"Fire is the test of gold; adversity, of strong men."-- Seneca, De Providentia, 5, 9.
240 - 1122.
Shaw's disguise has 'worn off' after all the time without touch up, to reveal Damian White. Well, well. Both Mikie and Ghaer know White, Treal and Lily don't. Shaw decides to just remove the remains of the disguise, since it's pretty much gone now any way, and he comes to dinner looking somewhat younger. Lily tells him he looks much more virile.... She figures he's caught up on his sleep and has dyed his hair (she doesn't say anything though, she thinks he did it for her).
The robot has prepared a magnificent meal, with Terran wines, etc. Fortunately, the wine was stored in large bottles and aged well, and was well decanted. And the port is just coming into it's prime. Mikie doesn't partake, but the robot is able to provide Terran mineral water, with little gold flecks in it (definitely a gold fixation). There's enough food for everyone and then some. When it comes time to feed the griffins, the robot brings out bowls of filet mignon strips to Mikie, since he's the only one they'll take food from. Then the cigars come out - properly stored, and quite wonderful.
Robot: "Would his highness require anything else?" White suggests a tour, but the response is that "whatever his highness desires will be brought to him." And the robot doesn't want to leave Mikie, since the other serving robots are apparently not functioning. After the very long day, and a big meal, everyone really just wants a good sleep.
The other members of the party get a lovely, comfy sleep, but Mikie has to deal with the robot bringing hot chocolate, and then sitting in a chair nearby and softly strumming some kind of guitar like instrument. Argh. Not to mention the silk pajamas (black, with gold griffins), and the griffins themselves, around and on the bed. White checks the beds in the other rooms, but none of them move. Darn. There is clothing in the other rooms, if you're into the decadent look.
241 - 1122.
A peaceful night is passed. The nightmares have been getting better, so even Mikie sleeps. And a lovely breakfast has been prepared. Great service, tons of treasure - a lovely and comfortable prison, at this point. White goes poking around in the power plant area, which actually goes down several levels, to big heavily shielded doors on tracks - they look large enough to drive a vehicle through. Hmmm.
Ghaer has rousted up some large, comfy clothes to wander around in. Nothing is Vargr-shaped, but if it's big enough, it fits. Ghaer decides to gather up some smaller gems, just in case bolt money is needed, so he makes up little bags for each of the party. Of course how they are going to bolt is another question.
White brings Treal down to look at the doors. Normally not hard to open, but they're powered doors, and there's no power to them currently, an it would take about three days to winch them open by hand. White: "Well, can we get power to them?" Treal looks around for a way to do this, since they are in the power plant. There are some large breaker switches, or what looks like a Victorian version of same, so Treal gives it a shot. The hydraulic fluid has leaked out of the system, or dried up. White and Treal decide to spend some time fixing it. They can salvage hydraulic fluid from the ship, and this gives White a chance to reboot Watson; he ends up having to go back to a two week old backup, but he will be able to get Watson working again. Aside from grabbing a quick lunch, Treal works all day on the hydraulic system, with White working on Watson nearby (he brought him over from the ship before rebooting him, to keep Treal company).
After breakfast, Mikie decides to check out what's behind the door under the bed. He takes one griffin with him, leaving the others in the bedroom, staring down the stairs. The big door does open for him, and there is a two seater little ship (with a wet bar, a refrigerator, stuff like that), outfitted in the same restrained style as the rest of the place. The robot shows up to check on Mikie. Robot: "Can I take you somewhere your highness?" Mikie: "No, not at the moment." Okay, so there's a ship after all. A little tiny ship, but a ship none the less.
Treal is finally awoken from where he fell asleep hunched over by the hydraulics. When he and White stumble upstairs, it's to the strains of Lily singing, and the robot accompanying her on the pianoforte. Treal showers and puts on clean clothes before coming to dinner; the pants are too short, since Treal is 6'8", but what the heck. At dinner, which is exactly like yesterday's (must try to reset the chef), White and Treal tells people about the doors. Mikie: "I found a ship." Treal: "How big a ship?" Mikie: "Two person." White: "What kind of ship? Is it a ship's boat, or is it jump capable?" Mikie: "How the hell would I know? Take a look at it yourself." Later.
