``Are you worthy to Drink the Drink?''
Step up in Style to the Sparky Spectacular Challenge! - Sparky Cola Ad Campaign, 2778
The party leaves Vircus, Jim at the helm. HBX Vircus is becoming less radioactive by the day, and the Juridicists on planet are dutifully studying more aerospace engineering at the guidance of the Sky Guard who are now off to more important missions.
After a few days of travel, the main body of the party meets up at Highguard with the group (Eva, Katya, and Janzur) who took the field trip to Riden. Janzur, who is showing initial signs of Kaufman degeneration, heads for the tubes, while Eva reports that they told the Red Hegemony about the yin/yang conspiracy, and that the uplifted mice are annoying.
The Hippocrates arrives at Stannis' Law, and lands in Centre City, the capital. Anya has awoken this morning with a premonition: a man says "I do believe" and shoots Maury in the head. Another (or maybe the same) man says "I do deceive" and shoots Maury in the head. Consequently, Anya is unwilling to let Maury out of her sight. The group needs to head to the palace to set up an audience with Lord Stannis; Maury tries to head for town square to go shopping instead, but Eva gives him twenty asters to be good. He goes along, then, but has "always teleporting around a little" always on. There are a few raised eyebrows about that. A court appearance is arranged for 4pm the next day; the palace has a bunch of very recent art, disappointing both Dr. Kye and Anya. The group picks up a few flyers on "How to behave in audience with Lord Stannis" - the principal advice is treat him respectfully and don't waste his time.
There's some consideration as to whether it's better to spring the ambush before the audience or after - Jayla thinks it's likely to get sprung beforehand in any event. Maury gets trolled through town square, and gets spotted by Garad Sykes, an old fellow-crew-member. Maury says hi; Garad says, somewhat insincerely, that he thought Maury was dead. No, he fled - didn't Sykes get the message? No, no... er, he has somewhere to be going. Katya reports that he was worried Maury would kill him.
Eva buys a pile of biographies on Lord Stannis. Anya buys a few books on psi. Jim checks in at an internet cafe and does some research on gun manufacture. He also finds a riflery instructor and a game store that plays games in the evening. Dr. Kye goes to the Centre City Central Museum and makes an appointment with the curator in the morning, and stops by the Frostfall Opera House and gets a tour.
People head back to the ship. There is a bright yellow Sparky Cola Challenge Quiz on Hippocrates' windshield, which immediately mesmerizes Jim. Win a Starline Scooter! (How the heck does Sparky Cola know these things?) Jim and Dr. Kye begin to ponder some of the questions.
Maury gets e-mail from Bennet Wilkinson (the other crew member) - "We need to talk. Meet me at the Tellin Street Park at midnight." The party decides to head to the park well in advance of the ambush. Sadly, when they scout the park, they find no good ambush sites, so the group decides to go to the Games Night Katya and Jim have discovered. A guy thinks Katya is cute, but is too embarassed to come up to her. Jim asks about chess players; a couple of people playing three-color go are pointed out to him. When they finish their game, Jim challenges the good one to play his chess program (written for his merit badge). Each wins one, and there are three draws. The guy is moderately impressed by the program. Meanwhile, Jayla learns how to play three-color go.
It's gotten close to midnight now, so the group heads to the ambush. Wilkinson is a little non-plussed that there are so many people here. There are a couple other people wandering around the park; Katya and Anya finger one of them as possibly dangerous, while the other just seems to be cold and failing to meet someone. Eva tries to chat him up and he's very suspicious of her. Bennet talks Maury into meeting him and Sykes at the offices of Szuccho, Szuccho, and Harvold tomorrow. Apparently the thing (the captain's retirement fund?) is being held by a lawyer, Joseph Szuccho; only the entire crew can get it, though there appears to be a legal loophole that if you have a death certificate for the ones who aren't here, that counts as the whole crew. Bennet says he can manage to get Sykes there, though it'll be tricky since Grimblemaury shot his best friend (i.e. Captain Henomia). Katya notes that Bennet doesn't actually believe this is true.
