"The business of the samurai consists in reflecting on his own station in life, in discharging loyal service to his master if he has one, in deepening his fidelity in associations with friends, and, with due consideration of his own position, in devoting himself to duty above all."-- Yamaga Soko, The Way of the Samurai
Ghaer is awoken very early in the morning, by a knocking on his door. After a few moments of "Coffee. Door. Coffee. Door. Coffee. Noise.", Ghaer answers the door. It's Joe Lee, and he has another, younger man with him whose about the same size as Joe Lee, and apparently of the same basic ethnic background. Joe Lee: "Ghaer, this is Paul Lee. Paul, this is my friend Ghaer." Knowing how common the last name Lee is, Ghaer doesn't assume any blood relation. Paul is carrying a sword on him, openly, although not as nice a sword as Joe Lee has. After pleasantries are exchanged, and tea is consumed, Joe Lee tells Ghaer that Paul Lee does in fact come from Joe Lee's homeworld of Menorb (it's a desert world in the Regina subsector, about a three week trip from Regina), and is a member of the same religious order in which Joe Lee was raised. Basically, Paul came looking for help, and Joe Lee is indebted to Paul but can't leave Regina right now, so he's seeking four people to go along with Paul to assist the clan Irklan (the religious order). The Irklan were a nomadic tribe that developed into the aesthetic religious order it is now. [If you were to speak with representatives of the Menorb Tattler, the Irklan would be described as 'psionic heretics' -as in 'they're not our psionics, so they're bad psionics']. Control of the land has become sort of a feudal system. The Irklan had been granted the 'reservation' land - land no one else wanted, about 250 years ago. The only section of arable land had settlers on it, and the clan has allowed them to stay. By the spring at the village is a shrine of the Irklan. Now, one of the local feudal lords (not the worst one on planet, but obviously no great catch) has claimed that section of the Irklan's land as his own, and has hired off-planet mercenaries to back up that claim. Paul is not sure what excuse is being used to claim the land, he just knows that clan members were thrown out of the shrine, and those who would not leave were killed. There has been contact between the Irklan and the villagers, some of whom support the Irklan, and some are obligated to the lord.
Paul goes on about the fact that the new lord has built a pretty high tech, by local standards, estate on the land. Paul definitely gives the impression that technology is a bad thing. This type of technology (including advance medical technology, like cloning equipment) was beginning to pop up on Menorb before Joe Lee left, and the fact that some of the local lords were resorting to cloning to unnaturally extend their lifespans helped make Joe feel that it was time to leave. Ghaer: "What exactly do you expect us to do?" What's expected is to help regain control of the shrine, forcibly eject the lord's thugs, bloody the lord's nose (if possible) - figuratively, and maybe find out why the property is suddenly valuable, so that the information can possibly be used as leverage.
The Sengi have agreed to provide transport, on one of their small ships, to Menorb for four people. This is as a 'favor' to Joe Lee, as they understand the debt of honor thing. Ghaer: "And once we arrive on planet?" Joe Lee: "The local law level is high enough to prohibit the possession of firearms. There is a former Irklan tribesman who works as a customs inspector, and he can get one suitcase, up to 20 kilos, past customs." Now, non-firearm type weapons are fine to have, and are normally carried openly, as duels and other types of personal combat are not unusual. Although while it's fine to sneak up on some one, it's traditional to then challenge them before actually attacking.
Joe Lee: "Oh, and alcohol and tobacco are forbidden among the Irklan. You might be able to get away with dopesticks, if you smoke them discreetly and take care to not offend anyone. There's one other thing - there's a gentleman I saw you with in the park when I was playing J'la. You must bring him along." Ghaer: "Why?" Joe Lee: "He is the physical twin of the lord who you are going after. If you need to get into the estate, it might be helpful to have some one who looks just like him." Ghaer: "Okay..."
Speaking of Robert Shelzie, several hours after Ghaer is awoken, Robert is at the Ambassadore, heading down to breakfast when the concierge informs him that the police have, in fact, recovered some of his belongings. Robert gets directions, tips the concierge, and heads to the police station. After the obligatory paper chase, Robert is sent off with his little receipt, down to the property room, where his medals are returned to him. Robert: "Thank you for your speedy work. I'd like to purchase some tickets to the policeman's ball or whatever." He is directed to the can marked "Policemen's Benevolent Society", into which he deposit's a $20 credit note. Then he goes on his merry way. Robert purchases (from a street vendor, not a Weseli) a copy of the TAS' electronic map of Up Port. He looks up 'bar', 'Navy', and is directed to the Quarterdeck.
