With the contingent of bounty-hunting Kreedath Berserkers safely stored away, and at least a temporary arrangement reached with De’Arc and the rest of his contingent of bounty hunters, the discussion had turned to what to do next – but the most urgent problem had generally been agreed to be getting Jacob back into an organic body before he either went mad or dissipated.
OK, so the “turning himself in” gambit had covered his attacks on the Sith, supported their “plague” story, and gotten him some useful lines into the occupation forces for awhile – but it had still been pretty short-sighted! Still, at least Jacob’s body was safe; it was simply being held in the hospital in quarantine for assault on the sith garrison, as the sole known example of a plague survivor, and as a coma victim.
With it determined that we needed to rescue Jacob’s body, it was time to determine how we were going to go about it. I was too conspicuous, as was Ben, to go wandering into a hospital in broad daylight. I would be swarmed by bounty hunters the moment I stepped above ground. Lazlo eventually volunteered to go retrieve Jacob’s body, and he chose to take 10CH and the bounty hunters with him. That at least kept the bounty hunters away from my back for a bit.
Other objectives we needed to work on in parallel were: recruiting Artificers, recruiting hackers, and finishing stasis systems. Ben was going to stay to finish the last couple of stasis systems and look for other angles to the planetary shields problem. Khadim would stay and guard Ben then. Alys elected to go recruit hackers since she was the one most likely to wander around without hassles. That left me to go see about recruiting the Artificers to our cause. Taking Jacob with me got him out of Ben’s hair and gave me some kind of backup in case the Artificers were hostile.
The others took off to pursue their tasks while I stayed awhile and evaluated the prospects. We had eight Artificers on the planet besides Ichara. Smoche was a hyperdrive specialist. Lynn was working on autmated manufacturing techniques. Goyle is working on self-organizing systems with mega-scale project applications. Thross was into the organic spacecraft nonsense. Asmad was a weapons specialist of some sort although I suspected it was personal weapons as opposed to the bigger stuff. Brovak we thought was into shields and defensive systems. Restar was a personal armor expert. And Lecrouss wanted to be a necromancer.
Out of all of those, we knew we wanted nothing to do with Lecrouss. Asmad was a toss up either way, but the others we had information to barter with in exchange for cooperation. Of those, Smoche was the one we had the most material to negotiate some kind of a agreement with and seemed like a sensible enough test bed for negotiating with the others. Some quick checks of the network and Ichara showed he had stayed aboard his ship.
Lazlo had been wondering about a few things… It was an old adage that plans never survived contact with the enemy – but in their case, their plans never even seemed to make it out the door of the conference room before their own personal chaos shredded them. Still, they usually managed somehow… Perhaps “planning” was a waste of time for them? Or some sort of rebellion against their proper place in the force? After all, pretty much every preserved Sith mind he’d ever probed had been FULL of plans – and look at where planning had gotten THEM.
He decided to go with the simplest possible plan: he’d go, demand to speak to the Sith in charge, ask for the room, and hold a really big weapon so no one would start anything. Heck, it might even serve to confirm his theories about jedi-empowering robes!
The bounty hunters expressed severe doubt about this approach, but accepted Lazlo’s airy assurances that “it would be fine”. Surely, after all, someone who had survived so much had some reason for such confidence!
The hospital security droids let him in under protest – not that they had a lot of choice when Lazlo and the bounty hunters seriously outgunned their entire security staff – and found that he was nicely cooperative about filling out forms, quarantine precautions, and more – giving them all the time they needed to call for reinforcements from planetary security while he was finishing the paperwork and wandering up to the quarantine area (surrounded by bounty hunters” where they were keeping the “plague victims” body. Given that Lazlo was suspected to be a plague carrier – or a natural immune – the hospital staff desperately wanted him in the quarantine area anyway.
The De’Arc and the rest of his contingent were starting to wonder. Were THESE the cunning tactics that had kept this group ahead of half the bounty hunters in the galaxy? They’d anticipated incredible force-powers, or brilliant stratagems, or secret backers – not amiable idiocy! It had to be a ploy of some sort, otherwise… The Kreedath would have been right, and that was virtually inconceivable. There had to be SOME reason why these people kept getting away – and they had to know what it was before they’d have any hope of claiming that incredible bounty!
