Current group: Kevin Sanwell (Mage), Benedict (Swordsman), John Jack (Mercenary), Marty Tabard (Businessman-Warrior), and Raphiel Midwater (Master of Machines). New characters for this session:
Jarvian Mitchell is a refugee from the “Battletech” Reaches of the Battle Zone – an amateur historian and “Mechwarrior”, the expert pilot of sophisticated, 35-ton, anthropomorphic war machine filled with long-lost technology and advanced electronics. He’s seeking to recover that lost technology, to rebuild civilization across the inner sphere and – not least – to improve his own status there. Unfortunately, his abstract technical education isn’t what it might be, and even the mysterious technologies that his culture regards as “lost mysteries” are centuries behind the technologies of the core.
Dan Jiles is a popular reporter, specializing in on-the-spot, live coverage, of events out in the Manifold and in danger zones around the Federation. No one is quite sure what allows him to maintain his communications links so reliably – including across many dimensional barriers – but his reports seem to have more influence on what actually happens in the Manifold than is at all reasonable. Dan quietly took up a second career as an investigative agent for the House of Roses some months ago: they put him onto some great stories and they pass on a lot of information – all in exchange for nothing more than protecting his sources and occasionally putting a bit of spin on things – and spin is his speciality anyway. Better a little spin than the information not getting out at all.
Kevin checked back in at the House of Roses to see if he had time to take the kids off-core for a little more training and found Jack at the accountants desk, loudly arguing and complaining that no one had come to kill him, that he hadn’t killed anyone in nearly a week, that his secret bank accounts didn’t seem to exist, that even the bedamned vending machines universally recognized him (and what was with that, how the hell could anyone be a secret agent if EVERYONE KNEW THEM), and just debited some mysterious central account (when there was any fee at all), and where was his money? What the hell did they use for money around here anyway? Why wasn’t the accountant picking up the gun he’d carefully left on the counter and shooting him with it? Why should he work for them if so much was free and they weren’t even threatening to kill him properly? He’d ALWAYS been shot by this point before… (most of the others present could understand why; even Kwan Yin would probably want to shoot Jack after a few minutes of talking to him).
Benedict was also visiting personally: core communications systems still made him nervous and he was confused about money as well: it looked like his men were simply being accommodated, and he couldn’t figure out while no one was charging them for much of anything. Besides, he wanted to find out a bit more about the people he was working with, and the “familiar” things didn’t seem to know much about them. All they could say was that John Jack had simply appeared recently – just like him – and fought some “Daleks” while Kevin had apparently recently reappeared – without apparent aging – after a lengthy absence, although there were a few reported encounters that might have been with him out in the “Manifold”. It looked like these people were awfully used to youngsters appearing and disappearing all the time.
Marty had been checking on some of the investments he’d made to fund his plans and was dropping by to question the accountants at the house. The Core had some really weird ideas about finance.
Dan Jiles was looking for leads on stories. Unfortunately it was a slow, slow, day. If something exciting didn’t come up, he was going to lose audience share.
Kevin and Benedict were looking at Jack in confusion… If he didn’t want to work for the House of Roses, why was he here? Money had never been the important part. There was service, and challenge, and protecting the world, and personal reasons, and new experiences, and secret information, and upgraded equipment, and adventure, and special training, and various perks, and spying on the house, and magical knowledge, and allies, and support, and exchanges of favors for their own projects, and purpose, and an introduction to the core, and excitement, and wanting to be in a position of influence, and many other things – but Money? If you wanted to be rich, being an outworld trader or an entertainer or a businessman or something would be way easier. Kevin offered to find him a secret base, or a tropical island, or a secret lab or something, but Jack just kept ranting.
The poor accountant had finally wrapped his mind around the idea that Jack wanted and expected to be shot, and was even more confused… Outworlders. Insane, all of them.
Meanwhile, Jarvian had been holed up in the forest for weeks. He was beginning to feel that he’d stumbled into a fairyland… He’d been scouting, had gone to investigate some really weird readings in pursuit of some really strange Battlemech reports and now he was surrounded by unintelligible radio traffic, the stars were all wrong, the forest appeared to be a park, and glowing, flying, shapeshifting, animal-things that claimed to be “familiars” kept dropping by to check on him and offering to help him “get adjusted”. They talked to him – and showed him bizarre audiovisual productions – but nothing they said made much sense. They just kept going on about infinite worlds and antique shops when he said the he needed an employer with access to parts and a repair bay for his Mech.
