Recordings from the Holocron of Kira Keldav – Session 32

   Hearing the Jedi council confirm that my family did not seem to be in their custody was more than a bit upsetting. At the very least it meant that the Alderaan branch of the Order had neglected to mention taking them into protective custody. In the worst case it meant that they were in the hands of the Sith and were being subjected to who knows what sort of dark and insane experiments or tortures.

   At the very least this would explain why there were no letters for me when I got back into the galaxy.

   Ben sighed… It looked like the galactic archives were only updated every five years or so, and that the entire system was running well behind. That really wasn’t any surprise when you considered the size of the job – or the fact that the Jedi apparently insisted on including all their visions and such. Look at the amount of notes and history that he was generating, then multiply that by a galaxy. It was astonishing that even a droid-and-computer based filing system could find ANYTHING in the place, much less something that was recent enough that it might not have been cross-indexed yet. Was the Jedi Order – or the Republic itself – becoming senescent? The archives – the galactic memory – were becoming impossibly clogged.

   It was entirely possible that Kira’s family and friends were in protective custody and it simply hadn’t been entered into the records yet.

   Besides… He’d never really thought about it – but after more than ten thousand years… how could you tell “novelist” from “historian”? How much of the early history of the republic was mythology rather than historical?

   I was really wanting to go to Alderaan directly and do my own search of the place, but the odds of something going wrong were about one in five and the odds of successfully picking up the trail were also negligible. That meant running a nearly galaxy wide search for them and I just didn’t have the resources to search a planet, let alone a galaxy. Blast it, if only I could better use my precognition and probability analysis in tandem I could narrow down the search area more.

   What was really odd was that there were no apparent ransom demands. I would have thought that whoever had them would want to be getting their hands on me too and they have the perfect hostages. That pointed to someone having them in protective custody again, but I am not naive enough to believe that without verification.

   The Jedi were willing to initiate a galactic search for them at least. I am pretty sure I didn’t like the insinuation that my family running loose was something to worry about, but the thought of them ending up in Sith custody was concerning to the Jedi as well. At least they have more resources and manpower at their disposal than I do. I just don’t like the idea of leaving my family and friends safety up to the Jedi after all the blank looks I’ve seen today.

   Ben then wanted to discuss plans for how we might go after Zandaras. I motioned that I suspected the Council Chambers were being monitored and he gave a knowing smile. He then went into an elaborate plan on how he was going to use a superweapon to capture Zandaras. At first I thought he was serious until Alys started throwing in using the jellyfish to eat the ships. I see, Ben’s counting on the Council being monitored and is feeding a line of complete BS to anyone listening in. I then made mention of crossbreeding the jellyfish with the glue tree to make them extra sticky so that Ben would have an easier time fashioning them into bolas with asteroids. At least coming up with utterly insane plans was distracting me from thinking about my family more.

   The Jedi found that mildly amusing. It was – of course – possible that the council chambers were being monitored somehow, and they could easily pick up the groups intent – but they considered the possibility most unlikely. Still, this bout of smokescreening harmed nothing, and certainly indicated that these trouble magnets had agreed to try to do something about Zandaras. The group certainly had a track record of fouling up enemy plans, occasionally killing some of them, and somehow escaping afterwards – which was almost exactly what was needed here.

   It was amusing to feel my probability sense balk on this plan (well, OK, maybe I simply wasn’t skilled enough yet to evaluate the infinitesimal probability of it getting anywhere). A-Valerie boasted that the odds on anything were calculable, but to me that was a dare. If I ever see her again, I’ll be sure to bring this plan up just to see the look on her face. Not sure if our Valerie would appreciate it.

   With any presumed listeners presumably thoroughly confused, we departed from the Jedi Temple. I purchased some small items and a few sets of normal clothing before we headed back to the Asrai. Thankfully I can claim success on one front: Codex powers made it easier to spend time on Coruscant. It meant I couldn’t use my Force senses, but I think that is a small price to pay for not hearing the thoughts of everyone nearby.

   The others did a little luxury shopping as well. Now that they had the cash, they might as well enjoy it a bit before they departed in yet another suicide mission.

   Handell started making publishing arrangements… Whatever the rest of them got into, he was pretty sure that – as long as he was at the controls of a functioning ship – his odds of escaping it were pretty good, and some independent income would be nice.

   Once we all returned to the Asrai, we departed Coruscant. Handell wanted to know where we were headed next. This brought up the discussion of how we really wanted to face Darth Zandaras since we weren’t going to be using Sticky Jellyfish bolas. I was all for a stealth infiltration followed by sabotage and assassinations. That after all was how I was trained as a Force user. Others wanted to bring more of our resources into the fray, including the base which I was against. The discussion was getting nowhere fast – with proposals including taking all their resources in for a frontal attack, sneaking in through other universes, tunneling in, taking the Asrai and sneaking in, heading in while announcing their intention of joining the Sith, sneaking in through multiple routes and meeting later, going in as bait (obvious or not), and even asking the Varen to smuggle them in. They were up to at least two different plans per participant in the debate when one of us observed that we didn’t know the condition of the base since we returned to this galaxy.

   Since the base was the source of our supplies and other ships we decided to at least check on it. Handell immediately fired up the hyperdrive and took us towards the edge of Republic space. The journey was fast enough given that Coruscant was on one of the major hyperspace lanes leading outwards. We dropped out of hyperspace in the Perendul system to find the base where we had left it. Only it was covered with an additional thirty ships that weren’t there before. As if that wasn’t bad enough, there was a battlecruiser nearby as well. If I had to guess, I would say it was bounty hunters and Sith.

   Handell took the Asrai and hid it behind one of the nearby asteroids while Shipwreck did his magic with ECM and scanning. We quickly determined that the ships were in fact bounty hunter ships, that the bases tunnel system had been greatly expanded, and that the battlecruiser belonged to the Baramour Sith. Looking at the communications traffic, it also became apparent that Jarik was no longer in stasis and was now in control of the base. Unfortunately it looked like he had come out of stasis with a full Sith complex and was negotiating joining the Baramour, bringing along the bioweapon data we had in exchange for instant seniority.

   Oh joy.

   While my mind started dreaming up all sorts of nightmarish scenarios on that front, Shipwreck started complaining about primitive encryption methods. Not really understanding what he was complaining about, I asked him to explain. Looked like someone was using the audio feed on one of the video channels as some sort of carrier for an encrypted signal – some incredibly ancient system that operated in the sonic frequency range. I had to admit that was different enough from everything else to warrant further investigation. Asking Shipwreck to read it showed it to be a data stream going to the Kira the Kat message boards. I think I can guess who might be doing that: Telera’s students.

   Getting on the message boards ourselves, we found our message thread after some quick searching. The kids had posted a thread detailing a new fanfic where bounty hunters had stormed the base through packing a ship – or at least some well-shielded compartments inside one – full of bounty hunters and waited until the ship was docked to launch a takeover attempt. They then found us missing and released Jarik to question on our whereabouts. Jarik then proceeded to use some bioweapon plague to mindcontrol or blackmail the bounty hunters into his control. The Baramour then showed up and negotiations started. Xiang meanwhile was leading what bounty hunters were immune to Jarik’s plague against Jarik in a resistance effort. The kids were hiding in one of the bounty hunter ships after having christened it their clubhouse – and were considering a takeoff if anyone came near them.

   A quick look at the tactical situation showed us to be severely outmatched. Not only were there a lot of bounty hunter ships out there, but two capital class ships that both wanted me rather badly. The Asrai didn’t stand a chance in a firefight against that kind of firepower. Well if I can’t defeat my enemies with sheer power, then it was time to get them to do all the work for me. The base and the battlecruiser were roughly on par with each other in terms of capabilities. The base was slower than the battlecruiser, but had far more armor in the form of rock and metal. A battle between the two could potentially go either way with the bounty hunter ships and their missiles proving to be the deciding factor.

   Now how do I get the bounty hunters to shoot at a Sith capital ship?

   The answer came to me as I realized once again how absurd my life has gotten: pretend I was aboard the Baramour vessel. As paranoid as Jarik has gotten, it would be easy to make him think I was betraying him to the Baramour, in fact that was going to be the easiest part. Trouble was getting the bounty hunters to swallow the idea too. For it to work, the communications signal would have to actually come from inside the Baramour ship to seem plausible. Boarding the battlecruiser without being noticed was going to be impossible though.

   At which point Ben suggested that we open a hyperspace tunnel to the Baramour ship. I pointed out that the hyperspace tunnel system was aboard the base and Ben then noted that he had actually built modifications into the Asrai’s systems to enable it to form hyperspace tunnels as an escape route. I really need to keep a better eye on him I think. I then pointed out that regardless of the fact that we had one, aiming the other end was going to be impossible with the precision needed. Ben then revealed that he thought he could “tune into” the Baramour ship’s hyperdrive and use that as an anchorpoint somehow, especially if I helped steer the formation of the gate.

   He either needs to stop trying to explain this stuff to me or I need to take several semesters in hyperspace theory.

   Ben was actually planning to use a reasonably well-known principle – the one the hyperspace laboratory had been playing with. Two hyperdrives carefully tuned to resonate with each other would open a hypertunnel between them. The problem was that it took incredibly careful tuning (in fact, the only way to make it work at ranges of more than a few miles was to have an extremely skilled precognitive making the adjustments, and even then a few thousand miles would be the limit), it was vastly power-hungry, it took hours to set up in a stable situation, and it wasn’t reliable for more than a few minutes even with a force-user making the trip to help reduce the instabilities.

   Still, his target ship was sitting still – and he was sufficiently skilled in precognition and as a hyperspace mechanic to tune to it on the fly. If Shipwreck could cover them for long enough, he might be able to set up a minimal boarding action directly to the Barramour ship’s engine room. It would send the engineers readings insane, but outside of a combat alert that would take them precious moments to react to – and by that time they’d be boarded. He’d have to stay at the controls to keep things synched of course, otherwise the tunnel would collapse near-instantly…

   Since apparently this technique would require Force users to be on the boarding party, it was pretty much mandatory that I go. Lazlo also volunteered, as did Khadim and 10CH. Ben was going to stay behind to help keep the portal open so we could come back. So we would open the tunnel, go through, drop off a message repeater, and then return to the Asrai. Ben then got to work tinkering with the hyperdrive, which only seemed to annoy Handell to no end. Can’t say I blamed him, that hyperdrive wasn’t going to be available if we needed to escape rapidly now.

   Some hours later, Ben announced his preparations complete and we fired up the tunnel system. I could see what I can only imagine was the Baramour ship’s engineering bay on the other side of the tunnel when it opened. Stepping through, it appeared we hadn’t been noticed yet, but one of the engineers was turning in our direction in response to some system notification. Khadim and 10CH were busy setting up the message repeater and would need a few more minutes before they were done so Lazlo and I needed to buy some time. So I stepped forward and began to act.

(Kira) Ah, it appears that I, the Evil Dark Lord Zomogoostar, have successfully teleported myself via the Force. Most excellent, this will be most handy in my future evil schemes to become the Supreme Dark Lord of the Sith. Now to see if I can teleport others. Who shall be my first victim… I mean volunteer?

   For a moment, Lazlo wasn’t sure how serious that was.

   Everyone in the room turned to look at me in stunned silence and I had an extremely hard time not busting out laughing. Lazlo immediately started to pummel people, 10CH started firing off gas grenades, and Khadim brandished that sawed-off torpedo launcher of his. The guard in the bay finally recovered his wits and hit an alarm button – which also sealed the door and sent the engineers in the room into a panic. At which point the air in the room took on an ominous green tint and the engineers – both human and non-human – started panicking even more. Oh hell, I should have expected this of the Baramour. We had to get back to Welhem and fast. Still I didn’t want to leave these poor people here to suffer whatever fate the Baramour security system was going to give them.

(Kira) Alright, enough with the act. I’m getting out of here to where I can get medical attention. If any of you want to receive medical care too, then I suggest you come along.

   We started to herd everyone through the gate, but some of the engineers fell unconscious to the floor and had to be drug through the gate. I did what I could to help, but soon enough my ability to neutralize whatever was happening to me was overwhelmed and I too slumped to the floor. Thankfully 10CH drug me through the tunnel back to the Asrai as he and Khadim rescued the others. I awoke to see Welhem standing over me as I laid on the floor of one of the Asrai’s cargo bays along with the other sick.

   Lazlo was appalled at that! Ew! Mold! Getitoff! Getitoff! Gross! Khadim tried to calm him down without much success. After all, it wasn’t as if Khadim had much to worry about!

   I was informed that this particular bioweapon was a kind of mossy fungus that secreted hibernation chemicals into the bloodstream of anyone it contacted. It wasn’t too well controlled; without treatment or monitoring it would kill a small percentage of those exposed – but otherwise it was a very effective capture system. Welhem neutralized the chemicals, but wanted to know if I wanted to have it become a symbiote. I opted to not take the symbiotic route and asked how I might rid myself of the fungus. That turned out to require lots of hard scrubbing likely to turn my skin pink and raw, anti-fungal cream, and shaving all the hair on my body. Well, I am used to having my skin become very pink and raw and I was planning on getting a haircut anyway. We all took turns in the showers scrubbing ourselves off and shaving all our hair off.

   Once I was done (no, I’m not talking about why we had to filter shower noises out of the communications), I got into my other set of robes and started listening in on the negotiations between Jarik and the Baramour. Handell was busily soaking the interior of the ship with anti-biological chemicals. I really wanted to ask where he had gotten those from but was afraid of what the answer might be. Nevertheless, once the others were done cleaning themselves and the ship, we picked a particularly tense moment in the negotiations and joined the channel via our repeater.

(Kira) I am tired of the delays. I had given you the opportunity to bring him over to our side because I thought he might be useful, but my patience is worn out! Have the fool eliminated immediately!

   The look on the Baramour Lord Leondegrace’s face as I came his screen was one I will treasure for the rest of my life. The look of shock and confusion was everything I could have hoped for and more. Jarik recovered first.

(Jarik) You! What are you doing over there?

(Kira) Isn’t it obvious? I’m selling you out to the Baramour. Why else would I be over here?

(Leondegrace) What do you mean it’s coming from the engineering bay?! How the hell did he end up onboard?!

   Alys, Ben, and the others all added their own voices to the mix as we all proceeded to spin a tale so outrageous that Leondegrace was unable to respond effectively, and Jarik bought every word of it. Jarik then dropped off the channel as he prepared to open fire leaving us and Leondegrace on the channel.

(Leondegrace) It seems Soung has taught you well.

   He then dropped from the channel too as the firefight began in earnest. The base opened fire on the battlecruiser and the battlecruiser began to return fire. Several of the bounty hunter ships on the base launched and went to attack the battlecruiser while more began to appear from hiding on other asteroids, where they had apparently been lurking in hopes of catching me and the others. Multiple support ships came up to support the Baramour battlecruiser, a general call for help from the local Republic forces went out, and someone even tried promoting the giant invisible jellyfish routine with a side order of “hiding it from precognition”.

   I had to admit, the sheer chaos we had just unleashed was impressive by almost any measure. At least the kids were staying put in their “clubhouse”. That showed sense.

