both Pavel and Sergei before cycling himself into the piloting pod. In his eyes you think you can see that the spark of morbid insanity is no longer threatening to consume him, and detect an aspect of weary regret.

With Silent Red Shirt at the helm, the swift boat is quickly ready for action.


I try to express a look of understanding when the pilot gazes at us.

We get airborne. I'd like to sneak upwards as much as possible, staying in the atmosphere until the shuttle get's closer. Can we guestimate it's size at this range? Any more communication with the planet? Is it still heading towards the planet?


Sneaking upward is probably not too difficult - the shuttle is still most of an hour away, unless it decides to go relativistic. And it won't, otherwise they would have not bothered dropping out of hyperspace so far away. However, your departure is almost certainly going to be noticed by the mine systems and mentioned, unless you intend to leave a jamming device behind. The mine is still chirping out regular coded etheric telemetry, but there has been no response from off-planet. Probably because they don't want to give away their location.

Your etheric sensor data before they dropped to subluminal showed the vessel as being almost exactly 20 chassis points. Now you can't see them to tell anything else, but any other destinations seem unlikely.


The hell with it. Let's get into orbit. I hail etherically in the vicinity of where they dropped to subluminal. "Howdy there! Sure is nice to see another ship around these parts. We were starting to feel like we wuz all alone out here. Sorry if we freaked out your mine, we did our best not to mess with anything down here. Didn't think it were active to be honest. Y'all do us a favor and direct us to a more habited system around these parts? Preferably with burgers?"


After a short pause, a signal responds from the nav buoy, probably bounced from a tightbeam. "Well, you don't look like claim jumpers. Nevertheless, we would appreciate it if you were to evacuate all your personnel from the vicinity of the mine - say, with a buffer zone of about 10 clicks."

Sergei snickers unpleasantly.

"Finding a more habited system isn't saying much. The rock you're on is the end of the line, inhabited only by a couple crazy hermits. The next system with much in the way of permanent settlement is 'Isolation Bay', seven point three parsecs on vector [astrobabble]. Doubt they have too much in the way of burgers, though - nowhere to raise meat. The whole planet is ice."

Pause.

"Where the hell did you guys come from?"


"Where we'z come from is a long and unpleasant story. I much like to forget it, lest I get all twitchy again. Thanks for the direction to, what was it... Solation Eh? Sounds Canadian. Anyways, much obliged. Don't suppose you got some charts or something to all the habital systems, say within a couple hunder'd parsecs?"



To Sergei: "Great, another chunck of ice."

I scan the mining area again. Any idea what they're mining?


Sergei rolls his eyes. "I guess it was too much to hope for a tropical paradise planet."

Looking around, you'd guess that they're mining something of mediocre structural value - such as tungsten, titanium, aluminum and the like. Though the refining might be a bit tricky, with the ore so obviously tainted with worthless dilithium* as it is.

Pause. Pause.

"We could sell you an edited version of our chart data. For, say, five hundred credits. We have information about all sorts of territorial developments you probably won't hear about from most other sources. The only things we'd remove would be locations of a proprietary nature - you understand."

* - Kidding!


"500 credits you say. Well, that sounds fair I guess. Thing is though, we don't actually have credits. All we'z got is this big ol' clunker of a ship. We do got ourselves a techy type person, I suppose we could fabricate some patches or something to trade. Would y'all be interested in that? Hey now, if y'all part of some big 'ol mining company would you be look'n to hire a ship? We'd be mighty useful."


Pause.

"Sorry. Out here, cash is king. No credits, no trade. We aren't really in need of techies, or small clunker ships."


I sign to Sergei "Let's go get 'em."

"Ah well, I guess we be best heading to Solation Eh. Thanks kindly for the directions."

We head towards the spot where they went out of superluminal. En route we start doing locates for the shuttle.


Sergei gives you a look of playing devil's advocate, and signs a response. "You remember that the last time we faced ship-scale opponents we had Abdul doing his mega-duck thing, and a small army of technicians doing repairs, right?"


"Gah, 14 months plays tricks with the memory. Too eager to kill things I guess." Forgot about the fact we were medium scale. Oops. Well then, after doing a few locates we head back down and hail the rest of the motley crew. "Anybody got 500 credits?"


Sergei grins and signs that you're a coward.

After a few locates you satisfy yourself that you're not going to spot them just yet - it's really quiet out there in the black.

What half-hearted responses you get from the grounded crew don't include offers of money.


Really want to beat someone up... Can we locate the source of the communication from the mine?


The communication from the mine was emitted from one of the rusty old gantries.

Assuming that the shuttle is moving at just below the threshold of relativistic speed that would light up your etheric sensors, you still have another 20 minutes before they're transiting atmosphere. Any particular preparations you might like to set up for the miners?


Let's go put a jammer on that gantry. Then let's hide in the atmosphere and wait for them to come.

Done.

Do you waste any time trying to gather up any of the other crew?

Incidentally, it's turning into daytime when you plant the jammer on the gantry. You've never been on a planet with an actual daytime before. It stirs some odd instincts - a visceral familiarity and a hollow sense of longing, yet at the same time squats in the rational part of your mind in an entirely alien manner. You catch Sergei looking around in disturbed manner, and he catches you catching him.

"Bro. It's just so easy to... see. Everything. It's a bit overwhelming. You know? Pretty to look at, but I feel kind paranoid with how vulnerable I am."


2009.07.30 - Slaughter At Gaskow mine# 1698

The shuttle managed to sneak past the Swift Boat, largely because Abdul had surreptitiously installed a discrete beacon on the Swift Boat to keep track of it while he was away in his Battle Sloop. The shuttle crept into a well-protected horizontal loading shaft and reconfigured its shields to defend against incoming ships. Thus, when the Swift Boat found the shuttle, it was readily repulsed.

So, instead, Pavel and Sergei decided to go into the mine on foot.

And kill everyone. Well, almost everyone.

Remaining is ship scale shuttle with deliberately crippled drive and a suicidal computer, and a disarmed/dislegged yokel.


Plot Infliction 01 - Questioning

Segei looks at Pavel. "So, what are we going to ask him if he ever wakes up?"


"Probably ask him if he knows the information they were going to sell to us for 500 credits."

To Do List:
1. Extract the weapon and shields from the shuttle and install them on the swift boat.
2. Go and collect all the assault weapons.

"Y'know Sergei, that battle was quite satisfying. I say we go to the next planet and kill everyone there too."


Sergei shrugs. "Sounds like a plan to me. Do you think we need to worry about whoever they were communicating with at long range etheric?"

Considerably before you manage to disassemble the weapon or shield from the shuttle, the one-armed one-legged yokel regains consciousness. Amidst his blubberings, you gather that he was not entrusted with any detailed charts.

It also happens that Abdul hails, and announces that he plans to leave. He wishes you luck, and asks that you not tell anyone anything about him. Then he's gone, hurtling away one his sloop perpendicular from the direction the shuttle came, alone except for his robotic crew.

This seems to prompt the Takolee's to hail from the bus, asking if there's good reason for them to make themselves scarce. Even more scarce, that is.

This, in turn, prompts the rest of the red shirts to ask what the hell is going on. And whether or not there is any room on the shuttle that arrived for them to catch rides to a more-populated system.


I fill in the Takolee's and the red shirts on what happened with the shuttle, including that they were communicating with someone at long range etheric. I let them know we're planning to leave and if anyone wants to come they're welcome.

Does the shuttle fit in our bay on the swift boat?


Takolees: "Interesting. Do you mind if we just leave in the bus? We've been working on superluminal drives for it..." Their signal is moving out of orbit.

Red Shirts: "FUCK!" "Dude, totally bogus." "Man, that's totally not the karma I was hoping to find after getting off of Aparced-hole." They make no move to approach at this time.

At 20 chassis points, the shuttle is approximately the same size as the swift boat. So, uh, no - not a very good fit.

Dismantling the parts from the shuttle, the 20-point ship-scale shields works like a dream. On most intermediate scale vessels, there probably wouldn't be enough power distribution to run them. But the swift boat has the dual benefits of being high-powered (as in the main fusion reactors, to run the massive engines) and one of the stray benefits of the zombified chassis is additional power conduits (for zapping non-zombie passengers).

The 2D laser, however, is more of a problem. Strictly speaking, the two turrets are currently sized for a maximum of 3D+2 intermediate scale weapons, while the laser is equivalent to a 20D intermediate scale weapon. With a higher-staged technician, a physicist, and some time, you could undoubtedly make it work - but none of that is immediately available. Instead, you think that the best you could do is carve out 1 tonne of space from the cargo hold (to house the main beam generators), and transform the existing turrets into a gimballed aiming mechanism - with a total output of about 1D+3. Alternatively, you could just cannibalize one turret in this manner, and have a total output of 1D (plus keep the measly 2D intermediate scale blaster).


So, are there any more questions for your captive? Because, if not, he is willing to hop away and stay out of your way.


2009.08.06 - Get The Dodge Outta Heck

Leaving AGCSC-5 on the swift boat, Pavel and Sergei and the Silent Red Shirt head directly to Isolation Bay. Keeping with the remoteness of their setting, they encounter nothing on their 7.3 Parsec jaunt, and approach the ice planet with impunity. They select the northern polar settlement to land at, and after some minor shopping beeline for a bar. The first one they find is called the "Samoan Flycatcher".

There, after messily dispatching some petty pickpockets, they converse with a chatty colloidling bartender. The sentient blob gives them beer, burgers, a map, and clues them into how they coincidentally fit many of the parameters of a massive bounty (offered in part by some group called the Purpleton Tactical Agency). This leads immediately to the brothers (and their pilot) being jumped by a squad of five heavily-armed reptiloids. The reptiloids are also dispatched, also messily. As is their vehicle. Unfortunately, Pavel and Sergei do so in a manner that probably increases the appearance of the bounty applying to them.

The brothers flee on foot through a naughty undergarment shop at the arrival of the town's sherriff, and they head quickly towards their parked swift boat (and their favoured assault weapons).


Plot Infliction 02 - Why Does God Hate Us?

Hate is a strong word.


Pavel and Sergei simultaneously notice the etheric beacon transmitting from the fighter, exclaiming it to be the sherriff of the settlement. The brothers give each other funny looks, but don't stop running towards the swift boat - just in case. The Silent Red Shirt follows along noisily, crunching through the snow, clutching his arms about him and chattering his teeth.

Sergei signs, "So, bro, what do you make of the sherriff back there?"


Cresting the snowy ridge of the spaceport landing pit and hustling through the blast baffles cut into the ice, the brothers achieve a view of the parked swift boat. It appears to have attracted a bit of interest.

From all around the landing pit, people are peering and pointing at the swift boat. There is a palpable sense of unease coming from the onlookers, mixed with a deep ambivalence. Exactly the sort of thing that Pavel and Sergei would fail to recognize as being commonly referred to as "rubber necking".

Next to the swift boat is parked a non-descript aerospace hopper van, painted flat white and with proportions that seem to scream out "I'm nothing interesting; let your glance just slide off of me" in precisely the manner of trillions of other featureless white vans everywhere in the known galaxies. Except that the white has a slight blemish of red sprayed across it, on the side facing the swift boat. Or, more exactly, the side facing one of the swift boat's minor lower air locks. Which, as it happens, appears to be chewing on something. Something that probably used to be someone (or someones). Gastly red gore has dribbled down the workings of the air lock and pooled brightly beneath it, complete with vivid crimson sprayings radiating outward (towards the aforementioned befouled van).

"Huh. I kind of thought that door looked a bit bite-y when we left."


A rift in the what-where continuum tears open above with a sound not terribly dissimilar to that of a large zipper, and out falls a ruddy-faced unhappy-looking corpulent human in a tight-fitting bodice with a frilly pink bit pointing out perpendicularly from his middle. He falls and dies horribly. Really it's more the dying that is horrible, rather than the falling. The falling is pretty standard, within the parameters of gravitational accelerations for habitable planets and a general paucity of crosswind, it is really just a straight and unremarkable plummet. Calling that horrible would be unfair. But the dying part immediately afterward - with it's dull splat, and sprayed viscera, and keening scream that gurgles away into grisly silence - that's pretty horrible.


Sometimes strong words are appropriate, though.


Realizing that no plot will be meaningfully inflicted, god makes some rather dire alterations to the random encounter tables that drive the plotless segments of reality.


2009.08.13 - Time For A Bath

Pavel and Sergei collect their weapons and their wits at the swift boat, and then head back to the bar in the unremarkable panel van to make peace with the peace officer. Placated, they return to the swift boat to drop off their assault weapons again so that they may be permitted to order food at the bar.

As they head across the landing area a ship streaks in and deposits battle suits with head directly for the swift boat. Pavel takes cover under a ship parked nearby while commanding the Silent Red Shirt aboard the swift boat to snatch Sergei with the force beam. Two of the battle suits charge towards Pavel's hiding spot and he tampers his way into the flying saucer he's hiding under. They follow him in and combat ensues. At first it doesn't seem as though Pavel is much of a threat, because his weapon seems incapable of penetrating the battle suit armour. One battle suit leaves to help the others with the swift boat, leaving just one to collect Pavel.

The flying saucer then starts moving, and Pavel has a long, protracted and seemingly futile shootout with the battle suit - seeming to have no ability to affect it. Unkind words are exchanged. Then Pavel aggressively attacks the battle suit hand-to-hand with his force beams, tampering it to open. As soon as it does, Gladius the assassin blade flings itself into the combatants temple, ending the fight.

The flying saucer badgers Pavel to leave, stranding him in the middle of the ice. Shortly thereafter, the sheriff arrives and gives Pavel a lift back to the settlement. Once there, Pavel sees that the rest of the enemy combatants have been dispatched - including the enemy shuttle - and is reunited with Sergei and and the swift boat/SRS.

They decided to collect some "road burgers" and leave.

Their next destination is a relatively popular planet called "Bath", and it has a very pleasant tropical climate. And a lot of bars. They beeline to a bar that appears to be almost entirely devoted to lounging bounty hunters. Almost as soon as they enter the bar, they notice a robot with an assault weapon that Sergei seems to take an irrational dislike to. When it is ejected from the bar, they follow it at Sergei's urging, and on a relatively quiet and rocky section of beach they burn it with their lasers until it collapses. It resisted, but was simply outgunned.


Plot Infliction 03 - Your Mother Was A Toaster

Sergei carries the incapacitated robot lightly on his shoulder, clearly pleased and distracted.

Other people you pass appear not to notice you. Almost as if they don't want to see you - like this is the sort of ugliness that they come here to get away from.


On the way back to the ship, I connect to the planetary network and see if I can find any information on the bounty for those four tough guys. I also see if I can find anything about this robot. I then muse about how nice it would be to have a mathematician friend.

When we get back to the ship, I search for and disable any communicators I find on the robot. Then I tamper him so he's paralyzed from the neck down (assuming it's humanoid). Then I wake him up.


On the planetary network you find quite a lot of chatter about the bounty, but no primary information and nothing you haven't already heard.

The robot, has relatively little presence on the local intertubes, most of it being related to a former affiliation with some petty warlord. Seems like he's on Bath either slumming or trying to start fresh. And, judging from the number of fights he's gotten into since being on Bath, you'd guess that he's not succeeding very much at networking.

Strictly speaking, any mathematician worth consorting with would probably avoid you.

The robot's array of communications devices are disabled, and all his motivators are decoupled. His passive sensor array powers up and you can see that he's conscious. He does not, however, break silence at this point.


I glance evily at the robot. "So... got any cash?"

I sign to Sergei: "You know, we could probably buy a new computer brain and use this guy's body for it. Might make a good future technician that we could train up. Anyway, was there something specific you wanted to ask this guy, or did you just feel like picking on robots. Flashbacks from our birthplace haunting you?"


There issues from a crude synthesizer a flat, barely-modulated voice. "I have money. Probably not enough to save me. Who are you? What do you want?"

Sergei doesn't respond directly, but instead just maintains a grim smile.


"Who we are is unimportant. What we want is to find as much information about that super large bounty as possible. Figure the best way is to start capturing other bounty hunters until we find one that actually knows something. Additionally, we want to find out as much information about this area of space as we can. If you can give us any insight about the other systems in the area, it would go a long way to us letting you live."

While I'm thinking about it, I check the net for any other bounties that might be appealing to go after.


The robot casts a baleful glare at you with just its optical receptors. "You don't know what you're asking. The Kavalier Bounty is certain death for anyone who tries to collect. That's why they made it so high - to keep fools rushing towards it despite the impossibility of it."

On the net is a wide range of bounties, ranging from hiring a goon to scare off teenage rivals to group assassinations. Of the ones that appear to be most easily pursued, there is one bounty that catches your eye. It appears that some yahoos in a souped-up shuttle massacred a bunch of miners out at a remote mine site. There's some fairly detailed imagery of the two desperados (wanted dead) and their ship (wanted scrapped).


"Certain death from the four targets of the bounty, or from General Kavalier himself? If the bounty is impossible, why would there appear to be a whole bar full of bounty hunters back there? I'm assuming that they were all at least interested in the bounty, if not activly persuring it."

Cool, we have a bounty. How much is it for? I point it out to Sergei with a smirk on my face.

"Any idea who the four hapless targets of the bounty are?"


Sergei rolls his eyes when he notices the bounty. The ultimate specific price for you is not listed, as the contract has apparently been awarded to the Purpleton Tactical Agency, but they are in turn offering 50 credits for fruitful leads.

Continuing with its low buzzing tone, the robot says gravely, "The General is a pompous jerk, deluded by his own ambition, but he probably would pay off the bounty in good faith in the extremely unlikely case that he got what he wanted. That's just not going to happen, though. Those four guys are all going to die, and anybody who manages to get to them before they die are also going to die. They're cursed, and that bounty is just a means of spreading that curse."


"Cursed? Riiiiight. So some mentalist has bewitched them or something? Obviously there's a backstory to these four that I'm sure you're just dying to tell us."


The robot issues some static - the robotic equivalent of a sigh - and makes as to start into the obviously-required backstory. Sergei cuts him off abruptly. "You know, I'm not sure I care. Blah blah blah, something terrible happened to somebody and it is terribly upsetting... to somebody. Somebody else. You know something about where these four are, and you know something about their capabilities - right?"

The robot's sensors stare at Sergei for a moment, then flick over to you in obvious confusion.

Sergei snaps angrily. "RIGHT?!?"

The robot buzzes, "That is correct..."

"Good. Start describing. And don't waste our time with your conjecture. Just tell us what you know and how you know it. And maybe, just maybe, if you tell it cleanly enough, we won't have to torture you to death trying to cross-reference the details." Pause. "GO."

The robot then describes the four humanoids. They are all 6th or 7th stage. One is a shock trooper with paired blasters and three attacks. One is a classic sniper with insta-acquire. One is a swordmaster and the team medic. And the last one is a shock shooter, a technician, and a mentalist. They're actually just fairly typical humans, but have been exposed to some horrific radiation burns that account for their odd coloration. Their ship is essentially equivalent to a long-range fighter, but without any weapons. It does, however, have a cloaking device. Their last known trajectory was that they were headed towards a planet known as Bix (coordinates burble out in parallel).

The robot knows all this because he was part of the team that was sent by General Kavalier to find the quartet at Bix. But it seemed that the group knew they were going to be intercepted and hit the scout class that was dispatched while it was in hyperspace. The cruiser was badly damaged by some mines, and the quartet boarded, killing their way to the drives and setting them to detonate. The robot escaped by simply jumping out of an airlock. He watched their ship leave in the direction of Bix. He was picked up a couple days later by a follow-up crew.

"Is that everything?" Sergei asks with a deadly calm.

The robot doesn't answer.

Sergei burns its head off into irrecoverable slag. "Curse that." He turns to Pavel brandishing a wan smile. "So, uh, do you think we can get rich?"


I stare levely at Sergei. "Seems oddly convenient that we would run across someone who actually has information regarding these four, even with the universe out to get us. And somehow you knew he had information we could use. Any idea why that would be so?"

"My initial guess is that these four actively try and find combatants that they think could eventually take them and then they lead them to their slaughter by means of that mentalist of theirs. Or perhaps someone is after the bounty and wants to use us to flush them out."

"I feel like we're being played with, brother." <no pun intended>


Sergei ponders for a moment. "An interesting dilemma. Perhaps we should scrounge ourselves up a mentalist of our own to balance things…"

He takes a poignant glance at the slagged robot, and kicks a lump of charred head so that it bounces off the corpse. "Mind you, I can't help but feel the bounty is legitimate. Even if it could be a trap. Tricky."


"Well, it seems like things started to get weird when we were at that bar. I vote we head back there and see if anyone seems surprised to see us. Maybe crack a head or two. If nothing of interest occurs, then we head to Bix."


"You want to head back to Isolation Bay?" Sergei gives a shrug. "I suppose we probably need to do some more training before we try for that bounty anyway - sounds like they could kick our asses." He pauses, grins, and then says. "Well, kick your ass, anyway."


"Sorry, I was thinking of the bounty hunter bar we found the robot at on this planet. But you're right that they could probably kick your ass. I think we should do some do some more training and maybe upgrade some equipment as well, like bigger shields, move boots, etc."


"Bounty hunter bar! Right. Right. Of course. Sure - we could head back there to unravel the wierdness. And to hone our craft. And to see if we can plunder enough to get some equipment upgrades. Especially move boots."

Sergei stops talking in mid-babble, and raises one eyebrow. "Huh. When did I become a motormouth?"