Unsurprisingly, Lazlo’s attempt to bluff his way into the room as “housekeeping” ran aground on the fact that there was a bounty on him too, that he was a known associate of the rest of the groups – and that half a dozen determined bounty hunters – including two from exceptionally dangerous species – were lying in wait and (since they were using single-target stun and entrapment weaponry, unlike the missile launcher Lazlo had brought) – they had no reluctance to open fire.
Besides, they’d been monitoring the approaches, had watched him coming their way, and had set up to capture him. Lazlo alone was worth a couple of million, and he might lead them to the really big bounties!
Sheer recklessness, and Lazlos ability to absorb tremendous amounts of punishment, left Lazlo and his party victorious (although the wormlike thing that spat venom-crystal needles was a pain) – but Lazlo near-unconscious, and with the alarms bringing in hundreds of bounty hunters, sith droid-squads, planetary security, and more – with mere minutes to go until they arrived. In fact, one or two of the nearer ones with faster vehicles were zooming into the vicinity at that very moment.
Meanwhile, Alys – hoping that no one had decided that she was the secret mastermind behind the group, had set up a few messages on the droid network and quietly headed off to investigate… a high school.
It looked like the kids were, as expected, completely out of control. They were doing what they pleased and cheerily reprogramming the droids to serve as resort staff. “Tests” were jokes, and some of the things they were building in the shops… It was no wonder that the local resistance fighters always seemed to have plenty of small weapons! They’d all learned how to build gadgets and weaponry in high school!
Well, OK; it looked like they mostly hadn’t been interested in weapons before the occupation had come along, but she was pretty sure there were things going on that she didn’t want to know about… were they actually trying to build a planetary-siege class ion cannon? They seemed to have a full-scale ion excitation core half-built…
Still, that really was the easy part. Where could they possibly get the shielding, power-circuits and supply, and the rest of the bits you needed?
It took some persuading to get them to listen to her pitch at all – but the notion of demonstrating their skills by hacking the Sith droids was definitely interesting – at least to the few who thought that they really could pull it off. Most of the saner ones wanted nothing to do with such a reckless idea.
A few claimed they could – and when she set up a secure system to test their hacking schools, a – quite unbelievable – eight managed to do it in short order, even if two of them did seem to resent another five… Aaugh! One of them had just hacked her scoring system and had arbitrarily awarded perfect scores to himself and his five friends! No wonder the others were cranky but weren’t about to admit why to an adult!
Still, with three decently-skilled hacker prospects in one school, she could at least try to get them to pass the word that she needed the very best – and left further contact information on the most heavily-secured system she could set up. It looked like a planetary alert would be fairly easy to set off though; just turn in enough alarms, and off it would go!
She found that the number of really REALLY good young hackers was… a little over twenty – and, of that batch, on fourteen were willing to try and hack the Sith or the planetary shields. The rest apparently weren’t overconfident enough.
They also wanted to do it remotely, from secret locations. That way, they could do it from behind their own diversionary programs – and they wouldn’t have to reveal who they were to her.
Well… they’d have no defense against a physical assault if they WERE traced, but they might be right about fourteen separate locations being harder to trace in the first place.
Meanwhile, Kira had been trying to locate Smoche – the Artificer hyperdrive specialist – and had found that he was still aboard his ship, presumably where his lab and hyperdrive coils were.
At first I thought this meant he was still up in orbit, but it was soon discovered that he had in fact landed and was sitting in one of the spaceports. In fact, his ship was parked in the spaceport servicing the city above us. Well, that certainly made things easier. It should be a straightforward process to go topside and ask for a meet over short range communications channel.
I found a maintenance worker’s suit and cap among the boxes of supplies and parts around the hypermatter reactor. Putting that on to hide my identity a bit, I stuffed my lightsaber down one of the pockets and gave Jacob a box of tools to carry for me. The disguise was thin, but it was still better than nothing and I just needed to turn aside those not paying too much attention. Jacob and I then climbed into one of the service vehicles laying around and made our way topside.
Once we reached the surface, we found a spot near the spaceport and had a quick look at the port security arrangements. There were the occasional Sith droid patrols, fences and alarms, but not much else. I would have figured a planet under occupation and quarantine would have had more security around the ports, but maybe these guys were assuming the ships in orbit could intercept anything outbound. I had a feeling getting caught hopping the fence would end badly, and I wasn’t keen on being intercepted by those droid patrols without having a good reason for being there either.
