Monday, May 31, 2010

Hexbreaker [Comics]


I don't think I've ever actually read any of Mike Baron's Badger before, though I definitely remember seeing the series occasionally in the 80s. I just came across the Badger graphic novel Hexbreaker for a buck in a bargain bin, and thought the character was pretty fun. He's certifiably crazy, communicates with animals, and is a martial arts master. Hexbreaker sees him summoned to a Mortal Kombat- like tournament to determine the worlds deadliest fighter. The book is quite violent, especially for its time, but it also has a quirky sense of humor. Hexbreaker was cool, and I'd like to see more of Badger.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Blog-Year in Review

This marks both the 600th post and two-year anniversary of Jhaeman's Detritus, so I thought I'd have a little bit of fun and try a new design. Looking back over previous posts, it's clear that this blog definitely fulfills its intended function: to clear out all the random junk that would otherwise accumulate in my brain's crowded attic. It's all here, in completely unrelated glory: French novels, comic books, law review articles, role-playing games, Buffy, football, Torchwood, Worth Literary Press, and more! Focussing on just one thing would probably increase my readership, but then I'd be in the impossible position of deciding what that one thing should be . . .

If you do like the blog, help a guy out! Link to it on your own site, become a Follower, post comments (think of Tinkerbell needing applause to keep flying), and buy stuff from the Amazon links on the left (I'll get a chunk of whatever money you spend, which I will then turn around and blow on books from Amazon, which I will then review later in the blog--a vicious cycle!).

On the topic of support, here's some of the sites I read everyday that you might really like:

Siskoid's Blog of Geekery This guy is amazingly dedicated, having blogged every single day without fail for a few years now. His mainstay is posts on Star Trek, and he's well on his way to having reviewed every single episode of every single iteration, along with all the comic books and many of the novels. He also talks about some of the other things I talk about here, such as Doctor Who, role-playing games, and the Marvel Universe. He's also bilingual, in a non-show offy way. If I ever become fluent in French, I will be very annoying and show-offy.

HeroPress This is a middle-aged guy living in (from what I can tell) a small English town. He posts a lot of about comics, role-playing, genre t.v., etc., but my favorite is his "The Week in Geek" posts which are a terse summary of all the cool news I would probably otherwise miss . . .

ESPN's AFC North Blog Written by sports correspondent James Walker, this is updated quite frequently and actually has a lot more Browns posts than any of the actual Browns blogs I've found . . .

The Volokh Conspiracy and Concurring Opinions are great general law and politics blogs, frequently updated but American focussed. For my subfield, law and religion, Howard Friedman runs the amazing Religion Clause blog--I have no idea how he manages to post so much every day.

Finally, there's Grognardia--this guy is very traditional when it comes to D&D and other role-playing games, and is one of the movers behind the "Old School Renaissance." He also writes about classic pulp fiction.

Well, I think that's it for now--posting will be a bit spotty here for the next two weeks, as I've trying to finish up a dissertation chapter before heading off to London.

Torchwood to Get Ongoing Comic

According to Bleeding Cool via Heropress, the company that makes Torchwood Magazine (Titan) will be coming out with an ongoing Torchwood comic book beginning in August. Details are sketchy, and I foresee two problems: the comic strips in the magazine are often pretty pathetic, and I'm not sure what sort of distribution Titan Comics has in the U.S. & Canada.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Clone Wars Campaign Extra: Stefan's Seven

Directing a long-standing role-playing campaign brings with it a lot of joys--crafting a story that grows over time; witnessing PCs evolve from one-paragraph backgrounds into three-dimensional characters with complex personalities and motivations; and even witnessing the players grapple with the in-game moral and logistical obstacles you've thrown in their path. One of the things you don't get, however, is that sense of camaraderie--that joy in teamwork after a mission accomplished, that sense of "we're all in this together", because although you can be thrilled when the PCs succeed, you also know that it's your job to make sure there was a reasonable chance (within the bounds of fairness) that they wouldn't succeed and this invariably creates a bit of a "you against them" situation.