2009.08.20 - Agent Jules, Some Assault Weapons, and A Barge

Immediately upon their return to the Seasoned Bounty Hunter Bar (after a brief detour to purchase move boots), it is obvious that many of the patrons now recognize the brothers. There is particular agitation and interest centered in a far corner of the bar to which there is less visibility. The brothers, being the subtle and nuanced beings they are, stomped directly over to see what was there. And they found the entrance to a bathroom.

Before they could wonder too much, a human in a white suit stepped out of the bathroom and his eyes locked on Pavel and Sergei. He exuded a genteel professionalism, and tried to talk the brothers into not putting up a fuss... as his three backup goons slipped in the bar. Quite unsurprisingly, neither Pavel nor Sergei were interested in fusslessness.

There then raged a pitched battle in which the greater number of the Purpleton Tactical Agency operatives was insufficient to bring down the brothers. It did display, however, that the genteel Agent was extremely difficult to hit - apparently known as Agent Jules. The Agents fled the bar, leaving one fallen comrade, and the brothers were in hot pursuit.

Outside, things were different. A small shuttle was hovering, waiting, and dispensed large assault weapons to the Agents as they rushed up. These they immediately turned on the brothers. The fight resumed, but the balance of things had drastically swung the opposite direction. Pavel sustained a massive hit to his head and was taken down, and had to be dragged back inside the bar by Sergei.

There was a temporary stalemate. The Agents could not enter the bar with their assault weapons, thanks to the likely intervention of the gigantic robotic bouncer, and they did not realize the amazing healing ability of Pavel. With Pavel so quickly back on his feet, they did not have much chance prevailing in resumed conflict without benefit of the assault weapons. This was determined by Agent Jules when he stepped back into the bar to survey the situation.

Pavel hailed the Swift Boat to call it in for assistance, and subsequently found out that it was being followed by another small shuttle. Pavel guessed it was most likely the backup that the Purpleton Agents would use to overwhelm them in the bar. Sending the Swift Boat to lead the other shuttle on a wild goose chase, Pavel and Sergei decided to risk another fight against the assault weapons.

Sergei managed to luckily win initiative, and get in the first attacks. He caused such worrisome damage to one of the two outside Agents that he attracted all of their attacks. But Sergei did not go down. And it left Pavel with dice. He finished off the injured Agent, to the horror of the other Agents. The last remaining assault-weaponed Agent turned his attack against Pavel, who took the lashing, then reached down and retrieved the assault weapon from the fallen Agent. Not bothering to aim, Pavel swept the assault weapon across the last Agent with all three of his attacks. A few moments later, Pavel and Sergei were both holding assault weapons, and all the Agents were smoking meat - except for Agent Jules. And the Purpleton shuttle hovered angrily nearby, unwilling to fire in the direction of the bar.

Pavel now summoned the Swift Boat, who reported that the backup shuttle was inbound. Using its superior speed, the Swift Boat charged past the second shuttle and dove in to pick up Pavel and Sergei. The small shuttles engaged, but were pounded down into wrecks within two turns by the brothers operating their upgraded turret (one then the other, to share the fun).

Emergency beacons were closing from all directions as law-enforcement vehicles responded to the ship scale combat within a civilian area. The Swift Boat blasted out of the atmosphere immediately, leaving a rippling contrail and a spreading concussion wave. They jumped to hyperspace within minutes of breaking out of the gravity well, and headed for Bix.

On their way through hyperspace, they found themselves bushwacking away from any active space lanes as they crossed a particularly barren section of space. Along the way, they encountered a distress beacon, and dropped out of hyperspace to rescue a couple reptiloid survivors of a pirate attack on a mining barge left adrift in the void. The detour also revealed that one of the random ships heading in the same direction as them (following their forged spacelane) dropped out of hyperspace close to where they did, and resumed following them in hyperspace when they set off again.


Plot Infliction 04 - Bix

Bix, as it turns out, is a hive of scum and villainy. It was once a mighty industrial planet, but now most of it is idle and decayed. It is still boasts the most manufacturing in the region, but it is also refuge to the most mafia, arms dealers, and fences. It is also notable for its smell, as many of the enormous warehouses have been re-purposed as high-density feed lots for various food animals.

There is no centralized government.


Food animals? You know what that means? BURGERS!!!

We drop off the two Reptiloids on some random part of the planet and then head to a completely different random part of the planet. Then we get dropped off near a bar and we go in to get some burgers. My plan is to get on the planetary network and see if there are any interesting bounties. I'm looking for a bounty where we don't have to find someone that is hiding, but one where someone is tough and hasn't had to really worry about the bounty. Probably because the amount of the bounty isn't high enough to attract the really scary bounty hunters and the target is powerful enough not to worry about the professional goons.

And of course we're keeping an eye out for dudes in white suits.


Well, there's burgers aplenty - but buns are hard to come by. It seems that the vast majority of the population is reptiloid, and they're purely carnivorous. It's all meat all the time almost everywhere.

The main construction techniques on Bix appear to be dingy grey ceramic blocks intermingled with corroded metal scaffolds. It almost looks a bit like home, except that it's so obviously alive. There is quite a drastic range of population density, with hundreds of square kilometers of utterly still desterted blocks not all that far from regions where traffic is so thick it obscures vision. Crusty spires and mottled gantries make getting a vessel as large as the swift boat close to the personnel walkways difficult. It turns out to be much easier to simply access one of the rooftops that appears to be unclaimed (or, at least undefended by ship weapons), and to make your way down from there. Pavel and Sergei manage to force their way through the busy crowds into a bar.

The place is pretty busy, and they get carefully eyed by a vega lizard after they enter. It looks like there is no place to sit, but the vega lizard seems to appraise their toughness and points them to a section of the bar where a table and a pair of seats hover down from the ceiling. The brothers are the only non-reptiloids in the place.

The planetary "network" is pretty ad-hoc, and appears to be very heavily burdened with leech programs such that anonymity is functionally impossible. So anything you ask of the network is guaranteed to be noted by someone or someones. Nevertheless, there are some extensive bounty indexes available, and it's not too hard to filter down a search of under-valued targets. As you browse through the peer-to-peer listing engines, you discover quite an extensive cross-reference system. It is obviously done so intentionally for the purpose registering cumulative grudges, enabling people to all contribute a little bit to getting back at people that piss them off. This takes a big bite out of your filtered list (because many of them had multiple hits adding up to something more substantial), leaving you with some seasoned beings that merely haven't pissed off very many people - yet.


I attempt to find a bounty where the target's last known location is closest to the bar we are currently at. A non-Reptiloid would be good too as I'm guessing they will be easier to find.


An odd correlation is quickly revealed that non-reptiloids have very high aggregate grudge bounties, so you not only find very few non-reptiloids that aren't likely already swarmed with bounty hunters, you find none nearby. In fact, you find that both you and Sergei have already aggregated some pittance bounty just by walking in the bar.

You also are pretty sure that you bunless burger was spat on.


Sudden desire to kill Reptiloids...

Ok, I broaden my search to include Reptiloids.


Reviewing the much more diverse reptiloid options, you find that there are a number of beings with bounties in the very bar you find yourself. And, indeed, they all appear to be corralled in one section of the bar - the section you're in. However, none of them quite conform to the parameters you've set - there's none that are seasoned with just marginal bounties. The few seasoned guys are all paranoid-seeming and have entourages of bodyguards.

The query does return a small number of seasoned combatants with unlikely bounties at a club nearby called "Basking Rock".


Ahhhh, entourage of bodyguards. I like a good body count. We'll have to come back here. I make note of how well the bouncer is armed as well as how much other security there is in the bar. Then we leave and go check out Basking Rock.


The bouncer appears to be sporting thug beams on every appendage, of a scale appropriate for a 4-meter-tall walking shark. He might not be the best-equipped bouncer, but he certainly conveys the right sort of intimidation factor. (We say "he", but really, you're not so sure.) Other security seems to be primarily defensive - shield generators by the counter for the serving staff, intermediate scale doors, and ship scale shields for the exterior. The patrons in the bar do have a pretty good view of anybody entering the bar - the exterior has a dog-leg rampart that is well-exposed to external sensors which display prominently on the outer wall of the bar. So, it's certainly possible to blast your way into this bar with assault weapons, but you probably won't be surprising anyone inside.

Heading out to the public walkways, you have to push your way through crowds of reptiloids who all seem to have a totally different concept of personal space than you do. You're pretty certain that most of these beings would have much more easily tolerated the cramming into the swift boat for the sublight trip from Aparecido. When you come to the end of an alley that is supposed to lead to the entrance to "Basking Rock", you see a large holographic sign floating in the air. It says, "NO FOOD PAST THIS POINT".

At the other end of the alley sits a crocaloid minor on a stool next to a heavy, well-worn pressure door. On his narrow head is the most outrageous set of tactical sensor goggles you've ever seen. Clearly he's noticed you, but by the way he's moving his head you find yourself suspecting that he's actually tracking the motions of beings on the other side of the surrounding buildings.


I can't think of a character that ever tried to blast their way into a bar. Might be fun.

On to the Basking Rock. I wonder if we're considered food? We head towards the Croc Minor and pressure door and attempt to enter.


The croc minor gives you a more concentrated look and then grins, but doesn't really interact much beyond that.

The pressure door is every bit as massive as it looks, but moves easily on well-maintained bearings. When you unseal the entrance, it gives a fluttering sigh and you are awash in hot moist air. Stepping through, you're already drenched, and there's something... odd.

The bar is perfectly quiet. It's jam-packed with 100% reptiloids, and they're all staring at you. Eagerly.

And they're all wearing bibs.


Well, I guess the immediate question is: Is the pressure door still open? If so, we quickly leap back out before it has a chance to close. If it has already closed, I start tampering.

How many Reptiloids are we talking here? How skilled do they seem? If we're in a bar of greens (no pun intended) I'll probably be less worried.


The pressure door is indeed still open, being as it is unpowered and within the control of your personal brawn. Stepping back out, Sergei reflexively gives the door a shove to send it thudding closed again.

Your memory of the crowd of hungry scaly beings is that they ranged from Probably Competent to Zarking Scary, being composed of about 30 professionals and about 10 seasoned individuals. The one mitigating factor is that you didn't see much in the way of weaponry, though it might be because most of the beings are in fact wielding cutlery.

Sergei gives Pavel a blank sideways look.

Before Sergei can say anything, the croc minor with the massive sensor goggles rips out a booming hissing cackle. He clutches his sides, and indeed laughs so hard that he falls off his stool. He reveals his seasoned-ness by his ability to continue rolling with laughter while maintaining readiness to duck. Judging from the souring of Sergei's features, it is indeed possible that the crocaloid might be ducking soon.


I grin sideways at Sergei and sign to him: "Well, you got to admit, that was kinda funny."

I think we should head back to the swift boat, grab our assault weaponry and avoid the bars, unless we want to attack one.


Sergei grudgingly admits that it was somewhat funny, but suggests that it would be a whole hell of a lot funnier after you're someplace else, have your assault weapons, and perhaps a brewskie in you.

Where and how do you arrange to meet up with the swift boat? It's been slowly cruising around since dropping you off, trying to stay in the vicinity and also stay out of trouble.

"I'm not so sure that staying away from bars is necessarily in our best interest. Either we're training or we're looking for leads to that quartet, and both are best found in bars - right?"


2009.08.27 - Hunting Bounties As A Hobby

Before returning to the first bar - the Stanislav Jarábek - Pavel and Sergei decided to upgrade their non-assault weaponry to large blast rifles of the sort usually only seen in fictional action screenplays. From there, they clarified which cumulative grudge bounty they were going to pursue from their recordings of individuals in the Stanislav Jarábek, and went directly to the bar. Where, upon being directed to the less-quiet section of the bar, immediately set about persuading their target with blasts of energetic particles. The lizard in question resisted valiantly, but his two goons did not, and before too long Pavel and Sergei were headed out the door with his limp (but alive) form. Their actual exit from the bar was hastened by the baleful eyes of several other assassin-type patrons who seemed less than entirely pleased with bounty hunters foraging in their midst.

As they left the Stanislav Jarábek, a humanoid in a white suit lounging against a rakishly-parked hopper stood out from the sea of scaly people like a gleaming pearl inset in background of rough gravel. Recognizing Agent Jules again, the brothers quickly cast about to see if there were impending backup of the Purpleton variety. They saw none. And, indeed, Agent Jules called out to them saying that he had something for them - something that he was supposed to deliver. He tossed to them an elaborate communications satchel, and they hastily departed with their victim.

Directly after leaving the vicinity of Agent Jules, Pavel and Sergei bounded up a parkade to be picked up by the swift boat on the roof. But, before they reached the top floor, they caught a glimpse of a small humanoid female in a white suit waiting patiently next to a sleek white Purpleton hopper. Something about her demeanour suggested that while she recognized them, she was not exactly expecting them at that moment. Intrigued, Pavel and Sergei stopped to ask, "Are you part of the team tracking us?"

The white witch in the Purpleton jumpsuit responded dryly, "No. I don't track people; I kill people."

Unable to resist pursuing the matter, they prompted, "Are you here to kill us?"

She responded simply, "If I'm ordered to kill you, you will die."

Reading an natural progression to things, Pavel and Sergei thought it best to see if they could glean whether this was a problem. Also, it is suspected that they just like shooting at people. They drew their rifles and attacked the seemingly unarmed female. She glared an assassin's acquisition at Sergei, then after parrying their moderate attacks with telekinetic shoves, she made a savage claw-like gesture at Sergei with her hair flying and her eyes crackling. She assassinated him with a telekinetic jab inside his skull, and Sergei collapsed to his knees then flopped over.

Pavel called a halt, which the witch seemed agreeable to, especially as Sergei immediately stood up again. The brothers were suitably impressed (especially Sergei) and they continued running up the bare metal-frame stairs to the next ceramic-block levels. The swift boat swooped in so they could board, and soon they were off to collect a bounty.

The primary they have to deliver the reptiloid bounty to turned out to be a mafia lizard of great ugliness. He ran operations out of a tea house with external holographic projectors that made it seem as though the establishment was filled with scaly old ladies. Once inside, it was more like a ready room for special forces, complete with assault weapons and bunker-like construction. The transaction was straightforward, and supported the impression of general bias against non-reptiloids on Bix.

After leaving the tea house and back aboard the swift boat, the Purpleton communication device indicated activity. They found themselves talking with a hylosus Purpleton agent, who seemed to think that they might turn themselves in with a combination of threats and promises. Pavel and Sergei agreed to think about it, then discreetly deposited the communication device in the middle of nowhere.

From there, the brothers headed to the part of the planet that they heard some whiffs of information about the Kavalier bounty quartet. They had been apparently seen at a restaurant in a less-rough section of Bix, but when the brothers got there, the place had been destroyed by some sort of significant conflagration. They wondered whether it was the result of someone else attempting to collect the bounty, of if the quartet were merely covering their tracks.

They paused in a nearby bar - sorry, pub - to ask some questions and eat some steak. They got precious little information, but they did get a pleasant workout as 6 professional combatant lizards tried to collect on the brothers' cumulative grudge bounty. None of the 6 survived the attempt.


Plot Infliction 05 - Starting To Get An Unwelcome Feeling

"You know, bro..." Sergei looks around at the various reptiloid bystanders that are now starting to peer from their respective covers, and look upon the mostly-human brothers with fear and distrust and a splash of loathing. "I'm starting to get a feeling of unwelcomeness."


"Yeah, let's get out of this area at least." We get back to the swiftboat and take off.

"Y'know, these Purpleton assholes are probably going to be annoying. I wonder what would happen if the mining company that put the bounty on us was killed off. Would the bounty cease to be?"

I check our bounty and find the name of the mining company. Then I see if I can locate where their major operations are and how big the company is.


Summoning and departing on the swift boat is not difficult in this more-affluent section - there's better public access to traffic lanes and better parking. Since you're accessing the data networks, it is relatively easy to track you even though your ship might seem well-hidden in the patters of traffic among confusingly diverse vessels.

Your bounties have buoyed up to 666 credits each on the local cumulative grudge logging system. This system also notes the bounty that the Gaskow Mining Company has for you, but indicates that it is a private contract and does not list much in the way of details. As it turns out, the head offices of Gaskow are on an asteroid in the Bix system. Their public information lists almost 15,000 active mining operations (mostly autonomous robotic jobbies), a fleet of about 20 large freighters, and thousands of personnel (probably not counting slaves).

Sergei looks over with a wry look. "I'm not sure I feel like chasing down 20 freighters and killing thousands of people. At least, not right away." -pensive look- "Alllthoooooogh... assaulting an asteroid base and slaughtering all the executives might make for a fun diversion."


I grin evilly. "First we're going to have to determine what kind of defenses they have. I'm hoping that they have defenses against ships, but once inside they have little in the way of defenses against a couple assholes with assault weapons." I turn the passive scanners to the asteroid in question. I'm hoping to see how much traffic is going to and from the asteroid. If need be, we move to the part of Bix that is closest to the asteroid so we can get a better look.

Hmmm... I wonder how much damage per turn we would take being in the vacuum of space.


From down in the gravity well of Bix, it's hard for the etheric sensors to even clearly make out Gaskow Asteroid. Assuming that you undertake the relatively straightforward step of going out into orbit and watching the asteroid for a while, you see that it clearly has relativistic traffic of about shuttle size coming and going approximately once every 10 minutes, and you see at least one large freighter accelerate to leave and jump to hyperspace.

Sergei ponders. "Determining their defenses might be tricky. Sounds like the kind of information we'll have to buy, and buying it in secret might be another trick." Brushing that aside, he immediately turns to what he's actually concerned about. "Do we really have to use assault weapons? Can't we just bring them as backup in case things get too fun?"

The simple hard vacuum of space causes 1 point of damage per turn. If you're exposed to high doses of radiation (like, say, a star near enough to support life on a planet with an atmosphere), that's another point every minute. There's also a question of how well your bodies can operate without oxygen, so after your systems deoxygenate you'll lose half your strength, speed, and agility and have to make occasional consciousness checks.


Well, let's go pick up some space-worthy breathing apparatus, just in case we need it. Or is that something I can make while we're watching the asteroid?

With the next shuttle that leaves the Gaskow Asteroid, if it heads towards Bix, we track it to see where it goes.

"We don't have to use the assault weapons... I just think they're so much fun. Though I could use my intermediate scale rifle, haven't shot that one in a while."


Breathing apparatus is easy enough to make. Since you don't really have to worry much about exposure, it can be relatively compact.

You track a shuttle that eventually makes the hop from the Gaskow Asteroid to Bix, but you lose track of it when it drops to non-relativistic well away from Bix. There's just a bit too much traffic to really say for certain where on the planet it may have been heading for. Likewise, you notice another shuttle go relativistic towards the asteroid from just outside the gravity well of Bix, but have no way to trace its vector back reliably. With your seasoned insight, you perceive that either you need access to a mathematician or this is another piece of the information puzzle you may have to purchase.

"It's not that assault weapons aren't fun, per se. It's just that I think it would be more awesome if we didn't need to resort to them necessarily. In the same way that it would be even more cool if we could manage to assault the asteroid base and kill everyone using just plastic sporks. If you get my meaning." Sergei looks happy just talking about this stuff.

"So, seriously now, what's our actual objective here? I think we need to get the executives: the people actually responsible for the bounty. I'm worried that if we go in and just start randomly slaying personnel that it will give the REMFs enough warning to clear the zark out. We need to think of some way to paralyze their ships, or something."


"Too bad we didn't save some zombies... We could bring a large communicator that could jam their etheric, but I don't think that would stop the people inside the base from being able to flee. It just might slow them down from calling for help."

Would it be possible to extract some of the remaining zombie-bots from the swift-boat and infect another ship?


"Uh, what would the zombies be able to do for us?"

You have noticed that the zombie-bots away from the vicinity of Aparecido have gone a bit feral, and no longer seem interested in infectiousness. Instead, they mostly seem to have regressed into keeping the swift boat vaguely semi-sentient, murderous, and evil. Or, at least, evil-coloured.

"Really, what I think we need is to start looking for a way to get more information."


"I wonder if Gaskow has any competitors that may want to help us... Failing that, I guess hiring a mathematician is in order."

I check the net for any mathematicians for hire. Also, I check to see if there is a company version of the grudge bounty or anything like that. Also check out other mining companies in the area that may be a direct competitor.


Gaskow doesn't appear to have any comperitors of the same scale. There are independant mines, but they don't really have much expansion potential. And, consequently, everybody seems to be playing nice-nice.

What mathematicians you can see are for hire appear to charge entirely dependent on context - whatever that means.

"I wonder if the people at the offices of the mining company will be surprised. I hope they're surprised. I hope at least one of them asks, 'Who are you? Why are you doing this?' So then I can say, 'Your company put a bounty on us.' And when they go, 'But I'm just a secretary!' I can laugh and shoot them in the face. "


"Hard to think of a sneaky way in... we're not all that sneaky. Brute force is much more fun." I try to find a non-Reptiloid mathematician and query how much it would cost for assistance in determining a largish bases defenses.


You find a robot mathematician to correspond with. Sergei adds the condition that the work is to be kept confidential indefinitely. The robot blusters a bit about the value of such information, but agrees readily. Before settling on a price, the mathie needs to know the target. Upon learning that it is Gaskow, it requests a wee slice of time to do some research…


2009.09.03 - The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men.

Obtaining the tactical layout and operation of the Gaskow Mine Asteroid and associated facilities, Pavel and Sergei decide to take their time. They set out in just the aero-hopper van and travel with modest delta-V, such that their movement is not very noticeable on etheric sensors. Simultaneously, they also send the swift boat out to rendezvous with them later, as needed - and this turns out to also serve the function of distracting the Purpleton Agents.