Well, there is always the direct approach I suppose.
Smoche’s ship was easy to see as the heavily modified and overly sized private yacht dominating the port. It didn’t look like what I was expecting to see, but then again, I am not sure what I expected to see. It certainly made sense in hind sight that a hyperdrive nut’s ship would look that way. Regardless, I activated my short range communications and tried to hail Smoche’s ship while Jacob set up to stand guard and monitor for any response from the bounty hunters or sith droids. Moments later I got a droid answering my call.
(Droid) Galactic Explorer, who is hailing?
(Kira) Someone of consequence with a business proposition for Artificer Smoche.
I think with a bounty on my head in the ten’s of billions and a name known across the galaxy, I am entitled to call myself a “person of consequence”. Jacob was monitoring the security channels in the meantime to see if anyone had picked up on our presence, but all he got was something about a shoot out over at one of the local hospitals. Whether or not that was the same hospital Lazlo and the others went to was not immediately clear. After a few minutes another man answered the commlink and seemed to immediately recognize me.
(Kira) I think you can recognize who I am, and realize the resources at my disposal. Now pointless fighting with you trying to capture us and us trying to kill you would be more trouble than it is worth I think. Care for a trade then? Our knowledge and specs in exchange for assistance in some of our own projects?
(Smoche) Ah, Mr Kira is it? I am most interested in speaking to you or to your companion Ben Therus. Although I expect his arrival shortly! Given that he is within the same city, he should be well within range!
Not sure what he meant by that last statement, I decided not to press the issue for the time being. Smoche did seem to be following the same pattern as Ichara though: friendly, genial even, but absolutely obsessed. However, as Sabrina liked to warn me, two points does not make a pattern. Best to continue cautiously then.
(Kira) Well, Ben’s meeting with you is predicated upon good relations. Ben is rather shy and paranoid about these sorts of matters.
(Smoche) Ah, well, obviously you understand how important this research is, and are coming to give the information I want! I will dispatch some of the droids to escort you immediately.
Jacob had been thinking… It would be much easier to stand guard and be ready to get away if he was invisible! He had to try and get some cloaking systems installed in his armor! He monitored the security channels while Kira handled the call in hopes of early warnings.
The fact that they had a choice of where to meet was interesting… meeting on the Artificers ship would probably give him the advantage, and there was probably no place to safely meet in seclusion…OH WAIT!!! The Artificer would have buttons he could push on his ship! On his ship they must meet! Yay new buttons!
I expected a small host of battle droids to come meet us at the gate, but again find myself surprised to see four heavily modified engineering droids instead. The security droids at the gate waved me and Jacob by once the engineering droids confirmed they were here to meet us. We were escorted to the Galactic Explorer and then shown inside. The inside of the ship was a mess of cables, open service panels, and flickering display screens. It amazed me that the thing even managed to land in one piece given the current state affairs.
At the auxiliary drives, we found a slightly-plump, balding, middle aged man busily tinkering with hyperdrive coils like I have seen Ben do many times. A detailed glance around the compartment showed it looked like he was watching some sort of scope or scanner and carefully adjusting settings in response to the feedback for whatever arcane purpose he was working towards. What he hoped to accomplish doing this was beyond me and my limited knowledge of hyperspace systems.
Still it was time to see how open Smoche was to negotiating with us.
(Kira) Alright, we have a number of hyperspace technologies you might find of interest. Now, in exchange for this information and our technical assistance, we were hoping an agreement could be arranged. We see, we are trying to liberate a planet and defeat a very obnoxious Sith Lord.
Smoche was clearly disappointed that the conversation turned away from hyperspace, but looked willing to entertain the topic for at least a little bit.
(Smoche) Sith Lords? Aren’t they all nasty? I’ve seen them on the holos!
At first I wasn’t really sure how to respond to that one. Either he was being a smart ass or he really was that clueless. I didn’t sense anything from him like he was being smart with me, so maybe he was that clueless. Alright, I’ll throw some more information out there and see how he responds.
(Kira) Yes, this one is really nasty. He will insert bioweapon goo into your head to eat your brain and run your body like a puppet as you are put into a perpetual coma. And those he really finds tasty he will eat their Force Ghost to add to his collective.
