The Grass is Always Greener
THE EX-BLUE SUN AGENTS:
Blue Sun Research Vessel "Jiuxing", Persephone orbit
The PC's, now literally under the gun from the two twitchy security guards, are in a bit of pickle. Michael Seven decides surrender is probably the best option, considering the current state of his two companions. At least until he can get one of the security guards within reach, anyway. Echo Five, after being yelled at by the security guards, finally notices what's going on right in front of her and drops to her knees with hands held high as well. Sierra Three is still terrified of the medical personnel, shaking and rambling incoherently. She also drops to her knees, though unintentionally and with less concern over the threat of the security guards than with the medical staff.
The guards and staff, however, are plainly terrified of the PC's for some reason and now seem at a loss for how to respond to their unexpected surrender. Michael Seven takes the opportunity to try to reason with them again, spending a couple of Plot Points in the hopes of overcoming his complications. He finally manages to utter something rational and explains that they haven't the slightest idea what's going on, who they are or where they are. They certainly haven't any ill intentions toward the group, either. Echo Five chimes in, lending her support to Michael's assertions. Sierra finally begins to wind down a bit and progresses to uncontrolled shivering and sobbing.
The guards are still unconvinced and the PC's are a bit concerned when the staff begin batting around ideas on what to do with them. The subject of airlocks and sedatives are hastily discussed as well. Further attempts to reason with the staff and guards fail and the PC's find they're more inclined to disposing of them in some way. Michael and Echo glance at one another, coming to the conclusion that a straight forward unarmed assault on the two security guards might now be their best option. Sierra, too, seems to have gathered her wits and is ready to do whatever is necessary to get away from the awful medical staff. Before the PC's can spring into action, however, they realize their arms are tingling again and barely have time to brace themselves for the crushing flashback...
THE INDEPENDENCE SOLDIERS:
During the two weeks of downtime while they await Iddy's recovery (before linking up with the rest of the SpecOps company in the field), the PC's make productive use of their free time. Angelina finds and purchases an online copy of the 2507 Best Selling novel, "The Grass is Always Greener" over the cortex and downloads it to her data library. She and Iddy confer at her hospital bed over the code and eventually confirm the numeric string that Ringo copied does indeed translate to the meaningless letter sequence he showed them. Mulling over any possible meaning Iddy hits on the idea that the letter string itself might be a code. They call in Ringo to grill him over any other notes he may have noticed in the hardcopy version of the book he took from Colonel Roush. Ringo spends two Plot Points on the effort to Recall anything else he may have seen and remembers a couple of notes inside the back cover of the book that didn't seem to make a lot of sense. After he jots these down for the girls they are able to determine that the meaningless letter string was intended to convert back to yet another meaningless number string. Still, though, they haven't the first clue what that string is supposed to represent.
Feeling frustrated and a little in over their heads, the PC's allow Iddy to spend a Plot Point to call in a favor with one of her family's connections. Through him she secures the help, via cortex wave, of a high-ranking intelligence officer. Within the hour he reports back that their number string theory isn't quite correct as some of the letters are clearly separate from the main string. Using the code-breakers at his disposal he able to hit on only one likely interpretation..."Iskellan TS A25452-C88325", an Iskellan Technology Solutions product serial number. That, in turn, seems to refer to an old Cortex transceiver that once orbited Athens many years ago. Unfortunately he isn't able to uncover any information concerning the transceiver itself as records of it have long since been purged. Nonetheless he can confirm that it has been listed as "disposed" for the past five years, meaning it has since been replaced and disposed of.
Calls directly to Iskellan Technology Solutions don't yield much more, even when the PC's manage to convince them to even talk to them. The Public Support representative assures them that records on old Cortex transceivers replaced or disposed of more than three years ago are purged from the system.
Accessing information on Colonel Roush himself over the Independent forces database, however, reveals something of interest. The Colonel apparently had a brother with whom he's served alongside in the Alliance forces for many years. This brother, Captain Marichev Roush, is suspected to be stationed aboard one of the Alliance orbital bombers at the moment. Most interestingly, Ringo recalls a hand-written note from Sarczech indicating the hardcopy book may have been intended as some kind of gift from him to Marichev.