While still far enough away from the asteroid that they were unlikely to be noticed, the brothers complete the last leg with just a drive-pack strapped to Pavel's back (and Sergei clinging to him) and simple breathing apparatus that Pavel fashioned from spare parts. They land unnoticed on an unwatched flank of the asteroid, and clamber along the surface in microgravity to the main entrance cavern.

After brazenly, scrambling along the entrance cavern past the ore processing facilities and a couple parked freighters, they walk into the base via an open maintenance hatch.

And started killing everyone they saw as they jogged along the hallways to the central corporate offices.

It was extremely satisfying.


Plot Infliction 06 - A Brief Aside

After finishing off the latest four guards before heading into the more-densely defended section ahead, Sergei switches from his paired assault lasers back to his paired blast rifles. He's breathing heavily, and pauses while his augmented healing ability deals with some of the blast burn wounds he suffered, and lets his shield recharge some.

His panting breaks up a bit, and turns into a laugh. Not a jolly laugh, but a mean-spirited cackle. The kind that pulls the lips back and really shows the teeth in an aggressive manner. And, in the aftermath of all the weapons fire, it echoes down the hallways until it seems like Sergei is laughing all around.


I switch back to the blast rifle as well. If we pause for at least 8 turns I'll be all healed up.

Can we assume that environmental controls for the asteroid are in the direction we're going? :)


8 turns is clearly enough time for security forces to converge on your location... but none materialize. Perhaps they're hesitant to do so - for some reason.

The environmental controls appear to be distributed rather than central. Probably as an artifact of the accreted nature of the construction, every section has its own independent life support systems.


2009.09.10 - Killing Spree (Part II)

After pausing to heal, the brothers continued their assault. The blast rifles were stowed and the assault weapons were used exclusively as the security forces deeper in were using similar weaponry. Many of the battles were easy, with the brothers making side wagers as to who could kill the most goons. One Halamite hand to hand assassin would have been troubling if he was able to do significant harm after the brothers were assassinated, but their healing ability allowed them to be victorious.

The toughest fight so far was with a seasoned shock shooter with a x10 assault weapon. The tough old croc managed drive the brothers back, and when they sought to flee for a reprieve sufficient to heal, the combatant's medic backup driving a piece of mining equipment outflanked them. Before they could step off the slow-moving elevator, it was chewing into the elevator doors. Pavel and Sergei had to leave the elevator car in haste via the only remaining port - an access hatch on the bottom. The croc shock shooter was waiting for them, and burned an assault beam into Sergei that should have been lethal. Fortunatly, Pavel was able to get the shock shooter on the defensive and cut him down with the assault laser, and Sergei was lucky enough to regain consciousness before suffering brain damage.


Plot Infliction 07 - Any more goons?

We pause to heal again and once we're both up to full, we extract ourselves from the elevator shaft and head to the hallway we originally saw the shock shooter and his mining buddy.


Nobody seems keen on disturbing you while you wait in the elevator shaft. It's about 16 turns before Sergei is back to full. Once you move to emerge, you hear the sounds of light-footed sprinting as something runs away in the direction of the core.

Back in the ornately-carved old hallway, you can see the ugly hole carved up through the ceiling into the next level by the mining probe. The mining probe itself appears to have fled.


Let's jog in the direction of that light-footed sprinting.


The direction of the fading sprint-steps is down the hallway leading towards the core. The chewed-through pressure door allows the sounds of retreat to echo back to you from the elevator hallway, and before you can jog to the 90-degree portal you hear the sound of its successor cycling at the end of the next 20-meter stretch.

Sergei keeps his dual assault lasers shouldered. "Well, they know we're coming. We should watch for explosives and the like." He pauses to take in the view behind you, just to be paranoid. "You know, after we crush all active resistance and kill off anybody of importance that we find, we should contemplate how we should finish off this base. We could stalk around this place for months and still not get everybody, and we'd be sitting ducks for whoever or whatever showed up to help. Because you know that somebody is going to find a way out sooner or later. Or somebody is going to find a way to get a clear signal past us..."

Sergei checks the comm satchel.

"Huh, I wonder how effective this thing is in the middle of this rock. Might not be as scrambling to those outer arrays as we might like."

He's not wrong, in your technical estimation. But you're pretty certain that it's still providing suitable havoc to any internal communications such that it would be extremely difficult to coordinate a response to you.


"Yeah, I was thinking we could mess with their life support, but it looks like everything is distributed too much. Still, I'll know more once we get to a control area. One thing I'm curious about is if we can control whatever equipment is unloading those freighters. If it's a few massive force beams, we may be able to use them to cause some harm to the freighters too.

"Course, the place has got to have a power source of some sort. Might be possible to make it go boom. Tricky part might be to set it up and set it off remotely."


"Maybe. This place looks pretty modular, though. If every section has its own life support, wouldn't the sections have their own power supplies? I mean, what use would a central power source be away from the industrial section, tucked down with the white-collar offices?"

"Perhaps, after we make sure we kill off as many important people as possible, we board one of the freighters and set its drives to go kaplooie? That should make a pretty good mess of the asteroid, as well as crippling the refineries and all the vessels in their docks."

The tightbeam communication between Pavel and Sergei almost seems like it should include echoes, because the older section of the inner asteroid base you're in now has such large vaulted features hewn directly out of the fused brontolith.


"Especially if those shields are still on at the entrance. The blast would be nicely contained within all the important bits of this asteroid."


"So, uh..." Sergei looks around at all the heavy stonework. "How do we get out? After we've done sufficient personal slaughtering, but before the bright white flash, I mean."


"Dunno... maybe a time delay. We could leave the jammer on the freighter so they still don't know what's going on after we've left. Once we kill most everyone on the freighter, we set the drives to blow after, say 10 minutes, then we head out to the surface and zoom away."

Can I guesstimate the size of the powersource in the freighter and the size of the explosion? The question is, if we position ourselves outside on the other side of the asteroid from where that entrance is, will the bulk of the asteroid protect us from the blast?


It's actually quite hard to extrapolate the probable outcomes based on what you know and your mathematical capabilities. You're pretty sure you have about an order-of-magnitude guess of the power output of the big freighters drives, and also know that the resulting explosive power when overloaded is pretty variable, so tack on another order of magnitude there. Somewhere between 10^17 and 10^20 Joules of total explosive output. You have only a rough guess about the mass of the asteroid, and no freaking clue about its structural integrity. Placing a variable blast inside an irregular mass - you're probably looking at a second stage mathematician (preferably with access to a technician and a physicist) - before you can get an answer more than 10% away from a shrug.

Sergei beams. "Sounds like a plan!" Gives you a hearty thumbs up and resumes thinking about the killing to be done more short-term.


2009.09.24 - Killing Spree (Part III)

Pavel and Sergei stalk deeper into the asteroid base, and revealed next is a gallery. In it are arrays of sculptures and busts and holograms of people and events probably considered significant, and a couple old vehicles. At the far end of the hallway, they find that the pressure door has been completely melted into an immobile fused lump. Pavel considers whittling his way through with his small tool kit, but thinks better of it and instead hotwires an old QR-walker on display to bash down the door.

Bursting through, the brothers face seven professional goons with heavy assault lasers. The firefight is brutal and intense, leaving the wall behind the brothers etched with criss-crossing burns scars that sought them out. Pavel and Sergei withdraw badly injured, but having reduced the number of security goons. They hear the goons charging the rent opening in pursuit, so Pavel and Sergei ride their move boots back behind one of the display vehicles to let their vaunted healing replenish their health. A few moments later, the battle is rejoined with the same brutal desperation, but the brothers outlast the goons. One tried to clamber inside the walker, and has to be burned out.

They return to the huge inner chamber, and find four more goons converging to repulse them, and a pair of snipers in position across the room. This time the brothers have more momentum, and apply their edge of superior skill to finish this fight much more quickly and decisively. The fight concludes when one badly injured goon throws down his rifle and pleads for mercy.

Pavel and Sergei test their reflexes to see who can mow down the unfortunate goon first.

A crowd of non-combatants read the portent of this act of brutal cruelty, and start to flee in all directions, out small corridoors. One human wearing finery bellows from a prominent location, and convincingly plies the brothers with persuasive suggestions about terms that can be made. Pavel finds himself mired in thoughts of changing his plans. Sergei shoots the human with his paired assault lasers, flashing his gore into a horrific mess of burnt viscera.

The brothers are merciless in their slaughter, save for one being they spare. The bartender cyborg installed in the room is left, so that they can ask it questions. Once satisifed, they kill him too, and proceed with their plans to board one of the freighters.

Not bothering with stealth any more, they bound back along their route to head to the industrial section. On their way, they encounter a crazed old leathery miner lizard that tries to bludgeon them with a crow bar. After bouncing the crow bar off of Pavel's head and shoulder, Pavel splatters its head with a harsh sweep of assault laser. They also stumble upon an executive with a personal retinue of goons, but make short work of them.

Finally, they arrive at one of the freighters, finding it unsecured. They board immediately, and surprise the guards who don't even have a chance to really realize what's happening - their vitals an artistic scorched splatter on the inside of the hull. Another shipmate leans out from an adjacent chamber asking, "Did I hear assault weapons?" and looking around. He died a moment later. Proceeding to the bridge, they find a single guard asleep leaning against the bulkhead doors. Sergei creeps up so as not to disturb him, then opens the door so that he topples into the bridge - and blazes him into a tumbling molten cadaver.

Also on the bridge is a Vega Lizard of ominous demeanour, but who is relatively unarmed. With quick reflexes, the 4-meter-tall lizard leaps across the control deck and snatches up an assault weapon from a security locker, snapping off a couple half-hearted shots as well. Then Sergei tries to converge his assault lasers on the Vega Lizard, and that is when the Vega Lizard demonstrates why he is ominous. The duck is spectacular, and virtually untouchable.

But not quite untouchable. Because Pavel sights carefully with his skills as a seasoned shock-shooter, and burns the lizard lethally in the vitals. The rest of the bridge crew is terrified that the Vega Lizard could be hit, much less killed with one shot. Then they're terrified because they're being shot. Sergei steps over some smoking meat, and accesses a security panel and vents the crew compartment to vacuum while also locking all the bulkheads open.

Sergei regards Pavel coolly, and says over the hiss of escaping air, "I believe you have a date with the drives."


Plot Infliction 08 - Big Bang Theory

Sergei puts away his assault lasers, and appears quite relaxed. Like he's going for a stroll in the park.


The voyage through most of the freighter reveals that the majority of the crew stationed aboard it were slaves. And that they did nothing to save themselves from asphyxiation. Actually, judging from their final facial expressions, they seemed pretty OK with it overall.


To the drives! Also, am I going to be able to lower the outer shields if the jamming is still in place? Asuming I'm right there. I'm hoping we can set the ship on a slow creep to overload, leave the jammer here and flee towards the exit.


The design of this freighter leaves nothing to the imagination, it might as well have been built with Duplo blocks. In the same manner, the drive section is an entirely uninspired old tokamak that looks like it was drafted straight from a fusion reactor theory textbook. You will have no troubles making it do whatever you want, however you like. On the down side, if anyone stumbles into the drive section, they'll also have little trouble undoing virtually anything you might have set up. So it goes.

With the jamming in place, you will not be able to control the shield generators remotely. But, since you're in control of the jamming too, you could just interrupt the broad-spectrum noise long enough to make the shield generators dance. Of course, the huge shields in the throat of the main bay are only really an impediment if you want to fly a ship out. If you merely want to walk out to the surface, personnel can take any of a thousand mine shafts through the swiss-cheese-like asteroid.

Sergei looks at you slyly. "You know, moments before the drives blow we could lower the big shields - luring all the people out in their ships to fly down the big shaft. It would give them a brief moment of hope. And put them in the exact worst place to be as the nuke turns the shaft into a mini nova nozzle. We could even send out a broad-spectrum message 'YIPPIE KI AY, UNCLEZARKERS!'".


On the way to the drives, you find yourself confronted by a grue.

What is a grue?

The grue is a sinister, lurking presence in the dark places of the earth. Its favorite diet is adventurers, but its insatiable appetite is tempered by its fear of light. No grue has ever been seen by the light of day, and few have survived its fearsome jaws to tell the tale.


"What's all this stuff we're going to have to wade through in order to get out of here?"

"Plot."

"Oh, shit."

"Are you saying that I pull this stuff out of my ass?"

"I am now."


There's a suggestive puckering of reality, and a terrifying human female with lovely armoured bat wings steps into existence. She casts a cold, deadly gaze about. "So, where is the demented little guy who I'm supposed to inflict plot to?"


2009.10.01 - Being Hit By A Flaming Asteroid, and Other Amusing Passtimes

Pavel and Sergei were just flying unprotected though space, minding their own business, when out of nowhere a flaming asteroid makes a drunken transit, clipping the brothers and burning them badly. OK, sure, the asteroid was only moving (and flaming) because they had set the fusion drive of a large freighter to explode on the far side of the 100km-diameter lump of space rock. But that doesn't change the fact that the brothers, by being without a vehicle were, technically, pedestrians. And pedestrians always have the right of way.

Summoning their hopper, they made their way back to Bix. Once there, they summon the Swift Boat to return - and it does so without difficulty. So they decide to go to a bar, and randomly wander into one called The Baronet. It's an oddly accommodating establishment, with a higher-than-usual population of non-reptiloids (for Bix). Not finding the place suitably violent, they finish off their delicious burgers and ale, and return to the infamous Stanislav Jarábek bar.

Arriving there, the brothers are directed to a table occupied by a pair of reptiloids who appear to have been waiting for Pavel and Sergei. The larger, doltish crocaloid major armed with an unsual-for-a-bar assault weapon stares on without comment while the crocaloid minor slyly tries to get information out of the brothers. It is revealed that their mathematicians have surprisingly extrapolated that the brothers were likely responsible for the demise of the Gaskow Mining Asteroid. Pavel and Sergei contemplate the value of access to such a mathematician in their search for the Kavalier Bounty, but then notice that there's a sniper acquiring on them. It's probably just a security precaution for the crocaloids, but it's the sort of thing that the Totally Zarking Evil Brothers can't seem to resist. There's a brief firefight with the assassin, which lures in the assault-weapon croc major despite the croc minor trying to stay out of it. The brothers execute all three.

Realizing that their clothes are still obviously scorched by all the assault weapons they faced on the Gaskow Asteroid killing spree, and having an assault weapon to sell, they head to a weapons and equipment store. They emerge slightly richer, and dressed as goths.

And, waiting for them as they emerge, is Agent Jules and a small well-equipped combat team. Again, supposedly, just to talk. Jules admits that since the nominal purpose for the Purpleton Tactical Agency hunting down Pavel and Sergie is now totally gone since the destruction of the Gaskow Mining Company and the dissolution of their bounty. Relevant to that, though, Jules tries to see if he can glean more information regarding his hypothesis that the Kavalier Bounty is involved with a Missionary somehow. This appears to be at odds with Pavel's theory about a powerful mentalist.

Regardless, the brothers decide that this is another excellent opportunity to be evil. They jump out of the line of sight of the snipers, and start trading fire with the assault weapon goons. After downing one goon, Pavel uses his thug beam to snatch up his assault weapon and they make short work of the other goon. Jules is in hiding, but the brothers need to cross back into view of the snipers to pursue. Pavel is assassinated by one sniper, but Sergei kills the other one. Pavel is immediately back up, thanks to his healing power. The surviving assassin again drops Pavel, who again recovers consciousness instantly and messily beheads the remaining sniper.

Jules flees and ducks hard. There's no way for Sergei to hit him, but Pavel's triple-shock-shooter ability means he almost never misses. Finally, the PTA shuttle swoops in to retrieve the badly-hurt Agent Jules. But, before they can escape, the brothers burn it out of the sky with the assault weapons claimed from the dead goons. Rushing to the crash site, they locate Jules again as he flees, and finish him off. And kill the nearly helpless pilot. Just to be evil.


Plot Infliction 09 - A Philosophical Reprieve

Sergei asks, casually, "Is there anybody we've met lately that we haven't horribly murdered? I'd hate to be inconsistent."


"Well, there's a couple more Purpleton agents. That Hylosus in the hologram and that mentalist witch. I could see horribly murdering the Hylosis anyway."

"So, we potentially have a Missionary in the area. Hmmmmm... Do you remember back on Bath when you knew that robot had information on the foursome we're after. Do you recall anything that might have tipped you off, or did the thought just appear in your head?"

"If we risk running into a Missionary, I think it would be saner to forget this whole bounty and find another area of space to explore." I grin. "However, that would be dull."

"I think we should chat with the ugly mafia guy and see if we can negotiate use of his mathematicians, and maybe see if we can earn some more money. If we're going to face a Missionary, I think better gear is in order. I could see upgrading the move boots, getting an even better shield, and maybe an assault plasma rifle."

I stop in thought for a moment.

"Ok, maybe I just want the assault plasma rifle regardless. Can you imagine something like a 2Dx10 plasma rifle? That would look sweeeeeeeeeet."

"Ooh ooh ooh, and imagine if we both had assault moisture disruptors and we had to take out a small crowd?"


Sergei looks pensive. "Assault plasma rifles would indeed be 'sweeeeeeeeet', but aren't they essentially a waste of resources? Any situation where you could actually bring an assault plasma weapon is, ostensibly, a situation where somebody else could bring a battle suit? Or even a walker?" He pauses. "Though, I have to say, the assault moisture disruptor on a crowd is wicked-cool."

You get hailed etherically. No header.


I pause and look expectantly at Sergei. "Robot? Bath? Remember?"

I answer the hail.


Sergei shrugs. "It was a strong gut feeling."

"Greetings tall ugly beings. I noticed that you appear to have some sort of, um, issue? With the Whitesuits? So, like, what's with that?"

The signal is coming from a point about 300 meters above you, and careful scrutiny reveals a tiny hovering probe that you can barely make out as more than a speck. Sergei barely glances at it, and starts looking for who or whatever is bouncing a signal off of it with an outwardly blank, calculating manner. He also tightbeams you. "We should be moving further away from the last combat encounter, so that it isn't too easy for Purpleton Agents to extract revenge. Assuming, of course, that they would want to try that."


"Sounds good." Let's start moseying.

What kind of attack would I need to hit that speck of a probe 300 meters away?

To the probe: "Nah, no issue. We just like kill'n folk. Why are you curious?"


Sergei stows his assault lasers, but switches out the blast rifles and keeps those down at his sides - relaxed but ready. In your seasoned opinion, that tiny little bobbing speck of a probe would be about a 22-shot.

"Well, I was curious about the Whitesuits when I saw them - they're not too common on Bix, you know? And I'm pretty sure that one of them was one of the major field operatives - that last one you killed. And, like, you totally killed the zark out of him. Which is, like, significant. Right? And, well, significant information is often worthwhile in, like, a whole bunch-a-ways, knowwhatimean?"


"Ah, the great information commerce. I understand completely. I'll make you a deal... if you have any information we don't already know about the Kavalier Bounty or the wearabouts of it's targets, we'd be willing to tell you why the white-suits were here and why we killed them. Are you a mathematician?"

When we were approaching Bix and we stopped for that distress call, were we able to gleen the size of the ship that dropped out of hyperspace after us?


"The Kavalier Bounty?" Pregnant pause. "Duuuuude!" The probe increases comm bandwidth and presents a series of images of four blotchy humanoids looking generally unpleasant and various beweaponed Boba Fett wannabes sprawled in extremely uncomfortable-looking prostrate and supine poses. "This is some hot shit. All the latest info about this deal is all gossip on various bounty hunter fora talking about pooling resources and shit. Hard data has gotten totally scarce. What else have you got, dudes?"

Reviewing the data, that ship that buzzed you back with the stranded barge was 12 chassis points.


"How old is that picture? Where was it taken?"

I attempt a few really good locates to see if I can see anyone who is watching us.


The images are all embedded with standard time/location meta-data. The oldest images are from about a month ago on a planet called Foran, most of the images are from a few weeks ago on Bix, and the newest is a week old from a planet called Knudop.

The hovering probe is following you; it's probably equipped with some sensors. Other than that there are hundreds of random people filtering by (all reptiloids), now that the shooting has been stopped for a bit. They all stare at you a bit, being non-reptiloids you stand out.


I look up Knudop. How far away?

To the probe: "The white suits were interested in us because some mining company put a bounty on us. Though it seems the mining company had an accident of some sort so the bounty is gone. We killed them because, well, we felt like it."

"I assume you're communicating through that probe and are not actually the probe. In that case, you seem to be somewhat sneaky. We may be interested in hiring you as a look-out for us. Interested?"

To Sergei: "I have a theory... we need to find a mentalist and see if we're marked."

I send a message to the ugly mafia dude that we had given that bounty to before. "Sorry about killing your guys... we got a bit twitchy when we saw that a sniper was on us. We'd be interested in trading services or cash for use of a mentalist. Would that be something you'd be able to provide?"


Knudop - Republic of. 52 Parsecs away.

"Ah, yeah - no, dude. I'm nowhere near you, and I'm not interested in being lured anywhere to be, like, hosed down with assault lasers. You're saying you splattered an assault team of Whitesuits just because you were, like, in the mood? Harsh, man."

Sergei nods. "Yeah, probably overdue for a mark-check by a mentalist."

Ugly mafia dude's personal assistant AI responds. "Those were not 'our guys' - they were working with a different branch of the family. Rather amusing that they're dead now, actually. Mr. Itrairom does not have any mentalists on retainer... that he would be willing to introduce to you. Have a nice day."


To the probe: "Do you know of any trustworthy mentalists that may be available for some brief work?"

