Federation-Apocalypse Session 137a – The Forgelight Returns

This is an unofficial map which represents the...

Image via Wikipedia

   Amidst the usual mad chaos of a Star Wars space battle – swarms of fighters, ships cris-crossing, beams of energy blazing, explosions everywhere, as the fleet bombarded the super star destroyer they’d just left – Marty was hurtling towards the Forgelight, using judicious bursts of telekinesis to steer, to tow Kevin, and to dodge the worst of the fighting,

   A good thing that smartclothes could function as a tolerably effective spacesuit – at least for a short time. Getting killed aboard the Hellstorm, even if its internal hell-dimension was collapsing at the moment, was still all too likely to result in a wide variety of unpleasant complications.

   Fortunately, his acrobatic skills were pretty good, even encumbered by a dozen Thralls in small-animal form. He definitely didn’t want to miss and go drifting off into space.

   He had to correct for the rotation of the ships, but that wasn’t bad.

   Of course, the fighters buzzing around doing strafing runs now and the intense capital ship fire was more than a bit awkward. Near-collisions, explosions, anti-capital ship blasts, and radiation bursts – quite a few of them from the Hellstorm, given that it was the only major target left. Explosions were going off inside the ship as its internal systems malfunctioned – violently – and the internal dimensional space collapsed. They’d all need treatment for radiation poisoning after they made it back to the Forgelight, but that was a lot easier to treat than being blown to bits.

   Kevin, meanwhile, was focusing on collecting stray atoms. “Safety Beacon” might be a vital role, but it wasn’t one he wanted to remain in. Trouble was, there was a lot of metal available, and a fair amount of outgassing – but not too much in the way of phosphorous, calcium, and all the other necessary intermediate-weight elements.

   Meanwhile, Marty was busy maneuvering around a cloud of radioactive gas, dust, and debris – and associated electrical arcs – that had come fountaining out of a sudden hole in the side of the Hellstorm. He shut down the smartclothes alarms; there was no point in worry about radiation at the moment.

   Naturally enough, the cloud was between them and the Forgelight, and called for more special maneuvering – and a slightly longer route – to avoid it. Oh well, the girls had more than enough sensory enhancements to handle the navigation – and it did give them all a splendid view of the ongoing destruction of the Forgelight.

   The Forgelight didn’t seem seriously damaged at the moment – although the Hellstorm’s droids were swarming over it. Marty headed in to cut a path through them. He had more important things to do than to waste time on Droids!

   Kevin, meanwhile, had engaged multi-tracking again; there was something left unfinished – and mere physical force, no matter how great, was not going to do it. He reached out to the dark power that still raged in the heart of the Hellstorm. He might not have a physical body at the moment, but there was still the power of the Manifold to draw on… His thoughts pierced the darkness.

(Kevin) “By the power you coveted, by the darkness you have misused, and by the light which pierces you, return to the night from which you came. There is nothing here for you now.”

   His power was not as well focused as it might be – but he still had magic, dominion, and the power of the Thralls and the Manifold to back him and the Hellstorm was in no shape to resist, not now, and not so close. There was a reality-shattering clash of wills as Kevin hurled his power against the Hellstorm in a final push – and it fought back with it’s own rage, hatred, and demonic power. It resisted for a few moments before something… snapped, and the dark power faded into elsewhere – hopefully returned to the abyss from which it sprang.

   Meanwhile, Marty had arrived at the Forgelight – on the opposite side from the worst of the radiation-cloud and the ongoing eruptions as the Hellstorm began to blow apart under the fleet bombardment.

   There were several hundred droids in the way at the moment, hacking away at the Forgelight with a variety of weapons. The shields were holding for the moment, but local overloads were beginning to occur.

   Marty headed for an airlock – picking one of the ones that would be easiest to seal quickly – and started blasting away on the way in and stabbing as he closed. His knife once again powered up with a luminescent blade of energy as he slashed his way through the droids – but he had barely enough healing ability left to handle their first few strikes and it was taking multiple strikes to take out each one… Blasted war-droids!

   Could he toss Kevin in? He might be able to use telekinesis to operate the lock… Kevin’s safe healing was his top priority right now, and he was willing to suck up a death to ensure it! Could he just force the lock?

   Oh! Wait! He could just ask the thralls inside to open the door!

(Marty) “Hey, Kevin’s in bad shape. Could you let us in?”

   The Thralls told the computer to open the door – and Marty leapt through, whirling to avoid the Droid attacks and pushing Kevin and Thralls through as well. He had the Thralls inside shut it as soon as everyone was in.

   For once Marty was too concerned about Kevin to trash talk the Droids as he landed – but the blasted things disabled the automatic closing mechanism on the door; it was only halfway closed and the droids were moving in.

   Oh yeah! Telekinesis! He closed the door. Maybe it would stick long enough for a takeoff and escape… Oh BLAST. They needed to pick up Ryan and company first! And the idiot hadn’t taken any Thralls along! It was that “don’t endanger children nonsense! The Thralls were almost impossible to endanger!

   He asked the ships computer – but Ryan’s currentl ocation was unknown, and the alarms were going off. Radiation – although the shields are holding. Scans indicated that the final structural collapse of the internal dimensional space of the Hellstorm was commencing. There were only about ninety seconds left until the final catastrophic failure and hull implosion.