242 - 1122.
Treal refills the hydraulic system, engages the PTO (Power Take Off - takes power from the plant, and routes through all sorts of things in a very Victorian style) system, which opens the doors, noiselessly, revealing a large corridor. There's a tangy, ozone scent to the air, and a lot of big, complex machinery - maybe more power plant, maybe drives. There are also a bunch of coffin sized crates. This is the only area that looks somewhat disorganized, like some one was interrupted. Treal opens up a couple of the crates, and they apparently contain gold robots in evening wear. The missing wait staff?
There are signs of a gunfight in this area - bullet holes, rust colored stains, etc. And only about a third of the lights came on when the party entered the room. It's not quite as nice as the other levels, sort of the downstairs servants' area. The guess is that the big machinery is some sort of propulsion system, and this is Engineering. Further exploration reveals crews' quarters, vac suits, more signs of gunplay, and a dried corpse in a very fancy white uniform, gripping a sword in one hand and a laser pistol in the other. He evidently was hit from behind, as he entered the cabin. The late captain of the guard? The late King? There is a pamphlet on the floor - it's a political tract about the oppressed workers, etc. The only other items in here appear to be the crew's personal effects.
After some more poking around, a storage room is located that contains the stacked bodies of executed guards. There is also a small room that opens into a very tiny room with little buttons on the wall - it's an elevator. No power, but there's a roof hatch, and a ladder that opens up onto a shaft about two stories up. It's very functional looking, and goes towards the face of the asteroid (or buffered planetoid?), and in the opposite direction. To the rear is the ship's engine room, all the hydraulic type of system. Now this Treal figures he understands better than a regular ship's engines since he has mechanical, not engineering skill. The opposite direction reveals what appears to be cabins - more signs of fighting, more bodies in what could be ship's officers' uniforms. Further on is the control room, past a large iris door that had obviously been forced open. Inside is the bridge, and there are about a dozen dead bodies in sort of worker uniforms. The dead workers' remains indicate they were killed by some sort of animals. The wounds look remarkably like what the griffins would inflict. [Note: Don't piss off the griffins.]
There is a central chair, very nicely padded, etc.; the captain's chair apparently. None of the consoles on the bridge are operational, as they don't have any power. White wants to go back and try to get power, but Treal suggests lunch and rest first. Good plan. The idea is bandied about that maybe one or more of the robots might be programmed to fly this thing, but when White gets a gold robot to boot up, it sits there waiting for the operating system to be loaded. No handy discs or anything, so the robot is shut down.
After lunch, Treal goes back to engineering, and after rummaging around, finds a functional, multi-person low berth powered by a thermionic pig. It is built for six people (or whatevers), and five are still okay (one didn't survive). Treal lets the others know, and he and White decide to cycle them out, after getting Mikie up there, just in case. There's a count down timer set for one hour, so White starts them to thaw out while Treal fetches Mikie.
As soon as White starts the cycle on the low berth, the rest of the system starts to come up and on line. This may or may not be a good thing, but it saves Treal a lot of work on the power system. White decides to leave Ghaer monitoring the low berths, and goes forward to check on the bridge, where the panels are starting to come up on line. It's not Galanglic, it's apparently old Lyrian tech-speak. Great. Some lights come up and things beep, air starts moving as the ventilation system comes on, etc. There are no obvious viewports on the bridge, and no navigational scopes that White can find.
After about twenty minutes, there is a loud, metallic clang that is felt all over the asteroid. The griffins go on alert, and everyone gets on vac suits and arms themselves. Then there's the sound of doors opening, and boots. Treal and Ghaer (the former Marines) go to investigate.