   Added to the chaos was the fact that Xiang apparently took the chance to start leading a major assault against Jarik inside the base. The kids had enough sense to stay hidden as the fireworks went off all over the place. Unfortunately there wasn’t much we could do with the situation once it started given the limited resources available to us. All we could do was sit and wait for a victor to be decided. Eventually the Baramour began to retreat after taking serious damage – or at least after deciding that they weren’t going to be making a profit today. Leondegrace’s parting comments as he left made it very clear he was not happy with me. I can probably expect more bioweapons in my future.

   Joy.

   Now that the remaining bounty hunter ships were docking with the base for repairs and medical attention (and everyone was done bathing, scrubbing, and soaking in anti-fungal chemicals). Handell slipped us in amongst the others and we docked with the base as well. There didn’t seem to be any other way to sneak in – except through the force predators dome, just as we’d left things. Up against our own security measures blast it… Inside, the base was showing signs of heavy modifications and massive fighting. Indeed, you could feel the explosions through the rock itself. Establishing more direct communications with the kids, we learned that Jarik had fortified himself in the command center while the power system was busily sucking any intruders into more neutronium. Xiang meanwhile was working on trying to blow up the base to keep the bioweapon data from falling into Sith hands.

   Right, regaining control of the power system was top priority. Although if the system was being used to eat any intruders into engineering, then there wasn’t going to be any easy way to do that. Well, wait, it was entirely possible that the bounty hunters and Jarik had been overlooking the furipedes this entire time. If we could get them to help us in retaking control of the power systems, then we could focus our efforts on retaking the command center.

   It took several minutes to find “one” of the furipedes, and even longer to explain what was going on. At least they were familiar with the concept of Dark Side rampages even if they didn’t have that problem themselves. Even silicon-based life forms can agree that letting a Sith turn everyone into neutronium was a bad idea. As the furipedes went to work on that issue, the party decided to split up our efforts. Alys, 10CH, and Khadim went to find Xiang to help coordinate our efforts while Lazlo, Ben and I went after Jarik. Telera and Welhem were beginning to take care of the wounded and to protect the kids – although it looked like they’d put an undocumented hidden dock into the plans as a potential emergency escape route and had simply retreated into the ship they’d hidden there.

   Now we had to find our way to the command center. Running along the surface of the asteroid was a bad idea in my opinion given that the neutronium system was still operational. Through the oxygen caves was another option, but those were filled with a ton of plants grown by Jarik, a now insane Sith doctor. I’ve already had enough with bioweapons today. Third option was to go through a ridiculous obstacle course Jacob had apparently set up filled with dropping ceilings, swinging blades, blaster turrents, and homicidal droids. Not only did I not want to go through that mess, but I wanted to shoot Jacob for installing such an insane mess on my base to begin with.

   Fourth option was to head through the living areas of the base. The route was the longest – and would pass through the kitchens and maintenance area as well – but it was also likely to have the fewest homicidal contraptions or monsters inside. Unfortunately, that was also where the majority of the bounty hunters were and I didn’t want to have to deal with that yet. That left making a run through the manufacturing shop. The biggest issues there was the sheer amount of droids and weaponry likely to be available. Sadly, that also looked like the safest bet too, despite the fact that – unlike Kira the Kat – cream pie launchers were NOT the major form or armament being produced… We had been running off antimatter missiles. Hopefully they weren’t piled in the corners or something.

   I took the lead as we proceeded cautiously towards the manufacturing shop. We came upon an intersection in the hallway where it looked like two groups were facing off against each other. One was a group of bounty hunters that seemed to be under Jarik’s control, and the other was a single bounty hunter aligned with Xiang with a lot of stun mines. Oddly, the bounty hunters aligned with Jarik seemed to be desperate for some reason I can’t determine. It seemed most expedient to work with the bounty hunter allied with Xiang against the others.

   To that end I tried to grab one of the others telekinetically, drag him onto the mines and leave him stunned or unconscious. Unfortunately, the sheer amount of armor he was wearing was hindering my ability to just outright pull him forward and ended up just slowly dragging him out from behind cover. Our ally of circumstance then proceeded to shoot the fellow, wounding him badly. Blast, it can be hard to tell where the line lies with what constitutes and attack with the Force and I’ve been lucky thus far. Not wanting to kill him, I let go of him and allowed him to crawl back behind cover. However the mines had detected his presence and were now giving chase.

   Lazlo suddenly found himself dealing with a pair of bounty hunters that came up behind us, and I was busily seeking cover from a hail of blaster fire when I saw a thermal detonator land next to us. I was pondering making a hyper accelerated run for it when Ben leapt out and did something I couldn’t see. Suddenly the thermal detonator went off and was channelled back along the hallway towards the bounty hunters that had just thrown it at us. Ben was smoking a bit, but was otherwise unharmed. I am not sure I want to know what he just did there.

   Lazlo had mostly relied on his reflexes… He’d dodged their shots long enough to close and use his enhanced strength to take away their weapons – and then had tried to reason with them. His reputation as a horrific Sith bioweapon had gotten in the way though – especially after he took a blaster hit with no particular sign of injury or distress.

   He’d let them run off after destroying most of their weapons. There hadn’t seemed to be any point in keeping them.

   Ben had upgraded his armor with a shield generator – and had, with a frantic effort (and his precognitive shield operation skill) managed to adjust his shields to redirect most of the blast away from them. He’d surprised himself when he’d gotten that to work – but it had kept him and his friends form being blown to bits. Thermal detonators were no joke.

   Looking at Lazlo, he had apparently beaten his attackers into unconsciousness or flight with his bare hands. Am I the only one disturbed by how powerful my companions seem to be? Just how accurate was that stuff about Lazlo being a living weapon?

   My thoughts along that line were distracted when the bounty hunter “allied” with us wanted to get a good look at me. There wasn’t much point trying to hide my face as he recognized me and then proceeded to make requests that I surrender once the battle was over. This started much arguing with me refusing, and the bounty hunter trying to argue that it was the best idea. His offer to donate 75% of the bounty to my friends and family – or to any charity that I wanted – caught me off guard. I would hope Sabrina, Dorothy and the others wouldn’t trade me for that kind of money, but then twenty two and a half billion credits is a lot of money and would mean they could all retire fabulously rich immediately.

   What if that truly is the best thing I could do for them?

   Thankfully Ben saw my hesitation and said we would discuss this later, but that we had to stop Jarik first. Agreeing to try to keep the damage as minimal as possible, the bounty hunter recalled his little hunter-droids and we set off again. We soon found ourselves in the metal processing facility. Giant pots of molten metal were all over the place and I could see more than a dozen bounty hunters arguing about something. I was looking for a way to sneak around them all when Lazlo promptly stepped forward and started offering them all tea. That nicely got everyone distracted, although I wasn’t sure I thought it smart.

   Meanwhile, Alys and company had reached Xiang, gotten some of Ben’s old bio-armor, and started trying to talk her down from her death-or-glory crusade against the Sith. Simply getting some rational strategies into play – instead of Xiang’s standard “have everyone else create a diversion while I head in and confront the Sith” – started making a difference pretty rapidly. Fortunately, Jarik seemed to have no real tactical sense either – and Xiang had a decent private communications network running to her forces.

   It was easy enough to cut Kira and the rest in on that and start communicating and coordinating. It looked like they were bogged down in manufacturing – and it looked like Jarik had been stockpiling experiments, supplies, weapons, and gear. He’d also been upgrading that ship of his – and that made a pattern that she didn’t at all like. Especially with the construction that he’d done around the control center. His own private escape route no doubt. Why hadn’t Xiang realized that already?

   Oh yes. Holos. Xiang was headed for the dramatic confrontation at the climax where she would defeat the Sith – and the Sith in the holos hardly ever took even the most elementary precautions against defeat. Unfortunately, Jarik was NOT an idiot.

   What else had he changed? All that digging, more labs, storage areas, oh dear. What had he done with the Force Predator? The entire area where it was supposed to be had apparently been rigged as a booby trap just in case someone tried to get in that way.

   Ben didn’t like the look of what had been being built… It looked like Jarik had been building remote-operated defense turrets for local defense, which was quite understandable, and small, heavily-screened, low-signature, droid-brained bombing drones – but designed for very small payloads. And to scatter them rather than to hit precision targets… He’d been preparing for either bioweapon blackmail or to spread plagues on a planetary scale or both. That was COMPLETELY over the edge. Even the Sith didn’t usually go in for that kind of insanity, it went wildly out of control all too often!

   Nevertheless, I set the robes into a blending pattern and started quietly moving along the edge of the facility while staying out of sight. I nearly fell over when Xiang immediately started hollering at us over the commlinks loud enough to be heard by everyone present. I muted my commlink as quickly as I could and then looked around to see who had noticed me. Thankfully, everyone was paying attention to Lazlo headbutting people into unconsciousness. I then got a really good view of a Kredath berserker tipping one of the pots of molten metal onto Lazlo. I simply didn’t have time to intervene or activate the hypertime effect before Ben and Lazlo were swallowed by the sea of metal.

   Ben was frantically making shield adjustments again… Fortunately, the metal stream didn’t carry much actual impact – but what leaked in along the floor was rapidly welding his feet to the floor, and having Lazlo draped across him was NOT helping him stand! Still, it was easy enough to hold a bubble, and Lazlo had an airmask – but they could still roast slowly. This was not good.

   I kept expecting to sense their lives disappear any moment, but several moments passed with their Force presences still going strong. Not really seeing anything I could do to help that wouldn’t result in me just getting blasted into unconsciousness, I optted to keep sneaking silently along towards the corridor leading to the commander center. I found a set of Ben’s experimental armor leaning against the wall about halfway there and decided that it was probably prudent to get into a sealed suit and wear something the bounty hunters wouldn’t recognize. Dragging the suit behind one of the machining tables, I started to put it on.

   About the time I had everything but the helmet put on, I heard a horrifically loud ringing noise like someone was hitting a bell with a sledgehammer. Putting on the helmet and taking a look, I saw the bubble of molten metal around Lazlo and Ben bulge and warp in timing with the ringing sound. Damn, just how strong is that cat?! He’s literally hammering his way out of a cocoon of semi molten metal with what I can only presume is his fists. How exactly did my Sith counterpart manage to be the one in charge?

   Actually, that was Ben… A few careful adjustments to his variable star had allowed him to exert terrific pressures as he rapped it against the walls – but he wasn’t making a lot of progress. Damn it! There had to be some way to get out in reasonable speed! They couldn’t live for long in the middle of a red-hot sphere of metal even with a shield generator!

   I watched the Kredath dump another pot of molten metal onto the mess and decided that while I couldn’t help them escape, I certainly didn’t want to be around when Lazlo broke free of that mess either. Nothing I really could do but to keep heading towards Jarik and let Alys and Xiang come to the rescue. Starting down the corridor, I saw another dozen bounty hunters running up behind me towards the bridge. I can only speculate that they were more of Xiang’s bunch as they rushed past me and into the command center.

   Instead of sounds of explosions and gunfire like I expected, I only heard horrified screams and a monstrous snarling sound.

   Oh crap, I think I know what that sound is.

   As Alys and Khadim and 10CH – all of whom had SOME tactical skills – sent Xiang’s bounty hunters into a final attack on the control chambers, the kids – and what surface instruments they had taps on – reported that someone was taking off, in what looked like Jarik’s freighter. Damn! The man had obviously gone completely over the edge, and his escape was a potential catastrophe! Particularly with whatever he’d managed to stuff into that ship!

   My suspicions were only reinforced as the bounty hunters came running back with fewer numbers and far more injuries. I flattened myself against the wall as they passed by and grabbed onto the Codex hard to try and suppress my Force presence as much as possible. Alys immediately came over the commlink asking about some sort of ship escaping.

(Kira) Alys, handle it as best you can, I’m REALLY busy at the moment with a hungry Force predator.

   I heard Alys swear over the commlink but stopped paying attention to her. I was focused on the predator and bounty hunters getting slaughtered by it. The smart thing to do would be to let it kill the bounty hunters while waiting for the opportune moment to strike. After all, the bounty hunters were here to capture me to take back to the Sith. Valerie could do it, she could make that sort of decision, but I don’t think I can. Pulling out my blaster and lightsaber, I picked my spot and put myself in the path of death. She would tell me how stupid I was to try to save these people.

(Kira) Run and take cover, I’m going to try to hold it off!

   Wait a moment, since when did I care about having Valerie’s approval?

   All thoughts along that line were put on hold as the feline form slid into the corridor. I could probably match the creature in terms of speed, strength and agility, but those regenerative powers were beyond me. On the plus side, I had a lot more tricks up my sleeves than it did and I like to think I am smarter too. Best to keep this thing at range as much as possible. Melee would likely result in me being torn to shreds.

   Pointing my blaster at the creature, it too became aware of my presence and made ready for the attack. We both entered hypertime simultaneously.

   Meanwhile, Alys was swearing… they didn’t have any surface assets at all except for the Asrai, and it wasn’t yet hyper-capable and was full of spare parts rather than being loaded with weapons! Jarik was…

   Wait! The kids were asking if they should fire on Jarik? They’d stocked their “clubhouse” with a full load of… antimatter missiles. Hell yes they should fire!

   Surprisingly enough, two of the three kids managed to score hits with their volleys… All those video games paying off? Jarik escaped – but his ship was badly damaged, and it looked like his cargo had mostly been destroyed.

   The kids were pretty pleased too. It might not have been a big battle for them, but they’d still played their part!

   Meanwhile, Alys – not that Jarik was no longer at the primary controls – had taken over most of the base systems again – including the construction droids. Having them cut Ben and Lazlo out of that mess had been fairly simple – but evaluating what they could turn against that blasted force predator was harder.

   Ben had already found his hamsterballs, and there were plenty of suits of armor down in manufacturing – but the heavy construction droids were fairly slow. Their only combat droids were… down in the water reserves. They were those underwater jobs.

   Underwater… Could they drown the thing? Water would flow “down” into the artificial-gravity areas given a chance, could they trap it somewhere they could flood? That would take some time to set up though… Could Kira keep it busy long enough? Well, at least they could reinforce the doors and barriers.

Eclipse Pathfinder – The Fighter

   Next up on the how-to-build Pathfinder Characters in Eclipse list is a relatively simple one; the Fighter.

   The Pathfinder Fighter added a few abilities and applied the usual Pathfinder adjustment to their skills, but otherwise didn’t change anything – so all that needs to be done here is to add up the costs of the new abilities and find the points to pay for them. As usual, the costs are the totals as of level twenty; Eclipse Fighter-themed characters can, of course, buy their abilities in pretty much any order, build them up gradually, or substitute other abilities to suit themselves.

   Those new abilities are:

  • Bravery: This provides a +10 to will saves made to resist Fear effects. That’s Resist, +10 versus mental effects, Specialized in Fear Effects (7 CP).
  • Armor Training: This provides -4 reduction on Armor Check penalty and a +4 to the maximum allowable dexterity modifier as well as being able to move at full speed despite wearing medium or heavy armor. That’s Immunity/armor and shield penalties (Very Common, Minor, Minor [to negate up to four points of penalties], Specialized/only versus Armor Penalties to skills and effective dexterity modifier) (4 CP) and Celerity/+10 to ground movement speed, Specialized, only to counteract movement penalties for armor (3 CP).
  • Weapon Training: Provides a +(Level/4) bonus to Attacks and Damage with a particular type of weapon. Each time this bonus increases, a new weapon type may be added at a cumulative -1.

