Shadowrun

Shadowrun Play => Play-by-Post => Topic started by: Tecumseh on (18:33:17/01-20-16)

Title: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (18:33:17/01-20-16)
12:01 PM Sunday, May 12th, 2075 - Sioux Nation

James stands in the middle of an empty field of green spring grasses. He blinks and squints in the intense sunlight until his cybereyes adjust to the glare. The Winnebago is parked on the side of a dusty, unpaved road leading through the field.

It's the Great Plains. This piece used to be called Kansas, but now it's the very eastern edge of the Sioux Nation. Highway 70 is 3 or 4 klicks south, and the UCAS border is not far down the road to the east. But all James can see now is dirt and grass and an ocean of blue sky. That and Illeana frolicking in the sun and the grass like a gazelle. She bends down every few meters to closely examine some of what's growing.

"What are we doing here?" James asks, knowing that Illeana's enhanced hearing won't have any problem picking it up over the sound of the wind.

"We're killing time while Sam crosses the border on foot!" she calls back. "He's got one of my spirits providing cover. So far, so good!"

"No, no, I remember all that. I mean what are we doing here?" James asks again, indicating the empty field in the middle of nowhere.

"Oh. Well I am looking for ingredients for Little Smoke. You can usually sell it for a grand or more! It's an alchemical preparation that requires three units of natural herbal refined grasses from the Great Plains. You are staying out of the way and keeping an eye out for predators."

"Predators?" James asks, looking around at the void. "Like what?"

"Like cockatrices," Illeana answers, straightening up and coming near him. Given the private moment, she's chosen to appear as her natural self. James knows that she has her mask on underneath the spell, mostly because she always has it on unless they are sleeping, showering, or making out. She's wearing some simple form-fitting body armor and has her sword across her back.

"Cockatrices?" James asks, a bit incredulously. He knows a fair bit about Parazoology and knows that cockatrices are not from around here. "They're native to grassland and scrubland in western Europe."

"Exactly right," Illeana says, stepping in close to him and putting a hand on his chest. "They're an invasive species here. Most of the farm work is done by drones so they're not as much of a threat to metahumans, but the locals still get agitated if they lose some cattle or bison. I know cockatrices are tall but they like to sneak up through the grass."

"Wiz," James says, looking around for giant carnivorous chickens. The wind rustles the waist-high grass, which should nicely disguise the movements of anything sneaking up through the grass with the intention of eating you.

"Something smells funny over there," Katsina says, pointing north-northwest. "Just stay alive for an hour or two and then we can..." She giggles a bit, running her fingers suggestively through James' hair. "... take advantage of Sam's absence," she says.

She slaps him on the butt. "And if you bag one, bring it back with you. Might be good for reagents itself. Should taste like chicken too, right?"

With that, she turns and returns to her task, leaving James to stare at her backside as she bends over to inspect strands of grass one-by-one.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (13:07:48/01-21-16)
James takes a moment to enjoy the view of Illeana's backside, wondering a little absently about how much of her is affected by the physical mask.  Ever since a few months back when he confessed to liking his women a little "thick," she's seemed more curvaceous than before, no doubt from her ever-present desire to be helpful.  But it was hard to be sure.  Since he regained consciousness back in the van, since as far back as he can remember, he's seen Illeana under some form of magic more often than not.  Even when she was herself, she was some version of herself laid over her mask.  It was enough to be jealous of Sam's astral vision.  That would mean in some way, at least, he could see her as she was through her aura.  Unless, that was masked too; he was fairly certain she could do that.  No, Illeana, Mask, Katsina, she was the ineffable.   At least he'd never get bored.

"Wiz," James says again, though this time without the whiff of sarcasm.  He looks to the northwest, the great expanse of nothingness, and adds, "Well, alright, ma, I'm gonna go see if I can rustle us up some dinner.  I'll be making a wide circle, so keep your eyes out too, ok?"

"Mm,hmm," Katsina replies, sifting blades of grass through her fingers. 

James unhooks the ballistic mask from his belt and places it over his face before pulling the hood of his chameleon suit over that, and activating its sensor suite.  "I'll be just over yonder," he whispers into his subvocal mic as he begins heading west, as much to test their comms as to say anything.  When Illeana answers that the backwoods type doesn't suit him, he smiles.  She's tolerated the beard well enough, but the ma and pa Kettle act seems to grate a bit.

After about fifty meters straight west, James turns to his right, and begins to make his way north, northwest.  He figures thirty or so meters at that course before he begins to hook east, northeast will put him just to the west of whatever Katsina was smelling, and hopefully at the overgrown chicken's backs.  He unslings his rifle, and walks carefully, rolling his feet to the instep as he advances.  On the one hand, sneaking through dry grass is an object lesson is futility, as it crunches underfoot no matter how gently he walks, unless he slows himself to a snail's crawl, but on the other hand, with the wind blowing the way it is, hearing anything coming would be difficult.  He switches to his thermo vision to see if there are any dense hot pockets of life, and keeps Illeana is his field of vision, as she periodically bobs up to move half a meter over or so at a time in her search for, what did she say it was?  Little smoke?
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (18:37:20/01-21-16)
James reflects on what he knows about cockatrices. He knows they look like giant chickens and, in theory, shouldn't be too hard to spot. They are yellow, with a bright red comb on their head, plus long blue legs and a long blue tail. These should all be relatively easy to see given the verdant green background of swaying grass.

He also remembers that they usually hunt in groups and, most importantly, that their tails can paralyze a full-grown metahuman. Once their prey is immobilized, they go to work with their talons and their sharp beaks. Ares occasionally used them to guard sensitive areas, but James is reasonably sure he wasn't on guard duty much. He feels more like a seek-and-destroy operative, which aligns nicely with his current task.

Illeana looks up from what she's doing and cracks up at James' load out. It's clear that she thinks it's overkill. He can practically hear her thinking, A chameleon suit and a ballistics mask? An assault rifle?! Whatever. Illeana's healing factor could probably outpace any damage the cockatrices could do, so of course she wouldn't worry about them. James didn't have the same luxury and needed to take reasonable precautions.

Illeana shakes her head and returns to her work. James sets off on his circular route, reflecting over the last few months.

They had just been in Denver a few days ago, reuniting with Team Blue at the appointed time and place three months after their original separation. True to their word, Team Blue had gone to Fun City in the CAS, then to the Caribbean League so that Doc could research their shared condition. Doc hadn't found much that he didn't already know, other than their condition had been given a name by the scientific community: CFD. In the meantime the effects of CFD continued to develop. Doc and Ohanzee seemed relatively stable, but Chino had continued his regression into a childlike state. Privately, Doc guessed that Chino's emotional age was no more than 5 or 6 years old at this point. A child in a man's body, truly, and not just any man's body but one that could kick down doors like a locomotive. There had been private conferences of what to do about Chino but few obvious answers. Doc swore to keep working on a cure, while reluctantly conceding that he didn't know if a "cure" would wipe out what little was left of Chino's maturity. After all, there is no guarantee that the nanites would be replaced by adult thinking; it is entirely possible that Chino would have a blank slate again, and would be starting over from infancy.

James reflected on his own personality changes. Of course he still felt like himself, but there had been developments. How much was he recovering his previous self and how much was he blazing new terrain, he didn't know. He did feel a renewed dedication to his augmentations. They comforted him, and he felt the need to get the most out of them as possible. With Doc's assistance, James had disabled the safety limits and overclocked the performance of his arms and legs. That felt good; that felt powerful, comfortable. James had a sense that he was approaching some sort of nirvana, of stretching out to reach a singularity where man and machine were blended to perfection. Hadn't his Ares files said that he showed remarkable compatibility with cyberware? He had the strength and grace of a god, and it was hard not to feel like he might be some sort of evolutionary step forward for mankind.

Part of this thinking might have been a natural reaction to the amount of time Illeana and Sam have been spending together. The three months between visits to Denver were filled with a 4,000km road trip (https://www.google.com/maps/dir/Denver,+CO/Spokane,+WA/Dayton,+WA/Walla+Walla,+WA/Boise,+ID/Idaho+Falls,+ID/Jackson,+WY/Denver,+CO/@42.2469898,-107.7349713,7z/data=!4m50!4m49!1m5!1m1!1s0x876b80aa231f17cf:0x118ef4f8278a36d6!2m2!1d-104.990251!2d39.7392358!1m5!1m1!1s0x549e185c30bbe7e5:0xddfcc9d60b84d9b1!2m2!1d-117.4260466!2d47.6587802!1m5!1m1!1s0x54a1f7f88a7b2cb3:0xac9208840fc89f4a!2m2!1d-117.9724367!2d46.3237525!1m5!1m1!1s0x54a2154ba0d0f73b:0x12c4afcfe71db1d4!2m2!1d-118.3430209!2d46.0645809!1m5!1m1!1s0x54aef172e947b49d:0x9a5b989b36679d9b!2m2!1d-116.2146068!2d43.6187102!1m5!1m1!1s0x5354594e739512b5:0x2311c9fc094c49c9!2m2!1d-112.0339645!2d43.4916514!1m5!1m1!1s0x53531a58fccf7f4b:0x3d1c01cbb13a835c!2m2!1d-110.7624282!2d43.4799291!1m5!1m1!1s0x876b80aa231f17cf:0x118ef4f8278a36d6!2m2!1d-104.990251!2d39.7392358!3e0) - Sioux Nation, Salish-Shidhe Council, skirting Tir Tairngire and PCC on the way back to Denver - mostly spent in rural areas where Sam wouldn't be unduly tempted by the local populace until he learned to control his hunger. Illeana, helpful as ever, was exceedingly patient in guiding Sam through the first steps of his newly Awakened, Infected life. But that also meant that James was the third wheel more often than not. He had no real concerns about any funny business between Illeana and Sam - Sam, after all, was not only hideous but also acidic - but he couldn't help but feel like he was unable to contribute to Sam's apprenticeship in any meaningful way.

James wanted to do some sightseeing on his own but the Sioux Nation was hostile to Anglos. Illeana could make him look like a native, but James didn't have the SIN nor any of the language skills to complete the deception. Illeana picked up languages easily - part of her magic, she explained - and even got James to teach her some Japanese and Spanish during a couple of the afternoons they had to themselves while Sam was off sulking somewhere. Salish-Shidhe had been much more welcoming, and very pretty too. The lakes in the mountains dredged up hazy memories of James' childhood that may or may not have been real. Maybe they were dreams, or scenes from a trid. Chances are he would never know for certain, but he still felt a certain affinity for the terrain. He had spent weeks hunting and fishing while Illeana was off with her pupil.

A flash of blue and red returns James to the present, where he recalls that he should be trying not to get eaten. Up ahead, a hundred yards or more, he spies a handful of red combs and blue tails that suggest that Illeana's nose was onto something. The cockatrices' heads are small though, and hitting them at this distance would require a bullseye. James sneaks forward, hoping that being downwind will preserve his stealth. His chameleon suit can't stop him from crunching through the grass though, and suddenly the cockatrices are spooked and disappear.

He can't help but be impressed that they're nimble enough to hunch down and run underneath the cover of the grass. Mechanically, he's not even sure how that works, since their legs must be as long as his, and it's not like they can flatten themselves on their bellies like a metahuman. James reaches the point where the small brood had been hiding and sees tracks leading off to the east. He does his best to follow.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (10:53:20/01-22-16)
At the spot where James had seen the cockatrices before they got spooked, he bends down to look for tracks.  Parting the tall grass he sees the ground is too dry to leave prints, but he is able to find some scat, still gooey and fresh.  More helpful are the bends in the grass where the cockatrices took off to the east.  Only five of them by his count, and nothing here seems to contradict that.  James regards the unslung Alpha in his hands.  No sport in this.  Unless. . .  He hunkers down, his field of vision just above the grass line, and scans the horizon.  Anything else that could have spooked them?  Not convinced, he re-slings the assault rifle, and stretches out his arms and legs.  Now going in with this perfect blend of man and machine, there was almost sport in that.

"Five targets spotted and lost," he whispers into his subvocal mic.  "They seem to be circling around."

If possible, he'd like to get to the whole brood in one go, but that will mean quiet and slow.  Once he's put eyes on them, James is fairly certain he could give chase, and outrun any that didn't seem up for the fight, but he'd sacrifice a chance at the others by doing so as soon as they scattered.  No, it'd be better if he could ambush them, but where to set an ambush in a never-ending field?  James continues to track their movement, following the narrow path through the grass as it begins to bend back around, writing a haiku in his head as he walks.

Not aluminum
I'm cordite under my skin
Fused and ready

He likes the play on "fused," but it doesn't seem right altogether.  He saves the text on his working folder, and diverges sharply from the tracks as they continue their bend.  Continuing with them was just asking to be converged upon at his rear, and the real challenge here wasn't the shot, or the punch, or the garrote, but controlling the terrain, keeping the birds off balance and unsure about his location.  If they were like other birds, chances were that they couldn't smell at all, or very well at the least, so mostly he had to be worried about his own marks on the grass and his visual imprint. 

He switches back to thermo as he walks, looking for little dobs of heat above the sea of blue.     
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (17:16:23/01-22-16)
James finds the scat and wonders if he made the birds drek themselves. There's a slight vibration in the ground that he can't quite identify. The birds' heavy footfalls somewhere nearby? Some train in the distance?

The bends in the grass are easy for an experienced tracker to follow, so he does. The five seem to have split up. Animals don't often give up their safety in numbers, which leads James to wonder if they're not actually running away.

Descended from dinosaurs, he thinks. Remember, they look like chickens but they are descended from dinosaurs.

There's a flash of blue that crosses his vision ahead of him in the grass. He stops and raises his weapon, just in case there's a second or third one following that he might be able to tag.

"Hey," Illeana says.

James looks up, then realizes that the voice didn't come over the micro-transceiver. Instead, it's the voice of Illeana in his head, the mysterious one that warns him of danger and gives him suggestions during fights.

"Check your six," she says.

James spins around. Sure enough, there's a cockatrice charging at him from behind, with the others closing in on him in a star pattern, each from a different direction. The cockatrice expands its yellow plumage in an effort to intimidate - its bright red comb standing straight up - and lets out an avian screech. Clever girl, he thinks to himself, readying his weapon.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (16:24:02/01-24-16)
This is exactly the kind of scenario James was trying to avoid.  Or was it?  If James had really wanted to get the drop on the cockatrices, wouldn't he have his rifle unslung?  Wouldn't he have pulled away from the tracks sooner? 

<<Target 1: Estimated Contact in 0.34 seconds>>
<<Target 2: Estimated Contact in 0.36 seconds>>
<<Target 3: Estimated Contact in 0.57 seconds>>
<<Target 4: Estimated Contact in 0.61 seconds>>
<<Target 5: Estimated Contact in 0.77 seconds>>

James rushes forward, angles to his right, meeting two of the birds in the middle.  He swings up with his cyber spur, catching some feathers at least, and wonders if he came up with anything more.  He was so fast now, that sometimes he could peal away skin without realizing he'd even hit anything.  There was no question with the bird on his right.  As it reached its beak out toward his right hand, he opened his palm and smacked it across its ear canal, just above the jaw.  A static pop and fizzle emitted from Jame's shock hand, and the first of the five cockatrices went down.

James raises his left knee sharply as he turned to face his rear, just as one of the advancing birds nips at his ankles.  He turns in to his left, trying to stay on the outside of as many of them as possible, but what the cockatrices lacked in intelligence and raw strength they made up for in cunning and tactics.  Tactics?  How the hell do they know tactics?  He is moving in a circle now, blocking with his arms and legs, and once by grabbing the Alpha with his right hand and pulling up sharply, so that one of the birds only found purchase in the weapon's stock, as opposed to the "meat" of his thigh.  He's smiling now, at home with his body a blur of the best that man and technology, and magic could muster.  He wraps up a cockatrice's head as it reaches up with its maw, encircles it between his arms in a hold that is mechanically much more similar to a arm bar than a headlock, and with a sharp twist of his hips, sends the bird squawking and hurtling into one of its brood.  With the brief respite, James offers a question to Illeana besides the grunts and breathing noises of combat.

"Ground tremors?" 

While the one that James threw struggles to right itself, the other leaps at James high in the air, its tail lashing at his face and shoulders.
 James takes a step to the left, body-checking another bird preparing to strike, and avoids the worst of the jumping one's tail.  Expecting a counter-strike, James jams his cyber spur straight down, and extends his palm at the other as it lands, his shock hand crackling.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (01:16:09/01-25-16)
Illeana is enjoying the afternoon. She enjoys being in the sun, which is something of a forbidden pleasure. Her quickened magic allows her to be outside and enjoy the warm rays as others do. They shine on her back as she slowly creeps forward through the field, centimeter by centimeter.

She has no difficulty in maintaining her focus while studying the wild grasses in front of her. She's good at tasks like this, and she wonders what she used to do that made her so accustomed to repetitious, monotonous work. Every so often she finds a strand of grass with the proper mana; she trims the grass blades gently with a small silver knife from her alchemical kit. A small but growing number are accumulating in a small leather pouch on her hip that she bought from some old Seminole woman at a rest stop on the side of a dusty highway during their road trip. The woman was a long way from her traditional homeland, but the Treaty of Denver had created some strange bedfellows. The Seminoles had ended up in the Sioux Nation, along with the Mohawks, the Lumbee, the Mahicans, the Oneida, and several other East Coast tribes.

"Ground tremors?" James asks subvocally.

Illeana breaks her concentration on her task to switch her attention to James' question.

"I feel them too. We're close to the border; it could be smugglers digging a tunnel between here and the UCAS."

Illeana looks up to study the terrain. There's a cold wind blowing out of the north, straight out of Athabaskan via Algonkian-Manitou. It mixes with the sun and a high pressure system moving north from the Gulf of Aztlan. The wind pushes the green grasses this way and that, rolling around her in undulated green waves.

"It is tornado season," she continues less certainly. "No other warning signs though. No dark green tint to the sky, or wall of clouds that looks like the edge of the earth. But the weather in Sioux Nation has been crazy ever since the Great Ghost Dance. Storms come out of nowhere."

She assenses the sky, suddenly concerned. Odds are good that she could survive a tornado, but a mana storm would be a nightmare. Anything that created a temporary background count could weaken her quickened magic and leave her vulnerable to the sun. But, no, there's nothing that she can see. Still, she retreats into the RV to reclaim one of her coats with sleeves, just in case. She comes back out and resumes her work, simultaneously disappointed and relieved not to be in the direct sun anymore.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (14:21:38/01-25-16)
Again, James' shock hand makes contact, sending the bird to the ground with a low warble.  He misses with the Cyber Spur, though.  Hmm, may need to run a diagnostics when I get back, he wonders absently as he adjusts his stance to face the cockatrice on his left.  He provides more of a target this way, but he also has more options for attack and defense.  The cockatrice, already cowering and tucked into itself in order to dodge his last attack makes an easy target for his next swipe, and James cuts its head free from the bird's neck with a quick swipe.  Better.

As Illeana discusses the possibility of tornadoes, James can hear her simultaneously in his right ear, feel her breath as she warns, "Your right, James, your right."  He dips his shoulder and spins away, the tail from the last standing cockatrice passing harmlessly in front of his face.  Then he sees the bird he had thrown, finding its feet unsteadily and beginning to run away through the grass.  He lunges forward with another swipe at the closest cockatrice's throat, and feels his hydraulic jacks pumping as he begins to give chase.

He whispers breathlessly into his subvocal mic, "Free spirits?"
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (15:01:00/01-25-16)
Illeana is still a bit tense about free spirits. She recoils involuntarily when James raises the possibility. She's fairly certain that Rozkhi's spirit won't be coming back, but enough time has elapsed for the spirits of Ohanzee, Doc Hack, and B13 to be back in this world and looking for revenge.

"It could be earth spirits underground, sure, but that wouldn't be my first guess. Projecting through Gaia is like swimming through syrup. It's slow and disgusting and you feel like you're going to drown the whole while. A spirit might do it if it were commanded to, but I can't imagine a free spirit doing it voluntarily."

She shudders a bit and gags over her own memories of projecting through the Earth. Astral projection is precious to her - she needs Awakened drugs and/or bound greater spirits with the Gateway power to accomplish it - so she would never spend that precious time burrowing underground unless it was absolutely necessary.

She goes back to her work, feeling less settled now with tornadoes, mana storms, and free spirits dancing in her head.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (15:35:57/01-25-16)
Leaving a cockatrice in a heap behind him, James sprints forward toward the last remaining bird.  It's a close race, but the cockatrice is slowed, favoring its right leg.  He closes the distance, and the bird ducks into the grass.  He closes again, and the bird tries the same maneuver, but James leaps into the air, coming down on top of the beast, driving his cyber spur into the space between its wings.  The cockatrice twitches for a few moments, and James places his right hand on the base of its tail, keeping the dangerous bits away until it stops moving.

After that, he brings his bird back to the others and lays them out in a line.  Putting his feet on either wing, he pulls up on their legs, stripping the legs and breasts away.  Next, he field-dresses each as best he can.  He's had some experience here lately, but his movements are still awkward and would probably elicit a chuckle or two from a seasoned hunter.  He saves the tails and the heads, figuring that they may be useful for Illeana, and keeps a close ear to the ground for any further tremors. 

"I'm all finished up here.  Bagged five.  A few are pre-cooked."

He returns to find Illeana still going through the grass, hoping the cockatrice's entrails weren't of any importance.  He drops the birds at his feet, peels the hood from his chameleon suit back and takes off his ballistic mask, clipping it back to his belt. 

"How's Sam?"
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (18:13:52/01-25-16)
"Oh, goodie, the tails!" Illeana says, diverting her attention from the grasses - which all look the same to James - to the bright blue tails. She uses the small silver knife from her alchemy kit to carefully sever the tails. "Hahaha, they tickle," she says. James is unsure if she's referring to the texture or their paralyzing touch. It would be just like her to laugh off harm that would be mortal to other men.

She turns around suddenly and swishes a tail through the air like a rapier. "En garde!" she says, advancing on James. A playful fencing match ensues, although the result is largely a stalemate. She's good, of course, but really has no chance of tagging James with a hit unless she cheats and uses Mana Bind, or Levitates him just off the ground so that he can't dodge. She, in turn, is almost as slippery as he is. Today - as these things usually did - eventually degenerates into a wrestling match, with the two of them rolling around in the grass and laughing. Naturally he is far better wrestler than she is, but she is unnervingly strong and can often overpower him, especially if she's eaten recently.

Her dietary habits haven't been as off-putting as James might have initially feared. Illeana had shown Sam and James a previously-unknown underworld of crooked morticians and funeral workers who - for a modest bribe - were willing to only put part of a body into the crematorium, donating the rest to a worthy cause such as theirs. Illeana got her fix from embalmers who, in the course of their work, needed to drain body fluids and replace them with embalming fluid. Her dinner was never "warm", so to speak - she compared it to never having a hot, cooked meal - but it kept her sustained, and at a cost no worse than what they spent on feeding James. And, being the kind, loving soul that she is, she has even been willing to go out with James on date nights. She orders something flavorful and enjoys it before excusing herself to discretely cough it back up. She assures him that she doesn't mind; that she enjoys being able to taste food and that it made the occasion special for her too.

Her need for Essence had been slightly more cumbersome. There were, of course, vampire groupies who were willing to fling themselves in front of the fangs in an insane desire for power or immortality. Illeana generally shied away from these desperate souls. Instead, she often worked with the terminally ill or those who were otherwise trying to die with dignity. The process required a strong emotional attachment, which she was often able to form with magic, and she had helped many people expire blissfully. Of course, she also indulged in the occasional vigilante streak, especially if her magic could see something wrong with the person's soul. And once or twice there had been bounty hunters looking to claim the substantial reward on her head, but she always knew of them far in advance and dispatching them was only a formality. She had drained these not so much out of anger but as a warning to others who might wish to follow.

The wrestling complete, James and Illeana lie in the grass and look up at the blue sky above. They pant a little and watch small clouds drift pass. "Umm, what was the question?" Illeana asks, laughing. "Oh, right, Sam. He's doing great. I gave him a handful of preparations to use just in case the spirit didn't seem to be providing enough cover." James knows which ones she's talking about: she has a spell to physically camouflage someone against the terrain. It's largely redundant with his chameleon suit so he rarely needs one, but they're nice to have for Sam and occasions where James needs to be concealed but wearing different armor.

"Speaking of which, that reminds me of what I'm doing out here," she says, rolling to her feet and resuming her search through the grass. "Little Smoke provides that same concealment. Plus, it also gives you the power to confuse your enemies. You can just addle their brains, like spirits can. Some critters can to, but I don't know the list as well as you do. I know wild minotaurs can. Anyway, the reason it's so valuable is that mundanes can use it too. The downside is that when it wears off it makes you completely weak willed an oblivious for several hours."

She continues to work. James closes his eyes and takes a nap in the spring sunshine, the grasses keeping the wind from giving him a chill. The ground vibrates gently, rocking him to sleep.

He sleeps well. He dreams that he's under a giant oak tree, next to a babbling brook that winds its way through a warm grassy field. James lies in a hammock suspended from the tree, swinging luxuriously while a harp and flute - Mozart? one of the pieces that Illeana likes? - plays in the background. Illeana is likely to thank for this, as she has magic that can craft dream sequences, including visuals, sounds, and emotions. He relaxes and enjoys the scene, feeling pleased with his afternoon of work. He smiles, knowing that Illeana must want him well-rested for later.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (12:18:24/01-26-16)
Ever since the attack in the woods, James has wondered about how long a paracritter's magic stayed in its body.  It was one of the first things he researched when Illeana had begun pointing him toward some introductory reading.  He'd had visions of himself in Alaska, clad in bandersnatch skins and a diving suit -- the latter as much for insulation as for keeping his meta scent in -- invisibly stalking the tundra and wrestling martichoras with his bare hands.  It was not to be, but he was taken with the romance of it.  Still, he had to wonder about those cockatrice tails. 

He gripped his own down far at the base, where some feathers still clung to the now drying blood.  He liked these contests of physical skill, and he liked more that he couldn't beat Illeana.  When her rapier tickled the end of his beard, he stamped his right foot and raised his palm, "touché!" he said, keeping the word to one syllable.  As she rushed forward and bowled him over, he wondered about why he didn't say, "tou·ché," but somehow he knew that the pronunciation was different for fencing judges.  These weird half-memories plagued James.  They always seemed pregnant with a meaning that likely just wasn't there. 

The wrestling complete, James and Illeana lie in the grass and look up at the blue sky above. They pant a little and watch small clouds drift pass. "Umm, what was the question?" Illeana asks, laughing. "Oh, right, Sam. He's doing great. I gave him a handful of preparations to use just in case the spirit didn't seem to be providing enough cover." James knows which ones she's talking about: she has a spell to physically camouflage someone against the terrain. It's largely redundant with his chameleon suit so he rarely needs one, but they're nice to have for Sam and occasions where James needs to be concealed but wearing different armor.

James encircles his fingers around Illeana's and smiles up at the sky.  Reagent hunting, open skies, and this never-ending road trip, maybe these things were more important than the old James Case.  Besides, nobody has come looking.  When she stands, he protests a little.  "Don't stay gone long, Illeana," he stretches the name out luxuriously.  "I'll keep your spot warm."

While she goes back to sifting grass, he pulls his hood back up over his neck to keep away bugs, but keeps his face open to the sun as he begins to slip off into sleep.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (13:11:12/01-26-16)
James wakes up with a jolt, the ground heaving underneath him. The shaking is worse. He looks around and sees Illeana, who is working double-time.

"I'm almost done," she says hurriedly. "I don't know what's going on but we can go soon." The ground lurches suddenly under James again.

The sun has dipped from its noontime peak. Checking his comm, James sees he was asleep for an hour. The cockatrices and their tails have been stowed away somewhere, probably in the RV.

There's a deep rumble in the ground that seems to be moving north. There's a pause, and then the ground explodes upward not far from where James downed the cockatrices. A giant armadillo - 14-meters long and 7,000 kilograms - lurches up from its underground tunnel and ravages the cockatrice entrails that James left behind. It has a shell like a battleship and claws over a meter long. It spins around, gobbling up blood and guts and rocks and dirt and grass until it smells something else. It points its massive snout south, directly at James and Illeana.

"Juggernaut!" James yells as the beast comes running at them.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (11:36:33/01-27-16)
James leaps up and grabs his Alpha.  "Now Illeana!  Put us airborne."

He begins sprinting in the opposite direction of the Juggernaut.  He thinks about his decision to deal with the cockatrices by hand.  If that thing had heard a gunshot, and come up earlier . . . He shudders.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (21:15:57/01-27-16)
Illeana doesn't need to be told twice. She turns and runs.

James feels his hydraulic jacks pounding away with maximum force. The soft dirt gives way underfoot and robs him of some of his precious acceleration. He looks back and finds the juggernaut gaining at an alarming rate.

<<Target 1: Estimated Contact in 6.25 seconds>>

Illeana isn't as fast and is falling behind. James wonders if she could survive a swipe of those claws. He's seen trid footage of a juggernaut slicing an Ares Roadmaster into ribbons with a single swipe, so the prospect of either of them surviving a blow is minimal.

Illeana swings her hand in an upward motion, and flares with a brightness that James has come to associate with her magic. Suddenly, he is being lifted off the ground.

It would have been better if she had cast on herself first, James thinks. If she falls, this spells drops and then I fall too. But I doubt she's even capable of thinking of herself first.

Illeana gives a little jump and casts again. She slowly starts to rise above the flowing green grasses as the juggernaut continues to pursue her.

<<Target 1: Estimated Contact in 4.75 seconds>>

James knows that the contact time for Illeana must be even shorter since she's behind him and a couple meters below. She draws her sword and spins around. Perhaps in vain, but she seems determined not to go gentle into that good night. The timing isn't looking good though.

James lines up a shot on the juggernaut, wondering of he can slow it down, even if it's just a step. He tries to keep himself steady even though he doubts his formal training ever included precision shooting while levitating under duress. He switches breathing to his internal tanks to further steady his hands. The smartlink reticle hovers over the juggernaut's snout, which seems painful.

James mentally triggers a short burst. The armor-piercing rounds race to their target and punch into the juggernaut in rapid sequence. The beast rears back, furious, and swings at Illeana in its rage. She lifts her legs up - a gymnastics move called a candlestick that James knows too - desperately trying to avoid the 1-meter claws attached to the 3-meter legs attached to the 14-meter monster. James sees the tip of the claw nick her across the back of her thighs. There's a jet of blood but a surge of relief. A normal person might die if their femoral artery were clipped, but for Illeana it's just a minor inconvenience. The bleeding stops a second later as she growls and swings her sword back and forth menacingly.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (11:51:05/01-28-16)
If James wasn't "breathing" through his air tank, he'd literally sigh with relief when the Juggernaut turns to face him, something he has a hard time seeing true for his former self.  Or maybe not, he had become involved with Illeana before, and as smooth as James found he could be, he wasn't that good. 

He tries to still his mind as the Juggernaut surges forward, though the creeping thought of whether or not a Juggernaut can jump plagued him.  It's legs were short but powerful, and it would have a running start.  He knows that their heads are rather dexterous, and that their long tongues give them a bit of reach -- not that they typically use it, and he wonders if Illeana and he are a different type of prey.  Hecate, I hope so.

Lining up his shot, James waits for the beast to open its maw, sucking in air like the backdraft of a fire before sending the command to fire.  Another three round burst emits from the rifle, lost to the Kansas winds.

<<Target 1: Estimated Contact in 2.08 seconds>>
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (15:46:45/01-28-16)
The juggernaut, with its keen sense of hearing and smell, has no trouble pinpointing the origin of the gunfire. Unaccustomed to being injured - in any way, by anything - it turns its attention away from Illeana and directs the full might of its fury at James.

James doesn't know what the full range of juggernaut behavior looks like, but its present state might accurately be described as murderous. James knows that armadillos can jump more than a meter straight up - either as an evasive maneuver or to scare their predators - which is a bad precedent for the current scenario.

James stares down juggernaut's terrifying maw as he redirects his smartlink reticle. The beast leans back on its haunches, coiling itself to spring. "James!" Illeana shouts (quite unnecessarily) to warn him.

James fires. The bullets connect while the giant propels itself forward and utterly fails to take flight. James feels the rush of air from the beast's swiping paw, but can barely repress a smile at seeing it belly-flop with a giant puff of powdered earth. Credit either goes to the soft ground - which might be incapable of supporting the concentrated force such a mammoth creature try to jump - or the brute's own ground-based dominance, which robs it of any need to ever leap, and therefore any experience with aerial attacks.

Illeana doesn't look reassured. She casts again and James feels an invisible hand grab his collar and yank him higher.

James and Illeana drift higher toward safety. The juggernaut looks up and gives a terrifying roar of anger and frustration that would not have been out-of-place in the Jurassic era.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (11:41:25/01-29-16)
The Juggernaut roars a howl so piercing it makes James' "blood" run cold.  He's sure it would reduce a fair amount of even well-trained operatives to a quivering mass, and might even send old Chino running scared, but he does his best to remove himself from his body and observe the scene objectively.  He's high, it's flat on its belly, and those meter-long claws are safely tucked away for the moment.  He's not safe by a long shot, but this is not the time to start letting emotions get the better of him.  He glances to Illeana's floating form to see how she's handling herself, and that goes a long way toward keeping his nerves steady.  Still, there's that cut she suffered, though the blood stopped flowing almost immediately.  She'll probably need to feed again soon after that nick though.

"Illeana, are you ok?" James speaks breathlessly into his mic.  He aims straight down at the beast, hoping to find an unarmored spot between its massive shoulder blades and neck.  Finding nothing promising, he sweeps the smartlink reticle down between his legs at the beast's snout and fires another three-round burst.  From its belly flop, the juggernaut contracts, and each bullet passes harmlessly into the ground below.  Did it just flinch? he wonders.  Did I just make a juggernaut flinch?!

He passes his attention to the RV, which Illeana has become quite invested in.  Her lodge is there, filled with reagents and preparations, pentagrams and candles, and her photography collection, to say nothing of the firearms he's spent the last few months acquiring.  "I'm going to send the RV to a rally point," he says, tucking up his knees as the beast rights itself.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (19:38:05/01-29-16)
Illeana hisses and spits at the juggernaut, upset over the damage to her pants. James knows that this is the adrenaline talking, if vampires even have adrenaline. Illeana has a spell that will not only repair damage to clothing but also change the cut, color, pattern, and fit. She uses it liberally to keep her style in season at all times, and also to provide a quick wardobe change just in case she or James get paranoid. The tear across her pants is a mild inconvenience at worst; at best, it's an excuse for her to experiment with some of the styles inspired by the new season of that Vashon Island just released.

"I'm fine," she says, although she says it with a heavy tone. James can tell that she's still concentrating on the spells keeping them afloat. He feels her drop the telekinetic spell that was yanking on his collar.

James looks her over. She does appear to be fine. If anything, she appears to be judging the thickness of the juggernaut's armor against the length of her sword's blade. She pretends that she's shanking the juggernaut a few times, as if it were a prison yard bully and not some monstrosity that gives national politicians and military commanders bad dreams at night.

Below, a huge cloud of dust rises up from the juggernaut, obscuring James' vision somewhat. It's back on its feet and pacing back and forth. It seems to be contemplating the possibility of throwing something at the pests above it. Luckily there are no boulders - nor hardly any rocks - in the vicinity. It continues to stamp and kick up dirt in its frustration. It might have been denied a full meal, but at least its territoriality was assuaged.

James pings the RV and sends it an ARO of where to meet.

<<@James [Winnebago] Very good, sir. Right away, sir.>>

Illeana had recently installed a vehicle personality to the RV's node, giving it the air of a dignified English butler that she calls Stevens. Illeana wanted James to feel cared for while she was off with Sam. If nothing else, it gave James someone to talk to (sort of) in their absence.

"Stevens!" Illeana comms urgently, apparently alarmed at the thought that the juggernaut might pursue him/it. "Proceed at a measured pace. We're trying to avoid the attention of one of the, uh, locals."

<<@James, Illeana [Winnebago] Very good, ma'am. Will you be taking tea and biscuits upon your return?>>

"Yes, my usual," Illeana sighs. "Rooibos, please. Thank you, Stevens." That was Illeana's code for one of the blood packs from the last embalmer that they had visited. Stevens would have one of the drones prepare it. It wasn't a part of the drones' usual functionality, but Doc had provided some useful code to bypass any squeamishness the drone's programming might have had over handling metahuman blood.

"Well we have half an hour," Illeana says, judging the distance and their current rate of progress. She gives James a look that he has come to associate with her concern. In this case, she probably wants reassurance that he's not dehydrated, or too hot from the sun, or too cold from the wind, or otherwise alarmed by their current predicament. She drifts over and wraps her arms around him as they gently float away to the south.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (11:22:02/02-01-16)
While Illeana floats over, James unscrews the suppressor from his Alpha and fires off a three round burst, not even dimpling the juggernaut's thick armor.  He repeats the process twice more, both to keep the beast's attention, and to muffle the sounds of the RV as best he can.  Sometimes you need to poke the bear.

Slipping his arms around Illeana's waist, he re-slings his rifle.

"Well we have half an hour,"

"I should've brought the sniper rifle," James says.  "Would've made a great shot for the boys, eh?"  Juggernauts are more than a passing interest for James.  He's devoured everything that he can find on them, He's studied trids of juggernaut attacks in detail, and read de-classified academic papers and government reports.  Doc even found a few classified bits for his perusal, being the nice guy that he was.  "Or some tracker rounds," James adds.  "So we could could've met in on our own terms next time."  He's already formulating the would-be plan in his head, involving copious amounts of commercial explosives covered in animal entrails -- check that, lots of animal entrails -- and his Desert Strike, floating from above -- check that, way above.   

Noticing that he's spaced out for a moment, James gives his reassuring smile, and gives Illeana's pants a tertiary inspection.  He knows that she's fine, that she's been fine since a moment after the cut, but he also knows that if the juggernaut's claws had gotten any deeper, hooked into her femur and pulled her down even six meters, that she wouldn't have been fine.  And even though she's right there with him, those little terrors persist.  He gives her a squeeze, one that would crush the ribs of an ordinary metahuman, but that she has come to associate with him feeling protective.  "You had me worried."

"You know I've seen worse," she answers and fusses over him in turn.

"Well, this isn't normally what they have in mind when they talk about the mile-high club, but. . ." he jokes as they float higher.

"Did you grab the Little Smoke?" James asks as they survey the stretches of prairie surrounding them.  As far as they look it's golden grassland, the occasional copse of trees kilometers away, and the faint wisps of clouds far out on the horizon.  The wind invigorates them as it whips around cool and forceful, and James unzips his chameleon suit to his chest.  He checks in on Sam's progress a few times before they begin heading south to rendezvous with the RV on RR-412.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (18:10:35/02-01-16)
The juggernaut roars over the gunfire, the chatter of the Alpha completely lost in the primordial scream of the ragebeast. It stamps up and down, sending up huge clouds of dust that the wind picks up and swirls. James can no longer hit the sensitive spots reliably, but he does a good job keeping the juggernaut's attention on him and away from Stevens.

James stops shooting and eventually the pair rises high enough in the sky that the juggernaut can no longer track them. The wind comes from the north and takes their scent away from the juggernaut. Their silent floating leaves the overgrown armadillo at the mercy of its eyes, which aren't up to the task of tracking its prey. It snorts and returns to the empty fields for someone else to deal with.

"Right after the Awakening, when they didn't know better, they would just try to burn the fields," James says. "The fire didn't bother the juggernauts; they probably liked it. The smoke, they didn't like as much. They would just burrow underground and pop up somewhere else inconvenient."

"Too bad you didn't have your Lancer," Illeana says, positioning herself behind James and wrapping her legs around his waist. "Just think of the promotional rights if you dropped a juggernaut with a signature Ares product."

"Sam's device might have done the trick," James says.

"'The mile-high club?' What's a 'mile'?"

James explains. She nods.

"Ooooooh. Maybe when my concentration isn't spoken for." She gives James a squeeze with her legs and runs her fingers through his hair. "And when it's warmer."

It's moments like these - when her concentration is divided - that the light English accent in Illeana's voice becomes more pronounced. It's subtle and James wonders if it might have been stronger before their factory resets back in February. He thinks that she must have learned her English from an Englishman, or perhaps even in the United Kingdom. Her knowledge of European languages - including fluent Romanian, very good Czech, and respectable amount of German - certainly suggested that she had roots across the ocean. Who knows where the Sperethiel had come from though, or the Carromeleg. The elves guarded those secrets jealously. Of course, Illeana was certainly pretty enough to pass for an elf.

"I do have the Little Smoke," Illeana says, producing a small tuft of dry grasses. She offers it to James to smell. It smells... confusing, like a hot summer wind mixed with the damp musk of a smoky autumn evening.

"This is enough for one dose but not for two. I would have liked to stay out there longer. It still needs a bit of processing but that should only take a day. After that, we can either sell it or keep it for the next time Sam needs to cross a border."

They continue to float to the nearest patch of concrete, where they reunite with Stevens and proceed to the UCAS border. They clean up and change into their civilian outfits for the crossing. The sensitive cargo is stowed away with the wireless turned off.

"This isn't going to be like the border between Salish-Shidhe and Sioux Nation," James advises as they inch forward through the security queues. "Even though our paperwork is up to date, there is a chance that the guards will find or invent some reason to turn us back. The guards may be openly prejudiced. They patrol with their fingers on the triggers of their weapons and are more than happy to fall back on anti-vehicle weaponry or even chemical attacks.

"Now we're corporate citizens, and we're Caucasian so it will look like we're coming home, so hopefully we blend. You said we were warded?"

Illeana nods. "I've turned Stevens into my magical lodge. Combined with the materiel from the ASPS, it is very strong."

"Well let's hope they don't take too close a look," James says. "They will have a dozen high Force spirits patrolling. If they try to take a peek it could set off a warning. Just make sure you look mundane." It hurts to say that; Illeana is the furthest thing from mundane.

"But my SIN says I'm licensed Awakened," Illeana protests.

James nods gravely. "We'll hope for the best. I don't want to start anything. The layout of the border checkpoint will be carefully sculpted to prevent vehicles from being able to ram a booth or any of the gates. Security is first; convenience isn't even in the top 10. I doubt a tank would be able to move through the checkpoint without falling into a pit or running into a thick concrete wall. They'll have mines release narcojet or hallucinogenic gas, while electrified monowire (!) and patrolling drones keep the surrounding area clear of intruders. On top of that, the whole checkpoint can go into a lockdown which drops steel shutters over the armored glass. There are typically two or three helicopter gunships sited no more than a minute’s flight away, although the pilots aren't always sitting in the cockpit waiting for the call."

Illeana has a look that seems to wondering why she didn't just cross the border on foot with Sam. "Oo, I don't feel too good."

"Sometimes they aspect the domain in favor of the tradition of their security," James explains. "You might be feeling that.

"Just smile," James says as he rolls down the window to speak with the UCAS Border Patrol.

"SINs, visas, and customs declarations," the sour-looking man demands.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (21:58:18/02-01-16)
"SINs, visas, and customs declarations," the sour-looking man demands.

James had approached the checkpoint with the RV's windows rolled down, and his hands at ten and two, the left also holding his Hermes Ikon.  "Afternoon officer," he says handing over his link with a smile.  "As that shows you, I am licensed and registered to carry a concealed weapon, which I currently have loaded, though not racked, in the glove box in front of Miss Anghelescu here.  If you would like, she can hand her link over through me for inspection, or you may have one of your associates approach the passenger side as well."

"Hand me the thing," the man demands in a clipped English.

"Certainly, sir.  Certainly," James says, reaching over for Illeana's comm while giving her the "keep smiling" look.  When he hands the commlink over, the guard says, "What's your business in the UCAS?"

"I'm from Detroit originally.  I'm, ah, taking my blushing bride here back home to meet mom,"

James sees the guard stiffen.  "And yet you have a Pueblo Corporate Council SIN?"

Ah, it appears we have a patriot.

"Yes, sir," James answers.  "A personal sacrifice so that I may better look after Ares' real estate ventures in the PCC sector of Denver, the Morrison sprawl specifically.  Have you ever visited?  The Council is tough on us native sons, but fair.  And they do see the value in cross-corporate partnerships when the personnel and nuyen is right, even if they are a bit odd in their citizenship requirements and downright protectionist when it comes to, well, I guess they would call me a foreigner.  Yes, when it comes to foreigners."

"Mm-hmm," the guard says, handing back the commlinks.  "These check out."

"I should hope so.  Thank you, sir," James says accepting the commlinks.  And here is where they will either tell us to pull through, or things will get very interesting.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (02:12:12/02-02-16)
James looks the man over while the entry request is manually examined by a spider at headquarters. He has some older cybereyes and some jerky movements that also suggest some earlier-generation cyberware. Dated, but still effective. He's carrying an HK-227, with a Colt Government 2066 and a Defiance EX Shocker on his hips. All smartlinked. The man's jacket is armored and he's wearing a helmet, all of which suggest this isn't a sleepy border crossing. James looks past the man and sees a similarly attired troll sitting behind armored glass in a booth, eyeing him sternly.

"You're an Ares employee who doesn't have a corporate SIN?" the man asks.

"Well more like a contractor," James backpedals, hoping that the man doesn't have a firm grasp on megacorporate structure. "When you're down at the bottom of the ladder, underneath six holding companies and so many Vice Presidents that you don't even know who your boss is, sometimes they let you have a National SIN and you can even date cross-corporation." He hopes that fends off any potential questions about Illeana's Saeder-Krupp SIN.

The man grunts, declining to inquire further.

"You just got married? Where's her ring?" the guard asks.

"I bought her this Winnebago instead of a ring," James lies smoothly. The man sees the vehicle is registered in Illeana's name - just over three months ago - and lets it drop.

"Next time skip the Sioux and cross the border on Highway 412," the man says gruffly. "They're nicer down there." He steps forward, already looking at the next vehicle while waving you to go, having received the required assurances from headquarters. James sees him settle his hand back on his HK, ready for trouble from the next vehicle.

The Winnebago pulls forward and slowly navigates the barricades on the other side. Then there's an open road and a stretch of empty terrain that looks pretty much like it did on the Sioux side. An ARO flashes, "Welcome to the UCAS!" as James and Illeana head off to rendezvous with Sam.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (02:08:28/02-03-16)
12:01 AM Thursday, July 4th, 2075 - New Orleans, CAS

James and Illeana sit at a café table in the middle of a cobblestone plaza in the French Quarter. It's just after midnight and the night air swirls with gnats and tourists. It's not Independence Day - that's Secession Day, November 10th in the CAS - but it is Flag Day, which commemorates the new flag design that was introduced to the nation three years ago this day. To celebrate, there are flags hung from every balcony, banner, and railing. There's loud, live jazz music being played on every corner, along with all the usual color and characters that New Orleans provides. James has a cup of chicory coffee and a plate of beignets for dessert.

"What are we doing here?" James asks, knowing that Illeana's enhanced hearing won't have any problem picking it up over the saxophones and their fellow late-night patrons.

"We're going over our investment portfolio," she says. "Now pay attention, this is where we get our lunch money -"

James is growing accustomed to these "quarterly reviews," this one timed to review their portfolio's Q2 performance. It turns out that Illeana is something of a personal investment wiz. She didn't remember where she had learned it, but she said it made sense that immortals would naturally be interested in long-term investment planning.

"As a reminder, I've taken my share of the obelisk proceeds and divided it into nine different ¥50,000 investments, leaving the remainder liquid for immediate needs. Remember, the goal here is diversity, both in industry and in geography."

She sends James a detailed ARO presentation with charts and graphs and fact-filled bullet points. James inhales deeply and sips his coffee.

"Here's the breakdown.
1) Aegis Cognito, based out of Lisbon. They're an independent intelligence agency with an A-rating. Spies for hire, basically.
2) Manadyne, in Boston. Arcane powerhouse, attempting to do so some really exciting stuff with mapping the metaplanes. I'd love to get a meeting with them. They're owned by NeoNet but are listed separately as a AA-corp in their own right.
3) Frankfurt Bank Association, from the Allied German States. Used to be controlled by Nachtmeister until Lowfry killed him in a duel in 2062. Very dramatic. AA-rating.
4) Gaetronics, Salish-Shidhe Council. Second-largest energy corp in the world behind Shiawase, and might be the largest if you only counted Shiawase's energy components. AA-rating.
5) Phoenix Biotechnologies, Pueblo Corporate Council. Strong biotech firm that received twenty million nuyen from Dunklezahn's Will. No rating, mostly because they haven't expanded outside of the PCC yet.
6) Telestrian Industries, from Portland in Tir Tairngire. Cutting-edge technology, including genetics and neural networks/Expert systems, as well as military contracts and government services. A-rating.
7) Universal Omnitech, Salish-Shidhe Council, Vancouver. A world leader in genetech and biotechnology, with mining through DeBeers subsidiary. They're big rivals with Aztechnology but are holding their own. AA-rating.
8) The Pueblo Corporate Council itself. Preferred stock can be purchased and claimed by anyone, but has no voting rights. As owners of preferred stock, we have the ability to enter and live in Council territory, similar to an entry visa. Not residential stock but still features really significant returns. 16% ROI last year!
9) Wind River Corporation, in the Sioux Nation. They specialize in underground agriculture. The fact that it's underground provides dynamite security, and means they're not at the mercy of the Sioux weather. A-rating, but definitely on the move.

James waits for her to wind down a bit before interjecting again.

"I meant what are we doing here?" James asks again, indicating the outdoor café, surrounded by loud music, mosquitoes, and revelers. A rivulet of sweat runs down the back of his neck, the product of an oppressively hot, sticky night. Illeana had fashioned some lightweight armored clothing for them, but ballistics protection was still mutually exclusive with fabric breathability.

"Oh," Illeana says, getting the message that James might not be entirely focused on EPS and cost-to-price ratios.

"Why aren't we up north?" James asks. "The sun is intense down here."

"It is intense," Illeana agrees, "but at least it goes down at night, Up north - like in Algonkian-Manitou - it stays light out until 23:00 this time of year, or later!" James sees her give a small involuntary shudder.

Four local policemen drift past. The Quarter is the spot for tourism - over a million visitors a year - so it's heavily policed. The unattractive metas (i.e. the orks and trolls) are escorted away, leaving the eternally gorgeous elves for the tourists to ogle.

"I wonder if I ever did a tour here," James wonders out loud. "Ares is trying to turn their bug-stomping skill into shedim-stomping."

"Lots going on here," Illeana offers, as if it weren't self-evident. "I've heard you can pay voodoo priests to summon spirits who will 'ride' you" - her arched eyebrows make it clear what she means - "and there are people who get a buzz by buying bites from vampires! Can you believe it?" She shakes her head with wonder. "There's a large Infected community around here. I've even heard that the CDC has a well-hidden clinic in the French Quarter that caters to vampires, offering them meals in exchange for samples for study."

"But that's not why we're here," James says astutely, leveling her with a gaze. "You've got a whole fridge and freezer full of meals. So what is it? What are we here to study?"

She smiles and clasps her hands with a pleading looking, knowing that she'd been caught. James was becoming used to this, being dragged from magical hotspot to magical hotspot so that Illeana could pursue her latest fascination.

"There's powerful magic, deep in the Bayou," she says with a furtive glance at her surroundings. Jugglers and fire-breathers wander past, collecting tips. "They say there are shamans that are born, raised, and die in the swamps, but are more powerful than any tenured professor at Texas A&M&M. The Mississippi River is semi-Awakened, and just pours raw mana into the swamps. The swamp spirits - they're powerful, but primal. Like nothing I've ever worked with."

She gives James another eager smile, hoping to convince him that the hot, muddy wetlands are actually a veritable wonderland of nature and biodiversity, as long as you can ignore VITAS mosquitoes or the fact that the swamp is full of apex predators that survived the K-T extinction, physically unchanged for a hundred million years, except for the Awakened versions which are now even more perfect killing machines than they were before. James' mind drifts to a behemoth, which looks like an alligator, if an alligator had the physique of a hippopotamus. Illeana gives another winning smile, and waits for what James has to say.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (13:44:41/02-05-16)
Fingering the pentagram around his neck, James sighs.  "That's not exactly an answer."

"My studies," Illeana starts, trying to find the right words, "they require--"

"They require you to lie to me," James cuts in.

"No.  No, it' nothing like that."

"Really?  Quarterly reports?" James dismisses the graphs and trid pie charts that are running through five-year growth cycles.  "No, you could do that anywhere.  What we can't do anywhere is get a working portfolio on Rhodes," James says, sending an ARO of a largely empty field surrounding Rhodes' name, with a few tertiary details, largely unrelated attached.

With Sam's training, being around so much woo all the time made sense.  It's what they were there to do, after all, and truthfully, James had enjoyed learning what he could while they were all out in the field together, or at night around the RV's small table, with Sam crinkling over his space blanket while James made soycaf and skinned rabbits over Illeana's lectures.  But it wasn't long before most of Sam's lessons dealt with things that James couldn't participate in.  Try as he might, there was no sensing mana around him, much less bending it to his will to make himself stronger, or faster, or hyper aware.  And the conversations about astral sight just dumbfounded him.  Seeing without seeing, the geography of astral space, how living creatures and spirits left traces of themselves behind.

"Oh, so it's like DNA?" James had opined over one Illeana's sessions with Sam.

"It's a bit more complex than that," Illeana had said then, quick to get back to her exercise with the Fomóraig.  More complex than DNA.  That hadn't sat well.

James had been under the impression that the two had an unspoken agreement that once Sam left, they would be free to pursue some other interests.  He'd been investigating the Nately's, put off by Junior's insolence back with the black lodge and their other RV, and while nothing concrete had surfaced yet, he was sure that with the right resources, time, and locations, they could do what was right to set things straight with the family.  As far as James was concerned, it was Edward III who was most responsible for his parents' deaths, forcing their hand like that.  And again, there's Rhodes, who likely holds the keys to James' past, whether or not he has any siblings, who his people were, and how James had been made into what he is now.

But critter hunts, tactical thinking, a super soldier to watch your six, that isn't a partnership, much less a relationship.  It's employment.

"I mean," James says, returning his cup of chicory to its saucer, "why the facade?  Why not tell me we're here to do, I don't know, whatever it is we're actually here to do.  Powerful mojo, great.  But why?  Nearly four months we've been hauling here to there, and you don't tell me anything.  And what was going on there back in Kansas?  Was that really about the Little Smoke, or did you know something about the juggernaut, eh?  Maybe see if the rumors were true?  Maybe see if next quarter, or three quarters from now Wind River's gonna take a dive?  Hell, maybe you're thinking about next century?  I mean, no need to tell me then, eh?  Not like it would affect me any."

He sees her face collapse, or at least the face she's projecting at the time.  Does it read her true, or is that just a part of the spell? he wonders before standing and slotting the coffee and beignets from his Jonathan Aarons SIN.  He fastens the top button on his linen sport coat, which is certainly better than fresnel in this weather but still heavy from the ballistic fibers, and touches up the corner of his mouth with a handkerchief he deposits in his coat pocket.  "I'm going to go for a walk."

He exits the plaza, expertly weaving into the crowd of tourists.  At first he doesn't know where to go, and he finds himself on the outskirts of a crowd enjoying a street band.  They're talented enough, and James likes jazz, especially the more traditional stuff that the French Quarter has largely cleaved to as a part of its identity, but he finds himself unable to get into it.  The musicians are done up in their Vaudeville best, and couples around him sway to the music, playing kissy-face and holding hands, slotting creds to the young elf dancing his way and tipping his hat to the patrons.  He tips 20¥, and walks off, hands in pockets.

He doesn't know how long he walks, or where really, though he knows he's still in the French Quarter when he finds himself standing outside of Madame DeSade's Psychic Readings and Talismonger shop.  Figures.  All roads lead to Rome. Hell of a name, though.  Wonder if this one of those possession-type spots for the more extreme clientele.  Switching to his weakest SIN, he steps inside, the smell of booze and sweat subsumed under the new smells of incense and smoke, which he has long come to associate with Illeana, and something else as well, Deepweed, maybe?

"Greetings, Monsieur," the woman says as he enters.  Her eyes glaze over for a moment, a look that James has come to recognize as having his aura read.  "Oh," she continues, likely trying to reconcile his quickened spells, with his essence, with his pentagram necklace.

"Are we here for a pickup?"

What, does she figure me for a whip? James wonders.

"How about a reading?" James says, jerking his head toward the ARO out front.

"Oh, yes, of course, of course," the proprietor says before calling to the back, "Leanna, watch the front, will you?"  The name makes James stop in his tracks, especially with the woman's well-crafted accent, but he relaxes when a young girl comes out front, wiping her hands on an apron specked in greens and browns.  Reagents, James assumes.  Do those smell?

He's led into the back room, where everything is theatrics.  Heavy satin lines the walls, and once he enters, curtains of the same are closed behind them.  Mademoiselle DeSade takes a seat and gestures for James to do the same across a table where a tarot deck, a few small candles, and a quite nice-looking dagger sit.  James undoes the button on his jacket and obliges.  A few brief pleasantries are exchanged and water offered, which James declines.  After a moment, he's instructed to hold out his hands, which he does obediently, palms up.  "I'm not sure what you're going to get from these," he confesses.

"Yes, yes, this will be interesting," DeSade replies.  "So, what do you want to know?  The future?" Her eyes narrow a bit before she adds, "The past?  You are troubled, are you not?"

"Hmm," James grunts noncommittally.

"Ok, suit yourself.  Let's see, let's see.  What have we here."  It's not a question.  She begins rocking and chanting, something that James knows well enough could be something called Centering, which he also knows is related to something called a metamagic, but what that means is really beyond him.  They're not spells, but like spells?  Maybe?  To be honest, he doesn't know if Madame DeSade is working mojo or not.  She certainly wouldn't be the first to fleece tourists in the French Quarter.  Suddenly, she straightens upright, and her eyes shoot open with a look of fear.

"I see," she stammers.  If she is a mojo slinger, maybe she's working her mojo on James because he finds himself incredibly interested in what she has to say.

"What, what do you see?" James asks.

"I see blood." 
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (01:27:01/02-06-16)
James dismisses the ARO of financial data with a flick of his wrist.

Illeana scowls and looks confused, as her eyes track the dismissed ARO. "Hey, I spent a lot of time -"

James continues over her objections. She repeatedly tries to get a word in but can't. "I put that presentation together for - The Little Smoke was for - Of course I didn't know about the - You have it all backwards - We're here to -"

James stands and buttons his jacket. Illeana frowns and looks confused. She watches him go but doesn't try to stop him. Over the music, James is fairly certain he hears two or three gentleman suitors swoop in on her to see if she's okay, if she needs anything, anything at all...

As he walks, he remembers that Illeana has a spells that can bend a man's mind, or play his moods like a cello, or put a thought so deep into his head that he would swear it was his own. Ares had trained James how to recognize such magics and how to resist them. However, there's no trace of them now, and James realizes that Illeana let him have his speech just now, and let him walk away. So does that mean she respects me enough not to mess with me? Or that she doesn't care enough to stop me? The thought twists around him as he walks, and he wonders what he would have done in her shoes.

Illeana wouldn't cry. She wasn't the crying type. She was mentally stable, if a bit unorthodox. But wasn't that true of all magicians? How could you see and feel a whole other world - one that the vast majority of humanity would never experience and never understand - and not be affected by it? Magicians were given a vast amount of leeway at Ares, far more than even a senior-ranking mundane officer might hope to receive. Their gifts were great, but with those gifts came a certain estrangement from the "normal" world.

For example, Illeana barely let the droids in the Winnebago do any of the housework while she was around. She would let Stevens drive, sure, but when it came to cooking or cleaning she always shoo'd away the house drones. James had even come home from a couple fishing trips to find her on her hands and knees, scrubbing the floors. Who did that? She claimed that it was a habit that she couldn't break, and besides it gave her time to think. She had been wearing a cute little maid outfit, so James didn't exactly object, but still... one had to wonder. The RV was spotless, but her magical lodge gave it some truly strange furnishings. James had opened up a drawer one day to get a spoon, only to discover a collection of skulls from several small paracritters. (James recognized those of a bandit and a bombadier and a century ferret.) The next day he went back to the same drawer to more closely examine a few specimens, only to find it full of silverware again. 