   As much as Marty hated to say it, Ryan might just have to help himself. He’d had enough trouble getting the thralls and Kevin back to the Forgelight – and ninety seconds was just NOT enough time!

   He had the Forgelight start pulling back; they needed to be out of range of the final blast.

   The engines roared to life and the hull shuddered as – with the sound of groaning metal and something tearing – the Forgelight began to break free of the Hellstorm.

   Kevin tried broadcasting a warning to Ryan – and had the thralls do a real broadcast to warn the other ships and possibly Ryan if some of his aides were listening.

   The fleet, and the Forgelight, began falling back – as someone started opening a gate to the Forgelight. It looked like… a normal Opener-type gate. With any luck, Ryan. Still… somebody was pouring quite a lot of power into it, and it wasn’t stable. He’d try to help – but it looked like adding mana to the gate was likely to destabilize the link. The only thing that was holding it even partially stable at the moment was the high degree of resonance between the opener creating it and the ship itself. It wasn’t going to hold through the coming dimensional implosion though. If they got out before that, it would be all right… perhaps he could haul people through physically?

   He couldn’t see any way to increase the resonance quickly.

   Could he open his own gate? That might work – although it could also lead to…. “interesting” shorts in the Manifold. It could short-circuit his own powers and Ryan’s, overlap the two locations, swap the two locations, fuse them, swap his location with Ryan’s, open a permanent gateway to Hell in the middle of the New Imperium, create another hyperspace-subspace rift, or cause any of a thousand other things. It would all depend on how well Ryan and he could control the gateways and keep them from merging in an unstable way.

   Well, Ryan had died nearly as often as he had anyway!

   He took a crack at it. Hopefully nothing would go seriously wrong – and it was going to look bad if Ryan didn’t make it back.

   The gateway opens revealing Ryan’s team crawling through another gateway behind you. Looking through that, he could see himself through the two gateways. That was a disconcerting feeling… People started rushing through the gateway to escape as crackles of energy rippled back and forth before forming a complete circuit through the two gateways. The massive holy potential of the Forgelight and the remaining demonic potential of the collapsing Hellstorm were beginning to short out – and he could hear Menthas screaming. Suddenly one of the arcs of power grounded itself into Marty – and everything went white as everyone was blinded for the moment. Ryan had been almost on top of the main power core – which wasn’t exactly in the Hellstorm, and which had apparently still had a lot of residual power.

   Kevin made sure that the Thralls made every effort to protect poor Menthas; they had dragged her into this mess.

   Marty had never felt pain like that before; it was like his entire body wanted to explode with the force of a nuclear blast.

   Sensations beyond pain returned after a few moments. At first everything seemed pitch black, and then the lights turned back on – although Marty was leaking electrical discharges and light like one of Telsa’s experiments.

(Marty) “Ow… That was worse than when I fell in the vat of acid. That was on fire.”

   At least it looked like he was the only one who was about to blow up – or at least he was crackling and his skin was burning off – and it looked like the structure of the universe had survived intact. Marty cringed as his skin started peeling and looked for the nearest airlock? If draining didn’t work he might need to toss himself out. It wasn’t like he wouldn’t return tomorrow.

   At least everyone was accounted for save… Ryan. Blast it!

Recordings from the Holocron of Kira Keldav – Session 41

   Session 41 was the thanksgiving weekend session – and thereby was short several players and turned out to be a bit short. This will happen…

   With the number of people stuffed into stasis having grown to rather large proportions what with the phony plagues, the resistance was asking for direction on what to do with them all. There was only two real options that I saw: underground or in a warehouse. There were plenty of caves to hide people in, and it would have provided excellent shielding against scanners picking up the stasis fields. Problem got to be that it was going to be really awkward trying to explain why so many shipments of crates were going to caves.

   Using warehouses made it easier to explain why crates were being shipped to them, but had the problem of being rather public and difficult to conceal. Those stasis systems show up rather distinctively on scanners – and I am told that a warehouse in and of itself wasn’t going to do much to shield that. Shipwreck pointed out that the fact that a warehouse was in the middle of an industrial district would hide the signature to some extent, and some low-level screens would help a bit without showing up as anything much more than commercial precautions – but it wouldn’t match a few hundred feet of rock.

   Sigh, there was no real good option here. Zandaras almost certainly knew of stasis technology and might well know what to look for. But moving lots of crates into the middle of nowhere was surely going to attract a lot of attention we definitely did not need. The best option I could see was use a warehouse, post some guards, and hope that the Sith have a hard time picking one warehouse out of an entire planet full of distractions. Fortunately people in stasis didn’t take up a lot of space – and perhaps Zandraas wouldn’t give whatever information he had about stasis to his minions.

   Next came yet another debate about what to do with the minefield and planetary shields. Using the large-scale stasis systems, we could capture the shield generators fairly readily. That wouldn’t allow us to activate the shields without a lot of work and time though. And the clock would immediately start running once we captured the shields. We couldn’t possibly get the shields operational before the mines could begin bombarding the planet.