   This, of course, is simply one of the innumerable variants of “Favored Enemy”; in Eclipse, for example, a Beastmaster might want bonuses on skills used in locating, training, and managing particular types of animals. A Diplomats may want to take favored cultures and gain bonuses on related Diplomacy and Knowledge checks, Scholars can favor particular periods or cultures, Thieves can favor particular cities, and so on. That’s (6 CP).

   Of course, one reason why such bonuses are cheap is because they don’t come into play all that often – and the game master controls when they do. The Fighter, on the other hand, will use his favored weapons as often as he possibly can. That calls for a special-permission item: Immunity to the usual restrictions on “Favored Enemy”. That’s going to be “Very Common”, Minor, Major (to cover a maximum bonus of +6), Specialized/only provides bonuses to Attack and Damage with the favored weapons, rather than also covering – say – evaluating, making and repairing, and providing an armor class bonus while wielding, such weapons. That’s another (6 CP).

   A character who wants to keep up the progression through medium and high epic levels will have to spend a few more points. On the other hand, that’s appropriate enough; allowing the bonus to continue indefinitely would soon enough lead to situations where the Fighter only misses on a “1”, and everyone else only hits on a “20”. That’s not ideal either.

  • Armor Mastery: This provides DR 5/- while the character is wearing armor. That’s Damage Reduction 5/- Specialized/physical damage only, Corrupted/only while wearing armor or using a shield (4 CP).
  • Weapon Mastery: This provides a +1 critical multiplier with a specific type of weapon, automatic confirmation of criticals with that weapon, and immunity to being disarmed while wielding such a weapon. That’s Improved Critical/the Lethal option (6 CP), Immunity/the need to confirm criticals (Very Common, Major, Major, Corrupted/only works with a particular type of weapon) (10 CP). That might be considered Specialized, but a character with this ability will – of course – use his or her chosen weapon as often as possible. Finally, we have the Immunity to being Disarmed (Common, Major, Major, Specialized/only a particular type of weapon) (4 CP).

   That middle power – the Immunity to needing to roll to confirm criticals – one is, once again, a special-permission item, as immunity to game rules always is. On the other hand, for a similar price you could get a couple of automatic rerolls to try to confirm criticals, which would be more bothersome, but would have much the same effect.

   It also results in the rather strange result that – at some point – any time the character hits a high armor class opponent, it will be an automatic critical hit. That’s why the “automatic critical hit on a 20” system fell out of favor some decades ago. Ah well. At least it works better as a special power than as a general system.

   In any case, all of that comes to a total of 50 CP.

   On the credit side, a Pathfinder-style Fighter can drop six skill points at level one. That’s (-6 CP).

   That still leaves our Eclipse character needing to find forty-four character points.

   Unfortunately, the trouble with the Pathfinder Fighter is exactly the same as the trouble with the fighter in 3.0 and 3.5.

  • Wizards and Sorcerers command a wide variety of occult powers, and can use them to handle all kinds of situations, even if they do fight rather poorly.
  • Clerics and Druids fight fairly well, and have a variety of magical powers to use to handle other situations.
  • The Rogue fights fairly well, has many skills, and has a few special abilities.
  • Bards don’t have quite as many skills as the Rogue, and fight fairly poorly, but they possess a variety of occult powers to use.
  • Rangers fight well, and possess various special powers.
  • Paladins and Monks fight well and possess many special powers.
  • Barbarians fight well, and possess enhanced speed. inhuman surges of strength, and a variety of other minor talents.
  • The Fighter does little or nothing but fight.

   Now that’s just fine in a typical d20 game, which spends a great deal of time focused on combat. In games like that, the underlying deficiency may never be noticed at all. Being marginally better at combat than less-specialized characters seems to balance out nicely.

   Unfortunately, if the game happens to wind up revolving around intrigue, or detective work, or scouting out an enemy position, or politics, or any of a wide variety of other non-combat situations, for a few weeks… well, most of the other characters have abilities to use – but the Fighter may well have nothing to do at all.

   That’s why the basic fighter, uniquely among the core classes, came out with quite a few points – fifty-three in fact – left over in Eclipse, and was invited to spend those points on making sure that they had some abilities of use in non-combat situations.

   The Pathfinder Fighter has spent most of those left-over points – but hasn’t really made the jump to being an advanced class. They’re as useless out of combat as ever, which is one reason why they still have nine character points left over even without the use of Fast Learner.

   Personally, my recommendation is still pretty much the same, although now it’s for building a genuinely advanced character. Take Fast Learner, Specialize it in something – perhaps hit dice – and spend the extra forty-three points that will leave available on some non-combat abilities, or inherent magic, or some other abilities designed to give your fighter-type some flexibility.

Recordings from the Holocron of Kira Keldav – Session 31

   Explaining that they were from another universe went over much better in the Codifier Galaxy. They were used to people dropping out of their universe – and, logically, they had to drop in somewhere – but it was rare for them to take a ship along. The obvious consequence was that most such voyagers arrived in deep space with no protection or (if they managed to avoid that) that they exhausted whatever ability to “steer” they might have arriving somewhere habitable, and thus wound up in utterly alien universes.

   The notion that someone might be insane enough to make the jump on purpose – even if they claimed that this mysterious mystical “force” and some bizarre set of “coordinates” allowed them to steer somewhat – was harder to put over.

   I saw our Valerie’s face pop on the screen. It was obvious from the look on her face that she had been expecting us.

(Valerie) So why have you come here Kira?

(Kira) Your father sent me to fetch you.

   That was vague enough to avoid giving too much away while still being true.

(Valerie) And how was he able to manage that?

(Kira) Something about how he would send the remaining half of the galaxies bounty hunters against me should I not return you in a timely fashion.

(Valerie) And how did he pick up that this woman wasn’t me so quickly?

(Kira) He-Who-Wears-Leaves (Jacob) spilled the beans when he failed to escape Morrowain in a timely fashion like the rest of us.

   That got the strangest look from her I’ve ever seen.

   At which point Ben piped in with his explanation of catching ourselves, escaping, designing superweapons to destroy a galaxy, getting threatened by the Sith, running from the bounty hunters, more superweapons to save a galaxy, and general chaos involving other dimensions. Almost all of that would have been nicer to have kept quiet about a little longer, but I found myself arguing with Ben repeatedly over that damned superweapon obsession of his. Well, on the plus side, almost all of that she was going to be able to derive anyway once she got back home, or was irrelevant anyway.

   Ben sighed. Had they really reached the point where “Don’t blame me, it was my evil twin who made this plan” actually sounded REASONABLE?

   Besides… It wasn’t just superweapons! It was just that pretty much any genuinely major engineering project could be used to do a LOT of different things, and – while quite a lot of those things WOULD be destructive – there were lots of other uses for the principles involved! You could do such a lot of USEFUL (or simply unique or novel!) things when you were working on the “superweapon” scale!

   Meanwhile, Lazlo was considering. He had a scattering of memories from Lazar, as well as a fair understanding of the clone transfer technique (and several other dark side techniques) that he’d acquired from his resonance with him – but how had Lazar come into existence? He’d been bio-engineered as a bodyguard – and it seemed that the Universe-7 local Sith had bio-engineered an almost identical version of himself and – somehow – given it a lost technique and turned it into a monster. Just how unlikely was that? What principle was controlling what universes they arrived in? Was it just so sensitive that passing thoughts, fantasies, and speculations were enough to drop you into similar universes, or was it that the Codifier cosmos was so close in dimensional terms that the intervening universes were merely variants on their own?

   No, that wouldn’t be enough; there would be PLENTY of close variants on their own universe that wouldn’t have Ben, Kira, Alys, and himself in important positions and right in the area to get involved with! If this kept up… would they eventually stumble into a composite daydream – or a distillation of all their nightmares? There had to be a reason why dimensional travel was virtually unknown!

   Oh well. He had enough to do getting his head straightened out at the moment.

   Had the thought that “Kira’s killed us all!” sufficed to dump them into that bizarre universe? Were he and Alys the only near-sane people in the group?

   Eventually the authorities determined that we were telling the truth and escorted us in for a landing. From orbit it was easy to see the planet wasn’t very well-developed at all. Jacob started complaining about how over developed the planet was, but the rest of us ignored him. He went off like that about anywhere that WASN’T a primordial jungle. It was determined that we would meet Akira and Valerie in a nearby field where it would be harder to ambush each other. We saw them and Alliance officials waiting for us as we landed. A-Valerie ran out the cargo ramp as it opened and hugged Akira.

   I had to admit that was a weird sight to watch. It only got weirder and more awkward when I noticed Valerie was watching them and then looking at me.

(Kira) This is awkward on many levels.

(Valerie) Perhaps. I have verified that your alternate has a good start on his Force training.

(Kira) Hopefully you didn’t make him fall to the Dark Side. I’ve already had to kill one insane alternate of myself already and I don’t want to do that again. Besides, I think she would be upset with you.

(Valerie) I’m sorry to hear that. He shouldn’t have any issues as long as he doesn’t deviate from the training regimen I have set up.

(Kira) So why are you different?

(Valerie) In what way?

(Kira) The Baramour, the Glaives, the Holosith, and the insane alternate of mine all conform to some standard stereotypes regarding Sith. You don’t. I want to know why.

(Valerie) You clearly didn’t pay attention during your training.

(Kira) Well excuse me if I tune out the moment I hear the “I am the One True Sith” speech. Seriously, if my homeworld had a credit for every time some Sith spouted that nonsense, then the Republic wouldn’t need to collect taxes anymore.

(Valerie) You’re exaggerating.

(Kira) And you’re evading the question.

(Valerie) We emphasize control even in the midst of overwhelming emotion. Those able to maintain cold rationality have a place among us Varen.

(Kira) Can’t be many that manage that, the Academy is proof of that.

(Valerie) The Academy is… a compromise of sorts. Some practices there are a result of demands from the other Sith factions.

(Kira) I am not going down that path.

(Valerie) So it would appear. Your counterpart was quite enlightening there.

(Kira) Damn him.

   We saw our counterparts comparing lightsabers at that moment. Thankfully neither of them tapped into their Force abilities; otherwise we’d have had some real problems with resonance at this short range.

(Kira) They certainly seem happy together.

(Valerie) Indeed they do.

   She then gave me a strange look that was impossible to read. About all I could get passively was that she had multiple schemes in mind but no further details. Just what was she planning?

   The other party members went off to pursue their own arcane projects. This thankfully got them all away from Valerie, our counterparts and I as the arguments started up. First was the accusation from my counterpart that I started this whole mess experimenting with things I didn’t understand. My reply of how was I supposed to know it would swap counterparts was lost on him. Blaming him for swapping the Valerie’s and making this whole mess even more complicated resulted in A-Valerie and Valerie coming to his defense. Then I got to watch the two of them go at it verbally.

   Finally the arguing and bickering stopped for a bit. I handed over the glue tree cutting and explained that they could use that to eventually find their way to our galaxy if they so chose. After explaining the need to plant that thing somewhere isolated, they agreed to take it and plant it. Although I could tell they were leery of it.

   It also didn’t help matters that Valerie kept giving me measuring glances like she was sizing me up whenever she thought I wasn’t looking. I couldn’t tell if she was measuring the odds of ambushing me and making a break for the ship, or if she had some other motive in mind.

(Kira) Do you mind?

(Valerie) So why are half the bounty hunters in the galaxy after you?

(Kira) Because someone thought it cute to show off a bunch of legendary powers in front of an audience.

Valerie then gave my counterpart a dirty look.

(Akira) Me? How was I supposed to know that those techniques would cause such a commotion?

(Kira) Never heard of discretion then I take it? Especially since you knew I couldn’t do those techniques.

(Akira) Remember this is your fault to begin with.

(Valerie) Do not start this argument again.

(Kira) Look if we are going to establish two way communication and trade, then we are going to need to get someone from here to act as a guide back. Preferably someone Force sensitive that we can readily train.

(Akira) You want more training I take it?

(Kira) And I have access to production facilities you’ve only dreamed of. Whether or not you win this war, you have to realize you are slowly losing in the long run.

(A-Valerie) He’s right.

(Kira) Besides, you need Force training a lot more than my galaxy needs Codex training.

(A-Valerie) So we need to find some Force sensitives for you to take with you then.

(Valerie) That should not be a problem. I have already been training a half-dozen students in the arts.

   I face palmed at that statement. The look on my counterpart’s face showed he was just as surprised as we were. Now we have to worry about little Sith time bombs here too.

(Kira) And you didn’t watch her?

(Akira) And how was I supposed to know that she would secretly train students?

(Kira) I guess Sith assassin doesn’t mean anything to you? Where did you find so many? Been sneaking off world for a night on the town recruiting?

(Valerie) It’s simple really, the percentage of sensitives in this galaxy is substantially higher than back home.

(Kira) Well that’s easy to explain, you don’t have Jedi and Sith skimming off the top around here.

(A-Valerie) Or being sensitive increases the likelihood that you’ll be born in a galaxy with Faded running amuck.

   That made my blood run cold. I had heard Ben make grumblings about the damage being done to this galaxy but figured some stars weren’t likely to be missed. But if the Faded were having such an effect that children were having a harder time being born then the desperation of the situation here wasn’t good. We really needed to get back to our galaxy and start sending supplies as soon as we could.

   Sadly leaving at that time was not going to happen. Handell had gone bar hopping, Ben was having the local hyperspace specialists tear apart our hyperdrive, Lazlo had his fighter torn apart, and Alys was nowhere to be found. It’s like herding cats, stop for even a moment and they all either run off or start making themselves at home. No choice then but to wait until they all returned or finished their little projects. That looked like it was going to be a couple of days though.

   In fact…

   Handell had indeed gone in search of more booze, minor trade goods (such as a collection of local historical novels that he could republish at home as fantasies), female companionship, and a good time. Data was light, easy to transport, and could be quite valuable – and they didn’t have a lot of room.

   Jacob was testing… If he was indeed an “Atavist”, and could draw strength from a powerful local biosphere, did that mean that his force attunement to his home universe would be exceptionally powerful? Could he attune himself to the local biosphere? It might be natural enough to support that sort of thing.

   As it turned out, he COULD attune himself to the local biosphere – but it felt a little weird. Like he’d… let go of an anchor or a support he hadn’t realized the was holding. Had he released a bond with Kashyyyk to attune himself that way? Or had he renounced citizenship in his entire home universe?

   Besides… now that he was attuned to it, it felt like the local planet was… nervous? Apprehensive? Perhaps a little ill?

   Was that what Faders did to a universe? Or were they on their way?

   Ben had been researching more about the Codifiers and Faders. It was pretty obvious that Force-users strengthened the universe. Codifiers who managed to maintain their balance were neutral at best – presuming they mostly focused their powers on themselves and took care to build up their bonds with the universe as quickly as they weakened them. Faders… Faders obviously weakened the universe. Did that mean that bits of it – or possibly entire planetary systems – just drifted off to join other universes? Did stars just join their galaxy? It would explain why the safe hyperspace routes kept changing, and why there were always new systems around.

   How much had this universe decayed already? How close was it to that empty cosmos that they’d thought might be it’s ultimate future?

   Anyway, the path to Fading could start very small. Every time you wished that something didn’t exist, or that you didn’t have to deal with it, or tried to eliminate or suppress something, you drifted a little closer towards denying parts of the cosmos – and the destructive madness of the Faded.