James steps out of the music and the humid night air and into the talismonger's shop, his SIN registering him as Commodoro Crujido from Aztlan. (Not Aztechnology, he noted, but Aztlan. He mentally prepared to lie about being from some Anglo-heavy city, like San Diego, Tucson, El Paso, or San Antonio.) He sits for a reading with the Carib woman DeSade, who looks unnaturally thin, trying to gauge whether there might be some truth to the proceedings or if this is "for entertainment purposes only".

"What do you see?" James asks, looking into the thousand-yard stare of her eyes that magicians had while assensing, at least according to popular culture. (But not Illeana. She remained focused on both worlds at all times.)

"I see blood," the woman croaks, her voice surprisingly deep for her gaunt frame. Her gaze spins around the room and she appears disoriented and dizzy.

"You cannot hurt me here," she says, not to James but to the room. "Ooo..."

She sways back and forth. As she does, James has a thought come out of nowhere. It's a sensation that has become much more recent over the last few months. He associates the feeling with the spell that Illeana quickened on him, the one that improves intuition and insight. Details seem to magically jump out of the blue.

Is this woman on tempo? he wonders. Heightened emotional awareness, check. Disorientation and delusions, check. Severe weight loss, check. But tempo has been off the streets for a good three years now. Unless... On the drive to New Orleans, James had done some searching and found stories about smugglers hiding in the swamps. There was even a rumor - entirely unsubstantiated - that one of these smugglers had a cache of tempo tucked away in the Bayou. The other shadow commentators had shot down the notion as entirely unbelievable, but here was this woman in front of him, looking and acting like the poster girl for tempo addiction.

He watches her continue to sway for another minute. Then a different thought occurs to him. Alternatively, maybe she's bad at her job, doesn't make enough money, and hasn't had enough to eat, he thinks, wondering if her behavior might just as likely be attributable to low blood sugar coupled with desperation, rather than a street drug that's been off the market since 2072..
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (12:31:30/02-08-16)
When Madame DeSade gets around to her reading, jumbled and inchoate as it is, James is still left unsure as to the woman's chemical proclivities or general state of unhealth.  Malaise, the doctors call it.  She tells him there is danger, though to himself or from whatever is in the astral that that may be directed at her, is unclear.  The one thing clearly about him is that he is lonely.  It would hardly take Tempo to discern that fact from a wage slave looking tourist wandering into an establishment of this sort at 02:00 alone.  He finds his mind wandering, wondering why he's there, after all.  Hasn't Illeana been the absolute paragon of helpfulness?  Hasn't she taken her prayers seriously, her devotion to Hecate?  These all-consuming forays of hers into the occult and arcane, these were not things that she would toy with, James knew.  Why then, how then, could she see James as a means to an end when her faith insisted that she was the means for others.  Oh, Ghost.

James abruptly stands, as Madame DeSade waves her hands around theatrically.  "yeah, I uh, I think we're done here.  You've been most helpful." 

Leaving the frail old woman to her lodge, James crosses to the front of the store and slots her nuyen to Leanna.  "Look, it's none of my biz, but if the star comes into here and sees her all spun out on tempo like that, I don't think your 'protection policy' is gonig to cover that."  He pretends to focus on maneuvering his credstick, as he keeps a close eye on the cashier's demeanor.  Outside, he reboots his link as he joins a throng of party-goers lost in the revel of the early morning.  He pats his neck with his handkerchief, and makes plans for a shave in the morning: his beard is not conducive to this weather.  Before leaving the plaza, he does a double-check to make sure he knows the street names, and files through the crowd briskly before finding a street where he can hail a car.

James has himself dropped off a few blocks from their hotel, still thinking that a walk will help him clear his head, as if the muggy swamp air will somehow be different here.  It's not, and he quickly forgoes the idea, and heads up to their room.  No, it wasn't about the walk, or about clearing his head, it hadn't been for awhile now.  Instead, James was humbled, sure that he had gotten it all wrong and had lashed out for no reason.  And now to face Illeana.  It wasn't the apologizing, James was fine with that.  It was knowing that he hurt her.  He popped the room key and entered, finding Illeana sprawled out on the bed, ostensibly asleep.  At least she's still here.

In the sitting room, James finds a note set underneath the reading lamp.  Uh-oh.  He takes a chair, and watches the street below a moment before reading.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (15:14:21/02-08-16)
Illeana had splurged a bit on the suite. The Winnebago was nice, no question, but there's something about a solid foundation and a spacious bathroom that the RV just couldn't replicate. The hotel lobby had marble floors had a clean, cream-and-white aesthetic that spoke to generations of gentility.

Overall, Illeana was optimistic about the pair's finances, and had justified the expense by explaining how disciplined they had been about their budget while on the road. James' hunting and fishing had saved them a considerable amount, as had Illeana's talent with both physical and magical clothing alterations. And their prudent investments - extensively detailed in the dismissed ARO reports that waited patiently for James' review - had returned reliable dividends that kept them from needing any regular work. Real retirement was within their reach; all they had to do was accept it.

James sits in the comfortable chair and looks at the note. It's written on hotel stationery - in itself an anachronism, and a sign of the hotel's pedigree - in elegant handwriting. It's a single sheet of paper, folded in half. On the side facing out, it says:

To my James

Taking a deep breath, he opens the paper and reads.

I am sorry that you feel the way you do.
Please believe me that everything I've been doing is for us.
You already know my greatest secret, so it would be pointless for me to hide anything else.
Come to bed when you get this, and I'll answer any questions you have in the morning.
Yours, Illeana


James looks into the bedroom, his cybereyes easily picking out Illeana's warm form against the air-conditioned coolnees of the room. Her rhythmic breathing suggests that she's asleep, and her mask sits on the night stand next to her. She's splayed out all over the bed, either hogging most of the surface area or setting a cunning trap so that James can't get into bed without alerting her. If she's wearing any clothes, he can't see them.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (12:57:40/02-10-16)
James zooms in on the note with his eyes and snaps a picture before folding it and placing it back on the table.  She didn't even seem mad.  With a grateful sigh, he stands, closes the blinds, hangs his jacket and slacks, and cleans the muggy swamp air off of him in the bathroom.  Then he joins Illeana in bed, nuzzling his face in the space between her neck and shoulder blades.  "I'm sorry," he whispers.

"Shh," Illeana says, making room for him.

#

In the morning, James wakes early, his commlink rebooting with an alarm that only he can hear.  He showers again, a luxury and nice change from the water rationing in the RV that he plans to take full advantage of, and then he slowly and meticulously shaves away his beard.  When he exits the bathroom, Illeana is awake and in the sitting room, having prepared a pot of chicory "coffee."  James joins her on the small couch, allows her to pour him a cup, gives her a morning kiss, and commandeers the trid projector to throw Illeana's tables and graphs up from his commlink.  He manipulates the data for awhile, first as they sit mostly in silence, and then as they start making plans for the day.

"So, ya know how I was reading those rumors about Tempo coming back on the market?"

"Mm-hmm," Illeana answers.

"Well, when, uh, when I was out last night, I ended up in this talismonger, psychic reading kind of place, and"

"Wait," Illeana breaks in.  "You were where?"

"Yeah," James answers, and describes the spot in the French Quarter.  "But anyway, the old lady running the place, I think she was on Tempo.  It might not mean anything for us, but if we're going into the swamps, we should probably expect more than just the average smuggling operations.  If they're bringing Tempo in, and the Star has gotten wind of it, we may need to keep an eye out.

"What did you have in mind for us anyway?"
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (15:00:03/02-10-16)
"The Fountain of Youth," Illeana says flatly. James isn't clear if she's jesting or not; her deadpan humor can be hard to read sometimes.

She continues on with a serious tone. "The Awakening taught us to reexamine the old legends. Dragons, vampires, all of it." She raises a knowing eyebrow. "Our experience in the PCC is a good example about how advanced the ancients were, at least in matters of magic and mana.

"The indigenous Caribs told stories to the Spaniards about the restorative powers of the water in the land of Bimini. Who knows, maybe they were just trying to get the Spaniards to go away. But there are plenty of examples of mana keeping people young, so it doesn't seem that outlandish to me. If the Mississippi has Awakened, maybe it's time to revisit the matter."

She gives a weighty look to James, leveling him with the meaning and implications of this research.

"There are several options for making a metahuman immune to age, some more invasive than others.

1) Get infected by a vampire. This is drastic, to say the least.
2) Renfield. A physiologically and psychologically addictive alchemical preparation that vampires often use to control their thralls. It's addictive though, and withdrawal is fatal.
3) Leonization treatments. Expensive, and not unlimited. There's only so long that technology can stop the clock.
4) Make a formula pact with a free spirit. If a free spirit infuses someone with a copy of its spirit formula, that person will stop aging. I don't know if a free spirit can make a pact with a mundane though.
5) Conjure a greater spirit with the Hidden Life power. This is beyond my capabilities now, but with enough practice and research I think I might be able to."

She pauses, her expression neutral, waiting and watching James for a reaction.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (16:36:49/02-10-16)
"There are several options for making a metahuman immune to age, some more invasive than others."

"Oh," James says, letting the weight of what Illeana's saying wash over him.  His head spins a little when she runs through his options for eternal life.  Does he want it?  Could he handle it?  What about his augmentations, should another crash occur, or the dragons smashed them back into the stone age, or if the sixth world gave way to the seventh?  Neither he nor Illeana know what became of her during the fifth world, or even if she was alive at that time.  Would she have effectively hibernated?  Carried on with business as usual? 

When she finishes her list, James can tell that she's gauging him, perhaps wondering if he's willing to be hers forever, in the sense of that word that vampires would use and not in the sense that he's said it before. 

"Umm, wow.  Ok," James manages to stutter.  He pictures them against the backdrop of a city-scape, towers pushing impossibly high into the clouds, cars flying by as he soars upwards in his jetpack, shooting amorphous blobs of pure energy from an apparatus attached to his wrist, Yeah, real sci-fi stuff.  In the next instance, they're surrounded by the crumbling ruins of civilization, waves crashing against what was once Atlanta while two groups of metahumans square off with their atlatls and axes.  And finally, they're in a high mountain cabin, James drinking pine needle tea while Illeana fashions him a coat out of bear skin.

"So where do we start?"
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (18:58:09/02-10-16)
Illeana's demeanor is very serious. She's not her usual playful or jubilant self. Her gravity adds to the weight of the topic. There aren't any charts or graphs for this, nor is there a script.

"The first thing you need to do is decide how you want to die."

That was quite the ice breaker,
Illeana thinks to herself, but decides to roll with it.

"If you want to die in bed, peaceful and asleep, surrounded by loved ones, then you want to die of old age. Leónization aside, these options all require you to die violently, or of some dread disease, or some other equally unpleasant outcome.

"The upside is that you can live for centuries. The downside is that you can live for centuries. Not everyone likes what the world has become, but if you want to live forever then you have to be a part of it, whether you like it or not."

James notes that she's not including herself in the conversation, as if she's not a given. He asks her why.

"Forever is a long time, James," she smiles, perhaps a bit sadly. "We've known each other for six months now, only five of which we can actually remember. It's been a great honeymoon, but let's not pretend that honeymoons last two years, let alone two hundred, or two thousand."

James' thoughts return to his depictions of the future. He looks down at his hands and wonders what cyberlimb technology might look like in twenty years, let alone two hundred. It's hard -

"It's hard to wrap your mind around, I know," Illeana says, practically robbing the thought straight from James' head. He looks up, surprised, wondering if she has some new mind-reading magicks.

"Your aura is swirling," she explains. "As well it should. This is one of the most important conversations of your life."

Less melodrama, she thinks to herself. But is it melodrama if it's true?

"We all die. It's not if but when, and don't let any elf or dragon tell you otherwise. My path is set, but yours is still open. You can't live forever, but you can live a long, long time. Just know that the true price isn't paid until the last day."
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (14:01:33/02-11-16)
"Forever is a long time, James," she smiles, perhaps a bit sadly. "We've known each other for six months now, only five of which we can actually remember. It's been a great honeymoon, but let's not pretend that honeymoons last two years, let alone two hundred, or two thousand."

James finds himself getting defensive.  It isn't as though many relationships today last forever, or even hint at the promise of it.  But there is still a romance around monogamy and pair-bonding, the promise of forever.  But maybe it was only a short and brutish life that made that promise possible.  Maybe it's palatable because it's all the forever we have?  And that wouldn't be true for James anymore if he drank from that fountain.

"Why me, then?" James asks.  He knows the question is a trap at worst and a request for validation at best.  How silly it would be to start a fight over possible fights, fights that didn't even exist yet.

"It's hard to wrap your mind around, I know," Illeana says, practically robbing the thought straight from James' head. He looks up, surprised, wondering if she has some new mind-reading magicks.

"Your aura is swirling," she explains. "As well it should. This is one of the most important conversations of your life."

"I bet," he says, and steels himself with a drink of chicory, and flexes his cyber hand.  "My body, as it were, I worry about it."  He pictures himself broken, his ancient ware useless, not even sputtering, while he lies wasting away.

"We all die. It's not if but when, and don't let any elf or dragon tell you otherwise. My path is set, but yours is still open. You can't live forever, but you can live a long, long time. Just know that the true price isn't paid until the last day."

"It's not the dying I mind, not really.  Going a bad way, well I think some of what Ares taught me is still stuck in here somewhere.  A bad way's the only way I think I'd know how to go.  It's the forever.  I mean, if we part ways, everyone I could meet, everyone I could care about, they'd all grow old and . . . disappear.  It sounds lonely.

"I'm not sure that's awful.  There's so much I could do, so much I could see and experience, but . . ."
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (00:18:37/02-12-16)
"Why does anyone like anyone else?" Illeana asks, a small smile breaking through. "I'm a magician, not a psychologist. Evidently we liked each other 'before', and we like each other now, so maybe it's meant to be."

James knows the Illeana fully accepts reason and logic and the scientific method, but he also knows that her alternative world view - Hecate and the astral realm included - makes her open to less scientific concepts, like Fate and Destiny. She had often admitted that her magic was more of a gut feeling - like hunger, or danger, or even love - than it was something that she could grasp intellectually.

There's a tingle in James' head that he's come to associate with the nanites. He wonders if they have a say in this; indeed, he wonders if they're the ones in the driver's seat. Do they fear Illeana because she's not one of them and never will be? Or do they like her because she helps keeps James safe? The spiraling concept of the nanites thinking about themselves through James leaves him existentially dizzy until he lands on Descartes' cogito ergo sum and he feels grounded again.

Illeana interrupts. "I hadn't thought about Ares conditioning you for death. That's a good point. It sounds like you've accepted it, and made peace with it. I'm not sure that I have yet.

"There is so much we could see and experience. That's partly been the reason why I've been so consumed with my studies. I don't have the same limitations as most magicians; I'm not racing against life's clock. My memory won't fade, my thinking will remain fresh. It's strange to think about, but in a hundred years I could be one of the most powerful people on the planet. I like to imagine all the good I could do."

She drifts off for a second, lost in the thought of the rights she could wrong and the lives she could improve. Hecate calls her to it.

She returns to the present.

"There are pros and cons to each approach, naturally. Everything has a price.

"Convincing vampires to turn people is not easy. They do not appreciate the competition. They dangle the prospect of power and eternal life over their followers for as long as they can. Strange to say, but it would probably be easier to abduct a vampire and infect you manually. That said, I don't know what the healing factor would do with all that." She points at James and swirls her finger in a circle, encompassing his whole body. He realizes she means his cyberware. "You would need the best implants on the planet if we don't want them to be rejected. Otherwise, I presume your body would spit out your limbs and grow new ones. You've had work on your nervous system done too. I don't know what it would do to your mind if eighty percent of your body decided to regrow itself. I assume it would be... traumatic. This is the riskiest approach.

"Renfield isn't as extreme but we shouldn't take it more lightly. It would leave you dependent on me forever, or at least until you found another vampire to provide it for you. You would be immune to aging, and even stronger and faster than you are now, but you would be trapped. Not only would the dynamic of our relationship change, but if anything were ever to happen to me, it would condemn you too. This is not my preferred option, but I can't make the choice for you.

"Then there are spirits. This is still new to me, but in theory we can bind a spirit's essence to yours. Spirits never die of old age, so neither would you. Again, we might be in uncharted waters as far as spirits interacting with mundanes, but it's the option that leaves you most recognizably 'you'. As such, I like it the best, but it's the one with the least obvious path forward. It would basically be to search and research. It's something you cannot help me with, not directly anyway, even though we do it for you. For us."

She looks at him to see what he thinks.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (10:48:37/02-12-16)
It takes a bit of explaining on Illeana's part, but eventually James comes to the realization that she does not think that there is a literal fountain out there in the swamps that he can just take a drink out of.  "So what happens to the spirit if we bind it to me?" he asks.  "If I'm still me, is its essence what transferred, like a bank account?"

He professes his ignorance on Renfield, and asks her to explain.

A far-away feeling in the pit of his stomach alerts James that he should eat soon.  He doesn't feel hunger the way that normal people do, or so he thinks, and he's pretty sure he doesn't feel hunger in the way that Illeana does, judging by how it affects her.  For him, it's more like a  status update, an alert that needs to be taken care of eventually.  "We should get breakfast," he says.  It's always "we," even though she'll mostly be watching him eat, but the company is nice for both of them. 

Later, over pastries and more coffee, James thinks about becoming a vampire, how he wouldn't be able to eat anymore after that.  He wonders if it would be any great loss.  His olfactory sensors are top of the line, but he's fairly sure he doesn't taste like most people either, as filtered as his sensory input is.  He changes the subject for awhile, letting the gravity of everything nestle in, diffuse itself and become more easily digestible. 

"If we go the spirit route, where do we start?  I'm assuming that has something to do with where we are now?"
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (14:28:15/02-12-16)
"The spirit gets something out of it too," Illeana says. "You would be like its own personal safety deposit box.

"As long as the spirit formula remains intact, the spirit cannot be permanently banished or disrupted, no matter what. It would be immortality for each of you, in a way.

"It's not a thing to do lightly. Not all spirits are magnanimous, or have humanity's best interests at heart. As someone who did a tour with Firewatch, you know that better than most."

The conversation continues over breakfast. Another outdoor café, one where their conversation is lost in the surrounding hum of other diners and the city.

"We either need to find a free spirit or conjure one ourselves."

She's using the royal 'we', James notes.

"It's not a small task. With study and practice, I could conjure one in time. First, I need to learn more about a spiritual art called invocation. MIT&T is at the forefront of research on invocation. Their studies are specific to the hermetic tradition, though some of their alumni have started their own invocation courses tailored to Wiccan practitioners."

She raises a knowing eyebrow. James detects the invitation to go to Boston and investigate the Natelys.

"I've always wanted to see New England in the autumn," she contines. "Particularly Salem. It's a bit of a holy spot for Wiccans, you see.

"Most admissions deadlines passed months ago, but I think I can make a compelling case. My fake SIN says that I have a degree - with honors - from Universitas Carolina Pragensis, in Prague. The thing about my SIN is that it's so good that I'm not sure what's real and what's fake. Maybe I really did study there and accumulated the credential, or maybe it's part of a very believable backstory. I do speak some Czech, after all, so it seems plausible."

James interrupts. "Charles University? Isn't that where -"

"Schwartzkopf teaches, correct," Illeana nods. James has heard of Schwartkopf, a Great Western Dragon, one of the more benevolent ones. He takes students and gives lectures on magic, in stark contrast to, say, Sirrurg the Destroyer.

"Schwartzkopf's ongoing work is the Unified Magical Theory," Illeana continues. "The synthesis of Wiccan and shamanic traditions to be effective even without religious beliefs."

"Wiccan traditions?" James jumps in. "Do you think it's possible that you studied with him?"

Illeana nods with raised eyebrows. "Kinda blows your mind, doesn't it? Again, I don't know. Maybe it's all part of a very good fake SIN that fits together like the stones of the Great Pyramids. Or maybe it fits because it's true."

James lets out a low whistle, and exhales. Suddenly he leans forward and slaps his hands on the table, causing the plate of pastries to jump.

"Wait! Schwartzkopf was mentioned in the files that Cannon provided to us about the list of potential groups tracking us. The files said that it's possible that Schwartzkopf has alerted one of his magical groups - Benandanti XXV, I think they're called - to acquire the artifact and/or anyone who may have come into contact with it."

Illeana gives a wry smile and nods. James realizes that he's just catching up to what she's already thought of. "You're absolutely correct," she confirms.

James sits back, overwhelmed at the thought that he's been thrust into a world of Great Dragons. It was one thing to sell the obelisk to the ASPS, which had a financial relationship with Hestaby, but quite another to be sleeping with someone who might have studied with a Great Dragon, a dragon who might want to make his acquaintance.

"We're getting ahead of ourselves," Illeana says, trying to slow down a bit. "If we want to go this route, then we need to find some MIT&T graduates and figure out where they are teaching. I'm betting there are some in the greater Boston area. Then I need to apply, possibly with a significant donation to the institution to apologize for missing the admissions deadline. That gives us two months to find our way up north.

"In the meantime, we can do whatever we want. We can splash around in the swamps, researching and learning just in case the academic route doesn't pan out, or we can hit the road again." She raises her hands a bit to indicate the open world that they have in front of them.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (11:38:13/02-15-16)
James lets out a low whistle, and exhales. Suddenly he leans forward and slaps his hands on the table, causing the plate of pastries to jump.

"Wait! Schwartzkopf was mentioned in the files that Cannon provided to us about the list of potential groups tracking us. The files said that it's possible that Schwartzkopf has alerted one of his magical groups - Benandanti XXV, I think they're called - to acquire the artifact and/or anyone who may have come into contact with it."

Illeana gives a wry smile and nods. James realizes that he's just catching up to what she's already thought of. "You're absolutely correct," she confirms.

"And if he knew you, and he knew about the obelisk, that could be dangerous."

"We're getting ahead of ourselves," Illeana says, trying to slow down a bit. "If we want to go this route, then we need to find some MIT&T graduates and figure out where they are teaching. I'm betting there are some in the greater Boston area. Then I need to apply, possibly with a significant donation to the institution to apologize for missing the admissions deadline. That gives us two months to find our way up north."

"What kind of a donation are we talking here?" Jame is sure that their war chest can cover it, but if he's got to start thinking long term, as in very long term, he'd better start learning how to be smarter with his money. 

"In the meantime, we can do whatever we want. We can splash around in the swamps, researching and learning just in case the academic route doesn't pan out, or we can hit the road again." She raises her hands a bit to indicate the open world that they have in front of them.

"So long as we're here," James says with a smile, extending his arms around him to the bayou.  "I could stand a behemoth hunt.  Or a smuggler hunt to be honest.  What about these shamans you were talking about?  Do you have a line on any of them?  Any that we should maybe meet, or try to at least?"
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (15:31:14/02-15-16)
Despite the daylight hours, firecrackers and sparklers go off at regular intervals. James isn't sure whether it's the usual festive spirit of the French Quarter or if there are some traditionalists celebrating the old Independence Day. The CAS folks do consider themselves the 'true' Americans, now that the Yankees have gone and defiled themselves with the Canadians.

"I don't know what kind of donation we're talking about. I was hoping you could help me with that. The first step might be to find out if the alumni working with Wiccans are still in an academic setting or if they've gone freelance. Normally I would presume that the population of Wiccans isn't dense enough to support dedicated instructors, but, as I said, any town or city within 50km of Salem is going to have Wiccans.

"If the teachers are freelance, great, problem solved. If they are with academic institutions then we might have to figure out the admissions process. If the professor has any say over the matter, then a relatively modest sum might be sufficient. But if we have to pay off a university, then it won't be inexpensive.

"There will be money-making opportunities in the area. There's an Awakened drug called Hecate's Blessing that's made out of the sap of the Awakened maple, of which there are many in New England. Hecate's Blessing is a drug, not an magical compound like Little Smoke, so I can't cook it up myself. But I can harvest the raw reagents needed for a chemist to make it."

She holds up a finger, as if she's had a thought.

"Speaking of magical compounds, if we're going into the bayou then I need to make you some Rock Lizard Blood. That one I can make for you. Despite the name, it comes from the pulp of North American weeping trees. As luck would have it, this place is silly with them. It will make you immune to diseases and toxins while we're out mucking around in the swamp. No VITAS for you!"



A few days later, after Illeana has cooked up some Rock Lizard Blood - a rich, red liquid that lives up to its name - James finds himself standing on a dock on the edge of the swamp, baking under some intense July sun while renting a fan boat.

James slaps a mosquito on his neck. He removes his hand to find a splotch of smashed bug.

"Here," Illeana says, pressing the red tincture into his hands. "Sip this. I saw one place retailing it for $5,150 CAS, which converts to ¥1,700 a dose, so do us both a favor and don't get addicted."

James gives her a look. At ¥1,700 a dose, James wonders why Illeana doesn't set up shop down here as a full-time alchemist. She could be making good money.

"You're sure you can drive one of these things?" Illeana says, jutting her thumb over her shoulder in the direction of the airboat. The transaction complete, the obese proprietor of the rental shop gives a wave and waddles away along the dock.

James nods confidently. "You got a line on anyone we should try to meet out here?" he asks, repeating his question from breakfast the other day.

"No," she says, shaking her head. "The problem is that the people we want to meet are the ones who least want to meet us. It's possible we'll run into some swamp folk who've never been out of the Bayou. Might not even speak English. You don't speaking any French, do you? No? Just Spanish. Hmm.

"I might have to communicate via assensing, once I've convinced them not to kill me. Full disclosure, they're almost certainly going to try, but luckily I am exceedingly difficult to kill."

She smiles at James and throws their gear onto the airboat.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (14:20:57/02-23-16)
"I might have to communicate via assensing, once I've convinced them not to kill me. Full disclosure, they're almost certainly going to try, but luckily I am exceedingly difficult to kill."

"I'll try and stay out of the way then," James says with a grin, checking their gear one last time before pulling the air boat away from the dock.  He gives a brief wave over his shoulder at the proprietor who is already walking away cash in hand.  Piloting the craft south and east away from Morgan City, James notes that they lose their Wireless connectivity almost immediately.  Not much for infrastructure here.  He pulls a map up on his AR overlay, and does his best to plot a steady course to Lost Lake, where they'll begin to head north again into the heart of the swamp waters.  He's thankful for the Rock Lizard Blood, especially the way the mosquitoes are on him.  He doesn't have much skin left, but they're making quick work of what's there. 

When they've gone far enough, James changes into his chameleon suit both for the armor and the protection against the bugs.  He even keeps his hood on until Illeana's spirit is able to arrange for some cloud cover.  "I wouldn't mind a spot of rain," he says, figuring a little wetness would drive the mosquitoes away.  As he drives, James thumbs a small cypress carving that Illeana made for him, one of her healing preparations.  He has two more in his pockets, both set to go off as soon as he touches them, made out of soap from the hotel. 

When the pair reaches Lost Lake, they're thoroughly away from civilization.  The cloud cover gives the landscape an impression of being somewhat muted, but it's still beautiful in its own way.  Not an ideal vacation destination as far as James is concerned, but not without its charms either.  Wouldn't be so bad, really, if not for the flying things, and the stingy things, and the kill-you things, the latter of which is no doubt close by but has yet to surface.  James sets the craft due north, but keeping a steady bearing once they hit the interior of the bayou is futile.  Not much in the way of visual landmarks either.  No wonder they're out by their lonesome. 
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (17:04:51/02-23-16)
James finds that piloting the airboat is not difficult. He knows a bit about boats - probably from some marine ops he did for Ares - but the airboat sits so high on the water that it feels more like driving a car.

The sun is hot and sticky. James glances over to Illeana and sees her sitting unhappily in a long coat.

"Didn't you bring your swimsuit?" he asks hopefully.

Illeana scowls, looking out over the sun-bleached reeds. "I'm worried about the mana around here," she says. "Remember that I said the Mississippi is semi-Awakened? It's like a giant mana line. Academically, they call them Type D, which stands for 'dragon lines'. They're common around geographic energies, like fault likes or geothermal vents or rivers and lakes."

James can detect one of Illeana's interminable lectures brewing. He quickly asks a question in an effort to derail her. "They influence the health of plants and animals, don't they?"

"Yeah, and the dual-natured too," she grunts. "But that's not why I'm concerned. I'm worried about a mana surge that might overload and pop my protective spells. If my protection to the sun disappears while I'm bareskinned, I'll have about one second to get over the edge of the boat and into the water if I don't want to die an agonizing death. Then I'd be sitting on the bottom of the lake until nightfall, praying that the same surge of mana doesn't undo my spell that allows me to breath underwater. So, as a precaution, I'm wearing the coat."

"So why don't you change the weather?" James suggests, not really knowing if Illeana can do that but remembering the role that weather magic played in the the war between the NAN and the old USA.

"Hey, yeah!" she says, sitting up optimistically. "That's a great idea!"

Illeana gets to her feet to summon. She raises her hands in a V and says something in Czech or Romanian or something weird.

Almost immediately, a hand reaches up out of the water and grabs the edge of the boat. James' initial reaction is "kill it with fire!" but Illeana seems to be unalarmed, so James takes it in stride. A large humanoid covered in slime and aquatic plants pulls itself out of the water and steps onto the boat. It drips scummy lake water everywhere.

Illeana converses with it in another language. James wonders why a spirit in Louisana would speak an Eastern European language, but then he figures that most of the real communication is being done astrally and that the spoken component is just out of habit.

The swamp creature nods and slips back into the water. Almost instantly, James feels a cool breeze kick up seemingly out of nowhere.

"I asked him to whip up some cloud cover," Illeana says, turning back to James. "And to watch us and the boat. He'll make sure we don't hit any submerged logs."

The cool breeze is a relief. Illeana gladly removes her coat. Conversely, James uses the opportunity to put on his chameleon suit without worrying about heat stroke.

Puffy white clouds slowly start to form while James keeps a lookout for telltale signs of human activity. "Head over there," Illeana says, pointing toward some thicker tree cover along the shore.

(https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/john-kasich-assets/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/18173534/bayou.jpg)
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (01:04:03/02-24-16)
"There," says Illeana, pointing to some broken reeds that suggest that someone has been through here.

Once he has a starting point, James has little trouble picking up the trail. He follows the lead deeper into the bayou.

The tree branches start to join together high up in the canopy. The water spirit continues to generate a cool wind and mist. Now, in the absence of the sun, the effect goes from cooling to chilly.

Through the creeping fog, James spies a hut.

(http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/pirates/images/d/df/Shack.jpg/revision/latest/scale-to-width-down/285?cb=20111118221635)

He slows the airboat so that the fan isn't as noisy. He coasts toward the hut, which is more intricate than it first suggested. It looks handmade.

An old dwarf sits on the porch in a rocking chair. The dwarf's hair is completely grey, with skin like tanned hide from the southern sun.

<<@Illeana [James] He must have been one of the first dwarves to Awaken in the early part of the century.>>

<<@James [Illeana] He's not magically active and he's not registering as a threat. But note the shotgun.>>

The dwarf continues to rock. "Strange weather," he finally says by way of greeting. His voice is deep and distant. He looks around at the mists slipping around and underneath his house.

"Mm, yes, strange," Illeana agrees.

James knows she's not much of a liar so he decides to speak up. "Nice to -"

"Wouldn't go any further," the dwarf cuts in. "Just wouldn't."

James presses him. "Why -"

"Folks go in, don't come out," the dwarf interrupts again. James realizes that the dwarf has never directly made eye contact. He keeps rocking and staring up and over James' head, not unlike the woman did at the seance.

"What's -"

"Witches," the dwarf says.

Perhaps the dwarf meant to be mysterious, or cautionary, but his dramatic declaration has the opposite effect on Illeana. She brightens visibly, with widened eyes and an intrigued, "Oo!"

She really has no poker face whatsoever, James thinks to himself, shaking his head slightly.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (12:07:00/02-24-16)
"Uh, hoi," James says when the spirit climbs aboard.  He doesn't mind the scummy lake water in the boat so much as how the thing looks.  It's all muck and twigs, and matted grasses, its hands gnarled vines.  Yikes!  He's glad when the spirit dips back into the water, and the cool breeze is even more welcomed.  He pulls the hood from around his head and stretches out his neck to the wind.  "Oh, yeah, that's just wiz."

James pulls back north through the trees, and picks up speed a bit now that he doesn't have to worry about high-centering the water craft.  He's in his rhythm with peeling the boat to and fro through the swamp, when Illeana tells him to check off the port side.  "Good eyes," he says when he finally sees the broken reeds.  From then on, it's slow but easy going.  This trail has been used recently, and probably not for the first time.  A fog thickens around them, forcing James to slow even more to keep tabs on the trail, and when the hut comes into view, James shifts to the lowest gear, inching forward.

As he makes out the dwarf, James stays impassive.  Bound to be somebody out around here.  We could do a whole lot worse than an old dwarf.

<<@James [Illeana] He's not magically active and he's not registering as a threat. But note the shotgun.>>

<<@Illeana [James] Roger that.  I'm on him.>>

The dwarf continues to rock. "Strange weather," he finally says by way of greeting. His voice is deep and distant. He looks around at the mists slipping around and underneath his house.

"Mm, yes, strange," Illeana agrees.

James knows she's not much of a liar so he decides to speak up. "Nice to -"

"Wouldn't go any further," the dwarf cuts in. "Just wouldn't."

James presses him. "Why -"

"Folks go in, don't come out," the dwarf interrupts again. James realizes that the dwarf has never directly made eye contact. He keeps rocking and staring up and over James' head, not unlike the woman did at the seance.

It's like he's not even seeing me, James thinks. 

<<@Illeana [James] You sure this guy doesn't have any mojo?  Look at his eyes.>>

"What's -"

"Witches," the dwarf says.

Perhaps the dwarf meant to be mysterious, or cautionary, but his dramatic declaration has the opposite effect on Illeana. She brightens visibly, with widened eyes and an intrigued, "Oo!"

She really has no poker face whatsoever, James thinks to himself, shaking his head slightly.

Alright, this is what we came here for.  James feels himself tensing up, and takes a moment to scrutinize his surroundings. 

"Witches, eh?  'Preciate the warning, sir, but would you mind if we came up?  I'm not much on my sea legs to be honest with you." James motions to the hut.  "If you don't mind my asking, what people go in and never come out?"
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (00:34:01/02-25-16)
The old dwarf holds up a hand as James moves toward the dock.

"Nuh nuh nah, sonny," the dwarf says, eyeing James' attire suspiciously. "I got trust issues." He continues rocking, the old wooden chair creaking and causing the aging boards of the deck to creak too.

"The folks that go in, they look like you. Young, funny clothes, loud boats. I tell them all the same, just as I told you. They don't listen, doubt you will either."

<<@Illeana [James] How do you want to play this?>>

<<@James [Illeana] I'd try my feminine wiles, but since I don't have any I'll use magic.>>

"Please?" Illeana says, glowing suspiciously despite the clouds and fog, as if they had parted and the sun had settled only on her. "We're friendly."

The shotgun is in the dwarf's hands in a blink, clearly a well-rehearsed maneuver.

"Nuh nuh nah, young lady," the dwarf scolds. "That'll be enough of that. That's what the witches do, or try."

<<@James [Illeana] Unbelievable! It just bounced right off his forehead! Imagine taking a shot with one of your Light Fires and having the bullet bounce off him like a BB off a troll. There's probably a reason he's survived here as long as he has.>>

James studies the shotgun. It's a mess, frankly. It's a double-barreled street sweeper, a jury-rigged shotgun often used by street scum and cheap criminals. The weapon’s design has been made popular by several trid combat shows and can easily be downloaded off the Matrix and built by an amateur gunsmith with the appropriate tools. They usually function similarly to an old-fashioned musket and must be manually loaded for each shot with condensed black powder cubes.

The optics in James' eyes whir as his vision magnification kicks in, zooming in on the barrels. His vision enhancement tidies up the image so that James can study it. He sees the barrels are crammed full of small, hard junk, including broken glass, screws, nails, metal bits, and other debris. It's woefully inaccurate while simultaneously being almost impossible to miss. James is almost positive it wouldn't kill him, but nor does he fancy spending the afternoon picking crap out of his epidermis. The dwarf's message is clear.

"Time to go," James says, steering the boat away.

Illeana crosses her arms over her chest, put out by being deflected by a mundane.

The hut recedes in the distance as the boat descends deeper into the bayou.

(http://www.nature.org/cs/groups/webcontent/@photopublic/documents/media/prd_038672.jpg)
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (11:34:06/02-25-16)
"Please?" Illeana says, glowing suspiciously despite the clouds and fog, as if they had parted and the sun had settled only on her. "We're friendly."

The shotgun is in the dwarf's hands in a blink, clearly a well-rehearsed maneuver.

"Nuh nuh nah, young lady," the dwarf scolds. "That'll be enough of that. That's what the witches do, or try."

James resists the urge to put his head in his hands.  Wiley old coot.  Smart too, or at least capable.

"Old timer, we don't mean any--" he starts.

"Nope," the dwarf answers.

"But if we could just--"

"Nuh nuh nah."

The dwarf keeps his shotgun trained on the pair.  He can't blame him, really.  He lifts his hands in a gesture of surrender.

<<@James [Illeana] Unbelievable! It just bounced right off his forehead! Imagine taking a shot with one of your Light Fires and having the bullet bounce off him like a BB off a troll. There's probably a reason he's survived here as long as he has.>>

<<@Illeana [James] Interesting.  If pa here is mundane, I wonder if ma is a mojo slinger, wherever she may be.  Think we may be at a dead end here.>>

"Time to go," James says aloud, and slowly puts his right hand back on the controls of the air boat.  "Thanks for your time, sir, and the warning.  Y'all stay safe now."

"Oh, I'm not too worried about me, son." the dwarf answers as they back up and begin their way through the bayou. 

Once they're a suitable distance away, James says, "My clothes may prove problematic out here.  Think you can make me look like I belong?"

"Maybe," Illeana says.  "How do you want to look?"

"How about like him," James answers, jutting his thumb backward toward the hut.

"You're a little tall for that,"

"I could pilot this thing on my knees," he says, and she laughs.

"He is a known quantity around here," Illeana says, thoughtfully.  "Of course, I'm not.  If anyone sees me with him that may lead to more scrutiny.  I can disguise your aura to a degree, but if it doesn't hold, I'm not sure what that will mean."

"Hmm," James says, practically a grunt.  While they discuss whether one of her physical mask spells would be of any use, James lets the craft idle while he unzips his duffel bag and retrieves his Ares Desert Strike.  He inserts a mag of APDS, and wracks a round, then puts his clothes on top of the rifle, both to disguise it for an initial glance and to protect it against water that may come up around the sides of the boat.

As they continue their way through the swamp, James stays on the trail, and notices how the fog seems to thicken.  "Weird," he says.  "With this wind, I'd think that the fog would burn off, but it's strong as ever."  He thinks about the Mississippi being semi-awakened, and what that means.  Is the fog magical?  The plants themselves, or just the water beneath them? 



Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (01:15:06/02-26-16)
The pair press deeper into the swamp. James keep an eye open for wildlife. The signs are abundant. Perhaps the most concerning are large globs of sticky goo attached to trees, the mark of a shambler. James points to one such snotball.

"Shamblers spit that to immobilize their prey. If the initial attack doesn't suffocate the victim, it has the ability to engulf it with water and drown it, like a spirit. Oh, and paralyzing touch, like a cockatrice."

"Oo!" Illeana coos, perking up with interest.

"Is that going to be your response to every lethal threat we face?"

"Pssh. I ran from the juggernaut, same as you. Steer us over there so I can collect a sample."

James reluctantly complies. The submerged roots of the tree concern him, but he trusts that Illeana's swampthing will keep the boat from inadvertantly grounding.

"They have an allergy to sunlight, but with a canopy this thick, plus these clouds and this mist..." James says, leaving the thought hanging.

Illeana casts a spell, flaring like an old-fashioned flash pan from a camera 200 years ago. "For the wood allergy," she explains, looking back at James.

Illeana pulls out her silver knife and begins to scratch at the glob. "It's hard," she says, "like resin."

She continues to scrape while James observes their surroundings. The cool wind and mist have made things downright cold.

"So you want me to make you look like the dwarf?" Illeana asks as she gives up on the soft silver knife in favor of one of her throwing knives. "Give me your best impersonation."

James can lie like a rug but can't do an impersonation any better than a random person off the street.

"I don't think we'll be fooling anyone," Illeana says, flipping the throwing knife over her shoulder in frustration as the shambler deposit looks completely unaffected.

James scans the waters again. He sees the eyes of an alligator poking out of the water, studying him from a distance. He turns back around to see that Illeana has unsheathed her claymore and is posed to strike. She lays into the tree with a CHOP-CHOP-CHOP like she's some sort of bizarre lumberjack, until she's roughly carved out the wood behind the shambler blob. She stabs the sword into the battered wood and pushes on it, using it as an expensive crowbar to detach the sample, which lands in the bottom of the boat with a hollow THONK.

The noise disturbs something in the reeds. There's a small hiss from a patch of dry land behind the tree that Illeana just assaulted. She looks up from her hardened reptile booger and sees some baby alligators.

(https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/f6/Alligator_mississippiensis_2_babies.jpg/640px-Alligator_mississippiensis_2_babies.jpg)(https://i.ytimg.com/vi/pbOOErC0tTA/hqdefault.jpg)

"Ahh, they're so cute!" she chirps, obviously delighted. She bends over to get a closer look. James' enhanced vision sees some freshly hatched shells not far away.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (11:43:33/02-26-16)
"Nuh nuh nah, young lady," James scolds is his poor dwarf impersonation, grabbing her by the shoulder.  "You wouldn't think it, but them gator mommas get awful protective a'their hatchlings."

"Seriously, though," he adds in his normal voice.  "That claymore's making a big racket, and a mother gator can be as bad as a mother bear."  He glances down at the hatchlings.  They really are cute in a way when they're that size.  Their marble eyes look almost cartoony, and their little teeth don't look all that threatening.  "I'd rather the big one not try and dump us," he says, backing up the boat.

Illeana looks disappointed but defers to his wildlife knowledge, and James tries to occupy her with questions about the shambler snot.  "What do you think it may be good for?" he asks.  Knocking the piece of resin he adds, "Can't believe how hard this stuff gets.  Wonder how long it takes to set?"

James unhooks the ballistic mask from his belt, and slips it over his face.  He uses his select sound filter to focus on rustling noises, worried that another shambler -- or four -- might be close by in the canopy of the trees.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (00:12:42/02-29-16)
Illeana turns around and pouts. She's cute like this, but the impression only lasts a second. With the sound of metal being hole-punched, two half-meter tusks slam up through the aluminum bottom of the boat. In an instant, the boat is being propelled straight up in the air by a wave out of nowhere.

Instinctually, James activates his hydraulic jacks, which immediately kick him three meters straight up. Praise be, there's a sturdy branch that's just within reach at the top of his jump. He seizes it firmly and looks down. A behemoth - a beast that looks like the unholy offspring of an alligator and a hippo - sinks back into the sloshing waves.

Illeana managed to leap sideways out of the boat, landing on the tree that she had just chopped. She hugs it to avoid splashing back down in the water. James hears a guttural scream from Illeana that's quickly cut off. He looks for wounds or any source of pain but he doesn't see any.

<<@James [Illeana] Sorry! Freaked out about wrapping my arms around a tree. Thank Hecate I had a spell up for my allergy.>>

The tree looks slick and slimy and James wonders how exactly she's keeping her grip on it, given that she's got a meter-long sword in one hand.

James looks down. The boat is on its side, sinking into the mud and muck of the swamp. The behemoth is nowhere to be seen.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (10:52:42/02-29-16)
James pulls up on the branch with his arms, and wraps his legs up in a rope crawl.  When Illeana's safe, he'll worry about getting himself topside of the branch, but right now he's more worried about his vampire girlfriend out in a swamp, in the middle of the day, surrounded by trees to which she suffers a severe allergy, than the quality of his grip.  He resists the urge to call out to her, and comms instead.

<<@Illeana [James] Can your spirit fetch my sniper rifle?  I don't have anything heavy enough.>>

She answers via comm that her spirit has already committed itself to all the help they're going to get, and James answers that it can wait, and that she should get herself to safety before they worry about the hardware.

While Illeana begins to levitate herself up and away from the tree, James slowly and methodically rights himself on the branch so that he's looking down at the now still swamp water.  Their ship is capsized and sinking slowly.  Drek, what a mess.  At some point they'll need to deal with the ship's owner, and that nice little deposit that they had to leave, but for right now, survival trumps all.  They're in the middle of the swamp, no locomotion, surrounded by the signs of shamblers, and a mother behemoth just below the water's surface.  Add some witches who knows where, and they're pretty deep in the shit.

<<@Illeana [James] I think I took a wrong turn at that last toadstool.   :P  :-[  :o >>
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (21:28:06/02-29-16)
<<Concentrating>>

Illeana closes her eyes - which seems rather unwise to James - but evidently it's what she needs to do to cast. She flashes, all the more brightly for being under the shade of the tree canopy. James' eyes scan the thick tangle of branches above him but don't locate any threats, nor even any heat signatures of curious observers.

Illeana starts to slowly detach from the tree.

<<Need to dismiss and resummon to fetch the bags>> she comms.

There's a soft THWIP that James can feel in his lungs. He realizes that the cool breeze has stopped, and has almost immediately been replaced by a massive influx of hot, humid air. His chameleon suit feels impossibly tight and sticky as he begins to sweat almost instantly.

There's another dull glow from Illeana, but this time it's more of a fizzle. James sees a few thick bubbles gurgle up from the depths.

The Desert Strike was designed for harsh environments, he thinks to himself. But this? He eyes the molasses beneath him uncertainly.

<<Drek>> Illeana comms.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (12:07:19/03-01-16)
From the canopy James readies his Ares Crusader II, and takes aim at the swamp water.  It'll probably just piss the thing off, James reasons, but with Illeana still so close to the water's surface, he hopes he might at least be able to distract it. 

Come on, come on, Illeana.  Little bit further now.  Come on, sweetheart.

He can feel the sweat running down his face from inside the ballistic mask, his boots are already getting soupy, but he tries to stay ready and focused should the behemoth surface again.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (21:11:14/03-01-16)
The behemoth lunges out of the water. Instead of snapping at James or Illeana, it attacks the tree where Illeana had already chopped out a piece. The behemoth latches onto the bark of the bald cypress and tears out half the trunk with one ferocious bite. James can only imagine with horror what that would do to a meta.

The tree lurches forward suddenly, threatening to topple James into the murky drink below. He latches on with all his strength and manages to stay attached despite the slippery bark and the Spanish moss. He quickly shimmies up the branch toward the trunk, thinking to leap off, presumably in a direction away from the behemoth.

"I have you!" Illeana shouts.

James feels a gentle tug, and suddenly realizes that he's weightless. The relief that he isn't going to immediately fall into the water is quickly replaced with the realization that the tree is still falling and might - in the course of its fall - push him into the water instead. He will have to dodge both the falling trunk and the tangle of branches on the opposite side of the tree, with their thick netting of intertwined Spanish moss, all without having any direct command of his movements. He wonders if he can 'swim' through the tree and moss as it falls. It's either that or it's into the bayou with the tree-chopping alligator.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (13:52:00/03-02-16)
As the behemoth settles back into the brackish water and the tree begins its descent down, James struggles to keep his grip on the tree branch.  He can feel his hands faltering, and his right comes away first with a fist full of moss.  Just in time he locks his locks his angles around the branch, and for a moment he's hanging straight down, looking into the swamp as it comes up at him -- or at least that's his perception.

"I have you!" Illeana shouts as he begins to right himself, and then feels his body lifting up.

He pops his cyber spur, and begins to scramble his way up the branch and toward the trunk, cutting vines, and digging the blade into the tree for more leverage as he races against its fall.  When he gets to the other side of the trunk, he pushes off on it, grabbing another branch, and hoists himself toward the sunlight he can see clearer and clearer by the meter.  So close.  Just a little bit more.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (19:26:00/03-02-16)
Illeana holds her sword up as the tree falls toward her. She uses the tip of the blade to pierce the thick netting of the Spanish moss, then twists and turns frenetically like a blender to clear a path through the branches and brambles. The ever-sharp sword makes quick work of the obstructions, and she finishes her flurry with a decisive upswing that lops off a thick branch in her way. She passes through the tree as it crashes into the swamp below. An ominous CRUNCH suggests that the wide, heavy base of the tree trunk might have landed on the overturned airboat.

She spins around, looking for James. "What the plan?!" she shouts, somewhat unnecessarily as the world is quiet except for the buzz of blood-thirsty bugs, the hiss of behemoth babies, and the gurgling of what used to be your transportation.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (12:43:04/03-03-16)
"What's the plan?!"

James mind races.  No boat, no rifle, no spirit support, the air is oppressively hot, and if not for his chameleon suit and ballistic mask, he'd be getting eaten alive right now.  No way out.  No way further in.  Just a lot of things that want to eat him, and then there's the witches to consider.  Out there somewhere, and if they're close, they've got to be aware of their presence with this racket, much less Illeana's shouting. 

Calm down, James.  He knows that his outlook now is more important than any gear, any weapons, any life-saving devices, and honestly any boat that they could have.  He needs to engender his will to live, and Illeana's too.  All is not lost.  We need a plan, and concrete steps to see it through.  We'll be fine.

<<@Illeana [James] Let's go back to communication protocols.  We don't know what else may be out here, and I'm uncomfortable enough being out in the open.  Can you get me to another tree so that you can stop keeping me in the air?  Next, let's try for another spirit.  Without my Desert Strike, my offensive capabilities are severely limited.  Cloud cover and a breeze would be just wiz too.  Next, we need a boat, or some way of moving around.  Playing Tarzan is going to tire me out to the point of being worthless pretty quickly, and it isn't much of an option for you.

We're pretty close still to the old timer, so another idea is to levitate ourselves back to him, and see if we have anything useful in trade.>>
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (20:19:07/03-03-16)
James bursts through the moss with his spur extended in front of him Superman-style. He watches the tree fall beneath him and sees Illeana emerge not far away. They exchange a look as the tree crashes dramatically.

Illeana nods to the plan and seems to appreciate the notion of sitting down, even if it's in a tree. Illeana is apprehensive about trees, seeing as they cause her skin to warp and blister and eventually fall off. James wonders how she ever got into wood carving, concluding that she must have enjoyed it before her transformation.

After 30 seconds, Illeana sets them down about 10 meters up in a tree around 50 meters away. James wonders if the behemoth is following them. He knows behemoths to be intensely territorial, but perhaps they are unaccustomed to tracking their prey through the air.

Illeana drops the levitation spells while James debates the merits of his chameleon suit. Illeana isn't wearing any armor, which might not really matter given her immunity to disease and the behemoth's ability to bite trees in half. James looks at her tank top and shorts with envy while he considers whether breathing would be more comfortable if he switched to his internal air tank.

With some effort, Illeana finally manages to conjure a spirit that is willing to retrieve their belongings for them off the bottom of the swamp.

"Good news, bad news," she says once the spirit sends a mental report, momentarily forgetting about James' request for communication protocols. He shoots her a look and she switches to text. <<Our boat has been crushed like a beer can. But the mud and muck at the bottom of the swamp provided enough cushion that our bags just got squished instead of flattened.>>

There's an upwelling in the water, and then the bags reappear on the surface. They are dragged toward James and Illeana by some underwater force, and James prays that the behemoth doesn't take the bags as bait to bite.

The behemoth appears not far from the bags. It lunges after them, tearing along at maybe 10 m/s, a good clip. But the water spirit is in its element and flies along at 20 m/s, easily outpacing the awakened alligator. The spirit emerges from the water and ascends to the branch where James and Illeana are seated. While pleased with the delivery, James realizes that the spirit has basically led the behemoth to them.

James tears into the bags, which are full of brackish water, mud, and swamp weeds. He grips his Desert Strike and is delighted when his smartlink reticle chirps to confirm the connection. There's still gunk stuck in the barrel, but the electronics of the weapon seem to be unfazed by their submersion.

The behemoth charges the tree. James thinks he has about two seconds before it arrives at the trunk.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (10:58:08/03-07-16)
James scrambles to get the Desert Strike out of the bag, his heart sinking as he sees the swamp water leaking from the barrel and ejection port.  Thankfully, the smartlink is working just fine, and he can see the reticle pop into his field of vision as the weapon comes online.  Here's hoping this thing doesn't blow up in my hands, he thinks as he nests the stock against his shoulder. 

<<@Illeana [James] Get ready to jump.>>

It wouldn't take long for James to feel confident in the firearm, just a minute or two really to clear the barrel, eject the magazine and chambered round, get a little air through the moving parts, but he doesn't have fractions of a second left to delay, much less minutes. 

<<Target 1: Estimated Contact in 0.57 seconds>>

To his left on the peripheral of his vision he sees Illeana fling a dagger down at the behemoth.  The beast attempts to dip below the surface of the water in its attempt to avoid the knife -- How does it even think to avoid something little like a knife? James wonders -- but the blade makes contact.  When it does, a fireball erupts from the point of impact, sending flames up into the tree. 

Simultaneously James lets loose with three rounds.  The first erupts from the barrel with a cough and sputter, clearing the barrel of the muck.  Who knows where that round ends up, but the other two strike home on a spot in the behemoth's back no bigger than the diameter of a credstick.  The behemoth halts its approach, or at least that's what it looks like to James, and it dives into the water.

A second passes.  Then another, and the tree holds firm.  No attack, no nothing.

<<@Illeana [James] Would a behemoth carcass be useful for your alchemy?  I worry about putting a bunch of blood in the swamp water, but we may have done that already.>>
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (15:25:02/03-07-16)
Illeana sees the behemoth charging and hopes that she can buy James some time - even if it's just a second - to clean and ready his weapon. She has magic to bind men and monsters, but such a beast would rip through her spell like wet tissue paper.

If this doesn't work, there are grenades. Or I wonder if it would swallow me whole, blades and all? She hopes it doesn't come to that.

In a flash, she produces a throwing knife - the dented one that was banged up when the RV crashed back in February - and flings it at the behemoth. The knife skips off the keratin layer of overlapping plates on the dorsal side, bouncing away harmlessly.

"Bele se'Farad!" she shouts in Sperethiel to trigger the preparation, pointing for good effect. The knife erupts like an exploding gas can, the flames bursting forth and reaching the tips of James' boots. The wave of heat washes over the tree and James wonders, just for a moment, if Illeana might have ignited a patch of swamp gas that will conflagerate them all.

Illeana looks away, blinded by the thermographic blaze and mana flash. The flare comp in James' eyes kicks in and allows him to maintain his aim despite the distraction of the explosion.

The flames recede and James can see that the behemoth has barely slowed. The swamp water boils and burbles but otherwise does not detonate into a fiery hell of methane death. James takes that as his cue to fire.

The behemoth recoils from the armor-piercing rounds, shrieking and slapping the water with its tale. It dives beneath the surface, a thin hint of red trailing as it swims.

James looks over and sees Illeana eyeing the retreating behemoth with wide pupils. Is she licking her lips? he wonders to himself, seeing the desire in her eyes.

<<Oh, what I could do with those tusks>> she responds. <<I could enchant the téch out of those. Or even the claws. The gumbo I could make with its tail... the boots I could make out of that hide!>> James sees a wet gleam of light from the corner of her mouth and wonders if she is actually drooling.

She blinks and shakes her head and seems to compose herself. <<More practically, certain select parts might make for good offerings for any mystics we meet. Or they could be taken as a grave insult by women who consider themselves guardians of nature, who can say. I'm not really up to speed on my swamp-witch etiquette. I know I would appreciate them.>>

Edit: grammar
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (17:35:12/03-07-16)
After the behemoth crashes into the water waves extend outward, washing the trees in muck and slime.  As it stills, James can make out the faintest ripples of the overgrown alligator's movements and a slight trail of blood that is leading back to her young.  Of course she is.  Good momma bear, that one.

<<@Illeana [James] Fair enough.  Let's see if we can get this thing.  I don't want to tax you too much, but do you still have eyes on those cute little babies?  If so, think you can put them airborne?>>

James sets his sights on the fallen tree.  If Illeana can get the little ones moving up, their mother will certainly surface again to rescue them.  Only this time, James will be ready.

Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (00:23:39/03-08-16)
Illeana spots the behemoth babies in the distance and levitates them. They squawk and look perplexed, their little feet and tails "swimming" in the air out of instinct.

Mama behemoth doesn't like that one bit and races for her offspring. Her tail thrashes the water into a blur of white water as she propels herself forward as rapidly as possible. James bides his time and waits for her to exit the water onto solid land. One she does, he knows her speed will drop and the odds of placing three shots with the tightest possible grouping will be much improved.

FFT FTF FFT! The suppressed Desert Strike hisses three times. The first sabot cracks the keratin shell. The second sabot shatters it, and the third plunges into the behemoth and races up her spine. She arches her back, then slumps into the damp mire beneath her.



It's night. Illeana has summoned another water spirit to conjure up mists for concealment and a steady breeze for comfort. The damp nature of the terrain makes the breeze almost uncomfortable, so Illeana has built a small fire. The wet wood smokes prodigiously.

"Is this wise?" James asks about the fire.

"The smoke will help keep the bugs at bay," Illeana says as she laboriously hacks away at the behemoth with her claymore. She stops to rest, blowing a strand of hair out of her face while leaning forward on the hilt of the sword. It promptly plunges into the spongy turf, almost causing her to somersault forward. She stands up straight, trying to play it off as intentional.

"Plus it's good for morale. And cooking dinner. And keeping shamblers at bay."

It's a spooky scene. The mists are thick just off the edge of their little island. Even with his enhanced vision, James can't see the sky, nor hardly any trees. It's like they are in a cave of clouds and shadows, the fire providing the only pool of light. As far as James knows, the rest of the world is gone, has ceased to exist.

Illeana is making slow progress on the behemoth. Even in death, its armor is almost too much even for her magically enhanced blade and magically augmented strength. At one point during the afternoon, James had felt eyes on his back. He spun around to find Illeana either staring at his butt or the smuggling compartment on the small of his back where he keeps his Redliner pistol. He could see her mental gears turning, thinking about how the laser could probably cut the beast effectively.

"Don't even think it," he warned her. She turned around and grumbled something about how she was the witch but James was the one reading minds.

As promised, the tusks and claws had come off first. She had split open the tail next, mostly to procure James' dinner. His rations weren't ruined but nor were they in great shape. He argued that the Rock Lizard Blood would make him immune to contaminants. She didn't disagree, but she argued that they should make the most of the meat while it was fresh. "Besides, when is the next time you're going to have fresh behemoth?" she asked.

"Tomorrow for breakfast from the looks of it," he muttered. ("Hey!" she objected, before conceding the point.)

The tail roasted over the fire. James pulled it off and looked around, wondering if he should just bite off a chunk.

"Here," Illeana said, gently tossing her survival knife to him. He catches it easily and uses it to start slicing off bites. The flavor is a bit dull, regrettably, due to the lack of herbs and spices.

The behemoth babies slept peacefully by the fire, oblivious of their new life situation. Illeana had fed them some spoiled rations, which they accepted with great delight. James wondered if it was possible for Illeana not to be maternal, even to little monsters.

"I feel like I grew up around animals," she says at one point, leaning up against James next to the fire. "No specific memories, mind you. It's just that animals feel... familiar. Cats, dogs, sure, easy. But I can also look at a horse or a cow and it doesn't seem weird or exotic." She pauses to pet one of the baby behemoths on the nose. Its eyes remain closed as its jaw opens in an apparent display of contentment. She stops and pats it on the back. It continues sleeping.

"We'll take them with us," Illeana says. "Might make for a good-will gift. Or, if we end up taking them back, then we might find a research institution or a zoo that's interested. In the meantime, Chombo, Crusher, and Allison stay with us."
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (13:50:19/03-09-16)
"I feel like I grew up around animals," she says at one point, leaning up against James next to the fire. "No specific memories, mind you. It's just that animals feel... familiar. Cats, dogs, sure, easy. But I can also look at a horse or a cow and it doesn't seem weird or exotic."