Ghaer still has some unfinished business on Regina. He wasn't able to speak with the Sengi rik yesterday, but he is available today. Ghaer: "The Var asked for a vision. When he did so, the one you used to call the Oracle, Michael Griffin, had a vision. It was powerful, and he does not understand it. I have been called on by others who need my assistance. The one you now call the Oracle has asked my help in settling a debt of honor." Rik: "We must go and bring Michael Griffin to the Lord. Where will we find him?" So, Ghaer, the rik, and a small pack of Sengi go off to the Ambassadore. The concierge meets the twelve be-weaponed big guys and asks how he may be of assistance. Ghaer: "We're here to see Mr. Griffin." Concierge: "Yes sir. That would be the eighth floor." Up they go, where the concierge knocks.
One of the valets comes in and announces the party. Valet: "Will you see them sir?" Mikie: "Yeah, send them in." Valet: "Yes your grace - I mean sir." (Mikie has at last worn them down to using 'sir' rather than 'sire' or 'your highness', and least to his face.) The Sengi, et al, are shown in. Rik: "Oracle?" Mikie: 'Yeah." Rik: "You must come and speak of your vision to the Lord." Mikie: "Okay." Valet: "But you cannot go alone! It's a barbaric planet!" Mikie: "Yes, but I'll be with the biggest barbarians on planet." Not good enough. Eventually the escort is haggled down to the gryphons, Brigitte, Esterhazy, and a couple of his men.
Downstairs, the Ambassadore's concierge is visiting with the bartender. Concierge: "You know, it's just like having Dirk Savage staying here. There's this buoyancy and excitement in the air, vid-cams outside all the time, people coming and going in huge groups." Bartender: "Yeah, the Lyrians are okay, and the press is definitely welcome where my tips are concerned, but those big guys in black don't seem to tip much. I don't think I've ever seen them drink." That's because the bar in the Ambassadore doesn't have any pits for open roasting of things.
Upon arriving at the Park, Mikie is asked to leave all but one of the gryphons outside, and go into the tent with just Ghaer and the rik. Inside, Mikie hears the gryphon and the lord speaking psionically. Oh-oh. According to the gryphon, there's a psionic imbalance, and he doesn't know where it's coming from. The Var Sengi is concerned that there's some one else on the planet who has had visions, and now there's some sort of misalignment of the Force or something. Lord: "You must fix this." Mikie: "Fix what? I didn't break anything." Lord: "You must travel to Menorb." Mikie: "Where?" Lord: "Menorb. It is in the Regina sector. It is the planet from whence Joe Lee origins. His clan... they protect <something unintelligible in Sengi>." "Perhaps someone has stolen the artifact" is the closest Mikie can get psionically. Lord: "The three of you will go." Indicating Ghaer, Mikie, and the gryphon. "See to it." The Sengi will make certain that the Lyrian retinue is not able to follow Mikie, and the gryphons agree to having the remaining seven stay with the Sengi (they're well-suited to each other - quiet, black, deadly and inconvenient). Mikie asks Brigitte to relay the updated itinerary to Mr. Black, who should find it amusing. (Good thing someone will Mikie not being happy about leaving Regina right now.)
Ghaer can still take along one other person, and he decides to call on some one capable of large scale destruction - Hunter. Fortunately, Hunter is available as he's getting really nervous about the impending wedding (in three months), and he's starting to irritate Angela. This will get him out of the house while she takes care of the plans.
Robert, still blissfully unaware of his impending fate, is out shopping. He gets a nice new suit (on sale at the Ambassadore, as it's winter weight), some other clothing, and a suit knife. Then he goes to the Quarter Deck. It's a wonderfully familiar setting. He gets a drink, and observes two men at a nearby table with the top painted pink, playing some kind of game that involves rolling dice and drinking. And tongue-twisters. Robert recognizes this game; his IQ would probably be several points higher if it weren't for it. When he gets his drink, he looks for another game that is not quite so far along, and joins several others at a poker game. He's about equal to two of the other players, and the fourth man is either making really bad decisions, or is having a very bad run of luck. This goes on for a while, and the man who's been losing since Robert sat down is starting to get belligerent, and glares at Robert. It's early in the day, and no one is going to start a fight over this, but the game falls apart after the unlucky man gets tapped out completely, with Robert being the primary winner. Robert mentions "Hey, I heard about this bar called the Dead Spacer." One of the players, Roger, decides to go along, and will show Robert the way. Robert will buy the first round in exchange. Besides, Roger has a thing for the bartender, who he's been trying to get a date with. Robert tries to help, giving Roger some of his best lines. Against all odds, this works, and she agrees to go out to dinner that evening. She's probably been waiting for Roger to do something besides just sweat and stammer, but this makes Robert look good from Roger's point of view.
The Var-Sengi Lord asks Mikie if he needs them to send some jai for his "belongings". All Mikie really needs is some clothes and a few personal things that will fit in a small jock bag. But, if he doesn't have to got back to the hotel himself, it will make things a bit easier, so he accepts the offer and some jai go off with a note from him. So it's off on another trip he doesn't want to take. (The Sengi have just not gotten the hang of "no thank you".)