   The local hyperspace experts probably hadn’t been tampered with though, so at least he could consult with them.

   The local engineers understood the universe-jumping drive modification fairly well; they just knew of no method of steering save the usual method of adjusting the hypredrive control inputs (which was why you had to set your course in advance when making a jump). Without a far more precise method than that, even the most precise course wouldn’t take you to the same cosmos one time in a hundred billion. Precision at that level simply wasn’t possible by physical means – and they didn’t have the force to draw upon. Still, they did have spare parts and coils,

   Alys was checking the local markets. It looked like the shipping capacity was relatively small. The locals had few ships to begin with – and it looked like they lost them at two or three times the rate of their galaxy. What was worse, their oldest historical rates looked a lot more like the rate at home – and the curve was increasing at a semi-exponential rate. Within a few centuries, interstellar trade might no longer be practical…

   Were the activities of the Faded actually damaging hyperspace? Would the breakdown become irreversible at some point, or was it already past that point? The way in which the figures showed it increasing were pretty ominous. It looked like the Faded were actually quite a bit worse than the Sith.

   Wonderful. They’d found an even bigger menace than the Sith. Just what they needed.

   She managed to pry a few of Ben’s extra spare parts away from him for use as trade goods with that information. After all, he had enough along to build most of another ship or two, at least if they had something to use for hull plating.

   Lazlo, meanwhile, was cashing in… At the moment, price was no object – the loot from Lazar’s secret cloning facility was pretty good – and the locals were pretty good at miniaturization, since smaller ships had a better chance of arriving safely (and it got better with more pilots). They didn’t have anything revolutionary – but a lot of the most expensive, miniature, top-quality systems were cheaper.

   He spent several happy days upgrading his fighter. The end result would never have been practical for anyone who was worried about efficiency or value for cost, but it made sense for him. He didn’t have any bothersome accountants to worry about?

   Telera spent most of her time trying to teach some sane techniques to Valerie’s students – and puzzling over why the girl appeared to have no objections. She considered staying; she had responsibilities back home, but would also be far more easily replaced there.

   Khadim was not happy… The local planetary lifeforms didn’t seem happy either.

   Meanwhile, back with Kira…

   At first they (Alternate Valeria and Kira) offered to let everyone stay in the villa, but I was against it if only for the inevitable mishaps that would occur. It was eventually decided that Valerie would bunk in the Asrai, while A-Valerie returned to the villa. And that raised the awkwardness to a whole new level as I found myself wanting to treat her like A-Valerie and had to catch myself repeatedly. She caught on quickly enough though and cornered me in the galley.

(Valerie) I take it you were more trusting of her than me?

(Kira) Yeah, there is that. The whole Sith thing doesn’t help your case and forgive me if I am concerned about your motivations. I know you’re plotting something.

(Valerie) Well there isn’t much I can do to make you trust me if I wanted to.

(Kira) True, and I will admit you are in more control than the other Sith I’ve encountered.

(Valerie) That isn’t the only thing on your mind now is it?

(Kira) Ah you mean the pink rangkor in the room, as to what exactly is the difference between us and them?

(Valerie) He isn’t as much of an ass.

(Kira) And she isn’t a Sith.

(Valerie) Do you really think I would blow up a planet?

(Kira) No.

(Valerie) Then it is all about trust, you don’t entirely trust me, and I don’t trust that your experiments won’t kill you.

(Kira) And what does that have to do with anything? If I get myself killed, then that’s one less annoyance in your hair at the least.

(Valerie) It seems you still don’t realize it then. Maybe one day I will tell you.

(Kira) Tell me what?

   With that she wandered off to her quarters. People and their damned secrets. I may have figured one of the most fundamental revelations about the nature of the Force in millennia and she tells me I am overlooking something that should be obvious. Nor has she ever come clean on how she learned Codex techniques before arriving here. I figured it was that she had learned what we were researching, where, from whom, and then ran her own experiments but she refused to comment when I asked. Which led to more knowing smiles and measuring glances whenever I saw her.

   It was a long two days and I think she was enjoying it.

   Finally Ben announced the hyperdrive was fixed and tuned better than ever. I wanted to ask if it would explode faster now, but held my tongue. Lazlo got his fighter loaded up after having the locals pimp his ride. Alys returned with a shopping list, which was totally backwards from how I understood going to the market to operate. Handell came back drunk, but I would have been shocked if he returned sober. Although the thought did occur to me that as drunk as he is, it might very well be his alternate climbing into the wrong ship and not realizing anything was wrong. Stranger things have happened I suppose.

   It was eventually decided that we would take four of Valerie’s six students. The other two had families and splitting them up wasn’t exactly a smart move in my opinion. Hopefully Akira and A-Valerie would be able to keep an eye on them and oversee their training until I could send Jedi to assist. I did leave plenty of materials on warning signs of the Dark Side to familiarize themselves with. Telera considered staying but decided to stay with us to give a report to the Jedi Council.

   As we loaded up for departure, Lazlo made the comment that he didn’t want to bring any Faded back to our galaxy. I couldn’t blame him – although I wasn’t sure that the Faded really were worse than Sith in the long run – but things got awkward when he wanted to be absolutely sure that we weren’t bringing the means for Faded to arise in our universe. Well, the only way to be sure at this point was to kill Valerie and I, which Ben promptly pointed out and made the situation even more uncomfortable. Thankfully this led to Lazlo asking Valerie if she could be discreet in the use of the Codex. Valerie’s response of does it count as discrete if there are no surviving witnesses caught him off guard and was a typical answer from her.

   At least she isn’t going to be like my alternate and blatantly advertise legendary abilities. I’m already screwed.

   Saying our goodbyes, we took off and prepared for a trans-temporal jump. We ended up walking Valerie through the technique to assist in steering the ship as a necessity, but Ben had to give away the coordinates to the Codifier galaxy for reasons I do not understand. Yes, the Varen seem to be better behaved than the Faded, but that does not mean we should open the damned floodgates for the Varen to storm the place. All the more reason to have the Jedi send help soon. And if I get the chance, I am going to send a Super Star Destroyer as a wedding present for those to in appreciation of all the trouble I put them through. I seriously doubt any other gift they got would top that.

   With Valerie’s help, the steering was a lot easier. A-Valerie just isn’t quite up to parity yet, hell I wasn’t although it was clear to see that the gap had narrowed some. Actually, quite a bit more than I think I ever really realized. It’s only been two years though.

   We finally exited hyperspace in the midst of a nebula. Handell was able to determine where we were in relation to a few subspace beacons though and plotted us a course. From what he, Ben, and Shipwreck were able to determine, we were inside a nebula in a star cluster orbiting the galaxy outside the galactic plane. Ben started to get excited about all the light from outside being bluish for reasons I didn’t really understand save that time was apparently moving slower here. We finally entered the galaxy proper again after some travel and had apparently lost a week in the whole expedition.

   Now it was time to drop Valerie off somewhere but the question got to be where we could drop her off. The suggestion that we drop her off at the Academy with me claiming Alumni status and wanting to watch the game was more amusing than practical. Although I would have loved to have seen the look on Master Soung’s face if I had tried it. We couldn’t take her to Coruscant as her status as a Sith assassin wanted by the Republic would make things awkward. I could just imagine trying to bring her before the Jedi Council.

   We finally decided to pick a fairly offbeat world and drop her off there after letting her family know to come pick her up. This led to calling the Soung’s over the network. Lessa Soung answered and was most pleased to hear from us. She quickly verified that this was in fact the correct Valerie and then the negotiations began on agreeing to a world to drop her off on and getting my bounty reduced. Once that was completed, Lessa announced that she knew sending Valerie to try to catch me would prove profitable.

  Damn it, just who am I working for these days and did I ever really escape the Sith?

   It didn’t help that Valerie seemed to get a kick out of it. We dropped her off on Reddrick as agreed, a small farming world out-of-the-way of most anyone or anything of note. Ben was reluctant to let her keep any of the students, but I didn’t want to have the inevitable fight that would come with that argument and we settled for two students with her and two with us. Last I saw of her she was still giving me that scheming and knowing look of hers. I don’t think I am done with her yet, not by a long shot.

   We arrived around Coruscant later that week. The announcement of our survival to the Republic fleet didn’t go over nearly as well as I would have liked. I don’t like the idea that the thought of my death is more comforting than the thought of my being alive. And I supposedly work for these people.

   Personal mail was sent over for everyone. Just about everyone got something except me. I had to admit feeling disappointed about that. Surely they didn’t believe me dead after I told them that the reports to follow were going to be bogus? Maybe the Jedi who took them into protective custody just aren’t letting any mail through or something.

   In particular…

   Alys had a selection of more-or-less frantic messages from her family – mostly about the various news reports of her vanishing, chasing missiles that had been fired at a planetary surface, and similar eccentricities. She had a financial update or two from her investment firm, and assorted messages from friends and would-be friends.

   Lazlo had a bunch of legal paperwork. He was considered a participant in a major lawsuit sponsored by the republic government (the department in charge of civil rights law enforcement) against the firm that had created him – and secondarily against the various buyers. Unauthorized genetic manipulation of a sapient species, genetic piracy, slave trading, and more. Criminal actions were underway as well.

   He opted to participate in that.

   Telera had her usual selection of missives from the Jedi hierarchy, including a sheet on what the Oracle Department – apparently a bunch of computers and technicians – had put together out of assorted reported dreams, visions, and prophecies this month.

   The rest of them weren’t sure if that made perfect sense or was simply so insane that there was no way to even evaluate the number of ways in which it didn’t make any sense.

   Ben mostly had technical stuff. Well, he didn’t really have any “family” who could reach him.

   We landed on the planet after getting the Republic to not announce us by our real ID’s. Maybe the Republic can be made to manufacture us a new set if we are going to continue to be useful to them. If everyone is going to use me for their own ends, I might as well get something out of it. The Port Authority stopped us though, as they wanted to arrest Handell and Shipwreck over that debacle with antimatter missiles over Glasknecht. I was firmly of the opinion that Shipwreck needed to be committed, but kept my mouth shut.

   We eventually got Handell off with the argument that he was at the controls of the ship and not the weapons at the time. Shipwreck was a harder case as he was a known weapons nut and been documented causing massive damage before. Frankly, I think the blame goes to my alternate self for being stupid enough to give Shipwreck the firing codes, but that wasn’t something I was going to tell the Port Authority. We left Shipwreck in their care; the explanation that he’d been in a trance at the time hadn’t gone over well – as we went off to see the Jedi again. Never thought I would actually see the Jedi Council personally, let alone twice.

   The others held a brief, private discussion about that. Shipwreck was crazy, and shouldn’t be put at the weapons controls – particularly when he’d been trancing – but he was incredibly useful to have around. Besides, Shipwreck was a known master of sensor spoofs, and the “missiles” had just quietly vanished without any kind of explosion. Had he – in his trance – simply fired off some decoys and spoofed their precognition? Ben and Lazlo had seen Valerie and A-Kira skip out, but they hadn’t actually seen any missiles – and the “missiles” HAD lured the Sith Star Destroyer into position to he hit with a missile barrage while most of its shields were down.

   If that kind of argument wouldn’t fly – and it certainly seemed sound enough – then should they try for a rescue? Or (someone actually proposed) ask the Sith to do them a favor and rescue some of their party members from the Republic courts? However unbelievably embarrassing that would be?

   The receptionist at the front desk of the Temple recognized us immediately. Lazlo was lectured on why the clone transfer routine was a really bad idea, whereas I was informed it was a good thing I hadn’t fallen yet. These people can’t seem to give a good compliment to save their lives. When asked what our business was, we told her we wanted to see the Council to discuss some matters we had been in touch with. With that, she told us to head right in as the Council was expecting us. At least we didn’t have to wait a day or two like last time. I just wasn’t sure how I felt about being expected.

   Actually the Jedi were mostly asking that Kira refrain from the insane rumor-mongering. There was enough trouble with misinformation and panic now; they really didn’t need “Sith Interviews” and stories about “living death asteroids” circulating. Besides, Kira and company didn’t need even MORE attention!

   In the Council Chambers, we handed over the two students for the Jedi to train as Ben went over explaining the existence of alternate dimensions/timelines/galaxies or whatever you want to call them. The Jedi weren’t as skeptical as I would have thought, but still were not entirely buying the sanity of the idea of two-way travel. This led to more discussions theory discussions with Ben that nearly put me to sleep.

   Ben had given the Jedi a more-or-less complete report – designs and notes on the trans-temporal hyperdrive and tunnel, his notes on training to aim the tunnels and drives, the logs of the probe-droids trips with full notes on the damage incurred and some speculation on what was seen, the history of the Codifier galaxy as presented by A-Valerie and A-Kira, the sensor logs from their premature stop and some explanations thereof, notes on the repairs done to hyperdrive during the trip with pictures of the working coils, and some notes on his “wishgranting” theory of transtemporal travel.

   His package for the military included the designs and notes on the technology, notes on why you had to have force users to steer, logs of the probe-droids trips (leaving out the codifier precurser, the actual second successful attempt at opening a tunnel there, and the modified hyperdrive course), the sensor logs of the flight to and from Codifier galaxy (including the brief description of the Life Star), notes on the emergency repairs and the drive conversion, and a brief description of back doors that could be added to starships for emergency evacuation. He intentionally left out the social details, such as the Codifier history, as well as the actual revised course to the Codifier galaxy. He even threw in his notes on how he thought the beacon-system killer superweapon might have worked, even if it was only a concept.

   That really should cover most of the important technical details if something should happen to them.

   Finally I was asked to explain the legendary powers I had been documented as using. First I told them that it was not me that did those stunts, but my alternate self. Then I proceeded to tell them I had nevertheless received training on those techniques much like he had. Ben and I then went into a full explanation of what we thought that the Force and the Codex/Anti-Force were. We also explained why the techniques were so legendary and dangerous for Force users to use, as you needed to be really, really good to get the Force to do something opposite to the nature of the Force.

   The Council was quick to lump this into the category of dangerous experimental techniques likely to make people self-destruct. I rebutted that this wasn’t the case so long as proper training was available, much like how Force powers were exceedingly dangerous unless trained. This didn’t get much of anywhere though. I did get fed up enough to demonstrate the hyperspeed technique in the council chambers just to prove a point. While that impressed them, it still didn’t seem to get the point across that I wanted.

   With that discussion not going anywhere, the Jedi announced they had a mission for me. Well, I had been wondering for some time when this shoe would drop. It turns out that Darth Zandaras was really making a mess of the Republic war effort. Ships would disappear in hyperspace accidents, planetary shields would collapse at the wrong times, more suicidal freighters loaded with explosives, and a whole host of other problems like being able to turn almost anyone into a traitor quite quickly. He was now even documented as killing other Sith who disagreed with him and stealing their Force powers.

   Damn it all.

   Actually the Jedi simply gave them a situation briefing, and the information that – as far as they could see with their precognition – the best odds for a good outcome for the Republic lay with the group coming into conflict with Zandaras if they were willing to do so. Kira still considered that blackmail – with the pressure being provided by their own consciences while the Jedi pretended that they were just providing information – but the others weren’t so sure. There was the speculation that, if Zandaras killed Kira and absorbed his Codex powers, they’d prove lethal when combined with the uncontrollable power of the Dark Side – but that was a thought that it was hard to avoid if you thought those powers were inherently suicidal to use.

