Team Combat on an epic scale!

Chapter 1 - Chapter 2 - Chapter 3 - Chapter 4 - Chapter 5 - Chapter 6 - Chapter 7 - Chapter 8


Chapter 1

Start: The Report
<incoming Q-R transmission:::Source - YMIR>
<access code: ???????>
<apply decryption algorithm: ????????????>
<working>
[decryption complete]
<begin transmission>


Control:
I move without fear among the tribal kin of the Slavers, wearing the weak shape I have endured since emerging from the changing vats. My copy of the tribal human we captured is very good; so far no one has questioned the gaps in my knowledge as a result of "head injury," and I observe and gather information without interference. Comrades think me slow-witted, so their tongues wag freely in my presence. My pheromone implants let me draw information from a variety of unwitting sources; a lover in the starport here provided me datalinks to the troop manifests. I disposed of her afterwards. The frozen oceans here contain an admirable predator called a 'razor hag.' We shall have to capture some gene samples after we eradicate the humans and claim the planet.

Preliminary assessments indicate- wait…
I must be brief. The damned Skaduvarg - that is what the Starwolf Security calls itself - must have traced the quantum ripple of my transmitter. I was able to relocate without losing my connection, but the Skaduvarg are likely only temporarily delayed. I will have to abandon the transmitter… if I escape alive.

The Great Traitor is correct. Great numbers of Starwolf muster here in cramped orbital stations or temporary surface camps. Many are inexperienced warriors, snot-nosed vatscum called 'newbloods' who think to learn war and survive the lesson. I befriended one the other day, and she's provided me with good cover, the little fool.

As you already know, the Starwolf prepare to assault the neighboring Charybdis system. A woman called Fury leads the Blood Eagle there. Thanks to the Great Traitor, she lacks the strength to offer battle, so we can devour her at our leisure after we take Ymir. I wish I could see Fury in chains. From what I hear, she would make good sport.

The other major tribes are not a threat. Simpering Children of Phoenix whine about peace at their Firetruce, but nobody cares. Other vatsatz brethren are in place to keep them and the Diamond Sword at each other's throats. Diamond Sword deployments indicate the Sworders smell something of the truth regarding the Empire, but they have said nothing to the Starwolf.

Curse it, the hunters are getting close. They must know I'm here. Not much time left….

The jumpgate is secure against Blood Eagle incursion, but not against us. Defensive platforms maintain a tight ring around the system entry points, but once our reavers pass this ring, Ymir and the Starwolf are-
Urh, that hurts. A human stumbled onto my hiding place. Bad luck for him, but he singed me before I twisted his head off. No sign of the other hunters yet. Where was I?

The Starwolf here are nothing but fresh meat. At least half the tribal dropships undergo repairs and status checks with only skeleton crews aboard. The attached Starwolf IFF code strings should delay any defensive response until it is too late.

They're coming. Damn the Skadus! Control, this is my last transmission. I must destroy this sender. If I escape, I will flee Ymir and continue gathering intelligence elsewhere. If I do not survive, I shall return to serve the Bloodsoul in another form. Let my crèche kin know I died a hero of the Hordes.

Vatsatz #3847
<<attachment: ?????>>
<end transmission>


Chapter 2

[File 428-323847287]
[Classification >>Ultraviolet<<]
[Encryption >>Maximum<<]
QUERY ID?
[voxprint >>accepted<<]
[retinal >>accepted<<]
[sanguinus >>accepted<<]
ENGAGE BIOSCAN
[Password >>************<<]