Ghaer contacts Hunter, to see if he's available for a job. Hunter: "I don't know. Where are we going? Is there a chance for action, Ghaer? I've got to get off station, I haven't killed anything in weeks." Ghaer: "There should be enough action, although getting in your bang-bangs may be a problem." Hunter: "Ah, a challenge!" Ghaer goes off with Hunter to look for Robert Shelzie, and they are joined by Paul Lee. Hunter: "So Ghaer, who's Tiny here? Your new pet?" Ghaer: "This is Paul Lee." Ghaer gives Hunter a quick run down on the situation, and they head off to the Dead Spacer first, as starting at the bottom and work their way up sounds like a good idea.
Hunter goes over to the bartender, and says "I'm looking for some one." Bartender: "Aren't we all." She's attractive, so Hunter of course chats her up. Bartender: "You going to buy something, or what?" Hunter tosses a $100 credit note onto the table. Bartender: "What can I get you, sir?" Amazing how a little cash establishes a better relationship. Hunter orders a bottle, and asks when the bartender, Sheila, gets off. Sheila: "Actually, I have a date for dinner, but I should be done by 9:00." Hunter: "Can't you reschedule? What I have in mind will take all night." Sheila: "Well, no. He's a regular, and I wouldn't want to upset him, if you know what I mean." Hunter: "I understand."
Now Roger and Robert have been glaring at Hunter while he was talking to Sheila. Hunter, having noticed, looks over, smiles and waves. Ghaer looks that way and recognizes Robert, so Ghaer, Paul, and Hunter go over to their table. Hunter sits down and says: "What are you boys drinking? Hey, how do you like that piece of tail over there? <indicating Sheila> I bet she could suck the chrome off a -" Robert: "Hey, that's my buddy Roger's girl!" Hunter: "Really? Well she's going out with me tonight at 9:00." Robert: "I don't think so she has a date with Roger here." Robert has been gesturing at Hunter with his finger. Hunter: "Watch where you point that thing, or I'll rip that off and shove it up your ass." Roger: "Well, if you're going out with her, good luck."
Before things get too out of hand, Ghaer brings the conversation around to why they were out looking for Robert they want to know if he's interested in a job, for Paul. Robert: "No problem! Is it a grab or what? Whatever you want, I can fly it." Ghaer: "Basically <looking at Roger>, it's a small op, and I don't want to put too much on the table." Robert: "Oh Roger has plans already." Roger understands, and goes off to get ready for his date.
Ghaer: "I've recently been told that you bear a striking resemblance to a gentleman of distinction on a nearby world. There's been problems locally..." Robert: "That's nice, Mr. Raller, but what am I flying?" Ghaer: "We don't know yet." Hunter: "Let me handle this. We're working on this little op, and it might involve some close in atmosphere flying...Hey, let's do this properly." Hunter signals for more drinks, and intends to bullshit Robert while getting him drunk. Paul <to Ghaer>: "Is this like ritual self-mutilation?" Ghaer: "More or less, yes. Only it's internal." Ghaer keeps on eye on the other people in the bar, watching the drinkers' backs, so to speak. Hunter's definitely the loudest drunk, but everyone's pretty mellow in the bar this early in the day.
While Hunter and Robert bond and consume copious amounts of alcohol, Ghaer speaks with Paul about the place they're headed for. Ghaer: "Is there something else there that's considered holy?" Paul: "Well, it's a very beautiful place. My uncle has a painting of it." Ghaer has seen Joe Lee's painting. When Hunter goes off to use the head - "You don't buy alcohol, you just rent it" - Robert starts talking to Ghaer and Paul. Robert is very talkative when he's been drinking. Very.
Hunter is quite successful at getting Robert snockered (especially since Hunter's frequent trips to the head have been to get rid of as much alcohol as possible, in several ways). Robert decides that it's time to go home for a nap, and he even remembers where he's staying. Hunter offers to help him home, so they gather up Robert and his shopping bag, and head off for the ship's bay, where Mikie will be waiting. En route, Ghaer arranges for the Ship's chandlers to deliver rations for everyone, including water and water purification stuff. Hunter <to Ghaer>: "So am I going to be paid for this trip or what?" Ghaer: "All I can promise you is standard guild rate. Other than that, you take the beautiful girls, I'll take the gold." Hunter: "The hell you say! Beautiful girls are a dime a dozen."
When Mikie arrives at the ship, there are two jai outside. The interior of the ship has been stripped out so that there is just one common area (aside from the captain's cabin). Four hammocks are hung at one end of the common area, and there is a fresher near the galley. Mikie points out that they'll need another hammock, and the jai can accommodate that easily.
Hunter wants to pick up his pack, and Ghaer wants to get some other equipment for Robert, so once they get to the ship Robert is put to bed in one of the hammocks, and Hunter takes off one of Robert's shoes for Ghaer to take on his shopping trip (shoes are hard to fit). Ghaer will settle up Robert's bill at the Ambassadore, pick up his stuff and Hunter's pack, and a few other things (like arranging for any messages for Robert Shelzie to go to a post office box - so he doesn't just disappear with the 'Cabal's Jackal') [see Free Thoughts issue #8] before returning to the ship.