   We couldn’t build new shield generators in the timeframe I believe we have to work with – and the Republic didn’t have spares laying around that we could borrow either. Ben’s suggestion of stealing them from a Sith occupied world using hypertunnels required more equipment than we had and would destroy the systems from silting. Stealing from an alternate dimension had massive targeting issues as well. My suggestion of moving the planet to the Codifier galaxy got a lot of horrified looks – starting with Alys – on the grounds that the rest of the galaxy would see it as a planet-destroying superweapon attack, and go berserk.

   Sigh

   Ben gets to make suggestions regarding building weapons of mass destruction or death, yet when I suggest moving a planet people get upset. Is it just because they think that I might actually get it done?

   Tests regarding how shield systems perform within a Second Stage Stasis field weren’t encouraging either. Looked like the field strength was reduced in proportion to the time rate of the generator. We also determined that using the stasis effect on crystals in an attempt to rig a smaller system to mimic the planetary system was a convoluted way to may crystals explode instantly.

   Hmm, didn’t Shipwreck have the coordinates for several derelict fleets? Turns out the answer was yes, and that two were relatively nearby to us. According to him (I don’t know where he got this level of detail), the first fleet was a massive fleet dating from the Infinite Empire. It was lost when the fleet ran some sort of arcane hyperspace experiment to move the fleet as a formation or some such and somehow instantly aged the entire fleet by a couple of centuries. It was now sorely needing maintenance after 15,000 years of none. The other fleet was significantly smaller but in better condition. Apparently they’d jumped into a battle situation and picked up a massive radiation pulse while the shields were down that killed the crew – and in the chaos of a Sith war the location wound up lost.

   Well those were worth salvaging, but we would need crews and parts to make that work. The Gruenn system could supply both crews and parts, but was currently occupied. The occupation could be broken with the fleets, but the fleets couldn’t be made operational without support from Gruenn. Damn it, we have all the parts we need to make this work and liberate the planet, but can’t seem to manage to get it all assembled together.

   I put a pin in that problem to think about it later. Currently the best plan we have is to fire a large number of concussion missiles at the mines in orbit, while simultaneously putting the rest of Zandaras’s agents and the shield systems into stasis. The asteroids would then enter the area and engage any orbital assets that were left. Then began the race against time to get the shields up before Zandaras’s response could arrive. Until we could get any better modifications to that plan going, we had to proceed with what we had.

   Ben was busily building Second Stage Stasis systems with the help of the technicians that could remember the task at hand. The Galactic Censor was getting incredibly annoying at times as we couldn’t give directions to use the stasis systems to anyone too easily affected by the Censor. That had drastically reduced the amount of manpower available for the task of faking the plague. Well at least that was winding down as we mimicked the signs of the government gaining control of the situation.

   I helped where I could in assembling pieces together according to instructions, but it was still slow work. Eventually my robe was getting torn enough from the work and the damage incurred from the ambush earlier to warrant finding a tailor. Speaking with members of the resistance got me pointed in the direction of a little blue alien by the name of Qwuam. It was a bit of a ride getting to his shop, but my speeder was needing some time out of the warehouse.

   The ride was pleasant save for all the people that turned to stare as I went by. I ended up tapping into the Codex a bit to keep from overhearing too many thoughts about what they were thinking of me. None of them were true in the slightest, but it still made me ill sensing them directing those thoughts towards me.

   Lazlo had also decided to go shopping; being knocked out by a mere soldier in a barroom brawl had made him aware of just how heavily he’d been relying on the force to resist major attacks – and that perhaps a bit of armor, and maybe even a weapon, would be a good idea.

   Sadly, he soon found out that weapons and armor were kind of hard to find in an occupied territory when the locals believed that you were with the invaders. He’d just have to have the base run some up for him if he couldn’t find anything locally.

   I arrived at the tailor’s some time later. Stepping into the shop, I saw it was devoid of people save a little blue-green alien with several arms. I think I recognized the species as Everadddiii or something similar. Qwuam took one look at me and immediately began lamblasting my clothing in intricate detail. I found myself stammering apologies despite myself and the role I was taking. Thankfully no other shoppers were in the shop to overhear this. I was especially unnerved when he pointed out the hidden weapons and the fact that the stasis belt and anti-stasis suit would not work together in the current configuration.

   Alright, how did he see those and immediately deduce that they wouldn’t work together?

   All attempts at questioning him on the matter were brushed aside as he began taking measurements and told me to hold still and be quiet. When asked if I had specifications for the base designs, I handed over a data chip I had been keeping in case I needed to rebuild the clothing again. Qwuam snatched the chip out of my hands and then asked what was the base color I wanted to the clothing.

   I wasn’t sure how to answer that. Black would work better since I was trying to impersonate a Sith, but white was becoming my symbolic color for displaying that I wasn’t a Sith. It didn’t help matters that I thought the Force placed some weight on symbolism. Oh well, splitting the difference and going with a gray should work well enough.

   I was then asked how many sets did I want to order. It was apparently going to be 12,000 credits for the first one and 4,000 credits each for the next three if I got them as a set. Well I had over a third of a million credits in my name and not much I’ve been spending it on, so this sounded like a worthwhile investment. I elected to order all four and was swiftly rushed out of the shop so that Qwuam could begin his work. He told me to be back in four days when he expected to be finished.