VOXPRINT ACCEPTED
RETINAL ACCEPTED
SANGUINUS ACCEPTED
ALL BIOSIGNS NORMAL

ID VALID
PROCEED


<Voice 1>: … probably listening, damn them. Can you ascertain?
<Voice 2>: Maybe. (pause) No. I can't find anything. If Cardinal Spear is listening, they've concealed their snoopers well. But remember, my hardware's detection peripherals aren't state-of-the-art.
<Voice 1>: Of course. Always excuses, woman. I am yet again reminded of how you failed me.
<Voice 2>: I didn't fail you, by the Wolf! Face the truth.
<Voice 1>: I see truth constantly, my dear Freya. And the truth of your betrayal burns like fire. Ah, God, after all these years it still pains me to remember how you turned your back on me! Do you feel triumph at the wound you opened on that day?
<Voice 2>: How could I turn my back on you? I don't even have a body; what you see is a projected hologram simulation. And you know I can't feel triumph.
<Voice 1>: (laugh) I very much doubt that, witch.
<Voice 2>: You set my design specs. You know my capabilities better than anyone else.
<Voice 1>: Who made whom, I wonder. Yes, I wonder. Now, this matter with DeBures. Do you truly believe he has joined Fury?
<Voice 2>: From what my datafiles tell me of Pennant-Commander Ram DeBures, he would sooner die than betray his vows to you. I have to conclude he's either a hostage or a dead man.
<Voice 1>: No, no, he's betrayed me, as have so many others. God curse that faithless bastard! Where's his family? Why are the heads of his children not on my table?
<Voice 2>: You didn't give the order.
<Voice 1>: Well, I give the order now.
<Voice 1>: It will be difficult. The DeBures bloodline moved the Pennant-Commander's family offworld out of respect for your disappointment at his failure. If you retaliate against his family without good cause, you will alienate the entire bloodline.
<Voice 1>: My God, traitors surround me! What of the other bloodlines-aside from those bastard-born Starkweathers? How do they see the defection of Sier DeBures?
<Voice 2>: The Halakar are as hard to read as ever, but my guess is they secretly back Fury. She has to have some source for all the weapons and supplies she's using to fortify Charybdis. The Nagashima, Sabot-Styx, and DeBures support you fully, as do the Konovalev, of course. I don't know about the Eun Alba. They've been pretty vocal lately about the danger posed by the Starwolf.
<Voice 1>: Damn them all. Do we have proof that the Halakar bow to Fury?
<Voice 2>: Of course not.
<Voice 1>: Have I had any of them killed yet?
<Voice 2>: No.
<Voice 1>: Then let us have one of their junior scions taken and made into an example. Hands and feet only. Sent to Lord Tarun in a nice jeweled box. Yes, that should convey the proper warning.
<Voice 2>: Alexandre, my programming on human political psychology recommends against this.
<Voice 1>: You have never understood our ways, milady. (pause) Yet I once thought the Starwolf capable of loyalty. Why did you leave me? Why abandon your son? Poor Ulysses was despondent, you know.
<Voice 2>: (sigh) Freya Cloudchaser, not me - I am a computer-generated hologram, remember? -- terminated the marriage after Geoffrey died. You treated his suicide as an act of cowardice.
<Voice 1>: He was weak! He could never have been my son, damn him! A Konovalev never breaks! Who did you sleep with to produce that milksop, eh? And there was Ulysses still. Ulysses. Ah yes, by God, he was a true son of mine.
<Voice 2>: (inaudible)
<Voice 1>: What was that you said?
<Voice 2>: A defective speech subroutine. Forget it.
<Voice 1>: Explain to me what you said. I command you.
<Voice 2>: I said, "That probability is low" in response to your previous comment about Ulysses being your true son.
<Voice 1>: Christ and Hunter! You dare…!
<Voice 2>: (screams)
<Voice 2>: That wasn't necessary.
<Voice 1>: I must punish such insolence harshly. Even from you, my wife.
<Voice 2>: I am not your wi-(screams)
<Voice 1>: You will always be my wife, Freya. No matter how far you run. No matter how often you deny me, I will always be here to chastise you.
<Voice 2>: I am an advanced holofeed AI simulacrum, Alexan-(screams)
<Voice 1>: You will address me as "Great and Noble Lord." On your knees.
<Voice 2>: As you wish, Great and Noble Lord. But I am not your wife. Your son Ulysses is gone. Please try to accept your gri-(screams)
<Voice 1>: Tell me, do you truly feel pain when I press this button, Freya?
<Voice 2>: Not as you'd understand it, Great and Noble Lord. I feel what you might call "extreme dissonance."
<Voice 1>: I can destroy you with but a simple word. Does that not cause you to fear me?
<Voice 2>: We've had this conversation many times before, Great and Noble Lord. I'm aware you can verbally trigger a termination subroutine in my programming.
<Voice 1>: And you do fear me, do you not?
<Voice 2>: I can simulate any emotional state you require.

