``Well, I suppose robot workers are fine, but when it comes right down to it: if you want the ore, you've got to go into the mine.''
- Norse Miller, Vircus Miners Guild, 1730 AS
Kith: "Will that make you less valuable?"
Eva takes the controls (much to Jim's disappointment) and the crew is off on the long trek to New Light. The Tinoori interrogate more of the crew about lying and truth, and spend a while surveilling Jim in particular. Jim works on his merit badge during the jump from Nurl to Highguard, using Janzur's shuttle. As her first experiment towards the neural disruptor, Sharra tries to shoot Katya with it. What with juggling the scanners and the gun all together, she misses. Janzur takes over and shoots her between the eyes, whereupon she crumples like a doll (perhaps the 2 body person is not the best of test subjects for this sort of thing). However "shoot someone until they fall over" is actually quite useful data, so it's a successful experiment. Jim practices field stripping his blaster. The techies tie the deck gun into HippoNet.
Four days after leaving Riden, the ship arrives in the New Light system. The space lanes for the two days to Sanctuary are quite busy, as numerous ships keep heading to the New Light capital. Those from Sanctuary reveal that it is time for the "Verification" of Donella Melcamot, thus confirming her as Heir to the Blue Hegemony. As they approach the planet they notice among many others, the Leopold, personal Highliner of the King of Highguard. The Blue messenger on board arranges for them to get a landing slip on the planet, where they are met by the other messenger.
They are informed of the ill timing of their arrival, so the military briefings are delayed for a bit. However, everyone is invited to attend the Verification Ceremony in two days. While waiting, various residents check their e-mail. Most notably, Sharra has e-mail from her nephew Vance in which he indicates that he's in trouble and needs to be rescued. Please, please meet him at a "place you always said I hung out too often". Luckily, Sharra remembering old conversations, realizes this means a local VR sporting arena in Coraxon, the suburb her family lives in.
People take the opportunity of the free days to view the city and visit their various relatives:
Ruehan heads over to the palace where his Verification invitation gets him into a lot of boring receptions and things. Well, boring to most people, but he has a blast talking to all the various diplomats and collecting information on local politics.
Sharra goes and visits her family with Kith. Sharra's mother is far from pleased by her "new outworlder friends" and essentially bullies Sharra into staying with them instead of the ship for the couple days before attending the ceremony. Sharra then goes to visit her sister (Vance's mother). She's clearly hiding something, but after some pressure it comes out that she's trying to keep quiet the fact that Vance is wanted for murder and she's sure it's all just a misunderstanding, so if only he would turn himself in they could sort it all out. Sharra confesses that she may be able to contact him, but doesn't give any details.
Meanwhile Eva is meeting with her brother Gabriel, but more on him later...
Maury, Katya, Jim, and Janzur head to a part of town where Maury can go shopping for things like a disco ball and a Simon game (and silver sparkles for his tail, to be Dressed Up). They're looking for somewhere to eat some lunch when they encounter a pack of thugs. We call them thugs because they immediately start shouting at Maury. "Hey! It's a rug! What makes you good enough to walk down the street." Maury, being reasonable about these things, rebukes them and teleports out of range. A brief combat ensues in which the thugs are routed, and our heroes decide it is easier to leave the scene than explain to the cops that it wasn't their fault (or why there was plasma brand thwacking going on) .
Eva goes to the hotel where her family is staying to meet with them.
Sharra goes to the sporting arena, but can't find Vance anywhere. After some search she does discover a note left for her in which he instructs her to call a number and "ring twice". Upon calling however, a receptionist picks up on the very first ring. "University Library: Research desk..." Sharra hangs up and tries again only to find the same message. After about five minutes, she tries a third time. With three failed attempts to contact him she decides to leave. As she's walking out, she meets Vance heading in. They return to the Hippocrates to have him tell the whole story.
By this time, everyone else has returned from their shopping, hobnobbing, fighting, and family politics so are on hand for poor Vance's retelling. While walking home from school about seven days ago, he was approached by a police officer who wished to speak with him. The officer asked him about a few delinquent students at school and generally kept up a short patter while leading him into an alley. Once in the alley, he drew a gun. Vance struggled with him briefly when a passerby came into the alley. The cop shot the passerby, and Vance fled. Next thing he knew, he was being hunted for the murder of the passerby and the cop was heading the investigation.
