Communicating over IRC, we used one room for action and another for out-of-character (OOC) chatting. This worked fairly well, until things got going, when it was difficult for The Cheshire Cat to pay attention to the OOC room. Essentially, he has told us that anything important to the action, including questions to him, has to be said in the action room from now on.
Playing the game this way was not only good for long-distance players but also made it possible for my husband, The Gryphon, and I to participate. We'd been skipping the recent in-person sessions, because it wouldn't have been convenient for taking care of our baby, Kung Fu Panda, just turned 7 months. This way, The Gryphon and I could take turns helping KFP out whenever he needed something. When needed, we could take a break away from the action quite easily.
We began the session by introducing the characters. The Court Wizard was playing Janice Moon, a professor of astrophysics from Great Eastern University on Granfalloon. He wrote, "She has the grim air of someone who was shanghaied from a comfortable tenured position due to university politics."
Batman's Roommate, from here on out to be nicknamed Aqua Man, kept his character secretive. He has been keeping to himself on a private room on the longship, and no one knows him very well. Not only was his character staying in the background for much of this first session, but he refused to even tell us the character's name! I suggested we call him Strider, the alias used by Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings when he is posing as an ordinary Ranger. But most people opted to call him "Al."
The March Hare played Mason Bannister, a tall, dark-haired man from Earth. As the March Hare said, "He is an outdoorsman who works kind of like a park ranger."
The Dormouse played Nantan Itza-chu (his friends call him "Nate"), who is from New Cibecue, a colony settled by White Mountain Apaches. The Dormouse wrote, "He's an engineer, and he joined as a way to further get away from herding buffalo on his home world."
I played Margaret Jones, who looks a lot like Jane Goodall: thin and slight with light brown hair (although she usually keeps hers in a bun). She is well-respected in the field of anthropology and served as a presidential advisor on interstellar cultures. With the arrival of a new administration, she's now searching for a job.
The White Rabbit played Sgt. Chen, who "looks like a fairly normal confed-er, perhaps a few percent shorter than average but with a stocky build." According to The White Rabbit, "He maintains a normal military level of fitness in his civilian life."
The Gryphon played Brandon Richardson, whom he described as "a moderately good looking human. He has an honest face with a sincere look and the glint of enthusiasm in his eyes." The Gryphon's description of Brandon's back story was much more descriptive than most of the other characters: "Brandon is the founder and CTO of Bootstrap, Inc., a Confederate nano-tech company. While their start was in such humdrum applications like civ seeds and rescue seeds, his company captured the most interest when they announced their service line of infrastructure backup and restoration, with options ranging from single structures to entire planetary colonies. He's received some tabloid coverage, including the 'publicity stunt' in which he put his money where his mouth was and used a personal re-entry kit to land on an unpopulated world with only one of his rescue seeds, which he used until 'rescue arrived'."
The Punster played Grigory Nurtsen, a Rimhold citizen who was about 5'11", trim, with black hair, blue eyes, and a perpetual 5-o-clock shadow. He was dressed neatly in local clothes.
Batman played Iris MirWest, who was from a little station around a Brown Dwarf. He wrote, "She's admitted to never actually seeing anything remotely natural and spends most of the time fiddling with her computer."
As the game began, the team were making a stop on a station in the Rimhold Galaxy (the exact name of the station is missing from my files, due to my accidentally closing my connection in the initial stages of the game as I tried to figure out how to save a log of the action). That's when they heard running towards them, and a barefoot boy approached them, followed by several men in livery uniforms.
The team immediately got involved, calling out to the men to find out what was going on. Brandon spoke to the boy, who ran behind him and hid. Margaret, who has studied some Empire German, held a whispered conversation with the boy. In that conversation, the boy said that these men were from his government and that he feared they would hurt him. He said that three of his brothers had already been taken away, never to return. She asked him if he needed amnesty, and when he didn't know that term, she asked him if he needed to be protected from his government. "Yes!" he called out. "Protect me!"
Margaret stood up and declared that the young boy had requested amnesty from his government, and as an unprotected minor, she would be standing in to act on his behalf until a suitable advocate could be appointed by the court.
Meantime, the rest of the team had determined there was something fishy about this whole story. The uniformed men, one of whom, Peltzo, said he was a medic, claimed that the boy, who called himself Four, was a dangerous psychopath. They said his family had been killed in an interstellar incident and that they were escorting him to the king of Teleute.
Iris examined the documents the men produced and, while they weren't forged, she felt there was something not right about them.
Nate pressed Peltzo to try to find out what business the king had with Four. "The boy is a subject of the king," Peltzo said. "All the king's subjects are like his children to him."
The statement gave rise to questioning, with Nate throwing insults at the medic, Peltzo. Janice Moon admired Nate's insulting skills. "That wouldn't be out of place in a GEU faculty meeting."
Having called down the local police, the party, along with the boy and his would-be captors, accompanied them to a police conference room. Brandon asked the officer if there was sufficient ground to honor the child's request for asylum. "The boy can request asylum if he wishes," the corporal says to Brandon. "We will honor it. He has a case. This needs to go before a jury."