As James sits cleaning his Desert Strike he resists the urge to make a comment about witches and familiars.  Just what we need, a little behemoth that grows into a monstrous behemoth, skulking around and sharing its thoughts with my vampire witch girlfriend.  Does it really work like that?  James allows himself to daydream for a moment, thinking of all the old witch cliches, real Halloween drek, and comparing it to the Illeana that he knows.  Big wart and cronish appearance?  Nope.  Far from it.  Black pointed hat?  More like a high-tech ballistic mask hidden beneath some other, and always pleasing visage.  She certainly doesn't need a broom to fly, but eye of newt, eating metas, sacred full-moon nights, well all those hit a little close to home.

"What are you over there smiling about?" Illeana asks.

"Will you do something for me?"

"Umm, sure?"

"Will you say, 'Double, double, toil and trouble?"

"Dork." she responds playfully.

"Come on, look around.  It'd be romantic," he answers. 

Despite the bland taste of the behemoth, and how the fire sets him into coughing fits whenever he gets a lung full, he's in much higher spirits.  Sure, there are other, potentially much more Hansel and Gretel-esque witches around, and sure he has no idea how they're going to get out of here, but for tonight, for right now, they're in one piece with full bellies.  Things could be much worse.

"We'll take them with us," Illeana says. "Might make for a good-will gift. Or, if we end up taking them back, then we might find a research institution or a zoo that's interested. In the meantime, Chombo, Crusher, and Allison stay with us."

"That's probably wise," James concedes.  "If momma was under their charge, the fact that we saved her babies could go far.  If not . . ." he lets the thought trail off as strokes the back of Allison, or is this Crusher?  He could rationalize killing the adult, even if she was protecting her progeny.  He'd be watching his back for the rest of the trip, and if it got the drop on either of them, well even Illeana's regenerative abilities wouldn't save her.  But he would hate it if some harm came to the babies.

No, that's not quite right.  Hate is too strong a word.  He would be discontented.  It would seem senseless.

James sets the Desert Strike against the tree, and pulls out the medkits and slap patches.  "What a mess," he murmurs to himself, as he switches to his low light vision.  Even that's pushing it on this starless night, and he begins to inspect his gear, seeing what can be salvaged, or spliced together.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (01:36:34/03-10-16)
James inspects the gear that's been retrieved from the swamp. While messy, none of it has been outright destroyed. His monofilament garrote is in bad shape, the handle cracked and threatening to no longer retract to keep the monofilament safely stored away between uses.

"Let me do that," Illeana insists, holding her hand out for the garrote. "If something goes wrong, it's better for me to be cut than you."

James can see that she won't take no for an answer, so he hands it over, reasoning that she's good with blades of all sorts - swords, daggers, throwing knives, chef's knives, wood-carving knives - and probably won't cut herself.

"A DAT CU MUCII-N FASOLE!" she shouts out of nowhere. James looks up from his work on the Desert Strike, alarmed. The baby behemoths panic and scamper off to a safe distance.

"ME CAGO EN LA LECHE!" she bellows, jumping up and down, her feet splashing in the muck. She's holding her left wrist tightly, which is bleeding profusely. James looks down and sees what look very much like her left hand lying in a puddle.

"FUTU-TZI COLIVA MA~TII!" she yells, scooping up her left hand with her right. She jams it back in place, then doubles over with a pained groan. James steps forward cautiously, hand extended in the universal sign of "wtf r u ok".

She straightens up suddenly, teeth gritted as she shakes out both her hands, as if she's trying to return feeling to them. James checks and double-checks and is quite certain that the left hand is indeed attached to her left wrist, despite both being quite bloody.

"Phew, okay," she says, hopping back and forth between her two feet before bouncing up and down again. "I'm okay I'm okay I'm okay. Oo, wow. Wow." She takes some deep breaths and puffs out her cheeks for some long exhales.

James is left to wonder if he saw what he really saw, or if this is some elaborate illusion to help pass the time, or if behemoth meat is actually a powerful psychedelic.

"It actually didn't hurt that much," she says, calming herself. "More the shock of it, really. Whew. Where were we?"

She sits down, then uses magic to telekinetically lift the monofilament garrote off the ground. Keeping it six meters away at all times, she makes sure that the wire is retracted into the handle before wrapping the handle tightly with a piece of wood that she had hollowed out from the cypress tree that the behemoth had bit in half.

"When we get back, I'll carve you a new handle out of a behemoth claw. Should be beautiful," she says, as if nothing had happened two minutes ago. "In the meantime, I'll use this sharp little number to make quick work of the behemoth hide." She wanders off toward the corpse, the garrote hovering safely away from her.

James resumes work on his Desert Strike, keeping one eye on Illeana most of the time. He has juryrigged a brush of sorts out of a long-straight piece of wood that Illeana carved for him and a generous helping of gauze from the medkit. It's a reasonably effective way to clean the barrel of the Desert Strike, albeit laborious without proper cleaners and solvents. Using elbow grease, James swabs out the barrel again and again and again and again until he's satisfied that it's as clean as he can make it.

"You want to sleep in your regular clothes?" Illeana asks to confirm. "I'll clean those up if you check the medkit or the survival kit for a space blanket. Maybe we can use that as a tarp or to wrap ourselves up so that we're not sleeping in puddles."

James grabs the survival kit and finds that it needs a through cleaning too. He gets to work while Illeana hums in the background. The campfire pulses, sending bright flashes of light across James' lap. He looks up and realizes that it is Illeana casting.

"Here we are," she says, presenting him with his clean and pressed clothes that bear no evidence of being soaked in swamp water like they were a few minutes ago. He shakes his head, adding it to the list of practical, domestic applications of magic.

James finishes his work on the survival kit and medical supplies while Illeana finishes skinning the behemoth.

"Ugh, this thing is heavier than an ork," she says, staggering as she holds up the skin. "Seriously, this thing weighs at least 200 kilos." She drops the massive skin in a huge heap, panting. The naked, flayed behemoth glows eerily in the firelight against the foggy background.

"What's next?" Illeana asks, rinsing off her hands in the swamp. She joins James, sitting next to him. "No marshmallows, I'm afraid. Should we swap ghost stories then?"
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (11:53:50/03-16-16)
"No marshmallows, I'm afraid. Should we swap ghost stories then?"

James insists on going first.  It's only fair, he reasons, as Illeana is the thing that goes bump in the night.  As he begins pulling branches and vines he sets the scene of a lovely house in the enclaves.  The house drones are glitching out and malfunctioning.  Even the comms are running some static, and the 'trix is out due to a late-night storm. 

James uses his cyber strength to split two straightish branches from a young bald cypress, and lashes them between two standing trees with the vines.  "And when they were finally able to trace the icon, they found out that the commcalls had been coming from inside the house."

Illeana is not impressed. 

James' next one is about Chicago, and an undercover Knights Errant officer working narcotics.  He doesn't remember where he got the story, only that it was told to him as happening to a guy who knew the guy it happened to.  Aren't they always?  By now, James has finished with the frame of the bed, and he's hanging large peels of moss over the fire, where he dries them for a few minutes before laying them out over the bed as kind of mattress.  As he works he explains how old Joe Tegan had gotten a taste for the chems he was trying to stamp out.  He made one trip too many into the city center, though, and got caught behind the quarantine zone.  No backup.  No contact, he did what any junkie cop would do in that scenario, and holed himself up in a flop house and a week's worth of deepweed.

"When the Fab III hit, he had barricaded himself in pretty good on the third floor.  I think he was a three, maybe a four time initiate.  Did a lot with Psychometry.  Said the bacteria clawed into him like hookworms.  He could feel it wriggling in his skin as it ate him away.  And he couldn't turn it off."

James gives the bed a test sit.  It's mostly dry, high up and solid.  He adds another branch to the fire, and it hisses and pops as it struggles against the flames.  "It's getting late," James says.  "We should think about turning in."
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (02:36:51/03-17-16)
Illeana shivers at the mention of FAB III making skin wriggle like hookworms. She audibly gags, like a cat about to hack up a hairball.

"I can survive a lot," she says. "Pepper Punch? Good for a spicy meal. Gamma-Scopolamine? Makes for a crazy Friday night. Seven-7? It's like perfume to me. But FAB III will kill me as dead as dead can be. Ugh!" She squirms again uncomfortably. James catches her staring at the campfire like she might jump in it to cleanse herself.

They curl up for the evening, laying on the Spanish moss while wrapping themselves like a burrito in the space blanket. As he closes his eyes, the last thing James sees is the dark silhouette of their swamp guardian, sloshing quietly around the perimeter of their little island.

James opens his eyes to a different island. Instead of a swamp bed, he's on warm white sand, soft as talc powder. He's wearing a swimsuit, the sun pleasantly warming his belly and arms. The bald cypress tree has been replaced by a palm tree with three coconuts. Sitting up, he finds a chest of ice cold drinks next to him. He looks around for Illeana but only finds her abandoned swim suit. A moment later she springs out of the waves, skinny dipping in the tropical sea.

It's a dream, he realizes. No way Illeana would be caught in water any deeper than her waist. I can barely convince her to take a bath with me.

He doesn't fight it. The dream is a gift from Illeana, who has the magic to mold men's dreams to her wishes. She says she can use it to create nightmares too, but James has never angered her sufficiently to suffer that punishment. He returns to the dream, splashing around in the waves before returning to shore to roll around in the sand. Afterward, there's fresh coconut and cold drinks, and since it's Dreamtime even Illeana can eat.

James knows that the spell means that Illeana is awake though, as she can't sustain the magic while she sleeps. Stirred by the thought, he wakes up. Before he opens his eyes, he can hear rhythmic scraping. Opening his eyes, he has no idea what time it is. It must not be sunrise, because the misty room and the swamp sentry remain, but the lighting is so muddled and confused by the way the fog captures the camplight that it could be Anywhen.

Rolling over, James sees Illeana sitting by the campfire, carving one of the massive behemoth tusks with a small knife.

"Hey," he says, propping himself up on an elbow.

"Hey," she says back, glancing at him before returning to her carving.

A practical thought occurs to James. "How are you carving that tusk with that tiny knife?" he asks.

"Oh," she says, realizing that it probably does seem weird. "It's magical. It's not a weapon, per se, but it's a focus. I use it for my Centering technique. But the fact that it's a focus keeps it sharp."

James rubs his eyes. He's not sure the explanation makes total sense, but they don't always make sense when the root reason is "magic".

"I couldn't sleep," she says. "Well, I slept some. But I had nagging thoughts. Namely, the fact that the behemoth didn't trigger my early warning system for danger. I never really thought about it only applying to metahumans before. I always thought it would pick up any hostile intentions, but it seems that critters might slip through. That made me worry about shamblers, or whatever else might be out here."

James looks at the eerie guardian, then back at her, asking the silent question of "so what's the spirit for?"

"Oh, Billy is great," Illeana says, evidently having named the spirit. "It wasn't so much an immediate concern really. Just got the gears turning about other ways to design the spell formula, approaches that might allow us not to get ambushed by things like juggernauts and behemoths. I have a few ideas but I'm still working them out."

"What time is it?" James asks with a yawn.

"Just before sunrise. If you're not going back to sleep, I'll start breakfast and we can break camp soon."

She stands, setting down the tusk for the moment and pocketing the knife. "It might be a long day," she says. "I figure we'll have to levitate our way out of here. Usually I can only move at walking speed that way. If we skip the cloud cover and the fresh breeze I might be able to whip up a little spirit that could boost our speed, but that leaves you less armored and more exposed. Speaking of which, take your Rock Lizard Blood before you forget."

She pauses to think. "I suppose I could try binding a spirit so that we could have two at once. I'm not very practiced at it though, so the spirit would have to be small so that it doesn't elude me. Maybe half the size of usual. What do you think?"
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (12:15:26/03-17-16)
"Just before sunrise. If you're not going back to sleep, I'll start breakfast and we can break camp soon."

"Sounds great," James says, rubbing his eyes.  He pulls the space blanket back and sits.  With the height of bed he'd made, his feet dangle a little above the swamp floor, which feels oddly childlike.  He checks the inside of his boots at the foot of the bed, and satisfied laces them up tight.

He accepts the Rock Lizard Blood from Illeana and drinks it with a grimace.  "I'll go purify some water while you get started here."

Normally James would just use a UV light to purify water from a stream or some lakes, but the swamp water was far too brackish and cloudy.  It really taxed the filters as well.  Of course, he could reverse the intakes and use pressure from contracting a water bladder to push them a little bit further, but he's sure he'd only get a few days before they went completely kaput.  The sun isn't up yet to power the pump, so James has to manually fill the canteens and bladder before returning to Illeana and the smoldering fire.

She pauses to think. "I suppose I could try binding a spirit so that we could have two at once. I'm not very practiced at it though, so the spirit would have to be small so that it doesn't elude me. Maybe half the size of usual. What do you think?"

"Depends.  If we're just going home, I think a spirit to get us moving at a better clip will do fine.  If we're going to nose around this morning and see if we can still complete our objective, then another spirit would be helpful.  Have you checked things out from above at all?  It'd be nice to know what kind of a view we can expect," to motions to the tree cover.  "I'm sure we'd be able to spot most buildings, but anything smaller could be a problem.  My magnified vision will help, but. . ."
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (15:12:57/03-17-16)
Illeana looks around at all their bags and gear and a couple hundred kilos of behemoth skin.

"Yes, 'depends' indeed. Hauling all this out will be a chore. I can't levitate it all individually so we'll either have to carry it or we'll have to consolidate it onto something I can levitate."

She pauses in thought. James swears he sees a little twinkle in her eye.

"I wonder if we could turn this behemoth skin into a flying carpet of sorts. Maybe I can levitate the skin itself, then we all sit on top of it Aladdin-style. Maybe you can lash together a frame - or maybe even reuse our bedding - to provide some structure?" She hums, pleased with the thought. "It works... in theory."

She gets to work on breakfast while James sets about his tasks. She uses some of the water that he filtered, boiling it over the campfire before using it to make a mushy "strawberry" creamy wheat out of the survival kit. It feels strange to be eating something hot in the swamp, but the pre-sunrise temperature is rather cool, especially with the fog and breeze.

James sits down with his pink slurry while Illeana sips at one of her pouches. "We lost refrigeration when the cooler capsized," she says, wrinkling her nose at it. "Between that and the limited capacity of water filters, we should make it a goal to get out of here soon. Let's push forward through the morning, and if nothing comes of it we'll turn back midday."
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (16:09:03/03-17-16)
"I wonder if we could turn this behemoth skin into a flying carpet of sorts. Maybe I can levitate the skin itself, then we all sit on top of it Aladdin-style. Maybe you can lash together a frame - or maybe even reuse our bedding - to provide some structure?" She hums, pleased with the thought. "It works... in theory."

"Good thinking," James says.  The frame for their bed is long enough, but he'd like to get a little more width for a comfortable ride.  He splits and trims another branch from a bald cypress while Illeana makes breakfast, and re-lashes them around the behemoth skin.  He keeps some of the moss for a more comfortable ride, and then sets to securing the survival and medkit.  "It'll do in a pinch."

"We lost refrigeration when the cooler capsized," she says, wrinkling her nose at it. "Between that and the limited capacity of water filters, we should make it a goal to get out of here soon. Let's push forward through the morning, and if nothing comes of it we'll turn back midday."

"Sounds like a plan," he answers, slurping the rest of his breakfast from out of its pouch.  He sets a timer on his internal commlink for noon, and motions to her meal.  "You gonna be ok on food through the day?  Anything I can do to make this summoning go a little easier on you?"
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (03:06:31/03-19-16)
"Watch the perimeter," Illeana says. "We won't have any eyes on the outside once Billy goes, and I'm going to be tied up for a while recruiting our help."

'Billy' approaches. For a spirit of the swamp, it is surprisingly humanoid. It even appears to be wearing tattered blue jeans with rope for a belt and a bandanna knotted around one thigh. It has a large knife and a larger hat. James is left to ponder the imprint of the physical world on the astral realm, which evidently extends to the rustic fashion choices.

Billy tips its hat and wanders off into the sunrise. No sooner has it gone than Illeana has summoned up a small yellow-breasted bird. Illeana leads the bird over to the campfire, where they sit across from each other and seem to engage in a serious conversation in a foreign language. James sees Illeana empty all of reagents out of her pockets. Over the course of the next three hours, she slowly transfers these from her hands to the bird, who pecks at them.

James is left to pace around and finish the raft. With the departure of Billy, the fog lifts and he can see the surrounding swamp. There's not much of note, other than the behemoth corpse that is covered in bugs or the three behemoth babies that look up at James hopefully every time he makes a circuit.

The first hour goes by. Illeana and the small bird seem to be a deep huddle, not paying much attention to the rest of the world. James is left to wonder about his role in all this. Could she do this all without me? he wonders. Would it be more efficient? Am I slowing her down?

He had been the one to drop the behemoth, certainly. Her fireball had little effect on it, and her ammunition of fireballs was limited. Still, James can't help but feel useless as tits on a bull in situations like this, where basically the only way out is magic.

The second hour goes by. It's hard to be patient while the sun rises, heating the swamp air and bringing the local cold-blooded fauna to life. The behemoth babies bask in the early sun but James just knows that it means sweat and not enough armor.

The third hour goes by. Finally Illeana stands up. She extends a hand to the bird, which the small being shakes begrudgingly with an extended wing.

"Alright, I've contracted some help," Illeana announces. "Cost me all my reagents though. I hope we can salvage something out of this behemoth because I just dropped ¥1,500 of product on Chui here."

She turns to Chui and says something unintelligible. The bird rolls its eyes like a teenager but nods. Illeana scoops up the behemoth babies and steps on the raft. She whistles and Billy wanders back out of the swamp, this time wearing what looks like a tattered leather vest.

James joins Illeana on the raft. She closes her eyes and casts. The raft shakes and vibrates, the slowly lifts off the ground. Illeana holds her hands up in triumph. The raft begins to drift forward at a steady walking pace.

"Punch it, Chui," Illeana says, her hand upshifting an invisible throttle. A sudden wind rises, catching the raft from underneath and pushing it forward like a kite.

Illeana looks around quizzically. "It occurs to me that there's no good way to steer." She shrugs. "Not like we know where we're going anyway. Chui will make sure we don't hit anything."

The raft zips along, headed for a dense thicket of trees in the distance.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (11:36:27/03-28-16)
While Illeana communes with her little bird spirit, James busies himself with the task of rolling up camp.  He organizes the survival kit, rations, folds up the space blanket, and stows his clothes.  On the one hand, it's nice to play support for a bit.  Illeana is always the one to make breakfast and take care of him; it's good to return the favor.  On the other hand, he's painfully aware that he could be truly fragged out here if not for Illeana's mojo.  He fingers the pentagram on his chest, thinking of her influence and how little the symbols and cosmology do for him compared to what power they bring to her. 

Could she do all this without me, indeed?

There's nothing wrong with him being there to provide fire support.  Even if he doesn't remember his history, it's a role that he feels comfortable in, right with, and it seems plenty noble, if there is such a thing.  It just also feels, well, limiting, and as far as he can tell, his vampire girlfriend over there talking to a bird from a different metaplane doesn't butt up against the same limitations.  In some sense, even limitations in general.

After he's packed up, there's still plenty of time to kill, so James spends it playing with and petting the behemoth babies.  They nip at his fingers, and one cocks its head in surprise when it tags James' synthetic index finger.  "Yeah, no breakfast there, Chombo."

When they take to the air, James switches between regular and thermographic vision regularly.  He doesn't have any luck spotting anymore trails.  From the height, it's difficult to put himself in the shoes of someone, or something, navigating the twists and turns of the bayou.  When they've gone somewhere between what James estimates is a quarter or half mile, he spots a small mound that doesn't look natural to the swamp.  For one thing, its shape is too regular.  For another, while it's still shrouded some by the canopy, there's no tree growing off of it, and it looks more camouflaged than growing.  And everything here grows.  He's pleased with himself that he spotted it.  It's an expert job to be sure.

"I've got something at 2:30.  You see that little mound?" he whispers to Illeana.

Switching to thermo, he looks for the entrance, a small hole off to one side.  He catches the heat signature of a leg first, then another, but thankfully the leg count stops there when he gets to the torso.

<<@Illeana [James] We've got a humanoid inside.  Let's take a closer look.>>

As their makeshift air raft begins to make a turn, James checks out the rest of the area in thermo as well, not wanting to be caught off guard when they make their landing.

<<@Illeana [James] Maybe we should go around, and approach from the back.>>
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (00:32:44/03-31-16)
<<@James [Illeana] No need to go around back. We're not exactly being subtle here. The goal here is to make contact and maybe learn a thing or two about magic. No sense in sneaking around when a conversation is the whole point of the expedition. Besides, steering this thing is like flying a blimp in a hurricane.>>

The raft approaches the mound. As it nears, James sees the figure inside walk toward them.

The woman inside steps out but remains cloaked in darkness. By her silhouette, she is young and nubile, with a sensual hourglass figure, and completely naked. Her face and figure are shrouded in shadow; James can't make out any details even with his thermographic vision, low-light vision, vision magnification, and vision enhancement. He's left to wonder if she's really naked - he wouldn't necessarily blame her, given the heat or the humidity - or if it's the result of a spell designed to appeal to his baser natures. If James were with anyone other than Illeana, such an approach might work, but the witch is up against a world-class beauty.

Illeana sets the raft down on the water not far from the island that the mound rests on. She and James both stand, Illeana with her hands up in a "we come in peace" gesture. James sees the witch standing still, studying her visitors while toying with a sharp object of some sort in her left hand. Illeana sees it too and stiffens. It's an unusual reaction for her - the woman who coos at the dread beasts of the world - and James reasons that she has spotted something that could hurt even her.

Illeana comms a reminder. <<Don't kill her. Don't let her kill me, but remember that we want her alive.>>

The witch hisses like a cottonmouth snake; James can feel the hostility and territoriality rolling off her. Illeana extends an arm out in front of James, then uses it to gently herd him behind her.

The witch spits a sharp syllable. Illeana tenses and firmly says, "Dae'o." James can feel a flexing of the air around him, wavering in and out as if a shockwave had just wrapped around him and passed him by.

Illeana steps forward, right hand raised. The witch does not welcome the gesture and raises her own blade. Illeana's sword is out so quickly and smoothly James isn't entirely sure that he saw it being drawn, even though he is standing directly behind her.

The two witches face off. The other witch seems cognizant of her disadvantage in both armor and size of blade. She swings her sharp object in front of her. It's nowhere near Illeana, but Illeana cries out and doubles over as if she had been hit in the stomach with a cricket bat.

Illeana staggers a step or two to retain her balance, then responds with a savage swing of her own. The witch spins as if she were a piñata that had just been clubbed by a baseball player. The witch takes a knee and Illeana does the same. They stare daggers at each other, locked in some sort of psychic duel that James can only imagine. He flexes his fingers and forearm, ready to snap his Defiance EX Shocker into his hand via arm-slide should Illeana drop.

Illeana gasps suddenly. A splash of blood erupts violently from the other witch, as if she had been opened up by a zipper running diagonal across her front from her left hip up to her right shoulder. The witches pitches forward face-first into the turf and is suddenly still.

Dragging herself to her feet, Illeana moves forward decisively. She staggers to the opening of the mound, then slashes her sword across the entrance as if she were cutting an invisible curtain. Sheathing her sword, she turns around and stumbles back to the downed witch, who she scoops up in her arms. It's a testament to her strength that she can do so easily, even while heavily fatigued.

Illeana enters the mound with the witch and James gets the sense that he should do the same. As he passes by the witch's pool of blood, he looks down and sees her sharp object. It looks like a handmade blade made out of horn or a fang or something natural.

Inside, the mound is spartan. There are no obvious possessions, nor food, nor clothes, nor anything else that would indicate that it's a habitation. There's a low platform covered in soft moss that may or may not serve as a bed. Illeana places the witch on it.

"Can you patch her up?" Illeana pants, leaning against the wall of the mound. "Things got a little out of hand."

Amped on adrenaline and eager to be useful, James launches himself back toward the raft with his hydraulic leg jacks. He seizes the oversized duffel bag that holds the largest medkit and spins on his heel. He kicks off so hard that he momentarily wonders whether he has accidentally propelled the raft into the swamp.

Inside, he unzips the duffel bag and begins pulling out the contents. The conditions are suboptimal: it's dark inside the mound and not exactly sterile. The patient is Awakened, which complicates things.

James works quickly, his enhanced reflexes speeding the process. He puts on sterile gloves, then attaches the necessary tubes and electrodes to the patient. The medkit's Expert System begins a full diagnostic and starts churning out simple step-by-step instructions for James to follow. The approach is straightforward and well within James' training and comfort level. Before long he has sterilized the wound, sealed it shut with a generous sequence of medical staples and SpraySkin, and bandaged it up tightly.

Job done, he glances over to check on Illeana. She smiles at him weakly. "Good job, mate," she says. "Now we just have to wait for her to wake up. She's not in a coma, is she?"
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (12:43:27/04-05-16)
"No, she'll be fine," James says, taking the witches pulse -- again -- and triple-checking the spray skin, which doesn't seem in danger of being rejected.  That was always a danger with the awakened, even stem cells didn't always behave the way that they ought to with their "mundane" counterparts.  James mentally sets a timer on his link, and turns to Illeana.  "An hour or so, and she will probably start stirring around some.  That was, uh, interesting.  You ok?"

"Fine," Illeana answers, and she really does look it, another testament to the healing abilities of the immortal.  "So what now?"

"Now we see what there is to see," James says already examining the floor of the witches hut.  He can make out the faint traces of footsteps, all the same size and matching the witch.  It seems that she spends a lot of time in here looking out and probably practicing her mojo while she does so.  On the interior walls, James is able to pick out a jaw here, a few teeth there, the occasional rib cage and femurs from small lizards and birds.  Looking closer he's able to notice a few scratches in the mud, which look like some sort of arcane typology to James' only mediocre training.

"Hey, get a load of this," James says pointing them out to Illeana.

"Mm-hmm," she says knowingly.  "My bet is that this is her lodge."

"So, you weren't just cutting away the cobwebs when you came in here, then?" James says with a smile, before adding, "She doesn't live here then?  No food scraps, no bedding."

"I'd imagine that she spends a lot of time here, though." Illeana says, "Probably days at a stretch.

Tell me about it.  James has lost sight of Illeana for days, when she's been working on something big with Sam, or when she was doing something they referred to as Initiation.  Even when she was chanting in their RV, she was so rapt with her attention elsewhere that James ending up spending most of his time outside, or camping.

At first the lodge has James thinking that the woman laying unconscious on the floor of her lodge might be some sort of beaver shaman, but when he goes to examine her focus, he begins to doubt that.  Nature-centered is an option, but given its design, as well as the sigils he was able to pick out, he thinks it more likely that she's a druid than a shaman.  Or maybe a Wiccan, and a Goddess worshipper like Illeana.  But really, he couldn't knock out some of the darker arts as well.  Ah, drek.  This isn't my field anyway.

James makes a thorough check of the perimeter, looking for trails, or tracks, but comes up empty.  He is heartened to be able to see animals through his magnified vision out as far as he can, though.  If anyone was coming up on them, even as quiet as possible, even invisible, they would be bound to stir up some animals, and that doesn't seem to be the case. 

<<@James [Illeana] She's moving.>>

James pulls up his timer, which still shows thirteen minutes on the clock.  Impressive.  He hops from knoll to knoll until he's back on the witches island, and enters her hut to see Illeana standing -- really more of a hunch -- over the woman, as she starts to shake her head awake. 

"Hoi," James says.  "You can hear me, right?  Yeah, you can hear me.  Let's keep things a little more cordial from here on out, eh?"
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (02:02:25/04-06-16)
Illeana goes back and forth on whether to use Mana Bind to restrain the witch. She eventually elects not to, figuring that it would 1) send the wrong message, 2) not be effective if the witch started casting spells, and 3) be unnecessary given James' ability to physically restrain her.

"I'm going to try to send her a dream communicating our intentions," Illeana says. "I'm not sure how well it will work, given that she's unconscious, not sleeping."

Illeana kneels by the witch's platform, bows her head, and casts. She stays there, concentrating on the spell, while James checks the perimeter. They switch places after half an hour so that Illeana can stretch her legs.

<<@James [Illeana] She's moving.>>

The witch's eyes snap open with alarm, as she turns and looks around the hovel in a panic. James pins her down by the wrists, grateful that the bandaging across her torso makes her less naked than she was before. Holding down a nude, struggling woman - especially one with this face and figure - would feel wrong, even if it was for his own safety.

The witch fights but is absolutely powerless against James. Illeana rushes back into the mound jams the local mana before the woman can cook James' brain from the inside out.

"Hoi," James says. "You can hear me, right?  Yeah, you can hear me.  Let's keep things a little more cordial from here on out, eh?"

"Ta gueule! Va te faire enculer, fils de pute!" the witch spits back as she twists and writhes. "Ferme ta gueule! Crétin! Imbécile! Nique ta mere! T'as pas de couilles! J'en ai ral le cul! Casse-toi! C’est des conneries!"

James and Illeana exchange a look. This might be trickier than they hoped.

"She might be mad about the wound," Illeana says. "Professional courtesy dictates that a witch's duel should be non-lethal. That was my intent; I just hit her harder than I planned to."

James nods. "You have a way with languages," he says. "Like the way you picked up the basics of Spanish from me one evening, then Japanese the next day."

"Mm," Illeana nods. She remembers it well, as the language lessons were when they were intertwined in various configurations around the RV.

"How long to pick up some basic French?" James asks.

"Normally about six hours," Illeana answers. "But I think I have a way that speeds that up while simultaneously calming her down."

The witch continues to fight against James' grip, which is about as effective as thrashing about against iron manacles. "Salope! Putain! Tu me gonfles!"

Illeana steps forward and takes a deep breath. The witch's eyes go wide and her demeanor quickly softens, then dissolves. She shrinks back and James has the impression that she would melt into turf if she could.

He looks back at Illeana, wondering what she's doing. She has a look in her eye that he has to admit is truly frightening. It's not the look of a monster or a vampire, but of controlled power and fury that could wipe the Earth clean. It's a look that might stop a juggernaut in its path, and maybe even give a dragon a moment's pause. He's glad he's not on the receiving end.

The witch recoils, curling into the fetal position. James hopes that the SpraySkin holds.

"James, please excuse us," Illeana says with a voice that might chill the blood of Damien Knight. James nods and is glad to step outside for some air.



Time passes as James checks the perimeter again and makes sure the raft is secure. Outside, he doesn't see much other than plenty of alligators. Inside, he can hear muffled voices. The witch appears to be speaking freely and quickly, likely trying to save her own skin.

An hour goes by. James starts to hear Illeana's voice more often. She occasionally interjects a simple question in French, which are usually greeted with a profusion of words from the witch. James' Spanish allows him to pick out the occasional cognate but most of it sounds like two birds chattering at each other.

James grabs a snack from the raft, settling on a BerryWow! ProteinPow! bar. He washes it down with some tepid water which isn't refreshing in the least. Thankfully Illeana's bound spirit is keeping conditions cool outside, but it isn't much company.

Inside, the language gets louder and more excitable. Illeana is speaking more frequently and more confidently in French. The witch responds in gushing paragraphs. Piqued, James decides to poke his head inside the mound.

Illeana looks up and smiles warmly. The witch looks completely different. Not physically - she's still bandaged up - but her expression is enthusiastic and eager.

"We made up," Illeana announces. "Birds of a feather. She's excited to have someone to talk to for the first time."

"Ah," James says, nodding. He supposes that's good and implies a positive exchange of knowledge. He also wonders if he has managed to become the third wheel... again. Memories of her spending days and weeks off with Sam flood his mind as he watches the two women return to their conversation that he interrupted.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (13:56:06/04-11-16)
James fingers the witch's focus in one of the pockets of his chameleon suit. 

<<@Illeana [James] Should we return her focus to her?  If we're all buddy-buddy now, it might make a nice show of good will.>>

Illeana's texted response is short and clipped, leaving James with the impression that the pair is beyond such social niceties already. 

The pair of witches resume their chattering, and James wonders absently if he'd be less left out if they were speaking English.  Probably it would be beyond him anyway.  "Let me know if you need anything," he says before ducking back out of the hut.

"You wouldn't know how to play spades by any chance, would you?" James asks the spirit out by the "raft."  "Yeah, I thought not."

Maybe I should take up smoking, James thinks as he starts re-evaluating their gear.  Through the cloud cover, he estimates the position of the sun, and then makes another estimation on the time.  Glancing back to the hut, he thinks, Well, she doesn't seem in much of a hurry anymore.

Slinging the Ares Desert Strike, James climbs a tree, and then uses his cyber spur to cut a few branches away.  In a few minutes, he's constructed a blind for himself, and uses another branch to stabilize his arm as he lines up shots on a few of the alligators about seventy meters out.  Plink, plink, plink.  He sighs, and waits for Illeana to finish up.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (19:44:14/04-14-16)
<<@James [Illeana] Yes, we should return the focus. I know I would be a meaningful gesture to me.>>

James enters the hut and returns the knife. The witch's eyes light up with gratitude.

James then announces his intention to go swimming in the swamp to go look for smugglers. Illeana gives him a look.

Well that's crazy, she thinks to herself. But what did I expect? He's dating a vampire. He's obviously not right in the head to begin with.

Illeana translates James' intentions into French for the benefit of the witch. The other woman clearly thinks there has been some confusion in translation. Illeana repeats herself and mimes swimming, nodding at the witch convey James' seriousness. The witch flicks her hand dismissively and gives an exasperated "pah!"

"I'll send the spirits with you," Illeana says. "The air spirit is bound and will do what you tell it to do. The water spirit won't, and will depart at sundown. Try to be back by then or I'll start to worry. Send the air spirit if you need help."

Before he goes, Illeana fashions a couple of healing preparations for James. The witches watches the process with intense curiosity and asks numerous questions throughout the enchanting. Illeana answers in her halting French as best as she is able.

"It's hard because I have the French of a five-year old," Illeana explains to James. "Who knows what I'm actually saying."

Apparently now convinced that James is serious, the witch pipes up and goes into a long and detailed description of the smugglers that completely flies over the head of Illeana's limited French. "She says go that way," Illeana summarizes, pointing to the north.

James makes his final preparations and steps into the slimy waters of the tiny island's north short. His boot sinks into the goopy muck, offering no resistance to his body weight. He slips on his ballistic mask and tips forward face-first into the clouded waters, trying to keep it out of his mouth. The Rock Lizard Blood will keep him healthy, but nothing's going to get that taste out of his mouth if he's not careful. He switches to his internal air tanks and endures the momentary discomfort of no longer having to inhale.

The waters are warm and James worries about overheating from exertion until he remembers that the air spirit will counter that. He takes his first stroke; the magic of the water spirit launches him forward as if he were a racing scull full of cybered-up rowers. He takes another stroke and the effect is the same. The effect is dependent on him to provide the forward locomotion, providing a curious fast-slow-fast rhythm to his pace between strokes.

He swims north, deeper into the swamp.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (13:08:41/04-20-16)
At his first step into the swamp water James feels the much sliding up to his calf.  Yep, out in the swamp looking for immortality, and going on a swim to find contraband while my vampire girlfriend unravels the mysteries of the universe with an almost as attractive naked witch.  In French.  I am fraggin' certifiable, if any hoop is.  He pushes off, and the tug of the spirit's movement power propels him forward at an inhuman pace.  He heasee ands in the directions Illeana had pointed to, and after about fifty meters he pulls himself out of the water and up a tree.  Scanning the horizon James can make out where some low-hanging branches have been cut back to allow for water crafts. 

Slipping back into the water, James continues on his way with more certainty now that he has a solid lead on the route the smugglers are possibly taking.  Too bad he's not on the ground.  All the other obvious reasons aside, with ground tracks James would be able to tell which direction they were heading.  Instead, he's got to make his best guess and just head inland.  A couple times James needs to reconnoiter his way around alligators, but he does well at keeping his eye on the tracks, and makes good time.  It's an unsettling sensation having the spirit propel him forward as he swims, his head just above the water and cutting a wake like a Mitsubishi Waterbug.  He's used to his own enhanced speed and strength.  At this point he's even used to how Illeana has improved his mental faculties, making him much more able to piece together patterns, social cues, and better read potential opponents and allies.  But the spirit at his back in a different beast altogether.  For one thing, when he tries to slow down or change directions, there's a substantial period of lag before the spirit adjusts as well.  For another, the cyberware and Illeana's spells feel as much a part of him as, well, he does; but the spirit is unmistakably a foreign influence.  Still, he's grateful for the help, and finds himself praying to Hecate as he swims that he will protect him and keep him clear of any mana ebbs, and surges. 

For the next half-kilometer, it's all swim, stop, observe, and swim again in concert.  At one point he finds a fisherman's hat, discarded and almost completely taken over by rot.  Hope the owner made it out better, he thinks to himself before continuing on. 
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (15:24:39/04-20-16)
James proceeds forward, following the broken branches as he slaloms through the cypress trees rising out of the mire. The next stretch in front of him is a bit more open. Unfortunately that means fewer opportunities to rest, as well as fewer broken branches to follow.

If I were a smuggler, what would I do? James thinks to himself. Likely head for a section with a dense canopy to prevent aerial observation.

He spots some trees in the distance that match that description. He pushes off and makes his way across the clearing.

The trail of broken branches resumes. James follows it. He estimates that he's been swimming for at least 6 kilometers now, taking maybe an hour with the periods for rest and observation. He's lightly winded but feels like he could do the same thing ten more times if he had to.

There's a dull metal CLANG that catches James' attention. Something hitting the hull of a boat? he wonders. He slows his pace, doing his best to avoid kicking up a wake or making any noise.

"Oi! Double-time!" a gruff voice barks.

"Keep it down!" hisses another voice in response.

The dense stand of trees is making visibility tricky, but when he's about 120 meters out James' thermographic vision starts to separate some humanoid figures. They're difficult to distinguish against the hot swamp air, so he flips back to the regular spectrum now that he knows what he's looking for. He pulls up to a tree and grabs it to rest while he catches his breath.

Ahead, James sees the hull of what looks like a submarine. He estimates it to be roughly 20 meters long. On each end of the hull are sentries on the lookout. Two others - male orks he would guess - stand on top of the conning tower and use ropes to pull up shrink-wrapped packages from inside the sub. Then they toss them down to a couple folks (a troll male and a dwarf female) sitting in a pair of flat-bottomed air boats. The troll and the dwarf stack the packages for transport.

In addition, James sees an air spirit circling around above, likely on the lookout for intruders. It stays below the tree canopy and does loops around the sub. James pulls back behind his tree. Wondering what he can do to help stay concealed, he reaches down into the mud and starts painting his head, hoping that there's enough life in the muck (but not too much) to throw off the spirit. Then he yanks some moss of the tree and dangles that over his head for good measure.

"What's your carrying capacity?" one of the orks calls down.

"2400 to 2500 kilos total," the female dwarf answers with the same hiss that he recognizes from before.

James can see the orks doing the mental math of how long it will take them to haul up that much weight via rope. Their arms and shoulders look sore from here. The airboats don't even appear half full yet.

A slight flicker of movement catches James' eye. Above one of the sentries (a female human) on the end of the submarine, a small ball hovers in the air. Activating the vision magnification in his cybereyes to get a closer look, James spots a Horizon Flying Eye drone, apparently serving the same purpose as the sentry but perhaps from an elevated position.

James looks toward the other sentry to see if there's a drone hovering above him (an elven male), but he doesn't spot anything.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (12:05:45/04-27-16)
James ducks back behind the tree he's using for cover, and pulls his dry bag up onto his chest before unraveling it and unbuckling the hinges.  He grabs the stock of his Ares Desert Strike first, then the barrel, then the magazine, and in no time at all the sniper rifle is assembled and ready for use.  Not yet, he thinks, patting the composite stock before looping the sling around a low-hanging branch.  Hopefully, I won't have use for you at all, but good to know you'll be here waiting for me.

He pulls the rest of the grenades that Illeana had the foresight to bring along with them out of the dry bag and attaches them at various points on his chameleon suit, patting the breast pocket where he's slipped in the preparations she's made as well.  He had considered waiting for the smuggler to finish up, maybe follow the air boat for a bit before striking, but in the end he's decided to try to get the drop on them while they're working.  Maybe, if there hacker isn't on the ball, he can sow enough discord that they'll end up striking out against one another, making his job all the easier.  Scratch that.  Nothing about this is gonna be easy.  You know better, chummer.  No underestimating.  These guys are professionals, and they've got a spirit.  They'll geek you in a second, so stay frosty now, even in the swamp.

He double-checks the seal on his ballistic mask one last time, pulls the hood of his chameleon suit back over his face, and activates his internal air tank.  He marks the location of the furthest air boat with his cyber eyes, and slips into the swamp silently, feeling the tepid, brackish water envelop him in a protective covering of filth and microbial life.  From a couple meters below the surface, James begins to kick toward the first location he's marked on his cyber eyes, covering the distance in about a minute-and-a-half given his slow and stealthy pace.  Once he hits his mark, he begins to come up and finds himself against the hull of the air boat.  He moves to the south, feels the hull give way to air, and comes up at the stern.  He makes quick work of attaching a high explosive grenade just above the water line as the smugglers continue their work.

"I said over, port side," the hissing voice commands.

Whatever the response, it's lost to James as he slips back into the water, and begins the swim to the second location he's marked: the stern of the submarine.  He's about to surface again, when an alert pops up in the lower right-hand corner of his vision.

<<MARK Granted: Device#: 1XB26779H8>>

Ghost he's fast.  Hecate, protect me.

When he surfaces again, he can feel a difference in the air.  The smuggler's speech is faster now, more alert, perhaps tinged with fear.

"I told ya, all our comms are off," a voice hisses insistently.

"Then I'm telling you we aren't alone," a new voice chimes in.  "We got word.  Somebody's out here."

There is certainly no turning back now.  Even if he wanted to, they'd come looking.  He knows he would.  Giving the mental command to detonate, James waits for the blast before pulling himself out of the water and up the side of the submarine.  It comes immediately, first a low thunk followed by the sound of fire catching air and shrapnel raining down on the swamp water.  Hopefully, that's one down and only six known hostiles to go.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (01:52:03/04-29-16)
James triggers the grenade and catapults himself out of the water in one smooth motion. His feet land squarely on the deck of the submarine while the troll's feet fly out from underneath him as his airboat starts sinking.

James turns and runs for the human female on watch. She somehow knows he is coming - either from the sound of his running or the vibrations in the deck of the sub or something. She turns and James can see her eyes go wide as she screams, "Contact!" She raises up her AK-97 and sprays off a wild burst. Her control over the weapon is minimal and her accuracy is lamentable. James moves his head slightly aside to avoid having one graze his ear.

Behind him, the air spirit tries to trip up James. He feels the invisible hands reaching for his wrists and ankles but he has little difficulty in high-stepping out of the tackle. James continues with his charge and, popping his cyberspur, impales the female human just as she turns to run. The spur bursts through her liver and lungs before James withdraws it and she collapses in a bloody heap on the submarine deck.

James hears the dwarven female cry, "Open fire!" shortly before an Ares Alpha attempts to cut him down.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (12:35:06/05-06-16)
The dwarf who yells "Open Fire!" is the first to take her own advice.  He dodges before he hears the familiar burst from her Ares Alpha, as otherwise the supersonic load would have already pierced his chameleon suit and buried themselves in his mechanical lungs by the time the reports had reached his cybernetic ears.  Crouching low, the bullets wiz overhead, and he begins pulling grenades from the various pouches covering his torso and waist.  The Air Spirit roars up behind him, not just trying to tackle him, but draw him into itself, but James rolls forward and out of its grasp, coming back up on his feet in time to see the large troll jump from one sinking air boat to the other.  Drek, he's still up.  And unharmed!

The two ork men on the conning tower open fire on James as he comes back up, and he sidesteps to the right as the bullets smack harmlessly against the hull of the submarine.  Instinctively turning his body sideways, James dodges another swipe from the Air Spirit.  Just as the grenades leave his hands, James is treated to another volley from the dwarf, but his sideways profile makes too small of a target for her to hit.  One grenade arcs up into the conning tower, and out of the corner of his eye James can see one of the orks reaching for it before his cybernetic arms are blown apart, and he's rocked backwards and out of view.  The other takes a blast of shrapnel to his face, and James can only hope that some blood in his eyes will make further attacks less accurate.

Similarly, the troll on the air boat steps forward, and tries to throw the flash-bang back in James' direction.  Also similarly, the grenade explodes in his hand, but besides taking a small step backward, and letting out a roar of frustration, the grenade seems to have little effect.  Yeah, try that one more time, big guy.

Seeing the havoc that this near-invisible killing machine has racked up in four seconds, the dwarf lets loose with a grenade from her Ares Alpha.  James hears the low thunk, and rushes forward, hears the grenade explode behind him, and dodges behind the conning tower, out of her sight.  He scans his surroundings, knowing there should be an elf around here somewhere, while also keeping his eyes high, for when the remaining ork trains the sites on his uzi back in James' direction.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (01:46:55/05-12-16)
James hears a tell-tale bloop coming from the airboat and knows that an Ares Alpha is trying to lay an egg on him.

You should probably move, the voice of Illeana suggests with an amused detachment. Or don't, I'm not your boss.

James fires a mental signal to his hydraulic jacks to get him the hell out of there. The jacks fire simultaneously, launching James a solid ten meters with a single bound. He lands at the base of the conning tower, pursued closely by the air spirit.

A high-explosive grenade detonates behind him, but James has already moved onto more pressing issues. For starters, the air spirit is trying to cut off his escape to the rear. Second, the elf on the north end of the boat isn't the least bit fooled by James' camouflage and opens up with a rapid burst from his assault rifle. Third, the angry ork from the conning tower leans over and does his best to pour a long burst onto the top of James' head.

Time slows down for James. Maybe it's his synaptic boosters, or maybe Illeana's magic is taking on a new form. You don't need to dodge the bullets, she reminds him. Just the shooters.

With superhuman agility known only to the elite of the elite, James contorts himself into the perfect shape that happens to match the outline of the bullets currently pinging off the submarine hull. He shrugs off the air spirit once, then twice, the casually flicks aside the rushing kick of the elf. James whips out his laser and slices a piece off the air spirit before counterstriking the elf with his cyberspur. The elf, perhaps taking a cue from James, tries to backflip out of range. All he succeeds in doing is exposing his back to James' strike, which lances straight though the elf's armor vest, then his liver, then his lungs, before protruding out the man's chest.

James hears the engine of the intact airboat catch as the fan quickly begins to whir. Inside the submarine, there are echoing shouts and rushing feet.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (11:38:19/05-16-16)
The elf slides off of James' cyber spur and into a heap on the deck of the submarine, as James hears a roar of automatic gunfire behind him.  A few errant shots ping harmlessly against the conning tower, but it seems as though the dwarf is trying to keep him pinned down behind cover.  Smart move.  Maybe.  Unsure I'd waste the ammo right now, James concludes as he flattens his back against the conning tower, dodging the spirit yet again, and fires his laser pistol at the base of the prone elf's neck, just to make sure he doesn't get back up.

Things have been quiet above him on the conning tower, so James readies his one teargas grenade, activates his hydraulic jacks and leaps upward to dunk the grenade into the hull of the submarine.  Between the automatic gunfire and the spirit harrying him, James notices that the latch is closed a moment after throwing the grenade down hard.  It bounces once, the change in trajectory detonating it, and before James can reach the ground the spirit has whipped up the smoke, centering its effects on him.

He's glad for the air tank as he feels his lungs pulling on its reserves from the stress, but the middle of a gas cloud is not where he wants to be regardless.  James lashes out with his cyber spur, but strikes empty air, not an air spirit.  He tries again with the Redline, taking a moment to aim, but the spirit's moving so fast that he can't get a bead on it.  He's rushing himself now, knowing just how fast the clock is ticking down.  They're going to dive, and I'm going to go back empty-handed.  If I go back at all.  He fires the Redline, and seems to strike nothing.

Calm down, James.  Take your time.  You're still faster than these hoops making sure you do it right.  So make sure you do it right.  He's less than convinced.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (01:43:09/05-19-16)
Back at camp, Illeana pauses in the middle of the conversation. She leans back and emits a long exhale. The witch looks at her quizzically.

"Mon ami... se bat?" she attempts in French, miming a fight.

Illeana watches via her mental link with the spirits. She counts the opponents, wonders what James will do to even the seven-to-one odds. Surprise, certainly, she thinks. Ah, yes, explosives. I should have known.

Emotionally, she is a strange mix of calmness and nerves. Her exterior is blank, and she could hide her churning aura if the witch easily enough. James isn't in any real danger, she assures herself. He's armored enough to survive any single hit. All he has to do is jump in the water for cover and Billy will drag him home.

She watches remotely as the female human is stabbed, then the arms are blown off one of the male orks. Do they deserve it? she wonders, thinking about all the life choices that might lead someone to be standing guard in the swamp, only to be ambushed and killed in a matter of seoncds. Do they not deserve it?

She is comfortable with death. Strangely comfortable. Ever since the hunters that first night that she and James "woke up", she has known that she accepted death and was willing to dish it out. But still... something tugs inside her. Perhaps it is her mentor spirit, her inner maternal nature that cannot deny help to those who need it. What was I before I woke up? She loses the thought amidst a hail of gunfire that James somehow emerges from unscathed. She sighs and shakes her head.

The male elf seems to be a competent fighter, but it is only a matter of seconds before James has him lanced, then appropriates the man's gun. James sprays the sky with long bursts but cannot score any more than a grazing hit on the slippery air spirit that bobs and weaves as quickly and as elusively as any summer breeze.

Illeana turns and looks in the direction of the fight, even though it has her looking at a mud wall. The battle is kilometers away and she has no chance of reaching it in time.

I could release Billy and resummon a fire spirit to fight, she thinks. But, no, Billy is his escape route. If only I could project!

She stops and does a mental inventory of her pockets, but she does not have any Shade on her.

Even if I did, she thinks, glancing at the witch, would I leave my body here unguarded? Madame here is speaking freely, her aura is not angry, and my magic does not detect her as an enemy, but still... Her eyes dip to the witch's handmade knife, a brutally sharp weapon focus. She could end me with a flick of her wrist if she suspects what I am. How else could I have channeled so much Magic seemingly out of nowhere? She must wonder why someone who can do that would come seek her counsel out here in the swamp. She does not understand, and someone who does not understand cannot trust.

Her stomach clinches slightly each time the air spirit moves to engulf James, even though it has been completely unsuccessful up to this point. Plus Illeana knows James' strength, knows that an air spirit could not contain him any more than a mud hut could.

James is in no danger unless he does something stupid or something unlucky. She knew he wasn't stupid... but luck? That was an intangible, even for a magician of Illeana's power. What would I do without him? Where would I go? She sighs, thinking about vampire thralls and conspiracies and plots for world dominance. It was all so tiresome. She would return to her magic, she knew, but still... It is nice to have someone to go home to at night.

"Il sera bien," Illeana says with a small smile. "De quoi parlions-nous?"
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (11:15:50/06-02-16)
The standoff with the spirit fails to intensify, but it does lengthen.  James is losing valuable seconds, and he knows it, firing again and again at the spirit and hitting nothing but air.  Not even the right kind of air.  At the same time, the spirit isn't getting anywhere with James either.  Every time it begins to substantiate itself, to get some sort of grip on him, James ducks or bobs, or simply shakes it off.  He wonders if this is frustrating for the spirit, or if they simply do their tasks with a reserved detachment, they way James' own body sometimes operates. 

James decides to ignore the spirit to the best of his ability.  He'll keep in view, keep dodging its attacks easily like it has been doing to his, but he's got to get this sub sunk so that he can turn his attention to the duo on the air boat unhindered.  He repeatedly fires at the hull of the sub, about three centimeters port of a seam, which he hopes will mean a weak spot.  Emptying his Alpha he trows the empty mag and the air spirit in disgust and loads another, repeats the process.  After twenty rounds or so, the air spirit tries to literally pulls the Alpha from James' hand.  Maybe they get frustrated after all.  It's only a moment before James has control of the gun again.  He must look like a sight from fifty meters out, playing tug-of-war with a little cloud all alone by himself but surrounded by corpses shooting his way into a submarine. 

The slight pause in gunfire gives James an opportunity to view his progress.  The outer hull is stripped away, but there's an inner barrier which barely looks scuffed.  James dodges another attack from the spirit by leaping to the conning tower, turns, and fires a grenade at the inner hull.  He ducks down for cover, putting himself face-to-face with the ork his last grenade tore  apart.  Poor fragger looks alive, but on his way out.  James notes the machine pistol by his side, but doubts the meta is even conscious at this point, and with the explosion still echoing he drops his Alpha and tries to force the hatch open with both arms pulling up violently.  The hatch gives way without the slightest resistance sending James backwards slipping on blood.  Grabbing his assault rifle, James drops the three meters to the inner hatch and tries to repeat the process, finding the turn wheel fighting him.  He gives it a good twist, and meets his match with an even stronger counter turn.  Probably using a cheater bar.  Or another spirit, James notes that the air spirit hasn't followed him into this cramped enclosure. 

He scrambles his way back topside, only to find a much larger spirit of earth materialize behind him and slam the hatch door closed just as he clears it.  Startled, James dives off the conning tower, hitting the deck hard and rolls back on his feet to find some sort of magnetic pull is trying to make him stick to the sub.  He looks up at the spirit wearily.  The air spirit is gone, so there must be a summoner below deck.  Even if James can geek it, he'll just be faced with another, and then another all while the sub continues tracking south, and the air boat makes its escape.  He focuses his energy, and breaks his hold to the deck, diving off the port side of the sub and back into the thick and muddy swamp water.  He stays underwater all the way back to his dry bag, finding it by following the beacon he had marked on his AR overlay. 

Surfacing at the bag, James retrieves his Desert Strike, and nimbly begins taking it apart and placing the components where they'll stay dry. James can make out the sound of the sub, but he can't hear the air boat any longer, so as he works he orders the air spirit, "Find the air boat that left here and come back to tell me where they are and what direction they're heading."

With any luck they're trying to stay stealthy, and that means slow.  Maybe he's got a chance after all.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (12:38:19/06-08-16)
The spirit has barely vanished from view before James thinks, Frag this.  Those things can move at the speed of thought or something, right?  She should still be able to catch me when I surface.  Besides, James can feel the weight of the Desert Strike pulling behind him, I don't think miss Wispy is all that on the ball.  He submerges again and swims in the direction of the air boat's original course, the other spirit pulling him along at a nearly incomprehensible rate.  Once or twice he barely misses trees, feeling their giant root structure against his chest and belly as he rears to the left and kicks hard.  With the spirit behind him it's almost like piloting a boat, and he has to account for the drift.

Surfacing, James takes a moment to inspect the surroundings.  He's about 250 meters out from their original course.  If he was trying to lose himself, he'd head out straight, gunning the air boat for all that it was worth before changing course.  Of course, if it was really James, on the run from something that had geeked his entire team, he might not pause at all.  He sees a branch, just about a meter from the water line, stripped of moss, and another that's been broken.  Zooming in with his magnified vision, he sees other signs further along on south, south-westerly course.  He ducks again, swims another 200 meters, finds some matted grass and some sort overturned earth at a particularly narrow choke point.  Going slow they can't afford any back-tracking. 

When he surfaces next he can see the air boat in the distance, maybe .  The female dwarf is on watch, her assault rifle at the ready.  Tiring pose to keep, but she looks alert.  And she's damn near geeked me twice, James adds to himself.  He slips beneath the surface of the water, going another half-meter down from his regular depth.  He swims as hard as he can for twenty-eight seconds, overshooting the air boat, and surfaces behind a Bald Cypress that's nearly as wide as an Americar, and begins to climb, his arms out as straight as possible so that the dry bag hangs freely and doesn't drag against the trunk, while the water-logged Ares Alpha hangs behind his back on a looped sling around his shoulders.  He knows the slip knot will hold, but it makes him nervous regardless.  At nearly eight meters up, he finds the perfect nest, and checks on the approaching air boat.  It's going to be close, he thinks as he begins assembling the rifle, straddling one branch as he works. 

The rifle whole, James quietly moves the mag into the magwell.  Somewhere behind him a bull frog lets out a low croak, and he snaps it into position.  The air boat is still one hundred meters out.  That may be a new personal best, he thinks regarding the sniper rifle.  He's decided to keep all his wireless off, so James is going to have to shoot the old-fashioned way.  He looks down the reticle and frowns.  The angle isn't steep enough.  Sure, he could probably drop the troll, but the dwarf would have ample cover once his shots rang out.  She may even be able to change course, and it's not likely that she'd slow down a second time.  So he waits and focuses on his breathing, lining up his shot, doing everything short of pulling the trigger.  Line up the shot, deep breath in, still your primary internal pump, breathe out halfway, and squeeze.

When they've closed to forty meters, James acts.  The angle is right, a little steep, so he'll need to adjust there, but even without his gear James knows the trajectory of a.338 McDonnell.  Not that he knows the face of his mother.  Or if he has any brothers or sisters.  He puts the red dot just below the trolls sternum and slightly to his left and exhales softly.

Clack! Clack!

Even with the suppressor the rifle's caseless and supersonic ammunition echoes out over the still swamp.  The troll takes a half step back on his left leg, which begins to fold under him.  James can see the look of confusion -- he doesn't know what's happened to him.  His body jerks like a big game animal, all that mass and power poised to save itself, to strike out, to follow its survival instinct even as the damage was already done.  As his knee buckles the realization begins to dawn on his face.  It's a pained look, not sad exactly, or horrified, or resigned, but some combination of the three, and James is back at school, or maybe academy, learning about the .338 McDonnell

"The .338 McDonnell is a caseless variant of the .338 Lapua Magnum, capable of piercing standard body armor at ranges up to 1,000 meters.  The round has a positive drop of seventy-six, point-two centimeters at one hundred meters, and who can tell me what the positive drop is at 200 meters?"

As the instructor drones on, James doodles on his electronic paper, putting the finishing touches on the brush of an Ares logo.  To his right, he heard, "Psst," and turned to see a face very much like his own.  The hair was lighter then, more sandy blond, but the eyes were the same, the skin tone, the way the face smirked back at him as he turned surreptitiously to acknowledge, Who?  Who?

And then he's older, most be full-grown now by the looks of the men around him, and he's in the back of an Ares Venture, the troop door open and a parachute on his back.  A minigun whines up front by the cockpit, and the aircraft tilts violently to the right as an explosion tears at the left rear panel, showering the interior with shrapnel.  And there's that face again, so much like his own, and there's the man's body, in fatigues with an Ares Alpha in his hands, and a corkscrew of plasteel embedded in his thigh, red lights flashing overhead.  The man, Who?  Who? struggles to right himself, and his parachute if flapping from his back, no doubt opened by the shrapnel as well, and there's that same face, not sad, or horrified, or resigned, but that's as close as you'll get, and then the wind catches the parachute, and it deploys, and there's that face, and the drag, and the man being pulled out of the Venture, and a weak grasp for an anchor, and then he was gone, into the black night sky, and the face was the last thing James saw before he dipped from view, and then James rushing after him, jumping into the black himself.

And then James is back in the swamp, the troll's knee fully buckled, his back to James as he pitches forward into the air boat.  The dwarf is gone.  Must have jumped into the swamp as the first rounds struck home, and James adds two more for good measure, watching the troll's body jerk slightly from the impact.  He blinks twice, shakes his head, and waits.  What the frag was that?!The air boat continues its forward course, almost under him now, and he scans for weapons or explosives on deck.  Nothing, not even the troll's LMG.  He turns his wireless on and scans the areas for any icons.  There are none except for a DocWagon beacon, which James also spots on the troll's wrist.  Clever girl.  Good for you, James thinks, assigning all credit for running dark to the dwarf.