Jim spends a while looking things up in his manual for the Sparky Cola Challenge; he learns that the Frostfall Opera House has one of the only extant examples of Tarn art, as a mural on the back wall. Kye doesn't recall seeing the mural, and puts up a brave attempt to convince everyone to break in and break down some walls at 2 in the morning. A brief wander by the opera house (Field of Poppies is opening tomorrow night, but is sold out) indicates that the security is pretty good; Jayla thinks that the question of "break in now or break in later" translates to "get in a lot of trouble now or get in a lot of trouble later." It is decided that getting in a lot of trouble the day before meeting the supreme ruler of the planet is not a good idea, and Kye gets dragged, somewhat unhappily, back to the Hippocrates.
Eva turns up some addresses for Wilkinson and Sykes, but determines that finding the owner for the Sparky Challenge PO Box will involve slightly more illegal hacking. She assigns First Frost of Autumn to tell her if Kye leaves the ship that night. (He doesn't). Anya dreams of someone with a gun and a knife in Stannis's court.
Jim, Eva, and Dr. Kye head to the opera house, while the others head to the lawyer's office.
As the group heads up the stairs to the opera house doors, Eva and Voriig are startled when Jim leaps on a woman, knocking her down. He explains that there was a laser-dot that tracked up her shoulder to the back of her head, when he knocked her out of the way. And there was some movement on the top of that building opposite the opera house. The trio hustles the woman into the opera house to report everything to the security guard; the woman (who gives her name as Mina Schultz) has a car summoned and is taken home. The police are called.
Before the police arrive, Jim, Eva, and Dr. Kye run across to Genentonix. Can they get to the roof? No, that's off limits, she's sorry. Who were they there to see? Dr. (Eva picks a name off the directory) Arthurson. The receptionist calls Dr. Arthurson. He wasn't expecting anyone. Who are they? They're the Sparky Cola Prize Patrol! They're here to deliver the cases of Sparky Cola (Kye rushes off to "unload them from the truck" - in reality, to buy them from a nearby store). Dr. Arthurson is pleased to have won, though eventually admits that he hasn't filled out any contest forms. Oh. Is this not 93 Opera House Road? No, this is 63. Oops. Well, can he keep the Sparky Cola? All right, one case.
During the cola-flinging distraction, Jim has gone off to the bathroom and crawled into an air duct. He manages to get up a floor and then up to the top of the building, where he arrives at the stairway to the roof at about the same time as the police do. Eva and Kye duck out before someone remembers that the Sparky Cola people were asking about the roof. Jim manages to sneak onto the roof as the police head up to search it; he finds a scratch in a ventilation duct, and falls in headfirst. Before he completely manages to kill himself, he recovers a sniper rifle which appears to have been thrown into the duct. He eventually manages to get back out of the building with the gun.
Kye investigates the rifle, and notes that it belongs to the government. That's a little creepy. Maybe it was stolen, though. Jayla ponders the question of "give the rifle to Lord Stannis" or "keep the rifle and investigate it ourselves" or "give it to the police" but only has a two-option divination and checks the first two. The first has a little more long-term goodness, but some short-term badness. She can't tell what.
Meanwhile, at the lawyer's offices, Maury, Jayla, Anya, and Katya (Maury and his harem) meet up with the lawyer. Also present are Sykes and Bennet as promised. Bennett seems please to just move things along, while Sykes seems grumpy that he has to deal with Maury to do anything. The lawyer explains that the captain had left some property with them to be released only to the crew for the Desire's Heart in the event of his death. All three crew members need to agree for it to be released though a properly verified death certificate can be substituted for any crew member in the event of their deaths. Moments before concluding the transaction, Maury balks and decides he doesn't want it. Bennet scowls and Sykes looks like he's about to deck him, but Maury insists on a private meeting with Sykes. During this meeting it is finally made explicit that Sykes thinks Maury killed their captain, or at least had him killed, and Maury's note was never found. Bennet has been helping Sykes' out of late, as Sykes didn't take the captain's death well at all, and it seems clear to Maury that Bennet is the one who has been poisoning Sykes against him. Maury decides the safest thing for everyone at this juncture is to simply leave with the package whatever it is, unopened. Maury is convinced the item is safe in the lawyer's care until things get worked out because otherwise they wouldn't be shooting people for it outside. Clearly, "the lawyers office is more protected than shooting people is hard." Bennet is not at all happy by this resolution and as he and Sykes are leaving in a mysterious black van that pulls up to the lawyer's office, (Maury is careful to get the lisence number), Katya catches him thinking, "Damn. I guess we'll have to kill everybody after all."