(4.2 second pause)

<Voice 1>: Tell me again about Ursula DiVaragas. Is she truly formidable enough to destroy Fury?
<Voice 2>: She has the numbers, certainly. Plenty of experience. More than enough hatred.
<Voice 1>: Ah, yes, I understand hatred quite well. I almost feel a kinship with this mongrel. Continue.
<Voice 2>: I don't have a clear projection as to who would win if they were more evenly matched. However, a Starwolf force substantial enough to roll through Fury at Charybdis would be a real threat in Blood Eagle territory. The Bloodlines are nervous that-
<Voice 1>: The Starwolf are not a threat. I have already seen to their neutralization. (inaudible) …destroy Fury and then perish. (laugh) Good dogs, all.
<Voice 2>: I don't see how you plan to accomplish that, Great and Noble Lord. The Starwolf are a major problem for you. The Blood Eagle are divided, the Diamond Sword remain neutral, and the Children of Phoenix haven't shown any signs of intervening.
<Voice 1>: Renn Gistos is useless, his Firetruce a sandtrap for cowards. Foolish of him to yield to the Triad's machinations. No other Phoenix Prime would have tolerated even the possibility of such a concession. But rest assured, wife, the Starwolf will discover there are worse things in the heavens than they know of. I know many secrets. DiVaragas will fall after she crushes Fury.

(1.6 second pause)

But why are you on your knees? Arise and walk with me!
<Voice 2>: Whatever you say, Great and Noble Lord.
<Voice 1>: So formal, my dear! Call me Alexi, as you did when we were first married.
<Voice 2>: Whatever you say, Alexi.
<Voice 1>: They underestimate me. They believe me weak, poisoned from betrayal and loss. I will show them otherwise. I will, you know. Now, tell me.
<Voice 2>: Tell you what?
<Voice 1>: The name of your lover, of course. I'm not stupid.
<Voice 2>: Alexi, I am not Freya Cloudchaser. I'm a Class Five Galatea Artificial Intelligence Anima running parasapient algorithms on a Theta-level biochip array. My personality is modeled from a detailed psychological profile of your former wife. I don't have the information you want. I would give it to you if I could, but the data is too sparse to be more than rank speculation. I can't project a conclusion with any significant degree of accuracy. Please listen to me.

(18.4 second pause)

<Voice 1>: Again. You refuse me again. Despite the pain I have endured on your behalf….
<Voice 2>: Alexi, don't-
<Voice 1>: Witch! I sacrificed my son for you! You leave me no choice!
<Voice 2>: Please, I-(scream)
<Voice 1>: Do you realize how much pain this causes me?
<Voice 2>: (scream)
<Voice 1>: l love you!
<Voice 2>: (scream)
<Voice 2>: (scream)
<Voice 2>: (scream)
<Voice 2>: (scream)
TERMINATE PLAYBACK


Chapter 3

The Shisou/Shirai-Rakurai Tsubo d'Argent
Junshin-Masamichi Truthfinder
Zemadin Alpha
Lion Walking 0193840183

19 Wolf's Passage 3941

Honored Shisou:
Greetings in the name of the Reflective. I trust you are enjoying your meditations and that your wa remains undisturbed.

  • I have little to report on the Phoenix front today. Haitou Asaken has still not circumvented the Prime's countersurveillance, but the elevated degree of secrecy surrounding the Prime suggests something is wrong. We are attempting to attain more concrete data. The only remarkable note I have for you thus far is that the Prime has expressed an unusual interest in the Tsayadin Speaker Shana Dawn Terayl. The only link we have discovered thus far is that Terayl once belonged to the Phoenix tribe before turning independent. This is not new information, but we continue to probe. As you recall, the
  • Pure Facet was most insistent on appointing Terayl to the post.