James lifts himself up on the branches, activates his hydraulic jacks and leaps onto the surface of the air boat.  Immediately, he drops the Ares Alpha, and takes cover behind the contraband, now splattered with the troll's blood.  His feet slosh around as he notes a few holes in the deck of the air boat.  Yeah, body armor, and then some.  Still, at the present rate, James figures that he has a few minutes.  Better get rid of the troll's body quick.  He doesn't need DocWagon coming by any more than he needs to sink his new ride.  James holds the Desert Strike at the low ready, and cuts the rope tethering the air boat.  She'll need to come up for air sometime.  First he accelerates, putting a little more distance between himself and the dwarf, and then he cuts the engine back on the air boat, waiting for the craft to drift to a stop.

After a few moments, James begins talking from cover, keeping his eyes on the lookout for movement.  "Hoi.  Forgive the assumption, but it appears as though you may be recently unemployed.  Worse than that, you're out here alone, no comms access, no support, no tent.  You know, I barely survived the night out here, and I was able to geek everybody above board.  Everybody but you.  So, maybe you'll do alright after all.  Don't know that I'd want to risk it myself.  I mean, what I saw yesterday made such an impression on me that I was willing to take on the odds of me against all of you just on the chance that I could get a boat and way home out of the deal. 

"So, how about an employment opportunity?  Short term work.  Good pay, and a hot bed at the end of the night.  A hot bed at home, or wherever else you want to go.  Actually, home may not be the best place.  Even if you do make it out of here, you're the only one not bleeding out, right?  Don't think I even scratched you.  Could be hard to explain.  Missing product and all.  So, how about some work then, eh?  I'd like some questions answered, and I'd like a way on my way, wiz?  You're capable, I know that.  Smart too, I bet. 

"Whaddya say, chummer?" 
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (02:27:33/06-09-16)
James finishes his speech and listens. There's a long stretch of silence where he only hears the bullfrogs, the flies, and the gentle glug glug of the airboat taking on water. It's possible that the dwarf is gone, perhaps consumed by whatever lurks in the swamp. Or maybe she has an air tank like James and is not particularly eager to surface, lest James turn her head into a canoe.

The silence presses, and James eventually decides he needs to get on with his life. He uses his spur to snip off the troll's DocWagon band, then flicks it into the water where it descends a meter before some fish swallows the blinking light. Then it's time to process the troll. Patting him down, James finds an armor vest with several prominent holes in it, a Transys Avalon commlink, and troll-sized sunglasses that are pretty high tech. (In addition to flare comp, they look like the type of glasses that will enhance the user's vision.)

James knows he's not strong enough to lift the troll out by himself, so he does it in stages. He throws one of the troll's arms over the side of the boat, then pivots the troll so that he can put the other arm over the edge too. Curiously, the few centimeters of water in the bottom of the boat add just enough buoyancy so that James can accomplish it himself with his redlining cyberlimbs.  Once the troll's arms are over the edge, James manages to pick up the torso just enough to get it hanging over the edge too. He has to work quickly, lest the weight of the troll tip the boat, but he's able to use the edge of the boat as a pivot to lift the troll's legs and flip the whole corpse over the side with a huge splash.

Unencumbered by the troll's weight, the boat lifts up off the water. The holes that were previously acting as an entry point for the swamp now conveniently act as a drain. Within a minute, the swamp water mixed with the troll's blood has drained back into the muddy depths.

James is about to start the airboat to distance himself from trollbro's body - just in case it attracts a hungry predator - when Illeana's voice in his head warns him of something suspicious. Watch your six. He spins around but sees nothing behind him. His eyes sweep the swamp, looking for the dwarf. No, your other six, Illeana says.

"Psst, chummer," the dwarf's voice says in an unnecessary whisper. After spinning around again, James realizes that the voice is coming from underneath him. The dwarf has surfaced under the boat and is now using the cushion of air between the boat and the waterline to speak to James.

"Here's how this is going to work. I still got my Alpha and a full mag of APDS. You do anything to make me sheen, I go full-auto. Maybe I get you, maybe I don't, but you lose the boat and all the product. That's a fact.

"I know when I'm outgunned. I don't know how many you got in your crew but it's more than I got, or had. If I ain't getting out of this then you ain't either. I also got a full mag of HE mini-grenades, wireless on, safeties disabled." James double-checks that with a quick Matrix perception check. Indeed, there is now a wireless signal running silently that wasn't there before. "You try to shoot me, you better get me first shot or the whole boat is going up underneath your feet. You jump in the water to finish me off, my last thought it to trigger the whole mag. If you ain't up to speed on underwater explosions, they're wizzer.

"Some of what you said is bulldrek; some of it is true. I'm in a pinch and I'm professional enough to know it. Ask your questions and maybe I'll answer them. Play your cards right and maybe we'll both get to go home, or into hiding. Play them wrong and you'll be cartwheeling through the air, on fire until you land in the water and the gators finish you off."
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (11:18:31/06-09-16)
James smiles.  This one fails to disappoint.

He leans his Desert Strke against the lip of the pontoon boat, peals back the hood on his chameleon suit and pulls up his ballistic mask before speaking.  "Fair enough.  Like I said, I'm interested in a business arrangement here.  If I just wanted out, I'd be out. . . With the boat.  I think you should come aboard so we can talk about where you think I'm full of bulldrek, and where I'm not."

"I think I'm fine down here," the dwarf replies, trying to keep her ace in the hole.

"Understandable," James answers, "but that works less good for both of us.  Gators can smell blood in the water something fierce, and they're about the least dangerous things in these waters.  I don't want something to nab you, and then we both up dead, or at the very least I've lost my ride.  As for the Alpha, it's a beautiful piece of equipment, but if you're underneath the boat then that barrel is choke full of water, swamp gunk, whatever.  You don't have the clearance to empty it, and even if you got a shot off your action can't load another while submerged.  All the APDS in the CAS isn't going to get you far on that front.  So, that leaves the nuclear option.  If you want to keep it, unhook that three-point sling, and feed it up through this hole.  I'll feed it back through another, and you can tie off, wiz?  Then you can come aboard safely knowing that if I geek you, you get me back twice as dirty.  Copacetic?"
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (12:51:20/06-09-16)
There's another long pause, then James hears some scratching and scraping.

"Alright, I'm coming up, but I'm keeping my piece. Stay in the back, by the fan."

There's some splashing, then the dwarf's hand reaches over the front lip of the boat. She pulls herself out of the water with one hand, the other hand keeping the Alpha pointed vaguely in James' direction as she struggles aboard. Sopping wet and looking miserable, she tucks herself in the front of the boat, crouching low to minimize her profile.

"Here's how it is: I got a spare clip of HE tucked underneath the boat. Unless you want to say au revoir to your bourses, you'll keep your hands where I can see them."

She glances around the boat, eyeing the Desert Strike. Her eyes dart out into the swamp, quickly scanning the trees for James' backup.

"I got a biomonitor. If it sees me go down, the boat goes up. I got a good comm. Your hacker better one-shot me because if I see a MARK granted where I didn't ask for none, the boat goes up. I still got a full clip of HE right here, so I can get you from above or below."

She sits back, scowling, waiting for James to ask his questions, or make his offer, or do whatever his crazy hoop is going to do next.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (14:52:05/06-09-16)
James obliges the dwarf's request, and moves to the back of the air boat.  It's painful watching her struggle to get on board, but he plants his feet and waits for her to surface.

"Here's how it is: I got a spare clip of HE tucked underneath the boat. Unless you want to say au revoir to your bourses, you'll keep your hands where I can see them."

"That so?  Where did you tuck them?  I had trouble finding a suitable spot when I was underneath the sister ship."  James checks the area again for wireless devices to ascertain the dwarf's truthfulness.

She glances around the boat, eyeing the Desert Strike. Her eyes dart out into the swamp, quickly scanning the trees for James' backup.

"I got a biomonitor. If it sees me go down, the boat goes up. I got a good comm. Your hacker better one-shot me because if I see a MARK granted where I didn't ask for none, the boat goes up. I still got a full clip of HE right here, so I can get you from above or below."

"As hard as this may be to believe given our recent history, I'd like for things to progress along a more amicable path.  And I'm looking to take you on under my employ, short-term as it may be.  Also perhaps also a bit hard to believe, but I'm not accustomed to employee, employer relations where parties are training guns on one another.  So let's pretend its the 20s, and our weapons are a little more figurative.  Would you mind at least lowering the Alpha?  I'm plenty convinced you can sink us, even if I'm not convinced you can end me."

Next James begins peppering the dwarf with questions. 

"What's your name, chummer?  You can call me Ace."

"What is our cargo, and who were the players?"

"Where was it headed?"

"Best case scenario, how would you like to be paid?  I'm prepared to offer the boat, and your safe delivery to civilization.  I figure that nuyen is also good.  Make me an offer."

"So, here's how this is going to go.  We're going to visit a friend of mine, and we can't really show up like this.  I also can't have you knowing where we're going, so I'm going to reach into my dry bag, grab my medical kit, and I'm going to bandage your eyes so you can't see where we're heading.  The HE grenades will remain under your control; I wouldn't dream of separating an employee from her hard-earned property.  And I'm going to have to trust you not to frag me here.  Rest assured I will sacrifice the shipment, the boat, my life, and yours if I think you're going to renege on our deal.

"Once we reach our objective, my friend will hopefully be finished with her own work, and we'll go to shore.  Now, I'm going to step forward, and reach into my dry bag before I invite my other friends on board."
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (15:49:28/06-09-16)
"I ain't telling you where they are!" the woman says angrily of the HE grenades. She pushes her rifle forward a few centimeters to deliver the point more forcefully. "They're staying where they are."

James does another sweep and finds icons for the grenade and biomonitor that suggests that the dwarf is telling the truth. While these are obviously a threat, they might also be the key to her comfort and her willingness to talk.

She lowers the Alpha but not much. It's now pointed at James' lap instead of his center of mass.

"You can call me Holly Brighton for all I care!" she says with some venom before softening a bit. "Call me Holly," she says more calmly.

She looks incredulous at James' next question. "What, you don't know who we are or what this is?" she says, gesturing to the packages. "What are you doing, just kicking around a swamp looking for people to murder and things to steal?"

She shakes her head, bewildered, but eventually continues. "The crew on the sub are Sangre y Acero. They're a group dedicated to bringing down Aztechnology and will attack them any time, any place. To pay the bills, they usually smuggle people - especially refugees out of Aztlan - but they've been expanding their people-smuggling operations into other products." She juts her chin at the packages.

"I don't know what it is but it's a white powder from down south. I presume it's from Aztlan because that's where they have most of their smuggling connections but it could be from Amazonia or even the Carib League for all I know.

"We're just mercs on this end, hired to pick up the product and deliver it to the distributor. They'll take it to a warehouse in Nawlins where they'll break it up and sell it to whoever the frag buys whatever the frag it is. All I know is it ain't explosive and doesn't pose a threat if you don't frag with it.

"I don't want the boat and I don't want your nuyen. The boat and nuyen says I got flipped, says I sold out. What I need is a patch of firm ground and as many hours head start as I can get on the distributor, who will come looking.

"In the meantime, I don't care you meet with or who we give a ride to as long as its rapidement. I ain't bandaging my eyes and I ain't paying attention to where you go. You put me on firm land and you're going to be in the rearview mirror as fast as I can huff all 1.4 meters of me."
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (15:38:53/06-10-16)
"You can call me Holly Brighton for all I care!" she says with some venom before softening a bit. "Call me Holly," she says more calmly.

"Alright, Holly," James answers is cool, soothing tones.  "You're going to pilot this heap.  I drive, you geek me from behind, and I don't have any nice explosives strapped to the bottom of our ride, wiz?  Set a course for 270 degrees, and go as fast as you feel comfortable.  Time is of the essence after all.  Now, you tell me: my rifle is out of reach at the moment, but if  anybody comes looking, you and I are in the same boat, forgive the pun.  If you want backup, I'm a lot handier with that thing than I am without it, and it doesn't serve me any good to go shooting you anyway.  You mind if I grab it?"

"In other news, what's our cargo, and who were the players?"

She looks incredulous at James' next question. "What, you don't know who we are or what this is?" she says, gesturing to the packages. "What are you doing, just kicking around a swamp looking for people to murder and things to steal?"

"Not murder," James corrects as the dwarf takes the helm and begins moving the boat forward, taking a long starboard turn to the southwest.  "Make war.  War is about resources.  If some chummer steals my girl, and I bash in his head with a trideo set, that's murder.  There's a near limitless number of Rebecca's or Tori's or whatever, and so there's no scarcity.  I'd be acting from a place of ego, or vindictiveness.  I despise murderers."

"You got a funny way of acting for a hoop who does," the dwarf answers, picking up a little speed.

"Not at all.  I knew there were smugglers out here.  I knew they had a very limited, very precious resource, one that would ensure the survival of me and my team.  So I did what the Romans did, what the Americans did after, what the corps do now.  It's not murder, it's survival.  Maybe even self-defense."

The dwarf scoffs at the last point, and shakes her head ruefully. 

"Besides," James adds, "war leaves room for truces, for ceasefires, for thinking with one's head, even through all the brutality of it."

"Politics by other means," the dwarf says.  James can't tell if she's being sarcastic or not, especially without a good look at her face, though she's keeping tabs on him out of the corner of her eye.

"Exactly.  Who said that?"

After she answers, there's long pregnant silence, accentuated by the bobbing of the air boat, before the dwarf continues, filling him in on the Sangre y Acero, and her limited knowledge of what they're carrying.  James places his fist against a plastic-wrapped brick of contraband, extends his cyber spur, and withdraws it immediately, before examining the powder to see if he can identify it.

When James brings up bandaging her eyes, she turns around to face him fully, a look of fear and resilience in her eyes.

"In the meantime, I don't care you meet with or who we give a ride to as long as its rapidement. I ain't bandaging my eyes and I ain't paying attention to where you go. You put me on firm land and you're going to be in the rearview mirror as fast as I can huff all 1.4 meters of me."

James pauses before replying.  On one hand, he can see her position, even thinks that Ohanzee would approve of it.  On the other, the budding relationship between Illeana and the witch could be unnecessarily complicated by this new addition, especially if it appeared as though she could later pose a threat to the swamp lady.  He lets out a low sigh, and rubs his chin.

"I believe you."  He continues with the low, carefully-crafted tone, but tries his hardest not to oversell it.  "Things may be a bit complicated when we pull in, but the bandages stay off.  We should be getting a little close now.  Slow down a bit."

James scans the surroundings, seeing if he can pick out Illeana, or the witch's hut.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (20:43:41/06-10-16)
An uneasy détente settles in on the boat for the journey, wherein the individual players are no longer actively aiming weapons at each other but they are both still sitting on a powder keg that could go up at any time.

James stabs one of the packages with his cyberspur. The tip of the spur is covered in a fine white powder. James cannot identify it by sight, so the mystery remains for now.

Holly doesn't speak unless spoken to. James can identify an operator who is accustomed to fighting, maybe even leadership, but not negotiation or social small talk. Perhaps James' worldview is so foreign to her that she can't grasp it, and fears antagonizing him by saying something that inadvertently triggers his competition for resources.

James expertly navigates the swamp and has no difficulty in finding his way back to the witch's hut. Illeana is standing out front to greet him.

"Been making friends, huh?" she asks, using her hand to shelter her eyes from the noon-day sun. James wonders if she ever just closes her eyes when it gets too bright, relying on her astral vision instead.

Illeana's air spirit materializes in the same of a fat, round bird that looks rather more like a bowling ball than an aerodynamically efficient flyer. The bird perches on Illeana's shoulder.

"Chui here has been keeping me up-to-date," Illeana says. Her voice doesn't betray any worry over James' escapades. Perhaps she was never worried, or perhaps all is forgiven now that he has returned intact. "Looks like you found us a ride."

James looks around for the other witch. Illeana follows his eyes. "She's inside, taking a siesta. She had a rough morning, you know." Illeana mimes unzipping her chest, mimicking what her sword had done to the woman in astral combat.

Holly tenses, unsure about what the addition of another party means for the current situation and her odds of survival.

<<@James Well she's wound up tighter than the shocks on a Roadmaster. Should I be 'setting her mind at ease' so to speak?>> James knows she's referring to her ability to magically manipulate emotions, or implant post-hypnotic suggestions.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (09:09:32/06-11-16)
"Been making friends, huh?"

"Holly, this is," he pauses.  Don't say Nadja Daviar.  Don't say Nadja Daviar.  "Lethe," he blurts out and then wonders where the hell that came from?  "Lethe, Holly.  Holly here is a good shot, quick on her feet, and. . . inventive.  She's going to get us back to land."

James grabs the newly-acquired Alpha and Desert Strike and steps off the air boat and down onto the bit of land that surrounds the witch's hut.  He'd like to tell Illeana about the new rifle, how it's not as tricked out as his own, but it is a newer generation that he hasn't had an opportunity to fire yet, and how excited he is, but decides that doing so would be in bad taste.  When the air spirit materializes on Illeana's shoulder, he can't help but roll his eyes.  He certainly would've been in much worse shape without it, but this is the first he's seen it since he gave it orders to find the air boat. 

"Chui here has been keeping me up-to-date," Illeana says. Her voice doesn't betray any worry over James' escapades. Perhaps she was never worried, or perhaps all is forgiven now that he has returned intact. "Looks like you found us a ride."

"Glad he's letting somebody know what's going on.  There are a few bullet holes in her, but she'll get us back to civilization easily enough.  We need to make a call on the contraband."

"She's inside, taking a siesta. She had a rough morning, you know." Illeana mimes unzipping her chest, mimicking what her sword had done to the woman in astral combat.

"Wiz.  We done here?"

James glances back to Holly to see a look of worry on her face.  Between the yet unseen swamp denizen and imaginings over what she must look like and the fact that James was no longer standing on top of her powder keg, he can see how uncertain she feels about her continued survival.  He uses his magnified vision, and could see her knuckles whiten around the grip of her Alpha.

<<@James Well she's wound up tighter than the shocks on a Roadmaster. Should I be 'setting her mind at ease' so to speak?>>

"Holly, the rest of our gear is over there," he motions toward the behemoth skin.  "We've got some babies over there, too.  Please make sure that you don't step on them.  Lethe, are we taking any of those with us?" He regretted the question as soon as he uttered it.  This was not really an Illeana call.  Of course she'd want to take the strays in.  But then, what was James doing now?

<<@Illeana [James] She's got the boat rigged to blow, if she gives a mental command.  Ditto if she goes unconscious or dead.  If you can allay her fears without triggering her, I say go for it.>>

"Holly, you with me?  Rapidemente remember?  We gotta get going."
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (14:37:34/06-11-16)
"Hi Holly, it's a pleasure," Illeana says in an upbeat tone, hoping to set the other woman at ease. "Can I get you something to eat or drink? I think we have some BerryWow! ProteinPow! bars around here somewhere, and I might be able to drum up a clean cup of water. No? Are you hurt at all? Do you need any medical attention?"

Holly is obviously confused by the maternal concerns, and by the supermodel beauty standing casually on an island in the middle of the swamp. She points her Alpha threateningly at Illeana when medical attention is suggested. "I'm fine! Just stay back!"

"Oh, please," Illeana says, rolling her eyes. Her indifference to the assault rifle just confuses Holly that much more.

<<@James Soynuts. I was going to douse her with a euphoria preparation if she went for some tea. She's a charmer. Maybe I'll try to cast when her back is turned; otherwise she'll notice for sure. Normally I could use some reagents to keep the flash down but I spent all of them on Chui here.>>

The little bowling ball of a bird seems to understand that it's being talked about, even via DNI. It bobs up and down contentedly.

Illeana casts a semi-sad look back at the hut. James knows that if she could have her way, she'd spend another month out here, initiating or doing whatever it is swamp witches do.

<<@James I can come back and visit on the astral to continue collaborating with her. It's going to cost a fortune in Shade though. ¥1,000 a pop.>> James can see the accountant that lives inside his girlfriend doing the math, trying to make it work on a traveler's budget. They had the savings, of course, but Illeana would want to use their proceeds from the obelisk to generate a steady stream of dividends and living income. At least, he was pretty sure that was the point of all those spreadsheets.

"We'll leave the behemoth babies," Illeana says remorsefully. "We'll have to come back and visit them." (If Holly didn't think Lethe was crazy before, she certainly does now.) Illeana goes over and scoops up the three babies. "Goodbye Chombo, goodbye Crusher, goodbye Allison." She cuddles them closely, then puts them back down, where they skitter about.

Illeana grabs the behemoth skin with both hands and deposits it on the airboat. The display of strength is not lost on Holly, especially as the boat bobs heavily when the behemoth skin is dropped. Luckily the airboat had been intended to carry much more product than it was loaded with, although the added weight does push it down far enough that the holes in the bottom start admitting water again.

Illeana tut tuts about the leak. She walks over to James, pinches a couple of the preparations she had given him, and activates one to create a bubble underneath across the holes.  The leaking stops.

"That will only hold for a little while. Maybe the behemoth skin is heavy enough to plug the holes. Pretty sure it's waterproof."  She bunches up a bit of the skin and tries to push it through the holes until it reaches the bubble formed by her spell, forming a cork of sorts. "We should be able to bail water out as needed."

<<@James Behemoth skin might act as a blast shield if the boat blows. She doesn't need to know that, of course. It sounds like the policy of mutually assured destruction is helping to keep the peace.>>

James asks about the product, so Illeana goes over to investigate. She grabs the key that James had pierced with his cyberspur. "My scanner only goes down to millimeter wavelengths, so I don't think it can identify what this is. What we really need is an olfactory scanner. Let's keep it for now."

She looks to James. "Shall we?"
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (10:56:44/06-13-16)
James sees the look of remorse in Illeana's eyes about the prospect of leaving, and feels guilty. Well, not guilty exactly, but at the very least the desire to accommodate if not indulge her.  She had done plenty of indulging him over the past few months, and while he wasn't eager to spend another three months as the third wheel, this trip was partly, alright mostly, for his benefit.

<<@Illeana [James] I doubt this location is burned.  If I was Sangre y Acero, I'd think that the team that made off my with cargo would be a couple hundred kilometers away by now, making contact with their own buyer.  They're probably going to spend more time examining their own infrastructure for leaks than launching a man-hunt.  Maybe we can come back once Holly is on her way?  Besides, I'd be interested in seeing how Chombo, Crusher, and Allison imprint on a human caregiver.>>

"Yeah, I think we're ready to go.  Holly, you're on the helm again.  Daylight's burning."

As the air boat lurches forward, James begins disassembling and cleaning the Alpha, then linking its Smartlink up with his own.   When the weapon is nearly assembled, he fires off another comm to Illeana.

<<@Illeana [James] I'm sorry about this.  I know it's not tactically sound.  I just encountered something during that last firefight.  Couldn't stand just leaving her out here.  I think I have a brother.">>
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (15:05:41/06-13-16)
Illeana knows that James has been taking a backseat to her magical work these months. First there was Sam's apprenticeship, making sure that he had the skills and mental disposition to survive on his own. Then there were all the other instances where Illeana had chased James out of the RV for days at a time so that she could concentrate in her magical lodge. She was doing it for him - for them - working out the secrets of the universe that might extend James' lifespan to match Illeana's. I can't ask him to spend a month in the swamp, she thinks to herself. There's nothing for him out here except communicable diseases. Plus, James had just had a minor outburst the other night in the plaza. Nothing major, but enough so that Illeana doesn't want to push him unnecessarily.

<<@James I can visit astrally, or she can visit me. This will just give me that much more motivation to summon a spirit that can create an astral gateway.>>

She sighs, perhaps daunted by the complexity of the task.

<<It isn't easy. It's mostly associated with insect spirits and shedim. I wonder if that's why the shedim love New Orleans so much. In addition to the availability of cadavers, you have the Mississippi, which is semi-Awakened, that creates an environment where crossing over from one side to the other is that much easier.>>

The mention of shedim and insects spirits makes James pause. It sounds like risky research to say the least.

<<Great Form spirits can create astral rifts too>> she says to help allay his fears that she might be dabbling in darker arts on his behalf. <<It's just that I don't know the right metamagic to invoke them. It's going to take a lot of work. Every initiation is harder than the last.>>

The boat is loaded and Holly begins to steer back in the direction of civilization. She does an impressive job of keeping one hand on the controls and one hand on her Alpha. James can see the white grip of her knuckles.

During the ride, Illeana investigates the key that James slit open. She wets her finger and dabs it into the white powder, bringing it up closer to her eyes for inspection. It looks like she's about to sniff it, or taste it.

"Is that a good idea?!" Holly shouts over the noise of the airboat fans. James sees the Alpha begin to raise slightly, causing him to tense.

"I'll be fine!" Illeana shouts back with a barely-concealed smirk. She turns her back to Holly, mostly so that she can covertly put her finger underneath her mask without the finger disappearing into the "face" of her masking spell. She sniffs the powder, then taps it with her tongue. She spits it out to avoid ingesting it.

"It's sweet!" she announces, again projecting her voice to be heard over the rushing air. James wonders if there's some sort of business smuggling sugar into the country from the Carib League? Cane sugar isn't particularly rare or valuable, is it?

"It's powder, not crystals, so it's not sugar!"  Illeana continues. It's clear that her interest is piqued.

Holly eases off the throttle suddenly. The boat starts to coast. It's much quieter without the racing wind. "Sweet, you say?" she asks. She pauses. "It might be Fight Milk. Newest rage in underground fighting arenas. Rumor is that it started in Tenochtitlan, although I've also heard Las Vegas. The fact that we have a boat full of it from somewhere down south suggests Tenochtitlan though."

James knows that various combat drugs get popular every few years - first it was Kamikaze, then it was the Blood of Kali - but he hasn't heard of Fight Milk.

"It starts with powdered milk for calcium and powdered egg for protein. I'm not making this up. Then they add Cram and Ripper."

James knows that one. "Synthetic steroids, pseudolipids, sugars, and amphetamines. It's potent."

Holly raises an eyebrow, perhaps wondering if James is a connoisseur. That might explain his temper, and his strength. "It also has a 'secret ingredient' that evidently triggers frothing at the mouth and a desire to bite."

James and Illeana exchange a look. Holly is eyeing Illeana as if she might start biting. (She might, but not for the reason that Holly thinks.)

"Then they rehydrate it with tequila or mezcal, you slam it, and away you go," Holly finishes.

"What does it retail for?" Illeana asks.

"¥200 a glass."

Everyone glances around. You're sitting on a lot of kilos that represent a lot of glasses of Fight Milk. That might explain the submarine, and the relatively competent crew of mercs hired to transport it.

"It hasn't really caught on recreationally yet, except with the thrill-kill gangers. Most of them end up dead and on the dinner table after picking a fight with a Ghoul Cab. But those that survive the night become local legends."

James thinks about the Sangre y Acero angle. "Maybe they're selling it to fund their operations. Or maybe they're using it to dose their operatives before they go on an Azzie killing spree. Or both."

Holly nods, agreeing.

"This is my stop," she announces, as the airboat drifts toward the shore. "It's been wiz and all. I'm going to dip overboard and sit on the bottom of the lake for a bit. You get half a klick away, you should be out of signal range for the grenades."

She grabs one of the packaged keys and tucks it under her arm. "My retirement-slash-start-a-new-life-fund. Peace out." James is pretty sure he hears her add "psychos" under her breath right before she flips backward over the edge of the boat. There's a splash, and then she's gone in the murk.

James takes the helm and begins piloting the boat toward Stevens, the RV.

"Chui, get me those grenades," Illeana asks. The bobbing spirit nods and emerges with a clip of HE grenades a few moments later. "Can you repurpose these or do they need to go overboard ASAP?" she asks James.

 "And then what do you want to do with all of this?" she asks, gesturing to the contraband. "I don't want to dump a potential fortune, but we don't exactly have the contacts to move this either. It's potential heat too, in case anyone comes looking. But if we manage to move it, we're that much closer to retirement."
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (17:47:37/06-14-16)
James watches the dwarf suddenly dip over the side of the air boat.  "Drek, I didn't even get the make on her internal air tank."

Illeana gives him a quizzical look.

"Ya know, Renraku Iruka, Evo I-SCUBA Elite, Proteus AG Skimmer. . . Ares Frogman."  He pulls up a readout of his internal workings to the lower right-hand corner of his vision.

<<Agent Assessment>>
<<All Systems: Operational>>
<<Ares Instigator IAT: 87%>>
<<-- Charging>>

Hmm, that seems a little low.

"I may need to run some diagnostics when we get back," James says absently.

"Can you repurpose these or do they need to go overboard ASAP?" she asks James.

James is snapped back to reality, looking at the daisy chain of explosives.  "Yeah, they're still good," he says, taking them from Illeana and turning their wireless functionality off.  "Let's put it with the others."

"And then what do you want to do with all of this?" she asks, gesturing to the contraband. "I don't want to dump a potential fortune, but we don't exactly have the contacts to move this either. It's potential heat too, in case anyone comes looking. But if we manage to move it, we're that much closer to retirement."

"I'm not to keen on getting into the drug dealing game," James says, rubbing the back of his neck.  "Maybe we should give Ohanzee a call, see how he's been getting on.  I would take a little influx of liquid assets. . . Wonder what that stuff's like?"

James training with Ares has left him with a strong distaste for combat stims.  It must have been a Firewatch, or even an Instigator, specific prohibition as Knights Errant officers dosed up with Jazz regularly as needed.  But Firewatch were the golden boys, and as such needed that wholesome image.  Or maybe the stims made Instigators less reliable, but whatever the reason they didn't put an auto-injector in him.  He had to go to his armor for that. 

Or maybe it's my own personal bias.  Could I even get faster?  Stronger sure, but faster?

Still, these past month with Illeana, living under her quickened spells, he was getting used to "help," as it were.  Just another edge.  He could always use another edge.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (18:42:47/06-14-16)
James takes the helm and continues piloting the boat while Illeana takes stock of their new drug horde.

"I estimate that there are 600 kilos here, give or take 5 percent," she says after counting the height, width, and depth of the pile before multiplying it out. The stack is about a meter wide, a meter long, and half a meter deep. "The next question is how many doses can you get out of a kilo?"

Illeana runs through her cooking knowledge and concludes that a kilo could be used to make 48 to 50 "servings" of Fight Milk, if one uses it the same way one uses powdered milk.

"That means the street value of a kilo is worth about ¥10,000. Times 600..." She raises an eyebrow at James for emphasis.

"Obviously we're not going to get street value," James says, trying to temper the nuyen signs in her eyes. "Bulk price is just going to be a fraction of that."

James reaches out to Ohanzee.

<<@James, Illeana [Ohanzee] I'm obviously not in a position to be moving large quantities of narcotics, nor providing liquid assets in exchange for said narcotics. I'm not even in the CAS right now, let alone New Orleans. Let me talk to Styles.>>

Ohanzee gets back to you sometime later after you've reached shore. Stevens, the RV, is on a dirt road not far away, engine humming while the air conditioning brings the interior temperature down do a pleasant degree.

<<@James, Illeana [Ohanzee] Styles knows a guy but Styles is in Denver. The guy Styles knows is in New Orleans, but the contact is obviously wary of unknown parties. Me vouching for you and Styles vouching for me is obviously extending the chain of trust. I'm just saying that the nuyen is going to get thinned out. Styles needs a percentage for his piece, plus I need a percentage for making introductions.>>

<<@Ohanzee, Illeana [James] So what are we looking at?>>

<<@James, Illeana [Ohanzee] Taking the tentative offer and subtracting out the percentages, it comes to ¥60,000. You confident you can provide security for the hand-off? If they sense that you're undermanned, they'll make a play for both the product and the nuyen. That's just how these people work; it's business arithmetic, not personal.>>
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (18:38:05/06-15-16)
<<@James, Illeana [Ohanzee] Taking the tentative offer and subtracting out the percentages, it comes to ¥60,000. You confident you can provide security for the hand-off? If they sense that you're undermanned, they'll make a play for both the product and the nuyen. That's just how these people work; it's business arithmetic, not personal.>>

<<@Ohanzee, Illeana [James] We're confident.  Have them ping me here.>>
<<Attachment: Commcode: XXX-XX-XXXX-X>>

James reads the number off the back of his new Renraku Sensei's clam-shell packaging, before slicing it open with his cyber spur and discarding it.  "Prepaid commcodes.  For all your drug dealing and shadowrunning needs," he says wryly, powering up the new link.

"So, what do you think?" Illeana says.

"I think we may be heading back into the swamp," James answers.  "Don't want to move anything this big in the Stuffer Shack parking lot, and I'd rather keep off their home turf from the way Ohanzee makes it sound.  Let's make them bring everybody they're going to bring with them.  Probably won't have to worry too much about divers.  I mean, what kind of idiot goes around swimming in these waters anyway," he adds smiling, trying not to think too much about Holly. 

Damn that dwarf was ballsy.  Must have ovaries on her the size of behemoth eggs.

"Right,"  Illeana says.  "I'm going to get to work on some preparations while I'm at the height of my power.  Maybe a nice big spirit too.  That should make a good show of force."

"You may want to hold off on the spirit," James answers.  "I doubt we'll be meeting before dark, and it will want to dip by then, right?"

Illeana nods in the affirmative, and they begin discussing what to do about the sunk air boat.  James tosses around the idea of just burning the SIN, as it would be more cost effective than replacing the boat, but Illeana says, "He's bound to have insurance.  Besides, we have the behemoth skin.  That should be worth something to him."

"Plus it shows we're not blowing drek up his hoop."

"Plus it shows we may not be the kind of people he wants to jerk around," Illeana adds.

James smiles and asks Stevens to pilot them to the boat rental facility.  The journey is much more pleasant in the air conditioned RV, and even Illeana seems glad to be away from the sweltering swamp and intense sun, and back in the presence of her lodge.  Stevens "happily" drives them to the backwoods shop, and James steps out and back into the late afternoon heat.

"Hoi, chummer," he says, rubbing some sweat that instantly appears on his brow.  "So, we ran into some trouble on that air boat,"

"Who the hell are you," the man snaps.

"Aarons, sir.  Jonathan Aarons,"

"That's right," the man says, absently pulling up their records from his commlink.  "Hell, son, you were supposed to be back with that air boat yesterday,"

"My sincerest apologies for the wait, sir, but we ran into some trouble."

"I bet you did."

"You see, a behemoth--"

"Alright, son, cut the crap."

"No, sir, it's no crap.  Julianne, would you mind," he calls back to the RV.  Illeana emerges, hoisting the behemoth skin behind her.

"The craft's a loss, sir, but as you can see, there's no crap to cut."
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (21:30:16/06-17-16)
Illeana drags the behemoth skin over to the portly airboat proprietor, who looks like he's been frying all of his meals ever since he was weaned.

"Well, now," he stutters. "I know that can't be a real behemoth skin because it would be far too heavy to -"

Illeana drops it in a heap. It lands with a colossal THUD, sending up a cloud of hot, orange dust from the earth. The proprietor wipes his forehead, sweating under the late afternoon sun.

"Well..." he says, stuttering. "Well..." He looks at the skin, then Illeana, then the skin again, and presumably wonders how a supermodel is able to carry that much weight.

He goes over and prods it with his foot. It doesn't even budge under the pressure. "You don't say," he says, dripping a steady stream of perspiration off his head.

"Well, yes, Mr. and, uh, Mrs. Aarons. I see that. I'd, uh, be willing to overlook the, uh, unfortunate loss in exchange for this, uh, fine hide. That would save us, uh, quite a bit of paperwork, you see, with the Department of Fish & Wildlife & Paralife."

James glances over at Illeana, who gives a barely perceptible shrug.

<<@James I already used the mono-garrote to nick off the legs. That should be enough to make you a good pair of boots, belt, gloves, maybe assless chaps. I didn't have a plan for the rest. It's probably worth a fair bit, but letting the matter drop might help us avoid some administrative hassles, especially they burn a SIN. The hide is probably worth more than the SIN, but then there's the hassle of selling the hide and acquiring a new SIN. But it might be worth ¥5,000 or ¥6,000 of profit if we're willing to risk the SIN.>>
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (12:13:17/06-21-16)
<<@Illeana [James] Agreed.  I think he can sweeten the pot a little bit for us.>>

"You come out mighty fine on that deal, eh?  Get the insurance nuyen for the boat, and this here skin'll make amends for us putting you out, which I sincerely apologize for.  And I hate to test your good nature, sir, but were put out quite a bit as well.  You see, I uh, I lost something very dear to me in those swamps, and I need to run back for it.  Tonight.  You give us an extra rental, say one of those Mitsubishi Waveskippers for the night, off the books and free of charge of course, and I think we've got us a deal."

James extends his hand, and a steady smile.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (20:02:52/06-21-16)
The man doesn't shake and leaves James' hand awkwardly hanging in midair.

"Now, son," the perspiring proprietor begins with a mildly admonishing tone,"I can't do that. See, my insurance here only covers boats at the dock and boats out on rentals. If you take a boat out without a signed rental agreement and another behemoth strikes, the good folks at Fidelity Mutual Insurance Corporation aren't going to receive my claim sympathetically, ya hear?"

<<@James FMIC. Division of Wuxing, Inc.>> Illeana comms unnecessarily. <<I put Analyze Truth on him. He's telling it straight.>>

James swallows his pride and forks over the additional ¥199 to rent the Waveskipper.

"Now if you'd be so kind as to help move the skin into my shack... I'd help except I have a condition... Doctor's orders."

<<'Doctor's orders' are bulldrek. Is bulldrek? Are bulldrek? Either way, bulldrek.>> Illeana smirks. While "Jonathan Aarons" finalizes the transaction, she scoops up the skin and drops it inside the man's small wooden hut, promptly cracking two or three floorboards underneath its weight.



It's night in the swamp. Bullfrogs croak and insects buzz. Fireflies bob and weave, looking for love.

It's 22:00, just before the appointed meeting time. Illeana has spent the last few hours summoning a terrifying spirit of fire, as well as finalizing some magical preparations. Chui the air spirit remains on call, as does the water spirit, Billy the Kid.

The fire spirit does not look pleased to be there. While respectful of Illeana's current potency, being surrounded by water is clearly making it uncomfortable. Firefly after firefly plunges into the spirit's fiery form, looking in vain for a mate.

"Fireflies. How literal," Illeana says, watching one plunge in flames into the simmering swamp water below.

Tactically, James disapproved of having the large fire spirit shine like a beacon, but from a practical standpoint it served as a waypoint for their guests. Illeana assured James that she would pick up any threat within 250 meters via her magic, which would be more than enough advance notice.

Illeana waits in her unadulterated form: long black coat, black gloves, black ballistic mask with a white Wiccan symbol carved on the face. Her sword was out and resting over her shoulders as she scanned the swamp for signs of danger.

There's a hum in the distance. Illeana's vampiric hearing picks it out first; the audio enhancers in James' ballistic mask identify it moments later. It sounds like airboats approaching at low speed.

"Not hostile," Illeana announces. "Not yet, anyway."

With one hand on her sword, Illeana flips a throwing knife around with the other.

"If drek goes sideways, dive in the water and Billy will drag us off. Remember, I have the buoyancy of a stone, so I can't keep pace with you in the water. We don't need this; this is all frosting."
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (11:28:27/06-22-16)
"If drek goes sideways, dive in the water and Billy will drag us off. Remember, I have the buoyancy of a stone, so I can't keep pace with you in the water. We don't need this; this is all frosting."

She's right, they don't need it, and even if they did James can think of a number high enough to lose Illeana over.  But she's also full of bulldrek herself, just like the old hard-ass at the boat rental.  She couldn't keep up with him in the water, sure, but he could stay conscious for hours at the bottom of the swamp.  She'd go dormant in a matter of minutes.  But how many minutes?  She'd told him once, but he didn't know if her improved powers would affect that at all. 

"Have Billy drag you off first.  I'll catch up at the Waveskipper, and we'll be gone.  Our little two-seater will be able to go places a larger boat can't follow."

James tilts his head from side to side, some long-lost habit for cracking his neck from before his neck was uncrackable synthetic polymers and titanium mesh.  He lets the Ares Alpha hang in its sling while he reaches down and powers on the Satellite Link, then double-checks his new burner comm, and sets it on the control panel of the air boat. 

Vision is a problem.  The fire spirit works great for letting the prospective buyers know where they are and how to get to them, but it also makes the black of the swamp even blacker, makes the prospective buyer's movements that much harder to discern.  He switches to thermo, but the waves of heat coming off of the spirit continue to plague his long-range sight. 

The boat approaches, and James can hear water lapping against its hull.  They're almost in view now.  "Hoi."
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (00:37:45/06-27-16)
Noisy Waveskimmers approach. They circle a larger, slower boat that - from a distance, looks more like a mini-barge, or a party boat. The Waveskimmers make no effort of being stealthy. Even with the swampy nighttime temperatures, James can easily pick out their thermographic signatures at a distance. He sees them bouncing over each others' wakes, reminding him somewhat of dolphins. They seem more playful than professional. A go-gang, perhaps? Or is their lack of stealth a show of intimidation: they'll announce their presence, even amid the prospect of ambush?

"Ah, slitch," Illeana groans. James shoots her a look.

<<@James The good news is that we probably don't have any fear of being hacked. The bad news is that they're all possessed, likely loa.>>

James recognizes the term from one of Illeana's interminable lectures that she had given while they approached New Orleans from the southwest.

"Vodou approaches conjuring differently than most traditions," she had said. "Their spirits are called loa. They are not servants but rather gods to be pleased. Voudon conjurers summon spirits not so that the spirits may serve them but rather so that they may serve the spirits. They do so by handing over control of their bodies to the loa, who use the bodies to explore the world. It's part of the reason behind the Bacchanalia of New Orleans." James didn't remember the rest, but he was familiar with possession due to his time with Firewatch and his work with insect spirits. The spirits would make their vessels strong and durable. A possessed man might lose his arm but keep coming at you, as he was just a shell for the spirit.

James opens his mouth to speak but realizes that DNI is faster and that there's not much time before the guests arrive. <<@Illeana But don't possessed vessels only use the spirit's skills? Spirits can't pilot Waveskippers.>>

"Task spirits," Illeana hisses under her breath before switching back to DNI. <<@James They have task spirits piloting the boats. The others are guardian spirits and are potent fighters. The one in the middle is a monster. Their guns won't just be for show. The task spirits are tricky, and will fight by tripping you up, or holding you down. And even if they can't get to you, there's enough of them that they can tear me apart on the astral.>> She gulps audibly.

The approaching men and women are all a deep shade of black, either Jamaican or West African, many of them with long dreadlocks. The man in the middle is either a huge human or an ork. He sits imperiously on a throne on the party boat, dressed looking like the Baron Samedi: purple top hat, white luminescent skull painted on his face, wearing what looks like a jet black tuxedo with the arms ripped off. He has a cane in one hand and a cigar in the other. He raises his hands slightly; all the engines cut off simultaneously. They begin to coast toward your position.

<<@James The man in the middle is likely the houngan. It occurs to me that if he is sufficiently powerful to conjure all these spirits then he is likely strong enough to counterspell my spells of detection.>>

That means that their early-warning defenses may be down. James suddenly feels a lot less comfortable. <<@Illeana Would you know?>>

Illeana flinches, and James can tell that she's suppressing her inner lecturer. <<@James Short answer, no.>>

Drek, James thinks, but he manages to raise his hand and say "Hoi" instead.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (01:38:35/06-28-16)
The houngan raises his hand with a cigar in it. He points his fingers toward the packaged product, then turns his palm up and lifts. Illeana takes a kilo and tosses it to him. It stops in midair in front of him. He considers it, the kilo rotating gently as if it were in zero gravity.

James tries to piece together the behavior of the Voudon, but it's beyond him. There are no facial expressions to judge. Their body language could be interpreted as anything. None of them speak, so there are no vocal cues or words to evaluate.

The man gestures and the kilo drops into the bottom of his boat.

<<@James [Illeana] I feel... fuzzy. I don't think it's background count. I think he's jamming the mana around me. He's not actively dispelling our spells, but it's like noise in the Matrix. Could just be defensive or it could be a test.>>

The man raises both hands and repeats the gesture. It seems he wants the rest of the product. Illeana holds her own hand out, indicating her expectation for payment. The skull-faced houngan turns his chin ever-so-slightly. It's a mysterious gesture that could indicate anything from curiosity to him shaking his head "no".

<<I'm going to risk a bluff, same as I did with the witch.>>

James feels Illeana tense. Her black form seems to flare imperceptibly, almost like her shamanic mask. It's as if all her power in the astral is bleeding over to the physical realm.

The houngan visibly leans back. He holds his hands up, palms out, to concede. He slowly reaches with one hand - almost like someone afraid of being gunned down - into his tuxedo coat. He pulls a credstick out of a pocket on his tuxedo vest, then levitates is slowly over to James. He taps it onto the credstick reader of his commlink.

>> Merci d'utiliser Expo Banque Nationale
>> Solde créditeur: 1,200,000 doubloons

<<@Illeana [James] Quick, what's the nuyen-doubloon exchange rate?>>

<<@James [Illeana] Are you kidding me? Oh perps. 22 to 1?>>

That would suggest that the amount was not the agreed-upon ¥60,000. James decides to double check. It takes longer because of the slow uplink on the satellite, but after a minute he finds the correct answer of 20:1. The amount is what was expected. James nods.

Illeana lifts her hands and the kilos start to rise. She fires them off one-by-one. They fly quickly, almost as if they had been shot out of an air cannon, but the houngan has no trouble catching them magically and stacking them like bricks in his boat. After three or four minutes, the process is complete.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (11:46:44/06-28-16)
James greeting goes unanswered.  From the approach, the large barge that looks more suited for weekend parties than late night drug smuggling, and what little he knows about voudou, James would imagine loud whoops and other decadent posturing.  Instead, the engines cut out, and even the swamp life falls silent. 

<<@James [Illeana] I feel... fuzzy. I don't think it's background count. I think he's jamming the mana around me. He's not actively dispelling our spells, but it's like noise in the Matrix. Could just be defensive or it could be a test.>>

This new information is dangerous.  They're being sized up, prodded for weaknesses, and they're prods that the pair can't easily answer.  They're on their back feet now, playing defense.  But a good defense here will mean no defense is needed later.  Hopefully.  James remains impassive, both inwardly and outwardly.  He isn't going to let the doubts claim him now, not like out with the smugglers when he got too far into his own head to operate at peak performance.  Even now he doesn't let the inhabiting spirits bother him.  If they're housed in flesh, I can kill that flesh.

<<@Illeana [James] Then we'd better pass.>>

The man in the top hat with the skull face paint motions for a sample of the product, and Illeana fires one off at him like a grenade from an Ares Alpha.  Satisfied with the quality, he motions for more, and for a moment there's a brief standoff: Illeana refusing to hand over the rest of the shipment without payment, and the houngan unsure they're worth paying.

<<I'm going to risk a bluff, same as I did with the witch.>>

<<You can do it.  I'm right here with you.>>

Illeana's display is enough to give the man pause, and send the credstick over to James.  He adjusts his three-point sling to grab the credstick out of the air and tap it to his link.  Doubloons?  Seriously?  While he's anything but, James manufactures an exasperated sigh as he checks on the exchange rate, and nods to Illeana.

As she begins firing the kilos of Fight Milk over to the party barge, James takes his place at the helm of the air boat, his back to the controls, as he keeps his eyes on the seven dark forms.  As soon as the last is up, he elbows the throttle slightly, and the air boat begins its egress, 600 kilos lighter.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (01:19:00/06-30-16)
James steers the airboat south, toward the hidden Waveskipper. Behind him, the Voudon turn and head to the west, rocketing off with hoops and hollers.

"I still don't feel good..." Illeana says, casting a glance over her shoulder at the houngan. James looks too. The houngan is still sitting imperiously on his throne but doesn't seem to be paying you the least bit of attention.

"My sword..." she says, trailing off. She holds it in front of her, with a befuddled expression on her face.

The sword drops, clattering in the empty bottom of the boat. James releases the throttle, alarmed. Illeana pitches forward, landing on all fours like she's about to heave up her dinner.

James rushes over to check on her. He bends down next to her, a hand placed gently on her back. Behind him, the fire spirit flickers suspiciously, as if it had been suddenly dimmed.

"The bayou!" Illeana croaks from behind her mask. "It's Awakened!"

James isn't entirely certain what this means, but he can hear the alarm in her voice.

"It's a mana surge!" she finally blurts, after gagging on her first attempts to speak.

James stands, ready to hit the throttle and high-tail it back to land as quickly as possible. Illeana looks up at him, then gasps, "Get down!"

Before he can process her warning, she lurches up and tackles him. He lands on his back, Illeana covering him, as the unmistakable whistle of a high-velocity rifle round whips by overhead.

The signal has been given. The swamp erupts in automatic gunfire, the air crackling with multiple shooters all laying down suppressive fire. There are deep booms suggesting at least one of the shooters is using a fully automatic shotgun.

The airboat is not durable. James knows it's just a matter of seconds before it's completely riddled with bullets, after which it won't provide cover any longer. "Into the water!" he shouts over the din of gunfire.

"No!" Illeana insists, keeping him pinned with what strength she can muster. "Billy the Kid... he's gone!" James doesn't understand. "The mana surge!" she explains.

There's a steady rain of shrapnel landing in the airboat. Looking over, James sees that it is not pieces of the boat hull; rather, it is flechette ammo and shotgun pellets pinging around. It's a curious choice of ammo, as these rounds usually just flatten themselves against body armor. What they are good for is creating suppressive fire -

"That's impossible to dodge," James says out loud, gritting his teeth. Someone knows about his performance from earlier today, and someone isn't interesting in allowing him to repeat it.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (10:44:41/06-30-16)
"No!" Illeana insists, keeping him pinned with what strength she can muster. "Billy the Kid... he's gone!" James doesn't understand. "The mana surge!" she explains.

<<The air boat isn't safe.  If it were me, I'd drop a grenade on us right about now.>>

James switches the area jammer on in case the new arrivals -- who says they're new?! -- have brought a decker with them.  Mentally, he opens the throttle up on the air boat, and it lurches forward, toward what James isn't quite sure, but the path looked clear last he had his head up.

<<We need to get in the water.  You might lose consciousness, but you're not going to lose me.>>

James tries to count gunmen as the bullets continue ripping into the air boat.  If James was sympathetic to the Sangre y Acero before that's passed.  Even now, on his belly, and fighting for some line of thought through this thing that ends with Illeana and him in one piece, he's already plotting restitution.  Not murder, he reminds himself.  War.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (00:40:28/07-05-16)
James and Illeana both spend a second to get their bearings, which is difficult given the symphony of suppressive fire enveloping them. James pegs the shooters as coming from the south.

After turning on his jammer, James sends a command to the airboat to turn east. Flechettes continue to bounce off the fan and its blades, raining down on Illeana's back in a steady hail.

"Can you pinpoint the shooters?!" James shouts over the din. He can't see her facial expression, but behind the mask she's squinting and concentrating. It's agonizing - like the worst migraine in the world, triggering flooding waves of nausea - but Illeana successfully slaps some crude AROs in the approximate directions of the shooters, all between 4 o'clock and 8 o'clock on the dial.

Four AROs pop up, then five, then eight. James realizes that there's a disparity between how many people are shooting and how many are out there. The others must be advancing, or flanking, or encircling, or waiting to continue the suppressive fire while the first shooters reload. There will be no relief, no second or two break where they'll be able to fling themselves overboard.

The boat moves slowly. Each second is agonizing, as James is sure that a grenade will land on them any second. Bracing herself for the effort, Illeana sends a command to her fire spirit: Fill the hearts of my enemies with fear.

Ssso it ssshall be, the spirit hisses back.

James sees the fiery spirit fly overhead, heading south with a look of blazing anger. Almost immediately, the sound of the automatic shotgun falls off, but the other three automatic weapons continue their fusillades.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (11:23:45/07-11-16)
James sees the hastily put up AROs on his vision, with blinking ones in the corner to his left.  He pans over, and counts.  Eight!?  Fragging eight of these fraggers!  Oh, Hecate.  He readies and aims his Alpha through the hull of the air boat and beads in on one of the AROs in the four o'clock position and lets loose with a six round burst.  He focuses his fire as best he can, can't have the air boat taking too much of the brunt of his attack, but the boat lilts against a wave and instead of one clean hole through, James leaves two smaller ones.  Whether or not the shooting has the intended effect James isn't sure, but it does escalate the situation.  A moment later James sees a crackle of magical energy as a grenade explodes just behind the air boat.  Illeana must have used one of her preparations, weakened though it is, and while the grenade doesn't phase James he is acutely aware that with all the chaos of the shooting and returning fire, he won't be able to hear the unmistakable thump of a grenade launcher.

"No," he says aloud to no one in particular, and he stands and takes the helm of the air boat, juking it powerfully to the port side.  He pilots the craft away from the LMG fire, but takes a slew of flechette across his back and thighs as he does so.  The armor holds, but the force of the shot takes the wind out of him.  James mentally gives the command to his auto-injector to release a stim patch, and he pushes forward on the throttle again, turning back starboard to make use of some cover from a nearby tree and try to avoid more from the automatic shotgun. 
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (01:00:04/07-15-16)
Somewhere behind the airboat, Illeana's fiery will-o'-the-wisp advances menacingly. Men and women scream sequentially under its gaze, throwing themselves to the mercy of the swamp to avoid whatever horrible fate the spirit threatens. A lone sniper rains down gunfire on the wisp, connecting at least three times. The wisp slows but does not stop, fulfilling its master's command to put fear in the hearts of her enemies.



On boat, James feels a rush of stimulants from his auto-injector, wiping away the battered feeling from the flechette rounds across his back and thighs. Refreshed, James is alert to a new danger. The voice of Illeana, diminished but still present in his mind, manages a meek whisper: Slalom left.

James does so, and a grenade explodes where his head would have been a moment before. Alarmed, James spins to get a sense of who or what are firing at him. He spies two thermographic silhouettes, one clearly a troll with a machine gun, and the other a particularly short ork. An adolescent? Perhaps, but with the muscling of an adult. Augmented, certainly, but by what?

Illeana is on her hands on knees on the bottom of the boat, trying not to wretch. The flood of magic is overwhelming. Her stolen Essence has been channeled into her own magical prowess, only to have it undercut by the mana storm emanating off the river. She is the worst sort of seasick, with a throbbing migraine to match.

She doesn't know how she's aware of it, but she is: James is about to be shot. Divination? The garbled murmus in her mind that tell her something horrible is about to happen? She knows there is danger, but instead of fleeing she must go toward it.

She springs up with inhuman strength and launches herself forward, wrapping her arms around James before he can fire. "Get down!" she yells unhelpfully, trying to tackle him prone.

Before she can, her back is stitched with a half dozen flechette rounds. James hears a sharp inhales right next to his ear, then her arms go slack as she slides down his front into a heap on the bottom of the boat. Glancing down, he sees dozens of needles protruding from her lined coat. The fact that he can see them means that they did not penetrate the armor. That was good: she would recover quickly. Unless she took some needles to the back of the head... he thinks.

Maybe she wouldn't be getting up after all.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (12:30:10/07-15-16)
Illeana falls in a slump at James feet, and he angrily lets loose with the majority of what's left in his Alpha.  At this range he can't see the effects of his shooting, but he's fairly confident at least some of the lead hit the troll with the LMG, though he stays standing and returns fire.  In his rage James doesn't move an inch, as burst after burst of flechettes bore into him, and knock him backward against the control panel.  His mind reels, and for a moment he's unsure if the rounds have pierced his armor or not.

There's no winning in a stand up fight here.  James knows it.

"Are you ok?" he screams down to Illeana above the sound of the air boat's fan, and clutching his chest and brushing slivers of steel free from his jacket.  Before the troll can bead down on him again, James drops the Alpha and turns back to the control panel of the boat, just in time to avoid careening into the island he'd been piloting toward.  He skirts the boat along the north side of it, and takes a north, north-easterly approach, breaking line of sight with the troll.  For a moment there's silence, and Illeana is next to him again, hugging him close as if to shield him from further damage.  I love you too, he thinks, but I gotta get us out of here.

In the brief respite, James sends a command to his ballistic mask to focus on the higher pitch of jet ski engines, and keeps an ear out for pursuit.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (13:55:00/07-16-16)
Illeana is on her feet in mere seconds. "I'm fine!" she shouts, draped over James. "It's just bullets!"

With a 96kph wind in his ears - and his hearing tuned to the pitch of Waveskippers - James is unsure if Illeana's tone is humorous or factual.

James is beat up and knows it. His adrenaline is flowing, his blood is rushing with the stimulants of the patch he just injected, and he suddenly realizes that he is sweating profusely. It's 22:00 and midsummer in the swamp, which means it must still be at least 30 C. The strong wind is helping but the insulation of his Globetrotter jacket is making him feel like an Aztechnology Eazy-Bake oven.

Illeana casts a glance over her shoulder in the direction of her spirit. She hesitates for a second, debating the advantage of keeping the damage fire spirit around for a few more moments versus conjuring a new spirit for a different purpose: escape. After a moment, she decides that she's comfortable with their head start. She issues an astral command:

Will, go. You have served admirably in harsh conditions.

Released from service, "Will" vanishes into the metaplanes an instant before a three-round burst cuts through the air where it just was.

Illeana fights against the mana surge, concentrating on a new spirit. She needs a swamp spirit, bigger than Bayou Billy or Billy the Kid. She ends up with Billy el Cid, although its Lordship is looking a little diminished by its environment.

El Cid, I need you to hasten our escape, Illeana pleads. Hide us and let no accidents come to pass. Bend the weather to your will, and provide us with a blanket of cool fog for our comfort and concealment.

James is vaguely aware of a shifting in magical energies. The effect becomes more pronounced when the airboat begins to accelerate without him, with logs and stumps seeming to jump out the way on their own volition.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (14:42:37/07-18-16)
James continues on his north, north-easterly coast with the air boat gliding along at a supernatural speed.  By drowning out his own engine, James can hear the faint hums of some different vehicles in pursuit, but they continually recede into the background as the pair makes progress.  James isn't feeling out of the woods yet, though, and substitutes his mostly spent magazine for a fresh one in the event of another attack. . . or the chance of driving directly into another ambush. 

The seconds drone on into minutes without another shot fired, and James has the opportunity to replay the night's attack in his head.  The voudon never attacked, never pursued, but this second group moved, and shot, and even took blows as if they had some mighty mojo on their side.

"They were all possessed, weren't they," he asks.

"I don't know," Illeana confesses.  "I never saw them."  The way her voice lilts at the last sentence makes James wince. 

"Are you feeling better?" he asks, but she can only shake her masked head.  Does she feel like she failed me?  Us?  We wouldn't still be here if not for her  James reaches out and squeezes her hand.  "You did good.  You did real good."

"So what next?" Illeana asks.

"Hold on, what first?  What the drek was that with the mana surge?"

"Wrong place wrong time."

"But a geomancer could do that, right?  I mean, they have ritual and stuff where they can aspect mana to their own tradition, in this case voudon, and effectively weaken anyone who uses mana differently."

There's a brief pause and Illeana cocks her head.  He can't tell if she's proud of him for sitting through her insufferable lectures, or if she thinks that his theory is total batshit. 

"Possible," she says, "but anyone who could do that, who could do this," she emphasizes her present state, "could wipe our hoops all over the place in a million different ways."

"Unless they're predominantly geomancers."

"Unless."

"Ok, tabling that, what about these chummers' tactics?  Flechette ammo, non-lethal grenades.  It seems like they weren't as interested in geeking us so much as taking us out of the fight.  Reducing your mojo goes a long way toward that."

James shakes his head forcefully.  He's become so familiar with his increased capabilities under Illeana's spells that it feels like his head is working through a fog.  Illeana reminds him that the sniper wasn't using any less-than-lethal means on her spirit, and James counters that she, or he, could have easily switched out magazines against a spirit.

"So, where are you going with this?" Illeana asks.

"They've got our Waveskipper.  That means they've got the rental place.  If it were me, and I was really interested in having a conversation with us, I'd be out there first thing in the morning.  And I'd get what I was looking for."

"This is nothing new," Illeana counters, and for a moment the flow of the conversation is lost while James takes a sharp turn port side, narrowly avoiding a felled tree.