   Once I was back at the warehouse that Ben was using to build the stasis units, several members of the resistance approached me and asked if Lazlo’s stories about the other members of the party were true. Unfortunately, Lazlo’s stories were not as exaggerated as the resistance wanted to believe. Ben was an insane superweapons obsessed engineer, Xiang thought she was a Holo character, Jarik fell to the Dark Side of medicine, Shipwreck is way too trigger happy with torpedoes, Khadim was an energy being with little understanding of galactic civilization, 10CH is an assassin droid turned pacifist, Lazlo is a genetically engineered body guard, and Jacob…. is a suit of armor painted to look like a tree.

   Myself, I am a punk from Alderaan, that happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nearly got killed by the Sith, developed powers, got captured by the Sith, escaped from the Sith, and now I’ve been running from the Sith and disrupting their plans almost nonstop ever since. My next door neighbor is continually on the news blaming me for all sorts of nonsense. The children in our group make cartoons of me going on a crusade of Dark Side fueled galactic conquest. And Telera stands there smugly giving me Jedi koans.

   All prospects of me having a normal life anymore are pretty much nonexistent.

   Meanwhile. Lazlo – having heard much of the rant before – headed out to go and drink with the Sith troopers. He was almost getting the hang of this independent socializing thing!

   Unfortunately, he accidently admitted that he had money – and so wound up stuck buying drinks for everyone. He also wound up having to find excuses not to enlist – and was drunk enough to claim that he’d already joined once, as a Sith trainee, and to try to demonstrate his powers.

   Perhaps fortunately, he was also drunk enough to simply knock himself out with a misdirected attempt to exert a little telekinesis – with the result that none of them took any of his claims seriously. Later on, when he was sober, this would begin to seem like a good thing. It still led to a discussion of what made most soldiers human, where most of the recruits for the Sith came from, and various other personal details – in which Lazlo revealed rather too much about himself.

   Even more fortunately, the Sith troops were too drunk to remember anything too.

   I saw looks of sympathy from the resistance members around me and was about to ask their stories when a loudspeaker announced it’s presence. It sounded like the police had arrived and wanted us to surrender immediately to be stunned. Oh bloody hell, I really didn’t want to have to deal with this right now. Making sure the robes were set to black I strode forth to met security surrounding the building and demanded to know what they wanted.

   Security were not happy to see me and weren’t buying the story that I was here to capture Kira Keldav. The security chief was damnably perceptive at determining that while I was telling the truth, I was being very misleading in how I said it. Trying to distract him didn’t go over well as I heard Jacob announce that no one was going to take him alive. The security then began to bombard the warehouse with missiles. Before the missiles could hit though, the warehouse twisted, shifted, and then vanished as it left a crater in the ground.

   I would have said that was the hypertunnel effect, but something seemed…. off about it. Lazlo started sliding down the crater to the center as a lot of firepower was aimed at me by the security forces. My odds of escaping this were pretty good, but making a run for it would blow whatever cover I had left at this point. I was then promptly blamed for bringing an Artificer to this world. While correct, I didn’t feel that the accusation was an adequate summary of the issue here. Demanding explanations of me for what just happened to the warehouse didn’t go over well as I don’t have a clue what insane experiment Ben just cooked up in there.

L   azlo – hearing about the emergency – arrived shortly after the incident, tried to investigate the crater – and found that the inside was incredibly smooth. Virtually frictionless..

Lazlo’s sliding around the apparently frictionless crater was something to watch, and I suspected it was a vital clue as to what happened, but I wasn’t a hyperspace expert able to reason through this. The security hauled us off to the local station for questioning on the incident as their people scanned the crater for clues. The security chief reminded me a lot of Officer Larson back on Alderaan as I simply could not distract him from the story that I was a Sith hunting Kira Keldav.

Eventually Security Chief Olson delivered an ultimatum: either I tell the truth about me being Kira Keldav, or he would make my life very difficult while I was on the planet. Well damn it, so much for this whole scheme. I can fool mighty Sith Lords, Bounty Hunters, the Republic, and the party, but I can’t seem to con my way past the humble security forces. Maybe at heart I am still that stupid punk from Alderaan after all.

Finally relenting, I proceeded to explain who we were, why we were here, what we’ve accomplished thus far, and what we hoped to achieve. Olson didn’t really seem happy with the whole idea of us being here, and he was adamant about seeing proof that we didn’t kill all those people. Lazlo was brought in to confirm what we told them and we demonstrated the stasis belts for Olson as a show that would could dispose of people temporarily without killing them.

It took a great deal of convincing from both myself and Lazlo in order to get Olson to “cooperate” with us. Even if said cooperation mostly entailed neglecting to notice our presence in the area or confirming it as needed. We were given a copy of the scans his people had performed on the crater, but neither Lazlo or I could make heads or tails of it. All the people that could have are now missing. Along with our warehouse we were manufacturing the stasis systems.

The information they’d gotten was basically that a hyperspace transition had been recorded, but that no exit transition had occurred – and that the signals from inside had redshifted out of existence when whatever had happened had happened.