Hunter <referring to Robert>: "When he wakes up, let me handle it." Ghaer: "Oh, no doubt." Ghaer and Hunter discuss equipment, and what weapons the local military uses (Ling Standard ACR), so that acquiring ammo and weapons locally is less of a problem. Ghaer adds a small snub pistol to the ACR packed with Hunter's weapons in the suitcase.
262 to 269, 1122.
Robert is passed out in the hammock, Hunter goes to sleep on his bed roll, and when the jai are told the party is ready, one of the jai goes up to the door to the cockpit, bangs on the door, and when the door is opened a crack the jai says: "Now please." Then the jai all leave, and the ship maneuvers out.
It's not a perfect jump, and the passengers feel it. Robert rouses enough to mutter about the bad piloting, then sleeps for six hours. He wakes up completely, realizes that he's in a hammock. And that's a ship's hull above him. This is not the Ambassadore.
Robert: "Where the hell are we?" Ghaer: "Oh great." Robert: "What are we doing on this ship? I don't remember agreeing to go on this trip. I've got a terrible headache." Paul gives Robert a cup of tea, and drinking it does make the headache go away. Hunter <to Robert>: "Man, you were soo drunk. What did you do with that big hairy chick? What was her name - Zelda?" Robert: "I don't like you. And who's flying this thing?" Hunter: "I thought you were. Isn't that why we hired you?" Robert goes up to the bridge and opens the door. The cockpit is empty, and the ship is on autopilot (it's in jumpspace, so that's normal). Robert checks out the controls to find out where the first port of call is - Knorbes. And the ship's fuel tanks were full when they left. Robert sits down and checks the settings, etc. to make sure all is normal, and it is.
Mikie has taken the time in maneuver to check out the galley. There isn't much in the way of food, just condiments and the like, and about 50 pounds of steak in the freezer. Fortunately, Ghaer's supplies will be enough to work with, for now.
Robert bangs on the door of the captain's cabin, and it opens a crack. Robert: "What's the name of this ship?" Pilot: "Is this a trick question?" Robert: "No, I want to know what ship I'm on." Pilot: "It's the Brilliant Lance." Robert: "How big a ship is it?" Pilot: "It's an Extended Scout." Robert: "And we're going to Knorbes?" Pilot: "Yes." Robert: "Is that the final destination?" Pilot: "No, we're heading for Menorb." Robert: "Thank you." The pilot goes back into his room and shuts the door.
Robert walks back to the common area and confronts Ghaer. Robert: "Why have you shanghaied me?" Ghaer: "One, because you agreed to come with us." Robert: "Oh no, you're not going to get me on that one!" Ghaer: "And two, as I've told you twice already, you look like the leader of the opposition on planet." Robert: "So I'm going as a spy?" Ghaer: "No, not exactly." Robert: "Well, I would have appreciated it if you hadn't shanghaied me." Ghaer: "I didn't. You agreed to come along earlier, while you were with Roger. You do remember Roger?" Robert: "Of course. But I don't remember agreeing to come along on this." Ghaer: "Well, our clients insisted you come along." Robert: "You could have said no." Ghaer: "Oh no, you don't say no to our clients. They tend to take that badly." Robert: "Well, can I give you a piece of advice? Don't deal with people like that!" From the galley Mikie: "Oh, gee, why didn't I think of that!?" Robert: "And who's the guy with the dog. Or cat. And it's got wings!" Ghaer: "Some people refer to him as 'Dread Sovereign'" Mikie: "Hey, you want to eat on this trip?" Ghaer: "...and others just call him Michael Griffin." Robert: "Isn't he the guy that Simon person was threatening?" Ghaer: "Yes." Robert: "Oh jeeze, just what I need - petty nobles." Mikie <to Robert>: "Do you want to eat on this trip?" Ghaer: "He's a very good cook."
Hunter <awake and perky>: "Oh that reminds me, Mikie. Or is that Your Highness? Where's your circus? Hey, this must be your kitty." Mikie: "He's not a cat." Hunter: "Good, 'cause I don't like cats." The gryphon keeps an eye on Hunter, as the biggest danger to Mikie. Hunter: "Ghaer, you've really let yourself go." Ghaer: "I'll see you in the gym, skinny." Hunter: "Every time I see you, this little ditty pops into my head..." Ghaer: "I'm amazed there's room in there what with all the female genitalia." Hunter: "So does this look get you many babes? You're all soft and furry like, girls like that." This is pretty much the trend on the trip Hunter trying to get a rise out of Robert especially; Robert underwhelmed at the company; Ghaer trying to keep everyone from getting pre-damaged; Mikie either working in the galley, beating on an improvised bag, or keeping as much off to himself as possible; Paul watching the group and no doubt wondering just what kind of people live on Regina.
Refueling on Knorbes is just a matter of scoop and jump.