I think this is maybe one of the reasons I enjoy writing stories about the Sun Runners, which is, in many ways, a rival adventuring group to the PCs in the Clone Wars campaign--except that this group is one that I'm a member of because I run all the characters! The Sun Runners allow me to craft a group of characters who have taken on lives of their own, far beyond the simple stereotypes they began as: Greesh Leedo evolved from a one-note assassin into a gruff, but almost likable mercenary like Jayne from Firefly; Rycard Ryjerd transformed from a swashbuckling pirate into a man trying to redeem himself in the eyes of his teammates for his "failure" in Last Voyage of the Sun Runner; even Korkoth, the Gammorean muscle, becomes an unintentional comedic genius while also seeking a replacement for his murdered brother. It also reveals more about characters like Kronos (if he were a famous character, people would walk around in t-shirts with his catchphrase "Which potentiality will you effectuate?") and Stefan (what choice is he trying to forestall?), while also introducing a new character in Sunset Cassandra (someone capable of rivalling Daal in the tech department).

The Sun Runners are also, in a way, a proxy that allows me to tell stories that, for one reason or another, the PCs in the Clone Wars campaign have unintentionally avoided or are simply not suited for. The escape from a doomed Duro in Last Voyage of the Sun Runner would have been a great storyline for Daal, but the timing just didn't work out in the game. Similarly, this story, Stefan's Seven, was originally conceived as a "heist" story arc for the PCs but I ended up discarding it because they had already spent a whole story arc on a heavily-corporate world, had just fought through an office tower, and I wanted to get back to the main "myth-arc" of the campaign. And someday, it looks like now, I may have to depict the Sun Runners encountering the Battle of Coruscant or Order 66, since it looks like the PCs are probably going to miss it. Having the Sun Runners around allows me to still get the satisfaction of telling the stories I want to tell, without railroading the PCs into being the protagonists--so everyone benefits :)

This particular story, Stefan's Seven, is of course inspired by Ocean's Eleven. Each of the seven parts of the story is told from the point of view of a different Sun Runner, and the chronology of the entire story weaves back and forth between viewpoints. What I liked about this is that I could show more of the personality of each character, while also letting the reader have fun in making the connections between something that already happened in section one, for example, being about to happen in section two. This story was important for the campaign in that it set up the penultimate story arc of the game: the PCs' trip to a lost Arkanian colony (the item in the vault is a starmap).

A couple of other miscellaneous bits:

* Now you can see the other end of Arresta's conversation with Stefan from Session # 37. The "he should have set the comlink to vibrate" vs. "he shows he loves her by answering even in a firefight!" controversy starts here!

* The setting for the story, the banking world of Aargau, comes from the YA book Boba Fett # 3: Maze of Deception. I like stealing stuff from the novels for use in the game--it makes reading double as research.

Stefan's Seven

Aargau wasn’t just a bank. It was a planet, whose every square inch was devoted to furthering the Intergalactic Banking Clan’s domination of commerce throughout the known galaxy. Although the Clan was a key member of the Confederacy of Independent Systems, Aargau itself was officially neutral. After all, nothing, even war, should get in the way of making money.

For Vaultkeeper Kos Wiinst, this meant dealing even with the plump, sweaty, bald-headed human sitting across from him. Wiinst was a Muun of some taste, and his custom-sculpted office had been profiled on numerous holonet programs. This frumpy stranger, wearing outdated clothing and carrying an old-fashioned briefcase, was an assault against fashion. He was single-handedly lowering the aesthetic effect Wiinst had labored so hard to achieve.

Neither Wiinst nor his executive assistant remembered entering the man’s name on the day’s appointment calendar, but there his name was this morning--and if his name was listed, the meeting must go forward. Such was the nature of business. It was a large galaxy, and one never knew when great wealth might be hidden behind a gauche veneer.

“Now what can the IBC do for you, Mr., ah, Kronos? Is that a Coruscanti name?”

“Arkanian, in fact,” the man replied in a low, almost monotonous voice.

Wiinst was mildy surprised. The man sitting across from him looked nothing like an Arkanian—he had neither the height, nor the distinctive white pupils, nor the four-clawed hand. He looked like a simple chubby human, the type who might run a streetside hotcaf stand.

The visitor continued speaking. “I would like to see the tangible-item secured vaults.”

“Well, the IBC can certainly see to all your needs. I should confess you may find our rates a tad steep, but I’m sure my assistant can get you started with the paperwork.”