It only occurred to me after I said that how ridiculous all of that sounded.
(Smoche) I will admit that does sound like an exceptionally nasty Sith Lord. Most of them aren’t made of liquid evil goo!
Well, he was either humoring me now or is incredibly trusting. At least he seems to dislike the concept of how Zandaras does things.
Jacob, meanwhile, had decided to hold off on actually PRESSING any buttons. There were so many though… he took special note of buttons that looked like fun, especially small colorful ones and the biggest and best looking ones.
It was very hard to keep from pressing buttons as the negotiations went on! One button in particular was calling to him – even if it was saying “not quite yet!”.
(Kira) Well, Zandaras is an unusual case, and particularly nasty. About the only thing keeping him coherent at all is the battledroid programming, and that had all the ethical routines deleted. I highly recommend not working with him.
(Smoche) Oh, that is nasty! You should never delete the restraints on droids, they can get so absolutely ruthless! I’m glad I’m not working with whoever-it-is!
Alright, maybe my interactions with Ben and Ichara has misled me a bit, but this level of…. inattention is disturbing on a lot of levels. Are all the Artificers like this? The various Force sects are beginning to look more like different forms of mental illness than ideologies.
(Kira) You do realize that you are working for Zandaras, right?
Smoche suddenly looked very discomfited.
(Smoche) Oh dear, that is very awkward! If I get eaten by evil goo, there will be no one to finish my work!
It took everything I had to not sarcastically lament the tragedy of it all. Still, now seemed to be the time to broach our request in exchange for helping him.
(Kira) We were hoping for assistance in building a hyperspace system to help take out that minefield.
(Smoche) Hyperspace to eliminate the mines? Childishly easy!
(Kira) Without harming the planet or it’s occupants?
(Smoche) Well, destroying the planet to eliminate the mines would be terribly inefficient!
Can’t argue with that one.
(Smoche) You might lose a few hundred cubic kilometers of atmosphere in total of course….
Ben and Alys would have had an easier time evaluating the problems with that sort of issue. Best I was able to do was run a few scenarios against the Codex probability analysis for evaluation. Losing that much atmosphere in one location on the surface would create a vacuum and one hell of a pressure implosion, but skimming that much off the top only showed slight and subtle problems for a few months before things stabilized. I am not qualified to be making these kinds of evaluations.
(Kira) And compared to how much atmosphere a planet has, that’s trivial right???
(Smoche) Well, naturally! Unless it has a dome or something, but that’s not exactly a natural planetary atmosphere now is it?
(Kira) Alright, what would you need to do this and how much time would it take?
(Smoche) Well, a minimum of thirty hyperspace capable shuttles of course!
I was sure there were plenty of shuttles to be had. The port outside was full of various ships. Getting us or the government to collect them though was likely to draw attention we really didn’t want though. Still, bounty hunter ships going missing in pursuit of me was to be an expected occurance and not something the occupation would think twice about.
(Kira) How about freighters?
(Smoche) Clumsy. They would need some really good tune ups first!
(Kira) Well, I have an ample supply of freighters, not so sure of shuttles right now.
(Smoche) Well, I suppose that would do! Still, if that is all you want, why don’t you have your own expert do it? Has something happened to him before I could speak with him?! That would be terrible! TELL ME THAT HE’S ALL RIGHT!
Ok, he’s coming on a little stronger there than I am comfortable with. Best to calm him back down and reassure him. Now I am curious if Smoche is underestimating the difficulty of the task, or if he knows something we don’t. Maybe carefully wording my reply could enlighten me as to which of those it is.
(Kira) My own expert is fine, and informs me that some sort of accuracy issue keeps him from tunneling the mines away.
(Smoche) Ah, he is missing the obvious! Excellent! A simple bargaining chip then!
Alright, the case for Smoche knows something we don’t just gained traction there. If I play this right, I can play Ben and Smoche off each other and get the best deal out of this while ensuring they both get what they want. No reason I can’t try to maximize the benefit out of this.
Jacob, meanwhile was feeling that NOW was the Time – and reached out to push a button.