269 to 276, 1122.
The pilot stays out of the way, and doesn't see fit to interact with the passengers during the trip. Everyone gets to know each other really well. Sort of. Fortunately, Paul has a high level of unarmed combat, so Mikie has some one to spar with. Hunter thinks it's all too much like dancing. Ghaer <observing Paul and Mikie>: "Well, gee, we should just send those two in." Hunter: "Yeah, but when I hit some one, they stay down." Paul: "Hit me." Hunter: "I don't hit people with my hand, I'd hurt my hand." Paul: "What do you use?" Hunter: "My e-Tool, mostly." Paul: "So, get it." Eventually, this ends with Hunter actually sparring with Paul, barehanded, after Robert places a bet with Ghaer "on the little guy." And a side bet that Hunter will back down, which he doesn't. Paul is not intending to hurt Hunter, just demonstrate. Which he does. Paul: "Enough? I would not want to injure you in such a way that would take more than a few weeks to heal." Paul does release Hunter's arm, and bows to him. Hunter isn't really impressed, as he's a modern soldier, and doesn't put too much stock in that chop-socky stuff when he can just shoot a man at several hundred metres. They will both be sore and bruised for the next couple of days, but nothing was broken or torn.
Robert wants to get as much of a briefing as possible on the man he looks like. Paul doesn't know the man personally, but he can provide some background. His name is Richard Michael Garson, he's originally from Knorbes, and is a medical doctor. He travelled off his homeworld to study, to where Paul doesn't know, but he's one of the people to have first brought the cloning technology to Menorb. He was the first one's of the self-styled 'clonemasters' on planet to transfer his personality to a clone, and they think he's over 140 years old. His first wife divorced him, stating that she considered him "deceased" when he transferred from his first body. And he is currently involved in a 'relationship' with his senior lab assistant. Garson's territory has always adjoined the Irklan's land, but it's only within the last year that he's moved against them. He's also renamed the village "Fidelity". The villagers may be able to provide additional information. Hunter thinks this cloning thing is just wrong. Given Mikie's past (with his own father, and Blaelok), he's extremely uncomfortable with this whole thing.
Ghaer: "Well, have you tried talking to this Garson person?" Paul: "Would that have been before or after he had the monks killed and their bodies dumped outside onto the shrine's lawn?" Ah. It appears that Garson had been deliberately trying to pick a fight with the Irklan clan for some time. He finally brought in more mercs, then hit the shrine and killed the monks. So his actions were decidedly premeditated.
On to Uakye, where they will actually have to dock and refuel, so there's a couple of hours 'liberty' on the up port. Hunter, of course, goes off to get a new copy of PlayBeing, and have a few drinks. He asks Paul and Mikie along, even though neither one of them drink alcohol. Paul: "I don't drink. Alcohol is poison. I will have water with you." Hunter: "I'm sure we can find you someplace that serves juice." Mikie goes off in search of good food for the ship - Hunter kicks in some cash. The Ship's chandler's on this place either has, or can get anything.
Hunter gets a bone for Mikie's 'dog'. The gryphon has decided that Hunter really isn't a threat to Mikie, and he will take the bone, but only to show that he approves of Hunter's gesture, not that he really wants it, but Hunter is finally behaving the way he should (showing some respect). The gryphon is very catlike in that way.
Mikie is able to get good, fresh food for the week's trip to Menorb; and more good food that keeps well for the week back. He gets Hunter's recommendation as to what type of rations to get for use on the planet. Robert picks up some respirators, although he forgets and buys a human one for Ghaer. Oh. Oops. Hunter has the pilot adjust the environmentals to gradually over the next week get the team acclimated to the climate on Menorb. And he also gets the medical pharmaceuticals to increase melanin and red blood cell levels as well. Paul: "Now I understand why you brought him. He's useful."
276 to 283, 1122.
Paul provides the group with tea during the first few days when the "altitude" is getting to people. It helps, as do Hunter's preparations. And the gryphon is having no problem adjusting at all, and even though Hunter thinks he should stay on the ship, there's no way he's staying on the damn ship.
On the trip over, Mikie has been working with the gryphon (at night, while everyone else is sleeping), on accessing the vision he doesn't remember. It's slow going, mostly because the gryphon has never encountered a mind quite like Mikie's. The gryphon explains that most people have conscious minds that are pretty linear and easy to read, and their subconscious is sort of swirled and dreamlike. Mikie, on the other hand, has a maze-like mind with dead ends and trip wires, stuff in locked boxes, and past the broken stairwell, behind the locked door with the sign that reads "Beware: leopard". The gryphon is willing to try to access the difficult areas if Mikie really wants him to, but he doesn't want to be held responsible if Mikie "explodes" or something. Mikie is able to recall some fragments of the vision, but in a sort of detached, unemotional way (self-protection?) the image of a rock covered with vertical crystals, a room with some sort of huge liquid-filled tank in the middle, and a different room, ablaze. Whether the events are past, current, or future, Mikie has no clue.