There was much confusion before they found a local prospect he thought might work out. This “House of Roses” bunch sounded like a major house; surely they could use an advanced scout mech like his own. The “Familiar” things had brought him food and new clothes – the weirdest clothes he’d ever seen, yes, but new and incredibly durable, and with an unbelievable amount of electronics installed – and were quite happy to show him the way and help him get signed up and assure him that maintenance and ammo would be provided and he was welcome to check out any new Tech he came across.
Once there, he found the ongoing argument, which by this time had come down to Kevin wanting to dump Jack and take the Kids, Marty, and Benedict out to the country for sword and pistol practice-combat with weapons set to half power (sword only for Benedict) – although Marty wanted to just go ahead and shoot Jack first. Kevin wanted the kids to get used to their new powers – such as using their telekinesis to help with maneuvering and defying gravity – and their enhanced durability.
After a few more demonstrations of Jack’s general hostility, including his intentionally turning up a plasma pistol to potentially lethal levels before shooting Kevin, most of the group left for practice – Jack not included; he went looking for restaurants instead – and Jarvain went back out to tinker with his Mech until Dan Jiles started putting out some over-excited reports of the practice session, thus drawing Jack, Jarvain, and Raphial all in again. Kevin had been meaning to take them to his estate out in the fourth circle, but there hadn’t been time to leave Core, so they’d simply gone outside of London.
At least the kids were finding the session reassuring. Half-power plasma blasts barely stung most of the time and they had enough telekinesis – in Core no less – to run up walls or levitate themselves.
Kevin got the report as well, but simply opted to invite the reporter to come by for tea after the practice session. The kids had really started having fun with it, although everyone had to switch to practice swords – up and down the walls and across the ceilings – when the power packs on the guns ran out. Oddly enough, Jack was somehow getting blamed by the reporter – perhaps because he’d fired the first shot. The police turned up promptly (it was apparently a slow day for them too, although they were fairly willing to accept the explanatory messages. After all, there were no injury-alarms going off).
Then, of course, with the police looking around for any actual danger, Jarvian and his Mech showed up. Jarvain was a bit appalled… These people were using mech-level flamers as hand weapons and were apparently both wearing clothing that could protect them from mech-level weapons and shooting them at each other for fun. What had he wandered into? And… were the clothes those “familiar” things had brought him anything like those?
The talks were relatively friendly from there, even if most of the group thought that the Mech was “quaint”. The Reporter was a bit annoyed about “training small children to be shot” (“No, we’re training them to dodge”), even if apparently no one was hurt and the kids were shooting back. Pesky people from the Manifold.
They broke for lunch, recharged their weapons – and got a summons for a new mission as the group attempted to explain “Reporters” to Benedict. “Bards” worked well enough.
As they were arriving at the briefing room news popped up about “protests” going worldwide. They’d suddenly formed up out of the blue… Kevin immediately reduced the resolution on the local network: the programming-broadcast had to be fairly subtle. Dammit! Hadn’t they installed the neural-patterning approval filters yet? Washington, London, New York and several other major cities around the globe. He wasn’t about to allow Core Earth to collapse – but he might not be able to stop it if that broadcast had really gotten loose. They’d taken extraordinary isolation precautions though! It had certainly sounded like enough… It looked like a mob was getting ready to attack the House of Roses. Kevin put out a quick interview with the kids about how much fun they’d had, but it didn’t seem to help. Damn it! People were supposed to be saner than this these days!
Then explosions started shaking the building; the outer perimeter had been breached. Kevin and Benedict went to check while Raphiel sent his remotes and switched to sonar overlay. Invisible guys, civilians with various real and improvised weapons, and no response to reason. It looked like the homicidal insanity had hit core earth. Raphial went to get the samples to safety, Kevin started using illusions and ice to dump attackers down the elevator shafts, while the others set up to hold the line. Outside, Jarvain brought his Mech into action, opening with the autocannon – and found himself engaged with an invisible enemy that wasn’t in his computer files.
The battle continued for some time, with a variety of maneuvers on each side. Kevin had the kids stick to self-defense and saving lives with minor healing, but the number of civilian casualties was a rude awakening for them anyway. Fortunately, the house defense systems were pretty good – although it looked like the civilian types were just a diversion.