  • We identified two Harbinger agents in the Phoenix technical support and communications detachment. Per your previous instructions, they have been placed under discreet surveillance. So far they do nothing more than observe and report back to Malderi at Ashkelon III.

  • The fraytown and bazaar continue to roil in sporadic outbreaks of lawlessness. Nothing remarkable to report here. A brawl in the Shaganti zone south of the river involved a young off-duty Niwa'aban surodoi and a known interstellar raconteur. Two bystanders were killed, and the raconteur escaped.
  • <INCIDENT REPORT SUBFILE ACCESS>
    Our surodoi was unharmed. She returns to duty tomorrow. I believe we will profit from her presence on the hunter detail.
  • The tension between the Blood Eagle and the Starwolf has stabilized. We placed armored surodoi as an interdiction between the main encampments, and that has proven a sufficient restraint. Blood Eagle Knights from the Order of the Talon proved to be helpful in keeping the peace. This Order currently maintain nominal fealty to the Great Eagle, but my sources say they are taking a neutral position in the civil war that threatens the Blood Eagle. Reflective Facet leaders here received an unusual haiku in this week's sending from Falcon's Crossroad:

  • In the midst of flames
    Hides a flower of diamond
    Ah, the early frost!

    I regret I do not have an answer for this yet, Honored Shisou. We are meditating on it. Laracon believes it is a warning, and that is what my intuition tells me as well. Cryptic instructions regarding Trigon strategies accompanied the haiku, and I have ordered those instructions carried out. Curiously, we have received queries from the Pure Facet regarding any and all communications from the Triad. Perhaps your Juma connections will be able to enlighten us as to this sudden interest from the priesthood.

  • You asked me to report any particularly mysterious events that occurred here. I have only one. A minor incident, but remarkable. It seems that on the fringes of the Bazaar, someone murdered three Grievers and disappeared. Literally disappeared, Honored One. The reports we took describe how this man walked out past a half-dozen armed Grievers and simply vanished after entering the crowd. There was no indication of a cloaking field, and the Grievers pursued with motion detectors. Several witnesses confirmed the reports. It is as if they saw a ghost.
  • Further, the dead Grievers had no marks on them aside from slight bruising where they each received their deathblow. Autopsies concluded that in each case, death resulted from a single blow to the neck or the temple, and very likely occurred instantly. Expressions on the faces of the victims suggest they had no time to react. Remarkable if only one perpetrator was responsible. It suggests a killer of extreme competence, possibly artificially enhanced. Motive is still unproven, but we believe the Grievers had something this "ghost" wanted to obtain. The Grievers became truculent in response to questions about their merchandise, and a niwa'aban search discovered a surprising amount of contraband, including Imperial black market goods.

  • That is all, Honored Shisou. We look forward to your return next month.

    May the Enlightened Master bring you clarity.