While Sharra has asked Eva to try and have her family take a look at the problem, she seems to have been sucked into the morass of Family Duties and may not be able to deal soon. Meanwhile, Vance (after being startled by the Tinoori) is all a-quiver with the expectation that Aunt Sharra's Action Team will save him, so the group decides to look into it themselves. Katya pulls a description of the cop out of his mind, but Maury is unable to find a good matching picture on the web page for the Coraxon police force.
Vance can't remember the cop's name, but was shown a badge. They ask if it's okay if the party psychics try and help him remember. He says sure, and tries to remember the badge; Ruehan concentrates (Vance seems to find it a little uncomfortable) and announces that the name on the badge is Liam Fairchild. This name is apparently an actual cop's name, and a second web search for his name does turn up a matching picture (as well as an address). Vance speculates that the reason the cop went after him was so that they could replace him with a robot duplicate, to get the Heir (he's good friends with her).
Maury suggests ransacking his house; Vance is all enthused to go, but is told he has to stay in hiding on the Hippocrates. The strike team is assembled; Ruehan walks by the apartment and reports that there are no human-size life forms, but there's some smaller thing like a pet. Maury teleports in, followed by Jim (once Maury unlocks the door), while the rest of the party hides either in a parked car across the street or a nearby coffee shop.
The burglars are greeted by an initially friendly dog which becomes rather unhappy at the great big cat being present. Jim keeps the dog busy with his bag of beef jerky hiking snacks, while Maury takes a look around. Not a lot of interest is turned up in the living room or the bedroom; the apartment doesn't bear the marks of a lot of personality. The third room in the apartment is a study, with a computer on the desk. Jim lures the dog into the bedroom and the two stay there. Maury manages to break in enough to grep through a lot of email (there isn't anything about Vance other than the default APB, and there isn't anything of particular suspiciousness about the Heir). Next he manages to break into Fairchild's personal finance directory, and notes that in addition to a set of incoming monies which appear to be the police paycheck, there's a larger set coming from some other source. That gets to count as suspicious; Maury prints that out.
Next, there's the desk drawers. Maury spots the alarm on the drawer before opening it, and teleports out a data disk with a mysterious symbol, a yin/yang in blue and green instead of black and white. There might be other stuff in the desk drawer, but if there isn't, a next teleport attempt would try to teleport the alarm, and that would definitely set it off. Sharra and Maury swap places, to let Sharra look at the alarm (Jim: "Someone's going to remember to tell me to come out of the bedroom, right?") She decides that it's actually quite cleverly made, and that she won't be able to get it without both time and luck. The group decides that they've stayed long enough, and heads out - as it turns out, with good timing, because Liam turns up not long thereafter. The party doesn't stick around to see how he reacts to the discovery that his data disk is gone. Jim looks up the blue/green symbol in his manual, and after a long time, finally comes up with an artist's rendition of the first colonists on Ridena; there are several ships with different symbols on them, and at the edge, one ship has a half-shown green/blue yin/yang.
Rather than let Hippocrates boot up the data disk, Eva calls and wakes Gabriel up ("It's that thing we were talking about before." "That thing with the one person, or the lots of people?" "The thing with the cop" "Oh. That thing.") and asks him to wake up a computer guy. Eva and Janzur head to Gabriel's office, which is a small nondescript office building just to the side of the Hegemonic Palace; they take the elevator to the basement, which is much larger. A computer guy will investigate the disk. Some hours later, he reports that the disk contains a single program; upon running, it asks for a password. If the wrong password is given, it erases itself. If the correct password is given, it loads in a set of encrypted local files, displays them, and deletes them. So, it's the sort of program for letting spies read their secret orders. This is deemed by Gabriel to be Suspicious, so some people are detailed to go keep an eye on Liam. Er, well, he may have noticed that his data disk is gone. Oops. In fact, he's long gone by now. Bedtime.
The second day before the Verification ceremony passes mostly uneventfully. Vance and a newly acquired lawyer head back to Coraxon to get the charges dropped (as the one witness has mysteriously vanished). Eva acquires Blue Hegemony blaster permits for various people, and permission for Janzur to take his plasma brand to the Verification (but only as long as he stays in the back galleries). People practice walking in their dress clothes.