The attackers were all locals, including the people who’d been wearing the invisible power armor. Just like back on Greenwald. Somebody out there was really good at messing with people’s minds. It looked like the generic protest was a cover to get large numbers of people armed with weapons close to three targets: the House of Roses, the Federation Military Headquarters in the Pentagon, and a tech company in New York. The one Marty had infiltrated earlier in fact.
M turned up after a bit. Things had been a bit busy and everyone had gotten some practice – but the House didn’t know much more about these guys now than it did before it had captured several of them. Kevin observed that “Well, they (the real opponents) are capable of doing remote-broadcast neural programming through normal sensory input. A neat trick. You’ll probably never actually see one of the people behind things without a lot of investigation. That’s why I turned down the resolution on the reception. The trick has to be pretty subtle, so I bet the nearsighted or partially deaf are virtually immune. Too bad that’s pretty rare these days – and the neural-simulation filters slow communications to a crawl.”
M agreed that that analysis was spot on – although they were setting up expert systems to look for patterns that could be filtered out. The House needed to know more about these puppet-masters and what they were planning – which led to the next mission. The House wanted the group to go to the home realm of that girl they’d met earlier and determine what had happened to her. Apparently she’d been identified, but was supposed to be dead. It looked like someone managed to retrieve her body and revive her. The House wanted to confirm that her body was indeed missing from the grave and to get whatever clues the group could find as to who might have grabbed her. Fortunately, only the gravesite was radioactive. The rest of the planet was quite pleasant – but they would be provided with an Orb for defense during the duration of the mission and to help them reach the actual grave. Some of the local “fauna” – living machines, a fascinating mix of biotech, nanotech and robotics – was quite aggressive.
M didn’t question or comment on the presence of the kids, he just smiled knowingly slightly when he looked at them. Well, Kevin had assumed that whatever they showed off during an in-core training exercise would get right back to the House. They’d know that the kids had notable psychic powers that worked in the core, greatly enhanced speed, strength, and durability, and enhanced combat abilities anyway. That he’d provided those powers – probably as part of a bargain – would be an obvious deduction. They probably weren’t aware of much beyond that yet – and he’d cloaked the soul-bond, ownership-programming, and the exact level and source of their abilities.
The house wasn’t exactly desperate yet, but agents that looked so innocuous with that level of abilities were well worthwhile -and Kevin was betting that, sooner or later, there would be some inquiries about just how many people he could boost that way, what else they could do – and what the price tag was. Even at the moment they were obviously willing to overlook his recruiting youngsters. With any luck, he’d eventually be able to get them to start recruiting for him.
They might only have a few hours to get ready: Kevin wanted to pick up some weapons packs, spare gear, and supplementary armor – and to decide what to do about Jack; after all, the man had started threatening to kill him before he’d even spoken to him… They’d first met when they’d been summoned to a briefing. Just after they’d arrived, M had turned up and said that they’d be working together. Jack had looked at Kevin – admittedly, sprawled in a chair with his sightly-rumpled teenager-who’s-up-to-something look and blatant disregard for the welfare of his spine – gotten a drink from the bar, and announced “I have to work with the brat? Does my pay get docked if he “accidentally” falls down an elevator shaft onto some bullets?” – and things had, if anything, gone downhill from there; he’d gone from attempts at bullying to fairly blatant attempts at murder… It was almost like he’d been exposed to a partial version of the homicidal-manic meme before they even left for the investigation. Maybe he had some sort of partial, unconscious, precognition that only showed him the worst possible outcomes? It would go a long ways towards explaining his personality. Still, it really didn’t matter; he couldn’t put up with someone who was evidently trying to kill him. Maybe a subtle curse or two. The House would probably notice, but he really doubted that they’d care. It wasn’t like Jack was actually helpful.
Marty wanted to grab some military smartclothes, get his investments in order again, and tell Olivia that he was off on another mission.
Benedict wanted to check on his men, get them started on training with some of the new weapons available around here, and find out what – if anything – was known about his home world and how he might eventually return there to avenge his humiliation, clear his name, and overawe all who opposed him.
Raphial was busy sharing some information with his patrons in the Empire (they had a lot of interests in common anyway), looking into picking up some drones, and looking into armor of his own. Those power-armor goons were a pain.
Jarvian, their new recruit, was busy trying to figure out how much core technology he could pack into the spare spaces in his Mech. That would keep him busy for some time most likely.