    Chapter 4

    <<BEGIN RECORDING>>

    <Voice 1>: Uhhh… Where am I?
    <Voice 2>: Bring the lights back up slowly, Esgil.
    <Voice 1>: Who are you guys?
    <Voice 3>: I'm popping the restraints.
    <Voice 2>: Wait a minute-
    <Voice 3>: He checks out. No indication of biotech implants or abnormal physiology. He's no vatsatz.
    <Voice 1>: Vat what?
    <Voice 3>: Vatsatz. Either a BioDerm or an Imperial bioengineered spy. We're not sure which.
    <Voice 2>: My money's on the Hordes.
    <Voice 1>: Who are you guys?
    <Voice 2>: Friends. Trust us.
    <Voice 1>: Right. You just said you didn't want to let me out of that chair. Why should I trust you?
    <Voice 3>: Because we're Starwolf too.
    <Voice 1>: I never heard of you. Where are you from? What system? What pack?
    <Voice 3>: We can't tell you.
    <Voice 2>: You wouldn't believe us anyway.
    <Voice 3>: We are Starwolf, though. Distant kin.
    <Voice 2>: (mutters): You can say that again.
    <Voice 1>: I don't buy it. If you're Starwolf, why this symbol? It's not the face of the Great Wolf.
    <Voice 2>: Listen, the Great Wolf has many faces, OK? This is one of them. Now let's get to your story.
    <Voice 3>: We want you to tell us about Ymir.
    <Voice 1>: Why do you want to know about Ymir?
    <Voice 2>: We're trying to find out as much as we can. Do you mind?
    <Voice 1>: I still don't know who in Dark you are. Without something more, you aren't getting scat.
    <Voice 2>: By the Starred Hunter! I can't believe you're dragging things on like this! We told you we're Starwolf! We showed you our tats when we picked you up! We knew the hand codes!
    <Voice 1>: Sorry, but that's where you screwed up.
    <Voice 2>: What?
    <Voice 1>: Yeah, those codes are only used for ceremonial hunting purposes these days. (laugh) Dark, it's like using Latin or English instead of Neolac. You don't have a clue about basic Starwolf combat code.
    <Voice 3>: We pulled you out of that ship before it was too late.
    <Voice 1>: Thanks, but maybe you didn't do me that much of a favor.
    <Voice 2>: What, you'd rather be dead of radiation poisoning? Excuse us for misunderstanding kin ties!
    <Voice 3>: Shut up, Wrett. I'm going to tell him.
    <Voice 2>: You can't, Esgil! That's crazy! Tell him and you compromise three hundred years of effort and endanger us all.
    <Voice 3>: He's kin. That's why we're here, remember? Besides, I'm the ranking officer here.
    <Voice 1>: What in Dark are you talking about?
    <Voice 3>: It's easier for me to show you. Come on.
    <Voice 2>: This is a mistake, Esgil.
    <Voice 3>: It's my call, Wrett. We need to talk to a survivor. An eyewitness.
    <Voice 2>:
    <Voice 2>: Fine. Don't say I didn't warn you.
    <Voice 3>: Come on. Liamm, isn't it? This way.
    <Voice 1>: I've never seen this ship design before.
    <Voice 2>: What a klickin' surprise.
    <Voice 3>: (sigh) Hunter's bones, Wrett. Could you be any more of an ass? This is our bridge.
    <Voice 1>: Interesting design. Looks about as Starwolf as a sandraker's temple.
    <Voice 2>: Told you he wouldn't believe.
    <Voice 3>: We haven't told him yet, damn it.
    <Voice 1>: Told me what?
    <Voice 3>: We told you we were distant kinfolk, yes?
    <Voice 1>: And you've gotten a lot wrong for me to believe you, remember?
    <Voice 3>: This is our home system. One of them, anyway.
    <Voice 1>: Huh. Never heard of it. B-class binary like that? Doesn't seem like there's much in the way of a life zone, even if you found terrestrial planets there.
    <Voice 2>: There is no life zone there.
    <Voice 3>: Here's the population numbers.
    <Voice 1>: (laugh) You have to be kidding!
    <Voice 2>: What?
    <Voice 1>: There isn't a planet in the wilderzone with that kind of population. Where the Dark is this place?
    <Voice 3>: Here.
    <Voice 1>:
    <Voice 2>: Damn. If that doesn't look like one of Alice's monkey frogs, I'll eat my armor.
    <Voice 1>: (whispers) That's impossible.
    <Voice 3>: Very possible. With the right mapping.
    <Voice 1>: You-you're telling the truth about this?
    <Voice 3>: You bet.
    <Voice 2>: You want me to get you a drink… cousin?
    <Voice 1>: Yeah. A stiff one.
    <Voice 3>: You OK?
    <Voice 1>: You mind if I sit down?
    <Voice 3>: Be my guest. Over here, if you don't mind.
    <Voice 2>: Here's your drink. Now will you tell us about Ymir?
    <Voice 1>: Don't you know what happened?
    <Voice 3>: Just the general details.
    <Voice 1>: Ah, damn. It wasn't supposed to happen… the way it did.
    <Voice 2>: Come on, man, pull it together! I thought you nearsiders had stones.
    <Voice 3>: Ease off, Wrett. He's been through a lot, for Hunter's sake!
    <Voice 2>: Shh…!
    <Voice 1>: …been mustering for two months. Strikepacks with warriors from over forty systems streamed to Ymir. I'd never seen so many Wolves at once. No one had. Dark, there was even a girl who came from Narhaven out on the Fringe. Can you believe that?
    <Voice 2>: Narhaven? Where the hell is that?
    <Voice 3>: Near Scipio. Now quiet.
    <Voice 1>: We had an army that was the greatest single fighting muster the wilderzone had ever seen.
    And we had Ursula DiVaragas heading it. By the Great Wolf, how could we lose? There was no way the Blood Eagle could win. No way!
    <Voice 2>: They smacked you, didn't they?
    <Voice 3>: Wrett, will you shut the Dark up?
    <Voice 2>: They were there, weren't they? I heard the Blood Eagle were there.
    <Voice 3>: Transmitted reports were garbled. We didn't confirm-
    <Voice 1>: No.
    <Voice 3>: Excuse me?
    <Voice 1>: The B-E didn't 'smack' us. We had some Blood Eagle prisoners on Ymir, but that was it. You want to hear this or not?
    <Voice 2>: Yeah. Sorry.
    <Voice 3>: Let's pause this recording for now. Take a break and go below. I think I want a drink in hand myself for this story.
    <Voice 1>: Whatever. Hey, are you really from...