Still, unable to make any further progress with the mysterious code, the PC's get back to healing from their wounds. Ringo secures his Pasceline-D injection, Angelina manages to avoid breaking anything valuable and Iddy spends a Plot Point convincing the staff to allow Rink in to visit.
In mid-March the PC's have fully recovered and are making preparations to be shuttled out to rejoin the rest of the SpecOps unit outside Vinopolis. Before they can make their way to the airfield they find themselves waylaid by a courier from HQ. They are to report there immediately.
On arrival they are rushed into a impromptu meeting with Major Shang and informed of a mission that has just come down directly from General McHale himself. It seems that the intelligence gathered from their previous mission has led to the discovery of a cache of fourteen tactical nuclear weapons deep inside the rumble of Archopolis. Alliance forces, aware of the intelligence breach following the loss of Colonel Roush's dispatch, are preparing to move in and seize the cache before Independence forces can. Unfortunately Archopolis was leveled by repeated thermonuclear airbursts and still reads as moderately radioactive, making an attempt by Independence forces to end-run the Alliance team a troublesome proposition. Then again, that's what Special Operations is for...
After a hasty debriefing the PC's are issued NBC suits and gather their standard gear. They head for the airfield and yet another encounter with the dreadful Mag-gliders. Iddy is more than a little upset about leaving Rink behind but, sadly, the Independence hasn't gotten around to manufacturing canine NBC suits.
En route to Archopolis their shuttle meets little resistance from Alliance orbital air cover and arrives at the drop zone without incident. Deciding on a drop point three blocks south of the collapsed warehouse where the cache is suspected to be, the PC's jump ship and again attempt to wrestle with their mag-gliders. They all fail badly and find themselves scattered some blocks from one another, though still within a short hike of the warehouse. The PC's confer via secured comms and immediately begin hoofing it to rendezvous at the original drop point.
By the time they gather there they receive word from the shuttle circling above that they've spotted a small convoy of three Alliance skiffs moving out from the city toward a small camp down the main highway. Moments later the shuttle is forced to evacuate the area when it detects an attempt to lock on with anti-air missiles from the camp below. The PC's, concerned over the fact that the convoy is moving out of the city rather than in, hustle through the debris to the warehouse down the street.
Arriving there they find the debris surrounding the entrance to the warehouse's sub-basement has been cleared away and the doors have been thrown open. Dashing inside they confirm that the crates stored within are all empty. The Alliance team has apparently already recovered the nukes. Having noted the abandoned Independence skiff in the street outside the PC's rush to check it out, hoping it's still running. Iddy quickly checks out the skiff, determining the EMP from several airbursts has completely fried all the electrical components of the vehicle. As it's an older model hydrogen-burner, however, she determines that she can bypass all the burnt out systems and start the skiff up manually. She pops the maintenance hatch on the vehicle and, despite the cumbersome plate vest and NBC suit she's wearing, skillfully bypasses the electrical ignition systems. The skiff soon roars to life and the PC's pile in to rush after the convoy.
The Alliance convoy ahead is already aware that Independent forces have jumped into the city and has since sped up their egress from the city. The PC's are unable to catch up with them before they link up with camp down the highway. Furthermore, the soldiers at the camp have been in communication with orbiting Alliance ships and are tracking their movements. As they speed down the highway in their attempt to engage the convoy, they call in an strike on the rapidly moving Independence skiff. Fortunately Ringo is able to maneuver out of the strike zone with only moderate damage to the skiff and they abandon their vehicle to move forward on foot (recalling that small units are much more difficult to track from orbit than large armored vehicles).
Taking effort to present a minimal target to orbiting spy satellites the PC's manage to evade detection as they move toward the camp. They soon move within range of their binoculars and spy the Alliance forces ahead attempting to move the cache of nukes as rapidly as possible from the skiffs to the cargo transport parked there. After discussing their options the PC's decide that their mission's primary objective of retrieving the nukes may well be unachievable. They fall back to their secondary objective of keeping them out of the hands of the Alliance. The PC's decide to return to favor of the recent orbital bombardment with an artillery barrage of their own. Angelina comms the 23rd Artillery Unit while Ringo paints the shuttle with a laser designator. After several minutes the PC's sit back and watch the Alliance camp, and the tactical nukes, come under a rain of Hellstorm high explosive incendiary rounds.