"The question is, are we done with Louisiana?" James asks.  "You're right that this is nothing new, but in the past whenever the heat came down, we moved on.  If we're going to be here for awhile, we're going to need to take the offensive.  'Men should be either treated generously or destroyed, because they take revenge for slight injuries - for heavy ones they cannot.'  I think Machiavelli said that.  And then there's Damien Knight who said, 'Pacification should be pronounced, complete, and timely, for governance shall be judged in honey and wine once the host has quit the field.'"

Illeana says, "So we either, 'suffer / The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune / Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, / And by opposing end them.'"

"I love you," James says, smiling beneath is ballistic mask, which has continued to increasingly more uncomfortable.

"You know," Illeana say, "they may not have wanted to kill us just so they could interrogate us and see how you got intel on their meet."

Soon the coastline is visible through the black, and the pair makes plans for their air boat.  After a few possibilities are discussed they decide to give its auto-pilot directions to a fairly enclosed copse of trees so that they can return for it later.  A few minutes later, matrix connectivity returns, and James gives instructions for Stevens to pick them up on a stretch of highway near their approach.  He's in rough shape by the time they jump out of the air boat and into the marshy shoreline. 

When they enter the RV, trailing mud and muck, a few spare flechettes still embedded in their armor, James begins undressing before the door closes behind him.  "If we're going to do this, with the boat rental guy," James says shedding his ballistic mask, and collapsing into the couch, "you're gonna need to hit me with a patch here in a few hours.  And when this thing wears off here in," he checks his clock, "Oh three minutes ago, it's gonna hit me pretty h--"
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (19:47:02/07-23-16)
Illeana feels as bad as she can remember feeling. Of course, she can only remember about five months, but she desperately hopes that she doesn't feel like this every five months, or even every five years.

What's the nearest equivalent? she thinks, bent over on all fours, on the verge of retching. Childbirth? Not that I would know. Or would I?

She has the body of a 23-year-old but the mind of someone much older. It was not impossible that she had a child before her conversion. What a strange thought! Especially now, in the midst of overwhelming waves of -

She yanks off her mask just in time to throw up over the side of the boat. Purge complete, she lays on her back, her head lolling about, desperate for the mana surge to release her. James says something, she says something back, then the cycle repeats a few times. Maybe she will later remember what was said, maybe not.

The boat reaches shore. James scoops her up and triggers his hydraulic jacks to jump to solid ground. Suddenly, it's as if the iron bands of nausea that were tightening around her have finally snapped. Illeana takes a deep breath as relief washes over her. The sensation is so sweet that she concentrates on it, using it to push away any memory of the mana storm.

Before she knows it, James has carried her to Stevens. The house drones immediately set to work on the trail of mud of flechette fragments that James has brought inside.

"Welcome home, sir, ma'am," the English butler says. "I have taken the liberty of preparing tea and toast."  James looks over and sees two slices of toast with butter and jam along with a cup of golden tea. What inspired Stevens to prepare it for a late-night snack in the swamp is somewhat of a mystery, but it's very comforting.

James is already undressing before the door closes behind him.  "If we're going to do this, with the boat rental guy," James says shedding his ballistic mask, and collapsing into the couch, "you're gonna need to hit me with a patch here in a few hours.  And when this thing wears off here in," he checks his clock, "Oh three minutes ago, it's gonna hit me pretty h--"

Illeana exhales. The fact that she is feeling great just as James is feeling rotten is either ironic or reasonably convenient from a standpoint of survival. "Stevens, plot a course for Jacksonville."

"If I may trouble you for clarification, ma'am, there are cities named Jacksonville in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas. Those are the available options in the Confederation of American States. In the United Canadian and American States, there are Jacksonvilles in Illinois, Missouri, and Ohio."

"Florida."

"Certainly, ma'am. With current traffic conditions we should be there in seven hours."

"Stevens, let's avoid the main road. Skip Highway 10. Let's use CAS-90."

"Yes, ma'am. New estimate, twelve hours, eleven minutes."

"Excellent. Don't wake us up until we get there."

Now it's Illeana's turn to scoop up James in her arms. She drags him off to the bathroom, where she starts the shower. She peels off his armor, which is stuck to him like a wetsuit, and discovers that he's been sweating profusely for the last hour.

"This chameleon suit," she grunts, momentarily regretting her heightened sense of smell, "really seals in the flavor." With one final effort, the armor lurches off and clatters in a heap at the bottom of the shower, where it promptly tries to blend in with the tile floor. The water cascading down on it helps defeat the effect. Illeana sighs and strips so that she can soap off James and rinse out the putrid taste of half-digested blood in her mouth.

She sits on the tile, cradling James in front of her and enjoying the warm water cascading over them. "I think Sam called Jacksonville 'Old Jack City' once," she says aloud, mostly to herself. "I wonder what they are all up -"

And like that, they are both asleep, turning into pink raisins in the steamy sauna that is Stevens' bathroom, which is still somehow less humid than the summer swamp outside.



End Chapter II
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (02:32:46/07-24-16)
Chapter III

12:02 PM Tuesday, September 3rd, 2075 - Route 2 between Annapolis and Baltimore, UCAS

James is cornered and he knows it. His adversary is crafty, persistent, and devastatingly beautiful.

"Here's what we spent last month," Illeana says, manipulating an ARO hovering over the dinette table in the back of the RV. As usual, it's covered in tea and toast, a habit of Stevens' that James can't seem to break him ('him'?) of. James estimates that this is the seventy-fifth consecutive meal to include tea and toast. He would point out how much they're spending on bread but Illeana is baking it all from scratch. She somehow used her position as a significant shareholder in Wind River Corporation to acquire a significant quantity of Sioux hard red spring wheat that had just been harvested in August. Naturally - naturally - his vampire girlfriend had ground the wheat into flour herself and been baking regularly, despite the August heat. This kept Stevens in a steady supply of bread, which Stevens eagerly had the drones turn into toast three times a day without fail. The only thing that changed was the jam. Today it was North Carolina Sandhills Peach Jam.

"As you can see here, our monthly budget is ¥4,500. We can go up to ¥5,000 occasionally without jeopardizing our long-term fiscal health, but we shouldn't make a habit of it. Let's go through this line by line. In August, we spent ¥745 on campground fees, ¥8 on RV club dues and campground memberships, ¥135 on RV insurance, ¥54 on hook-up fees and propane costs..."

James is trapped. This stretch of road is straight and well-supported by GridGuide. James has no excuse to go drive the Winnebago himself, and even if he did it might not save him. He activates his select sound filters to search for something, anything that will get him out of this financial review. A knock in the engine, a woman screaming for help, a dragon attack, anything.

"These rows cover our commlink subscriptions, fuel costs, as well as what we contributed to our general maintenance fund for Stevens..."

Illeana had emerged from the swamp more powerful than when she went in. James knew it didn't work that way, but it was as if some of the mana had clung to her. Her spells were stronger, her preparations more potent, her spirits more reliable, but for all that she still couldn't tell when James' aura was bored to the point of desperation.

"Food costs were only ¥582! Really, once we tied into that network of embalmers our food costs dropped significantly. They were just going to throw it out anyway, so ¥50 here and there along with a charming smile and the occasional mental manipulation buys me a week of meals. It's now cheaper to feed me than it is you, if you can believe that."

James thought about just telling her. It would hurt her, no doubt, but save him hours of grief every month. Still, it was clear that this was important to her, and it might be the price of admission to sleeping with an incredibly attractive woman whose stamina put his own augmented endurance to shame. Plus she had those special preparations, the ones that took everything up one more notch. If James was redlining at 11 already, then Illeana could take him up to 12. Maybe that was worth sitting through monthly, quarter, and annual fiscal reports...

Their commlinks buzz simultaneously.

<<@Ace, Katsina [Doc] Howdy, folks. Just checking in. If you find yourselves in the Baltimore area, look me up. I've been doing a stint at the Johns Hopkins Institute of Health. I have some research on our 'shared condition' that might interest you, Ace.>>

Thank Hecate, James thinks, grateful for the lifeline. But then he pauses for a moment and wonders what sort of help Hecate actually just delivered.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (01:59:17/07-26-16)
<<@Doc, Katsina [Ace] We're less than an hour out from Baltimore right now. Where should we meet?>>

<<@Ace, Katsina [Doc] Meet me on the Waterfront Promenade, on the north side of the harbor. Park on the south side and take the water taxi across to make sure you're not being followed. I'll walk down from the hospital and we'll get some lunch. Or, at least Ace and I will. It's AAA so wear your nice clothes, use your good SINs, and don't pack anything too obvious.>>

James and Katsina exchange a look. They give new directions to Stevens and then retire to the bathroom and bedroom to freshen up and change clothes. James makes sure his facial hair is in order and then puts on his Rapid Transit suit. Illeana puts on her Argentum Coat but debates whether it looks too heavy for the weather. Yesterday was Labor Day and, right on cue, the weather has already started to drift toward autumn, but a long coat might still look out of place. Illeana settles on her form-fitting body armor, over which she puts on some regular clothes and casts Fashion to turn them into a fashionable cut of her own design. Leaving behind her sword and throwing knives, she slaps a Victorinox Memory Dagger around her wrist as a bracelet and then a Victorinox Memory Sword around her waist as a belt.

Following Doc's directions, the pair find parking and then step out onto a water taxi, ensuring that they are not being followed or drawing undue attention. The sun is out but not hot, and the wind on the harbor actually makes the transit cool. It's the first time they've been on a boat since the swamp; James finds his muscles flexing with each skip of the water taxi on the waves as he listens for suppressive fire. Illeana keeps an uncertain eye on the harbor, both wary of falling overboard as well as wondering if the harbor might Awaken at any moment.

The transit is uneventful. Stepping off on the other side, they find themselves on a brick-paved promenade favored by rich corpers and the families of rich corpers. There are high-rise condos all along the waterfront . As promised, the security presence is liberal. Illeana uses her best SIN.

"Ares Arms - the military hardware subsidiary of Ares Macrotechnology - is headquartered in Baltimore," James says as he stiffens around all the Ares corporate personnel. Has he wandered into the lion's den by being here?

Illeana walks at a professional arm's length from James. "I'm Saeder-Krupp right now," she says under her breath, knowing his cyberears will pick it up. "Act accordingly."

They see Doc waiting by a seafood shack that has been intentionally modeled to look charming and rustic even though it's state-of-the-art and quite expensive. Doc, not much of an actor, has to suppress a smile when he sees them. He takes on an air of formality, although it is clear that he would try for a hug under other circumstances.

Doc is wearing a white lab coat, which looks out-of-place among the suits but still commands respect. "I am pleased that you could make it on short notice," he says, extending a hand for handshakes. James notes that Doc's obvious cyberhand is under a glove, perhaps in deference to their surroundings. He turns to the shack and its menu. "I can recommend the crab cakes and the soft shell crab sandwich."

The orders are placed and the food is received. Doc orders a beer, perhaps because it is traditional with crab or perhaps because the nanites insist. James is also heavily tempted by the expensive beer options, so he orders one as well. Drinking it with the crab under the midday sun alongside the water is exceptionally pleasant and activates all the reward centers in James' brain.

"Doctor," James says, erring on the side of formality, "is this a good time to talk?" James eyes flick around their surroundings.

"Yes, I believe this is one of the most private public spaces you will find," Doc answers. "Security keeps a tight lid on things, and most people here are too self-important to pay attention to what others might be saying or doing."

Indeed, a good percentage of the promenade seems to be filled with trophy wives with trophy bodies who are jogging in their Vashon Island athletic attire. The number of eavesdroppers and snoops appears to be zero, and Katsina can naturally keep a lookout on the astral.

"Johns Hopkins?" Illeana asks as the men finish their lunches.

"Yes, it is complex," Doc responds. "We went south after our initial parting. After visiting Fun City, we went to the Caribbean League, which is where the Johns Hopkins Institute of Health is currently headquartered. (The University lost its university status back in the 50s, after which they renamed themselves and relocated their headquarters.) They were doing relevant research and I slipped into the system. Let us just say that their security protocols were less-than-adequate." He taps his cyberarm coyly.

"Really?" James asks. "Even with all the patient data?"

"As I said, it is complex," Doc responds.

Illeana gets it. "The Institute of Health was a holding of Hestaby's," she says. "But Hestaby lost her hoard after falling out with the other Great Dragons. Last year Lowfyr put enough financial pressure on the Institute that it collapsed, then Saeder-Krupp swept in and gobbled up the remaining assets."

Doc makes a pistol with his hand and shoots Katsina. "Correct. Between the depleted personnel ranks and the fragmented security protocols associated with a hostile takeover, it was not difficult to insert myself. While the University is gone, a research hospital remains in Baltimore. Although my formal medical training is only the equivalent of an intern, I learn quickly and can forge any credentials or certifications that are necessary. I will say that it is convenient that you have come with a Saeder-Krupp SIN. If we are confronted, I am reporting to you, Miss Anghelescu."

Illeana nods and steps into the role. "Report," she says crisply.

"None of this is public yet," Doc begins, "nor formally vetted by peer review. As you know, there appears to be an infectious strain of nanites that makes adjustments to the pre-frontal cortex of its host. Sample sizes are limited. Occasionally the changes are inconsequential, occasionally they are dramatic."

"Chino," Illeana says, her thoughts drifting to the man-child.

"Yes, he is at the Institute presently, playing AR games with the nurses," Doc nods. "His maturity level has continued to regress, but he has proven to be a valuable test subject. He is highly cooperative if he is properly persuaded with the appropriate junk food." He looks to James. "Have you noticed any cognitive dissonance?"

James shakes his head - or is it the nanites shaking his head? Doc looks to Illeana out of the corner of his eye to confirm. She also shakes her head to indicate that James has been acting normal.

"Victims of HMHVV - all strains - have proven immune," Doc says, not looking Illeana in the eye. "As for metahumans, the effects appear to be dependent upon the source of the nanites. The nanites replicate themselves into competing strains. A strain of nanites from a nanoforge that produced consumer goods might be more adaptable to the metahuman condition than a strain of nanites that were originally used in a mining capacity, for example."

"You knew Chino long before you knew us," James says. "Why is his case so much different than ours? After all, odds are good that we are all your 'children'."

Doc nods. It's clear that he has had the same thought and has spent quite a bit of time with it. "I do not know," he says, bowing his head. "I wish that I did. It is a pressing question. If I can uncover the divergence, it may help to chart a course of recovery, or even prevention."

Illeana can see Doc's aura and knows that this is a sensitive subject. She redirects the conversation. "You implied that the strains also infect industrial equipment. Does that mean that metahumans are not the only ones affected?"

Doc nods. "That is a troubling but unproven implication, correct. In early March last year, five Yamatetsu Nautical Technologies aircraft fell apart in mid-flight. In June last year, Amazonia experienced a five-day streak of spontaneous mid-flight structural failures in its aircraft. On July 28 last year, buildings in Bogotá built by Central Industrial spontaneously collapsed. The connection between all these is that the aircraft and buildings in question were all produced by state-of-the-art nanoforges." He glances about and lowers his voice. "There have even been unsubstantiated rumors of catestrophic failures in some local production lines of Ares Arms. If you uncover anything during your stay, please let me know."

James shifts uncomfortably. "Does this mean I have to worry about my equipment?" Then, with growing alarm, "Or my body?"

"Yes," Doc says matter-of-factly. "The newer it is, the greater the risk of failure. You should be attuned to unexpected changes in performance."

"Our food processor won't stop making toast," James says bitterly, wondering if his body will spontaneously melt into goo in some alleyway.

Doc blinks. "That is a potential symptom, yes."

"Do you have any good news, Doctor?" James asks, eyeing the sun and wonder if this is what Icarus felt the moment his wings melted.

"I do. We are all alive. We have all retained our sentience. Furthermore, it may be more accurate to describe the nanite strains as symbiotic, not parasitic."

"Oh?" James asks, the cyber singularity seeker in him flaring with curiosity.

"We have identified three primary positive symptoms," Doc begins. "First, an acute stress response may trigger an unexpected surge in physical performance, even above and beyond the limits of augmentation. It is unknown if this response may be triggered voluntarily or whether it is strictly involuntary.

"Second, the nanites may trigger an adrenal response that will allow someone to stay conscious long after their physical condition would have rendered them unconscious."

"The nanites will drive my body if I pass out?" James asks, skeptical.

"Yes, if they sense danger to the host. They will use their understanding of metahuman physiology, which may be limited, to pilot the host to safety, if possible."

James blinks. He remembers passing out in the swamp. But it wasn't in the swamp, was it? It was after they were safe 'at home' in Stevens.

"And lastly, the nanites will automatically combat threats to the host, including toxins or disease. I daresay you will find yourself in peak health."

"So you're saying I didn't need to bother making all that Rock Lizard Blood?" Illeana deadpans.

"Our understanding is incomplete," Doc answers with all seriousness. "It would be unwise to put any trust in the effects I have described. You should take all due precautions in all circumstances. I simply wished to alert you to all possible risks."

The trio stop walking. They have returned to their original meeting place. Loud seagulls circle overhead, although tiny drones subtly shepherd them away from the land, lest they defecate on someone important.

"My lunch hour is almost up," Doc says. "I must return to my research. Chino is also expecting lunch. A soft-shell crab sandwich is not his first choice, but he will accept it because it is deep fried."

"Thank you, Doctor," James and Illeana say, still uncertain of whether James has been given a terminal diagnosis or not.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (15:50:28/07-27-16)
The texts from Doc take a little of the wind from Illeana's sails, and James is left to wax philosophically in his head about the culture divide between the CAS, where they had spent the last few months, and the UCAS.  In many ways, it was hard to conceive that everywhere they'd spent the last year or so had at one time been one country.  Western Montana was practically wild and decidedly anti-anglo so most similarities between the two "American" states was practically lost.  The CAS boasted a more grotesque nostalgia for the America of the twentieth century, all-human families warming their hands by the trid, and carefully-crafted city centers where the good corporate citizens were kept far and away from the rotting suburbs that families of means would have inhabited half-a-century ago.  Hell, marriage among the SINless was still a thing in the CAS, with all their pride about family.  Romantics, every last one of them.  At least he corpers in the UCAS knew what marriage was: a combining of assets, set about seriously for the sake of one's career and no more restrictive than negotiated. 

James considers his own romantic nature, eyeing Illeana through the rearview mirror as she stands shaving her legs in the confines of the RV's stall of a bathroom.  Marriage was, of course, encouraged for the rank and file of Ares, and even among those first few generations of Firewatch, when its agents were as much a PR machine as an elite fighting squad, but James has snippets that this was not true for him.  He doesn't have any memories of it, only a vague feeling surrounding some sort of cult of martial existence in his life before.  The centurion helmet went a lot deeper than a product logo for Damien Knight, it was an ethos, an anachronism given all the power of ritual and religion for Ares' fighting men and women.  We happy few, we band of brothers.

He's momentarily panged by thoughts of his own brother, and his recent reclaimed memory.  Is Illeana a distraction from that, from the truth about where he came from, who his blood is, his complete dereliction of duty made vampiric flesh?  Bulldrek.  Still, James could not ignore a nagging feeling that all this, the trip to New Orleans, the upcoming trip to MIT&T, the search for his own immortality was and is all coming at the cost of everything he was before.  And good riddance.  I'm a new man now.  My own man.  Her man. . . Right?

James gives the sprawl of the UCAS, practically a solid city between Annapolis and Baltimore, another glance, figures he'll have to save the particularities of the UCAS for another time, and retires to the bedroom to figure out his clothing options and trim away his five o'clock shadow with that new dikote coated safety razor -- a favorite of his ever since that safehouse in Colorado, and prepare to find out what the drek was happening to him.

#

James misses some of the intricacies of John Hopkins' formal standing, as he mentally tags every man and woman who looks especially Ares to him, but he's in enough control of his faculties to tune back in when talk turns to the nanites. 

After discussing Chino for a bit, ghost James can't believe much he misses that, well, what, that headcase may be the best way to describe him now, Doc asks, "Have you noticed any cognitive dissonance?"

James shakes his head reflexively, but then pauses.  "I've, well, I've gotten some flashes of who I was before.  The first time came when we were still all together.  I had a flash of an operation against a team of shadowrunners.  More recently, I had another one.  It came in the middle of, well, at an inopportune time.  Could those be related to the nanites?

When the talk turns to equipment failures, James becomes increasingly alarmed and begins running diagnostics on his Instigator systems. 

<<Instigator Systems Complete Diagnostic Report available in: 28 minutes>>

James groans internally, not that a matter of twenty-eight minutes is likely to matter one way or the other.

"But equipment failure in my cyberware would be detrimental to the host, right?  By the same token, I guess it'd be detrimental for Yamatetsu's aircraft as well.  It seems as though the nanites are working at competing goals."

At the end of the Doctor's lunch hour, James shakes his hand warmly, now wondering if the glove isn't so much for appearances as prevention.  Walking back south to find a water taxi, James whispers under his breath, "So, what do you think?  Do we need to revisit infection as a possible means for my longevity?"
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (02:43:53/07-28-16)
Doc does not seem to be troubled by the reports of James' flashbacks. "It is unlikely that those are related," he says. "Especially if they came at inopportune moments that may have threatened your well-being. Those are more likely to be related to our other shared condition."

He means the obelisk and the subsequent amnesia. Doc gives a sideways glance at Illeana, as if he's still not entirely convinced that she didn't lose her memories as well.

They take their leave from Doc and walk along the waterfront toward the water taxi. James raises the question of Infection again.

"I am not a doctor," Illeana says. "I only know the basics of first aid. But my understanding of the transformation process is that your body - in an attempt to 'heal' itself of its implants, would, over the course of thirty seconds, rejects your legs, arms, lungs, eyes, and significant portions of your nervous system." She's using that understated tone that indicates a certain degree of amusement, underscored with a cold dash of reality.

James considers the prospect of slowly turning into goo versus very quickly turning into goo.

"Your safety would not be guaranteed. Furthermore, I am not a psychologist. The mental shift is profound under any circumstances. What it would mean to you, especially given your relationship with your augmentations, could potentially be even more dramatic."

James pauses to consider his connection with his body and how it would change. And wouldn't that mean that he would Awaken as well? See the astral as Illeana does? Cast spells, perhaps?!?

Caught off-guard for a moment, James looks up to see a hover drone sweep in front of him and Illeana. Doc's earlier transmission had suggested that security kept the paparazzi drones away, which means that this must be a...

"Security drone," James says, his stomach tightening as his fake SIN is put to the test. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees two security patrolmen walking quickly to intercept. James immediately recognizes the uniforms as Knight Errant. This is a plumb posting for veterans and well-connected rookies. He knows they will be professionally competent, both physically and socially. It looks to be a male-female pair, both in the prime of their careers.

"They're not hostile yet," Illeana hisses under her breath. "Either they just want to talk or their primary objective is to escort you from the area."
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (08:14:35/07-28-16)
"Let's hope they stay that way.  Don't expect friendly, though," James whispers, his mouth barely moving.  He drops a pin on a tree, a beautifully sculpted magnolia that's still in bloom for some reason -- Some reason?  Because it was bred to be in boom 9 months out of the year, ya dolt!  Come on, focus, James. -- and measure his approach. 

<<Target 1: Estimated Contact in 22.38 seconds>>

Alright, that puts us at just under 1.4 m/s, James reasons, and measures his paces accordingly.  Can't be speeding up now.  It looks guilty, and while they could likely outrun the pair in the short term, unless he's ready to take his sinking stone of a girlfriend for a swim, the speed angle is out. 

But that means talking to them.

Ding! Ding! James, it certainly does.


For a brief moment, James wonders if this internal dialog is courtesy of the nanites, but the quickly approaching KE officers set what's left of his lizard brain screaming at the top of its lungs in protest against his slow-moving legs.  He takes as deep a breath as possible without visibly heaving, and turns more fully to Illeana, as if to illustrate an important point in their ongoing conversation.  Ghost, they're getting close.

"Remember, you're the client, which means you're the boss.  A mixture of incredulity and your own paranoia is probably appropriate if I'm the one they want to talk to," he whispers. 

Doesn't look like they're going to make it to that magnolia tree, after all.  Oh well, if nothing else, the water was pretty close on their right, and talking first wouldn't put them in any worse shape than if they started running immediately.

"Excuse me," the lead of the two officers says, and James slightly jumps with a start, and complies immediately, turning to face them.

"Certainly officers," James says, his voice a mixture of confusion: carefully crafted, and fear: all too real.

They're still a good few meters out.  Good for them.  Control the situation from afar before you close distance, but not too far out so that you may put unwitting citizens in the line of fire.  They're capable and by-the-book, I'll give them that.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (18:50:56/07-28-16)
"Excuse me, sir!" they call out, their hands up to draw James' attention. "We need a moment of your time."

James turns and feigns surprise. "Certainly, officers," he answers. Illeana looks annoyed, reasoning that's what a beautiful woman would do when unduly delayed or detained.

James looks them over. They are probably in their early 30s, which is still enough time to have 10 years of experience. Young, human, Caucasian, athletic, good looking. They don't smile but nor do they frown; they appear at ease and in control. They are the poster children for Knight-Errant.

<<@James [Illeana] Cybereyes, cyberears, reaction enhancers.>>

James takes a moment to study them. They are wearing armor vests instead of armor jackets, perhaps because armor vests look less intimidating to the gentle folk on the promenade. If so, the Ares Predator Vs on their hips counteract the effect. They also have Ares  tasers and stun batons. They both wear glasses that may double as sunglasses as well as scanners. The male steps forward while the female remains a step back and guards his flank.

"What is the meaning of this?" Illeana asks imperiously.

"Excuse me, Ms. Anghelescu. There are some inconsistencies with Mr. Shimko's SIN and licenses," the young man responds confidently, not put off by Illeana's temperament. The same drone that scanned James earlier hovers overhead nearby, likely filming the exchange. "Mr. Shimko, there are some irregularities with your biometrics on file. We are detecting an unregistered smartlink system in your cybereyes. Is this correct, sir?"

"Yes," James answers quickly. Too quickly? "I mean, no, it should be licensed and registered. I mean, it is licensed and registered. It is a recent upgrade. It is possible that the licensing has not been properly uploaded to the Pueblo Corporate Council's SIN database yet."

"Mm," the young man hums noncommittally. "That would not match our understanding of the PCC's systems, which are relatively sophisticated." Behind him, the young woman keeps her eyes and ears peeled and on their surroundings. "Who is your employer, Mr. Shimko, and what is the nature of your work? What is the purpose of your visit to Baltimore today? Please be detailed."
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (15:03:54/07-29-16)
"That would not match our understanding of the PCC's systems, which are relatively sophisticated.", the young man says, resistant to James' excuse.

"Best in the world," James says a little defensively of his adopted nation.  "It's just that I'm not sure what else would explain this inconsistency."

"Who is your employer, Mr. Shimko, and what is the nature of your work? What is the purpose of your visit to Baltimore today? Please be detailed." 

Well, here goes. . .

James mentally retrieves a copy of his mocked-up business cards and sends one each to the two Knights Errant officers.  "I'm a consultant with Phoenix Biotechnologies.  I specialize in cross-corporate partnerships in the medical and bio-tech fields, especially personnel redundancies, cross-grid matrix information sharing, outlook reports, and Corporate Court compliance for smaller firms.  Typically, I represent a neutral third-party during negotiations, as Phoenix Bio is a respected firm with a good reputation, although we are small enough to be effectively immune from the appearance of collusion or backhanded practices on an international or global scale.  Atypically, I am brought in to review partnerships, or deals in the making by individual corporations who want to get an outside pair of eyes on any or all of the above."

James is talking a mile a minute, keeping his hands in a nonthreatening posture, which is difficult because when he's nervous he tends to talk with his hands. . . a lot.  As he speaks he's trying to their body language, their eyes, anything that will tell him if they're buying it, but they just sit their impassively, blank-faced and neutral, just as they've been trained to.  Ghost fraggit, just walk away, or draw your weapon, or something.  Don't just stand there for fragssake!  Realizing how long he's been going on, James tries to wind it down and finish answering the entirety of the question posed to him.

"As for my visit to Baltimore today, I am not the proprietor of that information, as outlined by Corporate Court doctrine, Section 3, subheading 2, paragraph 20.  I can only tell you that as a representative of Phoenix Biotechnologies my services are currently under contract by Ms. Anghelescu, and to the best of my knowledge our business in Baltimore today is complete."

James takes a deep breath as he finishes his explanation.  Wow, was I really talking that fast?
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (15:28:45/07-29-16)
The young man listens stone-faced, without nodding or any of the other social cues often used to indicate understanding or serving as an invitation to go on. His eyes dart to the ARO business card for a moment before turning back to James. It's hard to read his face. Is he impressed or indifferent? Is he paying attention or is he just letting the flood of words wash over him while he studies James' body language?

"Thank you, Mr. Shimko. May I ask what aspect of your role as a consultant for cross-corporate partnerships, personnel redundancies, and Corporate Court compliance requires you to have a restricted smartgun system installed in your cybereyes? One for which you are currently unlicensed, according to our records."

Looks like he was paying attention after all.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (15:48:04/07-29-16)
"Certainly, sir," James answers.  His internal systems are going haywire, reading his output of adrenaline as go-time, and then being overridden by his mental commands to slow his heart.  He wonders if he's actually vibrating, the dissonance between his systems is getting to him so forcefully.  "It's for trap shooting.  I'm due back at Angelfire on the fourteenth for a corporate retreat.  It's practically a religion for us."
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (19:14:14/07-29-16)
James' answer of "trap shooting" finally draws a response: the young man blinks languidly. Is he reacting to a ridiculous answer or does the explanation fit perfectly?

A long, uncomfortable silence draws out like a knife. The hovering drone observing the exchange buzzes about like a large, pernicious insect. The female cop swallows hard, as if she's preparing for something.

The young man stiffens for an instant and his eyes briefly lose focus before recentering on James. It's likely that he received a call via his cyberears or an ARO via the image link in his cybereyes. A report on James' true identity, perhaps? Or maybe a summons to a more pressing situation.

"Thank you for your time, Mr. Shimko," the young man finally says to break the silence. "We will note this as a warning and mark it on your records so that you are not detained again for the same concern for the next 48 hours. Please contact your embassy or the necessary authorities to resolve the issue as soon as possible. Good day."

With that, he spins on his heel and walks off at a fast clip. The female officer falls in with him as they hurry off to their next destination. James and Illeana watch them to see if they really are on their way to their next call or if they are evacuating as quickly as possible. Before the final determination can be made, they turn a corner and are out of sight. They never look back.

Illeana and James glance around, looking for incoming SWAT or Firewatch teams, but none immediately appear. "Nothing on the radar," Illeana says under her breath. "Shall we?"

Edit: noun-verb agreement
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (01:26:28/07-31-16)
James comms, concerned that one of the drones might have a mic trained on him, or a laser mic pointed at something nearby. <<@Illeana [James] Let's get back to the water taxi. But not Stevens, at least not yet. We'll meet Stevens at a new location.>>

Illeana turns and begins to walk. Instinctively, it's difficult for her not to reach for James' hand to hold it while they are walking. We're not a couple; we're corpers, she reminds herself. She looks around, considering all of the men and women in suits scurrying back and forth. They have their corporate housing on the waterfront, with their corporate dress code, and their corporate accounts, and their corporate concerns. It's a cage. A gilded cage, but still a cage. I don't really understand it.

Or did she? Her SIN from Saeder-Krupp was a work of art. It was watertight, to the point where she wondered if it was a real SIN and not fake. Did I do work for Goldensnout? she wonders. Saeder-Krupp is big in Europe, especially Eastern Europe. If I'm Romanian then maybe I was a good corporate citizen up until seven months ago. Saeder-Krupp had a good relationship with Asamando, so it's not like Lowfyr has issues working with the Infected. What would he care? If anything, he sees humans the same was that the Infected do: as food. It's something they - we? - have in common.

The sun shines off the water to Illeana's right. She flinches reflexively but the sun is warm, not searing. She glances at the water and looks at the interplay of light on the waves.

<<@James [Illeana] I'll do a water spirit to help keep an eye on us. Just like in the swamp, minus the mana surge.>>

"Let's talk about the fiscal outlook for the remainder of Q3," she says, spying an opportunity to have a financial conversation with James and have it double as part of their cover. "If you'll turn to the fifth slide of the ARO deck I just sent you..."
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (03:59:32/07-31-16)
"Let's talk about the fiscal outlook for the remainder of Q3," she says, spying an opportunity to have a financial conversation with James and have it double as part of their cover. "If you'll turn to the fifth slide of the ARO deck I just sent you..."

Seriously?!  She wants to do this now?

There was also the spirit to consider.  James is not sure that they're out of the wood yet.  Scratch that.  James is mostly certain that they're not out of the woods yet, and if that's the case, slinging mojo around isn't likely to put them any more in Ares' good graces.  More than that, up to this point, Ms. Anghelescu very well may be seen as the supposed Mr. Shimko's pawn up to this point.  He's the unknown quantity, the potential troublemaker, the trap-shooting terrorist, not -- as one might expect -- his incredibly powerful vampire girlfriend.  But now that Illeana's summoning help from the astral, it's entirely likely that if Knight's Errant is paying attention, it's her SIN that's likely to get burned as well.

Well, Doc, thanks for the info.  I hope it was worth it to us because this little last-minute jaunt to Baltimore might end up being incredibly expensive.

Oh, how optimistic of you, James.  Thinking you're going to get out of here alive and all that.  Keep your chin up, kid.


As they approach the waterfront, James takes the lead and hails a taxi with a two-fingered wave.  "Are you optimistic about the fiscal outlook for the remainder of Q3?" he asks, refusing to pull up the ARO.  No, he needs to keep his eyes peeled and his ears sharp right now.  Maybe he could fake his way through a conversation, but he certainly couldn't analyze pie charts.

<<@Illeana [James] This doesn't feel right at all.  I wonder if their facial recognition software is tied to a database of known terrorists and those with criminal SINS, or if they've got their entire employee register hooked up as well.  That could take way to long to run from a cursory check, but I don't know, this isn't my specialty.>>

"Ms. Anghelescu," James says, extending his hand and helping Illeana board the water taxi.  "Allow me."

James boards after her, and finds a seat near the stern.  He gives the cabbie their destination, crosses his legs and looks up at the sky, half waiting for a hail of bullets to rain down. 

So far, so good.

"So, expenses are down and revenue is stable.  Are there any big acquisitions we should look toward in the coming months?"
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (02:45:19/08-01-16)
The "water taxi" isn't so much a taxi but rather a small bus that picks people up at one spot on the harbor and delivers them to a second spot. It repeats the process continually throughout the day in a never-ending loop. A good-natured human in his seventies with a white beard and a beaming smile serves as the captain, begging the question of why hasn't the simple route been automated and this guy retired to his pipe and fireplace somewhere in Maine. Perhaps the corpers enjoy the human touch, just as some high-end condo buildings delight in having doormen (typically orks) and elevator operators (skinny elves). The inefficiency of it is a form of conspicuous consumption. In addition to the captain, there is a dwarven deckhand who looks to be the surly counterpoint to the captain's joviality. Luckily the dwarf is so short that most passengers look right over his sour expression.

The mid-sized boat can hold maybe a hundred fifty passengers at peak capacity, after which you need to wait 10 minutes for the next boat to show up. James and Illeana pick up their pace and hop on about thirty seconds before the scheduled departure, which counts down in an ARO floating above the boat.

The boat is mostly full of corpers, many of whom are speaking much too loudly to people who aren't there. James heads for the stern. There's a gentleman back there in a royal blue long coat that looks a bit pompous. The man's manicured hands are folded behind his back as he stands at the edge of the boat and stares off over the water. James and Illeana take a seat with a position to see if anyone tries to follow or if there's any commotion back on the promenade. Six young corpers hustle to catch the boat before it departs. They look to be in their early-to-mid-20s and not yet fully accustomed to wearing expensive suits. The women giggle as they try to run in their high heels while their male companions laugh gaily, perhaps hoping to bed the women. Two stragglers quickly jump off the boat, perhaps too distracted by their commcalls to realize that they had arrived at their destination a few minutes ago. The boat casts off.

"Wait, something's goofy," Illeana says, tipping her head to the side as she studies the surroundings. Seagulls hover overhead, hoping for scraps from some corper's lunch.

James tenses. "Hostiles?" he asks, scanning the sky for errant drones but finding nothing. The wind starts to pick up as the boat accelerates.

"No, no hostiles..." Illeana says as she slowly looks around. "Just... improbabilities."

"How so?"

"The young corpers that jumped on at the last minute, they're all augmented," Illeana says. James avoids pointing out that Illeana's apparent age is about the same as the young executives. "I don't mean datajacks and sleep regulators and cerebral boosters. I mean enhanced muscles and reaction enhancers."

"Could be vanity," James says with more hope than conviction. "There is still social prestige placed on looking good and being good at athletics. It's part of Ares' all-American image."

"Mens sana in corpore sano," Illeana hums as she considers the possibility. She looks around some more and stops suddenly when she gets to the man with his hands behind his back.

"He... looks like you," Illeana says.

James considers the man. His back is turned but from the limited profile offered he looks to be of Mediterranean decent. He has bronzed, olive skin and hair blacker than squid ink. His facial hair is so precise it must be cut with a laser and, from what James can tell, the man is quite handsome. In other words, he doesn't look like James at all.

"I mean on the astral," Illeana says, still almost hypnotized by the similarities. "The cyberlimbs, the bioware, but even more so. He's at the very brink -"

On cue, the man turns. He is, indeed, a Greek god made flesh. He gives a smile warmer than the September sun and steps forward.

"Hello, Agent Case," he says. "It is good to see you again. Welcome home."

The man raises an empty hand in a gesture of peace.

"You no longer know me, but I know you both. Allow me to reintroduce myself: my name is Rhodes."
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (13:18:03/08-01-16)
James freezes.  And just when he was getting control of his faculties back too.  How to play this.  There's no running.  The water isn't much better.  But also, and quite alarmingly, James isn't sure that he wants to run.  Certainly, he'd rather meet Rhodes under different circumstances, he'd been planning exactly what those circumstances would look like, actually, but he did want to meet Rhodes, desperately so.  It's just that, well, the big fear in doing so was that Rhodes would be the last person he met again for the first time.

Furiously, James snaps pictures of Rhodes with his cyber eyes, and directs his commlink to call "Rhodes" from his contact list.  It goes straight to voicemail, so he tries texting instead.

<<@Rhodes [James Case] hmu asap>>

"Rhodes?  I hoped we'd meet again.  Under different circumstances, of course," James says and returns the empty-palmed gesture of peace, or at least non-aggression.

"So, what's the protocol here, sir?  Can we send the kids off to daycare?  Looks they could use it.  How about we grab a coffee?  There's a lot for us to catch up on."

After a pause, James adds, "Fancy you being here, with a whole crew in tow, no doubt.  I'd even call it peculiar."
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (18:39:18/08-01-16)
<<@Agent Case [Rhodes] I'm right here, James.>>

He steps forward then takes a seat on a bench opposite of James and Illeana, maybe two meters away, the long royal blue coat draping over the seat bench beneath him. He folds his legs and places his hands over his knee.

"Not peculiar: fortuitous. It can hardly be a surprise that I would be in Baltimore, the headquarters of Ares Arms. The coincidence is that you are here. And, perhaps, looking for us?" He holds his hands open to introduce the possibility.

He waves off the request about the kids. "They wanted to meet you. You're practically a legend in the program! They will remain unobtrusive, I promise. If you insist, I will have them depart at the next stop while we continue our conversation."

He turns to Illeana. "It is a pleasure to meet you at last," he says. "James has so much about you."

"Oh?" she says, her fingers snaking toward her bracelet, just in case she needs to turn it into a dagger on short notice.

"If, for your own comfort, you would like to verify what I have to say, please feel at liberty to do so."

<<@James [Illeana] I think he means magic.>>

Her aura swells with mana until there's so much that it turns into a fire-light glow in the physical world. The effect fades and Illeana nods to confirm that she has cast Analyze Truth.

"Your situation is very unusual, Agent Case," Rhodes says. "Typically we would not respond well to the disappearance of an agent, particularly one that represents such a large investment, but in this case there are mitigating factors."

"Such as?"

"You are not yourself. We know because in addition to being here in front of me, you are in Detroit, training."

"For what?"

"Your new life as a free spirit."

He gauges your reaction, or the lack thereof, and surmises that this is not entirely a surprise.

"You reported in," Rhodes continues. "And while the loss of an Instigator asset is significant, in this case it was outweighed by the gain."

"What happened to me?" Illeana asks.

"You were disappointed in James' decision to return to Ares. You declined our invitation to stay."

Illeana seems to take the news hard. She looks down, her hair falling over her face, and her body languages indicates her mental withdrawal. It is unclear whether it's because ur-James left her for Ares, or because ur-Illeana left him.

I wonder if she felt free, she thinks to herself. Free of her face that she kept hidden, free of the monster in her appetite.

The boat putters along. James notices that there's nobody particularly close by. Most passengers seem to be clustered toward the bow, despite the stiff breeze blowing across the harbor, rumpling finely coiffed heads on their way to meetings. Either the other passengers on the boat understand what is happening or they have been made to understand. There seems to be a good deal of privacy despite the confined quarters.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (13:40:32/08-03-16)
"Not peculiar: fortuitous. It can hardly be a surprise that I would be in Baltimore, the headquarters of Ares Arms. The coincidence is that you are here. And, perhaps, looking for us?" He holds his hands open to introduce the possibility.

James retains an impassive expression and gives a noncommittal turn of his hands at Rhodes question, but he cracks a bit when Rhodes mentions James' legendary status in the Instigator program.  He confirms with Illeana that there is no aggressive intent toward them and says that the recruits can stay.  Whether Illeana actually rolls her eyes, or James just imagines it out of the corner of his own vision is unclear.

"Your situation is very unusual, Agent Case," Rhodes says. "Typically we would not respond well to the disappearance of an agent, particularly one that represents such a large investment, but in this case there are mitigating factors."

"Such as?"

"You are not yourself. We know because in addition to being here in front of me, you are in Detroit, training."

"For what?"

"Your new life as a free spirit."

He gauges your reaction, or the lack thereof, and surmises that this is not entirely a surprise.

"You reported in," Rhodes continues. "And while the loss of an Instigator asset is significant, in this case it was outweighed by the gain."

"And so Ares has 'given up,' for lack of a better word, on the agent Case in front of you?" James queries a little incredulously. 

"What happened to me?" Illeana asks.

"You were disappointed in James' decision to return to Ares. You declined our invitation to stay."

James sees Illeana deflate in front of him, and he reaches forward and lays a hand on her knee.  He can only imagine the rejection she's feeling, in a way the worst kind of a combination of rejections.  The original her was abandoned by her lover, and the present her was abandoned by the original her, probably all too glad to be free of her affliction.  He's so focused on Illeana that he doesn't have the time, at least at present, to adequately consider what this revelation means to him.  What of his romantic nature, for instance?  Is that a development since the obelisk, a byproduct of the nanites, or was ur-James just as much a romantic, and it was just that his particular condition manifested itself in love for corp and its patriarch as opposed to romantic love?  There was no telling, not really, and James gave Illeana's knee a consoling squeeze.  "I'm right here with you," it said.  "I'm not going anywhere."

"I've been wanting to meet with you for awhile," James says to Rhodes.  "but that was not my intent today.  Since we moved north I had planned on seeing you on a far more neutral terrain, it's just that'--"

"You had no way of knowing what I looked like, where I would be, or how to go about finding me," Rhodes finishes, as if they really are long-lost friends.

"Exactly," James says, and while a pregnant silence hangs in the air between them, he sends a comm to Illeana.

<<@Illeana [James] Kat, you had mentioned us finding a free spirit.  Given the right circumstances is this something we should pursue?  Would I lose my independence, or could we actually forge a mutually beneficial pact?>>

"So, Rhodes, I have a million questions, not the least of which is my brother, but most pressing right now would be: where do we go from here?"
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (01:26:23/08-04-16)
"I would not say that Ares had 'given up' on the physical Agent Case, no," Rhodes answers. "Quite the opposite. But, at the same time, we were realistic. We didn't know if your physical form was intact or had been irrevocably damaged by the split. We didn't know if your body had survived the transition only to plunge off an icy mountain cliff when the driver inevitably lost control of the vehicle. There were more scenarios in which your body did not survive than scenarios in which it did, so we took a wait-and-see approach. And here you are!"

James glances about, checking his surroundings. Rhodes notices him glancing about but there's nothing to be done about that. Nearby boat traffic appears to be normal and going about its own business. In keeping with conventions for maritime safety, none of them are particularly close by. From a tactical perspective, James and Illeana are about as bad off as they were in the swamp. Worse, in fact, since they don't have control over this boat. There is zero cover in the middle of the harbor and the harbor is ringed by numerous buildings, any one of which could serve as an excellent vantage point for a sniper to put a large-caliber round right through James, and maybe Illeana too if they line the shot up right. The bullet would arrive far in advance of the gunshot, meaning James could blink out of existence at any second. Maybe Illeana's magic gives enough warning to move; maybe they have magical assets in place to neutralize that early warning.

"Your situation is unprecedented. We've convened a council of the top magical minds from across the company - a global task force from all corners, including Unlimited Technologies and FireWatch - to work with you. Your other self has been training with them for the last seven months and your progress has been enormous. Mr. Knight himself has taken a personal interest in your case and is receiving weekly briefings on your development. Mssrs. Vogel and Aurelius are being kept in the loop as well."

James tries to listen between the lines, to hear what's not being said. Rhodes seems open and transparent, but then there are the subtle compliments, the easy ingratiations. Rhodes was using words like "legend", "unprecedented", and "enormous". He was dropping the CEO's name into the conversation as well as the names of two highly-prominent Board members. It would be fair to say that Rhodes is in full social-operator mode and has likely been designed and built much in the same way as James. He is the proverbial iron fist in a velvet glove.

"So where do we go from here? I am here to welcome you back to the Ares family." He looks to Illeana. "Both of you. We are excited to have you back. You can imagine the resources that have been dedicated to this project; I can assure you that you will directly benefit from those. Your pay grade will move from O-6 to O-7 and your housing allowance will be increased commensurately. Illeana, in light of your own personal accomplishments, I've been authorized to extend you an offer of O-6, with opportunities for rapid advancement." He gives a sensitive look. "Of course you'll be housed together, if you wish. We have some recently-developed condominiums in Grosse Point on the shores of Lake St. Claire that are incomparable. You may combine your housing allowances, and between both you could afford 200 square meters or more with premium amenities.

"James, I know you are a soldier and creature comforts might not be the best incentive. I can personally assure you that there will be no limit to the resources directly available to you. That will be true for you as well, Illeana. From an accounting perspective, you will have a blank slate to pursue your training and development."

James covertly checks his commlinks for MARKs but finds none. He pings Illeana with his question about a free spirit. She still has a far-away, unfocused look in her eyes. Her hand covers her mouth as she processes the implications.

<<@James [Illeana] Sam's spirit was an Inhabitation spirit. The other James would take the body back but would push you out in the process. He would remember what you remember about the last seven months, remember how you felt and what we shared, but it wouldn't be a merging of equals. It would be a takeover and you, as you know yourself, would be gone. I'd be with the old James, who may or may not want me.>>

<<That's what they'll want. Your physical form will strengthen with the power of the free spirit. You'll become dual-natured and normal weapons will no longer affect you. You will have the magical powers of the spirit. You will be the ultimate super-soldier, unparalleled. Or, I should say, he will be. You will be his memories.>>

Rhodes watches closely to gauge the reactions. "On a more personal note," he says, "Justin is eager to see you again, or, at least, he will be once we tell him  you are alive." He chuckles drolly. "He has enjoyed his time with your spirit, but I can tell you it would be very meaningful to him to see you in person once again. Very meaningful. I daresay the same might be true for you."
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (13:27:10/08-05-16)
<<That's what they'll want. Your physical form will strengthen with the power of the free spirit. You'll become dual-natured and normal weapons will no longer affect you. You will have the magical powers of the spirit. You will be the ultimate super-soldier, unparalleled. Or, I should say, he will be. You will be his memories.>>

Or, I should say, he will be. You will be his memories.>>

You will be his memories.>>

You will be his memories.>>

James reads the last lines of Illeana's text again, and then again, letting them run across the lower field of his vision. 

No matter what, in six months, eight months time, hell in another minute James as he is now would only be the memories of another James.  The whole idea of a personal continuity, of a meta being one entity from birth until death is a fiction: James knows this, as uncomfortable as it is.  Certainly, there is a life force of some kind, a tethering of James to his body, but a soul, an immutable and constant thing, well that just didn't jive.  The way a life force, some basic essence of a man or woman, could be diminished by augmentations, or increased with feeding as Illeana does, doesn't sound like a soul the way of the religions James has ever heard of told the story.  No, at some level James is of the opinion that it's just synapses firing away, and his own augmentations never made him feel any less himself.  Instead, they were part of the path toward something greater, a truer James that might one day reach his full potential.

And if all that is true, then why is James so scared?  His synapses would still be whole after this inhabitation with ur-James, and he would be much closer to that full potential.  But there is some belief, some notion of self no doubt tucked away safely inside that most primitive part of his lizard brain that screamed out against the idea and told him to Run!  Run now, run as fast as you can! while another said, And how do we make this spirit James part of us?

That would be the sweetest thing of all, to have all of his memories back, all the power of James' spirit self, and keep his illusion of individuality.  It would also be murder.  Or would it be suicide.  Either way it was exactly what Ares has in store for him, though they and ur-James arguably have a much stronger legal case for James bones, steel, and synapses than he does.

While Rhodes happily lists out the top tier who's who of Ares that have taken personal interest in his case, James lets go of Illeana's knee, and places his arm around her shoulders instead, gives a gentle tug at the hand in front of her mouth.  "Are you listening to this, Illeana?  This affects both of us, so I need you here with me, wiz?"

James reboots his links on the off chance he missed something earlier.

To Rhodes, he adds, "An impressive list of names.  I've been keeping up with my chess game.  It would be interesting to see if I could survive twenty moves against Mr. Knight with the black pieces.  My Sicilian Dragon has improved substantially since my change, though its doubtful that I could eek out even a draw.  It's been difficult finding good competition, as I'm sure you can imagine.  Does Mr. Knight still play 1. e4?"

Once the Tempest begins its readout of James' active Instigator programs, he sends a command to his Shin-Hyung to make speedy progress along Fort Avenue toward the Fort McHenry docks, and then over the pier.  Once the order is received, he pings Illeana.

<<@Illeana [James] Chin up.  This looks bad, but we've got a shot.  I'm thinking over the stern, down deep, and into international waters as quick as we can make it.  Cover text to follow.>>

<<@Illeana [James] So what do you think?>>

When Rhodes finishing outlining how great his new life would be at Ares, including financial and housing compensation, James says, "So, the other Agent Case is currently at grade O-6?  That sounds like a wiz deal, but isn't it more for the Agent Case currently in Detroit?  After all, there is only the one body, but currently two minds which would like to make use of it."
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (15:06:10/08-05-16)
Illeana shakes out of it when James put his arm around her shoulders and asks for her attention.

<<@James [Illeana] I've said what I think they'll want based on my understanding of Ares. I could be overreacting. There are other possibilities.

<<There are 'dream pacts', where the other James would control your body while you slept but you would maintain control while you are awake. There are 'hidden life' pacts, which is what we were originally interested in from a free spirit. The spirit would put its life force in you, so that as long as you live it can never be permanently destroyed. Your body would become immune to normal weapons and to age, which is what we were after. We'd be together, but we'd be working for Ares. You wouldn't gain the physical strength of the spirit but it's entirely possible that Ares wants two separate supersoldiers - one physical, one spiritual - instead of one ultimate soldier. And maybe it depends on part on what your other self wants...>>

"Mr. Knight has not played 1. e4 since his King's Gambit was badly routed by black's Falkbeer Countergambit. Granted, black was played by an AI that is the direct descendant of Mirage, so allowances must be made, but he did not take the loss well. I trust that will stay between us."

James has heard of Mirage, likely from his corporate history. Mirage acted as a powerful anti-virus and psychological countermeasure program that was designed to prevent the Crash Virus from damaging the minds of the Echo Mirage team back in 2029. Mirage hadn't been heard from since Crash 2.0 in 2064, but evidently it had descendant playing chess with Mr. Knight. Would Mr. Knight send Mirage's progeny after James if James ran? What sort of resources would Ares bring to bear on a man who - while valuable - was really just a million nuyen or two of cyberware? If they didn't have James, couldn't they just make another and put the other James in that instead?

<<If we go overboard, they will follow. We have to be ready to fight underwater, which probably means grappling and your cyberspur. If we break free, we have ten minutes before their spirits hunt us down. Let's not pretend that 'international waters' matter to Ares. Are you confident that we can get far enough away in ten minutes - minus whatever we spend fighting - to slip the noose? Because if the answer is 'no' then we should consider going with them. We can bide our time and slip away when there aren't an entire platoon of eyes on us like there are right now. Maybe in a day or a week or a month, but right now we're in the center of the scope and that's a hard place to be.>>

James still feels the same buzz of fear that he did before. His synapses are on fire, and it's only after a moment that he realizes that it might be the nanites placing their vote. If the nanites object, is that a good thing or a bad thing? Is this a way to be 'cured'? To free James from the possibility of melting into a pile of goo at the nanites' command? Or in trading the nanite for a spirit would he simply be jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire? Is he willing to work for Ares and lose his freedom? What if it means he can stay with Illeana? Is his love worth his freedom, or is there a way to have both? The weight of the moment mounts.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (01:53:18/08-07-16)
"The other Agent Case is not O-6. The other James does not even have a pay grade. Housing allowances don't benefit him. He does not have the same worldly needs that you and I do," Rhodes says. "He's compensated in different ways now and seems quite pleased with the arrangement."

<<@James [Illeana] He means karma. Free spirits can't grow and develop on their own. They have to make bargains with metahumans. There's nothing a free spirit prizes more than the memories or experiences of another person. It's what makes them more powerful. It sounds malign but it doesn't have to be; it can be mutually beneficial.>>

"There are not two minds that want to use one body," Rhodes continues. "As I said, he doesn't even know you exist. And, even if he did, there's no guarantee that he wants that body back. And, even if he did, it's not his decision to make.

"Remember, James, you are what you are because we made you that way. It wasn't something your other self asked for, or volunteered for. It's what we had to do to save you."

James is left to wonder about the origins of his personality. Is his current self the redliner, the cyber singularity seeker? Is his old self someone who resented his body the same way the other Illeana may have resented hers? Or is it not James who is this way, but the nanites? Are the nanites pushing him to be harder, better, faster, stronger? Maybe they are the redliners, not James. But can the distinction between the two be made anymore?

The boat continues to race across the inner harbor, slaloming between the kayaks who enjoy playing chicken with the old, good-natured captain and his misanthropic dwarven deckhand.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (12:49:04/08-09-16)
James receives a few messages from Illeana in quick succession, and gives her hand another squeeze.  Good, she's back with me.

The content is potentially troubling, but it makes James think that the best course of action is not a speedy and tactical retreat, but a longer stay in the lion's den.  He is still terrified of the idea that Ares will be making of husk of him, but as Rhodes begins telling James conspiratorially about Mr. Knight's chess habits, James cancels the override of his Shin-Hyung's safe driving protocols, and directs it to find a parking space.

"Mr. Knight has not played 1. e4 since his King's Gambit was badly routed by black's Falkbeer Countergambit. Granted, black was played by an AI that is the direct descendant of Mirage, so allowances must be made, but he did not take the loss well. I trust that will stay between us." Rhodes says.

He would love to discuss this further, but with the shoreline creeping up on them, James moves the discussion back to himself and his double, at which point Rhodes assures him of his autonomy, so much as life under Ares could be considered autonomous.

"There are not two minds that want to use one body," Rhodes continues. "As I said, he doesn't even know you exist. And, even if he did, there's no guarantee that he wants that body back. And, even if he did, it's not his decision to make."

"But at some point he will know about me, yes?  And at some point a decision may need to be made.  While I appreciate that the decision won't be my alternate's to make, are you going so far as to guarantee me my control over this body during my lifetime at Ares?"

"Remember, James, you are what you are because we made you that way. It wasn't something your other self asked for, or volunteered for. It's what we had to do to save you."

"Illeana will need lodge materials, the sooner the better," James says, continuing to play it straight and knowing that at is at this moment when he likeliest to receive concessions.  Illeana doesn't hint that Rhodes is shining him on, and so he continues.

"She's continued her studies, and cultivated some interesting friends to that aim, and so it is important that she further her growth in that arena.  As for me, I'm sure there is some preliminary testing in order.  Personally, I am quite interested to see how I perform now compared to my earlier self, but I will be eager to return to field work as soon as possible. 
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (14:23:32/08-11-16)
"No, Agent Case, I cannot guarantee you control over your body during your lifetime. I cannot even guarantee that for myself. We serve a cause greater than ourselves and we do so however we can. But I will say that it has never been company policy to push people out of their bodies. I would think that the company has earned some trust and credit after saving both you and your brother after you were clinically deceased."

The Shin-Hyung confirms the change in driving protocols but alerts James that it has attracted the attention of law enforcement due to its rapid driving toward the pier. Knight-Errant has notified the vehicle that it will be investigated and potentially impounded.

"Illeana will have the finest materials and resources available to her at all times," Rhodes continues. "But she will be an Ares employee with all the benefits and the responsibilities that entails. She will find a very warm home and welcoming colleagues to collaborate with, but it comes with oversight and accountability. The same is true for all of us."

The boat draws closer to shore. It has begun to slow slightly at the captain positions it to dock.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (10:55:13/08-15-16)
"No, Agent Case, I cannot guarantee you control over your body during your lifetime. I cannot even guarantee that for myself. We serve a cause greater than ourselves and we do so however we can. But I will say that it has never been company policy to push people out of their bodies. I would think that the company has earned some trust and credit after saving both you and your brother after you were clinically deceased."

"Were you similarly saved, Rhodes?" James asks.

"Illeana will have the finest materials and resources available to her at all times," Rhodes continues. "But she will be an Ares employee with all the benefits and the responsibilities that entails. She will find a very warm home and welcoming colleagues to collaborate with, but it comes with oversight and accountability. The same is true for all of us."

"Of course," James says.  "I simply feel that it's necessary to clue you in on her studies, as her benefit will benefit Ares as well."

James switches his Ikon to wireless off, and when it comes back online he is broadcasting as James Case, Ares employee.  The boat docks at Fort McHenry, the turtle-shaped ramparts rising up stately and well-manicured.  He stands and offers Illeana his hand before turning to Rhodes.  "Shall we?"
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (23:42:52/08-15-16)
James asks whether Rhodes was saved too. The question hangs in the salty sea air for a long moment. A thin wisp of a smile appears on Rhodes' handsome face. He looks impossibly composed - even his hair seems to resist blowing in the wind - but this question seems to be giving him more pause than the others.

"Voluntary replacement," he says at last as the boat pulls up to the dock. The corpers all line up like good little lemmings at the front to offload once the ramp is in place.

Illeana squeezes James' hand hard. <<Voluntarily replacement? Voluntary replacement? What sort of man goes to the doc with four good limbs and says, 'Here, chop these off'??>>

James holds Illeana's hand as they stand to disembark. James notes that the kids in business suits have set up a subtle perimeter so that a pair of them are on each side at a comfortable distance. Rhodes brings up the rear.

"You have a good day now, hear?" the smiling captain says jovially, his eyes lingering just a moment on Illeana's perfect face as she passes by.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (15:22:30/08-17-16)
The young corpers form an unobtrusive perimeter around James and Illeana as they exit the water taxi, and Rhodes, while easy with a smile, must be waiting for the other shoe to drop.  "I assume that Bulldog's for us, eh?" James asks, and Rhodes nods in the affirmative.

Even though they're past the point of no return, or at least no immediate return, James briefly questions his life choices that have led to this moment.  The Shimko SIN was solid, or at least the best he could do given a paired life on the run, and Illeana was no help in the ID department.  Certainly, she made him faster on his feet, and together he feels as though there were few threats they couldn't handle or avoid entirely, but the present situation demanded thinking otherwise.