Treal and Ghaer spot a large number of grey lumpy people in grey lumpy uniforms. They've seen this style of dress before - it's the current Arden military. The men are all armed, and they are entering like they're taking a hostile vessel. There's about ten of them, moving towards Ghaer and Treal's position. One of them, wearing a beret, says "All right men. Move in carefully, and if you see any off-worlders, kill them." Well, that settles it. Treal fires and hits one of the soldiers in the hand, and Ghaer, using a laser rifle, hits the man in the beret in the head. The super heated brain explodes, fracturing the skull. [Ewww.] There's a yell of "Sniper!!", and the soldiers take cover, firing. The griffins hear gunfire, and suddenly Mikie is literally covered in mythological beings. White steps a bit further away, just in case. The guys in the low berths won't wake up for another 15 minutes. What sounds like an alarm message starts being broadcast by the ship, but neither White nor Mikie understand it.
Ardenian: "Don't be fools - surrender and you will not be killed." Treal: "We're under orders to only leave the political officers alive." Ardenian: "This is your last chance to surrender and save your lives." There's a pause, then "Ready grenades! Throw!" Ghaer and Treal fire on the soldiers, but about ten grenades still reach the area around Ghaer and Treal. Ghaer tucks himself into a little ball, flattening his ears and tucking his tail in. Treal is hit in the head with a flying object, and then the grenade drops at his feet. Treal kicks it away quickly, just before it explodes, knocking away at least a few feet, but when it goes off it practically takes his foot off. Ghaer gets a nicked ear, and is blown up on top of some of the machinery. Treal falls to the ground, which gives him a great view of the boots of the soldiers as they are about to charge forward. So, Ghaer fires on them from above, and Treal sprays the soldiers who have so kindly lined up for him, hitting six out the seven remaining men in the feet and shins.
Mikie, with his winged escorts, heads closer to the source of the gunfire. The one remaining soldier leaps out, and Ghaer shoots him in the arm with the laser rifle. It is not pretty. The soldiers are on the ground, some still conscious, yelling for a medic. One does show up, looking very nervous, but neither Treal nor Ghaer shoot at him as he drags away the wounded, and takes some sort of tags off the dead.
Ardenian: "Off-worlders. You have given us a bloody nose, but you cannot hope to succeed. Our supply of soldiers is vastly superior. You have fought bravely, but you cannot prevail. We will give you fifteen minutes to evacuate the ship, then we will show no mercy." Right. Ghaer and Treal don't respond, but at least they have fifteen minutes. Ghaer marks the time, then goes to brief White and Mikie on the situation. There's a second clang, up near the bridge. Another Arden ship? A Lyrian freedom fighter vessel? What happened to the fifteen minutes?? There's a smell of ozone, then the sound of some one apparently trying to cut their way into the asteroid, above the flight deck. Not good, no matter what. Sparks from the plasma cutter fall through the ceiling. Ghaer moves furniture around below the hole, just to try to tangle people up. A few seconds later, a chunk of asteroid falls in, followed by people in grey lumpy uniforms, and lots of guys in berets. [The elite team?]
Ghaer and Treal start to fire on the new targets as the frost begins to fade from the viewports on the lowberth - it appears that at least the occupants are humans this time. They're rough-looking bearded men, in grey uniforms. The original revolutionaries? There's another heavy clang, this time from below. Ghaer: "Are these guys awake enough to scan, Mike?" Mikie checks, and yes, but they read like people who were heavily asleep and are now just waking up. One of them is apparently waking up faster than the others, but this is not necessarily helpful. His thoughts: "Ah, my revolutionary brothers have come to rescue me!" Mikie relays this to the group, and Ghaer yells: "We'll have to leave the royal family!", loudly enough for the soldiers to hear.
White shuts down Watson, then looks for a place to hide. He finds a way into the conduit system under the deck plates, and pops down. A soldier has evidently heard this, pops out with a mortar launcher aimed at the low berth, and Ghaer and Treal fire on him to make it look like they're protecting the royal family. The man is hit, and the rocket goes ricocheting down the hall as Treal and Ghaer rush to catch up with Mikie, who was heading down the shaft already, followed by the flock (pride?) of griffins. Treal dives in, hoping to have his fall cushioned by a griffin, but it doesn't work. White remains behind, in hiding under the deck plates, really close to where the explosion goes off, so he is now stone deaf; he intends to wait in his little hiding space until he can hear again - it'll be a while.