The two separated half-groups meet up at the Opera House (though do not go in); the group then heads back to the Hippocrates to change before court. They get there at about 3, and hear several cases. The stuff which is to be presented to Lord Stannis gets given to a court officer; there's some confusion about the sniper rifle. Why are they giving him a gun? The party tries to claim that this shouldn't be a matter for open court, because it's Very Sensitive. Does the party realize that what they have an appointment for is open court? Well, yes. So, um, why are they giving him a gun? There was this sniper... Where is Jayla from? Pierogi. Hmm. Maybe they don't have police on Pierogi? Here we have police... Well, it could be a government gun. The clerk decides not to pursue it any further. Anya's halberd gets peace-bonded.
The time for the court appearance comes. Eva presents the Tarn evidence. Lord Stannis asks if anything more is known about Tarn movements or what the Blue or Red Hegemonies are doing. He thanks them for their information. Then they bring up the Tarn art in the Opera House - Lord Stannis looks pained. They explain that it's really very important to try and understand Tarn psychology. Lord Stannis says that the last time this got looked into, nobody ended up being pleased. He hardly thinks it's necessary to tear it up again. Oh, and there was this thing earlier today, with this sniper - Jim fell into a ventilation duct and found this gun... Lord Stannis is curious where Eva is from. New Light. Surely they do have police on New Light? Well, the psi indicates that it could be a government gun. Ah. Well, he will direct the police to look into this. In the meantime, however, so that those who are bringing business to his attention would better understand what they are doing, Eva and Jim are Invited to attend a series of lectures on Stannis Law civics and government.
At this point, one of the people near the front of the room stands up and begins to rant about government assassinations being covered up, and how this sort of thing is just what happens when you have a tyrant who rules so unjustly... he draws a device that the more weapons-savvy can identify as an explosive flechette launcher. Katya tries to grab it, and then him, but he's pretty strong. Anya starts heading forward. Stannis puts up his hand in a "hold there" gesture. To the man with the gun, he says "Do not do this, my son." The man replies "I am not your son! We are not your family, we are your pawns!" and presses the stud on the flechette launcher. Nothing happens. Anya tries to start forward again, and Stannis again indicates that she should hold. Stannis reaches under his throne, andbrings out an identical gun, looking infinitely sad. "This is your gun." (He begins to walk forward, pointing the launcher). "Know that I have judged you."
At this point, the man leaps sideways and grabs one of the other men up in the VIP section, drawing a knife and putting it to his throat, using him as a hostage / shield. For the first time so far, Lord Stannis looks surprised. Maury teleports the knife away. Lord Stannis gestures to the assassin. "Forrest Valor. You chose your name for bravery, for honor. If you will do nothing else right in your life, die well." Sadly, Forest does not manage to take the advice,and tries to run. Stannis signals his guards, who take him down with some leg shots. Stannis executes him with the explosive flechette launcher.
Then, back to his seat. He thanks Maury and Jayla (who now has the knife). Was there anything else? No, that was all. They retreat.
Jayla continues to watch the judgments, and becomes moderately impressed by Stannis. The judgements are pretty fair, though Stannis appears to dispense about 10% more smackdown than Jayla necessarily would. However, the smackdown is pretty fairly and equitably distributed.
Everyone heads back to the opera house, yet again. An old thin woman selling flowers shows up; Eva buys a flower, and then Jayla. Jim doesn't. She makes another couple of rounds, and Eva gets Katya to buy a flower too. Katya notes that the woman seems to be paying particular attention to the fact that Jim didn't buy a flower. Jayla talks to her some (though she's not very talkative) and decides she's not as sad as she looks. Kye, Maury, and Jim buy tickets from scalpers and go to the opening. There are no Tarn murals in evidence.