Still, while worried, James doesn't feel trapped, or more accurately as trapped as most would feel in this situation.  He'd rather be with Ares, in some sense back home, than he would in the clutches of any of the other big ten.  Ares, after all, has historically been on the right side of history.  FireWatch had neutralized the threat of the bug spirits back in Chicago, Ares' relationship with the UCAS government was almost benevolent, and the corporate ethos stressed family, and more importantly community, in an era when most were happy if they could bleed a populace dry of labor and nuyen before moving on.  Certainly, those hoops out in Germany may feel the same way about Saeder-Krupp, but this is the UCAS not the AGS.

Or maybe this is his latent programming talking.  Some undoubtedly is, but James has done the research, he's looked into "independent" sources, and made up his own damn mind.  The facts are what they are, but what really nags at him is if his entire value system is really what's been programmed, not just the facts and figures. 

Or maybe it was just a question of the devil you know.  Here, at Ares, at least he would be respected, outfitted with all the power of the greatest megacorp on earth behind him, "and free to pursue their aims with all their fervor as well," he can hear Illeana speaking into the back of his mind.

Well drek.

And then there's Rhodes chilling confession, the one instance where his unflappable demeanor almost seemed to crack for a moment, and Illeana's incredulous response.

<<Voluntarily replacement? Voluntary replacement? What sort of man goes to the doc with four good limbs and says, 'Here, chop these off'??>>

Well, I might. he has to admit to himself.  There wasn't much left to improve, but if Ares offered to outfit him with new ears, would he think twice?  He might for Illeana's sake, but he would also undoubtedly think of the weakness of his meat ears when compared to the rest of his near-perfect form, and there were some days when he lamented that there was so little left for him to improve.  The cybersingularity seeker in him is already greedily thinking about upgrades to deltaware, or how sweet that could be, and maybe then he could afford some upgrades.

Is this you, James?  Really?

<<I don't know.>> is all he can manage in reply to Illeana.

#

James exits the gym in his Ares Rapid Transit Platinum TekLite workout clothes, a skintight body suit that wicks away moisture and actually has a cooling effect when he perspires.  And he's been doing a lot of that.  195kg deadlifts are nothing to sneeze at, and doing so while attempting it is likely to give one a hernia.  He pats down his face while he's shown into a small room off the main gym floor where a pair of Ares suits await him.  They're both human, wearing the company's finest, and while the man extends his hand, the woman introduces them as Dr. Franklin Ames and Dr. Elizabeth Personette.  Surprisingly, for the last few days of James experiences here at the compound, they're not smiling.

"Good to meet you," James says, smiling enough for the whole group, and taking the offered seat.

"Well, I know that you're a busy man, Mr. Case, so we may as well get right down to business, shan't we?" Dr. Personette opens, dismissing any ideas of foreplay before they get to whatever it is that they're after.

"Uh, sure, I guess," he answers, "but, what exactly is the business we're getting down to?"


"We're going to ask you a series of questions, James.  Just answer with the first thing that comes to mind.  There are no wrong answers here," she adds, though everyone present knows this to be a lie.

"How do upsetting problems generally make you feel?"

"Uh, upset," James says instinctively, trying to comply, but then feeling as though such an answer isn't really appropriate for the circumstances.  Correcting, he adds, "I tend to be a very solution-oriented person.  When problems arise, I find it best to divorce emotion as much as I'm able to, and spend my efforts toward looking for solutions, ideally multiple solutions so that I can pick from any number of workable solutions as a matter of process."

"When you get angry do you have trouble staying in control?"

"No." James mind flashes back to New Orleans, and his late night walkabout after that tiff with Illeana, but that wasn't really "out of control" was it?

"How do you typically deal with failure?" the man breaks in, rattling the question off with unsettling speed.

"May I have a glass of water?" James asks, patting his brow with this monogrammed towel.

"Later, agent Case," Dr. Personette replies.  "Please answer the question."

"I don't like to fail," James admits.  "I mean, I like to think that I'm here because I had such a good record with Ares before I lost my memory, and while every mission cannot be successful, I'd like to think that my missions can be successful."

The days of psychologists scribbling in notepads is long gone, but James can see it in their eyes.  They're scribbling down drek on him right now with their DNI, and looking smug as if they had some legal pad out in front of them while they did so.

"Have you ever been deliberately cruel to an animal?" the woman asks, adjusting her glasses.

"Not that I remember, but isn't that a thing little twisted kids do?" James says.  "I mean, I shot a behemoth, but that wasn't to be cruel.  It was trying to kill Illeana. . . Oh, and I shot a juggernaut, but it was trying to eat me, so I don't think that counts."  Dr. Personette looks up over her glasses, and James again questions his life choices.

"Would you consider yourself subjectively firm or objectively flexible?" Dr. Ames asks in his clipped way, though even he seems thrown by the last exchange..

"Objectively flexible.  Definitely," James says, certain that this, at least, is a correct answer.

"Would you rather ride on a train, dance in the rain, or feel no pain?" Dr. Personette asks, eyeing him closely.

"Uh, what?" James asks, caught off guard.  "No, no, you don't need to repeat yourself.  Umm, feel no pain, I guess.

"Thank you for your time, Mr. Case.  You'll find water and a Typhoon shake waiting for you in the locker room."

"Is that it?"

"No, I'm afraid not.  We'll complete the battery later this afternoon, after some additional training."

The Typhoon shake acts as James lunch, which keeps him from feeling bogged down in the way that a 3000 calorie meal would, and after he rehydrates, James returns to the gym for some light sparring and FireFight kata exercises.  None of his "opponents" offer much resistance -- Why are they going easy on me by sending these hoops in on me? he wonders, and he finishes the afternoon with some heavy calisthenics and free weight work before finding himself back in the little room with the doctors.

Again, they waste little time before starting the battery.

"It’s your birthday. Someone gives you a calfskin wallet. How do you react?" Dr. Personette opens.

"I say thank you," James answers immediately.  "That is a very extravagant gift, if for a rather superfluous piece of personal attire, and I don't know that I'm the kind of man who would really appreciate such a thing, but it would be a very nice gesture to say the least."

"You’ve got a little boy. He shows you his butterfly collection plus the killing jar. What do you do?"

"I'd inspect his collection," James says.  What the drek, are they trying to see if I get weepy about a bunch of dead bugs?!  In other news, James has been reading up on parenting, for what purpose is unclear, even to him, but at least he has something to add here.  "Specifically, I would see if he had any rare specimens that I may be able to comment on, you know for encouragement.  I may be a bit put off by the killing jar, but that would depend on whether or not he seemed to think that the killing jar was the 'cool' part of the whole thing, ya know?  The butterflies would be objectively beautiful and valuable in their own right.  The killing jar is simply a means to that aim.  If my boy felt otherwise, we may need to have a talk about that."

They scribble like mad, mentally anyway. 

"You’re watching the trid. Suddenly you realize there’s a wasp crawling on your arm. What do you do?"

"I stay still until it moves.  Then I smash it."

"You’re in a desert walking along in the sand when all of the sudden you look down, and you see a tortoise, it’s crawling toward you. You reach down, you flip the tortoise over on its back. The tortoise lays on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs trying to turn itself over, but it can’t, not without your help. But you’re not helping. Why is that?

"Why would I flip the tortoise?" James asks, confused.

"It's best if you don't question the scenarios, agent Case.  Just answer the question please," Dr. Personette says.

"I find this to be a difficult question to answer," James says. "Maybe I would want to see how it reacted?  Maybe I wanted to know how a creature evolutionarily designed to live in just such a place could cope with outside influences beyond its control.  Maybe, I dunno, I guess that's it."

"Describe in single words, only the good things that come into your mind about your mother."

"You do know that I don't know my mother, right?" James says, perhaps a bit more sharply than he intended.  They stare at him, waiting for an answer.  "I mean, I think my parents took us to the lake as kids.  Maybe?  If they did then--"

"Single words, agent Case."

A bit flustered James bursts out, "Vacant.  Nada.  Absent.  Empty fraggin' space.  Nothing.  No one.

"Gone.  She's gone."

Again, James has barely finished speaking before Dr. Ames drills in with the next question.  "You're reading a magazine. You come across a full-page nude photo of a girl. You show it to your girlfriend. She likes it so much, she hangs it on your bedroom wall. The girl is lying on a bearskin rug. How do you react?"

Are my sexual preferences part of the test?  James barely resists the urge to say so, but knows the only answer would be that he should answer the question.  "I would probably like that.  At first.  Later, I dunno, later maybe I would feel threatened by it.  I mean, a woman is one thing I can't be for her, right?  Like, the one thing I can't do."

"You impregnant a woman who runs off with your best friend, then decides to terminate the pregnancy. What do you do?" Dr. Personette's question is so ridiculous that James has to suppress a laugh, which at least brings him back to his senses a bit.

"I would be hurt.  Temporarily, at least, it would be awful.  And a year, maybe two down the line, I'd think I'd dodged a bullet.  There's some expression, I don't know where it comes from, but it goes: if you lend a chummer twent nuyen, and you never see him again, it was money well spent.  They'd both have saved me from the other."

"You're watching a stage play. A banquet is in progress. The guests are enjoying an appetizer of raw oysters. The entree consists of boiled dog stuffed with rice. The raw oysters are less acceptable to you than a dish of boiled dog. Why is that?"

James considers the question a bit before answering.  "Probably because I'm not the one eating it.  Watching someone else eat oysters is not the most appetizing experience, but watching someone pretend to eat dog is the same as watching the pretend to eat horse, or t-bone, or stuffed quail.  The playwright must have chosen dog for a reason, and I think I would be cognitive of that fact, but as for personal acceptance from the audience, yeah, oysters can look gross."

"Thank you again, agent Case" Dr. Personette says standing.  "We'll be in touch."

"Hey, anything I can do to help, right?" James says, with his easy smile, ready to get back to his room, to Illeana, and to a real meal for once today.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (01:59:43/08-18-16)
The Bulldog had taken James and Illeana straight to an Ares Arms building. They were briskly whisked through security before taking a high-speed elevator directly to the roof. There they are met by a GMC Banshee. The young corpers broke off with excited smiles while Rhodes joined James and Illeana in the t-bird. Then they were rocketed off to Detroit at supersonic speeds. (Rhodes mentioned 1,500 kph when James asked.) The flight took half an hour.

From there James and Illeana had been separated for individual testing, although they were allowed to maintain commlink contact between "sessions". James was initially concerned that they might have hacked Illeana commlink to mimic her communications, but there were enough inside jokes and private references that he was assured it was her.

James endured three straight days of grueling physical tests (including overnight monitoring in a test lab environment) and was looking forward to a weekend with Illeana to recover and compare notes. Their "home" was nowhere near as nice as what Rhodes had described - small windows with no views - but Rhodes assured them that they were at the top of the list for one of the prime housing units.

"We just had a VP get extracted," Rhodes explained. "Aztechnology, we think. You can have his unit just as soon as we clean it and sweep it for anything that may have assisted the extraction."

James wondered if that's the time they needed to lace the unit with enough sensors and tags to satisfy all the various Ares researchers who wanted a piece of the new celebrity couple.

"I'll be out on assignment until further notice," Rhodes said. "Retaliatory strike against the Azzies. No, you can't come with me. You remember what happened the last time you went on a retaliatory raid against the Azzies, don't you? Well check your service records if you don't. If you're not in an executive suite by the time I get back, I'll kick some hoops."



6:01 PM Friday, September 6th, 2075 - Detroit, UCAS

James arrives home from his most recent training session to find Illeana cooking dinner. It's the first time he's seen her in three days. He gives her a long kiss and then a little bit more. Over dinner - Illeana's traditional Stir-Friday - they debrief about their week. James turns up the Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail playing in the background, the voices of the singers helping to mask their own.

"You're working with Drs. Ames and Personette too?" James asks, somewhat surprised that they would assign the same doctors to a vampire that they would to a cyborg.

"You know she's Awakened, right?" Illeana asks. "She's running a battery of detection spells at all times. She assenses at regular intervals too."

"Is she any good?" James asks.

Illeana smiles mischievously. "Pretty good. Above average."

"What did you do?" he asks, taking a bite of stir-fried chicken with sweet peppers while 'accidentally' clinking his water glass to create a ringing sound.

"Let's just say that her spells didn't work as intended. They now understand my competence, if not my psychology."

Illeana sips on a 'smoothie' of unknown origins. James wonders what she added to it to add texture.

Later, in the shower, they talk more about things that might be more sensitive.

"Stevens and all our investments are in my name so they don't know about them," Illeana explains while James scrubs the accumulated grime off his skin. "In the meantime, I'm missing most of my foci: my sword, my coat, the knife I use for carving." She exhales slowly, the hot water cascading over her back. James glances at her mask that's sitting on the bathroom counter. The shower is one of the few times she doesn't wear it.

"Ares pulled some strings with Knight-Errant to get the Shin-Hyung out of being impounded," James responds. "That said, Ares has it now, who knows where. I got some questions about why I had a Hyundai instead of a GMC Commodore. I think they were disturbed to find that marketing and brand loyalty are susceptible to amnesia."

"They're planning on getting me a Corporate Limited SIN," Illeana says, her expression dubious.

"They're reactivating my Corporate Born SIN," James says. "The only hitch is whether the other 'me' gets the old SIN or the new one. Ares isn't on the forefront of rights for free spirits but evidently they've decided that the free spirit of a former Corporate Born SINner is more than they can turn their back on."

"They'll have biometrics on us once everything goes through," Illeana sighs, her cheeks puffing out. "That's enough for ritual sorcery to track us."

Later, cuddling in bed, there's no music so the conversation returns to less-sensitive topics. Illeana asks what an O-7 pay grade is worth.

"33,166 in Ares scrip every month," James answers. "That's with eight years of service. Evidently I get credit for my Firewatch years but not my Knight-Errant years."

"That's ¥9,476 a month at the current exchange rate," Illeana answers. James glances and confirms that her commlink is next to the bed, as is her mask. She knew the exchange rate off the top of her head and did the math. "I'm at ¥6,267. Our combined housing allowances are another ¥3,099 a month. Or, they would be if they paid us in nuyen. If we want to exchange it for something else it will take a bite if we're trying to stay under the radar. It doesn't seem like enough to cover the type of place Rhodes described."

"There will be significant discounts at Ares-owned properties for using Ares scrip," James explains. He cradles her in his arm, then kisses her forehead and tries to change the subject. "I'm looking forward to this weekend," he says.

On cue, a high priority alert comes through on James' headlink.

<<@Agent Case-β [Dr. Franklin Ames] R&R is hereby postponed until further notice. Report to duty at 06:00 tomorrow for additional testing.>>

James sighs and rubs the bridge of his nose. He tells Illeana, who asks what it means.

"It means welcome to active duty," he says, wondering how his old self used to feel about it. "Our time is no longer our own."
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (01:46:13/08-19-16)
6:01 AM Saturday, September 7th, 2075 - Detroit, UCAS

"Agent Case, uh, Beta, reporting for duty."

"You're tardy," Dr. Ames chides him. "We expect punctuality, Agent Case."

James elects not to respond. He just stares at the doctor, a black man somewhere in his 50s. He's wearing a white lab coat that contrasts brightly with his dark skin. Illeana had said that he had cultured bioware like Doc, so probably a high-end cerebral booster plus a mnemonic enhancer too.

Dr. Ames turns on a signal jammer and hands James a paper-and-pen test. "Commlinks off. You have 29 minutes to complete as many questions as possible. Begin."

James sits at a desk, alone in a room that could hold at least two dozen. Instead it's just Drs. Ames and Personette studying him as James scribbles his answers. The questions are broad, covering topics as diverse as natural history and trid actors and directors. There are math and science and vocabulary questions, plus a short segment on chess tactics that James actually enjoys.

"Time," Dr. Ames says. James isn't even halfway done with the test. He stands and hands it in.

"Disrobe," Dr. Personette orders. She's standing next to a treadmill attached to a great deal of monitoring equipment. James strips down to his Ares Rapid Transit Platinum TekLite body suit. The doctors wordlessly attach wireless sensors to James' body.

"Why were you going so easy on me in the sparring sessions?" James asks, as much to break the silence as to get an answer.

The doctors exchange a silent look as they continue to attach sensors. They place a mask over his face that James knows will measure his CO2 output. There's also a straw in the mask that will provide hydration. Dr. Personette finally says, "It would be inappropriate to comment on the testing, as doing so might compromise the results. Now, run until failure."

James inwardly groans. That means running until he can't run any more. It was going to be an exhausting day. Dr. Personette set the treadmill to a steady pace of 13kph. The pace is easy for James, ridiculously easy. It might as well be walking, even though his legs are hitting the treadmill at a steady rhythm. He wonders if this is actually a psychological test instead. There's absolutely nothing to look at except for the blank wall in front of him. The room is white, the lights are white, the lab coats are white. His eyes start to lose focus.

His commlink isn't supposed to be on, so he can't even talk to Illeana while running. A half hour passes, then an hour. He begins to wish that he had something, anything to occupy his mind. Even Illeana's spreadsheets would be a gift. Instead he goes through various chess openings in his mind: King's Pawn Game, Center Game, Bishop's Opening, Vienna Game, King's Gambit, King's Knight Opening, Scotch Game, Three Knights Game. More time passes but it's hard to keep track because there's no time or distance counter that James can see.

He looks over at Dr. Personette. She's in her forties, tall and lean with serious hair and a serious expression. Her ancestry is European, probably English. James wonders what tradition she follows. Hermetic, most likely. He reviews what he knows about hermetic mages, then goes on to think about architecture, tequila, industrial chemistry, Manhattan fashion, crime fiction, insect spirits, the special forces of Aztechnology, and the Natelys, all in no particular order.

A lot of time goes by. James wonders if he's run a full marathon by now. He wonders if the doctors will give out before he does. They do look rather tired on their feet, and rather hungry too...

"Can we increase the pace?" James finally asks, not the least bit winded. The doctors exchange another silent look. Dr. Ames nods.

The speed of the treadmill increases and its such a blessed relief that James almost cries. "Faster," he says, and they comply. "Faster."

James' legs are flying and he knows it. It's running, but his kind of running. He's going at least twice as fast as he was before. This would be a sprint for a normal runner - one of those poor suckers dependent on meat legs - but for him and his redlined limbs it is a jog. At least now there's the prospect of finishing this test before tomorrow, he thinks.

The relief is short-lived. Even at this pace, James knows he can run for ages. His training - training which his brain barely remembers but that his "muscles" certainly do - basically made him a professional runner, swimmer, and gymnast. Combined with his natural abilities (well, cybernatural), he is basically unstoppable. The only one who might potentially outrun him was Illeana, and that's because her vampiric powers of regeneration essentially meant that she never got tired. Now that often works to James benefit, as her refractory period is basically zero... His mind wanders off.

James has no idea how much time or distance has gone by. He spaces out regularly, losing track of his ongoing pace count somewhere around 50,000. The only consolation is that the doctors look even more tired than he does. He savors their discomfort for a moment before blanking out again.

When he comes to, the doctors are looking far more attentive. He wonders if they got something to eat while he wasn't paying attention.

"That will be enough, Agent Case," Dr. Personette announces. "The test is complete."

James steps off the treadmill. Dr. Ames considers him warily, then hands James the same test he was working on this morning. "Resume," Dr. Ames says.

James knows that it's hopeless to ask for a towel or for lunch (or dinner?) so he sits and resumes the test where he left off. After another thirty minutes Dr. Ames calls time again. He stands to hand in his test. The demeanor of the doctors has visibly changed since he last spaced out on the treadmill test. He wonders if he blew their minds with his performance.

Dr. Ames accepts the test and puts it aside without looking at it. "Please return to your seat," he says, looking at James as if he's some alien specimen. James does.

"We're going to ask you a series of questions, James," Dr. Personette says, her tone more intense than before. "Just answer with the first thing that comes to mind.  There are no wrong answers here. How do upsetting problems generally make you feel?"

"Didn't we do this yesterday?" James asks.

"Please answer the question," Dr. Personette says to complete the cycle. Her tone is definitely more agitated.

"Uh, upset. Same as yesterday."

Dr. Personette opens her mouth to ask then next question, then closes it. She starts and stops a few times, visibly flustered.

"Why are we doing this?" James asks.

"To see if your answers change," Dr. Ames answers coolly. He leans back with a hand on his chin, studying James.

"Do they ever?" James asks.

"Yes," Dr. Ames answers simply.

"Oh, you mean from before," James says, the realization dawning on him. He wonders how much the other James Case - Case Alpha - answered the questions.

"Well, yes," Dr. Ames admits. While something seems to have made Dr. Personette upset, Dr. Ames seems to have become more frank and more open. "But also day-to-day changes, as well as changes brought about by mental or physical fatigue."

"Well I'm just going to give the same answers as I did yesterday," James says. "Solution-oriented, divorced from emotion, and so on."

Dr. Ames shakes his head slowly. James is visibly confused. Dr. Ames flicks off the signal jammer. "Turn your commlink back on."

James does so. Dr. Ames sends a video to the image link in James' cyber eyes. He sees a recording of his interview yesterday.

"How do upsetting problems generally make you feel?" Dr. Personette asks.

"Uh, upset," James says reflexively. "Speaking of which, bro, I hate to ask you this, but could you spot me some cash? I'm, like, ¥300 short on my CINNAMON TOAST payment due on the 15th."

The doctors exchange a look.

Correcting, James adds, "I tend to be a very solution-oriented person.  When problems arise, I find it best to divorce emotion as much as I'm able to, and spend my efforts toward looking for solutions, ideally multiple solutions so that I can pick from any number of workable solutions as a matter of process."


Dr. Ames stops the video and looks to see if James has an explanation. "Your brain waves indicated a significant shift during your erratic answer, Agent Case. You were brought in today for additional testing and examination. Here's what just happened."

He sends another video to James. It's from James' session on the treadmill. James sees the timestamp and realizes that he must have been running for at least five hours.

"Here, Agent Case," Dr. Ames says, pausing the feed. "Your brain waves shift again here. You were, quite literally, asleep on your feet. While sleeping in an upright position is physiologically possible, it is unprecedented for a human to fall asleep while running at 26kph and to continue running."

James watches. It's pretty hard to argue with what the electrophysiological monitoring is suggesting. He looks unconscious, but yet he runs.

Dr. Personette rejoins the conversation, still perturbed. "Agent Case, we detected some anamolous nanoware in your system, concentrated in your prefrontal cortex. The design and functionality are foreign to us but the nanites appear to have unconscious control of your nervous and muscular systems. Unauthorized augmentations are strictly forbidden in the Instigator program, although we recognize that there are attenuating circumstances in this case. Next, describe the nanoware to the best of your ability, including origin and intended functionality. Please, be detailed."
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (12:21:48/08-23-16)
Oh dear Hecate, just like Chino.  James shifts uncomfortably in his seat.  It would be one thing to see videos of him before, if his voice had changed, or his mannerisms, even patterns of speech -- he's come at least to expect something like that at some point.  But to see himself speaking just yesterday, and to see a stranger uttering those words, it's terrifying.

His initial impulse is to snap them both like twigs.  He would lunge for Dr. Personette first, impale her over the table with his spur, and then hit Dr. Ames with his shock hand, just to stun him for long enough that James could come around and finish the job quietly with his hand held tight over the man's mouth.

But it wouldn't change anything.  Still, the fact that James is considering it means that his very short-lived life back at Ares is over.  There's no way they'd return him to active duty now.  Ares wouldn't have him monitoring a food processor at this point.

 "Agent Case, we detected some anamolous nanoware in your system, concentrated in your prefrontal cortex. The design and functionality are foreign to us but the nanites appear to have unconscious control of your nervous and muscular systems. Unauthorized augmentations are strictly forbidden in the Instigator program, although we recognize that there are attenuating circumstances in this case. Next, describe the nanoware to the best of your ability, including origin and intended functionality. Please, be detailed."

"I haven't had any unauthorized augmentations," James begins.  "Well, that's not quite right.  I installed a stealth dongle on my implanted commlink, but I did so myself and was conscious the whole time.

"Forgive me, this is quite a lot to take in," he adds trying to make sense of the revelation, and keep Dr. Personette's questions straight.

"I don't know where the nanites originate from," he says, settling on a strategy.  "Nor do I know what their intended functionality is.  As best I can tell, they are from before I was me.

"More importantly, at least from where I'm sitting, what can we do about them?  I'm not keen on a 'repeat performance,'" he says motioning toward his internal commlink, but the gesture could just as easily be interpreted as him pointing toward his own brain pan. 
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (18:59:48/08-23-16)
The doctors exchange a silent look yet again. James wonders if it's just an ingrained habit for them at this point or if there's actually some sort of code or pattern to the looks. But why wouldn't they just comm each other? Or maybe they are madly in love with each other, forbidden to consummate their passion by Ares' policies against co-fraternization within the same department. The silent looks afford them the opportunity to stare deeply into each other's eyes, if only for a fleeting moment.

"We can tell that you are distressed, Agent Case," Dr. Personette says dispassionately. "Please remain calm. You are among friends." She fixes James with a cool, even gaze that's anything but friendly.

"We will need to run additional tests, of course," Dr. Ames says eagerly, and James wonders if he just signed himself up for a lifetime of running until he passes out.

"I hope you understand how unique you are," Dr. Personette says with a tone that could be described as mildly patronizing. "Agent Case, there is so much we can learn from you. The separation of body and spirit is, of course, intensely fascinating from a metaphysical perspective itself."

Dr. Ames jumps in. "I think you can understand how valuable it would be if we could give our operatives the ability to physically function even after being rendered unconscious. You understand the potential in that, don't you?"

"Just as you said yesterday, 'Anything I can do to help, right?'" Dr. Personette adds with a sly smile, the first smile James has ever seen on her, as she feeds his own words back to him.



12:01 PM Tuesday, September 10th, 2075 - Detroit, UCAS

The next few days are a grueling grind of physical and mental testing. James is being run ragged with practically no downtime. Dr. Ames and Personette can't monitor him 24-hours a day so other doctors and technicians fill in.

"What can I talk to Rhodes?" James asks Bobby, a bright young man with the build of a couch potato, despite Ares' strong cultural bias for fitness and physical activity. Still, Bobby has a good sense of humor and the idealism of youth. This might be a calculated ploy by Ares to have someone working with James that he will be less inclined to brutally murder out of frustration. Or, if he does, at least it was a junior employee, and a fat one at that.

"He's still on assignment," Bobby answers, checking several monitors while James does an unending series of squats and pull-ups. "Probably eating tacos and murdering Jaguar Warriors. Or vice versa."

"When can I meet my brother?" James asks.

"He's also on assignment," Bobby says. "Different assignment. It's weird that you don't know him. He's a legend around here; everyone knows his name. Best rigger in the whole company, probably the whole world. Half of the most recent generation of drone pilot 'softs are based on his work."

"When can I see Illeana?" James asks.

"She's going through her own testing," Bobby answers, his white lab coat showing some red stains of whatever he had for lunch. "And, I might add, setting several corporate records in the process."

He pauses what he's doing to list off a series of names on his fingers. "Aztechnology, Cavalier Arms, DeBeers-Omnitech, the Draco Foundation, Evo, Saeder-Krupp, Wuxing, and ZetaImpChem all have or have had vampires on the payroll before, but she's a first for Ares. Officially, anyway. I think the fact that she's infertile helped convince them to take the risk."

But how would they have know that before testing her? James wonders. It probably means that it's not the real reason. So, am I the reason they took a chance on her? Is studying me so important that they'd risk letting a vampire loose in the company? Or did my other self tell them how helpful she is? Or is there something else?

James sees Bobby get a far-away look in his eye when talking about Illeana. The look of distraction, desire. She has that affect on people, especially men. Bobby shakes his head to clear it.

"Mr. Knight is reviewing the daily briefs on her," Bobby says. "On both of you," he quickly adds. "There are some markers in her blood that suggest that she's older than she looks. Rumor is Mr. Knight wants to meet her. I mean both of you."

With his regular Leónization treatments and deltaware bioware, Mr. Knight looks and moves like a world-class Urban Brawl player. James continues his unending up-and-down loop of squats and sit-ups and wonders if he's going to have to geek Mr. Knight for trying to steal his girl.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (14:29:34/08-24-16)
10:01 PM Tuesday, September 10th, 2075 - Detroit, UCAS

James is running.  Again.  And again with Bobby, that fat little weasel who must've really drawn the short straw to be standing next to James for what must be a full twelve hour shift today.  And again, he's running through chess openings, trying to pass the time as jogs along at a mindnumbingly uninteresting 26 kph.  Only one thing is different this go-around, one thing that nags at James even as he plays through the various responses.  Normally he favors aggressive, tactically oriented opening games, and almost always Kings Pawn games with the white pieces.  But now he finds himself examining the English opening, and Catalan, positional games where white sacrifices initiative, fianchettos his light-squared bishop, and squeezes out a win with small incremental improvements that seek to deprive the opponent of good moves in return.  With the black pieces he examines the French, Caro Kann, and the Slav Defense: all solid foundational approaches to minimizing white's starting advantage and creating a difficult castle to storm. 

He finds his change in thinking interesting, but also worrisome.  Is he accelerating the nanite's takeover by continuing to stress his body in this fashion, and for these lengths of time?  And if so, why are the nanites more interested in positional games?  Given James' current predicament, it would seem as though tactics need to win the day.  Or are they communicating with him somehow, encouraging him to play the long game?  And if so, are they doing so because biding his time only gives them more control? 

Or maybe the nanites are from Evo? he reasons, knowing that the Russians have favored each of those openings since the days of Soviet hegemony in the world of competitive chess. 

"May I turn the wireless functionality on for my commlink?" James asked, trying to keep his voice neutral over his natural contempt for the doughy fragstick in front of him.

"Why?" Bobby asks, his insufferable smile faltering for a moment.

"I want to know how many games Botvinnik won with the Slav Defense."

"I'll check for you," Bobby says, and his eyes grow even more dull for a moment.  "Six wins, four draws, no losses with the Slav.  Oh, and he played thirty-five games with the Semi-Slav, and only lost one," he adds, helpfully.

In the time it took Bobby to check, James could have hurdled the treadmill, and grated Bobby's face against the rapidly spinning mat like so much soycheese.  But then he'd have no one to feed him information about chess players who have been dead for seventy-five years.  What a shame that would be.

Instead, James lets the topic of chess die out, and he returns to letting Bobby gush about how great everyone is, and how wonderful his -- and more importantly -- Illeana's progress have been these past few days.  He keeps his questions general and non-specific, encouraging Bobby to delve into details only with noncommittal nods and silence as the man speaks.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (23:27:44/08-24-16)
??:?? AM/PM Thursday, September 12th (?), 2075 - Detroit, UCAS

If Bobby is the good cop, the doctors are the bad cops. During the testing sessions they observe, they throw sand on James, which finds its way into uncomfortable crevasses and causes abrasions all over his skin. They douse him frequently with cold water and tell him run if he wants to stay warm.

James hasn't seen the light of day all week. Probably to prevent me from running off, he thinks. His test environments have all been exceedingly drab. He's woken up at odd intervals, often roughly and in the middle of REM sleep. Without his commlink, he rarely has any clue what time it is, how much time has passed, or how much time is left until he can go home and collapse. Or, per the nanites, keep going.

Meals are the only way that James can keep track of what time it is, or might be. The only upside to the hellacious training is that he can eat as much as he wants of whatever he wants. The serve him four meals a day, including 'Mid-Rats' that he assumes are around midnight, plus regular snacks and constant hydration to the point where James thinks it might be some kind of water torture.

"What do you want for breakfast?" Bobby asks, ready to take down an order while James runs.

"Soykaf. Juice. Ham and eggs. Oatmeal with raisins and cinnamon. Toast with butter and jam."

Bobby freezes. James quickly reviews what he said.

"Did you say 'cinnamon toast'?" Bobby asks, trying not to sound concerned.

James kicks himself, realizing that he did say 'cinnamon' and 'toast' sequentially. He wonders if he just inadvertently canceled his scheduled R&R.

"No," James says, trying to keep his tone even. "Toast with butter and jam. Oatmeal with raisins and cinnamon."

Bobby nods understandingly but takes far more notes than he should be at this point of the testing. "Coming right up," he says absently.

Breakfast arrives, as requested, and James gets to stop running for fifteen minutes to eat. He peppers Bobby with questions to help break the silence. "Bobby, what suits does Mr. Knight favor these days? Bobby, what improvements have they made to the focusing lenses in Redlines and Lancers since the last time they went through trials? Bobby, what sort of heat dispersion does the latest generation of ballistics cloth offer for our high-end clothing lines?"

Bobby answers gamely and at length at first, then slows down and answers more cautiously. James thinks back and realizes that his questions might be interpreted as how resistant Mr. Knight's suits might be to laser shots. That line of questioning probably wouldn't look very good on his evaluation.

Ares had already confiscated James' Redline, ostensibly under the premise of evaluating it and performing the necessary maintenance and upgrades, and had yet to return it. The lack of it weighed on James in a strange way. Of course it was easier to run and jump and exercise without a one-kilo weight on the small of your back, but its absence felt heavier than the nominal weight did.

Bobby doesn't seem to let James' questions weigh on him too heavily, although he continues to take notes at an above-average pace. "C'mon," he says when James' allotted meal time is over. "I have a special treat for you."

He leads James out into a sterile hallway, then down to a testing room that James hasn't been in before. Bobby opens the door with a cheerful, "Ta da!"

In the middle of the room, there's a massive... torture machine? It has hydraulic arms and and reciprocating cams and a lot of crazy drek.

"It's an Ultra Gym!" Bobby announces proudly. "I had to pull some strings. It's an Evo product and generally there's a strict prohibition on purchasing anything from their MetaErgonomics line, but in this case we didn't have a sufficient internal equivalent. Check it out!"

James approaches it cautiously. He sees that he's supposed to stand in the middle of it and do... something.

"Sorry it wasn't here sooner," Bobby says. "First I had to submit a proposal for an exception for the purchase order. That took a day to get approval. Then we had to get it delivered and assembled. That took another day. Then we ran through proper testing, which took another day. It all takes time, you know?"

James didn't know, but he does now.

"Sit in the saddle in the middle. Put your feet on the pedals and cinch the belt around your waist. The grab the handgrips and squeeze the trigger when you're ready!"

James follows the directions but waits to squeeze the trigger.

"It has 20 levels," Bobby explains. "Your average adult male is going to start at level 3 and work his way up. But based on your testing, let's try... level 18!"

James squeezes the trigger. Almost immediately, he finds himself doing a fast cycle of chest press, biceps curl, shoulder press, lat pulldown, while simultaneously alternating leg presses and thigh curls. It is alternately wonderful and horrible. While the change of pace is a sweet relief, the level of effort required is ridiculous. The weights were clearly designed for an ork or a troll and James quickly finds himself outmatched within the first sixty seconds. The overly-heavy weights cause him to tweak his back and reaggravate a wrist injury he had sustained earlier in training. He can run all day, faster and farther than almost anybody, but strength-wise he's only a regular superhuman. He wonders if the final test is to see whether he throws up his breakfast all over the machine.

Checking James' vitals, Bobby says, "Woah, let's dial it down there!" He reduces the level to 16, which is a challenge but feels sustainable. The urge to vomit subsides but his back and wrist still ache.

The testing stops after fifteen minutes. James feels more tired than he did after six hours of running, and debates whether he would fall to the floor if it weren't for the saddle. Still, Bobby claps, applauding his performance.

"That's it!" he says. "You did it! You're done! I'm filing your report as we speak. Your R&R starts now!"

"What time is it?" James asks between gasping breaths.

"It's 13:01," Bobby answers.

"But I just had breakfast?"

"Eh," the chubby technician answers with a shrug. "Anyway, I bet you're eager to get home. As you have no idea where you are, I'll get a couple guards to guide you back."

Bobby summons an ork and a troll who are wearing armor jackets and helmets. They have stun gloves on their left hands and stun batons on their right hip, plus Ares Executioner SMGs on slings. They escort James through a long series of hallways, then an elevator, then an underground tram, then another series of escalators, elevators, and hallways - always indoors - until he finally recognizes "home". It's still the less-prestigious apartment that he and Illeana were in last weekend. The ork and the troll take him to the front door, then spin into sentry position on each side of the doorway. James sighs and enters.

He's practically tackled by Illeana, who leaps into his arms and cinches her arms around his neck like a noose. James holds her, self-conscious of how sweaty he is, and closes the door gently behind him.

"You're back!" she exclaims with a tone halfway between relief and disbelief. "Bobby kept me updated on how you were doing but I wasn't 100% sure they were going to let you come home!"

James, exhausted as he can remember being and with a painfully sore back, slides down the wall until he's sitting on the floor. He cradles Illeana and strokes the back of her hair and notes that she's not wearing her mask. She nuzzles her face into his neck and exhales deeply, as if she had been holding her breath for days.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (12:07:52/08-30-16)
When Illeana nuzzles his neck James exclaims, "Your mask?!  What happened?" and traces the line of her jaw gently with his thumb.  They both sigh deeply, and James breathes her in like the scent of home and smiles broadly.  Their lovemaking is less athletic than usual, but it's a slow burn that leaves him sated and sleepy afterward. 

"I've missed you," he says simply, stroking her hair in the bed afterward before falling into a deep sleep.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (01:53:57/08-31-16)
Illeana doesn't immediately answer about her mask, but her nuzzling and kissing strongly suggest that she had it off in anticipation of James' arrival home. He sees it on the bathroom counter after Illeana carries him off to the shower.

James falls asleep while Illeana readies some alchemical preparation to fix his wrist and back. He has good dreams courtesy of Illeana. He dreams of a cool green mountain meadow with a fresh babbling brook winding through it. In the dream, James naps in the warm sun while Illeana plays a flute or a harp or some lilting instrument. (She later tells him that it's a Mozart piece titled, appropriately enough, Concerto for Flute and Harp (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2zye5kKrEk).)

James has only squeezed in a few hours of sleep each day for the last five days, and very little of that was contiguous. He sleeps for 18 hours, waking up at 08:00 on Friday the 13th. The first things he smells are pancakes, eggs, and soykaf.

"How did you know when I'd wake up?" he asks groggily, propping himself up in bed.

"I didn't," she admits. "I've just been making pancakes at regular intervals for a while now."

"How long?"

"Six hours," she says, trying to block James' view of a several dozen excess pancakes heaped in a huge mound.

"You didn't sleep?" he asks.

She gives a little shrug. "I didn't sleep well while you were gone. I'm a bit off-schedule."

Illeana curls up next to James while he eats and updates him on her testing regimen. Evidently she was able to coax regular updates out of Bobby with her feminine wiles. James can imagine that being a highly effective strategy with the portly technician.

"I'm worried," she says in a whisper barely above subvocal. "I'm worried that we'll be perpetual test subjects. Each of us must be a researcher's dream come true. What if they never let us out of their sight? What kind of life will that be?"

"This isn't exactly what I signed on for," James agrees. "It may suck, but it's completely understandable, especially given that we just got here. Let's get out today and forget all about it for the weekend."

After spending the morning together, James and Illeana finally get up and get dressed. The weather forecast mentions the possibility of thunderstorms over the weekend so they dress accordingly. James goes to the front door... and finds it locked. He tries again to confirm that it's not a lock or maglock. The door still won't give. Finally, James knocks. The door opens and James sees the same ork and troll who dropped him off yesterday. Evidently he managed to sleep through the entire shift of the other guards, presuming that there is a separate shift with separate guards.

"Yes, sir, how may I help you?" the ork asks.

"I'm sorry, you are...?" James asks.

"First Sergeant Towser," the ork answers. James looks at him and sees a face that might be kind if it smiled. The man had blond hair and blue eyes and looks rather like Chino, if Chino had a deep tan. "This is Gunnery Sergeant Hartman," he says, indicating the troll.

Hartman is huge and more than a meter taller than James. "How many we help you, sir?" the troll rumbles, echoing the ork's question.

"We wanted to do some shopping," James explains. "Take in a trid and probably do dessert and soykaf out."

Towser nods quickly with an apologetic expression on his face that says "I understand, sir, but..."

"I understand, sir, but our internal intelligence reports have indicated that there is an extremely high probability that you are at imminent risk of extraction," Towser explains. "If you prefer, you will find that your home entertainment system features everything available from Ares Global Entertainment, including new releases. You may also do any online shopping you like via your commlinks. Delivery is complimentary, as are exchanges and returns. You may also order dessert from any restaurant in the greater Detroit metropolitan area and it will be delivered under 30 minutes."

James studies the man and realizes that his insignia are unfamiliar to him. "What's your unit, First Sergeant?" James asks. "You're not Knight Errant, nor Firewatch."

Towser stiffens. "Seraphim, sir," he answers tersely.

Seraphim. Elite corporate security that Damien Knight retained from Cross Applied Technologies when he picked CATco apart following Crash 2.0.

"Ah, Seraphim," James says knowingly, although unsure about whether he outranks these men or not. "A special consulting services division that is responsible for providing bodyguards for Ares executives, conducting internal investigations, threat assessment, and other operations typically assigned to elite internal security, correct?"

"Correct," Towser answers stiffly.

"Well if you are our bodyguards," James says with a sly smile. "Then bodyguard us. Let's go." He grabs Illeana's hand and pulls her past them. Illeana flashes James an impressed smile as they walk hand-in-hand to the elevator. Towser and Hartman fall in behind. There is a moment of awkwardness as the foursome steps into the elevator together.

"This is the recommended route based on your requested itinerary, sir," Towser says, sending an ARO with a highlighted map to James and Illeana. "This will provide the greatest coverage for overwatch with the least exposure for extraction."

"I'd like to go outside," James says, noting that the route remains completely indoors.

"Negative, sir. The current weather conditions are thunderstorms and high winds."

"First Sergeant, did you ever do surf training? Cold as tits outside but you're down on your back in the sand with waves pounding over you and the wind robbing your skin of whatever heat it might have had?"

"Yes, sir," Towser answers cautiously, unhappy with where this is going.

"So did I. A late summer thunderstorm is nothing. Let's go get wet."

The elevator doors open and James pulls Illeana out. Towser and Hartman follow, with Towser calling in the route change to whatever central operative is keeping overwatch. James strides through the lobby with Illeana in tow and boldly pushes through the lobby doors. He stands outside, face up to the rain as he sees the sky for the first time since Baltimore. He sighs contentedly.

"Okay, that's enough of that," he says, squeezing Illeana's hand. She takes that as her cue to activate a magical preparation that forms a shimmering barrier around them that wards off the rain. The two lovers hold hands through the plaza while Towser and Hartman follow unhappily behind.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (12:00:21/08-31-16)
"You're too cute for words," James says, peering past Illeana at the pile of cooling or cold pancakes behind her.  "Those are way too big for you hide with that little waist of yours," he adds playfully.

Over breakfast they talk about James' dreams, courtesy of Illeana, and she tells him that she chose a Mozart piece for his trip through some European meadows.  "You have a good memory," he jokes.  Snuggled up while he eats, Illeana tells him about the regular updates from Bobby, and James asks if she was knows how often they are able to trigger his "fugue" states, for lack of a better word.  "They won't tell me anything during the testing," James adds.  "Maybe they think it will interfere with the results."

After breakfast, James dresses and shaves while Illeana readies herself for a fun day trip shopping, and James is a little annoyed afterward that his door must be opened from the outside.  After a brief exchange with his escort, James pulls Illeana toward the elevator, and the two metas follow dutifully.

"So, how about a piece?" James asks while the elevator descends, and the ork and troll give one another worried looks.  "Look, I know you're good with that thing," James says to the troll, "but you're not as good as I am," he adds matter-of-factly.

"And last I checked I am licensed and authorized to carry a firearm both for execution of my duties to Ares and for my personal protection.  Yep," he says, double-checking his SIN.  "Still there, and should there be an extraction attempt three guns are better than two."

#

The shopping goes quickly, and almost cheerfully despite the rain and overall bleakness of Detroit.  James looks at ties, commlinks, cufflinks, a new dress for Illeana, and briefly considers a calfskin wallet priced at ¥675 with a chuckle.  He looks at art for the walls of their apartment, and openly discusses with Illeana the virtues of buying pieces now, versus waiting until they move into their more permanent, and promised, living quarters.  He even lets Illeana drag him into an upscale talismonger shop where she enters into rapt discussion with the clerk, a rather tall and pale human gentleman who apologizes that they don't have more Wiccan goods -- Ares being given to a certain corporate prejudice toward hermetics.  James asks about special orders and delivery times, interjecting where he can here and there about all things mana-related, but soon the discussion turns to technical for a mundane to understand much.

For lunch, James has a cuban sandwich and bottled water, and invites Towser and Hartman to join them.  "I've never completely gotten used to eating alone," James confesses.  "Another few pairs of smacking jaws would be a welcome addition to my repast."

Over the meal, James notes the different types of Typhoon shakes the restaurant makes in house, adding flavors and supplements as directed by the clientele.  "It was an interesting marketing strategy," James says, pointing his sandwich to the ARO.

"Hmm?" Towser says, noncommittally, the more verbal of the two.

"You see, Ares had been used to sharing the foodstuffs market with the proctologists for a long time," James says, making reference to an old slang term for Aztechnology, or as the Ares' school boys called it, Asstechnology.  "but when Renraku entered the market, and with very Ares-esque packing with their XLerator line of performance supplements, Mr. Knight himself took it as a personal affront.  The prevailing wisdom was to follow the course that Ares had previously held, just try to out-Ares Renraku, which shouldn't be too hard, right?  Package the new line in red, white, and blue, maybe throw a few maples leafs on the UCAS offerings and put the old stars and bars on the CAS one, but some kid just out of uni had a brilliant counter play.  We're already Ares.  Let's out Renraku Renraku.

"And the Typhoon line was born.  It was a brilliant move in an increasingly multicultural world that still played on American prejudices of the Nipponese takeovers.  They gave their flavors names like 'Ronin,' and 'Kakyū,' words that carry a certain mystique for anglos, and the Amerinds to a certain extent, but which have definite negative connotations in traditonal Nipponese society.  My favorite is the 'Gaijin.' 

"Anyway, what trid would you like to see, Kat?" he asks to silent groans from his two "bodyguards."
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (12:37:35/08-31-16)
Illeana says that she doesn't know how frequently James' fugue states are triggered, but she says she'll try to find out once testing recommences.

"Negative," Towser says to James' request for a piece. "In the event of an extraction, your orders" - he looks to both James and Illeana - "are to take cover and wait for backup. If direct contact is made, your orders are to resist with your cyberweapons and..."

He trails off, glancing at Illeana. He looks at her distastefully seeming to understand what she is. "...improvised weapons."

An extraction attempt does not seem highly likely during the shopping trip. The areas where James and Illeana are guided to go are AA and AAA locations with extensive coverage by Knight Errant officers in addition to regular drone patrols. James and Illeana are not the only ones with bodyguards trailing them at a respectful distance. Towser and Hartman generally wait outside in the rain while James and Illeana shop, although James is fairly certain that means that the cameras and sensors in the store are keeping tabs on him instead.

Similarly, both Towser and Hartman decline to join James for lunch or Typhoon shakes. Instead they keep watch, with one scanning the perimeter while the other keeps eyes on the "packages" at all times. They often position themselves a dozen meters away. James wonders if they have intentionally calibrated this distance in an effort to be outside of James' immediate striking distance. Are they concerned that he'll run off, or that he'll turn violent during a fugue?

Illeana notes the use of her nickname "Kat" when they arrive at the cinema and scan the listings.

"Two options," she says. "They have the latest Manhunt sequel." She gives James a knowing look. The antagonist features active camouflage and directed-energy weapons, and the title of the film seems to resonate. "Or the Cross Point: Daedalus trilogy, remastered and rereleased." James knows the one. It features "Ace Holt" running around with an Ares Redline pistol.

"So which will it be, Ace?" she asks playfully.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (11:42:16/09-06-16)
"Oh, Crosspoint.  For sure." James smiles back.

He orders the tickets on his link, and they finish up their lunch without any more impromptu lectures.  Later, once they've found their seats and the previews have ended, he begins inspecting his garments electronically for stealth tags.  Once he's confirmed that there are two apiece in each jacket, shirt, shoes, etc. he grabs Illeana's hand and begins tracing letters across her palm.

W E R T R A C K E D

He starts, not that she hasn't assumed as much.  L R O P E he begins again, and finishes with a rough sketch of gallows across her hand.  With so many modes of egress through the theater it really is surprising to James that the escorts have chosen to remain outside.  Throughout the first act, while Ace Holt is geeking terrorists with flashy trideo-only FireFight moves and his trusty Redline, James goes through the process of locating the stealth tags in Illeana's clothes, and trying no to think too much about how naked he feels without his Redline.  Fraggers.  That's going to be a real pain in the hoop to replace.

Later, James excuses himself to the restroom with the plan of seeing if he can potentially manufacture a distraction that will allow Illeana and him to make a break for it.  Unfortunately, his timing is off, and James can't find a place to pee without being flanked, much less gain access to the janitor's closet or air vents.  He returns to his seat, and sits down heavily.

N O L U C K, he traces on Illeana's palm.  A F T E R S H O W ?
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (15:50:51/09-06-16)
Illeana downloads a quick Morse code tutorial via her commlink. Grabbing James' hand, she squeezes her response:

W I Z
Y N O T
W A L K I N G O R R U N N I N G

Conveniently, there's a love scene in the movie where Ace Holt finally seduces the lovely Mona Lott. Illeana uses the on-scene romance as an opportune time to lean in an pretend to neck with James. Her mask bumps into his neck, which isn't as much fun as real necking, but at least she can whisper in his ear while the rest of the audience is focused on Mona's on-screen assets.

"I'll cook up a little something to distract them," she whispers.

James knows what she's referring to. Illeana can put together what she calls a "party preparation" that's basically the magical version of drugs or sex or large amounts of chocolate. Usually it's fun for personal use but in this case it could be a good way to have the good Sergeants orgasming instead of minding their targets. It might be a way to avoid triggering their biomonitors too.

Once the love scene is complete, Illeana takes the straw out of James' drink, splits it in half, and begins inscribing it with magical runes and mystical formulae that were probably never intended to go on a 10cm piece of cylindrical plastic.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (12:29:47/09-07-16)
James moves his index and middle finger across Illeana's palm in quick succession, miming running legs, then spells out W I Z.

He makes quick work of the stealth tags once they've been located, cutting just along the seam of his and Illeana's clothes, and depositing them in his pocket.  While Ace Holt is so rudely interrupted in his tryst by goons who think they've sprung a lethal trap, James checks the underground walkways for the easiest mode of egress.  He comes up short.

N O C L E A R E X I T he taps into her palm in morse code.

James ponders his possibilities.  He could easily replace the tags, have Illeana stitch them in place in such a way that they could be removed even easier and more quickly next time.  They could go back to the apartment without a fuss, perhaps give Hartman and Towser an opportunity to grow complacent.  Ha ha, James.  Complacent and Seraphim don't exactly mix well.  If nothing else, a trip back to the apartment could afford more time for planning. 

But would it get them anywhere?  Their matrix traffic is certainly monitored, and searches on Detroit's underground sewer grid is likely to get his R&R cut short and have him live the next three months in a box before he sees the sky again.  This was always the biggest trick for operatives.  There were very few now or never moments, and a successful agent had to know when to make something out of nothing and when to bide their time. 

It's only been a few days, he says to himself, but he doubts it will get much easier later.  Unless they find a cure or some way to control it.  Now that'd be a first: patient zero also becomes the first patient to be cured.  Doubtful.

James wonders what he's escaping to, then, if he's still going to lose himself.  Again.  Illeana gives his hand a squeeze that brings him back to himself.  That.  That's why.

R U N B L I N D ?
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (01:15:02/09-14-16)
Illeana spends the remainder of the film creating preparations while Ace Holt leaps and lasers and, in the end, finally beds the lovely Mona Lott. The action and romance keep the audience's attention firmly planted on the holographic images while Illeana scratches and scribbles and creates preparations out of popcorn bags and soda straws. She slips them into James' pockets with a fervent whisper about which is which. As the credits roll and the lights come up, Illeana surreptitiously casts a spell so that her shamanic mask blends in with the changing light levels.

The couple stand and exit hand-in-hand. As they approach Towser and Hartman, Illeana steps in front with a smile on her face and a bag of popcorn that may or may not imply that they are willing to share their remaining concessions with the good sergeants. The ork and troll look at her closely but don't recoil or react until the preparations have been handed over, triggering them.

There's a flash as the magic detonates. Towser is left with a look of wonder and ecstacy on his face while Hartman grits his tusks and looks utterly unaffected.

<<Didn't work!>> Illeana comms. James activates his cyberspur and hydraulic jacks simultaneously, launching himself at the troll in a one-man Fastball Special.

The blade reaches for the troll's throat, but Hartman takes a step back to buy himself an extra fraction of a second. With that spare millisecond, the troll's long arms knock James' cyberspur away just enough so that the edge only nicks Hartman's neck. James sees Hartman's Adam's apple bounce up and down and knows that the troll managed to say something subvocally.

There's a scream and a shout in the theater as the crowds exiting the theater witness the attack. Illeana shouts, "Run for your life!" and it's not entirely clear who she is speaking to. Hartman seems to take the instructions to heart, as his look of grim determination quickly transforms into one of desperate survival. He backpedals furiously, trying to put as much distance as possible in between himself and the cybernetic madman.

Towser - his eyes glassy and not entirely focused - reaches for the stun baton on his hip but accidentally grabs his throbbing erection instead. His hand fumbles for a long second before he finally gets his baton (the stun baton) unholstered and ready to strike in case the James' phallic weaponry comes swinging at him next.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (11:46:40/09-14-16)
James can't believe how fast Hartman is on his feet.  The troll went from neutral, to confused, to blocking a blow that most wouldn't see coming, and all within a breath.  Tough, and quick.  Incredible reflexes.  And a Seraphim.  But when Illeana screams, "Run for your life!"  he takes heed and James takes the opportunity to give another swipe with his cyber spur as Hartman backs up and comms for backup.

<<20 meters east south exit>> James comms to Illeana before tearing off to the southwest. 

Towser fumbles with his stun baton, presumably trying to see if he should attack, or run, or maybe just stand there enjoying himself, and James hydraulic jacks kick into high gear.  Moviegoers duck and run away from him, but at this speed he has to avoid them himself, dodging and pushing through a middle-aged couple who collapse in his wake.

Somewhere behind him Towser drops his stun baton and aims the Ares Executioner at Illeana, letting off a quick burst, which James hears like a whisper over the panicking crowd.  He glances over his right shoulder quickly to see Illeana shiver as the rounds impact.  No time to consider what that means, so James is back to running, his hydraulic jacks pumping away like crazy right at a mass of good wholesome Ares employees who are all trying to use the exit at the same time.  There isn't any time to ponder the hilarity of this image either as James will either need to bowl through them -- unlikely -- or move around them -- unworkable. 

He chooses a third way -- over.  James takes two more steps and the jacks extend fully from a crouch, launching him over the crowd.  He crosses his arms in front of his face as he approaches the ballistic glass, readying for impact.  Two stick-n-shock rounds embed themselves in his back, just between his shoulder blades, and James' vision gives out for a moment as his circuits are overloaded.  When his vision comes back online James has punched through the front glass of the movie theatre, and the ground is rushing up at him.  Luckily, he sees a staircase leading down within 35 meters, so it should only be a matter of seconds that he's in range of the dalmatian drone.

<<SW staircase from exit.>>

He lands in a low crouch, glass sprinkling around him, and he pumps his legs hard toward the underground promenade.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (01:45:32/09-22-16)
Illeana knows that the call has gone out. Hartman was not surprised, and has certainly radioed for backup. That meant incoming spirits, to which Illeana would be immediately vulnerable. She is a formidable astral combatant on her own, but without her sword her strikes lack impact.

Hecate, send me help! Illeana prays. Hecate responds with a fire elemental.

Protect me on the astral! Illeana pleads as she turns to run. Materialize and fill my enemies' hearts with fear!

The elemental hovers in front of her, arms folded over its smoky, swirling figure. I shall obey.

Towser gets off a shot which pegs Illeana in the back as she runs. The pain distracts her, slows her down a step and she starts the process of weaving through the panicked trid patrons who are not as amused by shooting in real life as they are in the trids.

"Ah!" she blurts out involuntarily as the SMG round pumps her full of painful electricity. Limping slightly, she cuts in front of a retired couple, using them as shields while she makes her way toward the exit.

Above and to the side, there's an explosion of glass. The crowd screams again as James cannonballs through the ballistic glass like he had been shot out of howitzer. Illeana can't see him land and knows that she has two or three long seconds ahead of her before she can catch up.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (00:40:38/10-19-16)
James leaps down a set of stairs leading to the parking garage and underground promenade below. Landing in a crouch, he takes a moment to spy the security cameras. There are a handful of people and vehicles coming and going. Rather than intercepting any of them, James pops his cyberspur and begins to pop off the casing of a maglock on an Ares Humvee.

In the theater, Illeana weaves in and out of screaming patrons who are all fleeing for the exit. She nimbly slips into the crowd so that Towser can't shoot her in the back anymore, at least not without shooting several civilians first. The firing stops and Illeana bursts through the theater doors onto the wet bricks out in front. Her heart sinks when she sees two fire spirits arrive. She knows what they are there for, and she doesn't have her sword to fight them off easily.

Protect me, Illeana tells her spirit as she flicks her wrist and creates a sword out of magical energy. The spirits descend upon her as she races for the stairs.

James pops open the maglock just in time for Illeana to stagger down the stairs, flailing at invisible tormentors. James tries to see if she's been hurt but one of the downsides of her masking magic is that her appearance doesn't reflect her physical conditions. He sees her slip on the stairs for a moment before catching herself and knows that if wet stairs are tripping her up then she must be getting fatigued, or beat up.

James turns his attention back to the Humvee's ignition while Illeana staggers about, swinging her hands in the air as if she were fending off an invisible swarm of bees.

"Go!" she shouts at James. "I'm never going to be able to fight them all off!"

James feels his inner leader kick in. "You can do it!" he shouts as he tears the casing off the maglock that guards the Humvee's ignition. "You're the best at this!"

"I've already disrupted three!" she shouts back. Her yelling seems to be drawing the attention of some of the other people in the garage. "They're just keep sending more! And bigger!"  People are definitely looking your way now.

Tactically, James knows they're in a tight spot. Eluding physical security is one thing, but eluding magical security is another matter entirely. Even if Illeana does keep the spirits at bay, they can simply trail the Humvee until reinforcements arrive. Illeana's dual-nature means that she's always vulnerable, and the fact that she can't astrally project means that she can't lead the spirits away while James escapes with her physical form. And even if she could, who knows if Illeana would even be able to find her way back to her body.

James finishes splicing the proper wires and the Humvee roars to life. He turns to call Illeana, who staggers like a punch-drunk boxer toward the vehicle. She collapses just outside the driver's side door as James gets a notice from his commlink:

<<MARK Granted://Device:5|-|!4\\/\\/453(`/|33|2-5>>
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (12:05:39/10-19-16)
Upon popping his cyber spur the first thing James does is cut a small sliver of metal from the bottom of the Humvee's driver's side door.  Popping the lock would be easy, even without his tools, but keeping the car's security system from knowing a door was opening with improper authorization, that would be the real key.  Sliver in hand, he used his cyber spur like a wedge to separate the door ever so slightly from its frame.  Let's see, this looks like a 72 model, contacts should be just up. . . Nope.  Ok, then maybe down by the window base?  Nova.

He slips the toothpick-sized steel down onto the contacts with one hand, jacks the door latch with his cyber spur, and breathes a sigh of relief when the door opens and no flashing lights and automated voice pop up.  Giving the sliver a hard press around to the contact to mold it in place until he can get the door shut, he scans the garage in a slow pan, marking cameras as he goes in a short recording which he fires off to Illeana.  A moment later he sweeps his legs in, closes himself in, and starts to work on the steering column, just as Illeana staggers down the stairs.