283 - 1122.
Planetfall on Menorb. Paul announces that it's about a week's trip by camel. Robert/Hunter/Ghaer/Mikie <in unison>: "Camel!?!" Robert: "I think that's some kind of car, isn't it?" Paul: "It's an animal, four feet, split lip, spits, fleas. You ride it..." Ghaer: "Fleas?!" Everyone is a bit put off by this, but Paul eventually gets a word in edgewise and tells them he was going to suggest they rent a vehicle any way, since they don't have a lot of time to spare. They can hire a driver.
Hunter: "So what's our story? We don't want to rile the natives up." Paul: "There's a lost city." Hunter: "Isn't there always?" Paul: "It was swallowed up by the sands many years ago." Hunter: "That'll work. We're archeo-tourists." They take a flyover to get a look at the planet. It's dry in the desert. And with the thin atmosphere, it's even drier. Fortunately, one of the things Ghaer thought to get was a couple of camelbacks for Mikie and the Zoomie (Robert), that double as harnesses, just in case, as there are rocky areas. Hunter and Ghaer go over all the equipment before they make planetfall.
Once on the port, Hunter tries to buy spare boots for Mikie and Robert, but he's having problems dealing with the locals, even though he speaks slowly and loudly. Ghaer just looks up 'military surplus' in the phone book. Well, fine. Robert purchases a small camera and film.
Getting through customs is no problem, because Hunter attracts all the attention, being loud and obnoxious, and gets all his stuff searched carefully. Then he hands out copies of Angela's cards, and one of her autographed pictures, and he's suddenly a good guy, just a really dumb off-worlder. He tells them about looking for the lost city, and they're concerned that he's taking a guide. Hunter: "Oh don't worry, I am. He's a local, and he's been to the lost city." This really makes the customs agents concerned - they tell Hunter "He's going to take you out into the desert and kill you! No one has been to the Lost City." (Which would explain that 'lost' part.) They aren't going to let Hunter leave, but he tells them "Okay, well, he hasn't actually been to the Lost City, but his second cousin's wife's uncle's great-grandfather's brother-in-law has been there, and our guide inherited the map." Since this is within the realm of normal local hustles, the customs agents let Hunter go.
Once through customs, Robert buys a lab coat, and supplies to make up ID badges for himself, just in case. Hunter buys a map of the planet, and Ghaer gets a copy of the local paper. The ship will wait for the group to return for up to a month before leaving, but hopefully it won't be that long. A driver and wheeled vehicle are located. The vehicle is in good working condition, as the driver depends upon it for his safety. He's a professional driver who usually carries either perishable food, passengers, or both. He asks if he can fill up the little left over space with some cargo, and that's fine (only about one cubic foot). Paul tells the driver they are headed to Fidelity, since that's a good starting point.
Hunter <looking around>: "I wouldn't wish this place on a broke-dick dog. No offense Paul." Paul: "None taken. The weak frequently feel that way." Hunter <thinking>: "Or the smart." Both griffins pick up on this; Hunter just tends to think out loud. Hunter checks to make sure everyone is set and doing okay, and they are. So, since it's late afternoon when the vehicle is being loaded, it's soon time to go. Provided they don't hit any flash floods, the party should reach Fidelity by morning.
Rotating watches are set up for the drive. Robert watches for 15 minutes, then wakes Hunter up and tells him it's his turn. Hunter, who was already asleep when Ghaer set up the watches, doesn't know better. Every couple of hours, there are lights indicating some sort of settlement or home of some sort visible from the car. Hunter takes out his recon binocs when he's on watch, as he's in serious working/combat mode now. After about 3 hours travel, the driver stops the car, gets out to stretch, pee, and drink some water. Hunter has him shut off the lights, and checks out the area. He spots what appears to be movement paralleling the vehicle's path. He finds out that there are heat signatures, travelling in a line. Hunter thinks they might be elephants, those long-necked spotted things. Hunter wakes Paul up, to find out if he thinks it's local fauna, or raiders or something waiting to swoop down on the vehicle. Paul: "Well, locals would be unlikely to go after a vehicle, since it's mostly the lords who can afford motorized vehicles. It's most likely a camel caravan." Hunter: "Travelling while it's dark?" Paul: "Travelling while it's cool." And by gosh it has gotten pretty darn cool, especially with the thin atmosphere.
Hunter goes off a way from the vehicle, arms himself, gets Ghaer's and Robert's handguns too, and takes them back. He goes back to the car, and while the car is in motion he puts his hand over Robert's mouth, holding his pistol in front of his face. There's a brief, uncomfortable moment, but then Hunter gives him his gun. Robert goes back to sleep. The gryphon loves being out in the open, where the air is not all soupy. The griffin's homeworld apparently also had a thin atmosphere. Hunter sits up front with the driver, and attempts to engage him in conversation. Hunter asks if he's ever had problems with local bandits or whatever, and the driver goes off about the Irklan clan, and how they're evil mystic wizards who don't need water or food to survive, they're like ghosts, they're psychic vampires and will suck the life right out of you. Robert sleeps through this, Ghaer only half hears it, and isn't sure how much is him dreaming, and Mikie is wide awake. Great. The driver goes on about the wars, and how the Irklans have this 'death touch' thing and all...
