``It's like this. You either get your section back on schedule, or I put you and your entire family on the slowboat to Cerulean, and *you* can explain to them why they've been wasting their efforts for the past four years.''

- Chief Scheduling Officer, 1st Jumpgate Construction Corps

2778.104.00.00 AS
Crux System

The story begins today with a small reception at the Crux parliament building; Cassandra is going to present her painting to the Parliament. Dmitri accepts, on behalf of the parliament, and makes a speech about how he hopes that this will help inspire the outworlds to come together so that what happened to Pierogi will be prevented from happening to any other worlds.

A large ornate chamber. On the central dais is a man-sized ruby emanating light. To the left of the ruby, is a tall well built man in an ornate uniform. Around the chamber, in each seats, rests a world. Each world is different. One seat is empty.

At the reception, Senator Peters approaches Ace (as the only person he recognizes in this week's party) with the idea that it would be a good political gesture if they were seen to visibly participate in the defense efforts by taking a turn in the scouting patrols that have begun in the Crux system.

Seeing as the Hippocrates has a new gun, and even the Dancer is armed nowadays, the party agrees, after a bit of discussion: they'll send the Dancer on a one-day patrol soon, and send the Hippocrates on a four-day patrol after it's been refitted. Meanwhile, Dr. Kye determines that the likely location of the downside jumpgate construction site is a town called Flatland, built on a hexagonal flat bit of concrete.

The one-day patrol embarks, with Ace, Anya, Jim, and Martan in the Dancer. Jim only gets to be the copilot. As they cruise around through the byways of the dust nebula, a distress signal is picked up. They rebroadcast it back Crux-ward, and close in on the signal, eventually remembering to answer. The ship in distress is the Elmer's Gold; it reports that it's surrounded by turbs (``What did he say? Tarns? Germs? They're surrounded by space germs?'') and that their shield generators won't hold out much longer. Sure enough, the Dancer comes around a corner of dust and there's a ship, dead in space and surrounded by a bunch of little space dust cyclones. To make matters worse, one of the cyclones is shooting lightning bolts at the hapless ship (which has a glowing gold bubble around it).

Communication from the Elmer's Gold is a little incoherent; it sounds like their captain is down, but he said to cut the engines and put up the shield, but the shield seems to have drawn the attention of the turbs. Shooting the lightning-shooting turb splits it in two (Jim says it's smaller and weaker but growing); a second shot to one of them splits it again, but they're growing fast enough that this isn't helping. The Dancer does a flyby and lures the turbs into chasing it, while the Elmer's Gold tries to get started, but doesn't seem to have anyone who knows how to fly the ship; it bounces around randomly off the dustwalls (``That's not how the captain does it!''). The Dancer heads down a different dust passage, pursued by turbs. The lightning-bolt turbs are taking a terrible toll on the Dancer's hull, and two of the normal sort get close enough to explode; only Martan's telekinetic shields preserve the ship.

Then Jim has an idea, and dashes for an airlock. Shortly afterwards, an inflatable rubber life raft is coasting along beside the ship, and Martan quickly sends it off away from the Dancer, back through the turbs. The turbs happily chase it off into the depths of the nebula, whereupon the Dancer can limp over to the Elmer's Gold. The captain appears to have been badly hit by lightning, but Jim's first aid stabilizes him, earning him the First Aid Merit Badge. Those who are still up are Eon and Ella, two blond kids who are the ``shield generators'', and Elmer Triconian, their employer.

Jim gets to fly the Elmer's Gold back to Crux; Ace tries to suggest towing, but towing in space is pretty tricky, and the Dancer isn't in such good shape anyway. The group limps back to Crux, and Elmer Triconian expresses his Boundless Gratitude for Saving their Lives, and asks if there is Anything, Anything at All, he can Do, to Repay them? Ace admits to a fondness for ancient art.