Problem is, we have no way of knowing if a mentalist we hired actually removed the mark or not...

If we pass by an equipment store, I'm going to go buy 5 self deploying patches and set them up to deploy if I'm driven to less than -46 stamina.

To Sergei: "I'm getting tired of Bix. Want to go to Knudop?"


The probe comm person burbles back happily. "I'm like totally sure we could find you a mentalist. And, for a modest additional fee, we could give you feedback indexes of, uh, mental-ly work they've done. How much are you looking to spend?"

A garish flashing sign for an Equipment Emporium™ suggest strongly that there should be such an establishment buried somewhere in a building about 500 meters away.

"Knudop: aye-aye. Hopefully there's more than just stinking lizards there."


Probe: "Not looking to spend much. Just want to see if we're marked and if so, get it removed. We'll pay extra for an Orbodun."


"Orbodun? Dude, what planet do you think you're on? And how much are you willing to pay for the information about a mentalist to contact?"

Sergei snorts, and tightbeams you. "I'm guessing that he's selling our location to bounty hunters, the reptiloid mafia, and Purpleton."


To the probe: "Well, you would have saved the cost of a probe..." And I aim twice all aggressive and then shoot it with the assault laser.

"Y'know, I'm in the mood for another slaughter..."


Let's see here. That's twelve dice - plus two to hit. So a range of 14 to 74, with a statistical mean of 44. At a target of 22. In order to miss with a regular rifle, you need to roll less than 1.67 average per die. It is mathematically impossible not to land at least a die of damage on the probe with the x10 assault weapon. It's gone.

Sergei nods. "Slaughters are harder to come by than I would like, too."


A few moments later, Sergei seems to have become impatient and summons the swift boat to rendezvous. "Let's get this show on the road. I'm sick of this reptiloid terrarium, and mincing around like live bait. I have a sense that the reptiloid mafia might be inclined to overcompensate with a reprisal, and I don't want to make it too easy for them. If they want to get even with us, or try teaching us a lesson, better that we don't make it too easy to overwhelm us with sheer numbers of crocs."

The swift boat is soon upon you, and your move boots let you traipse up a large rusty scaffolding to bound in the yawning hatch.

52 Parsecs is a rather longish journey, and it's through some pretty lonely space if you beeline it. If you take spacelanes, it's more like 65 Parsecs, but you get a chance to make waypoints on planets with spaceports and bars. Sergei seems to be inclined to do the direct but lonely push, willing to risk the bushwacking potential damage. The Silent Red Shirt seems a little irritated that he didn't get to visit any bars or have any time off during the whole time in the Bix system.


Let's do the bushwacking path and somewhere randomly along the way, we drop out of hyperspace to see if anyone is following us. If not, we head all the way to Knudop.


There's no need to drop out of hyperspace to see if you're being followed. After about 15 Parsecs, you're so far from any spacelanes that there's nothing in passive etheric sensor range - except for one ship. And that one ship is following along your path, maintaining distance about an hour behind you.

There is some etheric comm traffic too, between far-flung mining colonies and isolated settlers and the like. But no superluminal or relativistic ships within your short sensor range.

The Silent Red Shirt has assumed a visage of Perpetual Glumness™, and keeps eyeing the airlock like he expects its seams to dissolve and meld with the rest of the hull due to disuse.

Sergei has developed the habit of whistling. Cheerfully. This only adds to the Perpetual Glumness™, and you find yourself looking wistfully at the airlock too. Though that's mostly because you find yourself contemplating the peaceful silence of total vacuum.


How big is the ship that is following us? 12 cp by any chance?

"Y'know, I think when we get to Knudop we need to find a brothel." Let's see if that gets rid of the Perpetual Glumness™.


The ship following you is an unpleasantly indistinct 250 chassis points. Odds are that it isn't intermediate scale.

The Silent Red Shirt does indeed perk up considerably at the mention of a potential brothel. That is, until he considers his finances.


Bah, I mention that he's covered financially. Heck, I could see doing some more bounties once we get to Knudop.

"So, any guesses who it is that's following us? Either Purpleton's or Mafia I'm guessing."

What awaits us at Knudop?


Sergei thinks you're being followed by mafia; SRS thinks it's a troupe of travelling morticians who are following the death.

At Knudop you find a large planet with two moons. One moon is essentially all water, and the other is a rock entirely encrusted with a military base. Knudop itself only really has one city - the capitol - and it's almost a fortress. Otherwise, the semi-arid planet is dotted with small towns surrounded by ranches of varying size.


I check for local networks and see if there is any hubub about the big bounty. On that image of the 4 guys we got from that probe, did it indicate where on Knudop it was located?


There is indeed some mention of hubub over a large bounty. However it's more about the large number of bounty hunters that are killing each other off.


Let's go to the capitol and find a bar and/or brothel.

"Ok Sergei. I'm guessing there's going to be some random killing of groups of bounty hunters. If you can, restrain yourself from killing the last of any group before we have a chance to question them or extort money out of them."


Sergei smiles.


2009.10.15 - Raising Cain

Travelling to the Capitol City Citadel of Knudop, Pavel and Sergei and the Silent Red Shirt park the swift boat in a private and reasonably secure port. The SRS heads off to a brothel while Pavel and Sergei make their way through the urbanites and armoured military personnel to the seedy bar near the larger public spaceport. The place is packed, and while Pavel plays around stealing and replacing an Orbodun's NST-series 429 blaster, Sergei pushes his way to the bar and orders himself a beer.

It seems that he has offended a Yiptak Trop in his progress, and the Yiptak becomes... mouthy. A glass of beer later, Pavel watches Sergei dispatch the Yiptak. They are thereupon given more room by the patrons, and set upon by an annoying insectizoid who tries to hire them for some contract killing.

About three quarters of a burger and another beer later, a 3-meter-tall and impressively equipped humanoid strides into the bar, and a whispering hush spreads through the crowd. The towering humanoid establishes himself at the bar, and there follows an almost electric air of tension between him and the brothers. Pavel attempts to give a curt pleasantry, but it is rebuked. Then the humanoid mentally barges into the surface of Pavel's mind, glimpsing his superficial thoughts. While Pavel contemplated what it might mean, Sergei became suddenly very agitated, and drew his rifles.

And so the fight began.

The towering human known as Cain immediately ripped away Sergei's shield with a succession of blasts from his legendary disruptor rifle "Tickler". Armed with their blast rifles, Pavel and Sergei found it hard to land hits on the almost-legendary shock trooper, and instead pummeled at his giant shield. The brothers fought aggressively, and attacks that would have scored lethal bullseyes on merely professional combatants missed more often than they caused any harm at all. All the while, Cain hammered away at Pavel with Tickler, three attacks per turn, driving him almost down. Before he went down, Pavel rallied and focussed an un-duckable attack on Cain, landing a massively telling blast to his vitals. Cain was momentary fazed, but then took down Pavel and turned to toy with Sergei.

But, as is their tendency, Pavel was back up all-too-soon, and the tide turned briefly, with the brothers dishing out more damage than they were taking. Then they faltered, and the tide turned back, with Cain able to switch back and hammer a series of horrific blasts to Sergei, knocking him down. But Pavel shifted his tactics to be more balanced, and managed to slice a few blasts past Cain's duck, driving him near unconsciousness.

Then fortune betrayed Pavel again, and Cain clipped him with a lucky hit, and took Pavel down again. But, Sergei's healing ability brought him back to life in the next instant, and he finished off Cain.

Pavel regained consciousness a few moments later, and found his brother standing over the defeated Cain. And saw that the bar was nearly deserted now. Sergei said that in his dying moment, Cain released a mental pulse that was extremely unpleasant and sent the bystanders fleeing. Pavel collected up Tickler, and they left the bar.

Outside they saw a small crowd around the nearby saloon watching them, and the brothers stalked over to the nearby Ye Olde Weapons Shoppe. Pavel placed Tickler on the counter, telling the proprietor he wished to sell it. The ancient robot regarded the weapon, recognized it, and gravely told Pavel that such a transaction would not be possible. It also gave the brothers some more information about Cain, and local customs. Taking that information to heart, Pavel gathered up Tickler, and told the SRS to meet them at the large public space port.

Standing guard over the exit of the large spaceport was a ship scale walker capable of flight and vaguely humanoid in configuration - the staple of the Knudop military forces. As the brothers pass it, they are confronted by 8 bounty hunters armed with assault weapons. They seem to think that the brothers must know something about the Kavalier bounty, and are probably hoping that they're still weakened from the titanic battle with Cain. In fact, the brothers have had just enough time to have healed back up to full stamina. They take the worst the bounty hunters have to dish out, and then slaughter them.

Except for one. One, the team medic, manages to flee and starts trying to escape in the team shuttle. Catching up to him, Pavel tampers his way into the shuttle just as it's taking off. After forcing their way into the cockpit, the brothers extract what meager information the medic has, throw him overboard, and work on readying the shuttle for sale.


Plot Infliction 10 - A Mosey Over To Jamison

"Apparently, these guys heard that there was a clustering of other bounty hunters at a town called Jamison - for some reason. They were actually stopping off at Capitol City to get their gear upgraded by some famous technician dude, and heard that Cain was nearby. Then killed by us. Whatever - they seemed to think that this town Jamison is going to be rough. Sounds like as good a lead as any to me."

There's a twinkle in Sergei's evil little eyes.

"Besides, there's no harm in us doing just a wee bit more training."


"Yeah, training good... I need a better bonus to duck."

I continue working on the shuttle to make it sellable. Does it have turrets? How does it compare to the swift-boat?


Sergei nods sagely. "Yeah, you duck like shit."

The shuttle is 19 chassis points, ship scale. It is slightly smaller than the swift boat, but has massively more cargo space - 16 cp worth. It's pretty tough - 14 stamina, and a 10 stamina shield with a 2D blaster turret. It flies pretty well too, with 3 speed and 3 maneouverability. But other than the fact that it won't try electrocuting occupants, it is generally not as cool as the swift boat.


I get on the net and look for other ships for sale either new or used to get a feel for what it's worth.

"I wonder how long it will be before the Missionary comes after us."


There's probably not the same breadth of ship trading on Knudop as on Bix, where you could most likely find much more ships in the same class to compare with. Nevertheless, a series of queries of the local net suggest that you could probably get a similar shuttle built or like-new for somewhere approaching 300 kilocredits, trade with a private individual for about 200 kilocredits, or sell it to a dealer for 150 kilocredits.

"I dunno, bro. If there really is a Missionary, and it's MO is to track bounty hunters to find these four poor bastards, then it kind of depends on how big of a swarm of bounty hunters there is to distract it. I wonder what a hypothetical Missionary would key into, to focus it's tracking..."

Sergei gives a long, thoughtful look at Tickler.

"Zark."

The Silent Red Shirt hails you both on the captured shuttle. "Sorry. Had an annoying chill run down my spine. Is everything OK?"


"Everything's ok. At least it's as ok as can be considering the universe in which we live."

"I don't think that a Missionary would really care about those four. However, I could see it using the large bounty to try and draw out powerful bounty hunters to play with."

I glance at Tickler. I'm guessing that my meager technical abilities wouldn't be able to tell.

"That would be kind of funny. I was actually planning to leave Tickler here while we went to Jamison so we weren't immediately set upon."

I look over Tickler again closely. I try to determine if I'm capable of dissasembling it without wrecking it (assuming it's just a gun).


The Silent Red Shirt accepts your meager reassurances and signs off.

Sergei rubs his chin and looks unusually thoughtful. "A powerful combatant getting bored and searching out hotspots that attract high-calibre opponents does make a certain amount of poetry, considering the universe we're in. The part I don't get is that Agent Jules, whose idea this seems to have been in the first place, appeared to halfway-suspect that you were a Missionary - so what exactly was he hoping to accomplish by confronting the hypothetical Missionary? Did he think his little team of professionals was going to be able to face off against a legendary combatant? It doesn't add up. I'm starting to think he was a bit, well, delusional. Or something."

Tickler winks at you.

...Just kidding.

Tickler has several very complicated safeties that prevent tampering and disassembly - but they're mostly designed to prevent it happening in combat conditions. With a little patience, Tickler disassembles cleanly into major components, and from there its sub-assemblies are easily broken down for cleaning and maintenance. If it's not just a gun, it certainly shows no sign of it.


"Well, if Jules thought one of us was a Missionary, maybe he figured that since we didn't kill him before, we wouldn't kill him this time. Maybe his insatiable curiosity got the better of him."

"It could easily be that there is no Missionary. I mean, how many of them are in the universe anyway? What are the chances that there's one in this ass end of space? Statistically speaking, it's way more likely that a powerful Tundak is about."

I wait for lightning to strike the ship.

"Y'know, one likely possibility is that these four are giving hints to the bounty hunters somehow so that they congregrate and kill each other off. I seem to remember that one of them was a mentalist. It's possible that they were on Bath, saw us and set us on their trail so that we could kill off the other bounty hunters."

I look for any ship dealers at Jamison.


There's a relative lack of lightning. At least, for now.

"Oooorrr, maybe Jules had a bit of an ego problem, and got to thinking that he was so good at surviving that only a Missionary could kill him, and that since you had almost killed him once that therefore you could be a Missionary. But it still ends up with his curiosity killing him. Pity he wasn't a Felinid."

Sergei smiles.

"You're right, though, there's got to be just a couple handfuls of Missionaries left, and this far from a fold space makes the chances of running across one pretty zarking close to nil. If we subscribe to Jules' paranoid fantasy about there being a super-combatant involved that's toying with the situation - not necessarily a Missionary, mind you - how do we avoid attracting its attention? Assuming, of course, that we want to avoid attracting its attention." Sergei's smile gets a little less sane looking.

"The mentalist angle is interesting. You still seem to think I've been influenced by a mentalist, even though I haven't noticed it myself. If so, what are we being influenced to do? If we're just being brought in to kill off bounty hunters, I'm not sure I'm too terribly against that idea, philosophically speaking. Assuming that we can do it without perishing ourselves. But I don't like the idea of being influenced to do other things that we might not want to do. And, frankly, I wouldn't mind collecting that Kavalier Bounty."

There is exactly one ship dealer near the town of Jamison.


"I don't think there is a mentalist actively influencing us. We'd have noticed by now. The possibility I'm speculating about is a mentalist gave you that gut feeling to go after that robot on Bath. It just seems like an odd coincidence that we ran into someone that knew as much information as he did. Once we got on the trail, they haven't bothered influencing us again."

"Or, I could just be parinoid."

"I forget, what was that bounty for. There was a ship right?"

I hail the dealer, describe the ship and offer it to him for 175 kilocredits.


"Do you think the hypothetical mentalist is that one member of the Four Dudes of the Bountypocolyps, or some other mentalist?"

"I think the rumour talked about a million credits, and there was mention of a strike class cruiser."

The dealer actually needs to be interrupted in his selling spiel for his special once-in-a-lifetime deal that is on sale for today and today only in order to convey the ship description. His enthusiasm craters like a NASA probe looking for water on the moon, and you actually find yourself wondering if he might commit suicide there on the spot. "Gee, buddy, that's an awfully mediocre design and the market is flooded with that sort of second-rate craft and the last time I tried to sell one of those it sat on my lot and depreciated horribly until it I just sold it to a charity foundation as housing for orphaned baby Takolee's because I'm caring about the community like that and am basically just too tender-hearted for this business which is really the only reason I'd even offer to buy your ship at all because it really would be a form of charity since I probably couldn't resell it for a profit anyway but you look like you're an honest sort who needs a break and might need the money so I'd be willing to take it off your hands for One HUNDRED and ten KILOcredits."


"One-fifty."

To Sergei: "Y'know, assuming we survive the various bounty hunters we're about to meet. I wonder how hard it would be to kill off the security of a ship dealer and extort cash from him. He must have a substantial amount of cash. When we're there, we should note all of the security he has."

"No idea about the hypothetical mentalist. The only other circumstantial evidence is that the ship that followed us from Bath was about the same size as a long range fighter which may be the long range fighter the 4 dudes had... That's a stretch though.


"I can see that you're a sharp-eyed individual with a hope to wrest the very best from a situation that you can, and I respect that in a sentient being, but you clearly haven't considered all of the mitigating considerations relating to the long-term sale of an interstellar class shuttle which is to say that as a public dealership I have to stand by the products that I sell and this represents a considerable additional financial burden on top of which I do need to eke out the tiniest hair of a profit from such a transaction and considering the hard-ridden class of vessel that we're talking about here there's a bigger question mark in terms of durability that as a respected dealer I would have to shoulder which means that I need to compensate for this in advance. Nevertheless, I could go as high as... one HUNDRED and twenty-five THOUSAND credits?"

Sergei nods.

"Would it even make sense for a hypothetical mentalist NOT directly affiliated with this group of social outsiders to bother trying to influence events to nudge bounty hunters in their direction? I guess, maybe, if the hypothetical mentalist had a grudge against them - or worked for somebody that wanted them killed."


"Done. We're enroute to Jamison. See you soon." Does the dealer have coordinates?

"Or... somebody who wanted to keep a leash on the high stage combatants in the area. Putting them all on a wild goose chase perhaps?"

"Well, regardless of the situation I think it's safe to say that we may eventually encounter the four dudes, or the unknown entity that is killing off bounty hunters, be it a Missionary or otherwise. So, we need more training. I vote that we sell the ship, then go kill off as many other bounty hunters as we can, then go kill off that dealer for being way too talkative.


The dealer is communicating with ethereal directly so you can see his exact location (though you could be relaying your half the communication via the intertubes, remaining anonymous), so you don't have to listen to his long-winded reply.

Sergei gets a grim smile. "That sounds about exactly right. I need to hit better, and you need to duck better."


We go directly to the dealer. I head out of the ship to complete the transaction.


The dealership is in a compound on a bluff overlooking Jamison about 25 km away. There's significant shields protecting the compound, and separate shields surrounding each large ship and one for a cluster of hoppers. All told, there's a handful each of fighters, walkers, shuttles, freighters, and corrivals. As the ship approaches, an automated landing assistance system gives vectors to an empty landing pad. Bounding out from the main buildings on the compound towards the indicated landing platform is an extremely corpulent being that looks like either a hylosus or a small herboven, but when you get closer the tentacles seem to suggest some other rarer species.

Before touching down, you note that there are some monstrous force beams studding the compound, as well as some intermediate scale electric streams.


Is the shield on the compound currently on? I make a note of which ship is closest to the compound. Then I go out to meet the corpulent being.


The main shield for the compound is on, but a gap has opened up over the indicated landing pad (it's a manipulated shell). Technically, the hoppers are closest to the main building, and a couple of long-range fighters. There's also an outbuilding, looking like a warehouse or hanger, that is nestled amongst the corrivals.

As you stomp down the gangplank of the shuttle, the corpulent being stares at you and gives a swallow. "Weeelll, hellooooo there!" You note that he's wearing a suit woven with conductive fibers; probably to keep him from taking full damage from the electric streams if they're triggered. As it happens, your goth outfit would probably function in much the same way, thanks to its decorative use of chains.


The rotund being swipes and dabs at his brow with his inoffensively-patterned sleeve, and gives an accusatory squint at the bright star overhead as an unspoken explanation that you don't quite believe. "You don't mind if before we proceed too much further that we have one of our technicians give the old bird a quick gander do you? Not to imply that we doubt you would be completely forthright in your dealing because you are obviously a being of great honour and integrity, but just because there might be itty bitty signs of problems that you might not have noticed. You know how it goes, you spend so much time with one of these old ships that you grow accustomed to all their foibles and as you're acclimatized you not really notice how things might be degrading because the perception of what is normal is gradually adjusted over time. You have had this ship for a while, right?"

There's a pregnant pause, where the corpulent tentacled being is obviously hoping for you to be reassuring.

Sergei has not yet appeared. You're guessing he's still in the cockpit, just in case.

The Silent Red Shirt tightbeams you, to let you know he's hovering 50 kilometers away just over the horizon.


I stare at him levely. "I believe we had already agreed upon the sale and price for this ship. You can understand my hesitation about letting an unknown technician in our ship while it is still in our possession. If you wish, you can take as many scans as you like from out here, but I don't really want to allow a technician within tampering range. I know for a fact that the price we agreed upon will allow you to make a significant profit so I see no reason why we can't move this along quickly."

"That is unless you are planning to back out of our deal. That would make me... unhappy."


A feeble smile tugs at his rubbery lips. "Well, I guess we could get by with just a remote, um, scan." A hovering tech robot that bobbed into view stops in midair, looks at you, and, at the vaguest of dismissing gestures from the salesman, flees. "I think, uh, technically, you'll find that all no sale is complete until money is transacted, and that, um, by not transferring the money to you, we've, uh, established a de-facto reserve against the, er, deal-" The salesman appears only too happy to be interrupted by some tightbeam comm, so that he can prevent himself from getting into too much more danger. "It appears as though part of your ship has a dampening field running. Could you, um, deactivate that device? So that we can, you know, finish off this technicality? Because we do have to conduct a systems review according to our policy which-" Another comm interruption, catches the salesman again. "Uh, right. So... Dampening field?"

You can see he's forcing himself to shut up now.


Mental note - always search a newly captured ship extensively before trying to sell it.

"Hold on, I'll go switch it off."

I head back in the ship. If the dampening field isn't obvious to my tactical scanner, I head to the controls and look for a dampening system. If I don't find it, I use the ships sensors to scan the ship and try to determine what the dealer saw. During this time I ask Sergei to keep an eye on the dealer outside.


Sergei is already at the hidden compartment with the dampening system, and he's pried it open. Inside is a collection of heads, carefully preserved in a bio-stasis field. He shrugs at you. "Still want me to head out and intimidate the dealer?"