After the long series of earth shaking explosions subside, the team hoofs it down to what remains of the camp. They quickly confirm the destruction of all units and vehicles in the camp as well as the nukes, though they aren't able to enter the camp due to the residual heat from the blackened swath of fused earth. The PC's link up with HQ via comm and transmit several video captures of the carnage from multiple angles, then fall back taking cover from any possible orbital surveillance to await further instructions.
After several tense moments the PC's are informed, unsurprisingly, that the entire area is lit up with orbital Alliance scans and two air carriers are moving in on their position from the north. Extraction simply isn't a viable option until HQ's backup plan (a diversionary strike against Alliance forces in the neighboring valley) comes through. The PC's debate their options and decide to haul it out of there before the purple bellies start bombing the area in earnest. They head east, staggering their formation and leapfrogging from cover to cover to throw off orbital tracking.
Within two hours they managed to leave Archopolis behind and can glance back over their shoulders at the random high-order detonations pelting the area around the city with incendiary fragmentation. Consulting with HQ they are directed to lay low in Erindale, a small town southeast of Archopolis, where they hope to be able to dispatch an extraction team for them soon. The PC's stumble on toward Erindale, arriving just as night begins to fall and barely avoiding the Alliance's very efficient thermal imaging.
The PC's are greeted by a group of several armed inhabitants just outside the town and questioned concerning their intentions. After offering assurances that they just need a place to lay low while they await their extraction the townsfolk flat out refuse to allow them into town. They are offered the option of bartering for whatever supplies they might need but Erindale just isn't willing to suffer Independents and Alliance fighting in the streets, which seems to be the inevitable result when one side of the other shows up.
Angelina haggles with the townsfolk and manages to get permission for the team to hunker down in an old chicken coop on the edge of town where they can avoid orbital surveillance. The townsfolk readily agree but assure them that if they step foot into town proper the local sheriff won't hesitate to wave the nearest Alliance unit to come deal with them. The team agrees and beds down in the chicken coop for the night. Two hours later a young woman knocks on the rotting plank door of the coop to deliver a large paper sack of goodies, apparently a charitable gift from the local pastor. The PC's unload the bag and chow down on the bread and fruit within before crashing for the night.
Well after daybreak the PC's rouse slowly and painfully to sunlight in their faces and the muffled sounds of an argument nearby. Feeling very groggy and ill to their stomachs, the team casts around to find themselves lying in their underwear at the bottom of a shallow, freshly dug trench. From the sounds of the argument going on somewhere above them it would seem that one individual objects to the intentions of the group standing around outside the trench.
Iddy immediately begins shaking and babbling irrationally as she recalls hiding from Reavers beneath the bodies of her teammates in a foxhole on Shadow. Angelina's Klutz complication effects her attempt to jump out of the shallow trench and she stumbles and sprawls gracelessly among the feet of a half dozen armed townsfolk. Despite her tumble she quickly stands and snatches the heavy pistol from the Burly Blacksmith's holster while they are all still surprised. Ringo, too, manages to jump up out of the trench and snatch the Sheriff's double-barrel shotgun away, despite the debilitating after-effects of whatever drug they've all been given. He immediately threatens the group, promising to open up with both barrels on whomever slaps leather first. Angelina likewise wields her pistol and covers the group while the both of the step back to stand together. Iddy, meanwhile, recovers her wits and scrambles up out of the trench as well. While the townsfolk put up their hands she disarms them, tossing all but one heavy pistol on the ground near her comrades.
The town pastor who they heard arguing with the locals quickly intercedes on the behalf of his neighbors. Although he just recently learned of the plot to drug them and bury them alive for their gear and came here to stop them, he appeals to the PC's not to kill them. Times have been very hard since the War came to Athens, he says, and desperate folk are easy prey for the devil's temptations. The team agrees to spare the men on the condition that all their gear is returned immediately and the pastor rushes off the collect it from the sheriff's office in town.
Once the pastor returns and the team have properly clothed and armed themselves, they bind the six unscrupulous townsmen with plastic wrist restraints from their gear. Iddy calls into HQ to report and request their extraction, which they are assured will arrive shortly.