Ghaer, Treal, Mikie, and the griffins get back to the lower level. Lily rushes up, demanding to know where Colonel Shaw is. Mikie: "Saving his own ass. It's what he does." Speaking of the Colonel, the deck plates above White are removed before his hearing returns, and a bunch of grey lumpy armed men are above him, with guns. He's grabbed, tied up, and one of them starts yelling at him. He can't hear him though, so that's pointless. White tries to give Watson the verbal command to wake up in evil mode, but it doesn't work.
Mikie closes all the doors on this level, including the ones that use the genetic key. Lily: "What about Colonel Shaw?" Ghaer: "He's been captured or killed." They head for the little ship. The wet bar and refrigerator are removed, and there turns out to be a little griffin room in the back of the ship, so they're put in there. This leaves enough room for everyone, as long as no one's unfriendly.
Upstairs with the Arden soldiers. They walk White to the bridge, where there is a hatch in the floor he hadn't seen before that's open. A section of parachute cord is wrapped around White's neck, and he's pushed down the shaft. The Ardenians don't hang around to watch, just dump him in and walk off. White is dangling in the elevator shaft, desperately trying to cut his hands loose using the shears in his back pocket (he's been carrying them around ever since the Amazing Pandaron gave them to him). He eventually manages to do this, and get himself free. He drops, gasping, a story and a half down. When he lands, he takes the electronic control for Watson out of his pocket, and hits the "wake up in evil mode" button.
White ends up between two of the doors that Mikie closed, thanks to a secret door in the wall he stumbled upon. He can't hear it, but upstairs there is a lot of gunfire as Watson goes feral. White finds a suit of the gold armor that's about his size, and squeezes into it. A few doors down, the robot is rounded up to take control of the ship. He keeps wanting to know which mistress his highness wants to go visit. Mikie informs him that the ship's security has been breached. Robot: "Ah, Madame Silviana then. She always did so much to calm you in a crisis." (Obviously the robot has a few memory issues.) Mikie: "Yeah, fine, whatever." Robot: "Very good sir." There is only a slight shudder as the small ship takes off. White has put on the armor, and returns up the elevator shaft to see a soldier stumbling around screaming, with a really big furry scarf around his neck. Blood is fountaining everywhere, Watson is sparking and smoking a bit. White switches Watson off evil, and he drops off the soldier as he falls. The others in the area start shooting at White, who has to grab one of the rifles on the floor, since the display laser rifle with the armor had no battery. (Oops.)
Out in space, Mikie asks if the ship has any weapons. Robot: "Of course, sire." A little drawer opens, and the robot presents a beautiful box containing two dueling pistols shaped like griffins (no, really?). Mikie <frustrated>: "No, I mean does this ship have any kind of weaponry on it?" Robot: "Ah, yes, your highness. This vessel can control a remote weapon." He presses a button on the console, and a small panel slides out, with a palm pad and a covered trigger. Mikie: "Where is the weapon?" Robot: "On board the mothership, your highness." Mikie: "What kind of weapon?" Robot: "A nuclear device of some sort, I believe." There's some discussion as to what exactly the device is, but the robot isn't terribly knowledgeable. Mikie; "It looks like some kind of self-destruct control." Robot: "I believe that is correct, your highness."
Not finding any better way, White has taken Watson, along with all the oxygen tanks he could carry, and has gone to the crashed ship. White takes his 'shaving kit' out of the refrigerator, and decides to go outside. What the hell, he's not getting anywhere on the inside.
Back on the ship with the rest of the party, an argument is about to ensue over the use of the self-destruct button. Mikie <to Ghaer>: "What do you want to do? It's not my call. White's wearing his shield, so I can't tell if he's still alive, and I can't locate him if he is." Since there are three Arden ships visible on the outside of the asteroid, and possibly more in the area, it's decided that the only recourse at this point was to use it. Lily yells "No, Carl's still there!" She tramples over Ghaer, then goes for Mikie, which upsets the griffins, so Mikie has to concentrate on making them not try to rip Lily apart in the small confines of the ship.