The planetary security forces were not happy with Kira’s explanation – but they weren’t happy with the Sith either, it was their duty to resist the occupation – and the Sith would turn the place into a disaster eventually no matter what. There wasn’t all that much choice except to turn a blind eye to Kira’s activities.

Drat, well no way I can help the others get out of whatever mess they’ve gotten themselves into. I am going to have to send a message to the asteroids telling them to build more stasis units to hypertunnel here in the worst case scenario, in the meantime I going to have to get the resistance to see if they can duplicate Ben’s design to make more. Hmm, I better include in that message to the asteroids a note to go hunting for mercenaries, techs, and volunteers to work on getting those fleets operational again. Maybe with the asteroids building parts and droids, some of those ships could be made operational in time to make a difference.

I also need to make preparations to track down those showing Codex abilities that Ben found so that they can properly evaluated and trained once the occupation ends. Sigh, yet another mess to clean up.

Recordings from the Holocron of Kira Keldav – Session 40

Artists rendering of the Kuiper Belt and Oort ...

Image via Wikipedia

   Lazlo’s “Speaking with the Dead” (or “tap damaged minds in stasis”) discipline proved capable of working on Gnoush. Ben and Jacob were both fascinated with the creature… the silicon-based crystalline-computer seemed to be mostly running old droid programs (even if it was a lot of them on massively-parallel systems) – but the communications and implementation ran through the living silicon-carboon quasi-organic goo, which was in stasis. There were local communications – but the interstellar identity-link seemed to rely purely on the force. That made sense; there was no way to put enough power into links like that from a droid to make them work without a relay system – and you couldn’t usually access one on an infiltration mission.

   Still… Any kind of a living mind capable of running droid-programs had a massive advantage. Those programs had been refined across millennia. It was only the fact that no programmer could give them the flexibility and adaptability that the force gave a living mind that kept people from turning over most of the decisions to droids…

   Fortunately, getting the stuff out of Gnoush’s skull, and refilling with bacta, was fairly straightforward, even if the local doctors did have to work through waldos to do it (and REALLY wanted access to whatever gadget the group was using on their patient; it would make working on vital organs a LOT easier if the patient could be effectively put into suspension so easily!).

   With the analysis of Gnoush complete, the debate on what to do next started. We quickly agreed that it was important that the Republic get the information we had already collected. Also the Asrai and the Dusk Gryphon were going to be rather conspicuous once any real investigation of us began. Ergo, it was decided that we would contact Handell and ask him to take the Asrai and Dusk Gryphon to go warn the Republic and the Jedi Council. We also gave him directions to retrieve the asteroids and bring them to the local Oort Cloud should we need them. I also wanted him to find a drill sergeant to help us get this resistance into shape.

   It took some finagling to get the message to him securely, but we did finally manage via messages on the Codex channel Ben had set up. This led to the annoying problem of us having only one living pilot up there and two ships needing to be moved. This was an annoying situation as we either had to leave one of the ships here or potentially lose one in hyperspace. Docking the two together or even taping them together wasn’t going to work given the time frame we had available.

   Drat.

   Then someone reminded us of the furipedes and the fact that they could fly one of the ships. The furipedes moved over to the Dusk Gryphon and made preparations to launch as Handell plotted a course aboard the Asrai. The two ships then proceeded to depart the system leaving the bounty hunter ship Jacob and Telera had arrived on. That one couldn’t be readily traced back to being owned by the party and so was safe to leave behind in case we needed to depart the system. Hopefully Handell would be able to get the warning out while it could still make a difference, but in the meantime, we needed to do what we could to disrupt Zandaras’s war effort.

   Handell made a very fast trip to the Jedi and Republic Security Councils: the information on just how Zandaras was producing the traitors who brought the shields down would be priceless; a detailed brain scan of incoming offworlders would reveal Zandaras’s suicide-agents. That alone would help tremendously in stopping his advances. Getting the asteroids and the rest of  their little fleet back would take a little longer…

   I found Jacob hammering one of the fighter engines we stole onto a repulsor car in a most non-technical way. The proficiency this nutjob has for destroying our equipment put our own enemies to shame. Nevermind the fact that this stuff is rather hard to come by at the moment. Yelling at Jacob wasn’t proving very productive as he just went on cheerily with his hammering the screws into place. If he destroys much more of our equipment, I am seriously going to consider leaving him behind.

   Jacob didn’t see a problem; sure, fighter engines were mildly hard to come by right now – but fighters were even harder, they really didn’t have any other use for the things, the mounting brackets could easily be replaced if they did come up with another use for the engines somewhere else – and a really fast getaway or diversion might well come in handy!

   Meanwhile the others had gotten more information from the skull-full of bioweapon goo that we got out of Gnoush. Looked like the rational decision making was almost completely due to the droid tactical and strategic program loaded on the system. It also looked like the goo we collected had a complete copy of the program loaded as well. Well that would be useful if we could get our hands on a copy of it. No such system was perfect and I imagine we could find a set of tactics the program wouldn’t be able to cope against very well if we looked hard enough.