Catching up on events since last night they find the Independence strike on Heritage valley was a stunning success. With Alliance forces scattered about attempting to intercept them and recover the nukes, defenses there were unprepared for the well-coordinated Independence assault. Presently the entire area is under Independence control and their extraction should be both rapid and unopposed. Unfortunately HQ expects the Alliance forces in orbit will soon take exception to their losses and the response is expected to be quite devastating.
The PC's rapidly recheck their gear and deploy markers for the inbound shuttle they can already spot rushing in from the west. In due course they board the craft and settle in for a rapid retreat to HQ, hopefully before the bombs begin to fall.
THE EX-BLUE SUN AGENTS:
Blue Sun Research Vessel "Jiuxing", Persephone orbit
Expecting to find themselves floating out an airlock by the time they recover from their last flashback, the PC's are relieved to discover that they've merely been bound and tossed into a supply room. After a bit of struggling they quickly realize the duct tape binding them isn't going to give way to brute force. Though bound at the ankles also, they manage to get to their feet and begin hopping around the room looking for something to free themselves with.
Sierra Three is delighted when their movement rouses furious barking from the supply room's other occupant, a mangy dog locked in a plastic travel cage. Rink, however, is none to pleased as he doesn't recognize any of them and is far more inclined to snarl and snap at the strangers. While the others look on with amusement, Sierra Three spends a few minutes reacquainting herself with her old friend (or, rather, Iddy's old friend). Though she doesn't look or smell anything like his lost master Iddy, the lonely hound dog finds there's something about this strange lady that appeals to him. Soon the two of them have become fast friends (again). Sierra spends a Plot Point to control Rink's actions and soon has the tape around her wrists chew free. To her companion's irritation she stops to free Rink before she turns to release them from their restraints.
The team sets about checking the supply room for anything of use in getting past the locked door that's trapped them inside. Echo is surprised to find Ringo Lassiter's "Old Grizzly" rifle, with a full clip of silver rounds, in a postage crate marked for Bellerophon. Michael Seven is overjoyed to have his (or, rather, Ringo's) Very Favorite Gun in his possession again and blatantly ignores the girl's objections to blasting a hole in the door's locking mechanism.
With the door open and Michael armed the PC's decide they'd best storm out of the place and engage the staff before they have time to respond to the shot. Fortunately they find the folks who tossed them in the supply room gathered around a door just down the hallway. As the two security officers reach for their side arms Michael is able to drop them both with called shots before they can clear their holsters. The remaining medical staff are quick to toss up their hands at his insistence and the PC's are pleased to finally have the upper hand.
After herding the group into the nearby conference room for questioning the PC's take note of the crowbars dropped near the airlock door and the obvious signs of damage to its exterior. Clearly the staff members were working quite hard at breaching the airlock when the team engaged them. They question them first concerning this and the staff readily informs them that they've been locked into this section of the research vessel, away from the control room. Apparently the ship is under way toward Persephone's atmo on a very bad reentry vector with no heat shielding at all. A fact which is instantly confirmed when the onboard warning system announces the fact over the intercom system.
The PC's change tactics and herd the group back to the airlock door, setting them to work breeching the seal again while Michael covers them from the conference room entrance. As they watch the anxious medical staff attack the seal with crowbars they are discouraged to find their arms are tingling again. Before they can decide what to do the flashback hits and they collapse like rag dolls...
THE YOUNG READERS:
St. Lucy's Hospital, Ariel City, Ariel
In the waiting room off the security station of St. Lucy's Hospital, the advanced class of the Thomas Aquinas School for Orphaned Youth sit impatiently while their teacher is questioned by federal marshals. From what little they can overhear they gather that a band of ruthless criminals have robbed the hospital's med-vault. Though they were captured inside before they could get away, it seems that they somehow managed to slaughter the entire squad of Alliance federals holding them and escaped with medicines worth thousands of credits on the black market.
The PC's confer and agree that the strange trio they encountered in the hall may well have been part of the plot to rob the vault. The burly paramedic who spoke so rudely to them certainly seemed the type to be involved in something criminal. After gaining the attention of one of the marshals watching over them, they relay their tale to him and are quickly ushered into a side room for questioning. To their dismay the two men overseeing the investigation come to question them personally and neither strike the PC's as particularly trustworthy from the very start. In fact both seem disturbingly devoid of emotion and altogether strange in their behavior. Not to mention they must have taken the hospital's policy on blood and body fluid precautions a bit too seriously as they're both wearing blue surgical gloves.