Just then I caught sight of Jacob reaching towards a green flashing button. There wasn’t time to stop him or do anything meaningful besides shouting “NOOOOO!” before Jacob pressed it. The ship rocked violently and I heard breakers trip as we were dowsed in a shower of sparks. For a moment I felt dizzy, like the room was spinning or something, only to realize that gravity was doing really weird things. Outside we heard a really large bang followed by numerous secondary explosions. I could feel thousands of injuries taking place across the city and a handful of lives lost as whatever happened effected the city. I could also feel a moderate number of people die in the vicinity of that explosion we heard.
As the gravitation effects subsided and I steadied myself against a panel, I glared angrily at Jacob. Smoche, on the other hand looked interested.
(Smoche) Oh my! Without an incoming hyperfield to interfere with destructively, the potential backflared through the hypercoils here and went out on the interface level that’s responsible for spacefield phenomena!
(Kira) Am I supposed to understand that, or were you just talking to yourself?
(Smoche) Well it’s obvious!
Across the city, the unfocused power-pulse had disrupted low-powered repulsorfields – such as the ones used in vehicles. There had been crashes (including of a munitions ship that had been at a critical moement of takeoff), power and pumping failures, and a lot of random trouble. Smooche had, in fact, been waiting for Ben to tinker with a hypercoil – so that he could tune to it, and pull him through a short-range hypertunnel. Still, if he’d happened to tune to a mine or something it could go very wrong – so he’d installed a system he could use to scramble the hyperfield and dissipate whatever was incoming into hyperspace if he sensed that something too dangerous was about to arrive. When Jacob had dumped that without a target it had backlashed…
At the hospital, Lazlo had staggered over to the window, looked out – and suddenly every vehicle full of droids and bounty hunters racing their way had crashed, at the same time as every float-palette in the hospital had collapsed, along with field-suspension beds and other systems. He’d promptly picked up Jacob’s comatose clone, slung a rope out, slid down to the parking lot leaving the bounty hunters to follow, and had hijaced a speeder to escape on in the confusion.
De’Arc and the bounty hunters had gaped… From what orifice had Lazlo managed to pull THAT one? At least that explained why no one had been able to catch and hold them; this bunch of loons simply got bloody MIRACLES on demand when they needed them! Until whatever-it-was quit doing that for them, trying to catch them would be an exercise in frustration! Not to mention being legendarily dangerous… It wouldn’t be long before no bounty hunter in the galaxy would so much as even CONSIDER going after this bunch!
Alys, fortunately, had been quietly heading back down – and didn’t even need the diversion that Jacob had just supplied, although it was handy and made it easier to pass unremarked. She had sighed though. She thought she knew who was to blame for this on…
[Gamespeak Interlude: this actually WAS pure coincidence; Lazlo’s player had had to step out – so the scene at the hospital was on hold – and had just gotten back when Jacob’s player decided to have his character give in to the siren call of button-pressing]
Smoche then proceed to ignore me as he turned to Jacob.
(Smoche) What a fortuitous thing to find out! Do you often discover things when you press random buttons young man?
My muttering that Jacob discovers the sunrise every morning was also ignored.
(Smoche) I wonder what would happen if he picked another one at random to press?
(Kira) Probably more chaos and destruction. And yes, we do end up discovering all sorts of things by accident. I would be glad to tell you about some of them if only….
(Smoche) Do any of the buttons seem really attractive to you young man? Jacob was it?
(Jacob) Yes they do!
Oh dear god, they can’t be serious….
(Smoche) well you just press them whenever it feels right to you!
(Jacob) Yay, permission to press buttons!
Jacob then went into a blur as I felt him use the Force to accelerate himself. He then went into a whirl of button pushing. I had been edging away towards the door quietly, but as I saw Jacob cut loose I went into a full run. Outside the ship, I saw the port in flames as one large cargo ship was burning. Explosions were still going off inside the hull or nearby and I could see unexploded munitions scattered around the place. Port personnel were busily trying to contain the fires and explosions.
Jacob wasn’t so sure for the first few moments. That first one had not been such a good button, it had made lots of mess outside, and pain, He felt ill. Stupid button inviting him to press it! Still… the next se of buttons had interesting effects! Not great ones, but interesting nonetheless. I get to press buttons all I want and it makes this guy happy? He is so much better than Ben. Hopefully pressing more buttons will help me feel better and others too, so I will use force speed to press as many buttons a possible before he says I cannot press anymore… I like this guy, he lets me press all the buttons I like, and does not make fake buttons to trick me like Ben.