The techies are appalled at the Dancer's state; they spend the morning repairing it, and then the party heads off to the Rosicrucian Academy in the Hippocrates. Grimblemaury buys a stack full of books on Moving (as the outworlders call teleportation), including some esoteric theory written by Bastion moon-movers. Anya buys some books on Gathering and Farseeing. Sook wanders off, and hears that mages have gotten a bit more powerful since Pierogi's destruction, though it's leveled off. The information-desk-for-tourists feeds them tea while summoning a diviner named Alaris, who quotes them his professional rates.

Alaris is brought on to the Hippocrates to the conference room, where the paintings have been gathered. He's somewhat surprised by the seal on the wall, and says that it indicates that the ship is ``an active ship of the Hegemony.'' Everyone is very blase about that; it's not worth paying him consulting fees to find that out. The first painting they show him is the Hydroponics painting of the tiger - he says that it isn't iconic, the tiger doesn't represent anything other than itself, the plants are Hydroponics, and that he believes that it's a question of visual significance, that a tiger in Hydroponics in the future is the easiest thing to forsee. As for the rest, many of them are also, he thinks, futures of significance. The iconic paintings are more interesting, and will require more divinations; he takes away pictures of the paintings and will prepare a written report in two days time.

Next, the Hippocrates flies over to Flatland and asks for permission to land nearby. (The party later discovers that Flatland was named for the ``natural'' feature it was built upon, a perfectly flat hexagon of warm stone. People with more technical clue, recognize the ``stone'' as the same material the Pierogi spaceport's landing field was paved with -- Hegemacadam.) They talk to the mayors office, but he's not actually there; he's apparently dealing with some sort of situation. But they're welcome to land in the logging clearing. On their walk into town, shouts are heard in the distance (Ace vanishes off into the shadows), and shortly thereafter, a group of locals, armed and dangerous-looking, appears. They're apparently hunting Tarn, which the party finds somewhat unlikely. But no, the mob is pretty sure there's Tarn skulking around out in the woods, and that they're Bad, having just blown up Pierogi.

As the party argues over whether or not it seems at all plausible that there are, in fact, Tarn skulking around the woods in the middle of nowhere, Sook spots a giant spider hiding nearby. She points it out, and the mob charges after it: ``Kill the Tarn!'' Sook, realizing that the creature is a Tinoori, not a Tarn at all, attempts to convince the leader of the mob of the error of his ways. He's a bit confused; he was pretty sure it was a Tarn. The rest of the mob chases after the Tinoori - revealed to be a pair of Tinoori - as they begin to flee. Anya and Grimblemaury catch up to the Tinoori and try to convince them that they should go back and talk to the mob and reassure them. The Tinoori politely demur that the mob is trying to kill them, and they would rather not just now, and continue to flee. The mob underscores the Tinooris' point by trying to shoot them; Anya intercepts much of one of the blasts.

Grimblemaury and Xanthippe disarm the two hunters with guns, while Anya gets in the way of a third with a pitchfork. Sook and Sharra manage to convince the mob leader (apparently the mayor) that Tarn and Tinoori are, in fact, nothing at all alike, while Ace follows the Tinoori themselves until all three are pretty well hidden from the mob. Since both are wounded, Ace gets Jim to come over to first aid them, while the rest of the group heads into town with the somewhat confused mob.

Ace and Jim talk to the Tinoori, whose names are Moment-before-dawn and Night-blooming-wisteria; they have apparently lived in Flatland for some five or six years, and never been mistaken for anything but Tinoori before; this whole issue of humans suddenly fixating on a false truth is very disturbing to them. They are also still worried about their young one, First-frost-of-autumn, who was last seen exploring the places under the city. Jim and Ace agree to meet the Tinoori back at a particular rock, and agree to find First-frost-of-autumn. They also agree that they can probably provide transportation off planet, though whether they can manage as far as ``Cabry, that you call Tyrell's Folly'' is uncertain.