   We also gained information about the ships in orbit and why each of them were here. It looked like the two Zandaras ships were here because Zandaras had precognitively determined that trouble was about to start here – and didn’t trust the other Sith factions as far as he could throw a planet unaided and unenhanced. That was probably us he felt. The Baramour were here on the suggestion of a new faction member of theirs that our asteroid was soon to be in the system and was full of data on bioweapons. The other ship was belonging to one of the more neutral Sith factions that hadn’t been participating in the war thus far, but there wasn’t much detail on that. Best guess we had was that they were of the personal enhancement bunch and that they were here to prevent the Baramour from joining Zandaras and for their own personal gain.

   Discussion turned back on what to do next. Ben wanted to evacuate the population of the planet to the Oort Cloud once the asteroids arrived out there. This was unworkable given the sheer size of the population. With our resources we couldn’t even make a dent against the birth rate. He proposal of moving the planet was also unworkable given our lack of a black hole to use. Nor could we use a full stasis field to mimic a black hole, at least according to Ben and assorted weird mathematics. Super charging the blasters using the stasis field effect to blow up the ships in orbit was potentially workable but I was not keen on testing that on a planet surface when we knew so little about how big a bang it made.

   Alys’s suggestion of surrendering to one of the other Sith factions really didn’t strike me as something I wanted to try. Maybe if we were about to be caught by one of the factions we really pissed off, sure, but not under the current circumstances.

   Jacob wanted to build stasis mines to attack the ships with. How he came up with that idea concerns me, but it wasn’t particularly workable anyway. Any such mine coming from the planet was going to be immediately obvious and we didn’t have the resources to build them in deep space until the asteroids arrived. There just wasn’t anyway to make the idea work while we were stuck planetside.

   Jacob wasn’t so sure; why couldn’t they try to tunnel them into orbit? All they needed to do was get close… Ben pointed out that they’d orbit past, but then got lost in calculations as to whether or not they’d orbit normally in stasis. What would that time mismatch do with a stasis generator in a different orbit from some of the items it was affecting?

   Lazlo advocated joining Zandaras or feeding Zandaras enough souls to make him completely incoherent. Why in the galaxy he thought these were good ideas was beyond me. Joining Zandaras didn’t appeal to me in the slightest and trying to infiltrate wasn’t going to work given our past history with the nut. Feeding him souls in an effort to overload the computer driving it was unlikely to work either. If that could work, it would have by now with all the different Sith, Jedi and who knows what else is in that thing. Besides, I was not going to sacrifice more people to be eaten by this damned thing.

   Lazlo wasn’t so sure there either; yes, they’d created Zandaras by chasing a vortex of dark power into embodying itself in a bioweapon – but it wasn’t like the thing had ever actually seen any of them or met them in person; it had just woken up and headed for whatever spot it considered to be it’s base. Was there really any reason to assume that it would know them? He thought that Kira was just getting paranoid.

   OK, that might not be such a bad idea during a Sith War, but it was still going a bit overboard.

   About the only suggestion worth trying at the moment from any of them was the idea to implant the concepts of the Codex into the bio-weapon sample we had collected. Lazlo could put the information into the system readily enough and it was entirely possible that the information would transfer to the main body once the stasis was turned off. The theory then indicated that Zandaras possibly had someone inside him with potential Codex talent and that potential combined with the Codex knowledge could cause the entire mess to disintegrate. After all, it was the force that was holding the monstrosity together.

   That could work, but I had serious reservations about the intelligence of it. While it was unlikely the entire conglomeration could become a hybrid, it was possible one or two souls remaining might, and could then take more direct control of the “ship”. Or there might not be any Codex potential in there and we will have just given up all the information on one of our biggest advantages at the moment.

   Still, they went ahead and loaded the knowledge into the Zandaras fragment, but chose to keep it in stasis until we desperately needed some sort of an ace. If it was already a disaster, it might or might not make it worse to hit that button.

   Lazlo’s deep probe brought them some additional information… The bioweapon goo was definitely at least somewhat alive, and had it’s own force presence. The original force ghost was still present, but in a deep coma due to the lack of neural tissue to work through (that had to suck). Zandramas was busy because his fleet was massing for an attack on several major republic industrial worlds. The ships were being escorted in because he didn’t trust the other Sith factions – and one was very definitely the Barramor (their new member wanted “his” asteroid back) while the other was apparently representing a coalition from across the galaxy who wanted some technologies or to observe something here; they hadn’t been entirely clear about it. Zandramas didn’t like the Barramour – but wanted the Artificers, who were part of the other coalition.

   Dammit, was half of this mess another self-fulfilling precognitive loop again?

   Well, hopefully the information they’d already sent would help blunt that attack. Still, with all their plans either unworkable or on hold until the asteroids came, it was time to outline my own plan.

   We were going to fake a plague being unleashed onto the planet by the Baramour. A quick neuro-degenerative disease could readily be faked, especially with the use of stasis belts to produce piles of “corpses” for broadcasts sent out by droids. Once investigators arrived, all they would find would be droids burning piles of organic materials. Zandaras didn’t trust the Baramour at all and was likely to believe the idea given the circumstances. Hell, we could even use Jacob – or at least the blank clone currently in the armor he was using as a body – as an example of a survivor of the plague found by the droids to really stir things up.