My first instinct was to go assist them, but I really did not need to be discovered here as surely the occupation was going to be arriving very, very quickly. I really did not look forward to having to explain this fiasco to Officer Olson either. At least small favor through it all was that the disaster was city wide. That gave me the freedom to remain inconspicuous until I could get back underground again. On the other hand, that still meant the casualties were widespread too.
We’re supposed to be here to rescue the place and yet we’ve managed to kill, injure, or terrify more people than the Sith occupation has.
Plus there was the unfortunate thought that this whole concept of “recruiting” the Artificers was doomed from the moment I conceived it. It looked less like recruiting and more like aiming them at specific problems while constantly baby-sitting them. Nevermind the fact that we didn’t have time to be baby-sitting or the fact that Jacob just proved that many members of the party are poor baby-sitters.
Nor was I liking the thought that is was increasingly hard to ignore that most everyone in the party was crazy in some fashion. The fact that I seemed to be frequently at the center of this whole mess said unpleasant things regarding the state of my own sanity too. Maybe the paranoia wasn’t as justified as it so frequently seems, or maybe it’s just the fact that I journey along side these nutjobs instead of drowning my misery in a tankard somewhere.
I finally made it back down to the hideout next to the hypermatter reactor to find the others already returned. Lazlo had successfully retrieved Jacob’s body and was most annoyed to find out that Jacob himself was now missing. It turns out that Jacob’s little accident ended up occurring at a most fortuitous time to serve as a much needed distraction. I really did not want to consider the consequences of the idea that the Force prompted Jacob to help Lazlo using the deaths of dozens as a means to an end. Nor was I especially pleased that Lazlo just apparently waltzed right into the hospital without any shred of a cover story, thereby necessitating some outside intervention.
Alys had apparently recruited a bunch of high school kids to try and raise the shields. I was hoping more for professional computer experts or maybe even someone with knowledge of the inside, but if this was the best she could find then I suppose this is what we have to work with. I do worry that some of her assessment may be due to her buying into teenage bravado as opposed to genuine skill and experience at this sort of task.
Ben and Shipwreck had been – and were – still busy trying to stabilize the city systems after this latest insult.
It was also clear that the bounty hunters supposedly on our side were unnerved by something that happened. It was Alys that picked up on the fact that their watching Lazlo receive more or less a miracle on demand was changing their sentiment of the party tremendously. Apparently we were now in the category of incredibly lucky people too dangerous to collect the bounties on. They seemed to be split on whether or not to try and join the ride (and luck) or to get the hell out of here.
Alys then handed me the robes she picked up from Qwuam. The disaster Jacob had spawned had given Alys enough of an opportunity to slip into the tailor’s and out before anyone noticed. I immediately put one of them one and was surprised at what a perfect fit it was. I know Dorothy and Sabrina liked to have things tailored for them like this but I always assumed it was being picky. Every time I turned around, I was finding another cleverly hidden pocket or system. It was elegant, comfortable, and well worth the extravagent price I ended paying for the set.
Well, if I am going to be liberating a planet in a few days, I must as well be dressed in style.
Once I was done admiring the craftmanship, discussion then turned to how do we establish a remote connection to the shield systems once we put the occupation teams into stasis and triggered a planetary alert to raise the shields. Initial ideas were along the lines of having Jacob, Khadim or I sneak into the shield generators and broadbast a link out before we were caught. There were so may ifs, ands or buts involved in that scheme though to give my probability assessment fits.
Things quickly devolved into arguing over preferred methods when De’arc suddenly suggested we send in medical droids to do it. Since the security systems were going to be broadcasting alerts anyway when the occupation and engineering teams went into stasis, a bunch of medical droids arriving and entering the place wouldn’t be out of place at all. Then one of them could readily broadcast a link outwards for Alys’s hackers to establish control through.
I had to admit, the suggestion made a lot of sense. I was just surprised that De’arc was willing to put aside his fued with us to try and help liberate the planet. I figured he had ulterior motives in this process and was going to undermine our efforts, not help them. Still would be prudent to keep an eye on him and not let my guard down around him or the others though.
You never know when someone has been made a better offer.
- Recordings from the Holocron of Kira Keldav – Session 44 (ruscumag.wordpress.com)