Robot: "Your highness, one of your guards has emerged from the ship." Ghaer: "Okay..." Sure enough, on the outside of the asteroid is a figure in golden armor, trailed by what appears to be a dog. That would make it the missing Mr. White. Mikie <to robot>: "Can we pick him up?" Robot: "Of course, your highness." White makes his way over the outside of the asteroid towards one of the Arden ships as, unbeknownst to him, the Lyrian escape ship silently swoops in behind him. Mikie had thought the ship would land beside White so he could come in through an airlock or something, but what actually happens is that a robotic arm extends out of the bottom front of the ship, and White is suddenly grabbed from behind by a large set of claws. Needless to say, this is one hell of a surprise. White, not knowing what grabbed him, or who, and not being able to turn around in the grip, signals Watson to bite the hydraulic hose, so when the ship takes off with White in its grip, Watson goes along for the ride, gnawing at the hose. As they start to move White wraps his legs around Watson so he doesn't fall off if he should release his grip in mid-bite.
As soon as the ship is as far away as possible (a crew member on one of the Arden ships has noticed the small vessel, so there's not a lot of time to lose), Mikie uses a pain compliance hold on Lily to get her out of the way, and he pushes the destruct button. The shields go up when the big bright flash goes off, blowing up the giant asteroid head. The ship is pinged by debris, but not really damaged. White acquires a few bits of gold shrapnel, but his armor maintains structural integrity. Watson doesn't seem to notice.
Robot: "Your highness, a ship is hailing us. Do you wish to respond?" Mikie: "Have they identified themselves?" Robot: "No, your highness, but they are using the Lyrian frequency, with the gold level clearance." Mikie: "Okay, answer them." Suddenly the com system comes to life. Colonel Esterhazy: "Do you require assistance?" Mikie: "And where the f... were you 15 minutes ago?" Esterhazy: "Moving to this location with all speed. We only just identified you as a Lyrian vessel. What was that explosion?" Mikie: "That was the asteroid blowing up, along with three Federation ships." Esterhazy: "Do you require assistance?" Mikie: "That would be nice." As the much larger Lyrian ship pulls closer, Esterhazy: "Did you know you have some one attached to your hull?" Mikie: "Yeah, and his robot dog, too."
The Lyrian ship comes along side the small ship and extends a docking ring. Some enthusiastic sailors are there to help the passengers go over to the 500 ton ship. Mikie has the robot release White, and he and Watson make their way to an airlock (magnetic boots are so handy). He has several small chunks of gold imbedded in his combat armor, so maybe the trip wasn't a complete loss from a financial point of view.
As White enters and removes his helmet, he is greeted by Colonel Esterhazy, who doesn't entirely recognize White without his Colonel Shaw disguise. Esterhazy: "And you sir, who are you?" White: "Colonel Shaw." Esterhazy raises an eyebrow, but doesn't ask. Esterhazy: "Did you have an exciting walk?" White: "Not really." Esterhazy <to guards>: "See that Colonel Shaw is checked over by the medic to see that he is well. And he'd probably like a tall drink." White and Watson go off with the soldier, now in waiter mode.
Mikie has stayed on the small ship with the griffins, in an attempt to control the chaos. Esterhazy wants Mikie to come out, as the Prince wishes to see him. Mikie: "I think it might be better if I spoke to the Prince first." Esterhazy <losing patience>: "Sergeant, escort Mr. Griffin to the Prince." Mikie: "I wouldn't do that." Esterhazy: "It's a friendly invitation." Mikie: "Look, could you clear the corridor between here and the Prince?" Esterhazy: "That's a strange request
Is it one of those psionic things?" Mikie: "Sure. Right, it's one of those psionic things." Esterhazy: "Very well, the corridor will be cleared."
Mikie emerges from the ship a few minutes later, the griffins circling him protectively. When Mikie enters the room, the Prince is seated with a bone china cup held in his manicured hand, as he shares a cup of tea with Esterhazy. It's almost worth all the hassles to see the look on both of their faces as they see the griffins. Tea cups fall to the floor.
