Again I’m railroading things by choosing results – that will stop in a couple of episodes. I am unrepentant; if continuously rebooting the storyline is good enough for Ghost in the Shell, it’s good enough for me. It’s an on-planet week, so we start with a world encounter and see where that leads us.
- World encounter: 66 – offworlder befriends you.
- Who? Patron 62, Researcher.
- What are they doing here? Mission 12, explore ruins.
Strictly speaking I didn’t need to roll for who they were or what they were up to, but why not?
Locked up in the cage in the cargo hold of the Vegan’s Dream, Arion and Dmitri look the worse for wear after waiting overnight for Schrodinger to talk to them; not beaten, but stubbly and short on sleep. Two Gimirri warriors are watching them, silently. The deck movements and external noise show the ship is in flight. The spider from the Dolphin‘s repair swarm has obviously managed to slip away and conceal itself, and is watching from one of the ceiling supports.
Timon enters from the living quarters, followed by Schrodinger, complete with cat. They move up to the cage and stop just outside either prisoner’s grasp.
“Sorry,” says Timon, not looking sorry at all. “I didn’t have anything else to sell.” Schrodinger waves him aside, imperiously.
“So,” he says Schrodinger. “Dmitri. We meet at last. And this must be Arion. Is that really your name? Well, as good as any other, I suppose. Now, tell me; what are you doing here, hmm?”
“Waiting to talk to you,” Arion says, reasonably. “A word of advice though; if you’re going into the passenger business, you need to work on the accomodations.”
“Bah! Let me tell you what you are really doing here: Wasting your time! I already have the Eye of the Cat; even if you had divined my plan, which you are obviously too stupid to do, you would not be able to stop me now. I am not even going to torture you for information, because nothing you know could possibly be worthy of my attention.” One of the Gimirri looks visibly depressed.
“I will need the cage again shortly, though,” Schrodinger muses. “So you will need to vacate it, I’m afraid.”
The deck tilts under them as the Vegan’s Dream lands; through the portholes, lush vegetation can be seen.
“Have you anything to say before I have you thrown into the lake, where your otherwise worthless bodies can feed the teuthids?” He strikes a melodramatic pose.
“Nah,” says Dmitri. “We’re cataleptic. Cat’s got our tongues, you might say.”
“Throw them in the lake,” Schrodinger hisses. The Gimirri wrestle Arion and Dmitri out of the cage, and then out of the hold.
Shortly, Arion and Dmitri are being frogmarched along a cliffside jungle path near the waterfall. After a few minutes, Arion slips and falls to his knees; the Gimirri escorting him makes the mistake of moving around in front of him, and is headbutted viciously in the stomach for his pains. While he is recovering from this, Arion scrambles to his feet, yells “Come on!” and runs off the edge of the cliff. While the Gimirri are still deciding what to do about this, Dmitri breaks free and follows Arion off the cliff.
Both plummet into the lake below, where they struggle to pull their bound hands from behind them, over their feet and in front, and struggle to the surface. Behind them, several large, tentacled creatures slide past.
Arion swims to the side of the lake, crawls out, and turns to extend an hand to Dmitri. Tentacles appear briefly above the surface of the water, but fortunately whatever else they are, they are not hungry. Arion pokes around the beach and finds a sharp shell of some sort, with which he cuts their bonds.
“How did you know where to jump to land in the lake?” asks Dmitri.
“I didn’t,” says Arion. Dmitri digests this for a moment.
“So, your plan for avoiding being thrown into the lake was to jump into the lake?”
“Well, it worked; we didn’t get thrown in. This way,” Arion says, pointing along a path into the jungle. They move off at a cautious walk.
“What’s the Eye of the Cat?” Arion asks.
“No idea,” Dmitri admits. “Schrodinger obviously thinks I’m trying to stop him getting it, or get it myself. That’s probably why he tried to have me killed. Twice, now. I don’t think we’re going to be friends.”
Six days wandering more or less aimlessly through the jungle have left Dmitri and Arion hungry, dirty and unshaven.
“You have no idea where we are, do you?” asks Dmitri – quite mildly, considering.
“When lost in a jungle,” Arion quotes from one of the Archive survival manuals, “Find a watercourse and follow it downstream. Eventually this will lead you to a settlement.”
At the noise of someone – or something – approaching, Arion lifts a finger to his lips, silencing Dmitri; then points to a tree overhanging the path. They quickly climb out of sight. Moments later, a humanoid figure in green, hooded robes with golden trim walks up the path towards their hiding place.