   Handing over what information we had on the bioweapon body, we were able to explain why Darth Zandaras was proving so hard to kill. We also were able to explain why he was able to steal Force powers if he really was a collective of Force ghosts. That list of abilities the Arethi Welhem was able to derive from our notes was disconcerting to say the least. Whoever designed that bioweapon was both a genius and insane. Personally, I think the suicidal pilots and turning anyone traitor was due to Zandaras implanting pieces of himself into his victims to turn them into zombie like operatives. Yet another holo staple that I wish had stayed in the holos.

   Welhem and Ben had discussed the bioweapon… The combination of the furripedes bio-engineered living silicon circuitry with an adaptive bacta matrix and a computer consciousness seemed likely to allow the thing to repair itself with remarkable speed, to duplicate pretty much any kind of device on the fly, and to be extremely fast, strong, and tough – at least as long as it had access to enough electrical power or (less effectively) electromagnetic energy to absorb. It should have a fair amount of power and data storage, and smaller bits of the thing could carry limited programs and – thanks to the bacta base – interact with other creatures tissues. That might explain the “turning traitor” bit by the implantation of bits of it’s own tissue as programmable neural parasites.

   The Jedi felt the best outcome for the Republic was for a collision between the group and Darth Zandaras. The Republic was being pushed hard; the Sith might actually win the war at this rate, and the group had a proven record of fouling up Sith plans wherever they encountered them. If they didn’t want to go after Zandaras, however, they would probably make a difference wherever they went.

   Alys sighed. The Republic badly needed additional resources – and Shipwreck had apparently found out where there were multiple derelict fleets. She was beginning to HATE precognition. It made it impossible to know WHO was manipulating events, or what they were up to! Half of the PRECOGNITIVES didn’t even seem to know what they were doing, they just took blind actions that their precognition told them gave them the best odds!

   Right, I think I know exactly where I was told to shove myself.

   When I explained that I didn’t think it smart for the person displaying legendary powers to be confronting the Sith who was absorbing people’s souls, all I got was that they had foreseen that the result was likely to be beneficial for the Republic in the long run, and better than most of the alternatives.

   Could these idiots on the Jedi council actually be THAT reliant on precognition? Had they simply deep-spaced their ability to actually think?

   10CH’s statement that the Jedi Council had probably anticipated that possibility and felt that it would likely result in an explosion big enough to kill Zandaras was not amusing. Great, the big plan was to take the trouble-magnet, have him eaten by the big bad, and then give the big bad enough indigestion that he explodes. Either the Jedi can’t be bothered to fight this guy, or this literally is the best they could come up with. Someone should teach these people what a few hundred thermal detonators can do to mighty Force users.

   Fine, since this is more or less my fault, I’ll do what I can. But I don’t plan on being eaten. In return, I requested the Jedi help me in getting regular communication and trade going with the Codifier galaxy as the Codifiers could use the help and we needed the expertise in the Codex. The Jedi seemed agreeable for the most part on that request. Maybe with their help, we could even see about finding the Furipede home galaxy. Right now, I just wanted to help my counterpart and his fiancee and see to getting a Codifier here to help my training.

   Ben started talking about blowing holes in the universe while I explained to the Jedi that the Republic likely had Codex users at its disposal if the Sith got too close to winning. The effects of these Codifier/Faded precursors on the galaxy could not really be overstated and it was best if the Jedi were at least prepared for that possibility. Especially if the Republic was being pressed hard enough to start getting really desperate in about six months. The Jedi seemed hesitant to believe that a group of Codex users could have been hiding from them this whole time, so I felt the need to demonstrate just how readily I could go invisible to their senses. That at least got their attention.

   Finally, after all that was said and discussed, I got the chance to ask the question I didn’t want to hear the answer to. I asked the Jedi Council where my family was. The look of confusion on their faces made my heart sink. Tossing them the Republic report stating that the Jedi had taken them into protective custody, I demanded an explanation. Unfortunately, none was coming save promises to run an investigation into the matter if it didn’t just turn out to be another “filed in the yearly reports” thing. At least this confirms that the Jedi aren’t holding them hostage in case I don’t go after Zandaras.

   Unfortunately this also meant I was a fool for trusting the Republic or the Jedi to keep an eye on them in my absence. I am seriously tempted to tell the Jedi to stuff their mission as I go hunting for those dear to me and to hell with the consequences. About the only thing restraining me from doing that and actually listening to the Jedi was the memory of Dkira and his fall.

   The general vote from most of the others was that Zandaras was a priority – although they also wanted the Jedi to help them get into regular contact with the Codifier galaxy, and to send the Codifiers a few force trainers, and to get into contact with the Furripede galaxy if it could be located.

   They could just default to their usual “plan” of course; sneak in, let Ben engineer something quite insane, run around causing chaos, confront someone, and then let the situation go up in a fireball as they ran around looking for an escape route – but perhaps something more sophisticated was in order this time around.

   They also wondered why the Sith kept building Super Star Destroyers instead of the many smaller ships you could build for that budget… Was it a desire to centralize? Simply because they lacked the support of the population, and so needed their entire war machine mobile? Were they just symbols of power being built for psychological effect? Should they try to ally with the Sith, against the Bioweapon Sith, to prevent the Republic from unleashing their secret reserve of Galaxy-Destroying Fader Precursors?

   Finally, Lazlo decided to simply bail out Shipwreck and Handell. It wasn’t like he didn’t have plenty of cash at the moment. His initial estimate on the value of his haul had been under by 60% or so…

Eclipse Pathfinder – The Monk

   Duplicating the Monk – with it’s wide variety of highly-specific yet independent abilities – is always a bit of a tangle, even in Eclipse. You have to take the general abilities and pare them down to exactly what you want. That also means that – when you start making changes in the Monk build – it’s easier to simply rebuild the monk entirely rather than make a couple of dozen small changes.

   Ergo, here we have the complete ability breakdown for a level twenty Pathfinder-style Monk.

   If you want to duplicate the Pathfinder progression, simply take those abilities in the same order that a Pathfinder Monk does. On the other hand, given that this IS Eclipse, for the most part you’re free to mix up the order, to build up abilities gradually, to discard abilities that don’t fit your conception in favor of purchasing other abilities, or to expand on the abilities that you happen to like. Why bother with a point-buy system if you’re going to stick with premade builds?

   As a minor skillmaster, the Pathfinder Monk uses both Fast Learner and Adept – both of which are in Eclipse to allow older builds to be easily upgraded to later standards.

  • Hit Dice: 20d8 (Effectively 40 CP after Fast Learner).
  • Saves: +36 Total (108 CP).
  • Warcraft (BAB): +15 (90 CP).
    • Additional +5 BAB. Specialized/only for use with a full attack with special monk weapons or unarmed techniques (including combat maneuvers) (10 CP*).
  • Proficiencies: Proficient with a Limited Set of Monk Weapons (6 CP).
  • Skills: 80 Skill Points (effectively 40 CP after Adept).

   Special abilities are, of course, the heart of a Monk build – which is why there are so many of them, and why they take up such a large chunk of a Monk’s available character points.

   Special Abilities (210 CP Total):

  • Adept/Halves the cost of four selected skills (6 CP).
  • Armor Class Bonus: Improved Defender (8 CP*) with Augmented Bonus/Adds Wis Mod to Dex Mod for AC and Combat Maneuver purposes (4 CP*)
  • Diamond Body: Immunity/Poison (Common, Major, Minor, 6).
  • Diamond Soul: Spell Resistance/Improved (10+Level) (12 CP).
  • Fast Learner, Specialized in Larger Hit Dice (6 CP).
  • Fast Movement: Celerity, +60′ Ground Movement (17 CP*).
  • Flurry of Blows: Bonus Attack, Improved Bonus Attack, Corrupted/starts from secondary attack, Improved Bonus Attack/Specialized/starts from tertiary attack (11 CP*).
  • Improved Evasion: Improved Fortune (Reflex Variant), 12 CP.
  • Ki Pool: 4d6 Personal Mana, Specialized/does not include any form of natural magic, can only be used to power inherent spells (12 CP) plus Rite of Chi with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized/only works given time to rest (6 CP). (This duplicates the 14-point Ki Pool and overnight recovery of a standard Pathfinder Monk with a Wisdom of  eighteen. It is, however, easier for a Monk using this build to increase his or her Ki Pool or to buy additional Ki Powers).
    • Basic Ki Applications: Inherent Spells (3x L1 Effects): Swift Strike (provides one bonus attack, use is a free action), Swift Step (provides +20′ to movement in the round, use is a free action), Swift Sidestep (provides a +4 dodge bonus through the next round, use is a free action). Each of these costs one Mana point to use, Corrupted/only one base use of each instead of two (6 CP).
    • Empty Body: Inherent Spell/Ethereal Stride#, Corrupted/costs 3 Mana instead of 2 Mana to use (4 CP).
    • Wholeness of Body: Inherent Spell/Cure Serious Wounds, Specialized/only works on the user, provides a maximum of one point of curing per level of the user. This costs 2 Mana to use (3 CP).
    • Abundant Step: Inherent Spell II/Dimension Door, Specialized/cannot carry other characters along. Costs 2 Mana to use (3 CP).
    • Ki Strike (Magic, Lawful, Adamant). Imbuement/Unarmed Strikes, Corrupted/only works while the Monk has at least one point in his or her Ki pool (4 CP).
  • Perfect Self: Timeless Body / Transcendence (6 CP). The change from DR 10/Magic to DR 10/Chaotic is essentially irrelevant, since it’s part of the package.
  • Purity of Body: Immunity/Disease (Common, Minor, Minor, 4),
  • Quivering Palm: Trick (6 CP). In Eclipse, Trick represents a variety of special abilities that have a decent chance of taking an opponent out of a fight for a time; Quivering Palm is a powerful trick – but the once per day limitation fits that quite well. Stunning Fist – capable of stunning an opponent or (as per Dirty Tricks in Pathfinder) causing a variety of other afflictions is less potent than a “Death Touch” or similar, and so can be used considerably more often than once per day.
  • Six Bonus Feats (36 CP). Unlike a standard Pathfinder Monk, there are no restrictions on what a Monk can spend these on.
  • Slow Fall: Celerity/Additional Movement Mode/Flight, Specialized/only to eliminate falling damage and allow incredible leaps (+20, always considered to have a running start, additional +20 from spending a Mana point) (6 CP).
  • Still Mind: Resist/+2 versus Enchantment Spells and Effects (3 CP).
  • Stunning Fist: Trick (6 CP). See “Quivering Palm”, above.
  • Timeless Body: Timeless Body (3 CP).
  • Tongue of the Sun and Moon: Mindspeech with Beastspeech (Specialized: user must actually speak, cannot transmit emotions, 6 CP).
  • Unarmed Strike: 2d10 (14 CP*).

   *Corrupted/not usable while wearing armor, using a shield, while immobilized or helpless, or when carrying a medium or heavy load.

   #Ethereal Stride is pretty simple; it’s a variant of Blink that – instead of allowing the user to shift back and forth between the material plane and the ethereal plane repeatedly – simply allows a pair of transitions; once to the ethereal plane and once back at the end of the spell. 

  Yes, this is far lower level than Ethereal Jaunt. There simply isn’t any way to make the facts that (1) remaining on the Ethereal Plane is a stable situation, as demonstrated by Plane Shift, (2) many creatures shift back and forth between the Material Plane and the Ethereal Plane with little or no trouble, and (3) the fact that Blink allows MANY such transitions at spell level three, with the notion that (4) a single shift-and-return requires a seventh level spell. Of course, you could get much the same effect by Specializing (affects the user only) and Corrupting (the same increased cost) to increase the effect and using Etheralness instead. It would cost 3 CP more though.

   That comes out to 504 CP, out of the 504 available at level twenty; a perfect match. Now I did use a slight tweak – Pathfinder does not specify that a Monk’s unarmed techniques will not work if they’re wearing armor, using a shield, or carrying a medium or heavy load – but since that eliminates most of their other martial abilities (fast movement, armor class bonus, and flurry of blows), it seemed appropriate. It also saved seven character points, which was exactly what was needed to balance the character.

   Personally, I picked Monks this time around because it seemed likely that they were likely to show up any spots where Eclipse couldn’t accommodate Pathfinder’s new builds. The fact that this comes out perfectly with a single simple tweak is fairly startling.

   Eclipse: The Codex Persona is available in a Shareware PDF Version, in Print, and in a Paid PDF Version that includes Eclipse II (245 pages of Eclipse races, character and power builds, items, relics, martial arts, and other material) and the web expansion. It will be updated with Eclipse III when that’s done as well.

   Finally, here’s the OGL on the Pathfinder SRD site I referenced

Eclipse Pathfinder – The Cleric

   Next up in the “how to build Pathfinder characters in Eclipse” series is the Cleric.

   Once again, that’s not too complicated; simply insert Fast Learner at level zero, and you’ll have the points to spend to update to later standards. All you have to do is to ignore all the options that you don’t want.

   We’ll simply take the standard “Cleric” build and tweak it a bit.

   Pathfinder Clerics…

  • Lose six skill points at level zero. That’s (-6 CP).
  • Lose the Heavy Armor proficiency (-6 CP).
  • Drop 19 levels worth of lower level spells on their Spellcasting Progression to add an additional eighth and ninth level spell – a total of seventeen spell levels. That’s both pretty trivial, and well within the range of a “minor variant” – for no cost.
  • Drop the “+4 Intensity” on their Channeling abilities (-6 CP). Replace that with Conversion/a set of four level three effects, Corrupted/only actually provides two effects (6 CP). That lets them blast out positive energy to heal normal creatures or to harm undead, or vice versa, depending on their choice. That replaces “Turn Undead” with “Channel Energy” as a balanced exchange.
  • The Pathfinder Cleric also gets unlimited use of his or her level zero spells. That’s Shaping, Specialized for Increased Effect (only works for the characters limited list of level zero Cleric spells), Corrupted/must be free to gesture and speak (4 CP). As a side-benefit, level zero spells with cumulative effects – such as healing – lose effectiveness on any single target after 2d6 applications in any one day. That means that you don’t have to banish level zero healing spells from the game.
  • Buy Fast Learner, Specialized in buying Advanced Domain Abilities. That will provide an extra +40 CP over twenty levels to buy the additional abilities included in Pathfinder Domains.

   That gives us forty-two character points with which to buy advanced domain abilities. Hopefully I can keep it a bit under that for most of them. That provides a little extra room for customization – or for errors.

   Standard d20 Domains include a list of spells (6 CP) and a special ability worth another (6 CP).

   Pathfinder Domains are substantially more powerful, granting access to a variety of supernatural powers as well. In most cases, these are a pair of supernatural abilities, in somewhat fewer cases the second power is replaced by resistance to a particular form of energy. Other cases follow their own, idiosyncratic, rules.

   The spell list doesn’t matter; those can be varied to suit any given game, and – at least in Eclipse – players are perfectly welcome to propose new ones.

   The supernatural abilities can mostly be constructed as follows:

   1) A Minor Power, purchased as Channeling, at (3 + Wis Mod) uses per day, Specialized and Corrupted/only usable for conversion to a specific effect (4 CP) plus Conversion/a specific level two effect (3 CP).