Six hours into the trip, there's another rest break. When the driver walks off to relieve himself, Paul gets the rest of the party together. Hunter: "Hey Paul, is that true about you guys being able to disappear, and kill with a touch?" Paul: "Stand over there." Hunter stands off a couple of feet away, Paul walks into the shadows, and then is suddenly beside Hunter, tapping him. On the shoulder. Hunter: "Do that again!" He puts on his night vision gear, and is able to barely track Paul as he wraps his cloak around him and stays close to the ground to move.
Ghaer <to Paul>: "How much longer?" Paul: "We've got about another hour's drive, maybe an hour and a half." Ghaer: "How long until dawn?" Paul: "About two hours." Ghaer takes a moment to set his compass for planetary magnetic north. Paul: "We need to tell the driver to turn off to your 'encampment', before we get to Fidelity." Paul gives Hunter a description of the landmarks, so Hunter tells the driver. Hunter: "We're almost there. Finally the -....Um." He's doing the all excited with the anticipation of discovery act.
They pull of the road a ways, and stop. Hunter: "What do we expect to meet here? Are we being met?" Paul: "No, there was no way to tell exactly how long it was going to take for me to return, but there should be a small group of warriors encamped there. If they had to move, they were to leave some way for us to find them. If we are going after the clone master" Hunter does the "Ixnay on the onemasterclay." He then motions below the seat to Ghaer, first to the pistol, then to the driver, shrugging. Ghaer <in a stage whisper>: "So you're saying the Irklan really does exist up here and we should be careful?" The driver glances back quickly. Driver: "Have you guys seen Irklan up here?" Hunter: "How would I have seen them, I've never been here before. Oh you must be speaking to Paul." Paul: "No. But then, you wouldn't see them, would you?" The driver is very eager to help with the unpacking, especially when Hunter checks the ridge and says "Yup, they're still following us." Once the vehicle is unpacked, the driver asks when they want him to meet them, in the village. (He's not coming back out here.) Arrangements are made to meet in the inn of the village in one week. The driver takes off, at record speed.
It's a twenty minute walk up the hill, and Paul suggests caching most of the water at this site, so it can be picked up later, by camel. Hunter: "I knew camels would come up eventually." Paul will go first, followed by Hunter. Then there's a space, followed by Robert and Mikie and the gryphon, with Ghaer taking drag. Ghaer picks up the scent of diesel, followed by rotor-slap - he tells Hunter. Hunter: "Well, this started earlier than I expected." Everyone gets off the trail and into the trees. Paul: "What's wrong?" Hunter: "Aircraft - helicopter." Paul: "The camp." It's just over the ridge. Paul heads up the trail at a run, the others following, at a slightly slower pace. The gryphon asks Mikie What's wrong? Mikie: "The camps up ahead, and there's a helicopter up there." Gryphon: "What does it look like?" Mikie thinks of a helicopter. Gryphon: "Want me to take a look?" Mikie: "If you want. But be careful." The gryphon takes a couple of loping strides, then leaps up and gains altitude quickly. Robert: "It flies." Mikie: "Yeah. He has wings." Robert: "It's not aerodynamic." Mikie: "You want to tell him?" Robert: "No."
Gryphon: "There are four machines." Mikie gets Ghaer's attention and indicates four. Ghaer: "Four helicopters. On the ground or in the air?" Mikie asks the gryphon. "On the ground." Mikie passes on the information. Hunter asks Ghaer where Mikie is getting his intel? Ghaer: "The gryphon has a transmitter. You don't want to know where." Hunter accepts this, as he's heard about using animals of various sorts to carry commo. The group hears gunfire over the ridge. Hunter: "Take a look." There's smoke visible above the ridge. Mikie: "Where's the smoke coming from?" Gryphon: "The fires." Mikie: "What's burning?" Gryphon: "It looks like buildings. That's where the gunfire is coming from." Mikie relays to the group. Hunter: "Well, this isn't good. Those are rude strangers." Ghaer: "I agree. I think we should do something about them." Hunter: "I think we should prevent them from leaving." He and Ghaer start to set up their rifles on the ridge, looking down. Hunter: "You going to prove to me that you haven't lost your edge in spite of your fluffiness, are you? I don't know, you look kind of soft." Ghaer: "Oh, shut up."