She briefly tries to wave him off, but James is having none of it, feeling pulled by the desire to rush to her side -- which would accomplish nothing from her astral combatants -- or doing the work to get the car started.  The steering column is sliced down the middle neatly, like a cadaver's body, but James turns to butcher's work as he tears into the incision and rips the foam and synth leather like so much skin and fat that would keep him from the entrails.  Outside, Illeana is spinning as she rushes forward.  "You can do it!" he shouts as he tears the casing off the maglock that guards the Humvee's ignition. "You're the best at this!"  He begins cutting and splicing wires like mad: security override, green-to-black; manual steering override, white-to-pink; manual pedal override, orange-to-blue.  Ghost, this would be easier if I was a decker.

The onlookers are clutching their bags and watching her approach, visibly terrified.  All except for a pair, James thinks, the two women.  They look a little too cool-headed.  He turns his attention away and cuts through the last two wires.  Ignition, red-to-black.  The humvee roars to life just as Illeana collapses outside his door.  Now that the engine is live he can open the door, so he does so, and grabs Illeana with both arms and tosses her into the passenger seat like a half pallet of fight milk. 

"Come on, Kat.  I need you with me.  You gotta buckle up, girl."  Her head lolls to the side, and James pulls on her right arm to put her in position before locking the seat belt in place and dropping the humvee into drive.  Figuring the location is blown anyway, James heads toward the east exit onto the expressway with a screeching of tires, and prepares to merge into traffic.

Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (00:50:07/10-20-16)
James uses his Redlined muscles to deadlift Kat and throw her unceremoniously over the driver's side into the passenger seat. Luckily her healing factor means that she's not really susceptible to traditional concerns like cracked skulls and twisted limbs. She's surprisingly heavy for her size, likely due to the densely-packed muscle fibers provided by HMHVV.

James climbs in and checks on her. She is non-responsive but at least she is breathing and maybe moaning a bit, so she's not dead. James figures that the spirits have orders to take her alive, otherwise she'd be exploding blood right now.

After turning on the car, James manually deactivates the vehicle's wireless signal. Doing so may alert the owner, which may alert the authorities, but James is reasonably sure that the authorities are already after him.

James pulls open the glove compartment and finds nothing except napkins, breath mints, and small personal care products. He slams it shut then jabs a hand underneath the front seats, finding nothing but lint.

James puts the Humvee in reverse and peels out of the parking spot. Just as he shifts into drive and slams on the accelerator, he sees the huge form of Hartman barreling down the stairs. The Humvee lurches forward with squealing tires just as Hartman reaches to grab the bumper. The troll sprints for a few seconds but his lumbering form can't catch the Humvee on a straightaway. Instead, Hartman raises his Executioner and opens fire. The SMG comes with a sound suppressor so the shots themselves make little noise, but James can certainly hear it when the back window shatters. He hears rounds thumping into his headrest and knows that they must be non-lethal if they didn't blast through the synthleather like butter.

There's only a second or two before James needs to turn and decide whether he's going north or south. Hartman resumes the chase, perhaps hoping to take an intercepting angle once James is forced to slow down for the turn.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (14:31:07/10-24-16)
As the SMG rounds smack into the back of James' headrest and crackle as they dissipate their electronic charge, James tries to keep everything straight in his head.  Some matrix jockey's already on his link, as evidenced by the rogue MARK James was granted, so that makes the perfect trifecta converging on his seditious, unpatriotic, and now criminal hoop.  Nova.

Hooking a hard right toward the south-bound garage exit, James gives Hartman the opportunity to regain some lost distance, but he punches the accelerator to the humvee's limit while Hartman lets loose with another burst against the passenger windows and doors.  James crouches down, and posts a message on one of Baltimore's shadow boards under the "Offering Work" subforum.

<<Decker Needed, Urgent>>
<<5k upfront, 5k upon completion, need remote decking of Ares Host and bricking/looping/fragging of all traffic cameras within 1k of attched location.  Currently under fire.
Need deviced ID: 5|-|!4\\/\\/453(`/|33|2-5 bricked>>
<<-Ace>>

Upon sending the message, James turns the wireless functionality off of his implanted commlink, and reboots his most recent acquisition.  Yeah, like that's going to help you, 'Ace.'  You're fragged, chummer.  Even if you get some hotshot to take care of the 'trix angle for you, what the frag are you going to do about an army of spirits tracking you like wounded game, neh?  You poor fragger.

Hecate,
James pleads.  your loyal follower, your loyal followers are in desperate need.  Heed our call.  Ours is yours.  Whatever we have to give, heed our call.

James continues accelerating down the on ramp, and prepares to merge with traffic just as his backup link comes back online.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (18:09:13/10-24-16)
While James whips the Humvee to the right, Hartman catapults over some smaller sedans and makes a flying leap the Humvee's rear bumper. The troll's finger graze the rear of the vehicle but he can't get a grip. He tumbles to the concrete and rolls forward to avoid grinding to a stop with his face. James checks the rearview mirror and sees Hartman comming something in.

James, like many men in foxholes or bullet-pocked Humvees, tries to find religion. What he gets is a large fire elemental materializing in front of him, trying to bar the way to the ramp outside. Given the look on the spirit's face, he's pretty sure it's not from Hecate.

James floors it, reasonably sure that the well-armored Humvee will smash through the spirit like it would any normal metahuman. He just hopes that the spirit doesn't liquefy and act like a giant molotov cocktail, because that would be bad.

The spirit dives at the last second. Just before the ramp, James finds himself driving through a pool of magical fire. The tires of the Humvee blow out just as James hits the ramp. The Humvee bottoms out badly on the ramp, shooting sparks from the chassis as the metal-on-concrete contact between the ground and the wheels SCREAMS in his ears.

The Humvee launches out of the garage and leaves the fire spirit behind, which prudently stays out of the rain. The slick roads combined with the lack of traction immediately challenge James' control of the vehicle. He whips the steering wheel back and forth, trying to counteract the flailing of the car, while the rain pounds the windshield. James is almost certain that the Humvee is about to flip when he feels a burst of adrenaline, an acceleration of his senses that give him just a little extra touch of control over the vehicle. Illeana stops banging her head against the door as James straightens out.

James deftly avoids merging into another vehicle as pedestrians and others jump out of the way of the screaming, skidding Humvee. He finds himself traveling south on Woodward Avenue, maybe 100 meters north of Campus Martius Park. Past that, it's another 500 meters to the river. I could sprint that in less than a minute, he thinks to himself, but right now it feels as far away as Zurich-Orbital.

His commlink pings with responses to his emergency request:

>>>>>(lol wut)<<<<< -b453m3n7 dw3ll3r

>>>>>(Chummer, you done the math? You know how many cameras there are in a 1km radius? That'd be, like ¥1 per camera.)<<<<< -Gorgeous Georgius

>>>>>(Acknowledged. Maintain course and velocity.)<<<<< -Anonymous
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (13:15:06/10-27-16)
James keeps his foot firmly planted on the accelerator.  The rain hinders any sparks from rising up from the road, but the grinding sound is horrific.  He looks up into the sky, checks his mirrors, and weaves past a small sedan which brakes in his wake giving him a wide berth.  Nothing to be seen, though the Dalmatian can't be far off, its own visibility no doubt limited by the rain.  The humvee protests another change of lanes, and James almost runs into the rear bumper of a GMC Commodore.  He loses precious seconds hitting the brake and hydroplaning into the left lane and clipping the front wheel of a Buell Spartan off-road bike -- Hey! just like Vale Runs-as-Deer has -- but unlike the Vale of the trids, this unfortunate rider eats drek into some well manicured and genetically modified hedges marking the median, while the bike slingshots back to the curb thanks to its gyro-stabilization. 

Unfortunate about those hedges.  James knows they're designed to provide a fairly soft landing for vehicles; they're great at absorbing shock and dispersing it over a wide area, but as a result the individual branches have very little give for a soft metahuman making an unexpected landing. 

Tough luck, chump, the cybered-up super soldier thinks briefly as he rights his vehicle and tries to make up for lost time against the protesting rims of the humvee.  With his transportation under some semblance of control, James checks things out in the matrix, but finds all of the cameras at least appear to be functioning normally. 

Well, Anonymous, here's hoping you come through. 

Out of nowhere a sharp ping! emits from the passenger door, and James turns to see a security guard under a giant Ares National Bank ARO leveling a Predator V at him.  Then more security guards follow.  Two more from the bank, who have little to shoot at as James roars past, but then some from buildings up ahead, their bullets making spider webs of the humvee's windshield.  "So much for non-lethal, eh Kat," James says under his breath as he finds some cover, for a second or two anyway, alongside a municipal dump truck.  He weaves past it to the sound of an additional burst of gunfire. 

Hunched low in his seat, James checks his link for any rogue MARKs, and sees a choice approaching under his AR overlay.  Just under one hundred meters in front of him he sees Hart Plaza fast approaching, with Riverside Ares PD just beyond.  The plaza is mostly empty of pedestrians, but James knows that telescoping bollards are common in these locations for fending off terrorists who would like to make an example of city landmarks.  Bates might be better, he thinks, lifting his foot from the accelerator as he approaches Jefferson Ave.

"Hold on, Illeana.  In three," James blows  past another Commodore, even though he's losing speed.

"Two," in the left lane he punches the brake pedal, and while admirable the ABS system strains to get any grip on the rode, and James is sure he sees the tread from one of his tires spin off in the rearview mirror.  The humvee finally stars slowing considerably just as he crosses the threshold into busy Jefferson Ave.

"One!"  He spins the wheel hard to the left.  The humvee continues on his current trajectory for what feels like way too long before it makes traction and the humvee jerks sharply as James floors the accelerator.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (01:25:50/11-01-16)
Illeana mutters and mumbles as her arms rag-doll around the Humvee.

On three, James spins the wheel hard to the left. The sound is horrific and James is positive that the Humvee is going to flip and cartwheel its way into Hart Plaza. He knows it won't help, but he leans hard into the driver's side door, and says another prayer to Hecate. And, just like that, the Humvee settles and rights itself without flipping. In a debate for theologians and atheists, James will wonder if Hecate answered or if he's just lucky.

Bates is only 100 meters away. James prepares to ask Luck or Hecate to help him with the right turn down Bates when he catches something in the rearview mirror. A vehicle is flying down Woodward, straight at him, fast as a crossbow bolt. It's a Rover Model 2072, of all things, travelling at hundreds of kilometers an hour. Magic, James thinks to himself, wondering why Ares would send a Rover, of all things.

The Rover is on him in a second. It slides into place alongside the Humvee just as James spins the wheel hard to the right. The Rover clips the front bumper of the Humvee just so, straightening it out and pushing it back on course, traveling NE on Jefferson. Under other circumstances, the Humvee would have ripped through the Rover like tinfoil, but without tires the Humvee just doesn't have the traction to exert much lateral force.

James looks over. The driver of the Rover doesn't even look at him. Is he wearing a cowl? James wonders. Seraphim?

Jefferson is covered in deep puddles, the product of all-day thunderstorms. One of these moves and shimmers until it pushes upward, seizing the Humvee. Water drowns the engine compartment, flooding the engine which coughs and sputters to a stop. The Rover stops with it.

The Rover edges forward so that the Humvee's passenger door is alongside the rear sliding door on the driver's side of the Rover. The sliding door opens and James sees another man in a cowl, wearing thick robes that look very out of place. He appears unarmed, unless he has something tucked away in the folds of his heavy robes - a very real possibility. The man gestures and there's a flash of blinding, obvious magic. The door of the Humvee is ripped off and launched down the street. Illeana starts to levitate and then crosses over from the Humvee to the Rover.

In front of the Rover, a massive spirit emerges from the astral, looking like a thunderstorm trapped in a tornado. Even to James' amateur eye, it looks like a Great Form Spirit, and a nasty one at that.

The man - a large ork by the size of his build, although his face is hidden under his cowl - extends a hand to James and says, "Komm mit mir, wenn Sie leben wollen."
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (13:52:10/11-02-16)
In a flash the humvee's passenger door rips from its hinges and bounces down the street on its side as if it was hurled by some great wind.  Before James can react, Illeana's unconscious body lifts from its place in the passenger seat and floats to the Rover as James finally begins fumbling with his seat belt.

"Komm mit mir, wenn Sie leben wollen."

What the frag?  Saeder-Krupp?!  Black Lodge?  Worse?  James is woefully unprepared in German, but with the man's beckoning hands, he gets the gist, and launches himself across the seats and into the Rover as a spirit nearly the same size as the Rover materializes in front of it.  The door slams shut, and the vehicle picks up speed unnaturally quickly, sending James sprawling toward the back.

"Mana barrier!" he calls out facing the ork-sized meta in the cowl, spinning his fingers around the interior of the van and then making a gesture as if he was holding a ball.  Only then does he see the runes inside, carved into every surface, etched into the interior and seats alike. 

He visibly sighs before daring a look outside the window, watching the spirit, some great amalgamation of a storm with a rough funnel shape trailing behind them, kicking up great bits of debris, and casting aside some of the smaller cars in its wake.

"Gun!" James says above the roar of the wind passing by as the Rover shudders against the air resistance.  He extends his index finger and cocks his thumb back, repeating "Gun."

Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (13:21:26/11-03-16)
The door of the Rover slams shut and the driver punches it.

Through the windows, James has an excellent view of the great form spirit descending on him like the wrath of Damien Knight. The Rover shakes as violently as if it had driven into a tornado. The pressure in James' ears builds to a painful degree before the glass of the Rover shatters. He throws an armored cybearm in front of his face to shield his eyes from the shards of glass.

But the runes hold and the spirit stays out. "Gun!" James shouts, or at least he thinks that he does. He can't even hear his own voice over the din. In any event, the request is ridiculous. He might as well try to shoot a typhoon.

The Rover rocks and James wonders if it will flip. The headwinds are so potent that the Rover is being pushed backward on the slick concrete. Looking out the back, James sees the smoke from the tires spinning helplessly moments before the wind circulates the acrid stench.

He can't hear them, but James sees flashing lights converging on his position. Even if the spirit can't get him, it can hold him in place until the backup arrives.

There's a screech, so loud that it cuts through the noise of the wind like a guillotine. James looks up, unsure of what would be loud of enough to hear over the wind that wouldn't simultaneously deafen him. He hears it again, but for the life of him it sounds like it's coming from inside his head.

The sky shimmers. A huge form takes shape, flapping wings with steady, strong beats. The blurry shape darkens, then comes into focus, as if it had been there the entire time but at the wrong depth of field. It's fifty meters long not including the tail, with a wingspan just as wide. Four legs, long neck, and more teeth than James can count. It's a western dragon, and it's flying right at the Rover.

It's an illusion, James' brain tells him. But he feels in his right mind, like he's certain of what he's seeing.

The spirit doesn't think it's an illusion, and turns to confront the menace. The storm swells as the spirit expands its full force and fury, only to be ripped in half by one slashing blow of the dragon's teeth.

The wind dies instantly. The Rover's tires find their traction on the wet pavement and the vehicle leaps forward. James loses his balance and ends up face down on top of Illeana. He spins to his back to look out the window, only to see the dragon disappear in the same manner that it arrived.

"Los, los, LOS!" the man in the back shouts at the driver over the approaching sirens. Neither of them seem to register the dragon or pay it any attention.

After a lightning-fast 200 yards, the driver cranks the wheel hard right. The only thing keeping the Rover on four wheels must be magic, James thinks to himself, as the centrifugal force of the turn pushes him hard toward the broken window on the driver's side.

The hard turn continues, continues, continues until James finds the vehicle straightening out to dive into the Detroit-Windsor tunnel.

The driver nimbly weaves back and forth through traffic, reflexes clearly augmented. The road noise is loud in the tunnel and James feels nervous over the lack of options other than forward and backward. The shattered windows mean that the Rover is no less conspicuous than the Humvee was with all its bullet holes.

They'll be waiting for us at the other end, James thinks to himself. They have more than enough time to prepare a welcoming party. He spins around, looking for a gun, any gun, but finds none.

"Ja, es gibt sie!" the ork says, pointing out the windshield. The driver barely nods. James looks but all he sees is the rear of a forest green moving truck. The driver accelerates, as if to ram the truck from behind. Turning, the ork returns to the back of the Rover, where he slams his hands together in a deafening thunderclap that reverberates down the tunnel with audible force. As the ork collapses from drain, the two cars trailing the Rover lose control and collide. As they skid to a stop, other vehicles plow into them from behind, creating a frightful pileup.

The rear door of the moving truck rolls open and a ramp slides out. The Rover hits the ramp with a shower of sparks and drives straight into the truck's container. The ramp retracts and the rear door slams back down into place.

For the first time in what seems to be ages, it's quiet. And dark. A light flips on in the container and James sees two more robed figures around the Rover. They open the side doors. One begins to tend to Illeana and the drained ork. James notices a cyberdeck strapped to the arm of the other man, a human male about James' size and age. The electronics look starkly out-of-place with the man's robes.

"Welcome," he says in English with so many accents embedded into it that James could never hope to parse them all. His tone is relaxed but his thin wisp of a smile hints that he understands the insanity of what just happened. "Would you like a beer?"
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (15:11:30/11-04-16)
"A beer?  Seriously?" James asks, even though he feels incredibly parched.  Nothing sounds better to him right now, he can almost feel nanites calling out for him to shut the fuck up and start guzzling already, but he shoves himself in between the container and the open door of the Rover to watch one of the recent additions tend to Illeana.  James knows there's not much they can do for the ork right now, other than make sure he's stable, but that's not particularly high on his list of concerns.  Satisfied that she's in capable hands, he turns to the man with the cyberdeck, still wearing that drek-eating whisp of a smile.

"I assume you've got those cameras on lock down, neh?"

The man nods.

"Besides that big fragger, they're bound to have other spirits on us."

"It's being dealt with," the stranger replies.

"And the dragon that came out of fragging nowhere?

"Has gone back to, shall we say 'fragging nowhere,' he answers slyly.

"But a dragon, raining hell in downtown Detroit, that's--"

"Our benefactor was not materially present," the man says.  "You will meet soon enough."

"Wiz," James says, coolly, and a silence fills the storage container before James gestures to the man's deck and says, "I guess that would make you my angel on the shadow boards?" and the man's smile grows a little wider.

"Well, it appears you were already on your way, but I guess I owe you some cred,"

"How about that beer?" the man replies.  "We've got a lot to talk about."  The man pops the cap on a Hofbräu Edelweiss and hands it to James.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (01:36:45/11-08-16)
"Who are you?" James asks.

"We are called the Benandanti," the man answers. "Or, in English, the 'good walkers'."

"Who -" James begins before the man cuts him off with a raised hand.

"Patience," he says, his attention elsewhere. "We are not into the dragon's den yet."

James wants to correct the man's metaphor, reasoning that it is the product of English-as-a-sixth-language, but then stops himself. The man implied they were on their way to meet the dragon. To him, 'the dragon's den' could imply safety and security. James is left to wonder if he has escaped Damien Knight only to fall into the clutches something else.

"Leave your wireless off for now," the man says, his attention still divided. "We are exiting the tunnel. We will be airborne shortly."

James looks to see Illeana and the other mage stretched out and attended to. The driver of the Rover seems to have disappeared to some other task in the container. The hacker starts waving his hands rapidly - augmented speed, James thinks to himself, noting the flow of the man's rapid movements - as the truck barrels along.

"Zwei Minuten," the Rover driver says from somewhere.

The rocking and rolling of the truck is surreal to James. It's clear that it's moving at tremendous speed, and equally clear that the only reason he isn't being bounced from wall to wall is some sort of magical buffering. The effect is not unlike a carnival ride.

There's a distinct bump, and the sensation of rolling up a ramp, then the truck comes to a stop. Then, in an instant, it's moving again. But this time James can tell that the truck isn't driving, but rather something is moving it.

"Quickly, be seated," the man with the accent says, indicating the Rover. He joins James in the rear seat, just in time for a rush of acceleration and the upward lift that tells James that he's airborne.

The back of the container truck rolls open; James sees that he's inside a transport plane of some sort. After a minute, the hacker gets up and James does too. He steps out of the moving truck with his beer and recognizes his surroundings.

"This is an Ares Dakota," he says to no one in particular.

"Ja," the driver of the Rover answers in passing.

"Come," the hacker says to James. "Let us find a more comfortable location. The runway at Windsor airport was not long enough to accommodate a suborbital or a ballistic jet, so we must cross the ocean the old-fashioned way. It will be some hours. No need to sit here on the cold metal. Please, help me with Miss Anghelescu."

He positions himself at Illeana's feet, leaving Illeana's torso for James' cyberarms. He juts his head to indicate that there is some improved seating up a flight of stairs, behind the cockpit that is above and to the front of the cargo bay.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (16:11:27/11-09-16)
At the mention of the Benandanti XXV, James' ears prick up.  Since his discussion about the Great Dragon Schwartzkopf with Illeana back in New Orleans, James has compiled quite the dossier on this particular magical organization.  In fact, he'd even checked his searches across grids to weed out the detritus that so often passes for fact when one is sifting through conspiracy theory scream sheets, and shadowrunner data havens.  In the end, after eighteen hours or so of dedicated research and vetting, James was left with a workable, if not exhaustive, working understanding of the organization.

"So that was Schwartzkopf tooling around on the streets of Detroit then," James says, more observation than question.

"Hmm?" the man responds.

"And you're being quite literal when you say that we're traveling to the dragon's den?"  James begins to chuckle.

"Are you alright?" the hacker asks.

"Quite," James says, draining the remainder of his beer.

"Zwei minuten," he hears from near the front of the container.  In a few minutes, they're airborne, buckled in tight in the back of the Rover, and James continues his line of thought.

"I was laughing because we were on our way to meet your patron."

"Were you?"

"After a fashion, yes.  That was before I was re-acquired by my previous employers.  They didn't seem keen on simply offering me a good recommendation."

"And I don't see why they would," he hacker says.

James dismisses the notion with an idle wave of a cybernetic hand.  "I've come to value my independence.  And work I can believe in."

The super soldier lets the sentiment sink in for a moment before the hacker suggests that they move to more comfortable seating in the Dakota.  James takes his position at Illeana's torso before saying, "Is the entirety of the plane warded?  Ares no doubt has spirits out searching for me, and Prague is till some hours away."

Once they're settled in for the long flight, but before Illeana awakes, James passes the time by trying to get a better idea of how much of his understanding is correct.

"So Schwartzkopf is with us in spirit, as it were, and I've seen at least four of you, which means what twenty percent of your organization has been tapped for this particular operation.  I must say I'm flattered.  And thankful.  How did you know to assemble today?"

"I'm out of my depth here, but in my reading I've come across some pretty bold claims made by the Aleph Society and mundanes, as well as some pretty unsavory methods for achieving that.  Do you think they really use blood magic?  I figure you'd know better than most, neh?"
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (00:55:36/11-10-16)
"You will find our magical defenses more than adequate," the hacker answers in response to James' concern about the warding of the plane. "If you will excuse the self-praise, I would go so far as to call us 'above average'." James thinks he detects a certain whiff of British wit laced through the man's accent.

Upstairs, there is a more traditional seating area behind the cockpit, albeit small. There are only a handful of seats but the flight is not crowded. The seats are not luxurious but they do recline. James props Illeana up in the seat next to him, her head resting on his shoulder.  The Benandanti busy themselves with other matters, although the hacker takes time to converse with James.

"Yes, the Aleph Society is known to use blood magic. But before we rush to judgement, we should remember that blood magic is simply a tool, not inherently evil in and of itself. The Native American Nations of this continent were formed on the power of the Great Ghost Dance, which is blood magic as certainly as anything in Tenochtitlan. The difference, of course, is the distinction between blood willing given and blood unwillingly taken. The Aleph Society dabbles in both.

"You may call me... Edsger," he says when James finally presses him on the matter. "Yes, our patron was with us in spirit. As for how we knew to assemble today, you must appreciate that a great dragon who prizes knowledge above all else knows many things, both large and small. But I daresay you would prefer specifics. We were able to locate you with ritual sorcery; Miss Anghelescu, you see, is not unknown to us. We have been seeking her for seven months now, but she is more difficult to track than most. Her dual-nature allows her to immediately detect the building energies of ritual magic, and to dispel them out of caution. So, we had to ritually cast as she slept to avoid alarming her, but her habit of sleeping in warded locations shielded her from our view until recently."

James thinks about Stevens and Illeana's magical lodge, including the kitchen drawer full of skulls from small paracritters. He wonders where the RV is now with all their stuff.

"It was not until your time at Ares that she was outside of a ward for a sufficient period of time for us to track her. Once we did, we simply waited for our opportunity."

"And how long were you willing to wait?" James asks, curious how long Schwartzkopf was willing to tie up a significant percentage of his magical group.

Illeana suddenly starts to stir. Edsger smiles and stands. "I will give you an opportunity to catch up," he says. "We will have more time to talk soon. Please tell her hello for me."

Illeana finally cracks an eye open. She immediately registers the change of surroundings but is too groggy to overreact. "Where are we?" she asks with a deep, guttural croak that sounds like a frog is stuck in her throat. "Did we get caught? Where are they taking us?"
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (13:02:08/11-11-16)
"Where are they taking us," Illeana asks.

"To see Schwartzkopf," James answers deadpan. 

Illeana rubs her head trying to shake away the fog, and looks around the cabin, as if it may hold any clues, or generally to see if James is simply fragging with her.

"Are you fragging with me?" she asks.

James explains how the Bendandanti XXV have been tracking her since they fell under Ares' "protection," how an astrally projecting Schwartzkopf cut through a spirit of water the size of Stevens like he was going for noodles, how a Benandanti mage took her, and James inclusion in this little trip to Prague was an afterthought. 

"Or was it?" Illeana questions.

"What do you mean?"

"I'm a prize, but an extra one.  Ares is most interested in you, James.  Had they left you, Ares might have just chalked up the loss.  With both of us they're increasing their exposure," she gestures around the Dakota.

"Well," James says, contemplating her assessment, "that pretty much brings us up to date.  Oh yeah, the hacker, Edsger, said to tell you hello.  That name mean anything to you?"
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (19:53:04/11-11-16)
Illeana tries to shake off the effects of getting clobbered on the astral. She grumbles about her missing sword, which - as best James can tell - makes her a terror in astral combat.

"So," she says, "this goes back to what I was speculating about in New Orleans. Whether I really studied with Schwartzkopf or whether it was just a component of my fake SIN. Either this is a tremendous coincidence, or it makes perfect sense."

James mentions that Edsger says hello.

"That probably settles it," she says. "Sounds like they know me and that I should know them. But for the life of me, I don't recall a single thing. It's just gone, like everything that happened... before."

James knows what she's talking about. The obelisk wiped him clean, left him with faded dreamlike sequences instead of memories.

Illeana slumps back down, looking like she's about to fall back asleep.

"How do you tell a Great Dragon that you don't remember him?" she wonders. "It doesn't seem like the kind of news that would go over well with a Great. Maybe I should break the news in advance to this Edsger fellow."

By the time Edsger finally reappears, Illeana has fallen back asleep. James eventually does too.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (12:02:19/11-16-16)
"Maybe I should break the news in advance to this Edsger fellow." Ileana says.

"Yeah," James agrees.  "I think I'd rather do it here at 10,000 meters than later at some welcome home party that Schwartzkopf's gonna throw you." 

My you're being optimistic.  Just as likely he wants justifications for blowing him off previous to blowing you both off.

When Edsger returns, Illeana has fallen back asleep, and James is nearly there himself.  He sits up a bit straighter and rubs his face.

"Don't mind me," Edsger says, "Please make yourself comfortable.  It is a long flight."

"While I appreciate that, I have some other questions if you have a moment.  I was wondering if the Benandanti have had any luck locating Illeana's spirit, her uh, astral self?"

Edsger looks at him in a confused and somewhat patronizing fashion, though he does his best to hide the latter it says every bit of "Poor normie doesn't know how to talk magic but bless his heart he tries." 

James is used to the look.

"Ares has mine," he goes on to say, as if that explains anything, "but we haven't had much luck tracking anything to do with Illeana's past self."

Finally, Edsger speaks, keeping his tone neutral.  "My good man, are those bugs making quick work of your head there?  What are you talking about?"

So, they don't know.  Here they've gone to all this trouble, and she's not the one they want.

"How is it you think that I know about the Benandanti?" James asks.

Edsger remains silent for a moment, weighing his options.  It would be better to say nothing, but by offering nothing, Edsger won't get his answers.  "I had presumed that Miss Anghelescu had --"

"No.  I researched you."

Well, you have done an admirable job with that, but what does that have to do with --"

"I researched you because we suspected that Illeana had studied with Schwartzkopf.  Suspected, but didn't know.  Didn't know because Illeana, the Miss Anghelescu that you've been tracking is not the Illeana Anghelescu who had done so.  As I'm not the same James."

"Oh, yes, I'm fairly certain you're not the same James.  Not as such." Edsger replies before dismissing James and gently shaking Illeana awake.  "It may be wise for us to move to another area of the plane, Miss Anghelescu," he says.  "I'm terribly sorry for inconveniencing you now, but it seems that your companion is not in complete control of his faculties."

Illeana looks between him and James for a moment before saying to James, "So, you told him?"

James nods.

"Told me what, exactly?" Edsger asks, clearly annoyed and confused by this point.

"That Illeana doesn't remember you," James says.  "She doesn't remember you, she doesn't remember Schwartzkopf, she doesn't remember even meeting me.  That Illeana is now a free spirit, out there somewhere doing Hecate knows what, just as my free spirit is currently in the employ of Ares, doing Hecate knows what.  We are the husks."

"And how did this come to pass?" Edsger asks.

"First thing's first," James says.  "You've mentioned twice now something about the 'bugs' in my brain.  What do you know about my condition?"
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (01:07:37/11-17-16)
"Well, nothing," says Edsger, clearly flustered. "We're explorers, not technologists. The nanites seem to regulate your pre-frontal cortex and your adrenal system. For all I know, they could be voluntary." He waves his hand up and down at James, seeming to indicate that a head full of nanites is not terribly out-of-place on a cybersoldier such as James. "Perhaps you use them to self-regulate. They do not seem to affect you adversely."

James reasons that Edsger hasn't seen the CINNAMON TOAST recording. Edsger takes advantage of the pause to pivot back to his line of inquiry. "So what's this about spirits and astral selves?"

James looks to Illeana, guessing that she can better explain it in terms that Edsger will understand.

"Edsger," she begins, "why were you looking for us?"

"That mustn't be a mystery," Edsger responds with a huff. "Naturally we wish to discuss the artifact you acquired earlier this year. Schwartzkopf will be most interested in why you - of all people! - did not approach us to solicit an offer."

Better be careful here, Illeana thinks to herself. Need to convince him we don't remember him, but without aggravating him about the opportunity he missed.

"The obelisk was a relic from the Fourth World," Illeana explains. "An object capable of creating free spirits by permanently separating the astral self from the physical self."

"And you're suggesting that this happened to you?" Edsger asks incredulously. "Well then who am I speaking with? How did you survive?"

Illeana gives him a look that suggests he's asking the right questions.

"We do not know," she says. "We don't remember anything before waking up on February 1st. Everything before that is lost. James likely awoke because the nanites rebooted him. Why did I? I could not say. Perhaps I was able to deflect a portion of the magic, enough to survive. Or perhaps the artifact affects the Infected differently."

"You mean that perhaps you had the Essence of two, and the artifact simply divided you back to an average amount," he says sourly. Despite his tone, he does not seem bothered by Illeana's nature. If anything, he seems to be annoyed by the inconvenience of Illeana not remembering anything past seven months ago.

A long moment passes as Edsger comes to grips with the strange situation, yet another in what must be a long career of strange situations. Finally he throws a hand up in exasperation. "Schwatzkopf will be delighted. How he loves a good mystery." James isn't sure if he's being sarcastic or not.

Edsger stands. "I will radio ahead with your news. Please, get some rest." With that, he turns on his heel and departs, his white robe swishing out behind him.

"You think he would have taken the news better," James says to Illeana once he has gone. "Given his job as an 'explorer'."

"Perhaps there is more to it," she speculates. "He's hinted a couple times that he and I used to know one another. Perhaps he is put off that I have not been more friendly. Would it not be odd if Doc stared at us blankly and swore that he did not know us?"

James leans back in his seat and ponders the thought. A question he's been meaning to ask comes to him. "How did they know?" he asks. "Sure, they can magically trace you to Detroit, but then how did they know that we would make a break for it? Were they just going to spend the next few weeks or months or years of their lives circling the freeways of Detroit, hoping that we might run? Were they just going to have a plane prepped and ready to fly at all times?"

Illeana looks down. She squeezes James' hand, as if she's about to deliver unsettling news. "It's possible that they instigated it," she says.

James is confused. "What do you mean?" he asks, wondering if there's something she's not telling him. "We talked about it in the theater and just did it. Spur of the moment, practically. Wait, you're not suggesting that he somehow... hacked the nanites in my head, are you?"

"No! No..." Illeana says, shaking her head emphatically. "I mean that when you're around a great dragon, things just sort of... happen." She opens her hand suddenly, almost like an exclamation point. She sighs, knowing she's not explaining it well.

"A great dragon's magic is so far beyond our own that they are capable of things which we can barely contemplate. Call it a 'twist of fate', if you will. A great dragon can simply set their mind to something and, by sheer force of will... encourage it to happen."

"You're saying that Schwartzkopf puppeteered us?" James asks. "Controlled our minds?"

Illeana gives a helpless shrug, as if to convey the difficulty of describing things. "Nothing so overt. More like a nudge. Imagine changing your aim a fraction of a degree. For a target right in front of you, you'll still hit it squarely. For a target a short distance away, you will wing it instead of hitting it center mass. But for a target a great distance away, you will miss it completely. Such are the machinations of great dragons, wherein by small changes they either deflect you away entirely or draw you into their orbit, all without your knowledge."

She squeezes his hand again, as if to assure him that she is still there with him, and that she doesn't enjoy the notion anymore than he does. She props her head on his shoulder and listens patiently to any questions he might have.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (01:10:10/11-18-16)
12:01 PM Saturday, September 14, 2075 - Czech Republic

The flight lands at Letiště Václava Havla Praha midday on Saturday, although to James and Illeana it feels like 5am. They stand and stretch, bleary-eyed, wondering when they'll get a chance to shower and wash the grime of travel and combat off them.

"Come," Edsger says, leading you off the plane.

"Can I switch my commlink back on?" James asks, thinking some music or an AR feed might help him wake up a bit from the less-than-restful sleep on the plane.

"Better not," Edsger says but doesn't offer any explanation. James wonders if there's a valid reason or if Edsger is trying to make sure that James and Illeana - who are evidently strangers to him instead of friends - won't rabbit on him.

Exiting the plane, James and Illeana find themselves in a hangar on the fringes of the airport, far away from the busy passenger terminals. A black SK-Bentley Concordat waits for them, its door open. The driver from the Rover slips behind the wheel while Edsger joins him up front. James and Illeana take the spacious seats in the rear, which have enough leg room to qualify as a town car.

"We'll be there in half an hour," Edsger announces.

"Where's that?" Illeana asks, which seems to pique Edsger.

"Universitas Carolina Pragensis," he answers stiffly. (Illeana whispers to James that this is the Latin name for Charles University in Prague.)

"This is Schwartzkopf's domain," Illeana tells James as the car leaves the airport and heads east toward the city. James can feel her slipping into professor mode. He wonders if this is where she learned how to do it. "Schwartzkopf ’s intervened and pacified it after it split off from the Allied German States. Non-metahuman species and free spirits are allowed to apply for citizenship. Prague is a cultural melting pot where individuals from across the globe come together. Natives refer to it as the Golden City and are proud of the atmosphere of acceptance."

James looks out the window and studies the city shining under the September sun. From the weather to the skyline, the contrast with Detroit could not be more stark. By and large, the city resembles its 16th-century counterpart. There are no skyrakers and whatever corporate presence that exists is highly understated. The skyline is full of castle turrets and architecture from just about every era that James has ever studied: Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Neo-Classical, and Art Nouveau. He hopes there's a chance to see some of it before getting eaten by a dragon.

Shortly after crossing the Vltava river, the car pulls up at the Clementium. While there are certainly plenty of people out enjoying the Saturday sunshine, there seems to be a distinct lack of students. "The academic year does not commence until October 1st," Edsger explains.

Exiting the car, Edsger leads James and Illeana through the complex, headed toward the Baroque library. The robed man gives a small tour as the group walks. "This is where Schwartzkopf lectures. It was built as a monastary, and now contains the university's largest lecture halls. He traditionally teaches in his true form without a translator, unless the lecture needs to be recorded."

James braces himself, wondering if he's about to come face-to-face with the world's ultimate predator. Edsger leads the pair down a cordoned off corridor before reaching a large set of double doors. He opens the doors and bows out of the way.

Looking past him, James sees a dwarf in the distance, standing next to a window with an open tome half his size. The dwarf hears the doors open and looks up expectantly. He gives a bright "Welcome!" with a gesture that indicates you should approach.

(https://farm4.staticflickr.com/3292/2771327135_ab1e53cc20_o.jpg)
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (10:52:07/11-21-16)
Illeana gives a helpless shrug, as if to convey the difficulty of describing things. "Nothing so overt. More like a nudge. Imagine changing your aim a fraction of a degree. For a target right in front of you, you'll still hit it squarely. For a target a short distance away, you will wing it instead of hitting it center mass. But for a target a great distance away, you will miss it completely. Such are the machinations of great dragons, wherein by small changes they either deflect you away entirely or draw you into their orbit, all without your knowledge."

She squeezes his hand again, as if to assure him that she is still there with him, and that she doesn't enjoy the notion anymore than he does. She props her head on his shoulder and listens patiently to any questions he might have.

James is grateful for an analogy that makes sense to his particular knowledge base.  It doesn't make him any more comfortable with the situation as a whole: now he has to wonder about how much of his actions are driven by him, as opposed to those nudged by immortal dragons or nanites, or a past he has no memory of, but at least when it's packaged in the concrete and dolled up in a bow, it seems manageable if not fixable.

He gives Illeana's hand a squeeze back, and rests his head against the back of the seat.  She may have been a guest lecturer after all.  Time will tell.  Soon, her breathing is steady and rhythmic, a little feeling of home, and James forgets about Ares, the Great Dragon Schwartzkopf, and what the next few hours might bring.  Her head on his shoulder, life is made of such moments.  And he joins her in sleep.

#

The great double doors open, and James steps through.  He had thought that there may be time for lunch before he become one himself, but reminds himself that he should stop thinking like a condemned man.  Perception may not make reality, but it certainly gives shape to it, and the hunger will keep James sharp. 

He breathes in deeply, wondering if he's ever been in a library before.  The room has a distinct smell to it, and James wonders if it will trip some nostalgic circuits not completely undone by the obelisk, or the nanites, but he feels. . . nothing.  Or more precisely, he feels awe of the room in general, bathed as it is in golden sunlight, the murals on the ceiling doing more to transport him than the best ARO detailing and simsense ever has, but no clue about his past studies, or even field trips.

"Welcome," a dwarf across the room calls out, using a stylus to hold his place in the book in front of him.  James walks over, the distinct click of his shoes echoing through the room.  He stops in front of the dwarf and admires his facial tattoos before looking down at the book which appears to be written in Greek.  "Ḕ tā̀n ḕ epì tâs" James says, parroting the one Greek phrase familiar to all Ares employees -- and apparently all amnesiac former employees as well.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (20:08:49/11-22-16)
"I am Schwartzopf," the dwarf introduces himself to James. He then glances at Illeana and realizes that perhaps he should have (re)introduced himself to her as well.

"You really have no memory of our time together, Miss Anghelescu?" he asks, more curious than offended.

Illeana shakes her head apologetically. Schwartzkopf gives a sigh through his nose.

"That is a decided inconvenience, I must admit," he says. "But that does explain some of your behavior. Until recently I was quite put out when I heard that you had sold the obelisk to the DIMR."

"About that -" Illeana jumps in to explain.

Schwartzkopf holds his hand up to cut her off. "While I certainly would have been delighted to have it available for study, there are far worse parties that it could have ended up with. Far worse. Hestaby and I have been friendly in the past. I daresay that she will let me look at it. Eventually."

Illeana glances over at James with a look that suggests that there is more to that story, but that she needs to save it for another time. James wishes he could turn his commlink back on so that the could communicate back and forth silently via their respective DNI connections.

He considers you both. "We will have much to discuss, but for now I presume your priorities are a midday meal and some proper rest. Please see to it and we will speak again soon."

You understand that your audience is over for now. Edsger reopens the double doors and waits for you to exit. He then escorts you back to the car, which takes you to the Grand Hotel Europa, Václavské nám 25, on Wenceslas Square. From the looks of it the hotel has been recently modernized, but the interiors still retain their extensive Art Deco motifs. Edsger shows you to your room on the top floor without  checking in.

"We will be right next door," he says, either to comfort you or caution you, you're not sure which. "Please be ready for dinner at 20:00."

Inside the well-appointed room, room service is waiting on silver trays and covered platters. James finds a number of local delicacies for himself, while Illeana has some chilled red pouches for her appetites.

"Let's get cleaned up," Illeana suggests. "I can cast a spell to freshen up our clothes and change their style a bit."

"No need," James announces, showing her the contents. Inside, there is an outfit for each of them for any occasion: casual wear, business, and even black tie. He finds a tuxedo for himself and a black cocktail dress for Illeana.

Illeana just shakes her head a bit. "You and I, we're not poor. But the resources of a Great Dragon still boggle the mind."

James asks, "What were you going to tell me about Hestaby?"

Illeana wanders into the bathroom and kicks off her shoes. Massaging her feet, she starts to draw a bath. James sees her eyes flitting about, wondering if there are bugs in the room. "Schwartzkopf and Hestaby have been on the same side of the dragon-metahuman conflict in the past, arguing for greater understanding and cooperation between the two species. But Hestaby called for Sirrug the Destroyer to be persecuted for war crimes. Schwartzkopf did not support her in that and now she's an outcast among great dragons. She probably took his lack of support personally, and maybe even considered it a betrayal. He might be waiting for a long time to get a look at that artifact, and in the meantime he has to be concerned that no other great dragon pinches it out of her horde as retribution for what they see as her treachery to great dragon culture. I think Schwartzkopf believes us, but it's safe to assume he's still annoyed with us."

With the tub full, Illeana undresses and slips into the water. She even goes so far as to remove her mask and set it beside her. The tub is large enough for two, so she pats the edge to invite James in.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (11:27:29/11-30-16)
Well, that was fast, James thinks upon being dismissed by Schwartzkopf.  So this first meeting was just to decide if we'd be useful.  Or if we'd be food.  Useful in its own way, I guess.

Not that James had done much to improve on their initial impression.  His first words to a great dragon -- at least that he knows about -- and he parrots some Trojan cliche.  What a trich.  Illeana didn't fare much better, but at least she was trying to be helpful. 

Still, Schwartzkopf believes them.

Still, that might not save them. 

On the walk back to the car, and then on the drive to the hotel, James is quiet, wondering exactly what Schwartzkopf and the Benandanti will have in store for them.  Reclaiming the artifact and making good on Illeana's amnesia-induced betrayal had a certain poetry to it, a poetry made even more complete if he began collecting Chino, and Doc, Sam, and Ohanzee to pull off the job, but that didn't seem like the play a dragon would make.  No, too many unknowns, and Schwartzkopf had sounded optimistic that he would one day be able to see the artifact.  Plus, what would happen if they triggered it again? 

Nor did some other "errand" seem appropriate.  No, if they weren't being eaten, and they weren't being summarily killed, or worse if they weren't simply going back to Ares, or even left to their own devices, Schwartzkopf has something else planned.  I don't think dinner with a dragon is really offered as a courtesy.

James admires the view from the hotel room, while Illeana finds her blood packs and calls out the contents of the silver serving trays, lifting and admiring each individually.  Yes, such courtesies.  Light, meaty, Pan-American, French. 

"Of course there's kielbasa," Illeana says, as James stares off into Old Town, sunny and bright.  "And the schnitzel's gravy has sage," she adds admiringly. 

A few moments later James hears water running, and he goes to inspect the closets.  The stitching is good, and the measurements precise.  "I'll have to thank Edsger," he murmurs.  Their liaison must have sent measurements from the plane.  James leaves his clothes on the bed and joins Illeana in the bathroom.  She slips into the tub, looking to James like a ballet dancer, soaking in as she tells him about the bad blood between Schwartzkopf and Hestaby.

"Annoyed, eh?  That doesn't sound promising," James says as he joins her.  Before she has a chance to answer, James adds "So that was Schwartzkopf, neh?  So, is there human form like a different aspect of them, or a spell?  Will he appear as the same person when he's teaching, for consistency's sake, or will he change his appearance based on the lecture?  Or his whims? 

"I mean, look at this place, it's, it's unlike anything I've ever seen."

"James?"

"Yes?"

"You sound downright Moony," Illeana says, an impish grin crossing her face.  James smile sheepishly.

"There's something about him, though, isn't there?"

"He is a great dragon," she says, dipping her head into the tub as she relaxes into it.  When she comes up she says, "Let's talk about something else," and rubs her foot playfully across James' chest.

"Gladly."
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (19:22:14/12-04-16)
James and Illeana clean up, get something to eat, get some rest, and then dressed for their dinner... date? appointment? audience? James misses the reassuring weight of his Redline pistol in his smuggling compartment. He notices that Illeana's fingers twitch a lot, likely missing the throwing knives that she used to carry on her person at all times. James still has his cyberspur and shock hand but he'd really prefer something with range greater than the length of his arm.
 
Illeana is wearing a Moonsilver cocktail dress and James is dressed in an Nightshade tuxedo. Despite how good the pair looks, Illeana frowns.
 
"¥10,000 each," she says. "What does that mean? And these are supposed to be custom fit." She spins a bit and it's clear that the dress was tailored specifically for her. James' tuxedo fits like a glove too.

Edsger picks the pair up and takes them back to the university.

"Are you security this evening?" Illeana asks him. "Or a guest?"

"Your security," Edsger answers. "Schwartzkopf provides his own." James decides that the tone of the second point conveys a sense of humorous understatement.

Arriving back at the library, it seems that "dinner" might actually be "cocktails with heavy hors d'oeuvres". The great hall is filled with many people in fashionable attire. Studying the crowd a bit, James feels that he can detect some social stratification based on proximity to the well-dressed dwarf that everyone is sucking up to in the most obsequious manner.

"Some of these have to be students of his," Illeana notes, pointing out some attendees who look like teenagers. "Lots of Awakened in here."

Waiters in white coats circle the room with drinks and silver trays of canapés, amuse-bouches, and vol-au-vent.

"Ah, you are here!" Schwartzkopf announces, breaking away from his previous conversation. (The distinguished man who had been speaking to Schwartzkopf looks most irritated.) The dwarf sweeps over and takes Illeana's arm. "Come, let us speak privately." James can feel the room staring daggers into his back.

The dwarf leads James and Illeana over to a quieter spot in the library, near an elaborate globe whose political boundaries look at least 200 years out-of-date.

"I have seen the Atlantean Foundation research and footage," he says. "But of course I wanted to hear it directly from a trusted associate. Is it true? An artifact that creates free spirits?"

"Yes," Illeana nods.

"And it was triggered in your presence?"

"Yes," Illeana answers. "And that is why we have no memories prior to February 1st."

"But yet, here you are. Not the brainless husks from the Atlantean's research." (Or am I? James wonders.)

"Our understanding is imperfect," Illeana allows. "Perhaps I was able to counterspell the effect - or perhaps it was banishing? - at least enough to allow us to survive."

"Or perhaps it was your physiology," Schwartzkopf says pointedly to James. "That question alone could support many illustrious academic careers, as I suspect your superiors as Ares understood."

James elects not to mention how Ares wished to use the nanites to create - or further enhance - super-soldiers.

Schwartzkopf turns back to Illeana, his midnight blue tuxedo glowing under the warm lights. "But, truly, you have no long-term memory? My my, you are missing a lot. More than most, it would be fair to say."

Illeana looks around the room, at all the people who wish that they were speaking to Schwartzkopf instead. They cutting comments are not audible but are readily understood from their facial expressions. "Might I impose upon you to fill in some of the gap?" Illeana asks.

Schwartzkopf hums, perhaps weighing the time it would take to do so versus the pleasure he enjoys in his familiar role as a professor who explains things to eager students. In this case, there's a delicious novelty in having to explain the student to the student, which the dragon can't seem to resist.

"You were turned many years ago by a banshee named Adem," Schwartzkopf begins. "He was a nobleman and you were his servant. He was stunned by your beauty, and disliked the idea of you growing old or dying. He infected you, and taught you what it is to be a vampire: how to fight, how to control your powers, how to hunt. He even instructed you in sorcery now that you had Awakened.

"But you were horrified by what you had become. You stayed with your master for several decades, and in that time you found hope in your mentor spirit, Hecate, who inspired you to try and hold onto her humanity and taught you in the ways of Wicca. Eventually, you decided you would rebel against your master and try to atone for the things he had made her do. You used her knowledge of artificing to craft yourself a mask, knowing it was your looks that your master coveted, and decided to seal away your face. You then stole his sword, struck him down with it, and fled. That is what led you to me.

"You studied under me and were a fine pupil. At the completion of your studies, you even worked for me for a while. But the time came when you felt you should move on. You found a coven that would welcome you, and bonded with your sisters. I am unclear on all the details after that point, but something led you to the obelisk and your handsome friend here."

James is fairly sure that the "handsome" comment is meaningless flattery - for what purpose, he does not know - but he does admit that he looks pretty sharp in this suit. If they saw him Ares might cast him in a trid series rather than a Detroit dungeon.

He looks to Illeana to see how she'll react. Her mouth opens and closes a few times, likely cycling between a hundred details she would want to know, before she settles on asking, "How old am I, exactly?"

Schwartzkopf smiles to himself, swirling the Burgundy in his goblet. "Who is to say. How old am I, having slept through the Fifth Age? Should I count those millennia or no? Let us say that you are seven-and-a-half months old, and leave it at that."

The dwarf looks content that he has delivered a sufficient mindfrag for the moment. "If you'll excuse me, I must greet some of the other guests." With that, he breaks away toward some of the younger attendees, who then become the focus of the room's collective wrath. Illeana reaches for James' hand and uses it to steady herself as she sits down on a stepping stool meant to help Schwartzkopf reach the higher shelves. She sighs deeply as she begins to process the dragon's story.

Edit: consistently misspelling Schwartzkopf
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (17:48:41/12-07-16)
When Illeana asks how old she is, and Schwartzkopf responds with "Who is to say. How old am I, having slept through the Fifth Age? Should I count those millennia or no? Let us say that you are seven-and-a-half months old, and leave it at that," James is caught off guard.  Under most circumstances he'd roll his eyes, or suppress a roll of his eyes for decorum's or self-preservation's sake, but standing in front of a great dragon, even in his dinky little dwarf form is mesmerizing, and James finds himself thinking that the seven months comment is as close to truth as one will get, likely even all the truth they need.

What the frag?

While James is still trying to work this out in his head, Schwartzkopf gives them leave, and James notices that his drink is empty.  he freshens it at the bar, and catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror behind it, and turns to Edsger.  "I never thanked you for the suits.  I can't remember a better fit."

"While the compliment is welcomed, I'll keep in mind the mitigating circumstances," Edsger answers with a wry smile.

James pops his cuffs and watches the great dragon work the room for awhile, noting the glow and disappointment of the crowd as they fall under Schwartzkopf's sun and are summarily cast back into the darkness.  At least James is still feeling relief about being out from under the dragon's watchful eye.  From out of the abyss a vocabulary-building song from his secondary school days comes back to him.

A compliment every now and then can be romantic,
But pay too many compliments are you're sycophantic.


James and Illeana are mostly left to their own devices until the conclusion of the party.  James is worried, as he's want to do, that Illeana isn't enjoying herself, as she can't partake in the hors d'oeuvres or drinks, and what's even worse she can't craft them herself.  In order to head off any listlessness, James extends his hand, and asks her to dance.  Neither are particularly skilled out on the floor, but James feels her relax into him as he does his best to keep time with the jazz quartet.

"Be careful now," he says, after trying for a simple spin, which almost comes off smoothly.

"About what?" she answers.

"You look like you almost might be having some fun."

"Everybody's looking at us," Illeana says.

"No they're not," he answers.  "They're looking at Schwartzkopf.  Most of them anyway.  The rest are just looking at you."

In the morning they're summoned for brunch, again at the library, and over the next few days, the pair repeats the trip enough to make James believe that Schwartzkopf must live there.  In these meetings he teases out from them their history, from waking up on February first to selling the obelisk to DIMR.  These meetings don't feel like interrogations, but nobody is under any illusions.  If anything, James feels more at ease understanding the timelines of dragons, and the way that this particular one at least chooses to conduct his business and personal affairs.  Still, when the end of September begins to loom large, and they still more and more activity on campus, James does wonder what he could still want with them.  They're given great latitude during their own time, which they take full advantage of sightseeing and reading, and Edsger gives James a fob to the very nice gym facilities on the south side of campus, which he also takes full advantage of and discovers a love of fencing, which he throws himself into with gusto.

"You're fast," his instructor says, his broken English a heavily accented with Hungarian, "but your form is awful.  Yahmes, you do not need to kill your opponent, simply connect sensor, ya?"

And later, "Distance, Yahmes, distance!  You let her make a sucker of you when fall for counter-riposte, ya?"

And later, through his earpiece, while James is dripping sweat and haggard, "Your guard all wrong.  Weak on outside," and just as his opponent lunges, poised for a perfect direct attack on James' wrist he draws her point in and closer before disengaging to the outside, binding her blade and returns with his own strike to her forearm.

"Yes, fast bravo," Levante says out loud.  "Your form still szar.  You practice more, ya?"

James returns to his line on the strip, and takes off his mask to Illeana's approach.  "We have another meeting," she says.  "in an hour."

James salutes, shakes hands with his opponent and coach, and walks with her to their waiting car.

"Something wrong?"

"No.  It's just this is a dinner date.  Private.  We haven't done dinner.  I don't know what that means."

"I'm fairly certain we're not on the menu," James says with a smile.

"Perhaps not literally," she replies.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (13:04:44/12-12-16)
8:01 PM Friday, September 20, 2075 - Czech Republic

After showering and dressing again in his tuxedo (which Illeana brought), James climbs into the back of a Rolls Royce Phaeton. Instead of returning to the library, Illeana and James are driven to Old Town Square. It is a cobblestone plaza surrounded by red-roofed buildings. It is a pleasant summer evening with just a hint of fall in the air. The plaza is densely packed with a cheerful festival. It does not look like the place for two people in formal attire, but the mood is more celebratory than rowdy.

"Oktoberfest," Illeana says, studying the banners. James feels a rush of anticipation from his nanites, who cry out in unison for beer.

Edsger turns around from the front seat as the limo rolls to a stop. "Miss Anghelescu, you knew this once, but be mindful of what you say. You have grown in willfulness since I knew you last. Remember what they say about dragons -"

"Never to deal with them?" Illeana interrupts, thinking that it's too far too late for that.

"No," Edsger says, a bit put off by the expression. "Rather that they follow a reliable policy of 'don't ask, tell'."

"I see," Illeana says tightly.

On the plaza there is a large glass box in a highly modern design. After James and Illeana are let out and work their way through the crowd, they see that it is a restaurant. They can see through from one side to the other, with the exception of a large aquarium in the center of the restaurant that must be 60,000 liters or more. Above, as the ceiling, another broad aquarium tank covers the entire building. A blue neon sign announces the restaurant as Akvárium. Inside, James can see waitstaff in red tuxedo jackets tending to the formally-dressed patrons, who dine as fish swim above and around them. In the front window, sitting alone in a booth, is the dwarven form of Schwartzkopf.

Inside, the atmosphere is far different than it was in the library. Instead of an air of cattiness and social backstabbing, there is a positive buzz of exclusivity and excitement. James can tell that the presence of the dragon is causing a stir among the restaurant patrons. Outside, on the plaza, tourists and other gawkers use the advancing darkness (the sun having set an hour earlier) and the Oktoberfest crowd as cover to take covert photos of the dragon.

The maître d' practically snaps his spine by straightening up when James and Illeana walk in. "Right this way," he says breathlessly, as if a moment's delay might cost him dearly. He shows the pair to the dragon's table in the front window. James notes how the table density is somewhat less than he would expect, and concludes that a ring of tables has been cleared away to provide the esteemed guest with an added degree of privacy.

"Ah, welcome," Schwartzkopf says as he stands to welcome the pair.

"You have been waiting," Illeana says nervously, aware that they should have been waiting for the dragon, not vice versa.

"Think nothing of it," Schwartzkopf says with a dismissive wave. He invites the pair to sit, and they do.

"I have taken the liberty of ordering," he confesses with an air of mild admission. "I am eager to dispense with the pleasantries and jump to the matter at hand. Namely, I wish to discuss your plans for when you leave Prague."

Wine arrives almost immediately. Some is poured for Illeana, likely for appearances. James can feel the almost unconscious disappointment of the nanites.

"A toast as we begin," Schwartzkopf says, raising his glass. Illeana seems highly conscious of being watched by so many people both inside and outside of the restaurant. She raises her glass too.

"To mutual understanding," the dwarf says in that vague way that dragons do when speaking about matters far beyond the comprehension of their listeners. The trio clink glasses. Illeana raises her glass to her lips and fakes a sip before setting it back down.

The first course arrives. The waiter introduces it as tuna sashimi with tapioca, radish, and parsley mayonnaise. Illeana lifts an eyebrow to James, then takes a bite. He realizes that she must not be wearing her mask, and that she must be willing to spend the evening vomiting in order to not appear out-of-place here.

"We have discussed this before, you and I," Schwartzkopf says pointedly to Illeana once the waiters depart. "My students know that I detest repeating myself, but given your unique circumstances we must have the conversation once again. You are in the rare position where you have many more years to fill than the average metahuman. Of all the things you must be on guard against, do not forget boredom and complacency. They are insidious.

"Look to the great dragons for inspiration," he says with no embarrassment. "Lofwyr accumulates. Sirrurg chose to pursue justice in his own way. I have busied myself with my studies, because I have found the pleasures of material possessions to be fleeting."

There is no break in his speech, and James can tell that Schwartzkopf is here to deliver a lecture as a professor would. James recognizes the pattern immediately from Illeana's lessons, and wonders if she inherited the style from Schwartzkopf.

"Your Bible offers some insight on the matter," Schwartzkopf says warmly as the second course arrives. (James notes the word 'your' and reasons that Schwartzkopf must mentally assign the Bible to the human race rather than to a specific culture or author.) "Ecclesiastes, particularly Chapter 2. But, really, the whole book of Ecclesiastes is a marvel. Far, far ahead of its time. I am sorry that I missed the writing of it." He shakes his head sadly at the thought.

"But whereas the Kohelet of Ecclesiastes laments that even the wise must die, the situation is different for you and I." He smiles to Illeana. "You had great potential before, and I see that same potential in you now even after your recent loss. It may take you a while to capitalize on it - a hundred years, surely - but what are centuries to you and I?"

James is feeling decidedly left out of this conversation. He looks down and sees that the second course is roasted langoustine with celery and licorice.

"To that end, I would propose an alliance of sorts. That we continue to work together and show each other preference. You may not remember every instance in your past, but you have an indispensable gift of finding yourself in remarkable situations. Think of me when you do, that is all I ask." Schwartzkopf lifts his wine glass to the notion.

"Dragons don't ask, they tell," Illeana shoots back immediately with more piquancy than James expected.

Schwartzkopf looks surprised, then annoyed, then sets his glass back down. The approaching server recognizes the look and spins on his heel. He retreats with the third course, whatever it was, lest he be caught in the crossfire.

"That is hardly fair," Schwartzkopf says defensively.

"So why are we eating in public?" Illeana asks with a bemused smile, swallowing her langoustine. "In the front window of a glass box on one of the city's busiest plazas, with the year's biggest festival just meters away? You are announcing our alliance for all the world to see."