Allllllrighty then. Either trophies, or bounties they have yet to collect. I switch off the bio-stasis field.

"Nah, I'll head back out." I head back to the dealer.

"Ok. It's off. Scan away."


The salesman nods perfunctorily, as the scanning never really stopped. His expression does blanch a couple shades more pale as something gets told to him. He looks over at you, and you can pretty much read his mind at that point - he's wondering why you have a collection of heads in the ship, but is too horrified to ask about it. Probably more than a little worried that you intend to haul the heads out - or worse, to leave them behind.

He takes a cleansing breath, closes his eyes, and proceeds with the next phase of his spiel. "Everything appears to be, um, satisfactory, and we've transmitted the intended transaction to our banking agent, who should be contacting you shortly to complete the funds transfer. In the, uh, mean time, uh, can I ask what it was about the ship that you liked and what it was that you didn't, um, find satisfactory? Because then we can, uh, help guide you in your selection of, uh, upgrade. We've, um, we've got a wide selection of fine vessels that we guarantee are all models that are leaders in their class." You can tell that he didn't do as well on that part of the dialogue, and he probably knows that his eyes are quietly begging you to just go away.

Without any direct evidence, you have a sense that even though Sergei has not showed his face at all, he wants to kill the fat salesman.


"We're not interested in an upgrade. We may come back at a later date though." I grin evilly. Is the shield still open enough to get into the compound, or is the dealer locked in here with us? How far would we have to run to get into the compound?


The main shield is up, but it surrounds the whole compound - including the landing pad you're on and the main building which is about 75 meters away. There is probably another shield generator specifically for just this landing pad, but it is not currently active.

"Are there any security codes we should know, or other systems that need some sort of key? And, if you're not purchasing a ship from us, do you require transportation somewhere on Knudop? We offer complimentary shuttle rides or teleportation for our customers." You suspect that he'd prefer you to use the teleporter.

You are hailed, and the header is requesting to know what format you prefer: hologram, flat-visual, voice only, or text. The header also indicates that the source is the Imperial Bank of Knudop.


I respond to the hail, requesting text.


"Greetings Dear Valuable Customer of ACME Kick-Ass Ship Emporium. Congratulations on your pending transaction. Before the funds are transferred to you, AKASE, requires the following terms to be met for legal and tax reasons:

"First: You need to state your legal identity, with corroborating records.

"Second: You must confirm that there are no outstanding claims on the items to be transferred, and that you relinquish all claim regarding the items to AKASE.

"Third: You must provide complete access and clearance for all systems of the items to be transferred to AKASE, as applicable.

"SPECIAL ITEM: Only half of the funds will be transferred immediately. The other half is to be transferred once AKASE has submitted confirmation that you have left the premises without causing damage or injury to AKASE or any AKASE employees."


I attempt to make a face similar to a constipated Hessler while I review the terms. I mutter to the dealer "Legal identity with corroborating records???"

I hail Sergei: "I think it is our moral imperative to storm the compound, kill everyone inside, steal a Corival for ourselves and blow up the rest of the ships. Could you come out here please?"

I get ready to sprint to the compound. I think we need to attend a meeting of homicidaloholics annoyomous.


2009.10.29 - Once Upon A Time In The Future

It was quickly clarified that legal identification could simply be whatever is used to confirm money, and the transaction was completed in haste. Pavel and Sergei were then picked up in the swift boat, and they meandered down to Jamison.

Jamison turned out to be the equivalent of a one-horse town, except without horses. (Well, technically, some of the townsfolk do have steeds, but they were hidden from view. And they weren't horses.) Parking the swift boat amongst a few dozen other conspicuously out-of-place interstellar craft around the edge of town, the available amenities appear to be a bar, a hotel, a restaurant, and a tiny variety of common merchants. The only people visible outside, aside from the occasional terrified local scurrying for cover, are small clusters of assault-weaponed goons loitering by the entrances of the bar, hotel, and restaurant.

With their Silent Red Shirt pilot ambling with them, the brothers went to the restaurant. Inside were only three patrons, each sitting at a separate table, all calmly devouring meals and contributing to a sense of tension that would make Ennio Morricone queue up a high-pitched instrument. A miserable humanoid waitress asked the newcomers where they would like to be seated. Piqued by the unspoken stress in the room, Pavel decided that they should sit exactly in the middle of the three seasoned bounty hunters. In response to this, the most high-strung bounty hunter - a Massetin - dug its talons into its table and asked them to please give it a bit more space. The exchange did not go without some vile threats, but the brothers did decide to oblige. Consequently, another of the bounty hunters was pointedly scoffing.

The Massetin finished its meal first and left purposefully. Then Pavel and Sergei finished their meals, and decided that killing the scoffing Trop bounty hunter would be an appropriate dessert. The stalk-eyed scoffing bounty hunter turned out to be very formidable indeed, having the rare weapon specialist ability to place shots wherever it wished. That coupled with its considerable duck and powerful shield made the Trop a match for Pavel and Sergei. Under normal circumstances, the fight could probably have been called a draw. But the circumstances were such that somebody had to die, and it was the Trop that died at last.

The third seasoned bounty hunter in the bar calmly continued spooning up her soup.

The Silent Red Shirt requested a sizable to-go order, and demanded to be escorted back to the swift boat. The brothers complied, then made their way to the bar.

Outside the bar, "Micrathena", a larger-than-before array of professionals with assault weapons loitered uneasily, eyeing each other with distrust. In the bouncer's cove, a being that was probably once part of bar security was impaled on the outer wall and carved up in a manner most grisly, and it appeared that it died from torture instead of combat.

Inside the bar, an impressive array of scary combatants mingled with an eerie atmosphere of fatalism and competition. Given a bit of a wider berth were the Massetin and a larger being in a bloody rag. The bloody-rag wearing being turned out to be the town's sheriff (an Orbodun-cyborg), who took exception to Pavel's bringing of Tickler into the bar. The sheriff seemed to be insufficiently motivated to do anything about it immediately, however.

Sweeping a strategic gaze across the crowd of murderers and monsters, Pavel found one being entirely too interested in him. "That's Tickler!" Pavel appears to dislike being looked at, and drew Tickler out for use. The gawker turned out to also be a seasoned shock shooter, and the two traded nigh-unduckable blows and well-aimed double-shots back and forth. Sergei stayed out of it and just watched. Tickler's greater damage ability and Pavel's more bloody-minded tactics allowed him to finish the fight without assistance.

Thirsty from his victory, Pavel went to the bar and got a beer from the lonely colloidling bartender. In doing so, he found himself again in conversation with the sheriff. The conversation contained many lies and half-truths, but one piece of new information revealed that there was a band of triloid reptiloid mafia assassins already in town looking for the brothers.

The idea that the Four Dudes of the Kavalier Bounty were in town but now wearing new bodies was further explored, especially the possibility that they were mingling in with the bounty hunters. Which, it seems, was a reason why the bounty hunters were all intent on killing each other off. Well, more intent on it. Interested in joining in the fun, Sergei picked a fight by murdering one of the sidekicks in the sidekick closet (don't ask), and proceeded to face off against a Groten with paired 429's. After winning the duel, Sergei blasted off the Groten's head (with difficulty) so that it could be inspected by a medic or biologist to see if it was recently-grown or brain-transplanted.


Plot Infliction 11 - Four Weasels In A Ferret Stack

Sergei looks into the dead eyes of the severed groten head. "If you were a biologist or medic in this town, where would you be?" He almost looks like he might expect the head to answer.

The sheriff curls an ursine lip. "Hotel."


"Aaaah, I see why the owners of that ship had a bunch of severed heads." I finish my drink. "Shall we go to the hotel?" I stare at the Groten head. "Did he have three attacks? That robot on Bath said the shock trooper had three attacks."


No, the Groten fought with just two attacks. In addition to which, Sergei flushed out the Groten by murdering one of the sidekicks, which he was theorizing meant that the Groten was unlikely to be one of the Four Dudes of the Bountypocalypse. But you never know.

Sergei shrugs. "To the hotel, then."

Before Pavel and Sergei can put down their mugs and get up from the table, a wild-eyed Felinid stalks into the bar brandishing an assault laser. "Where's the filthy rodent that killed my partner?!?!"

The sheriff yells back. "Take the assault weapon back outside, son."

"Make me!"

The sheriff snaps out a filament rifle and assassinates the Felinid with an abrupt quickness. There's an uncomfortable silence in the bar as the sheriff walks over to the sprawled cat, and pulls the filament out of his eye socket. Then he stuffs on one of the Felinid's own patches, and rolls him outside with easy heave of one of his huge paws.

With a meaningful look at the bartender, who wobbles a tentacle in an affirmative gesture, the sheriff walks out into the bright sunlight and disappears in the direction of the town jail.


Sweet.

I sign to Sergei: "Wouldn't it be hilarious if the sheriff and the Massetin are two of the Four Dudes of the Bountyocalypse?"

We leave the bar and head to the hotel.


Sergei gives you an ambiguous look and proceeds out of the bar.

Down the street, you can see several troupes of bounty hunters spilling out of the hotel. They're regarding each other angrily and suspiciously, then appear to be fanning out to head to separate ships. There is still a significant contingent of scarier bounty hunters posing dramatically by the porch of the hotel, though. They eye you as you approach.


I eye them back. Unless they attempt to block our path, I say nothing and walk past them into the hotel.


You and Sergei clomp across the boards of the hotel's porch, through the archway, and into the main lobby. Behind the lobby counter is a flustered-looking robot of the incredibly irritating humanoid type that is designed to be as bland and inoffensive as possible. A pair of smaller robots are working to get some blood and blast stains out of one corner of the lobby, amongst some empty lounge chairs of varying size. One side of the lobby opens up to a broad staircase and elevator entrances; presumably to the available rooms. The other side of the lobby opens into a smallish saloon, and in it are a further array of fearsome-looking bounty hunters. They have a wide range of expressions, from grim to grinning, but all appear deadly.

You can't see the bartender, but you get the distinct impression that most of the saloon occupants are keeping an eye in that direction.


"Hello and greetings, sirs. It pains me to be so presumptuous, but are you planning on being guests of the hotel? We do have some availability still, assuming that your party is not too large. If not, I should like to point out, if I may, that non-guests are also free to socialize in the lobby and the saloon, but that due to current circumstances our in-house security cannot extend themselves to act on your behalf should things become... complicated." The voice of the robot behind the counter is of a midrange timbre carefully modulated to be well within the hearing range of most species, and incredibly incredibly dull. This model undoubtedly is popular for teaching social studies or algebra.

Contrasting that, in a pitch so high that it probably can't be easily understood for any great distance, you think you hear one of the cleaning robots twitter, "What a douche."


"We're looking for a medic or biologist." If the robot doesn't seem immediately helpful, we head into the saloon.


It's one of those amusing confluences of reality. "I'm afraid we do not an official medic or biologist on staff. However, I happen to know that one of our guests has publicly advertising medical services, and happens to be in the saloon currently." The robot gestures with a spindly minimalist arm in the direction of the wood-composite archway leading to the attached drinking establishment.

The saloon is a largish rectilinear space with a high ceiling, approximately 80 meters long by 20 meters wide and 10 meters tall, decorated with crude ranching paraphernalia suspended overhead. The furnishings are of a rustic style crafted from wood and bone and simple composites, and most sporting some recent damage or stain. There are an array of displays along the outer walls, obviously connected to external sensors on the building, with a tweak to give the impression of actually looking through transparent material and onto the packed dirt road outside. Except for the one rendered non-functional due to some unfortunate blaster damage.

The bar itself is an elaborate affair tucked against one of the longer walls, on the nearer side beside the entrance. Patrons of the seasoned ilk are the only kind in evidence, and the score of them occupy tables near the bar. The far end of the long saloon has no occupied tables, and the furniture at that end has suffered greater damage. There is also a service entrance sealed with a heavy door that may have been concealed at one time by some decorations, but now stands in plain sight - also on the same wall as the entrance and the bar.

Behind the bar is a tall female reptiloid with almost mammalian aspects to her features, and she exudes persuasion. Beyond the uncomplicated aspects of her appeal, there is also plainly a tickle of broad-spectrum empathic projection affecting you (and probably everybody else) that she seems to delight in not hiding at all. The effect is only minor, and would have no ability to prevent you from killing her on a whim. But you feel certain that if anyone else were to attack her, your inclination to attack them would be somewhat increased. And by that mechanism, you are pretty sure that half the room would defend her for no good reason at all. And that's not counting the ones that might actually have good reason. She regards you with a welcoming smile and pleased eyes.

In the corner of the saloon, working at a booth, is a wrinkly Anurian using an ornate med pack on an unhappy-looking Equidon. She does not look up.


I smile back at the bartender and mosey over towards the Anurian. I tight-beam her before we get too close.

"Yo. Are you the medic that the robot back there mentioned was for hire?"

How is she armed?


2009.11.07 - Lions and Tigers and Missionaries, Oh My!

Once the unhappy Equidon was finished healing he came and sat with the brothers, mostly to mock them. He revealed that the bounty required that the targets remained alive, which put a decidedly large kink in the brothers plans to just keep killing bounty hunters until they found someone. The Anurian confirmed that the Groten head we were grimly carrying around wasn't recently grown or clone. In a coincidental twist of fate, they also found that there wasn't a life supporter to be bought in the town.

Heading out of the hotel, the brothers were waylaid by a Takolee of snipery disposition. He claimed to have been an acquaintance of the dead groten, and intended to kill the brothers. The Takolee shot first with his laser rifle, and dropped Sergei then ducked behind cover. Pavel bounded up to continue to engage, but the Takolee was hidden. Another laser shot spat out, and assassinated Pavel - but not by enough to keep him unconscious for more than a split instant. Pavel and the Takolee traded a couple shots, and Sergei arrived. The Takolee managed to land another telling shot on Pavel, and knocked him unconscious for longer. By the time Pavel awoke, the Takolee was dead.

As an oddity, Pavel also noticed that the robotic clerk was dead along with the two cleaning robots. The set some unhappy gears turning in Pavel's head, which prompted him to obtain sound recordings of the fight so that he could try to tell when the robots were killed. It was inconclusive.

Proceeding onto the bar again, the brothers arrive to find that some carnage had progressed without them. Not wanting to be left out, Pavel sent a message to a random scary combatant: "I know what you did."

"I knew this day would come, eventually." The Reglactin bristled with a force spear, and proceeded to stab the crap out of Pavel. Sergei assisted, mostly by attracting its attention by blasting at its shields, and allowing Pavel to land a particularly devastating double-blast to its vitals - killing it.

As Pavel stewed in his discontent and his paranoia, things got worse. A telepathic voice popped into his head, saying that it was one of the Four Dudes of the Bountypocalypse. Which, in and of itself, was not a terrible thing. However the Dude insisted that Sergei was not actually Sergie, but, in fact, a Missionary. Pavel sensed that this might put a strain on his relationship with his brother. The mentalist gave Pavel a fragile "house of cards" mark that he could shrug off at whim, which would be his mental signal to summon the mentalist.

Perhaps as a means of soaking up some of his annoyance with reality, Pavel suggested that Sergei pick a fight himself. The target turned out to be another shock trooper - a human with four attacks. The human quickly realized that he was not going to fare well, and tried to flee. The brothers gave chase, and suffered some serious harm from quad-paired heavy blasters trying to keep up. The human almost escaped, and managed to zoom off over half a kilometer away on a hoverbike - but Pavel managed to slam a killing shot with Tickler at long range.


Plot Infliction 12 - If the skill wern't so good...

To Sergei: "Y'know what would be funny? We could go buy a hundred or so life supporters at the capitol, bring them here and sell them for like 10x profit."

I shrug off that mark to get the attention of the mentalist. "Yo mentalist dude. I was trying to think of what I would do if I were in your situation. First question - if you really did drive off that monster and hide the remains that it's after, why didn't you just destroy the remains? You could have easily sent them sailing into the nearest star if you wanted too. That would have prevented the bounty because the General would have eventually figured out that the remains were gone."

"Second question - if both the Monster and the General want you because they want the remains, why not just tell them? If you told them both at the same time, heck, make it public knowledge, then they'd be racing each other to get to them and then leave you alone. If you're lucky the Monster will kill off the General, negating the bounty. We've found that killing the source of a bounty is a great way to get rid of it."


The sense of a voice thrums in your head. "Hello Pavel. It is impossible to prove that something doesn't exist. Say we had flung the remains of the monsters into a star, by foolishly admitting that we had encountered these monsters it will always be conceivable that we didn't actually destroy the remains. We are always going to have both a bounty hunter and Monsters looking for us while we're alive. Even if some remains are found, there will always be the possibility that we hid more."

"Further, if we could prove to the Monster that we destroyed the remains, that removes any hesitation it might have for desroying us. So we're sticking with the truth: we had no idea at the time what a nightmare the Monsters really were, and were hoping to capitalize on its advanced technology - but were too scared of it to actually carry it with us. Hopefully that will prolong the confusion long enough for a couple of us to be able to lose ourselves in the mess. And, maybe, just maybe, kill Guilladot first, before another Monster sniffs us out."


2009.11.12 - Bad Things Happen

After hiding out briefly to restore full stamina, the brothers mosey down the deserted main street of Knudop heading towards the bar. As they approach, they see a familiar Massetin entering the bar. After an exchange of polite acknowledgements, the spiky quasi-biped asked them if they saw the five triloids sneaking up behind them.

Sure enough, turning around the brothers face five furtive forms stealthily closing with them. Seeing that they were armed with multiple edged weapons, the brothers guessed that the reptiloids were not effective combats at longer range. So they sprinted to put distance between them. Unfortunately, they did not get far enough, and the quintet turned out to all be assassins with rather good throwing range. They aggressively landed deadly flung force blades, assassinating both brothers. The Pavel was on his feet again after a couple turns, and the triloids still had not closed the full distance to finish them off. Pavel picked up Sergei and started a running battle, heading down one of the few dirt streets of Knudop.

The brothers were chased out of town, and were eventually forced to resort to fleeing with their move boots to escape. Once it was clear that they could not keep up, the triloids took to cover and disappeared among the town's buildings. Not a single triloid was injured.

More than a little peeved, the brothers collected their assault lasers from the Swift Boat. They also found that the Silent Red Shirt had been given some ominous warnings about the brothers potentially being a Missionary from a telepathic source. Heading back into the quiet town, they looked for the scampering assassins.

As they look, they happen across another of the scary bounty hunters, and from it learn that lackeys were sent to fetch a stock of life supporters, and that they're due back in about 8 hours. After which time, the brothers conjecture that everyone will be killing everyone else.

Then they're addressed via the waitress at the restaurant, who was sent out as a relay by some persuasive individual who tries to pump the brothers for more information. As a result of that exchange, they are hinted to check with the bartender at the hotel saloon.

Wanting to vent some more, the brothers actually head to the bar. They enter to find the expected crowd of dastardly deadly bounty hunters (but none of the hated triloid assassins), and are talked into handing over their assault rifles to the Sheriff. Shortly therafter they are snarked at by a mouthy Yiptak. This makes venting easy for Pavel, who engages in a long slug-fest exchange of blaster fire, and finishes off the trop with an aggressive double-shot with Tickler. When pressed by the grumbling crowd about killing potential Boutypocalypse Dudes, Pavel asserts that anyone that attention-grabbingly mouthy was unlikely to be one of the hiding targets. Which immediately prompts everyone to get mouthy.

Pavel stews as he waits to heal back up to full, and tension remains high in the bar. Once back up to full strength, he resolves to kill the next person to leave. As it happens, the next person to leave is a slim figure carved out of purest evilium. When provoked by Pavel and Sergei, the figure demonstrates a terrifying capability with his tiny laser pistol, and proceeds to burn the brothers down one tiny blink at a time. Pavel lands several telling hits with Tickler that throw the Evil Being back, while Sergei only really manages to act as cannon fodder. Sergei gets taken down, and is injured so badly that it is unclear if his healing ability will be sufficient to save him. The Evil Being is near collapse from precise blasts from Tickler, but he manages to take down Pavel first. Doom appears inescapable, and Pavel's spirit makes peace with oblivion.

Except that he doesn't die. Instead he is revived, and finds the Evil Being dead and Sergei miraculously upright. The rest of the bar denizens look on in amazement, and Sergei leads Pavel out of the bar. Still reeling, Pavel reviews what happened from Gladius' vantage point. He sees how Sergei abruptly got up and for the first time in the firefight land hits to the Evil Being - hits to the vitals. Then Sergei strode over to Pavel and applied a pair of patches - expertly.

And Pavel has a Very Bad Feeling.


Plot Infliction 13 - The Road To Hell

Sergei leads the way out of the bar. "We need to talk strategy."


Before I heal up, I slap a patch on. I try not to think about it, see if I can just go on instinct. Just want to see if I happen to have any latent medic ability.

"Yes we do. I'm curious what your plan is. I'm thinking we should take our credits, find a pleasure planet and enjoy life for a few centuries."


It is a good thing that robotic patches can perform their basic function autonomously, because you have such a staggering lack of ability due to infrequent use that you're barely certain that it even had any effect at all.

Sergei glowers at you in a most un-brotherly manner. "Don't be stupid, bro. We sauntered into this trap with our eyes open, and now it's time to get down to business. We need to pin down exactly who the other two Dudes are in town besides that Massetin and the Sheriff - hopefully so that we can take them down separately, because it'll be tough if they manage to get together. While the crowd of bounty hunters are still eying everyone, we probably have a chance. If we survive that process, we try to stay on top of the self-destructive wave of mutual annihilation of the bounty hunters."