   The others weren’t especially keen on the idea, but were unable to come up with anything better to try. So we proceeded with the plan. It was a simple matter to train the resistance to use the stasis belts and the larger stasis generators. Once they understood the plan, they began quietly arranging for small towns in the countryside to cooperate with us in faking a plagued massacare. The addition of gray paint to mimic skin lesions was also a nice touch I thought.

   As we started with the first town, I was struck by the enthusiasm everyone in the town and the resistance was showing for the plan. The soldiers we worked with on Surkiant were a lot better trained and more professional than this bunch, but they lacked the enthusiasm in resisting the Sith that this bunch certainly has. Maybe all they really needed this whole time was a plan to follow and a small push to get them started.

   First town was a smashing success, as was 10CH’s performance at delivering Jacob for discussion. Once the townsfolk were brought out of stasis and taught how to use the systems themselves, they too began participating in getting other towns to play along. Soon enough an “epidemic” was sweeping the planet as small towns and villages would disappear overnight with naught but droids burning large pyres the next morning.

   Medical teams sent to investigate would either catch on and cooperate with us in faking the plague or would catch the “plague” themselves if they were particularly obstinate. Same thing occurred with military units trying to enforce a quarantine, as those willing to assist would join us, and those that wouldn’t caught the “plague” too. We even started systematically capturing the other resistance groups in this fashion as we worked to consolidate control of the resistance under our banner. Shipwreck would scan everyone captured for Zandaras control mechansisms, Lazlo would check to see how cooperative they were, and those that would cooperate would be let out of stasis while those not so cooperative would remain in stasis.

   I promised to let them all out once we broke the occupation and liberated the planet. That would help the reputation of myself and the resistance if we can show that no one died from the plague after all.

   As things started rolling on a global basis, we could pick up heated communications from the ships in orbit. It looked like the commander of the ships belonging to Zandaras was accusing the Baramour of starting the plague, which the Baramour denied. Discussions between them got more and more heated as time went on. Teams of heavily armed and armored Sith soldiers and droids came planetside and took direct control of the planetary shield generators. I figured there were two options there: either the Sith were wanting to ensure the shields remained down in case they needed to sterilize the place, or they were prepping to reactivate the shields in case the dispute in orbit turned hostile.

   When the demand came out later that day for the government to get things under control in two months or face bombardment, I felt it was the latter case. Discussions in orbit eventually settled on letting a few Baramour down to the surface to investigate the plague. The Baramour immediately insisted the practice of burning “corpses” stop, so we set up a scene full of volunteers in stasis. Once the Baramour got close enough to the scene to detect something amiss, we would activate a larger stasis system and trap them as well. So too would the Baramour catch our deadly “plague”.

   The precognition of the Baramour caught on though before they even entered the area. They promptly left and announced that the plague was either exceedingly dangerous to Force users as well or the resistance was likely to get them as they investigated. The Zandaras ships called shenanigans on this and the arguments began escalating.

   The resistance asked me what to do since we didn’t capture the Baramour like we had hoped. I told them to take a wait and see approach as I wanted to see how the arguments played out.

   The order came from orbit for the government to get the situation under control immediately or else the bombardment was likely to begin. The government predictably mobilized almost everything they had at that point to counter the so-called plague and I ordered the resistance to back off on “infections”. I had been hoping to push just a little further so that I could grab some more of Zandaras’s agents and get some more in the government to cooperate with me on resisting the Sith. Oh well, not much point in pushing if we all are blasted to atoms.

   Unexpectedly, this result in an even larger escalation of the arguments in orbit as the Zandaras ships accused the Baramour of lying since the government was apparently gaining control of the situation below – and so it couldn’t be THAT dangerous. We immediately got the resistance to assist in making it look like the latest government push was making progress in stamping out the disease.

   Still playing out….

   At that point the battle broke out in orbit as the two Zandaran ships started shooting at the Baramour ship. The fourth ship joined in on the Zandaran side of things with a smug “I told you so” to the Zandarans. They couldn’t possibly be as smug about the situation as I was. Several missiles were fired at the planet by the Baramour as they were run out of the system, but as I predicted, the shields came up and intercepted the missiles. Zandaras can’t be losing a valuable manufacturing resource now can he? I was a bit surprised when the occupation sacrificed some of the mines to intercept the missiles. That earned them some favors with the locals that were going to be hard to counter, but letting my enemies do the hard work of defending the planet was a nice consolation prize.

   Heh, Leondegrace is really going to have it in for me whenever he finds out what happened here. Maybe I should send him a thank you card for helping me take out some of the mines once this is all done.

   News started coming in from the front lines once the Baramour and the other ship left the system and the Sith soldiers started mingling with the locals in the bars. It was felt that the fourth ship had retreated to the outskirts of the system. I figured it likely they were hunting the Zomogoostar now after suspecting our presence on this world. Well, if they did find it, they were in for a big surprise as three additional ships were now supporting it. That was probably enough fire power to keep the fourth ship at bay readily enough.

   News also came in that Zandaras’s latest advance into Republic territory had fizzled and was repulsed by the Republic Navy. Apparently not nearly as many shield bases and military installations had been preemptively bombed as Zandramas had expected. That sounded like the warning to the Republic we sent arrived in time to make a difference. Hopefully the Republic could keep that up while we dismantled the rear line.