The rest of the group has accompanied the mayor back to his office (which has an automatic door!), and stay there when he goes off to try and deal with more trouble - apparently the Tinoori's house has been set on fire. Dr. Kye and the others discover a panel in the office which appears to be covering over a metal panel and then empty space. Anya goes to the south end of the collapsed-hangar hill where the young Tinoori supposedly entered, to wait for him to come out there. Sook wanders to a bar (she's later joined by Ace) where Wayland Bierdle, a logger, is still trying to incite people against the Tarn, but she inflicts enough sarcasm on his arguments that he can't really get them going. The word around is that he's had a grudge against the Tinoori ever since he had some sort of over-reaction to ``Tinoori juice.''

The mayor returns to his office, and the group talks him into drilling a hole (``a small one!'') in the panel. Behind the metal panel is, as expected, a small open space. Sharra pokes a flexi-camera in, and determines it's some sort of shaft, like a gravlift or an elevator shaft sans elevator. Grimblemaury teleports in and grabs the inside of the door, and then climbs down. Yup, it's a deserted office complex.

After some negotiation both with the mayor and with each other, the party takes out an exploration permit for a fee, with the agreement that they get first right of half-off purchase on items recovered, with future profits also to be split. While this is not the greatest of bargains for the party (in that it doesn't involve getting anything for free) Dr. Kye points out that they can just refrain from putting anything they really want on the list.

Eventually, contract in hand, the group climbs down the shaft and explores the office complex. There are offices for the Crux Project Manager, the Creek Remote Project Manager, and the General Project Manager, each with the Hegemonic equivalent of Windows boxes. Sook manages to get them powered on. Down a short hallway from the office area is a larger room with a swimming pool in the middle; a turbine and pipes are connected to it, though not currently running. Off of this larger room are a computer core room and a generator room, and then two storerooms and a tech-tools room. And a channel from the swimming pool to one of the walls, where a bucket on a rope dangles.

In the first storeroom, there are two tables each with a box; a small Tinoori is excitedly running back and forth between them. He's also enthusiastic to see them, and tells them that the two boxes are the same! Some small discussion ensues about things being similar without being the same, but the Tinoori proclaims that, for example, two of Anya's near-identical throwing knives are very different; this one is a little thinner at the tip, the curve is slightly different here, there's more sweat on this one's handle, and so on. Jim's Scout Manual waxes philosophical to him about the joys of Timekeepers. Maury and Sharra start up the generators; the turbine is identified as a deuterium extractor, and Sook investigates the big computer to discover that it's pretty much ``everything you ever wanted to know about jumpgate building.''

Also off of the large room is the collapsed remains of the hangar; this isn't very explorable. The things deemed Worth Pilfering are the timekeepers (which someone finally notices seem to be a year off!) sand the big computer; these are wrapped up and stuffed into part of the collapsed area, so that they can be dug up later. Then the desktop systems from the offices are carried to the ``computer room'' to disguise the fact that the main computer is gone. Jim, Xanthippe, Padira, and First-frost-of-autumn climb up the well, while Dr. Kye and the others go back to negotiate a further contract involving digging out the hangar, lest the ship-fuel-generator someday explode.

First-frost-of-autumn is reunited with his parents and the three Tinoori stashed in the Dancer while the party and Dumbo spend another day and a half digging out the hangar, enabling them to spirit the timekeepers and the computer away. They uncover what are basically a lot of space construction tools, things like huge vice grips which are attached to the front of a spaceship; they'd be very useful for building jumpgates, or construction/repair work on orbitals, but aren't so much use on the ground. The mayor is urged to tell the Crux parliament about them, in case they'd be useful for the war effort; if any of the the items from the hangar (as opposed to elsewhere in the base) are sold, the party is entitled to a 50% cut. For the moment, though, they are paid in a desktop computer and a complete set of Hegemonic era electrowrenches, and both sides go away convinced they got the best of the deal. The group stops by the Rosicrucian Academy on the way out to pick up Alaris's report, and then head back to the capital.