Wiinst stood up and extended his hand—if he was lucky, he’d still have time for lunch before his next appointment. But the man didn’t stand up and didn’t shake Wiinst’s hand. Instead, Kronos had placed his briefcase on the table and seemed to be fiddling with something behind the open lid.

Wiinst said “Ahem. As I was saying sir, I’m sure my assistant can handle your deposit—she’s just in the room you came from.” Wiinst pointed toward the door. Kronos didn’t even look at him, but kept his attention focussed on the briefcase.

Before Wiinst could reiterate, in his usual firm but polite way that the meeting was over, he felt the transparisteel window behind him shake. The window was specially treated to withstand sound and vibration, so only a powerful concussive force could even make it tremble. A second later, a building security alert sounded. Wiinst went to the window and looked down at the plaza several stories below. Security forces were exchanging fire with what looked to be a massive military droid. Wiinst heard a snap and then a click behind him, and turned around.

Kronos had finished his assembly work—smuggling in a blaster was impossible, but smuggling in the components was not. Kronos closed the briefcase and pointed the blaster at Wiinst.

“I said I wanted to see the vaults—but it is not a deposit I have in mind. Now, in 15 of the next 16 timeframes, you cooperate with me and lock yourself in this office after I have left. In the remaining timeframe, you lunge for the security buzzer and I shoot you dead. Either way, I leave here with the access card and compscans of your retinal and DNA patterns. Which potentiality will you effectuate?”

The choice was easy for Wiinst. He was a banker, not a gambler.

# 2
It swooped down from the sky with the midday sun at its back, a sleek crescent bristling with menace. Sophisticated energy bafflers stolen from the best laboratories in the Corporate Sector made it a blur to sensors; a proprietary Republic Intelligence scrambler system emitted false signals, turning that blur into a shadow. It moved faster than the human eye could track and packed more of a punch than all but the most advanced capital ships. The few people who knew about the ship called it the Sun Runner II. Its real name was Ka’ja’les Dar—loosely translated from Gurlanin, “Empress Uncanny”.

Pedestrians standing in the massive plaza around the IBC pyramid noticed only a strong wind when the ship skimmed just meters above the surface. To bystanders, a massive crate appeared almost like magic, hitting the ground with a resounding thud before skidding to a halt after colliding with a parked groundcar.

A loud hiss could be heard as steam came from every corner of the crate, and then, one of the crate’s four side walls detached and fell face down on the ground. Inside was something the passerby didn’t recognize, but they knew enough to be terrified.

Siege Commander Korg brought his targeting scanner online first, followed by weapons battery # 3. When his primary locomotion system powered up, a massive leg on either side of his central unit flexed, and the remainder of the crate burst away. Korg stood to his full height, acquired his first target (an automated fuel transport), and let loose a full salvo of rockets. Debris rained from the sky. Investigators would later be able to identify the wreckage only through security camera footage.

War droids were designed to lower the morale of enemy soldiers and Korg had been given just one instruction for this mission: Create Havoc. He was a droid, and had neither emotions nor compunctions. But if witnesses later reported hearing a joyful cackle emanating from somewhere deep inside this horrifying spectacle, who could prove them wrong?

The planet Aargau had not spent centuries as the galaxy’s preeminent center of banking without experiencing attempted heists from time to time, whether by lone bandits, criminal syndicates, or even pirate fleets. The IBC did not shirk on security, and within seconds three patrol skimmers were on scene. The skimmer pilots were veterans who could handle a crisis—and yet, still, even they were taken aback by the sheer carnage they witnessed.

Korg was programmed with urban assault software—an algorithm that ranked targets by various criteria to determine the most efficient method of “reducing enemy infrastructure.” But Korg was not leading an invasion—he overrode the software and fired almost randomly in every direction, a firestorm of blasters, rockets, sonic disruptors, and more. The plaza became a warzone, as efficiently decimated as could be achieved with anything short of orbital bombardment.

But in the ensuing chaos, the war droid had overlooked the patrol skimmers. Their first attack run knocked Korg back on his heels before secondary shields came online. Then Korg returned fire with guided anti-air missiles. This battle did not last long, and, if Korg did have emotions, he must have felt disappointment.