   The planetary government was also given an extension of four months to recover from the plague or face bombardment. This was a good sign, as that indicated the setback on the front lines made future production from this world much more valuable. Zandaras was now less likely to bomb it into submission now than before.

   Sadly the Sith soldiers were retaining complete control of the shield systems. They threatened to destroy the systems completely should any attempt be made to overwhelm the defenses. Heh, that would be simple enough to overcome with a dozen stasis vans to capture them with. That still left the problem of the two ships in orbit and the mine field, but I am sure I can think of something to deal with those.

   About this time, Alys and Ben noted additional subtitles on the Codex channel that weren’t there before:

   “Lost in the really big trees. Need a survival guide. Unable to locate trail.”

   Well that didn’t make a lot of sense to me. I was certain it was the Zomogoostar trying to send us a message, but that mess could have been interpreted any number of ways. I suspected they were wanting to open a hypertunnel to us with our group anchoring this end. That was certainly workable, but I figured that was likely to reveal our hand too soon. We debated methods of communicating back with the Zomogoostar for some time before I asked if Ben had set up forums for the Codex channel as well. Turns out he had.

   Although there weren’t that many users on the forums, it took some digging to find the user we wanted. That got us back in communications again with the Zomogoostar. They had apparently arrived in the Oort Cloud after Handell found them. They were wanting to know if we wanted a hypertunnel, which we declined for the moment. Ben did send over some plans for a stasis mine and stasis shield. We also got a report that the two Zandaran ships in orbit had left to go elsewhere and had been replaced with several minor ships.

   Well so much for the hope of capturing a few capital ships. Oh well, this will make it easier to bust the occupation anyway. It just won’t be nearly as dramatic.

   Both Lazlo and Jacob excused themselves at this time to go bar-hopping. If that is what they want to do, I am not going to tell them not to so long as they don’t stir up too much trouble.

   Lazlo did indeed go bar-crawling – with Sith troopers. He first brawled with them – (and was cleanly knocked out by an exceptional shot from a sergeant), then made good connections with them… He started bar-crawling with them on a regular basis. Their gossip actually seemed to be a decent source of information. They didn’t seem particularly “Sithy” really. They were just troops – a lot like every other bunch of troops he’d ever seen.

   Jacob also went out to harass the troops – and wound up first showing his face, than creating a secondary plague scare, and then provoking the Sith into offering a reward on him. He then took his clone out of the armor and turned it in for the reward – claiming to have captured himself. That bought him a substantial reward and a chance to meet another one of Zandramas’s agents – whom he promptly put into stasis, stuffed inside himself, and walked out with.

   Ben meanwhile was scrapping the hypermine system (it was too easily adapted to spreading bioweapons) and learning about the other users on the Codex forums. Most of them were mainly of the opinion that if this actually worked, then why hadn’t anyone heard about it in the last 21,000 years? I had to admit that question has kept me concerned more often than not, but I wasn’t about to share my concerns about the possible answers right now. It did however look like we had three possible candidates for people with Codex abilities: a kid now using hypertime to pass tests faster, a paranoid conspiracy theorist of the opinion that this proved nothing existed, and another being confined for psychiatric evaluation as he was now setting fires to things – or at least being found in the immediate vicinity of mysterious fires – on a frequent basis.

   The first and the third both sounded like hypertime users to me. As to whether they were monotalented or full Codex users remained to be seen. The second one in my opinion was well on his way to becoming Faded unless he got serious counseling. Sigh, I imagine we may have to take all three of them in for a time now that Ben has broadcast how to tap into their powers without giving them a chance for training. What was particularly frustrating about it all was how disappointed Ben seemed regarding how few there were. Just how many lives was he wanting to ruin just to try out some new ideas he has?

   Jacob suddenly returned with another one of Zandaras’s agents stuffed inside him in stasis. I really didn’t want to ask how he managed to do that or why, but we added Mr…. Recoud to the pile of captured agents. The medical droids began an examination of Recoud and even took out the parasite from his skull. Keeping the sample in stasis, we then took precautions to keep the entire room in stasis as Ben went to work on extracting the program from the crystals inside.

   Then we had to wipe the medical droids memories. They were too insistent on research, and access to the stasis technology.

   Copy of the program in hand, and the two-thousand-year-old original from the galactic archives to compare against, we set droids to begin comparing the two programs in hopes of finding crucial differences we could exploit for our purposes. There are several shutdown codes still in there and probably built into the hardware itself as opposed to software. The civilized warfare restraints were removed, or more likely just bypassed. Methods for updating the program were also available if we could find a way to interface with it.

   I doubt our ability to hook up a computer connector to Zandaras under anything remotely resembling combat, but Ben started whipping up a system update to upload should we get the opportunity to. We still didn’t know where Zandaras even was if we wanted to face him.

   At which point Lazlo came in and announced that the Sith soldiers were under the impression that Zandaras was now on his way here.

   Oh bloody hell.

   I was really hoping to break the occupation here and get a few systems and some more ships under our control before he showed up. And maybe I was being a bit ambitious, but I was hoping to take out some of those HoloSith allied to Zandaras before things escalated too. Well it is not like everything goes according to plan and I’ve been extraordinarily lucky to this point. Maybe this is just my luck running out.