Peltzo and his men, however, would not accept this route immediately, calling juries an "antique method of juriprudence. He claimed that his society uses "disinterested noble judges, as is right!" Despite various efforts to persuade him, he claimed that the boy's parents are dead "and he is property of the King! You have no standing to complain!"
When the Confed citizens threw the term "property" back at him, he looked at Grigory, the only Rimhold member of the party, to support him, to tell them that things are different in the Rimhold. Grigory would not, saying that his family endured many hardships but had never relied on slavery.
Brandon tried once more to persuade him: "We are enlightened, sentient beings. What we don't understand, we can learn."
Finally, Peltzo admitted his true concern: without the boy, the king of Teleute would die. Grigory deduced the dark truth of the situation: Four was to be used for organ donation, like his three brothers before him. This, of course, raised the ire of the party, especially Nate, who remembered the atrocities that had been done to his people, the Apache.
While Iris suggested the king just use medical nanobots to grow the new organs, Peltzo reacted very strongly: "Are you insane?" Through further questioning and deduction, it emerged that Four was a clone of the king, who had a rare brain disease that required transplanting portions of his brain.
One of the men in Peltzo's party pulled a gun. Iris and Margaret dove for cover. "Al" attempted to pull out his gun, but it got caught in his jacket. As Brandon dove behind the table, he shouted, "Don't shoot! You'll crack the nano-containment!" referring to the case he was carrying. This was, of course, a bluff, since the nanites were inactive.
Two of the guards got as pale as ghosts, but Peltzo seemed unfazed. Peltzo pulled a slim needle-gun from inside his jacket. This was a flechette gun, which had special flechettes in it and would be particular nasty to those who were unarmored. "The boy is coming with us," he said.
Mason grabbed the kid and dove behind a crate of equipment. The boy struggled with him, startled, screaming in Empire German for help. Margaret, who had established a good connection with the boy, called to him in Empire German, telling him to stay down.
Meanwhile, Nate dived at Peltzo, winding up his fist and punching him in the head, breaking his nose. He went down, startled and still clutching the gun. Sgt. Chen shouted at the other mooks to drop their weapons and stand down. The two guards who had earlier believed Brandon's bluff dropped their weapons.
While attempting to shoot one of the remaining guards with her stunner, Iris instead stunned the contents of her purse. Her lipstick would never be the same again.
Iris complained: "I can't get that color this far in the rim, damn it!"
Janice had better luck, diving under the table and grabbing the legs of the guy who still had his gun trained on the cops. She pulled him off balance, and his gun fired into the wall. She bashed his head against the ground until he stopped being troublesome.
"I just imagined he was the Dean and the rest was history," she remarked.
Sgt. Chen barked at the remaining guy to drop his weapon and raise his arms. When he failed to do so, Chen reversed his pistol and pistol-whipped him. Peltzo, not to be deterred, raised his weapon at Grigory, who kicked him in the head, knocking him down onto the tile floor and rendering him unconscious.
"Al" took a shot at the last guard. The laser fired across the room, burning a hole in the paneling. The gun made a snap as its capacitor discharged, and the laser bolt itself made a crackle of ionized air. The room filled with the scent of ozone and smoldering wood.
The last guard who was still up struck Chen in the chest, making him gasp.
Finally, the police cuffed the baddies. The boy had to be restrained from kicking Peltzo.
After they were all subdued, the party discussed why Peltzo would have been foolish -- or desperate -- enough to pull a gun in a police station, where he couldn't hope to win. They did some research and discovered that, in Teleute law, clones aren't people. Cloning, however, is not only illegal but a lost technology there, which is why the clones had to be produced off world.
An idea was briefly considered, brought up by Sgt. Chen. He suggested removing the kid's breath filter so that he would be breathing the same air as the Confederates, thereby being exposed to the Anrazael virus which gives the Confederates unnaturally long lives. This would have made him useless as a brain tissue donor.
Margaret reminded him that only the boy could make that decision, and Grigory agreed. Margaret said, "Given his legal status in his home world, I think we must process his asylum request with the authorities so he can have the full protection of the Confederate government. I can call on some associates and cut through the red tape."
The group had been conversing in Patois, which is the common language of the Confederation and its allies. At this point, Nate turned to he boy and told him, in Empire German, that they were debating what to do for him. "What do you want?" he asked him.
Four had never been asked before what he wanted, and when Grigory told him he was free, he broke down crying and grabbed Nate, who hugged him gently. Realizing that his rescuers were Confederates, Four asked Nate if they were vampires, the derogatory term for the long-lived Confed citizens. Nate assured them that they were good people, and Grigory, a Rimhold citizen, confirmed this.
One of the downed goons muttered in his sleep about nanotech eating his face, but Brandon assured everyone that was impossible, just a manifestation of his fears.
