``Anyone can make an impression, with determination, but it takes a lot of time. To impress in an instant, to dazzle, to blaze - to set up for that instant takes even longer.''
- Arina della Cilo, Quintessence Glass Opera coloratura soprano, 2291 AS
Before leaving Eva and Jayla go to talk to people who would be involved in organizing an expedition to Pierogi and telling them about the "ghosts". They mostly want the Golden Ascension to not use the ghosts somehow to gain political sway. The officials are a little dubious - they didn't take any pictures of these ghosts? Or mention it at any previous point over the past week or so? Jayla manages to smooth things over and convince them that they didn't want to bring it up before because they didn't want it to be used as evidence that people weren't actually dead. It's probably loa activity (they seem a little more comfortable with the idea of loa than of ghosts), and that they should tread carefully. Also, they should keep in mind that if the Tarn return to Pierogi, they might try to follow someone back to Crux, so traffic should be kept minimal and be cautious.
The group heads out, taking the messengers on a four-day patrol route ending at the jump gate. Hippocrates assigns battle stations so people know what to do in an emergency. The messengers/passengers all have their battle stations in their staterooms. They are all introduced to Hippocrates; they're briefed on privacy mode, not going to secure areas of the ship, and so on. The messengers are all astounded by the idea of an AI ship, but Hippocrates puts them at least a bit at ease, while making it clear that he's fiercely loyal to the crew. He tells them he's over 300 years old, but most details about his past are "restricted information." He does reveal that "he is not currently under the direction of any legitimate command authority." One of the messengers asks he's under the direction of any illegitimate command authority, and is met with the dictionary definition of "legitimate." They think it's pretty impressive that the AI can evade like that. Or maybe it's just some guy with a microphone.
Inquiries about AI's and "how cool is that" take the first few days on patrol. Luckily, very little else occurs on the patrol. A few turbs are spotted, but nothing extraordinary happens and they are easily eluded. The Hippocrates starts heading for the jump gates to leave the system.
After they have gotten back into the plane of the ecliptic (not so much dust) and are close to the jump gate, they get a hail from a nearby ship. The Night's Promise (the Spartan ship encountered on the way into the Crux system) enquires: "Yo! Hippocrates! There's some whiterunners in the area. Want to help take them out?" Ruehan and Kith clarify - whiterunners aren't popular in the outworlds. They seem to meet with "accidents" which the local governments know nothing about. In this case, the three ships are none of them from Crux, which makes denials more convenient. The party responds, after some pauses and discussion with, "No, no, we're carrying diplomats. Thanks though." The Night's Promise is disappointed. A pair of whiterunners show up and Hippocrates is hailed by one of them, the Glorious Reward, who suggests that the Hippocrates should surrender and be boarded. Er, no, the Hippocrates respectfully declines, while calling the Nights's Promise back that maybe they're in on the fight after all. The lead whiterunner fires on the Hippocrates with what Eva and Janzur recognize as a hull reaver, a weapon designed to hole a ship to vacuum while leaving it salvageable. The non-Cruxian ships come to their aid - this includes the Nights's Promise , the Least Expectations (a Meddler out of Lendt) and the Triple Crescent (from Bastion).
The good guys win handily, considering the strange powers of their allies. The Night's Promise carries two skalds, one of which appears to summon dragons (?!) and the other of which creates shields; the Triple Crescent appears to be able to teleport portions of their plasma core towards the enemy (though they miss), and the Least Expectations can "glitch" the enemy, though both whiterunners are taken out before the glitches can have an effect.The Triple Crescent docks with one of the disabled whiterunners while the Least Expectations docks with the other; Least Expectations declares that the Hippocrates doesn't get any of the "loot" because they hadn't wanted to join in. However, some of the Hippocrates crew does want to interrogate the whiterunners; they dock with the ship the Least Expectations has captured, to find that the Meddlers have tied them up and they're hanging from the ceiling. The party takes the ship's boss aboard the Hippocrates after some discussion with the Meddlers (who are a little miffed that the crew doesn't want them to see what they're asking). Ruehan interrogates him without letting him answer much. (He delivers many penetrating gazes after which he seems to know the answers to his questions.)
This particular whiterunner is under no specific orders; he just took off immediately after the Hippocrates when it blew through Gateway, on the theory that he'd get a great reward if he brought the ship back. The other ship is his little brother's. Nobody can think of anything else useful to ask him.
Returning their prisoner back to the meddlers, the crew thanks their allies and leave the system. They fly to Nonesuch and head to Klothos' station near the jumpgate, where the envoy to from Nonesuch debarks to take a shuttle to the planet.
Meanwhile, Cassandra finishes the painting the party has commissioned:
A portrait of two Tinoori, surrounded by countless faceless humans. The Tinoori appear cornered, trapped, and afraid for their lives. The style is quite realistic, especially in the area of the Tinoori. The painting is signed with a peculiar pattern of five stars.
Sadly, it probably isn't an appropriate offering for Klothos, though the Tinoori like it (they say the humans had faces, though, and there weren't quite so many of them).
At the Nonesuch station by the jump gates, they pick up a transfer pilot, as well as two guys with plasma rifles (that part's somewhat non-standard). The pilot makes a big deal about turning off any autopilots and then does an "accidental" reverse, but he doesn't get overridden, so he seems satisfied. Janzur and the two guards posture at each other, each convinced they can take the other. The jump is otherwise uneventful.