Then Sergei cocks his head to one side. "Then, assuming that the Active Metal is recoverable, we collect it. Depending on how much there is left, we might have to grow a bit taller." He shrugs. "Then maybe we collect on the bounty - it might be a laugh."


I think Pavel is getting a headache at this point. He remains unphased though.

"Let's go to the saloon. Maybe the waitress can offer us a hint."

I shurg off the mark the mentalist put on me. When he contacts me I say: "We're all screwed. The only way I'm possibly going to help you guys is if you tell me what happened to my actual brother. Is he still in there somewhere and the Missionary is inside controlling him, or was he killed and replaced. I'm sure you can use prescience to get a glimpse of what happened. Also, I still think you should just reveal where the dead Missionary is. That way he may find that going after it is preferable to staying here."

I'm glad Sergei is still saying 'we' a lot.

To Sergei: "Y'know, maybe we should have grabbed our assault weapons before we left the bar."


"There's an 85% probability that the Triloids assassins from the reptiloid mafia are waiting in ambush for us at the hotel. Yeah, let's go kill them first, to get them out of the way so that they don't annoy us later." Sergei heads purposefully along the lee of the buildings towards the hotel. "The Sheriff Dude had already destroyed the assault lasers, and was building an acquire."

The voice in your head seems... perturbed. "How the hell am I supposed to know what happened to your brother? All my cryptic hints about how these monsters work are more cryptic than hint. You have to help us corner him without attracting the notice of the bounty hunter crowd. We're holding out the location of the dead monster as long as possible..."


Seems like the Missionary was somewhat dorment before, maybe giving subconscious hints to Sergei. But now it's emerged. Really not sure how to kill it without killing Sergei.

"Mmmmm... dead Trioloids. Let's do it."

To the voice: "Well, you're no help. Why did the Massetin warn us about the Triloids? If you guys thought that Sergei was a Missionary, then wouldn't it have been advantageous to let the Triloids jump us?" I sigh mentally. "What did you have in mind for corning him? Would all four of you join the fight? That might be a dead givaway that you are the targets of the bounty."

I follow Sergei to the hotel. I'm hoping I can chat with the bartender discretely before we get ambushed by the Triloids.


As your tall, imposing forms stride along the growing shadows, Sergie tightbeams you without looking at you. "How long have you known that I wasn't your brother? I've kept his brain intact, by the way - in case you were worried."

The voice in your head does not decrease its perturbation. "The Massetin warned you?!?! That stupid inverted-hormone body is really fucking with him. -Ah. He says that he thinks we need your help, and that he thought it would be revealing to see more of your capabilities. I still think he's forming random loyalties way too strongly. Anyway: you're right - we can't all converge in front of all the bounty hunters. But we're hoping that he's still not powerful enough to take on two of us simultaneously, if you can switch alliances when the shooting starts. You have to do it. He's a monster. He's just going to kill you too."

It's turning into the longest 200 meter walk ever.


To the Missionary: "Well, that's comforting... sort of. I suspected for a while that something wasn't right with him, but didn't have absolute confirmation until you patched me in there. Sergei wasn't a medic. You mentioned that we might have to grow a bit taller once we find the Active Metal? I think you can understand my confusion with that statement." I pause for a moment. "Can I talk to Sergei?"


The Sergei Monster makes an entirely unpleasant smile. "I knew the patching was the clincher, but I do need your assistance after all and couldn't let you suffer any brain damage. I couldn't quite work out that unique sign language you used, though, and it seemed like a too-obvious lack..."

"Anyway - the growing taller part. I'm basically Sergei's skeleton now, wearing his body as healing armour and with a twin brother as the best cover story ever. So if I get more Active Metal it means modifying Sergei biologically to be bigger - and to keep the twin brother cover story plausible, I'd have to modify you too."

"You can talk to Sergei, but I can't let him access any motor functions. Comm link OK?"

There's a pause, and a parallel signal is tightbeamed to you.

"...Hey."


"Hey Bro. Can you see me?"

To the monster: "When did you first join with Sergei? Are you thinking long term for using me as a good cover story? Or are you just planning to kill me off and dispose of Sergei's brain once you have no more use for us."


The supposedly real Sergei responds immediately. "Yeah, I've been able to see and hear all along - I think the damn thing was using my reactions to help it pretend to be me. I've tried to goad the zarker to back you up in fights better, like I would, but I think that it's been training you. Oh, and I'm pretty sure it's tapped into this comm."

The not-real Sergei channel responds in parallel. "I crossed with Sergei at the bar on Isolation Bay. I think you sent him in to fetch burgers, and he stumbled in on me interrogating corpses. I'd like to use you guys as cover story for a while, but we can negotiate details. The whole 'missionaries kill everyone' schtick is a bit over-stated - it depends on context. Out in the boonies like this, you're more valuable as associates than the minute risk of a predator missionary being around."


Ok, assuming that I'm talking to the real Sergei, and assuming the Missionary was being honest about not quite getting our sign language, I sign a message to Sergei. I want to get across the message "Do you want me to kill you?", but I don't want to actually use the word "kill" because the Missionary might have figured out that one. So I say something like "Do you want me to help end your existance?".


The supposedly real Sergei channel pauses for a moment. "I think I kind of know what Abdul felt like."

The Sergei Monster arches an eyebrow.


Signing to Sergei: "Be less cryptic damnit! I've pretty much decided to help the zarking Missionary kill those four. I have no idea what kind of existance you're going to have, being locked up in your own body. If you're ok with living that way, fine, I have no idea what it's like. If you want to kill the bastard Missionary even if it means dying yourself, you need to let me know now. We won't get another chance.


Again, on the supposedly real Sergei channel: "Dude, there is no yes or no answer. It would be cool if we were the zarking Archangel, but we're not. We gotta be like unclezarking Abdul. I mean, it's not like that flying Hylosus is dead, right?"

The Sergei Monster snorts, and mutters "Angels and flying Hylosi." Then gives a very un-Sergei-like giggle. "How about, after the slaughtering is all done, we transfer Sergei's brain to a container of your own construction, and you can converse with him more freely - and without resorting to allusions of religious icons or flying pigs."


Signing to Sergei: "Right. Plan C."

To Sergei Monster: "Sorry, talking about a childhood game we played. Had to make sure I was actually talking to Sergei."

I have probably completely misinterpreted what he was trying to tell me, but wtf. It was one of the Takolee's, not Abdul that helped us purge the Hylosis goop back on Zombie-World.

I assume the mentalist is still there. "Dude. I've discovered that my brother is still alive and his body is being used by the monster. I'll help you on one condition. We take them alive. I know where we can find an intermediate scale electrical stream that might disable the Missionary. The trick is getting us there. And besides, even if you were to kill Sergei, some part of the monster would likely escape, regrow and come after you again.


Supposedly real Sergei: "Still craving a burger and a beer, by the way."

Sergei Monster is fairly deadpan. "It's good to know that you're not letting your paranoia completely run wild. My biggest problem with ever dealing with associates openly is the tendency to assume I have magical powers." He then favours you with an incredibly unsettling wink. "In terms of tactics: I'd prefer if you still appeared to be the lead combatant. If we start getting in trouble, we should try to fall back to a location where only our opponents can see us. Then I can start exhibiting unexpected abilities and skills as required. And, if everything goes to shit, you should keep in mind that I'm a kick-ass medic and can apply up to four patches on you per turn from up to 50 meters away."

The voice in your head is aghast. "ALIVE? ARE YOU FUCKING INSANE?!?! Your brother is dead, and so are you, and so are we, and so is everybody else in this town - UNLESS WE KILL IT FIRST!!!"


Gah. Don't trust the Missionary. Don't trust the four dudes. Only person I trust is trapped in his own body.

To the voice: "You see, there's your problem. You're too paranoid. Can you patch me in to the sheriff via telepathy?


...and Sergei can only talk to you through a soulless and completely evil monster. The missionary, I mean.

The mentalist brings in another mental voice that drawls recognizably as the sheriff. "Howdy. What's the say so?"

"The idiot brother is insisting that we try to take the monster alive so that he can try to save his sibling."

"Uh-huh. He thinks his brother is still alive? Sure seems unlikely. In fact, gotta say, I kinda wonder if the brother isn't just a whatchamacallit."

"Idiot?"

"Apparatchik."

"Showoff, the brother is who we're talking with."

"Oh. I was supposed to know that because you're calling him an idiot? Sorry, about the pessimism, mister."


"No worries. My brother is alive. We need to figure out some way to disable the monster within him while keeping my brother alive. I had a thought about using a large electric stream, but I'm not sure how we'd keep Sergei alive during the process. That, and we'd have to get him there."

"Once the Missionary is disabled, we should be able to extract it. Some time ago, my brother and I encountered a similar being that invaded our bodies. We were able to use a mentalist/medic to extract it. Hopefully, we could do something similar."


"See? Idiot."

"Hush up, there. The boy's got hope, which is something to be envious of. Listen mister, I'm not sure if you really understand the, uh, whachamacallit-"

"Idiocy?"

"-subtlety that this here monster is capable of. You have been lead to believe that your kin is alive, and that the no-good monster is merely abiding within him. Your brother is, dollars to doughnuts, already plum deaded all the way up, and his mind has gone been read (by means most foul) and is being squawked back at you. To confuse you and such. There's no going disabling the monster and then extractifying it, even if your brother is still alive-ish. It's like disabling a grenade mysteriously inside a beer bottle (one with those skinny necks, like), and removing it without breaking the beer bottle or spilling any beer none."

"Well said, for a mumbler."

"I'll take that as a compliment and all, regardless. Anyway, mister, I hope I don't have to explain to you just exactly how horrifical and just plain mean this here monster is. But, instead, just be realizing that that it's horrifical enough that you should be helping us take it down. Right?"


To Sergei Monster: "Yo, one thing I'm confused about. Why do you need Sergei? I'm no expert on Missionaries, but aren't you able to shape shift and heal on your own?"

To Sheriff & Mentalist: "Gah. I'm going to try to get some more info from the monster. Mental dude, can you just keep connected to me telepathically instead of doing the whole mark thing? I may be a bit, we got some Triloids to kill."

To the saloon. If we're able to get into the saloon before we're jumped by Triloids, I'd like to do a quick experiment with the mentalist bartender babe.


2009.11.19 - Five Funerals and a Cameo

Walking up the steps to the hotel, the Sergei Monster makes a somewhat-satisfactory case for why he is using Sergei's body.

And, then, walking into the lobby of the hotel they are beset upon by the five waiting Triloid assassins. Without anyone to witness them, the Sergei Monster reveals more of its potential - and the fact that it is more of a hand-to-hand combatant. Which, as it turned out, was considerably more effective against the five hand-to-hand assassins. The fighting was brutal and fast-paced, but Pavel and his Monster prevailed easily.

They continued on past the assassinated hotel worker at the check-in desk, and went into the Saloon. Once in the saloon, they found the expected array of frightening individuals. Pavel quickly determined that the mentalist bartender was, in fact, not the Bountpocalypse member who he was in mental contact with. He then struck up a bargain with the bartender to hire her ability for a taste of prescience - for a tidy price and the promise of protection. The protection was necessary because the bartender needed to dump her empathic abilities to be able to attempt prescience, and without her glamour she was at considerably greater risk.

While the bartender meditated, a powerful and aggressive robot bounty hunter entered into a pissing match with Pavel. Which, naturally, turned into a deadly conflict. Pavel fought the robot by himself, and it was a close fight, but the robot just barely managed drop Pavel with his quad blaster rifle turrets to establish clear victory. However, Sergei immediately picked up Pavel, and shooed the robot away without having to resort to any extraordinary measures. When Pavel regained consciousness a couple turns later, Sergei Monster explained not killing the robot as being a tactical ploy.

Then a small probe floated tentatively into the saloon. It surveyed the crowd with obvious trepidation, then spotted Pavel and Sergei and approached. It conveyed a linked communication from Pavel and Sergei's old partners - the Takolees. They chatted.

While they chatted, Pavel also indicated that he wised to engage in telepathic contact with the mentalist battle bunny. After convincing the telepathic battle bunny of the predicament, and causing him to wet himself, the telepath was able to confirm that Sergei's brain was in fact still alive and intact. Although, Sergei did seem to be somewhat insane - more than usual anyway. A stilted conversation between the brothers cleared some things up, and scared the crap out of the telepath. After being helpful, the Takolees fled Knudop.

The Sergei Monster, being somewhat scarily intelligent, scarily aware, and with at least one stage of mathematician, nailed Pavel for being in furtive telepathic contact. Worse, it extrapolated not only the exchange with the Takolees, it also deduced the contact with the Bountpocalypse Dude. A tense conversation followed, wherein the Missionary was pretty blunt about Pavel and Sergei's possibilities of survival. And, not least of all, Pavel developed an unpleasant idea about what might be required in order to survive under the Missionary's terms.


Plot Infliction 14 - The Ugliness Of Truth

The bartender looks at Pavel with her eyes hugely dilated. "OK big fella. Ask me a question."


"Ok. The original question I was going to ask has already been answered. So, here's another one: 'Where is the mentalist member of the bounty?'"

To the monster: "I'm going to try and find out where the mentalist is."

Then I shrug off that mark. When the mentalist contacts me: "Unfortunatly, it seems you might have been right. I'm going to help you. What is the plan? Are you going to wait until TSHTF when all those life supporters come back? Is it going to the be the Massetin and Sheriff that attack? If it's the other two of you, how will I know not to attack you?"

gasp.


The bartender gets a faraway look and says, "He's in his room."

The Sergei Monster smirks.

The mentalist rushes into your head. "Thank zark, you finally saw reason. I'll coordinate you telepathically."


"'In his room'. Well, I guess that's why they call it cryptic."

To the monster: "The mentalist isn't being too informative, surprise surprise. Do you think you'd recognize him or the medic if you saw them?"


The bartender seems to redeem some of her former appeal as she gives you a wry smile. "Technically speaking, that's referred to as a 'good hint'. Now, remember our bargain, and keep guard while you puzzle out what that hint might mean so that I can meditate and get my defenses back up."

Sergei Monster tells you, totally deadpan, "At a glance, not at all. The mentalist will be especially hard to spot because he's skilled at blending in and snipers are a dime a dozen in this town right now, plus he has advance knowledge of where we're paying attention. The medic, on the other hand, will stand out somewhat if he engages with us. His fighting style is distinctive."

A bellboy enters the saloon. He's terrified, but he's wearing a brave face. And, guided in an understandably wavering way, he has a small hover-tray with some steaming plates of food. Probably a delivery arranged from the restaurant, or something. The various bounty-hunters regard the green-skilled pink-grey humanoid with disdain, if at all - for the most part. A couple bounty-hunters seem to delight in taunting the bellboy with pantomime, and watching his horror-stricken responses. Finally, nearly at the end of his wits, the bellboy reaches the correct table - two anurians, a mavvice, and a croc major.

The croc major, in a very businesslike manner, takes one steaming plate, looks at the crispy multi-legged things on it, and sets in in front of the mavvice. Then the croc takes another steaming plate, regards the bloated masses of boiled annelids, allows himself to make a slight sneer, and places it in front of one anurian. The final plate, a pile of soggy-looking greenish vegetable matter, is set in front of the other anurian.

There's a deliciously awkward pause, while the bellboy looks at the mavvice with a plate of food, both anurians with plates of food, and then at the crocaloid major. And they're all smiling, eagerly. Well, except for the bellboy. His stricken expression is suddenly obscured by the crocaloid's lower jaw, and any sounds he might have tried to make were drowned out by, "OM NOM NOM NOM NOM!"


I have a hunch where the mentalist is... but I don't really want to let Sergei Monster know, if he hasn't already guessed. I think I may try to backstab and/or kill everyone and kidnap one of the four for the bounty. I think there's going to be a lot of ad hoc desicions when all hell breaks loose.

"That made me hungry. Let's go to the restaurant and eat before the chaos starts."


Do you leave the saloon before the bartender has finished meditating back her MBA?

There's definitely a tension in the room, and it's lassood around you to an undeniable degree.


Right, no we wait until the bartender is done.


2009.11.27 - Next Stop: Hell

Pavel and the Sergei Monster wait for the bartender to finish recouping her defensive mental field of glamour, staring down the possibility of aggressors. Then Pavel heads out and leads the pair towards the restaurant. Once out of the hotel Sergei inquires about Pavel's plan, but Pavel asserts that he merely wants to have a final meal before things get crazy. It is unsure if the answer is convincing, but the Sergei Monster doesn't push the issue.

The restaurant appears nearly deserted. The waitress is standing idly near the back waiting for the lone patron to finish his meal, and she seats the brothers with a clear demeanour of preferring to curl up underneath the sink and gibber quietly to herself until the nightmares finally choke the last shreds of her sanity. The other patron, a hylosus, asks some leading questions about the brothers, and about the sheriff and the massetin. He leaves on a sour note, and so before their meal is served Pavel and Sergei follow after the hylosus to hunt him down and kill him.

Naturally, the hylusus is waiting outside the restaurant for them. Perhaps he thinks that this turn of events will cast the brothers in a sufficiently damning light that they wouldn't consider attacking the hylosus in full view of both the bar and the saloon. He thought wrongly.

The fight is fast and concussive, with the hylosus demonstrating what a high-stage shock trooper can accomplish. In the open, the Sergei Monster acts the abilities of a merely seasoned shock trooper. Consequently, the penultimate moment has the twin rifles of the hylosus blasting the Sergei Monster off his feet and into feigned unconsciousness. Which is followed immediately by Pavel applying a spectacular coup de grâce - a double-blast between the eyes with Tickler that jerks the half-tonne combatant into an ungainly backflip.

Sergei gets back up, and they go back inside - to heal back up, and to finish their meal.

Heading back out, the brothers turn to go towards the hotel. But before they get very far, three unlikely combatants file out of the bar. They seem uncomfortable with the brothers methods, suspecting them to be more than they claim to be. Which of course, they are. A point that is not allowed to be much further explored, as the five take up arms, and the brothers mow through the three aggressors with a tactical shuffling of targets. The three are defeated so soundly that their corpses all end up toppling or flopping back into the bar from the force of the brothers' blasts.

Once again, the brothers head towards the saloon. And, once again, they don't quite make it. On the verge of entering, the Sergei Monster suddenly declares that he has an idea. He heads off in a manner to skirt the front of the hotel, and circle around to the back of the jail. Pavel follows, and is unsurprised to hear the mentalist burst into his head, demanding to know what's going on. At the back of the jail, as the brothers consider who should undertake the tampering of the sealed-up rear entrance, the massetin and the sheriff sprint into view.

As the Sergei Monster, unencumbered by being seen from the saloon or the bar leaps to engage, Pavel leaps up to the top of the jail for a better vantage point. From which he can see the mentalist (a small vega lizard) and the medic (a halamite) running across the street from the hotel. The mentalist implores Pavel to start shooting at the Sergei Monster. Instead, Pavel takes a pot-shot at the mentalist. As it turns out, the mentalist is armed with an intermediate scale electric charge weapon, which he uses with considerable retaliatory effect on Pavel. The medic runs to assist his comrades against the Sergei Monster.

The fight rages, in only the way that 45 stages distributed amongst 6 people can manage it. The first to die is the sheriff, who does so valiantly in a coordinated effort that does have some effect in diminishing the Sergei Monster. But it is not enough, and still not quite able to reign in the unfamiliar rages of a massetin body, the shock trooper is the next to die. Again, though, this allows a slight gap for the shock shooter to slam the Sergei Monster with another powerful hit. But it is still not enough. The Sergei Monster moves to intercept the shock shooter, and Pavel seems to worry that things are getting too one-sided, so takes a pot shot at the Sergei Monster instead of the shock shooter who was his usual target.

The Sergei Monster parries it, and Pavel is left with a sense that this has somewhat diminished the fraternal bond. So Pavel flees. Behind him he hears the shock shooter die.

Heading towards the swift boat takes Pavel back towards main street, where he sees that the commotion has drawn out the crowds of scary bounty hunters from the bar and the saloon. He vaguely eggs them on, and tells the Silent Red Shirt at the swift boat to get ready to flee. To which, the SRS grimly informs Pavel that all the other ships appear to be quite twitchy and likely to open fire on anything that tries to leave. Then Pavel is hailed by the Sergei Monster, instructing him to return to kill the medic. Pavel attempts to negotiate, but the Sergei Monster is adamant.

Bounding back past the hesitant crowd, Pavel finds that the missionary has shed Sergei's body and is facing off against the halamite medic. Following instructions, Pavel engages. The halamite has truly spectacular defensive capabilities, and it requires all of Pavel's vaunted sharpshooting ability to land blasts - all the while suffering consistent kicks from the halamite. With the help of a few well-placed patches from the missionary, Pavel eventually prevails.

Moments later the crowd starts to peer around the corners of the buildings. All they see are Pavel finishing beheading the halamite, the beheaded bodies of the sheriff, the massetin, and the mentalist, as well as the beheaded and de-boned body of Pavel's brother Sergei.

Stealthily, using a force beam, the missionary plucks the halamite's head from Pavel. And Pavel is left to face the querulous crowd on his own.


Plot Infliction 15 - How Many Levels In Hell Are There?

...On at least one level, it's all crying babies...


...At the next level it's screaming 2 year olds...

I quickly send a message to the silent red suit. "Dude, grab the flying pack and get the zark out of the ship. Hide somewhere amongst the other ships and let me know if the swift boat takes off."