   2) A Major Power, purchased as Channeling, at (3 + Wis Mod) uses per day, Specialized and Corrupted/only usable for conversion to a specific effect (4 CP), plus upgrading the Conversion from the Minor Power to a group of four themed spells of level five or less, Corrupted/the user only actually gets two spells (5 CP). You can get sixth level effects if you need them by reducing the number of uses (to five per day at level 20). That saves one character point on the uses cost but costs two on the conversion effect – for a net cost of (10 CP), an increase of one point.

   In either case, if you want to get the “can use this ability for one round per level, although these need not be consecutive” effect, you’ll want a drastically shortened overall spell duration (three to four rounds) with the provision that the effects few rounds of effect need not be used consecutively. Overall, that’s a disadvantage in most cases – and so it will not affect the level of the effect needed. This being Eclipse, I’ll leave the variant selection up to the character.

   Bringing the save DC (if a save is allowed) up to the (Level/2 +10 +Wis Mod) value that Pathfinder uses could be done in several ways – but this is channeling, and this is dropping the base level of the spell – so a simple Privilege will do. That’s (3 CP), and brings the cost up to either nineteen or twenty points out of the 21 available for buying each domain.

   3) Resistance to particular forms of energy – which eventually upgrades to an “Immunity” – is a bit harder to deal with in Eclipse, where most things have upper limits. On the other hand, simply taking Resist Energy with an extended duration +2 levels) covers the initial resistances – and an upgrade to Greater Resist Energy (from The Practical Enchanter) will eventually get that resistance up to 60 points – which should provide practical immunity for most purposes.

   In all three cases, the abilities can be bought up gradually, to match the per-level progression.

   So the various other minor and major powers should have similar costs. Lets see how that works out with the first few Pathfinder Domains.

   Air Domain:

  • Minor Power: Lightning Arc. Conjuration (real, and hence no save or spell resistance), 30′ Ranged Touch Attack, inflicts 1d6 + Cleric Level/2 Damage (+30 Max).
    • Alternate Minor Power: Wind Blast. Performs a Bull Rush (using caster level as BAB and his or her Wis as Str) along a 30′ line.
  • Major Power: Electricity Resistance.
    • Alternate Major Power: Thundercloud. As per Fog Cloud, except that creatures inside the cloud are deafened and take 2d6 points of electricity damage each round from the flashes of thunder and lightning. The user may concentrate on the cloud to move it up to 30 feet each round.

   Animal Domain:

  • Minor Power: Speak with Animals. Also, treat Knowledge (nature) as a class skill (this is free in Eclipse; the skill is obviously relevant to someone with this domain).
    • Alternate Minor Power: Eyes of the Hawk: Professional/Perception (6 CP) plus Improved Initiative +2, Specialized/only works during a surprise round (1 CP), Privilege/friendship with the spirits of the air/specialized/only upgrades the user’s aerial maneuverability by one step. “Fly” is added to the user’s list of class skills (again, free in Eclipse since the skill is obviously relevant to you).
    • Alternate Minor Power: Predator’s Grace. Gain +30′ movement and low-light vision for one round. If you already have low-light vision, the range of your sight becomes three times that of a human in dim light.
  • Major Power: Animal Companion. That’s Companion (6 CP). That’s a bit cheaper than the usual major power, but that’s not really a problem. Spend those 2 CP on skills or something.

   Artifice Domain:

  • Minor Power: Artificer’s Touch: Add Mending to your list of perpetually-usable level zero spells (1 CP) and Shattering Touch (melee touch attack, does 1d6+ Level/2 (+15 Max) damage to objects and constructs, bypassing an amount of damage reduction and hardness equal to the user’s level. (Total cost: 8 CP).
  • Major Power: Dancing Weapons: You can touch a weapon and give it the dancing special weapon quality for four rounds. Discard the (+2) uses and change the (+Wis Mod) uses to the basic four. This will reduce the cost to (8 CP) – compensating for the additional cost of the minor power.
    • Alternate Major Power: Animate Object. As a level six effect, this costs 10 CP instead of 9 CP.
    • Alternate Major Power: Aura of Repetition: You can emit a 30- foot aura of repetition. Enemies within the aura must make a Will save each round or repeat their action from the previous round. Creatures that attacked on the previous round attack again on the following round, although they may change their target. Creatures that moved the previous round must take the same move action again, although they may change their route. Creatures that drank a potion must do so again, even they can only drink from an empty bottle. Actions that cannot be repeated are wasted.

   Chaos Domain:

  • Minor Power: Touch of Chaos.: You can imbue a target with chaos as a melee touch attack. For the next round, anytime the target rolls a d20, he must roll twice and take the less favorable result.
    • Alternate Minor Power: Elysium’s Call. The creatures touched can immediately reroll any failed saving throws against spells and spell-like abilities of the enchantment (charm) and enchantment (compulsion) subschools. In addition, targets receive a +2 sacred bonus on such saving throws and a +2 sacred bonus on CMB checks to escape a grapple. Finally, targets can ignore up to 5 feet of difficult terrain each round, as if they had the Nimble Moves feat. These bonuses last for a number of rounds equal to one-half your cleric level (minimum 1), although the saving throw reroll only applies when the creature is touched.
    • Alternate Minor Power: Fury of the Abyss. As a swift action, you can give yourself an enhancement bonus equal to one-half your cleric level (minimum +1) on melee attacks, melee damage rolls, and combat maneuver checks for one round. During the round, you take a –2 penalty to AC.
  • Major Power: Chaos Blade. You can give a weapon touched the anarchic special weapon quality for a number of rounds equal to one-half your cleric level.
    • Alternate Major Power: Aura of Chaos. You can radiate a 30-foot aura of chaos. All enemies within this aura must declare one type of action at the start of their turn (attack, cast a spell, move, use an item, or activate a special ability) and make a Will save. Creatures that fail the Will save must take an action other than their declared action. If they succeed, they must take the declared action. Creatures cannot select actions that they cannot perform.

   Charm Domain:

  • Minor Power: Dazing Touch. Your melee touch attack causes a living creature to become dazed for one round. Creatures with more Hit Dice than you have are unaffected.
    • Alternate Minor Power: Adoration. As an immediate action, you can attempt to thwart a melee or ranged attack that targets you. This ability functions as sanctuary, but only against one individual attack. You must use the ability after the attack is declared but before the roll is made. The creature attacking you receives a Will save to negate this effect. If a creature has more than one attack, this ability only affects one of the attacks. This is a mind-affecting effect.
  • Major Power: Charming Smile (Sp): Charm Person, with a save DC of 10 + 1/2 your cleric level + your Wisdom modifier, as a free action.
    • Alternate Major Power: Anything to Please. You can compel a creature within 30 feet to attempt to please you as a standard action. The creature receives a Will save to negate this affect. If the save fails, the creature attacks your enemies for one round, gives you its most valuable item, or drops prone at your feet and grovels for 1d4 rounds (GM’s choice). This is a mind-affecting effect.

   Community Domain:

  • Minor Power: Calming Touch. Your touch heals the target of 1d6 points of nonlethal damage + 1 point per cleric level (20 maximum). This touch also removes the fatigued, shaken, and sickened conditions, but has no effect on others.
    • Alternate Minor Power: Binding Ties. As a standard action, you can touch an ally and transfer one condition affecting that ally to yourself. This transfer lasts a number of rounds equal to your level, but you can end it as a free action on your turn. At the end of this effect, the condition reverts to the original creature, unless it has ended or is removed by another effect. While this power is in use, the target is immune to the transferred condition.
  • Major Power: Unity. Whenever a spell or effect targets you and one or more allies within 30 feet, you can use this ability to allow your allies to use your saving throw against the effect in place of their own. Each ally must decide individually before the rolls are made. Using this ability is an immediate action.
    • Alternate Major Power: Guarded Hearth. You can create a ward that protects a specified area. It has a maximum radius of five feet per two levels you possess. When the ward is completed, you designate any number of creatures inside its area. Should any other creature enter the warded area, all of the selected creatures are immediately alerted (and awoken if they were asleep). The designated creatures also receive a sacred bonus equal to your Wisdom modifier on all saving throws and attack rolls while inside the warded area. This ward immediately ends if you leave the area. The ward lasts for 1 hour per cleric level. You can use this ability once per day. (This is a fairly powerful effect, but reducing the uses to one per day allows the spell level to be drastically upgraded).

   Darkness Domain:

  • Special: Gain the Blind-Fight Feat (6 CP).
  • Minor Power: Touch of Darkness. As a melee touch attack, you can cause a creature’s vision to be fraught with shadows and darkness. The creature touched treats all other creatures as if they had concealment, suffering a 20% miss chance on all attack rolls. This effect lasts for a number of rounds equal to half your level (minimum 1).
    • Alternate Minor Power: Night Hunter. As long as you are in an area of dim light or darkness, you can become invisible (as per invisibility) to creatures without darkvision. This ability lasts for a number of rounds equal to one-half your cleric level (minimum 1).
  • Major Power: Eyes of Darkness. Your vision is not impaired by lighting conditions, even in absolute darkness and magic darkness.
    • Alternate Major Power: Aura of Forgetfulness. You may emit a 30- foot aura of forgetfulness. Creatures you target in this area must make a Will save or have no memory of any time spent inside the area. In addition, spellcasters in the area lose one prepared spell or available spell slot per round spent in the area, starting with 1st-level spells and going up through higher-level spells. Spellcasters are allowed a save each round to negate this loss (this save is separate from the memory loss save). These rounds do not need to be consecutive.

   The Darkness Domain is a bit problematic there: it’s spending more points than I wanted to! On the other hand, those Major Powers don’t look like anything above level three to me – which reduces the cost of those “Major” powers to (7 CP) instead of (9 CP). That’s not enough to make up for the (6 CP) cost of that extra feat – but it helps, and it does bring the domain back into the +/- 2 CP spread I wanted.

   Death Domain:

  • Minor Power: Bleeding Touch. As a melee touch attack, you can cause a living creature to take 1d6 points of damage per round. This effect persists for a number of rounds equal to one-half your cleric level (minimum one, maximum ten) or until stopped with a DC 15 Heal check or any spell or effect that heals damage.
    • Alternate Minor Power: Death’s Kiss. You can cause a creature to take on some of the traits of the undead with a melee touch attack. Touched creatures are treated as undead for the purposes of effects that heal or cause damage based on positive and negative energy. This effect lasts for a number of rounds equal to 1/2 your cleric level (minimum 1). It does not apply to the Turn Undead or Command Undead feats.
  • Major Power: Death’s Embrace. Negative energy heals you instead of harming you. If channeled negative energy targets undead, you heal hit points just like the undead in the area. (This is most easily handled as a long-term personal spell, probably of about level six and with an extended duration and resistance to being dispelled. Fortunately, simply reducing the number of uses will keep the cost correct.
    • Alternate Major Power: Killing Blow. Your weapons you use become infused with the power of death. Whenever you confirm a critical hit with a melee or ranged weapon, your attack deals an additional amount of bleed damage equal to half your cleric level. You can use this ability up to five times per day.

   Well, I may finish up the rest of the domains a little later on – but I suspect that the point is made; the various Pathfinder Domain Powers are generally about twenty points per domain, with a few running a point or two over – and so fall neatly within the forty-two points which are available to buy them with.

   Eclipse: The Codex Persona is available in a Shareware PDF Version, in Print, and in a Paid PDF Version that includes Eclipse II (245 pages of Eclipse races, character and power builds, items, relics, martial arts, and other material) and the web expansion. It will be updated with Eclipse III when that’s done as well.

   Oh yes, here’s the OGL on the Pathfinder SRD site I referenced

Eclipse Pathfinder – The Bard

   Next up in the “Pathfinder Upgrade” parade is how to build a Pathfinder Bard in Eclipse point-buy. Once again, that’s actually fairly straightforward, and mostly just requires ignoring all the options that you don’t want to use. Simply take the standard “Bard” build and make a few changes, as follows:

  • Drop 18 Skill Points at levels zero and one.
  • Buy Fast Learner, Specialized in Larger Hit Dice (increasing their hit die at each level to 1d8, 6 CP). This is one of the reasons why Fast Learner was put into Eclipse – to allow the basic classes to be easily upgraded to later standards.
  • Buy Adept, halving the cost of four selected skills – and thus saving 40 CP through level twenty (6 CP). For any skill-focused character, taking Adept is almost mandatory. If the game master will let you, take it twice.
    • Adept was added to Eclipse because the gradual devaluation of skills was – like the power creep of later sourcebooks – inherent in the way d20 tends to be run from the very start. While there is a brief section on awarding XP for non-combat encounters, achieving goals, and roleplaying in the original rules, not too many people actually used it – or even awarded experience for sneaking past, diverting, or otherwise dealing with creatures without fighting. Thus, in most campaigns, skills were soon an afterthought; you got someone who could handle the occasional trap or lock, and you kept on the offensive. Ergo, Eclipse includes a couple of ways to reduce the costs of skills, boost skills, or get extra skill points, as well as some skill-based magic systems – enough to make a skill-based character competitive again.
  • Remove Lore (-6 CP) and add Immunity/the distinctions between Knowledge Skills (Very Common, Minor, Major, Specialized in the Professional ability only, 6 CP), and Professional/a knowledge Skill (6 CP), at a net cost of (6 CP).
    • Oops. This is pretty silly; it means that our quasi-medieval Bard automatically becomes an expert in hyperdrive theory, physics and chemistry, and 22’nd century popular culture, as well as every other field of knowledge in the multiverse as he or she goes up in level. I think I’ll just Corrupt that Immunity by adding the qualifier “locally known” before “Knowledge Skills”, thus reducing things to sanity and saving 2 CP at the same time. Pathfinder doesn’t really consider questions like that, but Eclipse doesn’t limit itself to fantasy settings, so it has to.