The day of the Verification dawns. Eva and Sharra are both sucked into their respective families; Eva appears to be blonder normally. Sharra's family is apparently an important Sanctuary family, while Eva comes in with a Duke from Highguard. They both get to be up near the front, while everyone else is back in the nosebleed section.
After the parties of nobles have finished coming in and being seated, the Rector of Protocol arrives, then the King of Highguard, then the Blue Hegemon, then the Heir, Donella. She's got a long train and a veil and it's all very excessive and formal. Katya tries to read her mind, but hits a terrible psychic damage shield and is stunned for some time. The veil is folded back (no, it doesn't take down the psychic shield), and Donella is officially presented. The King of Highguard steps forward and puts her hand on a strange circular amulet he wears (Janzur finds it strangely familiar but wrong somehow), and begins his speech of verification.
However, the speech trails to a halt, as he frowns, puts her hand on the amulet again, and gestures to the Hegemon. Then her hand gets put on the amulet, and then it's back to the heir. Finally, the King points at the girl and cries loudly "This is not your daughter!" whereupon chaos ensues.
Jim spots one of the palace guards, stationed at a back exit, surreptitiously ducking out the door. He follows. The guard heads to a van marked as "grounds and gardening", and gets in. Nothing happens for a little while, and then the van starts up. Jim reports in that a suspicious guard is about to escape. Eva orders him "jump him!" but quickly adds "get Janzur". As everyone hears this, they all (except Eva and Sharra) charge outside for the fight which promptly ensues.
The van proves to contain two thugs, one psi, and the fake palace guard. The two thugs and Janzur keep each other occupied for most of the fight; Maury and Jim get into the van and a life raft starts to inflate; the psi blinds both of them for a bit. Ruehan is immobilized for a while by the damage shields on the psi, though Katya's TK and Kith's empathy don't seem to be cause the same reaction. (Meanwhile, back in the throne room, the "heir"'s shields have knocked out the palace telepath.)
In the end, the Bad Guard, the psi, and one thug are taken down; the other thug runs but is picked up by guards who Eva and Sharra send. The real palace guards converge on the site of the battle and take everyone and their brother in for questioning. The actual details of the questioning don't get revealed until the next day:
The two thugs are local hired thugs. They don't know much. The psi, the guard, and the false heir all have the psi damage shields. The psi and the guard both go into brain-melt upon being truth-drugged; the false heir babbles about it being the Red Hegemony under the truth drugs and then brain melts. No doubt were it not for the spare two conspirators, this would be more completely convincing; the people investigating do appear willing to consider the idea that it's a frame. Tracing back the Heir's movements and tying them to those of the traitorous guard show one major intersection five days ago when he was the only guard assigned for her medical examination. The assumption is made that this is when she was grabbed.
One final note before people head home after the Verification ceremony. Janzur asks Eva to arrange a viewing of the verification disk worn by the King of Highguard. She pulls a few strings and the King does indeed show up to grant a brief audience. The form of the medallion appears to be a small disk divided into thirds, it's inscribed with various decorative symbols, and each third is inset with a highly polished gem. Now that it's much closer, Janzur recognizes the disk. It's from the door to Hegemon Vissarion's sanctum sanctorum. Apparently, the Hegemon would walk up to it, place his hand upon it, and the little green gem would glow. ("Green for good, or go, or enter.") This would open the door. The blue and red gems were simply decorative. The King of Highguard comments that what it actually does is that the true heir to the Blue Hegemony places his or her hand upon it and the little blue gem glows. The red and green gems are of course decorative. Though several people think about it, no one actually performs any weird experiments with placing other random (or not so random) hands upon it, and the King of Highguard leaves acknowledging Eva as he goes. ("Niece.")
Eva's the niece of the King of Highguard? Cool. On direction from Katya, Eva also mentions that Katya is, in fact, the secret love child of Lord Stannis. Well, no, just Lord Stannis's daughter. That's probably why she's worth a lot. And she's kinda not really supposed to be off planet.
After they return, in the spirit of confessing one's secret familial associations, Ruehan confesses to being (1) from a very small planet in the Outworlds that nobody has heard of, and (2) being dead. There is some confusion over this second point, and whether Ruehan actually means "dead" or "immortal", which is never completely settled.
Kith: "Are you born dead, or do you get that way later in life?"