Anya and Katya go to visit Andrej Kestrel, the brother of Katya's who got taken hostage. He's apparently been travelling around Stannis Law using his status as a lordschild to improve various small things; while large grievances can be brought to Judgment before Lord Stannis, there are a lot of things which aren't worth the effort. Katya wonders about the other lordschildren at the audience; Andrej says that Lisavette Solon and Daniel Avocari are often in court; they're interested in that sort of thing. Marian Scholar isn't there so much, he thinks she wanted to hear about the Tarn. Katya thinks maybe she was in on the attack; she didn't look surprised at all when Forest stood up, though she was surprised when he pulled the flechette launcher. Andrej doesn't think that Marian would have been likely to intentionally be in on a conspiracy to kill Lord Stannis, though he does note that Marian treats everything sort of in an academic vacuum; if Forest is getting a bit rabid and ranting, that he stands up in court and rants is a data point. How Father might feel about it, or how it would affect the people watching, isn't something that would enter into it. She tells him to be careful and stay on guard. He's a little dubious that he needs to, but finally agrees to stay on the lookout for - well, for whatever. He tells her to take care of herself, and she and Anya leave.
After one of the civics classes, Jim is in the bathroom when a man offers him 1500 asters to put a small device on board the Hippocrates. Jim says "no thank you" and leaves.
Later that morning, Jim, Eva and Dr. Kye head over to the museum curator's office to discuss possibilities for observing the hidden Tarn art in the opera house. The curator seems impressed with Doctor Kye's credentials, but the meeting starts going down hill as soon as the opera house is mentioned. Apprently, a number of years ago, the curator was called in on a project. One of Lord Stannis' advisors was very interested in seeing the Tarn art hidden behind the back wall of the opera house and convinced Lord Stannis to sponsor the recovery of such priceless pieces of history. Hundreds of thousands of asters were spent on the restoration and the entire opera season was disrupted, and in the end, all that was found was a few "paintings" which were little more than fuzzy blobs of gray and blue. Stannis was most upset at the fiasco, given the return, and except for one picture the curator manages to take of a corner of the mural for his files, the entire thing was covered up again and forgotten.
So, understandably, the curator is unwilling to put the reputation of the museum at stake in any project involving the supposed Tarn art. However, Eva manages to persuade the gentleman that it would be worth the risk to work with the famous Dr. Kye, especially if the crew of the Hippocrates were to donate two hundred-aster Hegemonic coins to the museum. Assured that the museum would have to spend absolutely no money on the project and that he could pretend he was out of town the entire time, the curator agrees.
Eva finally manages to get a trace on the license plate of the van that picked up Bennet and Sykes from the law firm. It's apparently a rental that was billed to a company known as Memento Mori. Dr. Kye vows that they Shall Not Succeed even though no one has any idea what they are up to.
Meanwhile, Maury is called by Bennet, who tells him to go outside the Hippocrates and answer a local payphone. Maury does, with Anya in tow, but rather than an ambush he finds an actual payphone ringing. When he answers it, Bennet starts a negotiation to see what it would take for Maury to simply give Bennnet his share in "the thing" and leave them alone. Maury wants to know what the thing actually is. Bennet allows that it an ancient mystery and no one knows what it's really for anyway, so why would Maury care? Maury admits that he probably doesn't care, but his thugs (like the burly Dr. Kye) would probably like to examine it. Seeing that this is going no where, Bennet offers a different deal. Maury will meet him and sign away his claim to the thing in front of the laywer, and Bennet will let Sykes live. Maury counters with, well, pick another meet, and Maury might show, then again, he might not. If he doesn't, guess Bennet will just have to shoot Sykes.
Eva: Yeah, that works better for Maury than for me. If I said that, they'd just say, "Nah, you're bluffing."
Maury: I haven't decided if I'm bluffing or not.
Jayla determines that if they go to the police, the most likely outcome is that Bennet and Sykes get killed, which matters not so much to the long-term fate of All People. Or if the group goes to try to rescue Sykes themselves, it could be good, in that they get the prize, whatever the prize is, or they could get killed, which would be bad for All People.
Eventually it is decided to attempt a rescue of Sykes. Maury arranges to meet Bennet at a local warehouse, where the lawyer will be present and give the three of them the item. The warehouse is arranged with the lawyer and the ambush, er.. exchange, is scheduled for 8pm.