   That leaves 42 CP to buy the remaining upgrades:

  • Pathfinder tracks “Bardic Performance” in rounds per day instead of uses. That causes a problem in Eclipse, where “Mystic Artist” can be taken on things like Architecture, to construct inspiring temples or spell-resistant fortresses, or be applied to sculpture, metalworking, or many other fields in a wide variety of ways – or where an artist might want to hold an audience spellbound for hours. On the other hand, the possible number of uses in a day has been increased. Fortunately, we have enough extra character points available to have the best of both worlds; just take Mystic Artist twice, on two similar methods of performance. That will double up your daily uses, still allow them to continue indefinitely, and provide access to more abilities, for a mere six additional character points over the base cost for Mystic Artist (6 CP). I could save a few character points by specializing that to reduce things to a limited number of rounds, but that wouldn’t save all that many points – and it really reduces the flavor of the Bard.
  • Pathfinder Bards get several additional performance types as well. Now, an Eclipse Mystic Artist can normally expect to have ten or eleven such abilities by level twenty, instead of the nine open to a classic Bard – and has twenty-one basic abilities to choose from, with an additional six that become available at epic skill ratings, and forty-odd advanced abilities to purchase. Since several of them offer a variety of effect options, most of the ne w Pathfinder abilities are covered there – and taking Mystic Artist twice opens up new option slots. In particular:
    • Distraction: This performance type is already inherent in the Block ability, which standard Bards will be taking anyway.
    • Dirge of Doom: This performance type is included in the Emotional Auras ability.
    • Soothing Performance: In Pathfinder this requires level 12+ and four rounds worth of mystical art. It produces a Cure Serious Wounds effect on it’s audience and removes the Fatigued, Sickened, and Shaken conditions. That’s almost exactly the amount of healing that a 12’th level audience (settling down for a moment for “Complete Rest”) can expect from a one-round use of the Serenity ability – but Serenity also counts as a full nights rest, and so allows the targets to throw off negative levels, refresh their uses-per-day abilities and spell slots, recover attribute damage, and eliminate various conditions. Sadly, the basic version of Serenity can only be used once per week, instead of several times per day. So what we’ll want to do is to Specialize it (does not refresh uses-per-day abilities) to allow it to be used every day and then buy +4 bonus uses – also Specialized/each additional use requires two uses of the Mystic Artist ability (3 CP). That provides five uses per day, which should be enough to cover things.
    • Frightening Tune: This performance type is included in the Emotional Auras ability.
    • Deadly Performance: This is the Pathfinder Bard’s capstone ability – the power to kill individual targets through artistic performances. This is a minor problem; Eclipse does include that ability – but it’s at the end of a chain of five other feats which grant a wide variety of disruptive and destructive ways in which to use mystic art. That’s simply because the ability to kill with art only appears in a very few conceptions of the Bard.
      • Personally, I’d recommend leaving this optional; this version of the Bard will already be picking up quite a few additional performance types anyway – which seems like more than a fair exchange for having to spend some feats, or scrape up some points elsewhere, to buy the ability to kill with art. If you really must have it built in, take Adept again – Specialized in only two skills – for (3 CP). That effectively yields 17 CP over the course of twenty levels – enough to buy the first three feats in the Disruptive ability chain, allowing our Bard to disrupt thoughts, magic, psionics, life, and unlife forces over a wide area.
  • Versatile Performance: Buy this as Immunity/Penalties for using a skill in place of another related skill (Common, Minor, Major, 6 CP), Specialized and Corrupted for Triple Effect/can only be applied to (Level/4 rounded up) skills, each skill to which it is applied can only be used in place of two related skills, the primary skills can only be Perform skills. That negates penalties of up to (-18), which should be quite sufficient.
    • Personally, I think that using such an ability – along with Deadly Performance – implies that combat is being seriously overstressed in Pathfinder. Admittedly, my games tend to be heavy on knowledge and perception skill checks, detective work, social skill use, and figuring out puzzles as opposed to combat – and combat is fairly rare, since the characters know that it could easily go either way or result in some character deaths – but does a character really need to be effectively expert in ten extra skills and have mystical art abilities to make up for his or her spells and personal abilities being relatively light on combat applications?
  • Well Versed: Gain a +4 bonus on saving throws against mystical artistry, sonic, and language dependent effects. That’s Resist (specific category) (6 CP).
  • Lore Master: This gives a Pathfinder Bard the ability to “take 10” on Knowledge skill checks – which is allowed anyway – and the ability to “take 20” on a Knowledge skill check up to three times per day. That’s Luck, with +2 Bonus Uses, Specialized in Skills, Corrupted to Knowledge skills only (4 CP).
  • Jack of All Trades: At 10th level, the Bard can use trained-only skills untrained. At 16th level, all skills are treated as class skills. At 19th level, the user can take 10 on any skill check, even if that is not normally allowed.
    • OK, that one is a little odd. By the time a character reaches tenth level in a skill-based class, are there really likely to be any skills that 1) can’t be used unskilled and 2) the character really wants to use and yet has never invested a single skill point in? Over ten levels?
    • All skills being treated as class skills is also meaningless in Eclipse. By level sixteen, any skill that the character has developed an interest in will have become a class skill, and any skill which seems relevant to the character conception starts off as a class skill anyway.
    • The level nineteen effect would be several instances of the Mastery ability – but that’s boring and expensive for what you get. I’d recommend Luck with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized in Skills, Corrupted/only for reroll (4 CP).
  • The Pathfinder Bard also gets more spells than the usual one. The easiest way to get this – and to add a little flavor to each individual Bard at the same time – is to Buy Specialist I and II (getting an additional spell of each level 1-6 per day as long as they’re related to a particular field, 6 CP) and a Path (a group of related spell formulas, one of each level. In this case, that’s Corrupted/the user is limited to building his or her Path from the normally-available bardic spell list, 4 CP).
  • Finally, the Pathfinder Bard also gets unlimited use of his or her level zero spells. That’s Shaping, Specialized for Increased Effect (only works for the characters limited list of level zero Bard spells), Corrupted/must be free to gesture and speak (4 CP). As a side-benefit, level zero spells with cumulative effects – such as healing – lose effectiveness on any single target after 2d6 applications in any one day. That means that you don’t have to banish healing cantrips from the game.

   All of that comes to 43 CP – or 42 CP if you take the option to get the Disruptive abilities. Given that our build had 42 CP available, that comes out just about perfectly. In fact, amusingly enough, it comes out slightly more perfectly than the standard build, which uses only 503 CP out of the 504 CP available to a level twenty character – making the basic Pathfinder-style Eclipse build accurate down to the last point.

   Eclipse: The Codex Persona is available in a Shareware PDF Version, in Print, and in a Paid PDF Version that includes Eclipse II (245 pages of Eclipse races, character and power builds, items, relics, martial arts, and other material) and the web expansion. It will be updated with Eclipse III when that’s done as well.

   On a personal note, I’m still find it quite pleasing to see how well Eclipse handles Pathfinder, given that Pathfinder wasn’t published until several years after Eclipse was.

   Oh yes, here’s the OGL on the Pathfinder SRD site I referenced.

Federation-Apocalypse Session 131 – Jaywalking in Middle-Earth

   Looking back on the battle, Marty-Sauron mused a bit… Would his curse affect future Feanors? It might not have really taken; after all, “Feanor” and his sons seemed to have all been killed within one minute of being cursed.

   Hey, wait! Now THAT was a prompt curse! Whoa! When HE cursed someone, it really hurt!

   Well, maybe not really – it had been “Feanor’s” own detonation that had done most of that – but it was an amusing thought.

   Of course, turning yourself into a nuke that went off if you were killed – and then fighting on the front lines of your own forces – wasn’t exactly heroic behavior either. At the very least, it was pretty inconsiderate…

   Kevin-Morgoth had been kind of hoping to stop the whole “oath” thing in it’s tracks there and to recruit Feanor, which was now out of the question – but there might be some other useful things to be had. Besides… He’d always liked big shaggy dogs (heck, he had a werewolf ID himself!), and the local “werewolves” were some of the biggest to be found!

(Kevin-Morgoth) “Who’s a little werewolf then? Who’s got four paws and a long nose and a great big jaw full of teeth? Who’s gonna grow up to ravage across the land? You are you little ex-Noldor you! Won’t that be fun?”

   Marty-Sauron had to laugh to himself. Somehow, he couldn’t see the “standard” Morgoth tickling a young werewolf and fussing over it that way – although he could probably say something along those lines to Limey right now.

   The pup seemed to be enjoying it too. Well, they WERE phantasms, and would fall right into their new role – and they were cute, even if they were minions of evil.

   Speaking of Limey, he’d already adopted a few of the things. He’d have to make sure to check his hard drive regularly to keep more werewolves from getting in his system… Hm. Was there really a distinction between a virtual reality with a few spirits in it and a pocket dimension? Still, the incident in the Jesus Worlds had left Marty a bit leery. After all, the notion that Limey had uploaded a child and his soul while he wasn’t looking was more than a bit creepy! Not to mention the level of power that both he and Limey now possessed.

   Meanwhile, back in Core, the analysts were reaching an unnerving conclusion. They rules were well understood. Creating a Gate to or from Core required direct reality manipulation, and thus a true Opener. Breaching the barriers of Core – the laws of Life and Death – required a great deal of power. An Opener who refrained from using his or her power in other ways (and few did) might be able to handle two gates a month – or perhaps three for a time if he or she was very fortunate or had unusually great power reserves. Opening two, three, or even four gates within a short span of time was possible for a very few Openers – but would exhaust reserves that would take months to recover.

   More than two hundred Gates had been opened from “Kadia” into the core within two months. At least one to every one of the more than a hundred and fifty human-inhabited solar system in Core, and – in heavily populated systems – one to each inhabited world or asteroid belt.

   At first analysis, it had been presumed that some unknown property of Kadia might make it easier, or that Kevin had discovered an efficient way to use magic or psychic power to assist in the Opening of Gates. Alternatively, since the Gates had been used to extend emergency services (in the form of treatments for weaponized-meme victims) to Core, he might have managed to put together an alliance of Openers. While most Openers would have cooperated in such a project, five months of further investigation had found no evidence of such an alliance.

   No method – even in theory – of easing the creation of Gates in and out of Core had been found either, despite a similar period of research. Either Kevin Sanwell had achieved a breakthrough into some second stage of Opening (which seemed unlikely), or he had found a way to use a group of Gatekeepers to Open Gates, instead of simply settling for their ability to control them once they existed. That would fit in neatly with the sheer number of gatekeeper-agents he’d been documented as recruiting.

   Still, regardless of how he was doing it, that meant that the rules – and all of their strategic calculations based on those rules – were changing.

   Back in Middle-Earth, Marty-Sauron had gone back to playing with his new crafting abilities. The lantern-blades would be gravely weakened beyond Tolkien’s worlds. Beyond the worlds he had influenced, they would be lesser magical blades at best – and beyond the worlds of magic, they would be mere expertly crafted blades.

   To give them power beyond that… he would have to invest a portion of his own essence in them.

   He would experiment with a tiny portion of his power then, and a temporary investment. Perhaps a small boost to telepathic magics and his ability to block attacks? Those were always useful.

   Kevin-Morgoth was considering sending a messenger to the Vala – or at least seeing how they viewed all this. They might just be phantasms in the role, in which case that would be fairly hopeless – but the indications were that they were well aware of what was going on.

   What could he offer? To not wipe up the second Noldor host and let history get back on track a bit? It wasn’t like that meant a lot. Oh well. He could just inquire as to what they’d accept in exchange for Angainor; after all, they could always make another.

   He dispatched a herald – and a messenger of the Vala arrived a short time later.

(Messenger) Greetings Meklor and Sauron! I come on behalf of the Vala.

(Kevin-Melkor) “Greetings, oh Astmorial of Manwe’.”

   Well, if the Vala were willing to send messengers, that pretty much confirmed that they were well aware of the Manifold – and that they knew that “Morgoth” was almost certainly someone who’d taken the role if they were departing from the script this way.

(Kevin-Melkor) “And what say the Vala?”

(Messenger) “Manwe and the others would like to know what you expect to do with the chain Angainor. Such an item can be extremely dangerous if used improperly.”

(Kevin-Melkor) “I was intending to see if it could hold – or at least partially contain – Merlin when we wind up confronting him. Failing that, it might still be useful against Plague, Famine, or War. Most likely, Famine. He, she, or it seems to be the worst of the lot.”

(Messenger) “Fair enough, I cannot say how successful either venture will prove to be, but I shall confer with my superiors. I shall return in but a moment.”

(Kevin-Melkor) “Certainly.”

   And that settled it. The Vala were well aware of what was going on. Were they the ones doing the resets and allowing people in to experience the show? Was it tourism, of just that keeping Valinor stable required resetting Middle-Earth periodically? Otherwise eventually a forced reset would build up, and Valinor would mostly revert to the beginning – and they were supposedly in charge of developing the world for habitation… He had to wonder how popular Valinor was/is as an afterlife? Tolkien had a lot of fans…

   The messenger blurred out of sight in an instant.

   The Valar Tulkas appeared a few moments later with a chain wrapped around him.

(Tulkas) “So you must be the latest to fall into the roles of Melkor and Sauron then. I would suggest leaving it in a prompt fashion if I were you. The roles are powerful and the effects they can have on you can be long lasting indeed.”

(Kevin-Melkor) “Hm. Is that why almost nothing around here stays in character? It’s too easy to get trapped if you do?”

(Tulkas) “In many ways yes, that is true. Asserting your own personality and habits into the role is highly recommended. Tapping into the collective human psyche isn’t recommended.”

(Marty-Sauron) “Is it ever? It sounds like a good way to get a headache, or lose your real identity.”

   Hm… Tulkas was… exerting some helpful mental pressure there. Well, the Vala were powerful telepaths – but it was still a bit irritating. Who were the Vala to lecture them?

   Well, they were the local guardians of enlightenment, but still. They couldn’t get many Melkors. The role called for rather a lot of power just as a base!

   Perhaps that was why Melkor never did too much? Had Tolkien tapped into enough of the racial subconscious to understand the rules that well?

   Marty-Sauron found it annoying too. He needed a stiff drink… He got one.

(Tulkas) “Now, here is the chain Angainor as you requested. From what I am told of your plans though, I wouldn’t trust it against Merlin, but against the Horseman it may provide a better binding.”

(Kevin-Melkor, sighing) “Ah well. I wouldn’t have trusted it against Merlin either, but it seemed like it might be worth looking into. Thank you for the information, the advice, and Angainor, though. I hope that all three will prove useful… I would guess that Middle-Earth is likely to revert to the beginning of the sequence as soon as we leave?”

(Tulkas) “You are welcome, and yes, we will be initiating the reset of the realm as soon as you are gone. Now, if you happen to come across the one called Ryan, do tell him to come visit sometime. Manwe would like to speak with him on some matters.”

(Marty-Sauron) “Oh, don’t worry, we’ll be glad to.”

(Kevin-Melkor) “I think that half the Manifold wants to talk to Ryan on some matters… He seems to be determined to entangle every realm he visits with every other one wherever he goes.

   I’ll have the message passed on shortly. He’s more upset than usual at the moment.”

(Tulkas) “That is the nature of powerful openers, he is just more showy than others about it. I fear it is a consequence of his birthplace, something beyond his control. He is learning though and that is good. If he is concerned about the damage here, it is of little consequence save for some inconvenience and a reset.”

(Kevin-Melkor) “Our thanks then. I suspect that I had best depart while you are here, and moderating the influence of the Melkor-Role…”

   Kevin sent out a quick call for anyone else who was ready to leave – which was only a few of the fallen Maia who had found the war a bit of a bust; almost everyone else in Middle-Earth with a soul was already deceased; they’d all been at the Battle under the Stars.

(Tulkas) “Farewell then young travelers.”

   Kevin spent the power to gate straight out – and had one of the Thralls on the Kadia side hold the gate for anyone else who was coming.

   Marty took his artifact blades along as souvenirs.

   Since Kevin was already in Kadia, they didn’t have to play catch-up.

(Kevin) “Oh, hey, Marty! These two won’t work with mine at all, but they still have some power… Would you like a couple of Silmarils?”

(Marty) “Why not? They’ll go great in my crown!”

(Kevin) “They do tend to draw trouble, so you might want to keep them private though!”

   Marty stuck them on the inside of his crown then…

   They let M know what they had so far via the Thrall-connections. Regrettably it wasn’t all that much.

(M) Thank you for that. It is a bit disturbing considering the nature of the oath, but at least it is something to work with.

(Kevin) “Too bad I couldn’t defuse it there, but the Simulacrum in Feanor’s role just didn’t make it possible.”