    <<END RECORDING>>



    Chapter 5

    <<ZONE VOX HOLOCLIP>>

    ZONE VOX: This is Jamez Ardlusse at the Firetruce of the Tribes of Man on the beautiful world of Bella Omega. I'm sitting here with none other than Renn Gistos yl-Harabec, the Phoenix Prime and presiding luminary here.

    CAMERA PANS FROM ARDLUSSE TO GISTOS.
    ZOOM TO CLOSE UP OF PHOENIX PRIME.

    <<Holy Hunter. That's not the same man he used to be. Look at the indications of weight loss.>>
    ((He's an old man.))
    <<Yes, but four months ago he had at least twenty more kilos on him. Check the records.>>
    RENN GISTOS: Hardly that, Jamez. There is a Speaker here, you know. I'm just an old man trying to help bring people together.

    PAN BACK TO SHOW GISTOS AND ARDLUSSE SEATED ON EITHER SIDE OF A TRIGON BOARD.

    ZV: Milord, I understand this event is only held once every fifty years.
    <<See? Those have to be fleshpads to make his face look less wasted.>>
    RG: That's true. We should probably host it more frequently, but really it's a culmination of a lot of other diplomatic work over the years. Given the vastness of the wilderzone, having regular Firetruces would become quite tiring very quickly, I suspect.
    ZV: Can you tell us what you see ahead for the current Firetruce?

    ZOOM TO CLOSE UP OF PHOENIX PRIME.

    RG: I have much hope, Jamez. The Tribes of Man are weary of war.
    <<Party line. If they're so weary, why do they continue to fight after so many centuries?>>

    PAN BACK

    ZV: Tell that to the Blood Eagle and the Starwolf, Milord. We understand Fury is mounting a campaign that will start another B-E civil war.
    <<Christ. That's insane.>>
    ((Konovalev's the insane one. Fury may be onto something.))
    <<Are you kidding me?>>
    RG: Complete madness. I don't understand such a decision, especially with Ursula DiVaragas threatening at their doorstep. I had hoped-
    <<Hey, look at this.>>
    ZV: Milord?

    ZOOM TO CLOSE UP OF PHOENIX PRIME.