As the long period of intense questioning drags on the young PC's develop a more and more disturbing aversion to the two men. Though they can't quite identify what it is about them that is so troubling (itself an unusual occurrence for all three of them) they can't shake a growing sense of panic as they interact with the two strange officials. Pamela, in fact, suddenly experiences a kaleidoscope of images running through her mind of blood and screaming, something she's never experienced before.
Thoroughly terrified of the two men the three students give them all the information they can think of concerning the three people they encountered in the hall, in the hopes of ending the questioning quickly. To their dismay the men continue questioning them concerning all manner of topics having no apparent relation to the investigation at all. Where are they from? What are their favorite activities? And most shocking of all, have they ever experienced instances of unusual insight into the character or motivations of other people?
Presently their teacher, having finished her own questioning, comes to rescue them with a long tirade at the two men for treating the poor children like common criminals. The two blue gloved officials depart without responding and the PC's are relieved to be escorted back to the rest of their class.
As the class leaves the hospital to catch their transport back to the docks, Jeremy and Tilly continually pelt them with insults and insinuations concerning the federal marshal's apparent interest in them. When words are exchanged between Eric and Jeremy, though, a quick shove leads to an all-out fight between the five students. Thankfully the teacher is able to break up the disturbance before anyone is badly injured but everyone involved gets a black mark on their conduct cards.
With the teacher now aware that the PC's wandered away from the class without her noticing she is less than pleased with them already. Attempts to lay the blame on Jeremy and Tilly with accusations that they were locked in the 3D imaging room meet with disbelief and the PC's find they are now in every bit as much trouble as they feared they would be. Snickers from the snarky duo do nothing to ease their discontentment.
After arriving at the docks and spending two boring hours awaiting their shuttle, the class is finally preparing to depart Ariel. On the loading platform, however, they are confronted by a trio of Alliance officials who quickly pull the teacher aside for quick conference. Shortly the teacher returns looking quite excited and ushers the PC's over to speak with the officials.
From them they learn that the Alliance has formed a particularly challenging and rewarding educational program for advanced students. The program has apparently already produced a number of highly successful graduates and its curriculum is nothing short of amazing. As it happens the Alliance is on the lookout for truly exceptional students to attend it's program in the hopes of encouraging the educational growth of a many productive future citizens. Judging from the PC's academic record as well as the courageous and insightful role they played in the investigation of the robbery at St. Lucy's Hospital, they may well be just the kind of students the Academy is looking for.
Sensing nothing disingenuous or threatening from any of the three officials, and thoroughly enamored by the exciting program described in the brochures they're handed, the PC's readily agree to screening and soon skip off to their shuttle dreaming of an educational program truly worthy of their excellence.
THE EX-BLUE SUN AGENTS:
Blue Sun Research Vessel "Jiuxing", Persephone orbit
Recovering from their latest flashback the PC's are amused to find that, not only have they not been shoved out any airlocks, but Rink seems to have taken it upon himself to guard them while they were incapacitated. A couple of bloody wounds evident on two of the medical staff bear testimony to just how seriously the little hound seems to have taken his responsibilities.
Shaking off the disorienting effects of the vivid flashbacks, the PC's take to their feet again and Michael Seven wields his Old Grizzly. The medical staff soon have the airlock seal breached and are able to slide the door open, allowing access to the neighboring section of the vessel and, hopefully, the control room.
Ushering the medical staff aside, Michael leads the way into the next section with his Grizzly shouldered. Down the hall to the right of the airlock he instantly spies two very familiar figures through the open door of the computer room. Taking a moment to observe he realizes that both men are wearing blue surgical gloves, though neither seem to be the federals he encountered at St. Lucy's Hospital before. Furthermore, they seem to be in the process of wiping the computer core memory cards with a large handheld magnet. Without a second thought Michael unloads three rounds at the men, hitting one of the twice and knocking him off his feet. The second man glances over at Michael then turns calmly to help the other, who doesn't seem to be as dead as he expected, stand up again. As Michael prepares to let loose some head shots on the two the PC's feel the dreadful tingling in the arms again...
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