On the other side, the Herald of Klothos, Lorene Klothallad, is awaiting them with a military escort (another whiterunner ship in addition to his own). The crew is transferred to the Herald's ship, while the Herald puts some other people on the Hippocrates. In the end, there are ten guys with plasma rifles, the old pilot, and the "new pilot" (who turns out to not be a pilot at all, but is an intelligence specialist scanning and bugging everything in sight).The Herald gets told about the other passengers, and instructs his guys to leave them alone considering their rank. Hippocrates enforces this with some door locks. The Herald's a bit puzzled by the letter from Klothos' envoy on Crux, but then has a realization; "Oh, he wouldn't haven known yet."
Eva introduces people, including Cassandra Lyrae,"Oh, she's taken the name of her inspiration?" "No, it's her. Er. Really."
They get an audience in half an hour. Janzur is unhappy about leaving his weapon. He is persuaded to leave his blaster, but can take his strange techie device. There's another guy with a scanner at the throne room, who's a bit better than the first and notices that Janzur's "techie device" is at least dangerous. He summons a page of Klothos, and has the child carry the techie device and stay near Janzur at all times. Janzur seems unhappy, but is willing to accept this solution.
The pageant happens. It is quickly clear that Klothos is quite sharp, and also skilled in various forms of mental discipline as most of the party's attempts to "read" her fail. Klothos seems impressed by the introductions and glares at the page carrying Janzur's plasma brand when Janzur is introduced as Elite Thereve. Xanthippe puts on quite a show of thanking Klothos for allowing them to pass through her jump gate with all due haste those weeks ago; Klothos responds by accepting their gift and adds her thanks for the crew's agreement to perform her favor. The crew is disconcerted by this turn of events, but as it's essentially what they were trying to do to Klothos, they agree to having agreed to do the Thing "after some final details to be negotiated". All is well, and they leave Klothos' presence.
Later in their guest quarters, the herald explains that the plan is to carry a package to the Well, using "non-standard routes" and to drop the package in space, with nobody observing it. The party discusses the fact that that requires going through Vircus though only in oblique terms, given the fact that they are probably being listened to (the quarters seem to have similar audio/visual pickups as the Hippocrates quarters, but saying "engage privacy mode" doesn't do anything), but eventually they agree after getting some vague assurance that the package isn't dangerous.
Before leaving, the party is invited to one formal dinner on the station. After some talk where several people are confused by Janzur's claims to be from "Ridena", not "Riden", and Cassandra's claims to be authentic, Klothos comes in late (Janzur is surprised that she appears to travel around with no bodyguards, but no one else sees any either.) Janzur, Xanthippe, and Cassandra are put on the spot by the Herald to be entertaining to Klothos, but handle themselves well (though Janzur chooses to not be very entertaining). Kith asks about current events; the ship coming through is mentioned in light of the New Story, and Klothos expresses pride over her unique jewel, The Throne. (Her term for her battlestation.)
After dinner, they go back to the quarters and there's the Package. It has the Klothos spider symbol obvious on the case. They return to the Hippocrates, who steers them to Engineering instead of the bridge, mentioning that it's been bugged. An extensive search is conducted and many bugs are found. Not everyone is convinced they found them all, as the placer was quite skilled, but can't do anything more until someone else wakes up.
What to do is discussed; do they want to run the errand now, or leave it for another day? The hope is that it can just be a quick there-and-back, and then it will be off their backs (and not an obviously Klothos-owned thing in the cargo hold forever, too). Hopefully, if a couple of emergency jumps are used, the couriers don't even have to be told what's going on, so party jumps straight Vircus. Wilson has built an impromptu sensor platform (just a radio receiver and a camera) to tip out. They tip it out the airlock and then continue on to the Well. (While passing through the system, Janzur interrogates all three jumpgates and determines that in fact, they are all in secure mode.) They get to the Well, and are suddenly surrounded by small objects/ships, only one of which appears to have any psi-detectable life aboard. After some confusion, it becomes clear that there's a soccer game going on, using the "defunct" jumpgate as the goal, and using a guy in what looks like a human-sized hamster ball as the ball.
When hailed by the lead ship, the Decadent Panzer, the party says "Sorry sorry sorry we're on our way" and takes off. Heading part of the way to another jumpgate while they think, they then turn around and maneuver back, using the turn to camouflage when they dump out the satellite (which also has a Klothos symbol, it turns out) out the airlock.
Jayla declares that the "game" is legal, but not "just". Heading back to the Vircus jumpgate, the Hippocrates scoops up the hamster ball, while transmitting "Game, Set, and Match" to the soccer players. The Decadent Panzer complains. "What is your citizen number? this game is authorized by the Matrix!" Eva declares "Touchdown!"as Hippocrates requests a high energy jump and leaves the system.
The signal platform is picked up at Vircus and the Hippocrates proceeds on to Gateway once more. Initial analysis says that there are two things orbiting the planet (as expected, say the Hegemonics), and there are some weak signals coming from the planet, but they are just above the noise and need further analysis to understand.
Kith feeds the rescued "ball" tea and locks him in a cabin. He is quite grateful to be alive, and tells the tale of how he was vacationing on the Well, when his money was stolen, and he was sent to debtor's prison, and then purchased out for a game of ball. He claims to be a pilot with the Haiganese trading fleet. The hamster ball is examined; there are little levers which let air slowly escape when they're hit. Ewww...
The run ends with Hippocrates facing the jumpgates out of Gateway and the crew wonders which the next crew will choose to go through as they head back to the tubes...