I solemnly go to Sergei's remains and heft them over my shoulder. I wander back in the direction of the crowd, glaring at them as I go. "I think y'all should be able to confirm that those four bodies back there are the targets of the bounty. Anyone know where I can respectfully bury my brother around here?"

I hail the mentalist bartender. "I have need of your services to help with crowd control. Interested? I could help you get out of here, assuming I'm able to get out of here."


The Silent Red Shirt is, as yet, unconvinced of the wisdom of Pavel's instructions. "Uh, I think that by virtue of wearing a flight pack I might become a target for ship-scale turrets. No zarking way."

As Pavel walks to Sergei's body, the crowd circles around the scene. The main question you're buffeted with is "Where are the heads?" Sergei's body, without bones or head, is suprisingly light. And floppy. What's kind of grisly, though, is that the regenerative powers continue unabated and you can feel the corpse subtly writhing on your shoulder as it tries to heal itself. Nobody offers any helpful or even respectful ideas for your brother.

The bartender (who, when she gave you her comm number, included the fact that her name is Vichinthanam) responds simply, "Very interested." Her aura of influence is present even via communicator.

It is worth mentioning that, at this point, Pavel feels a kind of hollowing sense of being alone that scars him psychologically. It's a stress point. Only one stress point, but it is a stress point that can never be healed.


Mustering all my will power on the silent red suit: "DON'T WEAR IT THEN! JUST CARRY IT. WE NEED IT. GRAB SOME OTHER GEAR IF YOU NEED TO, TO MAKE IT LOOK LESS CONSPICIOUS, BUT GET OUT OF THERE!" Gasp.



To Vichi: "I'm behind the jail."

I wait.


The Silent Red Shirt is, finally, convinced. "Understood."

Vichi tells you, "I had a feeling where you were. I'm heading your way. How long do you think I have before the pack turns on you?"

A couple of the more aggressive members of the crowd make themselves heard above the cumulative muttering. "HEY! We asked you a question, zarker. Where. Are. The. Heads?!?!" By this point, you are completely encircled by curious seasoned bounty hunters - all thinking that they may need to survive a mass melee in order to cash into a megacredit bounty plus a strike class cruiser.

Meanwhile, the anurian medic shoulders her way through the crowd and crouches down by the shredded corpse of the sheriff. "Not a recently-grown body."


Ooooooo the medic just made this a bunch more difficult, didn't she?

Vichi: "Not long. I'll try to keep them off balance."

I take a deep breath and address the crowd. "The heads were taken by the same thing that did THIS..." and I wave Sergei's body in their collective faces. "Trust me, you don't want to know what it was."

"Y'know, you morons are a bunch of zarking idiots. Here you are, a town full of seasoned combatants, and the only way you can think of to make a million credits and get a strike class cruiser is by collecting an impossible bounty. There's a mostly undefended ship dealer on that bluff over there that easily has that amount of cash as well as a bunch of corrivals. It would be easy pickings for a group this large."


Some of the stupider members of the crowd seem genuinely interested in your suggestion. Most do not.

A familiar robot is the first to respond to you, and the group at large, in a somewhat-articulate manner. "Even if you discount the fact that nobody here trusts anybody else to allow such cooperation, attacking a ship dealer on a planet with a dedicated military is just plain dumb. That place would be locked down with multiple ship scale shields such that we'd be lucky if we could get away with some lousy hoppers before a strike force arrived - and we'd have bounties on our heads for the trouble."

The unhappy-looking equidon chimes in too. "Besides, the reward is only part of the attraction. There's a certain amount of glory to be had for scoring the biggest bounty ever in this sector."

The anurian medic addresses your previous comment. "Actually, I would like to know what did that to your twin. Can I look at him?"

Some patience is lost in general, in the crowd. Overlapping yells of, "We saw you chopping off a head!" and "Where are the heads?!<interrobang>" It is obvious that people on one side of the crowd are starting to pick their order of battle.

The other side of the crowd, though, seem to be considerably more relaxed. In fact, you feel a strange soothing sensation starting to tickle around your funny bone. The whole, self-destructive tension of the situation is starting to seem a little silly.


I look at the Anurian and try to imagine removing her skeleton for transplanting into Sergei's body if she attempts to come much closer to Sergei. I do my best to convey that to her in my glare.

I shrug. "Well, as you can plainly see, I don't have the heads." I look from person to person in the crowd, smiling evilly as the tension drains away. "I think someone may have grabbed them. Anybody sneaky among you?" I keep a close eye on the robot, as I'm guessing he'll be less effected by the mentalist.

I hail the silent red suit: "What's your status?"


The anurian takes your meaning, but is not totally cowed. Probably because she has the de-facto protection of the crowd, as the only one with the skills necessary to determine some key elements. "Why was your brother gutted as well as beheaded? And I'm awfully curious about that healing factor you two have - does it have something to do with all this?"

Nevertheless, the misdirection about the heads does have most of the crowd looking more intently at each other, and the tension does indeed lessen by a critical notch. Though, effectively, it means that when they decide to kill you it won't be a spur of the moment whim. That doesn't mean they aren't all still trying to decide who they're going to try to kill first, though. The robot, as expected, is not outwardly affected by the change in the crowd's mood; but then he wasn't exactly one of the ones seeming to be building up a bloodlust.

The Silent Red Shirt responds: "Slight delay. Seems like in the time it's taken me to grab the stuff and head down to the small portal in section six, most of the other ships have gone on alert. Just as I was easing open the seal on the hatch, a ship next to us flashed us with an active scan. I'm a bit pinned down for the moment - looking for their attention to move on."


Silent Red Shirt: "Well, if you're not already dead, you may be safe there. If you see something enter the ship carrying Sergei's head, you may want to flee."

Anurian: "The healing factor is due to our father being a kick-ass biologist. Trust me, you don't want to know why Sergei was de-boned. The sheriff... is there any evidence that he was biologically altered in any way, like a brain being transplanted into him, or do you need the head to figure that out?"

To the crowd: "My pilot just informed me that something's up by the ships. Did anyone's pilot see anything?"

As subtly as I can, I do a locate above the jail to see if the fighter is still completely invisible. That is, I'm hoping I see nothing.


"Shit! Sergei's dead?! Are you OK? What can I do to help?" The SRS seems emboldened by his outrage.

The anurian looks at you sourly. "I'm not sure we want to take your word about the freak factor. And, no, there's no way to tell if a brain was implanted without the SKULL."

The crowd shares a generally mischievious look, as virtually everyone seems to have warned their crews that some shit was heading fan-ward.

Peeking upward, to where the cloaked fighter was, you see nothing.

There still seems to be a general sense that you're hiding something, and there are threatening demands to know where the heads are.

Through a gap in the crowd, Vichi catches your eye and tightbeams you. "WTF?"


To the increasingly annoying crowd: "The heads are gone for zark sakes! Either they are being held here by someone..." I do a little spin around showing everything I'm carrying. "... that isn't me, or whoever has them is fleeing, likely back towards the ships. I was really hoping I could collect on the bounty by taking out that Halamite, but the zarker that killed the rest of these guys swiped the head from me with a force beam." I single out the two guys that first came around the corner. "You guys should be able to confirm that."

Vichi: "WTF indeed. The bounty is done. No one is going to collect on it. I think I'm about to be lynched."


There's a grumble of doubt among the crowd while the witnesses review their visual logs. The awkward consensus is that they clearly have visuals of you chopping off the head, and hiding it behind your back, but everyone was distracted by either a sound or something glimpsed peripherally for a couple seconds. Additionally, in that crucial couple seconds, you too were focussed elsewhere and have no visual record of of where the head went.

"Maybe he hid it?"

"Maybe he has a hidden partner?"

"Maybe he's telling the truth?"

They focus their questions back on you. "What did the zarker that killed the rest of these guys look like?"

Vichi tightbeams back. "It's definitely going to get ugly soon. And there's no way they're going to let you just walk away."


"Well well well... that's an interesting question and it puts me in a bit of a predicimate. You see, I get the feeling that the thing that did this really values it's privacy. If I tell you all, then it will likely hunt me down and kill me, and it will likely hunt all of you down and kill you." I pause in thought for a moment. "However, it may forgive me if I just tell one of you. It would have to be someone that you all trust and they would have to swear that they don't tell anyone else. But they would be able to suggest what y'all should do based on the information."

"Problem is, the person I tell will likely be hunted down and killed. I'm still not sure if that fate will befall me or not."

"Anyone feel lucky?"


There are two factors conspiring against Pavel at this particular rhetorical juncture:
1) All the bounty hunters in this particular crowd are seasoned, and as such are unlikely to be easily spooked.
2) You're in the armpit of space, where legendary beings probably wouldn't bother to go, and so have allowed most of the members of the crowd to think that they are, in fact, the scariest individuals ever.

"Just tell us, melodrama-boy. "

"Better yet, tell us where the zarking heads are!"

"Might as well, because no ships are leaving this town."

This last statement, while true, ripples uncomfortably through the crowd. Everybody is contemplating how many people need to die before they can try to leave. And, when they do, how they'll plausibly avoid getting revenge-blasted by the ships of the slain.


No uncloaked ships anyways, I think to myself.

"Fine." I look around for an Orbodun, failing that, a Reglactin, failing that, a Vega-Lizard. A species with a reputation for honesty.

Meanwhile, I hail Sergei Monster. "Are you gone, or are you watching this little drama unfold?"


Take your pick: there is one orbodun and one reglactin and one vega lizard. The vega lizard looks like it has the warmest personality.

There is no response from the Sergei Monster.


To the crowd: "Melodrama-boy am I? Ok, it's likely the truth won't be believed anyway, but let's try it with... " I look around dramatically. "You" and I tight beam the Reglactin. I send him my record of the conversation I had with the Sergei monster when we first discussed his true nature - starting at where he said we need to talk strategy and ending just before I talked to Sergei on the other line. Then I send him a visual of the second battle between us and the Triloids, and then I send him a visual of Sergei monster charging and attacking the Sheriff and Massetin. I show him the rest of that battle when Sergei's body is mostly gone and then right at the end where the silvery robot is holding all the heads.

Tight beaming - "In case you haven't figured it out yet, that's a Missionary. And I believe he's still around here somewhere. My fear is that if his presence is too widely known, he'll just kill all of us. And all the pilots. Probably blow up the ships too for good measure."

Out loud - "So, in your expert tactical opinion, what should everyone here do."

Either he's too dumb to grasp the ramifications, or his head's about to metaphorically explode.


The reglactin gets a confused look and makes his forehead extra-wrinkly. His eyes dart back and forth a bit as he thinks. "What's a 'Missionary'?"

The word gets muttered around a bit, along with some snickering.

"He's bluffing. Get him."


I roll my eyes. "Figured no one would believe me. You realize that while we're standing here, the one that has the heads is getting further away."

I wonder if once combat starts they're going to just focus on me, or if they'll turn on each other too.

I really wonder what Sergei Monster is doing. My guess is that he's breaking into a ship at this point.

If combat starts and I survive, might make for good Infantry skill.


START TIME DILATION MODE

Everybody is lifting up their weapons, and are getting their kill on.

The robot, the surly equidon, and several others are all focussing on you. Everybody else is using this opportunity to kill somebody else.

Due to the very efficient communication possible, coupled with the broad leniency God has with such discourse and the fact that there's still a few days before DEATH NIGHT, we can still squeeze in some clarifying plot infliction action.


To Vichi - no dice discourse "Get someone to hate robot!"

To SRS - "The shitteth is hiteth the faneth."

How far away is cover? - either to the roof of the jail, or to an edge of a building.

I keep an eye out for opportunities to hit multiple people using the armour ignoring nature of the disruptor.

This may not be all that hopeless. I know that I'm sure as hell not going to go all agressive. If anyone does, they'd be a ripe target for everyone else. Everyone probably knows this, so they may not be all that agressive either. As long as I have dice, I may do ok. During the lifting of weapons phase, how agressive does it seem like the people focussing on me are going to go? That should indicate how screwed I am. Also, aside from the robot, how are the others that are focussing on me armed?


Vichi signals assent. Though, it's hard to imagine any group of people who could possibly hate each other more. So, you're not entirely certain how much effect there might ultimately be.

The SRS seems to have very little spare attention for communication, and manages to only transmit: "!!!"

Immediate cover comes in four flavours of distance: 13 meters to one of two corners of the jail, 15 meters to one of two corners of a residence across the dirt street, 19 meters to the roof of the jail, or 24 meters to the roof of the residence. Unfortunately, each and every one of them involve heading through some of the crowd, and will almost certainly no longer be cover from some of them by the time you get there. Especially around the corners of the jail, where much of the crowd still are.

Opportunities to hit multiple people with Tickler are, at present, pretty plentiful. However, I suppose the cumulative tactical effectiveness of this approach may need to be weighed against the instantaneous buoying up multiple people's kill list that it might entail.

Everybody appears to be going 50-50 to start, which is probably the most sensible way to start off a totally insane every-man-for-himself scrap with all major-badasses.

I'll compile a list of the immediate threats... later. After I steal some sleep, now that the baby is quiet again. Briefly.


People pointing Unpleasant Things™ at Sergei at the beginning of the Giant Furball are:

  1. Douche Robot - quad rifles
  2. Surly Equidon - WMP rifle
  3. Even-Surlier Orbodun - paired 429 NST blasters
  4. Grim Felinid - laser rifle
  5. Bizzarrely-Ecstatic Mavvice - filament rifle

2009.12.03 - Podunk Scuffle

The fight is bloody, and intense, and of a general caliber that has not been seen on any of a score of planets in this sector for centuries. One day, songs will be sung about the fantastic violence unleashed in the town of Jamison on a personnel scale - but not until they're willing to talk about it in anything other than hushed, awed tones.

The corner specific to Pavel, and his own personal overwhelming odds, it started off difficult and progressively got worse. Before too long, he decided to divide and conquer and departed from the central arena and separated those focussed on bringing him down according to their ability for movement.

That worked better for a while, and he found that the edge of town was dangerous for a different reason: the ships of the bounty hunters were locked in similarly grim point-blank conflict. Soon, though, the nucleus of the Podunk Scuffle spread wider and instead of being able to back off from fighting long enough to heal Pavel found himself starting to stagger from fight directly into another fight with super-seasoned combatants.

Penultimately, Pavel found himself just able to drop the Douche Robot that had been dogging him, but the robot miraculously managed to flicker back to consciousness and blast aggressively at the nearly-defenseless Pavel. And so Pavel was knocked down too long...

He woke up a few moments later, just in time to see the Douche Robot beheaded by a blast from a WMP rifle. After which, he was claimed by the Surly Equidon and the Bizarrely-Ecstatic Mavvice - with some struggling. Not willing to give up, even when hog tied and helpless, Pavel instructed Gladius to kill the Equidon. And he did, flying out of the Equidon's belt and impaling him in the throat and out the back of his head. The Mavvice dispatched Gladius with Tickler (and thus sent himself flying backwards from the recoil). Pavel was still bound, though, and the Equidon was patched...


Plot Infliction 16 - "He's not worth anything to me dead."

The Surly Equidon and the Bizzarrely-Ecstatic Mavvice hastily apply more patches, add more restraints to Pavel, and bundle up Gladius in a stab-resistant binding. The Equidon lays back his ears with the pain of the patches and does a quick locate through the swirling dust. "Who's left?"

The Bizzarrely-Ecstatic Mavvice happily announces, "Nobody. I heard the Giorgo die from this badass disruptor, and I stopped hearing Zukov's needle beam too long ago. It's just us left."

"Zark. What were the odds that this one was one of the Bountpocalypse again?"

"It was 55%, but that's down to about 23% now."

"Hrmmmn. Let's get to the comm marker." The Mavvice's ears twitch with locating action, and sneaks through the dust, and the Equidon heaves Pavel (and, by association, Sergei's corpse) up over a shoulder and sneaks after him.


I resist the temptation to urinate on my new steed. I do locates as well for any sign of ships still in the air, or any sign that the cloaked fighter has been disturbed.

"So, what kind of information were you hoping to get out of me. Maybe we can come to some arrangement. Obviously, I could assist in getting you both out of here, especially if that involves making everyone else dead."


There's simply too much dust and smoke to locate a cloaked fighter, but you can infer from the sonic booms and ship-scale weapons thundering that there are still some ships in the air.

The Equidon quietly snorts in response. "We're not hoping to get any information out of you."

Very shortly, the pair seem to come to the spot they were looking for, and you're unceremoniously dumped onto the dusty ground. The Mavvice hands over to the Equidon a large tool kit configured in a shovel-like manner, and proceeds to watch you very, very closely. The big combatant twitches his ears as he does a locate, then starts digging. Soon, a large comm pack is removed from hiding.

They trade places so that the weapons specialist is again watching you so that the shock-shooter can disable the locks and booby-traps. The Mavvice gives an enthusiastic nod, which makes his ears flop about ridiculously, and the Equidon heaves you up again. "Teleportation time. Disrupt it, and we'll try again with just your head and hope that the other team managed to get a life supporter after all."


I don't disrupt it.


There's a nausea-itching bounce through a quantum mirror, and you're teleported to a pad in some sort of largish bay.

The Equidon sneers and spits out a dusty and bloody loogie on the floor. "Get us the zark out of here." Dampening fields flare, and you feel heavy drives somewhere moan with the effort of high acceleration.

"Can we freeze him in carbonite?"

"That's not really going to work on him, is it."

"Are you kidding? He's, like, probably the only being that can survive it."

The Equidon winces with the psychological pain of tolerating other people's insanity. "But it's supposed to put him into some sort of hibernation, right?"

The Mavvice's grin becomes slightly less ecstatic. "Yeah, sure, that part won't work on him. But he'll still be stuck inside a lump of plasticized graphite!"

A long breath later: "Shut. The. Zark. Up. Head to the flight deck and drive a turret until we can go superluminal."

"You're an ass." And the Mavvice leaves.

The Equidon deposits you in one corner of the bay, and places Sergei's corpse in another. Then he activates shields around you and the corpse individually. Seeming somewhat satisfied, he sits cross legged and stares at you. And waits.


"Y'know, if I knew you had a ship waiting, I may have just come willingly, with out all the killing of your friends. I am curious though, if you don't think I'm part of the bounty, why the hell capture me back there. Not that I'm unhappy with not being dead or anything, but you could have just killed me."

"Where are we going?"


"It is not certain that you are not part of the bounty. We'll just see if we can pass you off to the General for some compensation - because even if you're not one of the original Dudes, you still might have some of the information the General is looking for. We're heading to rendezvous with Kavalier's fleet." The Equidon flashes you a pleased-with-himself smirk. "And everybody had a ship waiting. Just that most did not have another ship waiting in orbit with a teleporter and had smuggled in a high-power communicator to allow a teleporter lock despite standard levels of jamming."

"By the way, what's your real name? I'm Kanush."

At this point, your healing powers have restored you to pretty good condition, and this fact has clearly not gone unnoticed by the Equidon.


"What's your mathematician's estimation of compensation from the General if you give him me, assuming I am not part of the bounty and the quality of my information is so-so at best."

"My real name Kanush, is Pavel. By the way, now that I'm happily secured behind this shield, could you remove the grip pads. They be mighty uncomfortable."

I glance at Sergei's body. Is it still trying to heal itself, or is it mostly dead now.


Kanush shrugs. "The odds are pretty dispiritingly slim, but they happen to be the exact same odds that are keeping you alive." His expression grows heavy-lidded with suspicion. "And, ironically, directly tied to the reason why we won't be removing your grip pads any time before we either hand you over to Kavalier or dispose of your body."

His eyes follow yours over to Sergei's body, which, apparently, is getting skinnier as it is growing a new head. "Speaking of which, that's pretty damn creepifying."

A shuddering sense of momentary vertigo announces that you've jumped to superluminal.


"All I'm saying, is that I may be able to provide better compensation for letting me go than the General would give you for handing me over. Additionally, I may be able to provide you additional information about the bounty which would allow you to claim something that would be more useful to the General, hence providing more leverage against him."


Kanush spreads his hoof-tipped hands. "Go ahead, Pavel. Make me an offer."

The conversation is briefly interrupted as a green combatant intrudes hesitantly into the bay, and at the gestured beckoning of Kanush proceeds to carry over an elaborate med pack. After setting it down beside the cross-legged Equidon, the noob departs with haste and poorly-concealed fear. Kanush starts to work on himself, healing first the ghastly gash in his throat. It makes you wonder if his voice will ever bee as sonorous as you remember it originally being in that saloon...


"I happen to know that the reason the General wanted those four was to find out where they hid something. As they are dead now, that knowledge is likely lost. However, I know where their ship is, so if there are flight records on it, the General may be able to extrapolate where they were."

"I have a moderate amount of cash. I'm not sure if it would be more than the General would give you, but that combined with the ship would be significant."

"Finally, I am very pragmatic being. I note that you guys are not the lone wolves you protrayed yourselves to be in the town. You have lost members of your team, as have I. I would be open to assisting you for a time. As you are undoubtably aware, I am a skilled shock shooter."


Kanush is pretty deadpan when he says, "We're painfully aware that you're a skilled shock shooter - probably more dangerous than any one of us individually. Which is why you're staying behind that shield and in bindings until we can dump you. Being completely honest, I'm not that keen on taking your money if there's even a sliver of a chance that you might actually be what Kavalier is looking for. And I'd be much happier if I can hand you over to someone else's security forces while I get nice and far away." A flicker of a smile plays at the corner of Kanush's mouth. "And to hear that you know where 'their' cloaked ship is bodes well for the possibility that you're one of them."

Kanush reaches out with a force beam, and tampers a sensor mounted in one wall of the bay, disabling it. He does a slow locate, looking for other sensors, then turns back to face you. "So, what is the General looking for?"