Mikie <to the Prince>: "I really hope they like you - I wasn't looking for pets." The griffins circle around Mikie, but they do sort of sniff out the Prince. Prince: "My liege. The griffins have chosen." Mikie: "Stop with the 'liege' crap. Please." Prince: "As you wish, Michael." Mikie: "Look, just try to talk to one of them
" Prince: "I have tried. They have chosen. It is ancient tradition. You are the rightful heir, and as such, I swear my life, my heart, and all that I have in fealty to you." Mikie: "This is all some horrible sort of cosmic joke." He sits down on one of the chairs. Mikie: "So this griffin thing is an ancient tradition, right?" Prince: "Yes, those who sought the throne would have to walk the gauntlet of the griffins. They would chose the worthy and dispose of the unworthy. Mikie: "I don't suppose there's some sort of ancient tradition about uh, abdicating is there?" Prince: "They are ancient, wise, sentient creatures. It is said they know the nature of a man's soul. If they picked you, it is for a good reason. Back on your home world you were a great warrior, a holy man perhaps?" Mikie <sarcastically>: "Yeah, right." Prince: "No matter - the griffins have chosen. Sometimes fate has it's own plan for us. I thought I was to be autarch, but fate has other plans for me, your highness." He doesn't seem to bent out of shape over this turn of events; unlike Mikie. Prince: "This will be of great help when we move against the pretender, Simon. Mikie: "'The pretender, Simon?" Prince: "Yes, he claimed to be the autarch, but with the griffins, he cannot oppose you. But we must hurry. The longer we wait, the more factionalized our forces become. And we must first get you safely into Imperial space."
Mikie looks down at the nearest griffin, thinking "I don't suppose if I asked you nicely, you'd chose him?", and he gets a very clear answer: "We have chosen you." Mikie sits up with a start. This certainly confirms the sentient bit, damn them. Prince: "Since you insist that I speak to you as a peer, I must tell you, your subjects are waiting. I suggest you say something uplifting. He opens the door and tells the people gathered outside that "the autarch is tired after his ordeal, but he has agreed to say a few words." Mikie telepathically begs for help, being so utterly out of his league. The Prince prompts Mikie psionically so the crowd outside the room gets a short, reassuring, pro-Lyrian speech before the door is closed, leaving the Prince and Mikie alone with the griffins.
Prince: "I know my autarch, that you are unsure, but fate and the griffins have chosen you. I am your loyal subject and I will assist you as much as I can. There is an ancient Terran poem that comes to mind. Do you know Terran poetry at all? The gist of it is something to the effect of 'grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. You are autarch in name, now you must become one in reality." The Prince summons Esterhazy, who is sent for the groomsman. Prince: "There is also the question of your majesty's travelling companions." Mikie: "What about them?" Prince: "What is your wish for them?" Mikie: "You said we were heading for Imperial space, right?" Prince: "That is correct." Mikie: "Then they can make up their own minds about where to get off." The groomsman has arrived. Prince: "His majesty is tired, see that he is put to bed." He leaves Mikie with a couple of servants who turn down the bed and help him change. Not that he wants help changing, but he is a bit stunned.
White wakes up with Lily standing by his side and petting his hand. Lily: "How are you feeling?" White: "Better. How long have I been out?" (Thanks to the Regen.) Lily: "About 40 minutes. Your dog was worried about you, so I gave him a bone from the kitchen, I hope that's all right?" Sure enough, Watson is happily gnawing on a really large bone. White takes a look, but it's not a human bone, so it's probably fine.
It's a couple of weeks to Imperial space - one jump to Tianelle, then to Regina. Even White won't want to get off at Tianelle. Lily can tend to White, and read to him. Some of the other men on board may get very jealous.
Simon, the pretender, is not a nice person, apparently, and like Mikie, he can trace his lineage to both Lyrian and Imperial nobility. Some of the servants are going to want to speak to Mikie about his family, so they can fill in the blanks in his lineage. They know about his mother's line, but as to his father... Ah yes, well, they might not want to go there.