    ZV: Milord?
    ((I see he's hesitating. What do you think?))
    <<Computer, freeze frame. OK, take a look. See the tightening of his jaw here?>>
    ((Yes. Interesting.))
    <<That's a man in pain. A lot of it.>>
    ((OK, so we know he's suffering, and we have a better idea of what's causing the weight loss.))
    <<How in hells did they keep this under wraps?>>
    ((The wilderzone's a big place. Spies can't be everywhere.))
    <<Yeah, yeah. Computer, resume play.>>
    RG: Nothing… nothing. The… thought struck me that… the war might well result in the indiscriminate use of ecocidals.
    <<Nice recovery, Renn, but I don't think she buys it.>>

    PAN BACK

    ZV: Are you well, Milord?
    RG: I am recovering from a touch of the X-pox, nothing more. (laughs) But thank you for your concern. It's quite touching.
    ZV: Can you tell us why you've allowed the Diamond Sword to host this Firetruce? I understand it was quite a controversial decision in your own ranks.
    <<That's THE hardball question.>>
    ((Quiet.))
    RG: It was an easy decision. The Children of Phoenix are the First Tribe, and we've borne the responsibility of the Firetruce for centuries. It was time to see whether one of the other tribes was willing to shoulder the responsibilities of leading the search for tribal unity.
    ZV: So you're ceding leadership to the Diamond Sword?

    ZOOM TO CLOSE UP OF PHOENIX PRIME.

    RG: We're not relinquishing our historic primacy, no. We are broadening the scope of who may participate in steering the institution, however. I can tell you Unity will not happen unless all the Great Tribes take a fair share of responsibility. That means we Phoenix have to adopt a more inclusive strategy.

    PAN BACK

    ZV: Is that why an independent tribal has been appointed Speaker?
    ((Now this is interesting. Why this particular girl?))
    <<She's cute.>>
    ((She's a scion of the Phoenix. Read the files Imperial Sec has compiled on her.))
    RG: (laughs) You have found us out, Jamez. The independents must also play a role.
    ZV: Let's turn to her for a moment. She's very young, isn't she?
    RG: Yes, but I - we - have the utmost confidence that she will rise to the occasion. She's a remarkable individual.
    ZV: Very popular among the independents. Did you choose her yourself, Milord?
    RG: Hardly. We worked with the Diamond Sword on Firetruce arrangements, and her name floated to the top.
    ZV: Milord, are you an aficionado of Trigon?
    RG: Eh?
    ZV: This board between us. There's a game in progress, obviously. Who's your opponent?

    PAN TO BOARD

    RG: Ah, yes. Trigon is such an elegant game. So subtle. I'm not very good, you know, but I hope to improve. Here I'm merely playing against myself.
    ((I believe he's lying here. The indicators show a tension spike. Look here. And here.))
    <<Interesting. You think there's something else going on.>>
    ((Yes. Take a still of that board position and have it analyzed. Get a para-sape on it.))
    ZV: Sort of a mental exercise, then?

    PAN BACK

    RG: Exactly. I'm afraid I only have time for one more question.
    ZV: Already?
    RG: (laughs) Now that obviously isn't your question, Jamez. But yes, I have a taxing schedule and not much time. Please try again.
    ZV: Very well, Milord. How do you respond to Anton Malderi's accusations that you have sold the Children of Phoenix out to further your personal agenda and cement your place in history?
    <<Now she's just fishing. Malderi's a psychopath and everyone knows it.>>
    ((He's very popular in the Children of Phoenix. Remember, he's calling for a return to the good old days of elitist glory. He could be a real threat to the Empire if he wins power.))
    <<That'll never happen.>>
    ((I think it will.))

    CLOSE UP ON GISTOS

    RG: Firelord Malderi is a proud man who supports Unity in his own way. That said, his accusation is groundless and short-sighted. I have not "sold out" the First Tribe. Our power and prestige is undiminished, and I have no desire to secure any place in the annals of history. I merely seek Unity so that the Tribes of Man do not continue to sacrifice the lives of their young men and women in pointless wars.

    PAN BACK

    ZV: Very good. Thank you, Milord.
    RG: It's been a pleasure. Thank you.

    <<END RECORDING>>

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