There's a long pause while Schwartzkopf decides whether he's affronted or amused or offended or entertained. James realizes that the waiters are doing their best to spy on the proceedings from the opposite side of the aquarium in the middle of the restaurant, as if it might somehow protect them if the conversation goes poorly. Finally, after what feels like ages but is only a minute, Schwartzkopf cracks a smile.

"You have changed," he says, more paternal than patronizing. James wonders if he can detect a hint of pride in the dragon's tone. "Yes, there is an element of show, but it is to protect you more than to bind you."

He looks directly at James with a focused stare that doesn't feel much different than being on the receiving end of a shot from a Redline. "It may provide you with a cushion of sorts," he says. "It is not impervious, but the association may slow down some who may have their own plans for you." His gaze switches back to Illeana as he gives her a meaningful look.

The restaurant staff have decided that this thaw is a sufficient window in which to deliver the third course, which is marinated salmon on a spread of avocado cream, with a grapefruit and wasabi marshmallow. Illeana eats it in one bite.

"Delicious," she says, knowing that she may well regret it later.

"I hoped you would think so," Schwartzkopf responds.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (11:57:39/01-03-17)
James nearly drops his fork at Illeana's cool but sudden outburst.  It's strange enough, her eating, but James had nearly taken that for subservience or at least the appearance of it.  She takes another bite, nearly relishing it as she continues, and James feels something not unlike hate for the great dragon.  Or maybe jealousy over what power he has to hold sway over a woman who's independence and drive and power refuse to be tamed, whose personal code had been the impetus to free her from a vampire even older and stronger than herself, and Schwartzkopf bends her knee with what? 

With spectacle.

With shame.

James pushes a langoustine tail around the plate with the tines of his fork as he eyes their server retreating with the next course, and Schwartzkopf responds that Illeana has changed, a hint of pride in his voice.

Frag you, you lizard shit.  You don't get to be proud of her.

And even before the dwarven form of the great dragon turns to him, James feels his steely resolve soften.  "Yes, there is an element of show, but it is to protect you more than to bind you," the dragon says.

And then he does turn to James, looking more into him that at him.  James feels the unconscious desire to shift in his seat, like a schoolboy or criminal, but he resists the urge and meets the dragon's eye. 

"It may provide you with a cushion of sorts.  It is not impervious, but the association may slow down some who may have their own plans for you," Schwartzkopf finishes, turning his eyes back to Illeana meaningfully. 

There is a brief reprieve as the next course is served, and talk turns back to the food while James tries to make sense of his conflicting emotional responses to the dragon's overtures.  It's not unusual to hate what one fears, but it's equally likely that awe is tied up in wonder and reverence.  And he'd felt it, hadn't he, whenever the dragon's attentions had turned his way?  Veal tartar with a coriander and fennel emulsion follows as the next course, and James notices Illeana checking the clock on the wall.

"So, this 'alliance,'" James says, the word feeling strange in his mouth, "I would assume that it comes with more than just the right of first refusal."

"Hmm?" Schwartzkopf says, savoring a bite of the veal, and James finds himself wondering about the dietary needs of a dragon.  In his wyrm form, Schwartzkopf could easily eat cows by the handful, but here he was taking dainty little bites.  Seems strange for a dragon who just moments ago was speaking of the fleeting pleasure of material wealth.

"A few months ago Ileana and I had planned on going to MIT&T, but the semester has already started.  Before that, I had recently discovered the works of a fifth world writer, Ernest Hemingway, and was passing a good deal of my time and energies paracritter hunting.  But her studies and my amusements will be of little import to you, I would assume."  The dragon nods, and James continues, "But our hopes run higher.  We have, the two of us," James gives Illeana's hand a squeeze, "been looking deeper, or farther, I guess depending on how you want to look at it, for the long game."

"So, he wishes to shake off the mortal coil, then?" Schwartzkopf says to Illeana, before turning back to James.  "Why?"

"Pair bonding is a strange phenomenon," James says.  "Not that it often works for metas, but when it does I believe it's because they believe their relationship will last forever.  Not that they believe they will live foreer, but because they believe that their love will last for the all the forever that they have.  With us, well what did you say about Illeana, what are centuries to her?  True.  And if that's the case what is another forty, fifty years even."

"He does realize what a specious reason that is for what he's proposing, doesn't he?" Schwartzkopf says to Illeana just as a plate of duck breast and sausage are laid before them.

"And not unwarranted?" Illeana answers back cooly.

"Very well, James.  How exactly is it that you want to die?"

The mood at the table lightens as Illeana laughs.  The dwarf gives her a quizzical look, and she says, "That's just what I asked him when we first had this conversation."

"I see," Schwartzkopf grins, piling a piece of sausage onto his duck before taking a bite.  He chews slowly, washes it down with some wine, and places his cutlery on the plate at ten and two.  "Illeana, you will be enrolled at MIT&T for the spring semester.  In the meantime, you will spend the remainder of October and November here, in Prague, to prepare yourself.  I will make the library available to you.  When you're ready to return to the UCAS, it will be arranged."

He checks the time on a silver wrist watch and says, "We should call dinner concluded.  Thank you for a very informative evening."
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (00:48:45/01-16-17)
Before the dessert course, Illeana stands and excuses herself with an apologetic smile. James and Schwartzkopf stand too out of traditional politeness. Illeana retreats to the Ladies' Room, her Moonsilver cocktail dress shimmering as she goes. Inside the restroom, she dashes toward a stall at vampiric speeds and violently vomits her entire dinner into the bowl. She lays her head on the cool porcelain to rest for a moment until another wave of nausea overwhelms her. After two solid minutes of puking, she finally staggers to her feet, flushes her meal away, and then limps over to the sink. Bowing her head to spit and rinse out her mouth, she feels a warm hand touch her exposed shoulder. She looks up.

"Dear, it's 2075," a matronly woman with silver hair, a fox fur stole, and a trim figure tells her. "There's no need to resort to such incivilities." She glances back at the stall where Illeana just emptied her guts.

"Here, take the name of my physician," she continues, handing over a paper business card the color of bone with raised lettering. It even has a watermark. "He did my slimworm! Works like a charm, as you can see!" The woman turns back and forth, showing off her impressive measurements. "You can eat whatever you want. You'll thank me." She pats Illeana on the hand and whisks off.

Back at the table, Illeana excuses herself from the dessert course. James and Schwartzkopf enjoy a strudel with mountains of whip cream and espresso while Illeana negotiates their stay in Europe down to a month so that she can be in Salem in time for the Esbat ritual during the full moon. Schwartzkopf, understanding the importance of the ritual to a Wiccan, agrees.

With the meal concluded, James and Illeana stand to leave. As they reach the front door, they see that the festival-goers are all staring at them. They open the door with some trepidation, then step out into the late summer evening. The crowd parts in front of them, a hushed awe descending on the plaza. Illeana gives James a look, then squeezes his hand as they cross the plaza back to the waiting Rolls Royce Phaeton.

"Are we celebrities now?" Illeana whispers under her breath.

"I was part of Firewatch once," James whispers back, "so I've been a celebrity before."

"Might have to reactivate your P2.0 account," she says as the commlink cameras click all around.

The vampire and her cyber singularity seeker climb into their limousine and drive off, the new Prince and Princess of Prague.



End Chapter III
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (01:32:51/01-18-17)
Chapter IV

12:04 PM Tuesday, October 15th, 2075 - Grand Hotel Europa, Václavské nám 25, Prague

James and Illeana are packing up, preparing to check out of the Grand Hotel Europa after a month of travel and study. Illeana has several bags filled with tomes on loan from Schwartzkopf, whose library is hardly diminished by the loss of three or four dozen texts.

Edsger knocks and enters when bidden. As always, he is in his white robes with the cowl over his head.

"I see you are preparing to, ah, leave us," he says, before looking at Illeana and adding, "... again."

"Yes, we are returning to the UCAS so that I can participate in the Embloc ritual at Salem," Illeana explains. Edsger nods understandingly.

"I have a, ah, request," he says with an apologetic tone. "... from Schwartzkopf." His body language suggests that the request may be less-than-optional. Illeana and James exchange a look, then stop their packing to sit and listen.

"We have a, ah, student missing," Edsger begins. "Or, more accurately, not yet returned for the new academic year."

James knows that Schwartzkopf began his regular teaching duties two weeks ago, with Illeana even acting as a T.A. for workshops. (The male students were particularly attentive.)

"That doesn't sound unusual," Illeana says. "Not every student returns. Life intervenes."

"You are correct, of course," Edsger admits, taking a seat in a leather armchair, "but in this case, the student is, ah, a particular favorite of Schwartzkopf."

"Why do you need us?" Illeana asks. "Certainly you have other resources at your disposal."

Edsger laughs, almost nervously, rocking gently in his seat. "Again, you are correct," he allows with a wag of his forefinger. "However, if I might offer a compliment, resources of your, ah, competence are less common. Plus, you other advantages."

"Such as?" James asks.

"Your anonymity, for starters," Edsger answers. "There are organizations that have complete, ah, dossiers on each member of the Benandanti. You, on the other hand, are an unknown element."

"But everyone knows that we're associated with Schwartzkopf," Illeana interjects. "Ever since the dinner in the plaza during Oktoberfest."

(At the mention of Oktoberfest, James feels a strong burning in his throat. He turns to his noon beer - a strong Czech dark beer - and drinks deeply, feeling satisfied when the mug is drained.)

"Correct again!" Edsger says. "Three for three. Your association for Schwartzkopf is also important. It must be known that you come on his behalf, and represent his interests."

"What can you tell us about the student?" James asks.

Edsger looks pleased at the invitation to go into details. "Her name is Marie Senio. She is a doctoral candidate, and very accomplished in her coursework. It is unusual that she would not return after becoming so, ah, close to completion of her studies. She is very, ah, competent, perhaps not to the degree of yourselves but certainly in her own way."

He transmits a file which contains a profile of Miss Senio. She is a beautiful Czech woman who might be taken for an elf if she did not already look to be in her late 20s, an appearance many elves fail to "reach".

"So you don't think that she's come to harm?" Illeana asks.

"No, no," Edsger says, shaking his head too vigorously to be convincing, as if the thought were too unpleasant to imagine. "That would be most, ah, unthinkable." Edsger swallows hard, having been forced to consider the possibility during the course of answering the question.

He taps his cyberdeck. "My own research has followed a trail leading to Frankfurt." He looks to Illeana. "Do you remember it?"

She shakes her head. "You better remind me."

"The town is headquarters to both AG Chemie Europa and Frankfurter Bankenverein, both AA-rated. The latter is part of your, ah, retirement portfolio, hmm?"

Illeana cocks an eyebrow at him, but doesn't say anything.

"Nearly all real estate in the Frankfurt and the surrounding area belongs to either AGC, the FBV, or one of their subsidiaries. You will find the security there is very capable. Physical, Astral, and Matrix security are all comparable to what you would find at any of the megacorporations.

"Frankfurt is also home to the Doctor Faustus Society. a powerful hermetic order that receives significant support from AG Chemie. The Society is always recruiting from universities and ours is no different. However, Society is what you might refer to as an, ah, old boys' club. They only allow female members under the most, ah, exceptional circumstances."

"And you believe that might have happened here?" Illeana asks.

Edsger nods. "It is possible, yes. For example, the Society arose at Heidelberger University, which is not far from Frankfurt. The dean of the university, Prof. Dr. Horatius von Neurath is a Faustian. Schwartzkopf would take it as a personal, ah, favor to him if you were to return Miss Senio to us." Edsger looks at you from under the cowl. His perturbed mood and unexplained mannerisms suggest that this is a matter of importance, perhaps one that he is being held accountable for.

"To that end, I have been instructed to provide you with the, uh, tools you feel you might need for the job. If you could provide me with an itemized list, I will do my best to procure what I can in the next 24 hours. Or, if you should, ah, source your own materiel, you only need to supply me the receipt for reimbursement." He smiles weakly, either because its a joke or because he knows how unlikely a receipt would be from many sources.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (18:26:37/01-18-17)
James pulls an AR window up in his field of vision to examine Miss Senio's file.  He could easily send mental commands to switch between tabs and scroll as he skims, but James prefers to "touch" his windows and so he runs through the documents with quick flicks of his index and middle finger.  Stellar grades, of course, a semester abroad at MIT&T as an undergraduate, most certainly under Schwartzkopf's direction, a hermetic, which matched the Dr. Faustus story, and quite a picture they put with her.  Blonde, high cheekbones, good symmetry.  This would warrant a closer inspection, and James dismisses the file as Edsger finishes with an offer for gear.

"I don't mean to be indelicate," James begins, but you're going to need to speak to me plainly, as though you were speaking to a soldier.  Which you are.  Are we to serve as representatives for Schwartzkopf and negotiate for her return, or is this an extraction?  If the latter, am I correct in assuming that Miss Senio may be an unwilling participant?  If the former, what recompense do we have for trade?"

Dealing with the Dr. Faustus society would be tricky, and if Edsger is expecting this from Illeana and himself, James reasons there is more to the work than is being said on the surface.  No surprise there, coming from a dragon.  Sending a wiccan and a mundane super soldier wold command a certain disdain coming from the great dragon, or was this James' own biases working against him.  It's not that Ares didn't have the whiff of elitism, especially at the higher levels, but the corporate line was always one of rising together, of lowly drone tech and scientist, unskilled laborer and academic working hand in hand for the glory of the corp.  The aristocratic values of Dr. Faustus fell flat on his programming, not only old-fashioned and old-world, but obsolete and unnecessarily snobbish.  Unamerican, if there is still such a thing.

"As for gear, I'll need a SIN.  Illeana will too, depending on exactly what our cover is.  I'll need a rifle, preferably an Alpha, complete with suppressor, shock pad, and personalized grip, if you can manage one on short notice.  APDS and stick-and-shock.  A Crusader II, ditto the suppressor and personalized grip.  APDS and narco-jet with DMSO.  Depending on the infil and exfil locations I may need a holdout.  Probably too much to ask for a Redline?" James says with a smile.  "I'm rather partial.  Barring that I like the Light Fire, 75,not 70.  I like the heft of the .40 cal and they did a better job with the twist rate." 

Seeing Edsger's eye begin to glaze over as he tries to keep up, James waves his hand and says, "I'll get you a list.  And I'm sure this goes without saying, but please make sure none of our gear is tagged.  If nothing else, we may need to leave something in the field, and beyond that I don't need any extra wireless signals that may compromise our position."
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (20:02:37/01-18-17)
"We'll need licenses too," Illeana points out. "And armor. And a car. I need reagents, and some knives."

Edsger nods through the complete list until he gets to the Redline. He pauses, then says, "We'll see" with an unconvincing tone.

"On short notice, the SINs will get you through, uh, polite society, but best not to put too much weight on it, hmm?" he adds, standing to begin his preparations.

"As to your other questions:
- You are representatives of Schwartzkopf's and should demand respect as such.
- We do not know if this is a negotiation or a recovery or an extraction. You will need to evaluate the situation and determine the appropriate course of action.
- We do not expect Miss Senio to be an unwilling participant, but our expectations are obviously outdated as we expected her to return two weeks ago.
- Unless the situation is dire, we see no need to negotiate with hostile parties. Great dragons do not brook theft, nor disrespect. Any legal, uh, inconveniences you might incur will be dealt with swiftly and decisively, I assure you.

"No other great dragon has dominion in Frankfurt. Both AG Chemie and FBV are competitors of Saeder-Krupp, so there is no love for Lofwyr there. And, as you know, Nachtmeister was killed in 2062. As such, you should act with free rein."

Edsger walks to the door before turning at the last moment. "Do not take Miss Senio's appearance too, uh, literally, hmm?" He gives a meaningful glance at Illeana, then departs. The heavy hotel door shuts behind him.

"He means magic," Illeana surmises. "I don't look the same as I did, so Marie might not either. I suppose that means I'll need to see through any masking spells."

She leans over on the bed, thinking. "I wonder if Schwartzkopf has any weapon foci available. I miss my sword."
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (01:31:05/01-19-17)
11:04 AM Wednesday, October 16th, 2075 - Grand Hotel Europa, Václavské nám 25, Prague

Edsger has returned with purchases. He ushers Illeana and James down to a quiet corner of the parking garage.

"BMW X89, black," he says, opening the trunk of the luxury sedan. "In Schwartzkopf's name, please return it."

He points to a variety of boxes and packages in the trunk.

"Ares Alpha, Crusader, and Light Fire 75, all as requested.

"A Berwick suit for the gentleman and a Berwick dress for the lady. Frankfurt is a conservative town, in that it is the financial capital of the Allied German States. These will me more appropriate than Armanté or Vashon Island."

Illeana frowns. It's clear she was hoping for something other than Mortimer of London.

"Non-conductivity treatments for each. Medkit with appropriate slap patches. 100 drams of reagents. New identities and licenses, as appropriate."

Illeana examines hers. "Lara Senio! I always wanted to be a Lara."

"I thought that you might be able to pass for her sister, should it be an advantage," Edsger says.

"What about knives?" Illeana asks.

Edsger smiles widely, having saved the best for last. He reaches into the trunk and removes a handsome walnut burl box almost a meter wide that looks like a giant jewelry box. He opens it slowly, savoring Illeana's reaction.

"Ah!" she exclaims, looking like a young girl who got a pony for Christmas.

James looks inside the box. In addition to a dozen throwing knives, there are three beautiful knives and daggers. From Illeana's reaction, he is guessing they are weapon foci. She reaches in and grabs a large kukri.

"The knife of a Gurka," Edsger explains. Illeana waves it around, judging the balance.

"I love the weight and the feel of it," she says. "It feels so substantial. But it must be, what, 42cm long?"

"44," Edsger gently corrects.

"Difficult to conceal," Illeana says, "especially in a dress." She puts it back reluctantly. She takes out a second knife, which appears to have been formed out of a blue crystal.

"A sapphire knife," Edsger says. "Impossible to detect but equally difficult to enchant. It is the least magical of the three, and may shatter under duress."

Illeana nods and returns it to the box before grabbing the final knife. She inhales deeply, her eyes wide.

"A parrying dagger from the early 17th century," Edsger says, smiling knowingly. "I suspected that you would be drawn to it."

"I adore it," Illeana says breathlessly, turning it over in her hand and examining the elaborate dagger guard.

"That's because you enchanted it yourself," Edsger says with a note of triumph. "As part of your thesis."

"Really?" Illeana asks, clutching it to her chest, her eyes full of wonder.

"I daresay, should you return Miss Senio to us, that Schwartzkopf will let you keep it this time."

Illeana nods diligently, sheathing the dagger in its scabbard before turning to James with a look of joy. "Let's bring her home!" she exclaims, ready to begin the 5 hour drive to Frankfurt right then and there.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (12:13:43/01-20-17)
"I've had less luck with your, ah, very particular preferences," Edsger says somewhat apologetically to James.  "We were able to find a very nice spelunking model ballistic mask, which has the Ultrasound and motion sensors you asked for.  Unfortunately, auditory enhancement and sound filters are not particularly prized by that demographic.  It does include low-light vision, though," Edsger adds hopefully.

James examines the matte black ballistic mask, and nods. It'll do. 

"Now, about the globetrotter jacket," Edsger continues with a frown, pulling one up from the bowels of the trunk.  "I wouldn't recommend wearing this on the streets of Frankfurt.  You never know who --"

"I'm aware," James replies, taking the coat and turning it over in his hands.

"Hmm, yes, well, should your travels take you into the woods on your way to grandmother's house. . . Your customizations there were also difficult to accommodate."

"I see this one has the non-con liner," James says.  "No auto-injector?"

"I'm afraid not."

"No matter."

James thanks Edsger for his work, and shakes the man's hand before adding, "Please tell Schwartzkopf that we'll do everything in our power to bring back Miss Senio, and this beautiful automobile back in one piece."

James pilots the X89 west, leaving the Universitas Carolina Pragensis behind them, its towers lit up in the morning sun.  In Pilsen James stops for a mid-morning liter of the town's namesake, satisfies his nanites, and continues west toward the German Allied States' border.

"It's a beautiful piece," James says.

Illeana stops rolling the parrying dagger around in her hands a little self-consciously and blushes. 

"May I?" James asks, putting the car on auto-pilot.  He checks the balance of the dagger, mimics a parry six with his left hand and nods before handing it back to her.  "Beautiful," he murmurs again and feels the pang of knowing that Illeana can sense its beauty even more acutely than himself.

"The down-turned quillons were effective at catching and deflecting an opponent's rapier, while the long, slender, and relatively inflexible blade made it superior for delivering a killing blow at grappling ranges," Illeana says, entering professorial mode.

"This is a German, or perhaps a Czech design," she adds.  "Italian and French blades were typically of the main gauche style, including a longer blade and knuckle guard.  Northern European examples, Saxon blades for instance, usually had smaller cross guards and a side ring hilt."

"I think you'd better put it away," James cuts in.

"Hmm?"

"We're approaching the border."
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (18:03:59/01-20-17)
"Remember the cover story we rehearsed," James says as he slows down for the border.

Illeana tucks the dagger into the glove compartment, figuring that any investigation of the vehicle will include the trunk, which contains contraband far more concerning than a small dagger.

James rolls up to the border checkpoint, which is manned by two dour-looking men: one ork and one human. James scans them. Armor jackets, tasers, heavy pistol in the holster, SMGs - HK-227s from the looks of it - within easy reach.

"Papiere, bitte," the ork says sourly. A rotodrone of some sort circles the vehicle. James notices that the car is within the cone of fire of two turrets. LMGs, at least, he thinks. Maybe MMGs. Possible AV rounds.

"Bitte schön," Illeana responds with a winning smile. The man freezes for a moment at the sight of her.

The crossing is a non-event. Maybe Edsger is on Matrix overwatch and smoothed the way. Maybe border guards don't want to mess with people driving around in a car registered to a great dragon. Or maybe the men decided that it would be far better to allow a woman of Illeana's beauty into the country rather than keep her out. The questions are cursory; as they drive away, Illeana looks disappointed not to have used more of her German.

"I'm sure you'll have more of an opportunity now that we're in, you know, Germany," James prods her.

She mutters something in German that he doesn't understand. The drive resumes.

"Where should we begin?" Illeana ask. "Senio's profile suggests that all she needed to finish her Ph.D was to complete her dissertation. She could write that anywhere, but was expected back because she had T.A. duties. I wonder if she was who I was filling in for."

Suddenly, she grabs James' arm rather roughly.

"I just had a thought. You don't think she has nanites, do you?" she asks with a tone that could be considered insulting to someone who actually has nanites. "Oktoberfest, brewery tours? Wandering off unexpectedly? Maybe that's one of the reasons they wanted to send us, or you anyway. It takes a thief to catch a thief, and all that. What do you think?"

James wonders if she's asking him or asking his nanites. (The nanites think that brewery tours sound awesome and, if Illeana's theory holds, the best way to look for Senio would be to go on a pub crawl.)
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (12:43:24/01-26-17)
"Ya know, you don't have to be infected with nanites to enjoy a beer," James says a little too defensively.  "Maybe you'd understand that if. . ." He trails off for a moment, before adding, "I'm sorry; I don't know where that came from.  It's a good idea.  If she does have nanites, they're going to be begging her to get out early, so a morning to noon trip through the biergartens is probably our best bet.  We can grab a hotel room now, and start crawling pubs as soon as we're settled, spread a few holos around.

"If that comes up empty, I was thinking we may be able to make inroads on the Dr. Faustus society by checking out some of the fencing salles, the old-world aristocratic ones.  If Faustus is in the corps here, and the schools, there are probably a few Corporations left that would have Faustus members.  I say we start with the beer angle, and check out the salles tomorrow afternoon if we're coming up empty-handed.  Scan?"

James drives to a mid-range hotel, one where the BMW will not look too out of place, nor one where the SIN check is likely to be particularly robust.  Illeana handles the details, while James loads their baggage onto a cart, and wheels it up to their room.  A part of him expects an Ares extraction team to burst into the lobby and start spraying stick-and-shock everywhere, but for now at least, he is left to his own devices.  He can only hope that Schwartzkopf's display holds.

After downing a quick protein bar, James say, "How about this Gerbermühle place?  It's not too far, and it's known for its 'gothic' style according to SprawlTips.  Hey, you don't look so good.  Everything ok?"

Illeana dismisses him with a wave of her hand, but James is unconvinced.

"When was the last time you ate?"

"This morning," she says.  "You saw me while--"

"No, I mean, really ate?" he asks.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (01:53:27/01-27-17)
7:04 PM Wednesday, October 16th, 2075 - Gerbermühle, Frankfurt

Illeana demurs when James euphemistically asks her about the last time she ripped the soul out of another metahuman. "I topped up before Baltimore," she says, "but the fight getting out of Detroit took a lot out of me. Don't worry about me; I could go for the rest of the year without feeding. Right now our we're on a tight schedule so let's find Senio and we can worry about it after. I don't want to just jump someone at random."

James knows that Illeana is the helpful sort, both inherently and as demanded by Hecate. The fact that her magic depends on occasionally robbing the life force of someone who doesn't want to part with it is a cruel paradox.

It's dinnertime and James is hungry. Conveniently, there is a biergarten just outside. Before leaving, Illeana tweaks her looks so that she could pass for Marie's darker-haired sister. The couple bundles up for the crisp autumn air and heads outside, where they are seated.

"Ich suche meine Schwester. Hast du sie gesehen?" Illeana asks the waitress, using Czech-accented German. She shares an ARO of Marie but the waitress shakes her head 'no' apologetically.

"It's funny," she says under her breath when the waitress leaves after taking the order. "I wonder if this is what it was like when I was looking for you in Aspen."

"Oh?" James asks. "Are you going to fall in love with Marie too?"

Illeana flicks a coaster at him. The waitress comes back with drinks: Apfelwein for Illeana (to better blend in) and Zwickelbier for James. Illeana doesn't drink and relies on James to dutifully drain her glass at socially-acceptable intervals, which he does with pleasure.

"Marie seems to be laying low," Illeana says as they go over the dossier. "Staying in hostels instead of hotels. Paying with certified credsticks, from the looks of things."

"Less security in hostels," James points out. "Fewer cameras, electronic records."

"Or maybe it's just cheaper," Illeana says. "I don't know if she gets a stipend from Schwartzkopf but most doctoral candidates are living on ramen and yesterday's soykaf. Which is funny because she'll be pulling six figures, easy, once she hits the labor market."

"I've been thinking about the academic angle," James says. "Academic fencing is popular at universities and seems like the sort of thing that the old boys of the Doctor Faustus Society would appreciate. There are multiple fencing salles this weekend, both in Frankfurt and in Heidelberg."

"Sounds promising," Illeana agrees. "Do you need my parrying dagger?" She smiles mischeiviously and uses the dagger to expertly carve the Brathendl that comes to the table for James' dinner, golden and aromatic.

(http://images.ichkoche.at/data/image/variations/496x384/1/knuspriges-brathendl-img-6172.jpg)
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (15:56:23/01-27-17)
James finishes his chicken and both drinks, then he and Illeana discretely circulate around the biergarten to ask about Marie. There are no looks of recognition or any other clues to pounce on so they decide to move along.

"Let's try this place," James says, throwing an ARO of a beer hall called Heilige Arnold to Illeana. "It was raining last weekend so the outdoor biergartens would have been closed. Plus, there's a vaguely concentric circle that she seems to be appearing in around the city, perhaps unconsciously moving around in what she thinks is a random radius from wherever she's staying. This place would be on that ring."

Once there, they find a highly traditional beer hall: cavernous ceilings, exposed wooden beams, chandeliers with flickering candles, crackling fireplaces, waitresses in the traditional German cleavage-friendly attire, the whole works.

"Prices are even in Deutsche Marks," Illeana notes. "About two to the nuyen at current exchange rates. I wonder if that's a business decision or part of the traditional atmosphere that they're promoting."

"Let's think this through," James says. "Let's say she was here on the weekend. Who else comes to beer halls on the weekend? Men and women looking for companionship. Marie is certainly attractive, so let's find someone in her demographic that might have been checking her out."

Illeana nods, impressed at the logic. She scans the giant room then juts her chin toward two humans, both serious bodybuilders from the looks of them. Either of them looks like more than a match for an ork, and maybe even a small troll. One has black hair and an olive complexion and the other is ashe blonde with a tan that's fading from the summer. They are both handsome in that youthful "I'm in peak physical condition and in the prime of my life" kind of way, but the ashe blonde has a particular confidence and winning smile.

<<@Illeana [James] They're huge! Ware?>>

<<@James [Illeana]  Biomuscles in the guy with black hair. Blonde chummer looks ... all natural! Well, he has tailored pheromones like yourself, but the muscles are from Mom and God. I can't tell if he's on Ripper, but looks like the body is the product of sweat and tears. He's got a libido to match, given his testosterone levels. Looks like a good candidate.>>

As they approach, they see the men talking and laugh and eating like bodybuilders: roast chickens, huge plates of sausages, and large steins to wash it all down.

"Entschuldigen Sie..." Illeana says to interrupt their conversation. The men turn to her and smile widely. They don't look surprised that they've been approached by such a beautiful woman. Perhaps it happens to them all the time.

"Bitte setzen," the blonde says to Illeana, gesturing to the bench next to him, barely acknowledging James' existence.

Illeana demurs on taking a seat. "Ich suche meine Schwester," she says, sharing an ARO of Marie. "Hast du sie gesehen?"

The men exchange a look, then nod in the affirmative. Illeana accepts the spot at the bench. There's a rapid back and forth, which Illeana summarizes in English for James. "They're saying they saw her, but not tonight. She was here over the weekend, just like you guessed."

"I speak some English," the blonde says when he hears Illeana speaking English. His accent (the non-German one) that suggests he learned it in England. "Your sister was here on Saturday. She is very attractive, like you, ja? It is easy to see the resemblance."

Illeana tries to accept the compliment gracefully. "She is missing and we are concerned. Anything you could tell us would be helpful."

The man gives a rakish smile, then weaves his head back and forth in that way that means, Oh I don't know. "My memory's a bit fuzzy," he says. "We were drinking a lot that night, ja?"

"Looks like you have quite a feast here," James notes. "Perfect way to recover from a heavy lifting session. Why don't we take care of the bill for you?"

The blonde purses his lips and nods thoughtfully after considering the proposal. He sends to tab for DM 200 to James. "Ja, I remember a little better now.

"Your sister was in here by herself. Unusual for such a beautiful woman, no? No friends or men or anything. She seemed to be looking for someone. 'Perhaps for me!' I thought, so we introduced ourselves, my friend and I. She was not very warm, your sister. Rather icy." The black haired man nods in agreement, and is evidently able to follow the conversation.

"She said she was waiting for someone. A little man appeared next to her, said she was with him." He holds his hand out palm down to indicate a man of small stature. "In German we would say 'leseratte' or 'bücherwurm'. Not very handsome, ja? Nowhere near her league, unless he is handsome in other ways, ja?" He rubs his thumb and fingers together in the universal sign for money.

"But he was not afraid, no? Not intimidated in the least, by her or by us." The blonde shrugs. "Could be corporate, could be too stumm to know better. She left with him. Not arm-in-arm, no. Rather stiffly, arms crossed." He demonstrates, jutting his lower lip out in an exaggerated fashion to mimic a sour expression.

The blonde stops and opens his hands to indicate the end of the story. "And then she was gone, ja? And here we remained, rejected and alone." He and his friend laugh, seemingly amused at the memory of the one who escaped their manly charms.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (17:51:32/01-30-17)
If a new actor is to enter the arena, at least we have seen his entry, James reasons before breaking in.  "Uh, short man.  Human?" he asks pointing to himself and gesturing to the group, "or dwarf?"

When the blond man stops talking and opens his hands, James and Illeana thank them both "for all your help," and leave the biergarten.

"So, extraction then?" James asks once they're back on the street.

"I'm not so sure," Illeana answers.  "She did tell the übermenschen she was waiting for someone."

"So, she meets the ugly hoop out in public, and then goes off with him almost immediately.  At the least this was not a preliminary meeting."

"So, no negotiations," Illeana finishes.  "What was the point of meeting in public then?"

"Exactly," James says.  He opens the door to the X89 for Illeana and walks around to the driver's side, inputting a destination on the car's autopilot through his commlink.  "If my theory about her radius holds, she won't be back here.  Just the meeting burns this as a location.  If we're lucky, she may well be still walking the streets, and we can catch her at another one.  If we're not lucky, her movements will be dictated more by this outside actor than by her own security protocols."

"You mean Dr. Faustus."

"Probably.  I've got three hostels that fall in our likely perimeter.  Let's hit those up first, see what that nets us.  After that I'll probably be up for a nightcap, but we should call it there until tomorrow."

"I don't know," Illeana says, as the X89 finds its pace with the Frankfurt traffic.  "If we come up empty tonight, I don't think I'm going to be able to sleep unless I get some good exercie."

"A little cardio," James asks.

"Maybe some heavy lifting too," she smiles.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (02:06:29/01-31-17)
James and Illeana have luck at the hostels. It seems Senio has been to two of them, but never more than a night at a time.

First they speak with Ewald, from the United Netherlands. "Ja, is true," he says in English, dragging on some exotic European brand of cigarette that Illeana charmingly lights with the tip of her finger. "She was here, Thursday or Friday. She came, she did not talk, she slept, she left. No, there was no small man as you describe."

Then, there is Anders, a very blonde Swede from Stockholm, dressed stylishly in a corduroy blazer and motorcycle boots. Illeana charms him with compliments about his clothes, which are all of his own design. "Ja," he says, and James begins to wonder if the Europeans have any other word for 'yes' other than 'ja'. "She was here. She came with the skinny man, got her bag, then left with the skinny man, just as you describe. Not a pleasant fellow, and she didn't seem happy to go with him. He said things that were not nice about the Green Tortoise here. It is not bad, is it?"

The hostel appears serviceable, if simple. Anders is sharing a room with five other men, some of whom are taking an interest in Illeana.

"Did you hear where they were going?" James asks. "We're concerned about her safety."

Anders nods, sipping from his brännvin. "The little man, he said, 'I will take you to Solomon. It is safe there.' She seemed skeptical, but she took all her things and went. Nice car. Porsche Aguilar. He made her carry her own bags though."
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (22:52:55/01-31-17)
"Bienenstock?" James asks putting the BMW in park.

"It means 'beehive,'" Illeana answers, pointing to the sign, a funky but fairly stiff-looking bee sitting cross-legged astride his home smoking a cigarette.

"Alright, let me look at you.  Soft eyes.  Good.  Let's see what we can get,"

Inside the hostel Anders is helpful and friendly, and when he says, "The little man, he said, 'I will take you to Solomon. It is safe there.' She seemed skeptical, but she took all her things and went. Nice car. Porsche Aguilar. He made her carry her own bags though," Illeana takes her cue.  It's a combination of small changes: turning away from Anders slightly, the sinking of the shoulders, bending her head to James and exposing the pale lines of her neck.  James knows this pose from somewhere buried under some synapse of some long-forgotten class on counter-intelligence.  Appear weak, demure, in need of rescue, and the men will come running.

Somehow James thinks that Illeana came to it more honestly.  Perfect predator, that one.

"The skinny man," James says.  "Not what you'd call handsome, yes?  Hair about,"

"Ja, ja, to there, that's right," Anders replies, and gives Illeana a concerned look while James puts a protective arm around her shoulder.  "Is something the matter?"

"He's . . . not unknown to us, if it is him.  She came and stayed with us for awhile the last time he, you know," James says uncomfortably.

"Arthur!" Illeana says reproachfully.

The door opens behind them, and Anders jumps up to greet the middle aged dwarf woman entering with an industrial size tub of laundry detergent.  He says something to her in German that James doesn't pick up on, but in a few moments James is taking the detergent to the back room while Roberta, he thinks it's Roberta anyway, pulls up the security footage for Illeana.  A scan of James' commlink later, and they've got their picture.  The resolution could be better, but it's a clean frontal shot. 

This guy's never had to hide from a camera in his life.

Back in the car James sits down satisfied.  "Ja, ja, ja," he says with an incredulous laugh.  "What is with these people and their constant affirmations.  I see ending a sentence in 'no.'  It's much more sulty, no?  French and Spanish, now those are languages,"

"Slot," Illeana says with a roll of her eyes.  "Just because you haven't figured it out yet."

"Ich habe ja so viel gehört, dass ich Deutsch kaufen könnte eins," James forces out and Illeana laughs.

"You just said, 'I've heard yes so many times I could buy German one.'  Er, more or less anyway." Illeana says.  "What were you trying to say?"

"I don't even want to say."

#

Back at the hotel, James orders a very spartan dinner, and pops the still photo into a facial recognition database.  "Ok, scan this," James says, while he plugs the newfound name into a general matrix search.  "The skinny man is Heinz-Christian the Baron Krauss von Espy.  Faustus, so no surprise there.  What's this, looks like he's a legacy member.  His father, Roland-Heinze, was inducted in the summer of '54."

"Employer?" Illeana asks.

"Not sure.  Maybe AG Chem, maybe he's employed directly by the society, a talent scout, so to speak."  He sends some passages that are translating poorly to Illeana, and she fills in some of the gaps.

"So, what about this 'Solomon' angle?" James asks.  "Probably a biblical thing, or loosely so, right?  Let's see, Solomon was known for his wisdom and discernment.  Maybe this is a place where prospects are judged?"

"That doesn't really fit with the safety promise," Illeana reasons, trying a different approach with her own searches.

"He was also the builder of the first temple in Jerusalem.  I think the old masons held him in high regard for that.  Maybe--"

"Hold on," Illeana breaks in.  "It's not 'Solomon,' it's 'Salomen.'  A Faustus Society club.  Well, the Faustus Society club.  You can't join another once you're in."

Once he has the right name, James spends the next few hours pouring over gossip, conjecture, and Salomen's own public access page.  Eventually, he closes the windows and looks about the hotel room in a daze.  Pinching the bridge of his nose he says, "I think I'm tapped out.  What do you think?"

"We're not sure Marie is there presently.  We could try a sneak-and-peak, or see if we can corner the Baron Kraus von Epsy, have him take us to her."

"It shows they have fencing.  Maybe tomorrow I hit up one of the local salles, say this Tauberbischofsheim place, and see if I can't make an impression.  I'll express an interest in Mensur, that's fencing where the participants use sharpened swords and try to cut the unarmored face of their opponent.  It's an old world tradition, very aristocratic, borderline illegal.  Should be perfect for Faustus.  Maybe I can charm our way into an invitation."

"Sounds doubtful," Illeana says with a shrug. 

"It's thin, but it'd be the best way inside.  We'd be supposed to be there.  If it comes of nothing, we'll look into the Baron.  In fact, why don't you see if you can put a bead on his location tomorrow while I'm out.

"Another thing.  If I was to enter the salle with your parrying dagger, I'd appear mundane, but the dagger wouldn't.  Would obviously not be mine?  I mean, do you have some essence thing going on with it?"

In the morning, James eats a light breakfast, but hydrates himself along with a half-liter of Oktoberfest, calming the nanites.  He strides confidently up the steps to the Tauberbischofsheim fencing club, with his bag of gear over his shoulder, and smiles at the receptionist inside.  "Do you speak English," he says.  She nods curtly, and James continues, "I'm Arthur VanBrandt of London.  I see open fencing begins at 11:00, may I purchase a guest pass please?"
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (12:03:40/02-03-17)
James strolls through the main fencing area on his way to the locker rooms.  It's a bit busier than James would've guessed for the day and time, and he wonders if places like this are the German equivalent of golf courses on his continent, a place where business gets done under the guise of relaxation and play.  The look of the locker room reinforces the idea.  Real wood, he notes, passing by purchased lockers that have brass plates with names and titles toward the back where the daily renters stand.  Out of habit, he plucks a single hair as he scratches his ear, and then tucks the hair into the seam of the door.  Only the extremely perceptive would notice it, should they begin to look through his stuff, but if the hair doesn't fall when he returns, he'll know they were looking.

Emerging back on the fencing floor in his full kit, James limbers up and runs through some brief footwork drills before putting himself in the rotation.  His first match is against a young man in his early twenties who vigorously introduces himself as Helmut Vannacht as they approach the strip.

"You'll do fine," he assures James in broken English, not at all seeming put off by James' own linguistic shortcomings.

The bout ends up being called on time.  The man lunges, James retreats.  James goes for an outside strike against the man's wrist, and he's deflected with a simple turn of the hand.  Helmut, it seems, is quite aerobic, and when he fails to score a touch on rather beautifully done counter-riposte, he begins jumping in place and advancing menacingly. 

If you only knew, James thinks, and times a low lunge to Helmut's hopping and catches him on the knee for a point..

"Ser gut," Helmut says with a lackadaisical salute as he returns to the starting line.  James is a bit emboldened now, but through a string of attacks he can't land a follow up point, and while the outside of Helmut's wrist looks like a prime target, he's never able to connect.  His own defense never cracks, though, and before the judge calls time, James has forced in two more points, the first in a flèche that simply outran Helmut, and the second in a counter attack that clipped a fold in the sleeve of his jacket.  Lucky too: another 1/8 of a second, and Helmut would've scored the point.

They salute formally and shake hands before returning to the benches, while two men with AG Chem written on their knickers take the piste.  "Well done," the one on James' side says as he hooks into the wireless link.  After their bout, the man returns, and takes a seat next to James.  "I know why he didn't hit you, but do you know why you didn't hit him?"

"He's fast," James says, fanning his open jacket to get some air on himself.

The man looks unimpressed and holds out a hand, waves it up and down in a so-so gesture.

"Helmut is a master of the psychological aspects of the game," he says.  "You were trying for the outside of his wrist, ja?  It looked weak?  No accident.  You open your whole arm when you try for that attack.  A slower man would have been bested seven times out of eight, going for that hit.

"I think you rely too much on speed."

"My coach says the same thing," James confesses.  "Arthur VanBrandt, it's good to meet you."

"Adalard Schulz," he replies extending a hand.  "We are having a series of bouts, er, more of a show really tomorrow night at the Botanischer Garten Frankfurt am Main.  You know it, the botanical gardens?  Why don't you come.  We shall see about getting you some real competition, eh?"

"I'm honored, Herr Schulz," James says.  "May I bring a guest,"

In the next few minutes, Adalard Schulz fills James in on the nature of the event, which seems much more high society than a simple fencing tournament.  If anything the athletics seem more of an excuse for the social aspects, than the social aspects augmenting the display of athleticism. 

"You'll fit in marvelously, Arthur," Adalard says. 
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (20:14:08/02-04-17)
8:04 PM Friday, October 18th, 2075 - Mittelmeerhaus, Botanischer Garten Frankfurt am Main

James and Illeana approach the giant glass conservatory, the gravel of the path crunching underneath their feet. After a day of clouds, the skies have mostly cleared. A small breeze kicks up the hem of Illeana's Moonsilver cocktail dress. James is dressed in his Nightshade tuxedo from Prague. Illeana had tried to tailor their Berwick suits magically, but despite her best efforts she couldn't make them look as good as their black-tie outfits. For fun, Illeana uses the Illuminating feature of her Nightshade dress to light their path unnecessarily. Not only are they both capable of seeing in the dark, but the conservatory is glowing warmly from within.

"Ah, Arthur!" James hears a voice call out. He sees Adalard Schulz standing near the entrance, beckoning him. He notes the use of his first name, but perhaps it is because Adalard is a silver-haired fox - at least in his 50s - with a trim physique and a great deal of panache. He wears a slim grey suit with a white shirt and black necktie that compliments his distinguished hair and neat, narrow mustache. For a split second, he reminds James uncomfortably of Mr. Nately.

"This is the gentleman I was telling you about," he says to his companion, a blonde beauty in a sweeping black dress that displays more than a little cleavage. Introductions are made, with Adalard lightly raising Illeana's hand and kissing it.

"Maria-Theresa Heidkrüger," the blonde says primly as she shakes Illeana's hand lightly. James notices the two of them staring each other down the way that beautiful women do when they feel the other is a dangerous competitor.

"Marie Senio," Illeana responds with an equally arctic smile.

"Did you have your valet bring your kit?" Adalard asks James privately, looking around for it with a slightly concerned expression that suggests he's worried that James might have left it behind.

"Of course," James reassures him. "It should already be here."

"Very good. Shall we step inside?"

They step past security, two large humans in Argentum coats to keep the autumn evening at bay. There is a cursory check for weapons. The Ares Light Fire in James' smuggling department remains undetected, and Illeana manages to telekenetically slip in her fencing dagger and a couple throwing knives behind the guards while they aren't looking. Inside, Illeana covertly hides them in her clutch purse.

The interior is a riot of plant life, both mundane and paranormal. Some rooms are muggy and tropical as a jungle (triggering flashbacks to the swamps of Louisiana), while others are dry and home to desert species. James and Illeana stop to admire a cardon cactus stretch over ten meters overhead.

"They are even larger in the wild," Adalard says. "Up to twenty meters!"

"Many things are larger and more dangerous in the wild," his date says cryptically. "Not everything thrives in confinement." Illeana wonders if her previous self - the serf to Aden - came to the same conclusion.

A small sitting area has been cleared in the middle of the conservatory, with white, wooden chairs for a hundred people arranged around a low, small stage. A string quartet plays pieces by Bach, Handel, and Beethoven while waiters circle with flutes of champagne and trays of canapes.

Suddenly there's a flash. James and Illeana turn and see a small Eastern dragon circling above! It dives through the conservatory, shattering the glass ceiling and before bombarding the guests!

"It's an illusion," Illeana says, feeling James tense.

"That's what I thought in Detroit," he says under his breath, "but then it turned out to be Schwartzkopf."

The illusion flies just overhead, bobbing and weaving among the crowd. Finally it comes to its summoner, a smug-looking Heinz-Christian the Baron Krauss von Espy. The dragon wraps itself over his shoulders while a fawning group of lovely young women clap appreciatively.

"He looks proud of himself, doesn't he?" James asks rhetorically.

"Likely his natural state," Illeana quips. She switches to her limited Spanish and drops her voice, lest they be overheard. "Hay muchas personas. ¿Qué hacemos?"
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (18:37:34/02-07-17)
James laughs as though Illeana has said something funny, and possibly flirtatious.  He leans in deeper, "
Voy a poner un espectáculo con la lucha de la espada. Luego me reuniré con el duque," he says, slipping his hand around to the small of her back.  "Ahora se ruboriza bien,"

Last, as he gives her a quick kiss on where her cheek should be, James adds with a bit of a warning, "Mantén tu tercer ojo abierto. Su SIN no encaja aquí."

James turns to Adelard's date, and gives a quick bow of his head.  "I will leave you ladies to it.  You will find my companion to be a much more suitable conversationalist than myself.  Nein sprechen sie deutsch," he says, unaware that he actually asked a question.

James walks with Adelard toward the stage and asks, "Is this where the bouts will take place?  Please forgive a foreigner for any ignorance this statement will betray, but I have always been enamored with your people's tradition in the Mensur bouts.  They are, shall we say, for real men, no?"

After talking about the various strengths and weaknesses of cultural rituals, James nods his head to the Baron, and says, "That was quite a display.  Do you know him?"
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (01:15:46/02-10-17)
"That is the Baron Krauss von Espy," Adelard says. "I know who he is, of course, but we are not personally acquainted."

"What do you know of him?" Illeana asks, doing her best to be coquettish enough to simultaneously irritate Maria-Theresa while also encouraging Adelard to answer.

"A man of station and rank," Adelard answers carefully. "Young, as you may seen for yourself. He does not care for the footwork of fencing, but he appreciates the brute physicality of mensur. Speaking of which, you should feel free to change at your convenience, Herr VanBrandt."

James nods and goes to retrieve his kit that had been delivered earlier in the day by a ponderous earth elemental summoned by Illeana for the task. "Try to work the room a bit," he suggests to Illeana before they part. "See if you can spot Marie, either in the flesh or in spirit."

Illeana nods and splits off. James finds an impromptu changing station created out of hanging sheets, with a bench to sit on. When he emerges, he finds that several rich-looking older gentlemen have taken it upon themselves to keep Illeana company in James' absence.

<<Try to get paid up front if any of them make an indecent proposal>> James comms her.

<<They're just being polite to an older woman>> she retorts.

James' comment gets her thinking though. Hmm, I wonder if that could work. A high-class escort who never touches her client. Start with Physical Mask to match their preferences. Continue with Control Emotions to get them hooked, then knock them out with a Euphoria preparation. While they are under, use Dream to plant a memory of what didn't happen. She tuts to herself, then does the math of what sort of fee she might be able to command.

There is a preliminary fencing duel between two fighters roughly the same skill level of the amateur that James bested at the club. While their swordsmanship is advanced and their footwork practiced, they lack James' raw physicality. He scans the conservatory for anyone who looks like a potential match for himself.

There's a crunch of gravel next to James. He looks over to see another man dressed the same way he is. The man is shorter than James and likely has less of a reach, but looks supremely confident. He has a fine head of black hair and rather broad eyebrows that look like they may have a hairdresser of their own.

"I understand we are to fight," the man says with an educated, nuanced accent. "It is rare to find someone to request a match, let alone accept one."

"Arthur VanBrandt," James says, extending a hand down to the man's level. "To whom do I owe the pleasure?"

"Wilhelm Eberhardt," he says, shaking warmly."But come now, Mr. Anderson, let us dispense with the deceptions. It will be a great pleasure for me to fence with the agent of a great dragon."

James' poker face holds. Wilhelm waves his hand airly. "Your association do not concern me. On the contrary, I am eager to gauge myself against a hand-selected representative of mighty Schwartzkopf."

"Gentlemen!" Adelard calls out from a short distance. "Are we ready to begin?"
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (17:21:07/02-14-17)
Adelard helps James get kitted out and runs through the ceremony of a Mensur bout with James before handing him a sharpened epee with a beautifully swept hilt.  "I'll be acting as your second," he says, giving James chest rig a few final tugs to make sure his shoulders and neck are well-protected. 

As James emerges from the changing area to the stage cleared for the bout, a text comes in from Illeana.

<<@James [Illeana] He's awakened, an adept.  His sword is not a weapon focus, but his magic is strong.  Good luck.>>

James and Wilhelm climb the stairs to the stage on opposite sides, and Adelard hands James an ornately-crafted business card, embossed in white gold.  As he was told, James rips the card neatly in two, and hands it to his opponent who looks at the name, Arthur VanBrandt and winks to James.  "Herausforderung angenommen," he says, and the crowd applauds.  The pair squares off with Adelard to James' right and a yet unnamed gentleman of indeterminate age to his left, both with epees crossed between the combatants, with the judge further down the stage to James' left.

"En Garde," the judge says.  "Prêt" the seconds remove their blades from between James and Wilhem.   . . . Alle!"

James moves first, a quick outside cut to Wilhelm's left cheek, executed with a flick of his wrist and a turn of his palm, but as quick as James is off the mat, he's no match for the severe precision of Wilhem's parry which knocks James' blade harmlessly to the outside shoulder.  James doesn't even see the riposte coming, but he feels the electric burning sensation of the blade across his right temple a moment after the cut is delivered.

Deterred, James takes a moment to assess Wilhelm's style, making brief feinting attacks, and alternating between straight and circle parries, until he battles the blade closer and closer to Wilhelm's core before circling his blade under the guard and delivering an upward cut on the right side of his face, followed by another, which the adept easily displaces, despite being off-balance.

"Arrêt," the judge calls out, and both seconds intercede their blades between the two men to stop the fighting.

James turns away from the piste and into the care of a doctor who sprays his cheek with liquid skin after examining the depth of the cut.  "Dieser wird keine Narbe, Außenseiter," the doctor says. 

James looks to Adelard who shrugs his shoulders and adds, "He says you will not have to worry about a scar."

"Did I get him?" James asks.

"You gave him, how you say, hairscut?  No blood, but it's a good touch, no?  You're doing fine."

The men advance to the line again, and once more the judge calls out for them to begin, and the epees are swept from their gates.  This time both James and Wilhelm assess one another with testing blows and slight extensions before James whips his blade downward toward Wilhelm's forehead, only to be rebuffed again by a high saber parry.  He barely has time to withdraw his arm before a return strike is nearly across the top of his own scalp.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (01:15:06/02-16-17)
The two men clash, their blades a furious maelstrom of strokes and counterstrokes that only the enhanced members of the audience can truly follow and appreciate. Illeana watches passively, either confident in James or confident in her ability to put him back together again.

James overcommits, putting his weight too far forward in an effort to extend his reach advantage. Wilhelm easily parries the advancing sword aside and punishes James for his foolishness with a horizontal cut on James' chin just below his bottom lip.

"Arrêt!" the judge calls out, but not before another pass and counterpass by the combatants. The seconds come crashing in and the audience applauds while Wilhelm registers them with a confident smile and wave. The fighters are escorted by their seconds a few steps back to their chairs while the surgeon steps forward to administer some SpraySkinTM to James' chin.

"Sie sollten ihm danken," the doctor tells James. Illeana's enhancing hearing picks it up and she smiles.

"'You should thank him,'" Adelard translates. "It will be a distinguished-looking scar."

The fight is the center of attention for most of the audience. Fräulein Heidkrüger smokes a cigarette languidly with a bored air, leaning against a post as she watches the room between rounds. She and Illeana don't speak, which seems to suit them both perfectly.

<<@James Is there fencing for claymores???>>

<<@Illeana Kunst des Fechtens>> he responds.

Oh, she thinks. She had been joking.

The treatment complete, both men stand and advance to their appointed positions. "En Garde," the judge says.  "Prêt" the seconds remove their blades from between James and Wilhelm. "Alle!"

James has the upper hand almost immediately, both figuratively and literally. His insane speed seems to catch Wilhelm off guard, and he uses it to push the smaller man's sword down and away. Before Wilhelm can raise it again, James has clipped the adept's earlobe and drawn blood. Wilhelm seems annoyed at his faulty defense and aggrieved at the wound. He responds with a fiery fusillade of blows, hoping to errode James' defenses before the judge can interrupt again.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (11:30:48/02-20-17)
Wilhelm's flurry of blows get him nowhere; the man's style is not congruent with such barbarism, and James' speed knock blow after blow harmlessly into his chest rig.  I've got him now, James thinks.  He's losing his cool.

But then, in the next pass, James over-commits once the second's blades are pulled away, and he's stung with another surgical riposte, barely a millimeter below the last cut.  James follows up with a hard circle parry, knocking Wilhelm's blade wide to the outside and sending a spec of blood across the unnamed man's jerkin before delivering his own cut to the bridge of the adept's nose, and then the second's blades are between the pair again stopping any further action.

During the break, James centers himself.  Wilhelm's good off the line, his style, which relies heavily on blade contact, is hard to break through even if the man can't use the footwork he's most likely accustomed to, and his ripostes are too fast for even James' cyber eyes to keep up with. 

"He's too damned fast," James says to Adelard, as the surgeon tends to his new cut 

"No, no, James.  You are faster.  Make him pay for that, no?"

When the next pass begins, James thrusts his sword off target to the side of Wilhelm's head, but the adept parries it on target, and as James thrusts out his elbow to give more angle to the hilt of his epee, the oncoming riposte sticks against his guard, and not his face while James own cut lands just below his right eye.  For the first time in the match, James has the lead.

Both combatants take a moment to read the other.  James is still not used to the constant blade contact of Wilhelm's Spanish style, and allows his epee to be bound before a beautiful extension clips James just under the chin. 

Halt is called again, and the judge calls out, "Vier, und vier.  La belle!"

James and Wilhelm salute again, a show of respect to their opponent, and an acknowledgement that the next cut, whichever way it will go, shall define the bout.  James settles his feet, and balances his core, before raising his hand, and stepping off the line.  "Pardon," he says, and hands the epee to Adelard before shaking out his right hand.  He grabs the epee again, this time with his left hand, and approaches the piste as a southpaw, in UCAS vernacular.

"This is better, no?" he says with a wink, and the crowd first gasps, and then applauds.

"Alle!" the judge calls, and James attempts a beat attack followed by a coup, but Wilhelm's parry holds.  The left-on-right fencing creates a different set of parries and potential attacks, as now both combatants swords are on the same side, and as Wilhelm fights for blade positioning, James lashes out with another clean extension.  Wilhelm parries, or tries to at least, but the attack rings true, as does Wilhelm's riposte, which catches James' forehead. 

He has maybe a second before the judge and their seconds intercede again.  James wonders if that's enough time for another cut, as he attempts to bind Wilhelm's blade.
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (19:50:38/02-25-17)
James' last thrust is turned away. The seconds come crashing in. James' hand is raised; Wilhelm bows solemnly and retreats in defeat. Abelard slaps James on the back as a small crowd of well-wishers form.

"A lot of them weren't sure that Wilhelm could be beat," Illeana says once the pack starts to break up a bit.

"I'm sure some of them aren't happy to see the local boy lose to a foreigner," James says as he sees a few older gentlemen turn away in disgust. He sees the Baron watching him. The Baron smokes a cigarette slowly as he stands his ground.

Women approach and coo over James' manly lacerations. He receives the compliments graciously, with Illeana translating his modest demurring and his commendations for Wilhelm's prowess.

"Should I clean up and change?" James asks as he looks over at the Baron, who once again is eyeing him at the same moment.

"No, the blood and sword are good reminders of what we can do," Illeana says, hooking James' free arm around hers as she marches him off to the Baron. He is still surrounded by three lithe women: a tall, Nordic red-head; a blonde who would fit in perfectly on the shores of California Free State; and a raven-haired woman of mixed Asian ancestry, perhaps Japanese or Korean or both or neither.

"Guten Abend, Baron," Illeana starts off directly, as the Baron's women physically recoil at her social affront. "Ich bin-"

"I know who you are," the Baron cuts her off abruptly in accented but understandable English. "I know why you are here."

"We are here to bring her sister home," James says, feeling confident in the lie.

The Baron blinks with a bored air. His eyes pass back and forth between James and Illeana at an unconcerned pace. "I see the resemblance," he says, "but she never mentioned a sister."

"Please take us to her," Illeana says.

The women don't seem to be following the conversation. Instead, they seem to instinctively close around the Baron, as if their bodies might shield him from the offending English.

"She does not want to go 'home'," the Baron says. "If she did, she would be there instead of here."

<<Truth>> Illeana comms. <<Looks like an extraction rather than a rescue.>>
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: rednblack on (21:03:46/02-28-17)
"She does not want to go 'home'," the Baron says. "If she did, she would be there instead of here."

James nods, and dabs some blood from his chin with his pocket square.  "With all due respect, Erlaucht," James says, conferring to the Baron Von Epsy an address which Illeana told him would be properly respectful, "Marie's wishes are not the only, or even the primary concern.  When she makes her own family, and even the great dragon Schwartzkopf worry as they are, her well-being is the primary concern, and to verify that we'll need to see her."  He flicks his pocket square into the breast pocket of his suit before continuing, "While we certainly appreciate the interest you've paid Miss Senio, I would personally appreciate it even more if you would arrange a meeting for us."
Title: Re: [5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana
Post by: Tecumseh on (19:14:16/03-05-17)
"I'm afraid I'm not at liberty to do so," the Baron says dismissively, his attitude making it clear that he considers the conversation over.

"Your response is unacceptable," Illeana says, stepping forward with (metaphorical) fire in her eyes. "Our employer made it exceedingly clear that we are not here to bargain or negotiate."

"Your employer has no dominion here," the Baron says haughtily. "The lion sends his lambs."

"It's a big world, Baron," Illeana presses on, undeterred. "And the astral world is even larger. Do you ever project? It wouldn't take but an instant for Schwartzkopf to find you on the astral. Just last month he projected to Detroit to rip apart a great form air spirit like ... what was the expression you used?"

"Wet toilet paper," James chimes in on cue.

The Baron gulps.

"And it doesn't have to be Schwartzkopf himself. It could be any of his free spirits or allies, or anyone else who wants to find themselves in the good graces of a great dragon. Or he could use more mundane methods. A bounty, for example, for your extraction. Four or five hundred thousand nuyen isn't a lot to a great dragon, but it's a wonderful motivator for professionals."

James doesn't know if any of this is true or not, but it sounds plausible. Evidently the Baron agrees. He swallows again, hard, and seems to be considering his options.

"Very well," the Baron says, his voice catching before he composes himself. "You may yet regret your persistence. I shall take you to your sister."