   Unfortunately, one of Kevin’s results wasn’t so good; you could set up an overlay zone in the Core with a realm with odd physics, and that worked to some extent. You could even set up an overlay with a realm that allowed FTL and the manipulation produced a privileged reference frame – just like a normal set of Gates did – but even with a group of Thralls working to maintain it, trying to really make use of it only resulted in outrunning the overlay effect.

   Similarly, you could – at least apparently – open a gate to jump to a known location in space with no humans in the area to provide an anchor, but the targeting errors were colossal. Planetside worked better given some location to focus on. A memory worked best, pictures and videos worked less effectively, and descriptions were even harder.

   Kevin turned off that report. He KNEW most of that. Fortunately, in this case, a thousand light year error was just fine. He wanted to get the Midnight Gardener project started, at least on pilot program basis. For that matter, he had to check with the robots about whether or not anyone else was doing it.

   The robots informed him that none of the other sapient species encountered thus far had started pursuing such long-term projects. Most such efforts were far smaller, and were in response to immediate threats and local disasters.

   Was he just too silly to see that it was impossible? Or young enough to be totally overenthusiastic? Or just extremely ambitious? Well, the only way to find out would be to start deploying on a pilot basis.

   He got that started, and started checking up on other things.

   Meanwhile, Marty was checking on how Thawban – as his sworn brother – was doing.

   It seemed that he was still going through the education programs, although he’d also made contact with the Unified Church. Apparently he’d been in many discussions with them over the last few weeks about the nature of the Religion of Core, Applied Theology, known contacts with presumed servants of the higher order, and some discussions regarding the teachings of Islam. It looked like he might be looking into theological field research.

   The dark elves hadn’t gotten their goddess back yet, although it looked like some sort of epic quest was currently underway – involving many powerful adventurers – to find her essence and revive her.

   Kevin had been considering trying to quietly grant some low-level spells to her clerics to try to prod things along, but it looked like that wouldn’t work under the local theology unless he either sent an avatar and declared himself an ally or messenger, got some of the local gods in the same pantheon to step up and fill the gap, or persuaded her clerics to transfer their worship to him. It probably wasn’t worth the diplomatic hassle; it was a minor side issue after all. He made a note to send the adventurers a few Thrall-henchmen though. They might be able to use the help.

   Revan and the Hellstorm had made several attempts to destroy the Kuat Shipyards but had been repulsed every time. Since then, their effort looked to have changed to recruiting and subverting potential servants and fleets.

   Michelle Wingates had gone to visit her relatives on Ealor, and she and Spellweaver had been asked to stay awhile. They were currently taking in the local hospitality. Fortunately, Ealor was not in the Hellstorm’s current path.

   The investigators had finally sorted out what was up with that Kobold from the Underdark; the kobold had had it’s soul ripped out and replaced with a concoction of energies designed to mimic the interface with a soul. There was a spell program using that interface to give a good mimicry of being ensouled. Perhaps one of Merlin’s early experiments that had continued in Baelaria?

   The effects of the Rosary of Memory had been analyzed. Phantasms just got over-written. Those in second or later incarnations regained access to their former memories, and seemed to be able to relearn their former skills and abilities far more readily than usual. Those in their first incarnations seemed got visions and dreams and potentially fruitful insights into matters of import; they often seemed to have an easy time learning the abilities that they’d been shown would be most useful to them. Whether that was a form of divination, or simply advice drawing on it’s vast wealth of experience, it was hard to say.

   On the “urgent demands for attention” front, the Lunar Inversion bunch was mainly wanting explanations (and probably access to the Manifold), Evanescence was wanting access to the Manifold for her own purposes, the Core military was getting unnerved with the documented numbers of gates and thralls, and the New Imperium wanted to talk about their association with the Hellstorm, all the quasi-Jedi, their involvement with Ealor, and adding the Hoslin to their borders with the Battletech realms.

   Well, the New Imperium seemed most insistent.

   The Linear Realms wanted them urgently too, but they had several thousand Thralls operating there already, which seemed to cover most of the urgent bits.

   Kevin was still wanting to find the third Silmaril of “his” set – but still no clues on that front. He hadn’t been able to find a link between them before, but there seemed to be one between the three they’d brought back this time… Perhaps he’d just missed it? He wasn’t all that good at divination. He’d have to try that at odd moments. There were so many demands on his time, and his divinatory powers were merely witchcraft, and so short-ranged. Still, if he could find a link, he had plenty of other ways to try to trace it.

   Marty was looking into what Puck might be up to. He did owe it the Thawban.

   There were consistent rumors regarding a trickster spirit making trouble in the slavic territories in the Linear Realms. It was apparently going by a name out of one of the old slavic tales – Veles or Volos depending on the translation. There were more inconsistent rumors elsewhere… Well, it would be just like Puck to drift to a flash point in the Manifold conflict.

(Marty) “Hey Kevin! Can we go by the Linear Realms after we finish up in the New Imperium? I might have a grudge to settle!”

   And he might clean up the streets a little bit too!

(Kevin) “Why not?”

   Other than that… he’d like to subdue Jenkins before she did too much damage to the Manifold, but that would have to wait until he achieved godhood at the very least. It sounded like she might be a digit in human form, and he’d need the divine immunities to stand up to her in that case.

   They took the portal to Ealor. They might as well let the people there express themselves as well. They had sent them a lot more survivors, although they hadn’t gotten any more clues on the missing kids yet.

   Once again the border guard at the gateway demanded that they identify themselves.

   They did so.

(Guard) “Ah yes, this alert has been waiting in the computer systems for a while now. Been wondering when it would either trigger or be removed.”

(Kevin) “Well, you bunch have been sending urgent requests…”

(Guard) “Yes, it does look like your presence has been requested on Coruscant. An Inquisitor has already been sent from orbit to meet with you and escort you. Do you agree to wait?”

(Marty) “Well, why not?”

(Kevin) “How long is the trip? It might be easier to go directly.”

   Unfortunately, Marty/Darrick’s ship was still on the Wookie homeworld. It was repaired, and they’d sent a Thrall to pay the rest of the fee (and make the starship repair guy quite wealthy and very pleased), but they hadn’t given the kid any instructions as to where to take the ship – or what to do about all the fresh pine scent.

(Guard, plugging away at a datapad) “The trip will take approximately 3 days from here. It looks like a supernova is causing traffic to reroute to other hyperspace lanes at the moment.”

   It would probably easier to go directly. They’d been to the New Imperium Coruscant before.

   Still, the imperial shuttle landed shortly, and out came their favorite perpetually annoyed Inquisitor. He looked down his nose at them

(Inquisitor) “No offense, but I was really hoping that your presence was just a false alarm. Having to drag people before the Emperor is most unpleasant.”

(Kevin) “Well, shall we step over to Coruscant then? To the imperial palace, or Jedi Temple, or another appropriate big landmark?”

(Inquisitor) “The Imperial palace would work best, although I will ask you not port directly inside of it.”

   Kevin used a magical gate, and set them outside of the great Imperial Palace. It was huge by any standard for buildings; there were entire planetary populations that could be housed within it’s walls. It also boasted the largest gardens on Coruscant. The guards nearby were moving quickly to intercept them as they appeared.

(Kevin) “What, you asked us here!”

   The guards insisted on searching them. Kevin insisted on doing the “endless junk in his pockets” routine, although Marty produced his perky little droid for their examination.

   Between the search and verifying their identities it took a fair amount of time before the guards would allow them to enter the palace grounds.

(Guard) “Next time use a ship or repulsor craft like normal people!”

   Meanwhile, Kevin’s pockets were still producing an endless stream of junk… a Jade statue of buddha, a geode, a finger talisman, a bottle of wine, a ham sandwich, a mousetrap, a cream pie launcher, a block of ice,

(Marty) “What’s normal?”

(Guard) “Not blowing holes in the universe to avoid commutes!”

   The stream of junk was continuing… scissors, a pocket calculator, a red button labeled “do not press”, a fez, a totem pole, a box of canned laughter…

(Guard) “Openers, I swear they have no patience. Or sense of when to stop playing stupid gags.”

(Kevin) “What? We were told it was urgent, and we’ve got like three other groups demanding our attention urgently right this minute…”

(Marty, on the private link) “Can we pull an illusion trick where they yank me from your pocket?”

(Kevin, also privately) “Eh, they have guns, they asked us to knock it off, it would be mean not to.”

(Marty) “Okay.”

(Kevin) “Oh all right. Shall we go?”

(Guard) “And I have orders to keep these grounds secure. Now I have a hole in reality I have to account for in the middle of the front door.”

(Marty) “Hey, shut that!”

(Kevin) “No you don’t. No point in doing that, I just pulled enough power in to use magic.”

(Guard) “Fine, go on, I have instructions to let you through once I have verified your ID’s which do check out.”

(Another Guard) “Great, magical holes. What’s next portable holes like in the holo cartoons?”

(Kevin) “What do you think my pockets are?”

(Guard) “Offhand, I could think of a half-dozen strange and weird powers from the Manifold that could be doing that. Summon junk spells are supposedly easy, and just opening gates to steal junk from random homes is also possible.”

(Kevin) “Are those really any different? Anyway, you don’t actually have a dimensional hole to worry about, so shall we go?”

(Guard) “Fine then, go.”

   Off we go with the impatient Inquisitor…

   Kevin was sulking a bit again. Complain about his jokes would they! He COULD have gone like Matthias and Serah, and be tormenting planets, or like the Hellstorm and be blowing up fleets. Instead he chased girls, recruited well-paid servants, and pulled off old jokes, and what did he get? Complaints. Hell! Practically everyone involved SURVIVED the things he did!

   The interior of the palace was just as huge as the exterior. Where other so-called “Emperors” had to resort to magic tricks to build palaces this huge on the inside, it was a trivial matter for the galactic Emperor to build one that big on the outside too. A droid escorted them to a large information room with hundreds of holo projectors displaying imagery from across the galaxy. A middle-aged gentleman wearing something akin to Jedi/Sith robes was watching one of the projectors – and the Inquisitor bowed to him as they approached

(Inquisitor) “Emperor, the ones you have requested have arrived.”

   The Emperor muted the display and turned his attention to them.

(Emperor) “Ah yes, the Opener and the Merchant of Death I’ve heard so much about. I trust my people have been courteous in bringing you here?”

(Kevin) “Oh your Inquisitor here is cranky, but he wouldn’t be HIM without that. Besides. we’re good at bringing out people’s cranky…”

(Marty) “Yeah, it’s our specialty.”

(Kevin) “Seriously however, you were at the top of the “urgent demands” list, and we had a bit of time, so here we are. “

(Emperor) “Yes, it has come to my attention that you have been importing a number of unstable elements into my domain. Refugees from an alternate Earth with technological prowess that could prove destabilizing. A group of Force assassins out to destroy Sith and restore or protect a Republic which doesn’t exist anymore or never did. A great number of Jedi like people running about that you are connected to that are adding their own instabilities to the mix. And then there is the fact that you are clearly connected in some way to the great battleship that is decimating fleets out there. I would like explanations.”

(Kevin) “For the refugees, simple enough; you have an unusually large number of cataloged empty planets. They will soon either spin off into their own pocket reality or adjust to yours – and the only reason any of their technology works here is because you’ve partially adjusted to Core: now that you’ve done that, people will be building new gadgets anyway. In any case, since you had people there waiting to greet them, I can’t believe that their arrival was a surprise.”

(Emperor) “It was not, but I still like to hear explanations from those who would seek to use my hospitality without asking first.”

(Kevin) “I was simply expecting to find them an empty world; I was not expecting them to get involved with you for years or generations – if then. As for the “Force Assassins”, they now know that their goals never existed – and that there’s no point in pursuing them. They’re in the unclaimed area between your realm and the Battletech realm, but they did bring along far more ships than they needed, and you need ships at the moment.”

(Emperor) “Fair enough, and maybe I can put them to use in the war against Revan and his misguided followers.”

(Kevin) “Now, my servants do have limited Jedi-like abilities, but most of those which have been operating in your realm are on child-retrieval missions, and leave again afterwards. You realm does not seem to need a lot of assistance at the moment. Would you like to examine a few of them? I can easily send you some.”

(Emperor) “I would indeed like the opportunity to examine them. Some of the stories I’ve been hearing have been quite intriguing.”

(Marty) “As for the battleship, it’s got unfinished business with Revan.”

(Kevin) “The Hellstorm… I believe you already have a report on our involvement with that. It appears to have its origin with Ryan O’Malley. How it became involved with Revan, I don’t know. I believe there was an agent of yours with us when we first encountered it ourselves.”

(Emperor) “Interesting, so it is that ship of his now is it? What terrible power it has. Ryan has been promising me a new ship to combat it, but I have been getting a great number of reports informing me of delays lately. Most distressing really.”

   Kevin had been wondering about that… They still had six months or so to run on their contract with the Hellstorm, and it wasn’t allowed to attack anyone who’d been with them at the time of their last encounter or anywhere (up to planets) where they were staying – and Kevin had simply listed “his servants” at the time. Would that mean that any Thrall could claim that immunity for any ship, installation, or planet they were on? It might just depend on who could outargue the other on the wording of the contract…

(Emperor) “Now, tell me, since your fates seem to be interacting with Ryan’s recently, what do you know of Ryan’s current delays?”

(Marty) “He’s helping with the defenses in the Linear Realms and working on some project for the Americas.”

(Kevin) “I’ll see if I can find out more specifically…”

   He checked with the Thralls working for Ryan at the moment to see what his current trouble was.

   It seemed that he was having trouble manufacturing a power of the Light strong enough to counter the Hellstorm. The ship was currently more or less complete – but it was fairly mundane to throw up against a supernatural battleship of that power. Why hadn’t he tried to locate Vena? Ah; she was really scatterbrained and was very hard to find. Well, she was an anime ferret.

(Kevin) “Ah. He’s having trouble creating a force of light sufficient to stand up to the Hellstorm.”

   Now what did he need for that?

   Massive positive/holy energy output, preferably compatible with his style of magic – although conversion circuitry could be made. Combative holy magic would work best, but anything able to put out that kind of power could be made to work with varying degrees of difficulty.

   In other words, a high-intensity positive energy with large reserves. For really high intensity, they’d want a major being of the light. They could provide reserves easily enough. They could use the Silmarils – but they weren’t exactly weapons. Of course, they could always go ask for help… or try to make such a source. They might want to check with Heaven, or the Crusader Kingdoms.

(Marty) “I don’t think they want you in Heaven. And I’m not sure about me either.”

(Kevin) “Well, it does make me uncomfortable… But I can put up with that for a bit. Possible approaches; some thralls with positive energy channeling. That was rare, but some did have it – and it was possible that a much higher percentage of the Neodogs did. Make some relics. Visit heaven and recruit. Ask the Crusader Kingdoms and the Unified Church to appeal for aid. Hunt for Vena and/or Michael. Ask some other great power of the light to help. For that, they could apply in Valinor, in Heaven, or in the Crusader Kingdoms. Kevin could try to power things himself, but it wasn’t really his speciality. He’d start the Thralls in the Crusader Kingdoms in on making inquiries, but that would still be indirect.

   Well, it looked like they were going to Heaven – unless Marty could find that angel he’d had a drink with in the Crusader Kingdoms, he had seemed like a pretty cool guy.