People stake out the warehouse. The lawyer's assistant shows up in a car, and talks to the lone security guard before heading in. It seems the guard works for her. Eva, disguised as a security guard, makes rounds 180 degrees out of phase with the real guard. Jim and Katya get up to the roof to be on lookout. Maury and Anya head inside (as changing "come alone" to "come with one bodyguard" seems more likely to fly than "come with your six friends") and talk to the lawyer before Sykes and Bennet show up. Sykes and Bennet arrive with two bodyguards after a familiar dark van passes by the place a couple of times checking it out. Sykes looks grumpy, but not particularly in distress for his life. Maury pointedly comments that the plan is that if Bennet gets the thingy he doesn't shoot Sykes. (The lawyer adds that she didn't really need to know any of that, but Maury presses on. The lawyer and her guard head to the back office to wait for things to be settled.) Bennet tries to snowball Sykes some more - "who are you going to believe, him or me?" Maury counters that Bennet is working for Memento Mori and doesn't care about Sykes at all. Bennet looks surprised that they've discovered this, and Maury capitalizes on his evident surprise. Sykes begins to suspect that he's in over his head.
Bennet's guard plays with the beeper on his belt. Maury notices and asks him: "How many people are coming"? The guard panics now that Sykes is beginning to realize he was kidnapped and shouts: "Enough! So everyone wait here and no one will get hurt!" while he draws his gun and attempts to cover the crowd.
There's various menacing. Eva and Katya get the back door open and start heading in. Jim rappels down off the roof with a blaster rifle over his shoulder in fine scouting fashion and unlocks the door for Jayla and Kye. Kye shoots the guard who was left at the front door. Maury tells Sykes he can leave out the back. Jim helps shoot Kye's guard and Bennet. The black van comes back,and three more thugs show up. These three seems more competent and blast their way into the building with a shaped limpet mine. Sadly, the explosion catches Jayla, and she falls, though is not out. After taking a fair bit of damage from her, the newcomers concentrate their fire on Anya, and she finally goes down, but not before she and Jim take down two of the thugs. Sykes takes this opportunity to flee with Eva. Jim also goes down. Kye starts applying med patches left and right.
After much blasting, the party wins. Kye manages to stabilize the one dying guard, who took a precision hit to the eye from one of Anya's daggers. The police show up, but Katya eventually unveils her actual ID and pulls some rank to get them decent treatment during the statement taking. Maury tells the story. His captain got killed, Katya tells him, he leaves notes, he leaves. Months later, they come back and this mess breaks out. The Lawyers and crew give statements and everyone eventaully believes that Bennet has been misleading Sykes, and threatening Sykes to Maury. Unfortuantely the van registration that pins this all to Momento Mori is useless as MM reported the van stolen shortly after the crimes occured, and none of the thugs are talking. Even Bennet seems satisfied to listen to his lawyer and keeps his mouth shut. The crew returns to the Hippocrates.
The next morning, Kye and the team, along with a museum representative, go to scan the Tarn art, with much assurance that they won't do any damage, and indeed no damage occurs. It is as described, a bunch of formless unappealing blobs, but Maury realizes that it is probably what a scene would look like if you tried to paint something you had only seen with spatial awareness.
Later that day, word comes down that after looking at the statements gathered by all of the police, the Court of Stannis has decided to override the contract with the lawyer, and gives the mysterious property 50% to Sykes, and 50% to Maury, cutting Bennet out entirely. Sykes and the entire party head over to the lawyers offices to claim their prize. Once it is released from the lock box, it turns out to be a golden arm bracelet with four red gems down the front. Sykes says "You must be kidding. People were killed for this?"
Kye examines the armband, and reports that it's mostly a piece of junk jewelry and essentially worthless. Maury buys Sykes' share of the fool thing from him for 80 asters (quite a lot for something that worthless, but Sykes seems to realize he's never going to figure out what it's for, not to mention it seems to come with an automatic Hunted). After everyone returns to the Hippocrates, Kye reveals that it's actually a control transponder for a remote ship, and Maury indicates that as far as he can tell, it's Alliance tech, which is to say more complicated and advanced than even the Hippocrates' systems. Kye: "It's priceless!" Maury reminds Sykes to sue Bennet for ownership of the Desire's Heart, which eases people's conscience about possibly bilking Sykes.