Robert objects, concerned that the shots will be heard by the bad guys, or that they'll be able to get away and get back to the village. There's really not much else they can do, and there is still shooting going on in the encampment, so that might help cover the sound of shots, and it's a hard day's walk to the village. Of the men left guarding the helicopters, four men go down before the others realize they're taking fire and head for cover. There is a full bore, linear panic run by what's probably the last remaining pilot. Hunter bets Ghaer that Ghaer can't hit the evading runner while he's running through the trees. Hunter loses his $20 creds. The gryphon is poised on a dead tree, observing, sort of like a really big, cat-shaped vulture.
Hunter aims for a head shot on the remaining uninjured man inside the helicopter, and hits him. The only bad guys left with the helicopters are a pilot trying to take off in a damaged vehicle, and an uninjured guard firing at Ghaer. He manages to graze Ghaer in the leg, pissing him off. Mikie recalls the gryphon, as he doesn't want him injured by the helicopter. Hunter fires at the fleeing pilot, but Ghaer hits the man first, shooting him in the groin. Ghaer immediately apologizes, not that the guy could hear him. The helicopter plunges downward, pitches forward, hits a skid on the first helicopter and plows into the rest of them. Explosions, burning all that sort of stuff. That takes care of the men in the helicopters, and the helicopters. Hunter: "That was my shot."
There are two running men still fleeing through the woods, at long range. Hunter lives for long range. Both he and Ghaer hit their targets. Mikie asks the returned gryphon if he's okay to go back up. Gryphon: "Duh. You were born with legs, can you walk?" Great, sarcastic mythical creatures. Gryphon: "What do I look for?" Mikie: "People in uniforms." The unorthodox aerial reconnaissance goes back into action. Gryphon: "They're down there. And they're shining lights all over. Now they're heading back towards the trail." Mikie: "Towards us, or the helicopters?" Gryphon: "The helicopters." Mikie: "Are there any stragglers? Or are they close together?" Gryphon: "They're bunching up on the trail." Mikie relays the information he's getting from the gryphon. Hunter and Ghaer run down to do a quick check of the non-burning bodies for guns, ammo, or maps, but these were crew, and have only empty pistols (no wonder they were running) and no maps. Hunter and Ghaer then set up to snipe at the approaching group.
The gryphon takes a look at the village, and sees no signs of human life, just some animals, and human bodies. After a couple of minutes, the gryphon tells Mikie "The animals are falling down. And twitching." Mikie: "Get out of there! Get back now." Mikie <to Hunter and Ghaer>: "Nerve gas." Hunter: "Nerve gas? In contravention to local laws? The buggers!" The gryphon returns unharmed.
The bad guys split up to approach the clearing from two sides. Nine men on Ghaer's side, and eleven on Hunter's. A couple of rendezvous points are arranged for the party, just in case. Paul, Robert, Mikie, and the gryphon will stay together, out of the line of fire, but able to watch. There follows an odd game of 'Red Light, Green Light', where bad guys pop up, move, are shot, hide, pop up, move, are shot, hide, etc. Mikie notices the gryphon is missing, and sees him pounce down where a man was hiding. There is a high-pitched, almost human scream, a flap of huge wings, and bits of something fly up... Mikie does not make telepathic contact with the gryphon while he's eating.
Another helicopter shows up, and Mikie tells the gryphon to hide. Some colored smoke is popped, and one of the new helicopters lands over the far side of the ridge line. The few remaining men of the opposition can all fit into it. Ouch. Once the chopper retreats, headed for the village of Fidelity, Hunter goes out in his CES to check out the encampment. He inspects the uniformed bodies and finds planetary maps, no ID, standard off the rack BDU's, and no mercenary unit patches. Definitely freelancers. The encampment was evidently bombed before the nerve gas was used, and it was definitely nerve gas.
Mikie: "Are you done?" Gryphon: "With what?" Mikie: "Whatever you were doing." Gryphon: "Yes. Do you require anything else?" Mikie: "No." Gryphon: "There are small ones." Mikie: "What?" Gryphon: "Small ones, moving in the woods." Mikie: "Small whats?" Gryphon: "Children." Mikie: "Did they see you?" Gryphon: "Yes." Mikie: "Show me where." The gryphon shows Mikie the location.
Mikie tells Ghaer where the kids are, and since it's all right to go down by the helicopters, to where the children and Paul are, they do so. Paul has found six kids, 10 to 12 years old, who were apprentices to the adults in the camp. They believe some one in the village who knew about the encampment either sold them out, or was picked up and the information was extracted. Probably tortured out of them. According to the surviving children, a wave of helicopters came over the camp, dropping bombs. When the payload was done dropping, then they used the nerve gas. Then they landed men. (Obviously they were using non-persistent nerve gas.) Seems like overkill, but Hunter finds more uniformed bodies than local ones. Apparently, after 'Righteous Wind', the code name for the leader of the camp, was killed, the apprentices were instructed to get out of the encampment. Hunter is not keen to take on a bunch of kids, even if they are somewhat trained, but Paul decides that they will be turned over to some people in the village who can be trusted to get them into the 'underground' that's sprung up, and out of harm's way.
Next stop: Fidelity?