"You wouldn't believe me."


Leaning back as a gesture of acknowledgement, Kanush says, "No, probably not. It appears as though you may be able to grow back your head if necessary-" He nods towards the ur-Sergei. "-so I imagine that you can grow a fork in your tongue as required."

Kanush is briefly unable to speak as he opens his mouth to insert a knitting tool from the med kit into his throat wound. He coughs as the probe does its work, then works his tongue after withdrawing it in a plain pantomime of disliking the taste.

"How about this: you tell me two stories. One that you want me to believe, and a different one that you think would be hard to believe. Then I'll see if I can guess which is which."

He looks around the bay, then looks back at you and shrugs.

"We do have quite some time to kill."


"Two stories huh?"

By the way, is he still carrying Gladius?

"The four dudes originally worked for the General as a secret retreival team. Apparently he got wind of another kingdom somewhere that was nearing a breakthrough in foldspace technology. I'm don't know for sure what the breakthrough was, but I'm guessing it had to do with building a 2-variable foldspace. Anyway, the team was sent and not heard from for some time. Through the use of mentalists and mathematicians, the General gleened that the team was still alive and was hiding from him, probably with the intent of selling the technology to the Tundak Mafia. The General attempted to send a ship to capture them, but failed. The bounty was a last ditch effort to claim these guys before the Tundak's arrived. If the General were able to get his hands on this technology, it would make him so rich that the million credits and a strike class cruiser would have been a pitance."

I smile evilly. "My brother and I were an initial Tundak scouting party sent to meet up with the dudes. The ruse of a battle was to save their heads intact so that they could be grown new bodies. My job was to be allowed to be captured so I could go kill the General when I was turned over."

I pause and stare wistfully at Sergei's body some more. Does it look like it's regrowing a skeleton too?

"So, on a scale of one to ten, how believable was that story?"


The bundled-up form of Gladius is nowhere to be seen.

Ur-Sergei is writhing in a manner distinctly suggestive of there now being some form of underlying skeletal structure.

"I have to say, while an objective consideration of your tale is likely to be thought of as rather unlikely, hearing it on the heels of what I've just been through and seen... I have to say that it sounds disturbingly plausible. I'll give it a 7."

Kanush gingerly feels around the back and top of his head, where Gladius' tip poked through. His eye twitches a little as he works the med pack tools over it in bone regeneration mode. "The part about your mission being to kill the General - that doesn't particularly bother me. Just in case you threw that in to cause me some philosophical reason to pause about handing you over. I figure a seasoned mathematician who has lorded over a small fleet of Confederation cruisers for a couple centuries is probably set up to handle himself without nobodies like me worrying about his well-being. And the idea that he might be corpsified via some complicated plot mostly sounds like a way to free up a bunch of resources he's been hoarding, and I figure my chances of scoring some windfall from that as being pretty good."

"So, that particular bit, I give a separate rating of 3."


"A seven? Nice. I knew the part about killing the General was less believable, but couldn't resist. A seasoned mathematician you say. He's going to be fun to kill. And I would just love to be in a position to fire a turret from a big-ass cruiser." I try to appear giddy, and maybe a touch insane. Shouldn't be hard.

"I've given the real story a lot of thought and I don't think I'm going to tell you. It's not likely to do me any good, and well, it could get me in more trouble than I'm in now anyway. And besides..." and I give him a sideways grin. "I think there is a chance... a very small chance mind you, that the story isn't finished yet."

"So, why did you tamper that sensor? Arn't you a member of the crew?"


Kanush chuckles. "I bet you would enjoy using a big turret..." He dips his head to look at you just under his slight brows. "But don't try to suggest that you're coo-coo. I looked in your eyes when you first walked into that saloon, and you were so totally unfazed by an entire room full of seasoned killers, as if they were kittens with bows on their heads. There's something weird going on in your head." He makes a circular gesture by his head. "And you're probably pretty bent, but I doubt you could ever be broken."

"Can't say I blame you for not telling me, though. I wouldn't tell me. But then, I'm stubborn. And, stubborn ass that I am, I don't really do teamwork very much. So this particular group is just a temporary partnership, and I merely happen to be the scariest one left alive."

"I'm intrigued, though - what do you mean that there's a chance that the story isn't finished yet?"


"Just that I may be reaquainted with an old friend sooner than I thought. Still, it's only a small chance. It may just be some sort of wishful thinking considering the situation I'm in."

"I don't mean to imply that I'm coo-coo. But let's just say I've been through a lot as of late." I glance at Sergei again.

"You realize that whenever I look at you now, I'm going to see you as a kitten with a bow on your head, right?"


"Well, unless your old friend is already aboard this freighter, it's probably not going to happen. The ship tells me that it doesn't see anyone chasing us yet, and soon this bad chicken will be doing almost 4 parsecs per hour, and nothing short of a military vessel will be intercepting us then."

The exact moment you look at Sergei's body is the moment it decides to prop itself up on one elbow and look over at you. It looks miserable and confused, and most of its heavy musculature has wasted away giving it a terribly gaunt appearance. It shudders, then vomits up an oily black mass of some sort.

Kanush is also looking at neo-Sergei. "That's no kitten with a bow on its head, is it." He looks quizzically at you. "Say, do you guys have brains? I mean, as much as most people do aside from the usual nanoscopic processing assistance and backup? Because I'm wondering what's in that brand-new head over there."


I ignore the Equidon for the moment. I attempt to sign to the neo-Sergei: "Are you alive in there?" I look for any kind of recognition in his eyes.


Neo-Sergei does not respond, and his eyes only show a blurry and distorted reflection of the room you're both in.

Kanush seems to notice your attempt at sign-language. "You're talking with him? Daaaamn, that's some spooky shit. I might have to summon some backup to help me keep watch on you - I thought there was only one survivor that we had retrieved."

As if on cue, a smallish zygroten with long flowing fur equipped with thug beams and a med pack opens the hatch to the bay and comes in. Kanush gestures towards neo-Sergei.


"Don't worry, it didn't understand me. I think it's going to end up like someone who has taken too much brain damage and then been revivied. No memory. No skill. It sucks."


"Yeah... and re-grew a head and skeleton. Be careful Thufulu."

The Zygroten nods, and with some med-tools in hand makes his way to the force shield around neo-Sergei. Kanush gets up and covers him with his WMP rifle, and the shield is lowered. Neo-Sergei just watches mutely as Thufulu squats next to him and runs a scanner over him. An array of exclamational expressions shuffle around the zygroten's furry features. "Starving?" Then Thufulu notices the black oily mass on the floor next to where he's kneeling, and scans that as well. "Malformed slave juice?" He stands up and stows his medical tools, and wanders over to a dispensary by the door. He links with it and enters a code that produces some standard food sludge. He carries it over to neo-Sergei, and places it on the floor next to him.

Neo-Sergei just stares at it.

"Lacks context." Thufulu pulls from his med gear what you recognize as a nanoscopic robot programming interface, and seems to run some simple downloads. He leaves the interface running on neo-Sergei's temple and withdraws. The shield is reinstated, and Thufulu stands and watches for a bit longer. Shortly, neo-Sergei does some rapid blinks, re-notices the food, and starts to chow down. Satisfied, Thufulu leaves, with a curteous nod to Kanush. Kanush responds with a slight incline of his head, and settles back down to his own healing... and keeping guard.


"Makes me wonder what's happening with the head... So, how long is this trip going to take anyway. Still mighty uncomfortable over here. You realize that a shock shooter is harmless without a gun, right?"


"Yeah, and blades are usually harmless without anyone wielding them, and heads don't grow back. We've got 40-odd hours of superluminal, and I don't think you're suffering all that much."


So, assuming that you can't talk your way out of confinement in 40-odd hours, how does Pavel spend his time?


Well, if they burned out my internal communicator, I get my nanoscopic robots to build me a new one. Also, if possible, I order the nanoscopic robots to build grip pads on the surface of my skin where I can detect I've been gripped. I don't activate them yet, just have them ready so I can burn out the grip pads binding me.

Other than that, I keep an eye on neo-Sergei.


Yeah, they burned out your comms, but they were regrown before the next turn. Likewise, grip pads are grown and aligned to burn out your bindings - seasoned plus a stage of technician plus scary-effective nanoscopic robots make that pretty trivially easy.

Neo-Sergei finishes the food sludge and already looks much better. He addresses Kanush aloud, "I'd like some more please."

He also tightbeams you. "What is my name, and what are we doing here?"


"Your name is Sergei. We're here because we were captured by the Equidon and other members of his crew. You and I are brothers. We have an inate healing ability, though I didn't realize how powerful it was until now. Until recently, you were very very dead. Do you remember anything?"


"Well, that explains this haunting sense I have that my nanoscopic robots are angry. I have no specific memories previous to about 30 minutes ago, but I do have a vague body-sense that seems to go back further. Was I infected or something? I think the nanoscopic robots have had some sort of trouble with my bones and brain."

"Uh, why have we been captured? Did we do something wrong? Where are we being taken? Was I as scary as you are?"


"Long story. Good thing we have 40 hours to kill. This might be a bit disturbing, though since you have no memories, you may not have anything to relate to how disturbing it is... anyway, I'm going to send you my memories for the last while. It should explain most everything. Please keep it to yourself. It may be advantageous if our captors think you don't know anything. There's lots from before I'm going to send you, but it's not relevant at the moment. I can send that to you later."

I send him my memories from Landfall on, maybe shortening the long periods of inactivity so he just gets the interesting stuff.


It takes neo-Sergei quite a while to process the information. About 20 hours of troubled meditation later, and he's ready to talk about it.

Remaining motionless in a crosslegged posture, neo-Sergei tightbeams you. "I am not Sergei. I need a different name. And we need a plan. I calculate a 67% probability that after interrogating us, Kavalier will dispose of us as slaves. Are we resistant to slave juice?" From his demeanour, it seems that neo-Sergei has less willpower and awareness than you or Sergei originally had. But, judging from his immediately-acquired stage of mathematician, he seems to have hypernormal intelligence.


"How about Dmitri?"

"You're different than Sergei. He wasn't that smart. Not sure about the slave juice, but I'd guess we are somewhat resistant. Watch this."

I send him the whole episode with the flying Hylosus and the Takolee's curing us.

"My plan involves getting hold of a rifle as soon as possible and killing everyone. Haven't quite figured out how to get a hold of a rifle yet though. So, what is the chance that the Missionary is inside the Equidon over there? I'm guessing pretty low, but the possibility occurred to me a while ago when we were talking."

I wonder if Sergei's head is growing a new body...

If Kanush is still there: "How did you know that the four dudes had a cloaked ship?"


"Dmitri works. You're a technician, right? If I learn a stage of biologist, we might be able to cooperate with a program for our nanoscopic robots to grow some sort of blaster..."

"The probability that the Equidon is the same Missionary is about 38% - the mass differential a bit too unlikely, even as just the skeleton. That, and he's convincingly hopeless with that med pack."

Kanush is still there - he's guarding you. "Our scout saw their cloaked ship on Bix." He transmits you a visual (probably from a trop because of the variable binocular action) of two purple-ish humanoids jumping from a roof top next to the restaurant with the hopper crashed into it into a hole in the air. There's a ripple as their passage disturbs the cloak, and the silhouette of the fighter can be seen. The footage freezes there - even though, as you remember it, there's a crater where the crashed hopper was.


2009.12.10 - Mess wid da bull, yas git da horns

Colluding with Dmitri, Pavel grows a blast rifle in one arm, and Dmitri grows a force beam. Under the pretext of wanting more food, the seemingly harmless Dmitri uses his force beam to release Pavel's containment shield when his own is lowered by Kanush to give him some gruel. So it is that Pavel fights with a 1D blaster against a 7th stage combatant equipped with a heavy WMP rifle and a shield.

It takes quite a long time. Luckily, Dmitri has enough foresight to tamper the only door with a biological feedback loop designed to short-circuit with normal nanoscopic robots - extremely unpleasant, and possibly leading to temporary paralysis if unwary. This leaves Pavel the time required to slowly blast the big Equidon down...

After the marathon fight, Pavel and Dmitri search the sub-bays to retrieve their belongings - save only for Tickler. Which has been claimed by the Bizarrely-Ecstatic Mavvice. After killing the unfortunate merely-professional security goon outside the door, the quasi-brothers find said Mavvice in the main corridor. Armed with the mighty Tickler, the Mavvice gives Pavel an unpleasant taste of its terrible power. But, that mostly just pisses Pavel off. And, since the Mavvice is at a disadvantage trying to use the oversized weapon by bracing against a wall, Pavel's victory was almost inevitable.

The Zygroten Thufulu and a Colloidling who were helping the Mavvice (or, at least trying to) retreat back into the control room and the bulkhead slammed closed. Then Pavel is hailed. "Since my nominal partners are gone, let's make a deal."

Pavel made some ominous observation about control of the ship, and being permitted onto the control room. To which the voice dryly informs Pavel that he is talking to the ship. They drop out of hyperspace, and begin discussing where to go (presumably to part ways). Their conversation is interrupted, however, by a hail from General Kavalier. His interest piqued, Pavel asks to speak with him himself. A hologram of a dry, wrinkly ex-human starts trying to prise information out of Pavel. And vice-versa.


Dénouement

ASIDE: the final fight bumps Pavel's skill by 2 - bringing him up to a total of 79.


General Kavalier looks all schemey. "So, you disavow knowledge of a Missionary, and tell me that the targets of my bounty are gone. I suppose that you'll also insist that there's no net benefit for me to try to bring you in to interrogate you more thoroughly. What if I told you that you would come to no harm, and that I might have some financial incitement that might make it worth your while?"


ASIDE: So close... I think the only other character I've had that reached 8th stage was Jessica.


"I guess it would all come down to trust then. I have no reason to trust that you'll let us go if we come in, despite the financial insentive. Though I suppose it would be the same trust that anyone collecting the bounty would have that they got paid... How worth my while? We'd have to pick a neutral location to meet."


The shimmering hologram of the General takes on a lean of demeanour in a snake-like way. "You may, of course, pick any location you wish. I propose to send merely a team with a long-range communicator that is sufficiently secure. By that link, we can comport ourselves for the asking and answering of questions that we might not wish to leak out otherwise.. Likewise, it can be a conduit for worthwhile compensation - shall we say, ten thousand credits?"

It should be pointed out that, logistically, the 40 hours in a 4 P/h ship has put you well outside the small cluster of systems with which you are familiar.


"Hmmm... give me a minute to look for an ideal location. Ship? Can you pause the communication for a minute and project a star chart in here?"

Assuming the ship does so, I tight-beam Dmitri: "I vote we pick a sufficiently populated planet to arrange for a meeting, not show up and lose ourselves in the population. Then we take or buy a small ship and leave this area of space altogether. Though I would like to hail the Silent Red Shirt to see if he survived."

"Ship, do you have sufficient communication range to hail somebody back on Knudop?"


The ship says "As you wish." The image of the General is replaced with an array of annotated dots hanging in midair of the hallway. Dmitri immediately links with the display and starts compiling a review. The ship continues, matter-of-factly, "We're over 150 Parsecs from Knudop. That exceeds my etheric communication range by about a factor of, oh, twenty." Your technical knowledge includes a guess that gear for etheric communication greater than 100 P is rarely on ships, and that even most planets in this backwater corner of space rely on a daisychain for communication of that range.

Dmitri tightbeams you back. "86% probability that the ship is negotiating separately with the General regarding our vector, with a 62% chance that it never stopped transmitting scans of us to the General."


Dmitiri: "Yeah, I thought of that too. Are there any densely populated systems back along the path we just came from? If we high tail it in that direction at high speed, we might make it there before the General has a chance to intercept us."


"There's five systems with planets that have a population of more than 500 million, but that's the most density along our route. If we deviate by 50 Parsecs, there is a city planet - "Polloi" - but it appears to be a slum. What do you intend to do to motivate the ship to do what we want? Also, 98% probability that General Kavalier has already dispatched an intercept team, and I'd guess that they're at 15 Parsecs away, plus or minus 4 with 90% probability. Also likely is that the speed of this vessel is known, so even swifter ships are likely en route."

Dmitri is working hard to remain expressionless, but his expressionlessness is plain to your seasoned eye.


To the ship: "Ok, here's our terms. Your crew has two minutes to run down to the bay where they will be put behind the shields we were caged in. If they refuse, they will die. Next, you will allow me full access to your control systems. You will be disabled and we will fly the ship to a system of our choosing. Upon reaching the system, your crew will be released and we will leave. Your crew can then re-enable your systems. Alternativly, we will attempt all this by force, where your crew will likely die and you will still be disabled, only permanently. You may be able to stop or slow us down, but we will cause significant damage in the process."


The ship responds by way of opening the outer air locks to purge the air into space.

...

The crew does not die well. Nor does the ship, and it is probably fortunate that you were in the middle of nowhere and it did not have time to fly superluminally into something big. Sadly, it's massively oversized superluminal drives have made the rest of the ship's layout pretty obvious, and you waste no time in neutralizing it. It does, however, take up some precious minutes.

Long range etheric sensors show bogies moving at 4 P/h toward you, about 1-2 Parsecs away.


Well, we crank it up to maximum speed. I keep an eye on the bogies to see if they accelerate. "Dmitri, at this speed what planets will we be able to make before we are intercepted? Could we make it to Polloi? A city planet would be easy to hide in for quite some time. I'm tempted to let them catch up just as we make planetfall and allow them to find us where we can ensure the combat is personel scale."


The maximum speed of the tramp freighter is 4 P/h, and the ominous vessels charging towards you do not accelerate. So, functionally, they might never catch you.

"I project that the probability is quite high that General Kavalier would not allow any of his forces to be lured into personnel combat. Much more likely is that they would attempt to hire forces to harass us, and keep help keep track of us until we can be caught with overwhelming odds."

"You're probably right about hiding on Polloi, though I think we might have great difficulty in ever getting off unnoticed."

You get hailed from the lead pursuit vessel.


"Well, I don't want to be stuck on a slum planet forever."

How well is this freighter armed? I answer the hail: "City morge, you stab 'em, we slab 'em."


Dmitri: "I'm not even sure I want to visit a slum planet, based on the metadata I found for Polloi in the database."

The freighter is armed with two 1D laser turrets, and has some missiles.

Incoming comm: "I take it, then, that you've disabled the ship and are proceeding with an assumption of duplicity being leveraged against you." The voice is that of General Kavalier, but there's something different about it. "It is true that the ship was engaging in parallel negotiations with us, out of some overriding fear or obsequiousness, but that does not necessarily mean that it was our main intent. We still have interest in negotiating some sort of mutually-beneficial information transfer."


"What do you want to know? I tend to be difficult to negotiate with when I'm in immediate peril. Maybe if you call off your ships, I'll be more more open to talking."


"We would like is to interview you regarding your recent encounters, culminating in Knudop."


To Dmitri: "Y'know, I have an intense gut feeling that I shouldn't tell him anything and just run for it, though I can't place why exactly that is. I think I fear that since he's so interested in Missionary technology, he may be interested in getting his hands on our healing ability too. Which may unfortunately involve us stuck in a lab somewhere."

Any indication that the shps are giving up persuit?


"Considering his alleged age, it is possible that General Kavalier might have been pursuing Missionaries for quite some time. Which does not necessarily correlate to him not being interested in harvesting us, just that it might be a much more recent interest. Looking at the numbers, it seems to me that running has the best possibility of positive outcome - however marginal. We are left with the question of where we are running to."

The ships are not slowing at all.


"Let's pick one of the 500 mil planets that seems to have the most ship traffic and go there."


"There's one that might suit our needs - Thames. Noted for technicians, ship mechanics, and ship building. The whole population is orbital. 28 Parsecs away... huh. That raises a question - how close do we get to the planet? If we get too close, Kavalier might be able to communicate ahead and have an ambush waiting. If we play it safe and drop to subluminal a few hours out, those pursuing cruisers might catch up."


"I think I'm more worried about what's following us, than what he may be able to hastily put together as an ambush. Let's get as close as we can to the planet before dropping to sublight. Then hopefully we can sneak amongst the ship traffic."


"He's supposed to be a seasoned mathematician... we might not be able to lose him, but only add a buffer. My brain actually aches trying to guess what kinds of information he might be able to access. What don't I know that he might be able to deduce? Even better, what don't you know that he might be able to deduce and use to outmaneuver us?"

Which is an interesting segue into you being contacted mentally by Mr. Psychic Takolee. "Hey, Pavel. What the zark? Sergei says that he's lost external sensation, and that he's worried that you're dead. You're not dead, are you?"


Dmitri: "Yeah, he could probably out maneuver us easily. I'm hoping we're not worth the effort."

Yoda: "Not dead yet. Though we got the General after us, so we're not out of the woods yet. Say, can you locate Sergei in relation to where we are? Also, let Sergei know we have a new brother. His body grew a new head and his body healed up. I've named him Dmitri."


Dmitri asks, unhappily, "Are we worth the effort?"

You mentally feel the telepathic rabbit get dizzy from contemplating the truth of your statement. "Please tell me that's a code phrase." After a bit. "Yeah, no. I can only get a vague direction for you, so you must be pretty far away, and Sergei is in the opposite direction about 20-odd Parsecs away."


... a strange shift in reality seems to come over the crew, like a vast amount of time passes, but when in reality it's only a few moments. Pavel shrugs and carries on...

To telepathic rabbit: "If we meet up, can you lead us to Sergei?"

To Dmitry: "What are the odds the General will let us go if we offer to hunt down the Missionary for him and then sell him the body if we succeed?"


Continued at the Legendary Hunt game