While Nate and Four conversed, as Nate told him more about his people and his homeworld, Brandon assured everyone that his company takes the safety of their products very seriously. Iris busily poked around on a datapad to look for any relevant information about the situation.
Nate and Margaret suggested taking the boy to the cafeteria to get some food, promising him anything he wanted. He requested cornbread. Margaret told him they would also get him some shoes while they were out, shopping in the duty-free shop.
Grigory wrapped things up with the local police, who were still bemused that the situation had wound up in gunfire.
The medic started to come around. Janice greeted him with a cordial greeting: "Welcome back to the land of the living, dumbass."
"You fools," Peltzo slurred. "Without this, the Prince will die!"
Brandon sighed, "Or, we can cure him."
Nate asked how many people would have to be sacrificed for the prince: "How many deaths are acceptable before it becomes a sin? One? Ten? A hundred? A thousand? Stop me any time you like."
Peltzo returned, "The royal family kept Teleute alive through the Burning Times! We serve them with honor! Any service is worthy!"
Seeing the conversation about to turn darker, Margaret said to Nate: "This seems like a good time to escort Four to the cafeteria for some food. Will you come along? And someone else, as well?" Janice agreed to accompany them.
Peltzo lunged forward but was pushed down by a police officer. "Fools! You've doomed Teleute!"
Still, Brandon was optimistic: "The preferable treatment would be germ-line treatment to correct the genetic defects causing the disease, but if the genetics of the king are sacrosanct, we can provide a turn-key solution to provide replacement organs. A solution, I might add that doesn't involve farming sentient beings."
Peltzo cried out, "Without the kings the world DIES!" Undeterred, Margaret, Nate, Janice and Four left for the cafeteria, soon joined by Mason.
Peltzo saw Grigory's flash of concern. "You know. You've seen the worlds burned out by tech from the Republic, the tech that kept worlds stable. The tech that kept the people from killing those in charge when the hard decisions had to be made."
Iris followed up on this, "So, your mad prince has a bunch of scary tech?"
Grigory added, "I come from a world that is still dancing on the edge of disaster ... but it won't crash if our leaders die. Why does yours?"
"When the Republic fell," Peltzo said in the tones of someone telling a story worn down by years of telling, "worlds burned. Those who carried planets through the Burning Times had to decide who lived and who died. They kept order. No matter the cost. So people wanted them dead."
On their way to the cafeteria, Nate told Four that he had been very brave, and Four responded "thank you," seemingly unused to this sort of praise.
In the interrogation room, Peltzo continued: "If the king and the prince both die, our world burns. Sunbombs, wired to them. When the crown changes hands, we all pray that the Medic's hands are steady. My hands." Sun bombs are planet killers.
Still hacking away at the tablet, Iris asked, "So why not wire the sunbomb to someone else? Or is it a genetic trigger?"
Meanwhile, Brandon's research revealed that the Burning Time is a term in the Rimhold Halo for the Breakup War, when fleets destroyed population centers to keep them out of the hands of the enemy. They left behind devourer nano and plagues.
Brandon stared at his datapad, the color draining from his face. Those paying close enough attention might have noticed his throwing up a little in his mouth.
"Give us the boy!" Peltzo begged, on the edge of a breakdown. "For the lives of millions, sacrifice just one life!"
Iris asked, "Why not just um, disarm the sunbombs? Does this method of defense seem a bit crazy to anyone else?"
"Extremely crazy," Al agreed.
Peltzo answered, "Do you think we haven't thought of anything we could to transfer them or disarm them? And that our ancestors, who were even more desperate because the kings were deciding which cities got food and which starved, didn't also think?"
Grigory said, "There's got to be more people on your planet that you could transfer the crowns to, people not dying of a rare disease."
Peltzo screamed, "Give us the boy! It's my world's only hope!" He had to be restrained by four police officers as he began to rave in his native tongue.
Speaking in well-modulated tones, Brandon asked, "How does the boy keep the bombs at bay? Help us find another solution. We have tools and knowledge at your disposal that you and your ancestors don't."
Back in the conference room, Peltzo was so agitated that Brandon had to administer a calming sedative.
Sgt. Chen posited, "Presumably the controls are keyed to the particular physiology of the royal family, correct?"
Grigory sat down next to Peltzo and said, "Look, the Confeds have some truly incredible tech - stuff that hasn't been seen here since the days of the Empire. They *might* be able to find a solution with enough information."
Iris said, "I think this is a situation that the Confederation military's bomb squad is probably better suited to handle."
Chen suggested, "We can custom-manufacture a biological artifact that will still complete the control circuit, freeing the actual human subjects."
Grigory told Peltzo, "But you've got to stay calm - if you have an aneurism and die, who's going to transfer the crowns? It's your duty to calm down now."
In the cafeteria, Four relished his first taste of cornbread. Nate smiled and told him, "Today is a day of firsts."
Margaret patted Four reassuringly on the head as he devoured his food.
Clones are people, too, unless they are clones of a mad interstellar king.