As the robed figure passes beneath the tree, Arion leaps down onto it and wrestles it to the ground. Rolling on top to a position of advantage, he draws back a fist to punch the figure unconscious; then the hood of the robe falls back, to reveal the face of a beautiful woman. Startled, Arion leaps to his feet.
“I’m so sorry,” he says. “I thought you were someone else. I am Arion,” here he points to himself in case she doesn’t understand. “Arion,” he repeats, and offers her his hand. “Who are you?” Her brow furrows for a moment, and Arion puts his hands to his head in pain. The woman takes his hand and rises.
“My name is Coriander,” she says. “I see you meant me no harm, so I accept your apology, Arion. I think you should meet my father; come with me. The Gimirri are not far behind, and I do not have the skill to divert them.”
“How do you know all this?” Dmitri asks, suspicious.
“Oh, I know a lot of things, Dmitri,” Coriander smiles. “And what I do not know, I can find out, quickly. Come.” And with that she sways off into the jungle. Arion and Dmitri look at each other, shrug, and follow her along what appears to be a game trail.
At length they enter a small clearing with a high-tech camp in it; inhabitants about their tasks pause briefly to stare at the newcomers, exchange nods with Coriander in complete silence, then return to their work, which seems to be an archaeological dig. Most are dressed in green robes, but a few are in black tactical garb, with weapons held loosely at the ready; these are looking outward towards the edge of the clearing, rather than down into the dig, where an ancient building is slowly emerging from centuries of dirt and leaf mould.
Coriander and her father stand face to face, bow their heads, and commune wordlessly for a moment. Arion and Dmitri exchange looks.
The man turns to face Arion, speaking slowly as if unused to words. “So,” he says. “I am Baltasar. You assault my daughter, and yet she brings you here for help. You must be unusual men, Arion, Dmitri. Why do you seek the Eye of the Cat?”
Dmitri maintains a poker face and silence. Arion says, “Schrodinger wants the Eye. He is an unpleasant person, so no good can come of him having it. My friend and I plan to stop him getting it. Also, I have no idea what the Eye of the Cat is, and I’m curious why it’s worth all this fuss.”
“How is this your concern?”
“Someone has to stop him. If we don’t do it, who will?”
Baltasar laughs. “So, you have no idea what’s going on, or how you’re going to stop it, but you’re going to try anyway?”
“Yes. Can you help? Will you help?”
Baltasar strokes his chin thoughtfully, then comes to a decision.
“The Eye of the Cat allows its bearer to control the dinobastis – you probably heard one of those thrashing around in the jungle earlier. We’re looking for it too; it has other powers of interest to us. We thought it was in this building, but if Schrodinger has it…”
“Why does Schrodinger want it?”
“Schrodinger is an outcast from our Institute. He has a vision of a universe where the Institute controls humanity for its own purposes; he intends to start by seizing power among the Gimirri, whose totem is a giant cat. Once he appears with one at his back, the Council will be forced to grant him a seat by ancient tradition.”
“Wait, you guys are the Psionics Institute? You’re supposed to be a myth!”
“Well, we don’t get out much,” Baltasar shrugs.
“Aren’t you terrorists?”
“Some people say so. But then, some people say that about you, Arion; people on Ria – or Mizah.”
Arion scratches his beard. “Well, actually they say I’m a spy, a murderer and a kidnapper. To be fair, there is some truth in that. The spy part, anyway.” Since they have already read his mind, Arion thinks there is not much point trying to hide this.
There is a deep roar from the jungle beyond the dig site, and Dmitri interrupts. “Giant cat? How giant, exactly?”
“The ones around here are about ten metres long, and maybe a third of that is tail,” explains Baltasar. “In the deep jungle, they probably grow bigger than that.”
“We’re going to need bigger guns,” says Arion, quietly.
“No,” says Coriander. “They have as much right to live as you or I. We need the Eye of the Cat.”
“Where next, then?” asks Dmitri.
And all eyes turn to Arion.
Whoa, a long one this time! I got carried away there.
As well as re-imagining an earlier part of the Arioniad, I’m using this episode to steer the group towards more secrets. Solitaire adventures are more entertaining if there is an overall objective for the player, even if the characters don’t know what it is.
In this case, developments in both the Arioniad and Old Musky campaigns suggest there is some deep conspiracy going on that involves the Psionics Institute. What is it? And are they the good guys or the bad guys? Let’s find out, shall we?