Barely four minutes had passed when Korg’s internal chronometer signalled it was time for extraction. The Ka’ja’les Dar swooped in again, launched a powerful magnetic grappler which stuck firm, and yanked the droid into the sky before slowly reeling him into the cargo bay.
Korg’s role was done, but he knew this was just the merest taste of the destruction Jocasta had promised him when she transferred his essence into this new shell. Today, Aargau Plaza. Tomorrow, all of Mongui.

# 3

The Ka’ja’les Dar dropped its first payload in Aargau Plaza, corkscrewed away between massive skycrapers as tall as some planets’ mountains, executed a tight turn that scattered airspeeders like flotsam, and approached the IBC pyramid from the far side. It was time to launch the second payload, a 3-meter long torpedo-shaped object that crashed through the heavy-duty transparisteel windows of level 44. A few feet lower or higher and the payload would have been utterly destroyed by durasteel girders and the entire mission would have to have been scrubbed. But the launch was perfect and it was time to pick up Korg.

Rycard Ryjerd was not the best pilot in the galaxy. Indeed, he wasn’t even the best pilot Jocasta had ever hired. He didn’t have the fastest reflexes, or the most intuitive understanding of spatial geometry or performance parameters. But on this day, in this place, no one could have handled the Ka’ja’les Dar better. Simply put, Rycard knew that ship in the way only thousands of hours of flight time could provide. He had spent every spare moment in the cockpit ever since the sleek, claw-winged vessel had come off the assembly line.

Rycard Ryjerd had something to prove to someone. He wanted forgiveness, or admiration, or pride. He wanted the others to stop looking at him with mocking smiles and whispering stupid cracks behind his back. He wanted things to go back to the way they were before the Battle of Duros.

Jocasta had never said a word about the destruction of the Sun Runner.

Before joining the crew, Rycard hadn’t even thought of himself as primarily a freighter-jockey. He was a freebooter, an adventurer, a smuggler, a highwayman, a stick-up artist or whatever he felt like being one morning and could change by evening. He had the brash bravado that came from quick feet, a quicker smile, and too much time spent watching swashbuckling holovids. Being a good pilot simply came with the territory, but it wasn’t something he had passed much time thinking about. And now, he was stuck in the shadow of pilots whose reputations had grown through gossip and legend to the point he could never match. Borelias II. Spiralling between two Venators. The time Zalon executed a flawless, dead-stick landing in the anomaly and Twitch matched it.

But that wasn’t what impelled him to stride into the tap-caf on the flip side of Aargau thirty-six hours ago. It was the short, pink-haired pixieish teen with horn-rimmed specs sitting in the corner peering intently into a datapad. Rycard approached her. He wore the stink of too-much cologne, an open-necked shirt that could have been fashionable only twenty years ago, and more jewellery than a Hapes princess.

He sighed—this was going to hurt, both his ego and his chin. But it would work.

“Buy you a drink? Fabulous,” he said, setting a lukewarm caf next to her without giving her a chance to answer. He sat down close, invading her personal space and said “You like the ‘net? Me too. All kinds of good games on them.” He moved in even closer, and then whispered, “But I bet behind the datapad you’re a rancor in the bedroom.”

She looked at him above her specs, a combination of disgust and annoyance on her face. She moved her chair a few feet to the side, pushed the drink away, and said, as coldly as she could “I’m fine, thanks.”

Rycard moved his chair closer and put a hand on her knee. “Listen, why don’t we go back to my place. You can . . . fiddle with my datapad all you want.”

He felt a hand grip his shoulder hard from behind and then twist him around. A tall man in an elegant business suit was looming over him. Hints of silver showed on his temples—he was probably middle-aged, but he was the kind of man that only grew more handsome with the years.

“I think the young lady said ‘no thank you,’” the man said.

“Maybe you should mind your own business, pal,” Rycard replied. He slid the drink back across the table and said forcefully to the girl, “finish it and then we’ll go.”

The girl shook her head, mumbled something about a loser, and then spilled the drink in Rycard’s lap with a smile of satisfaction. “You have it.”

Rycard stood up abruptly with a howl of pain—the caf wasn’t hot, but he felt in the moment.

“Bitch!” he shouted before drawing his hand up to backslap her. Here it comes, he thought, trying not to wince.

The “stranger” caught Rycard’s hand in mid-slap, twisted it hard, and then punched Rycard square in the nose. Rycard went flying, not even pretending to fall. He crashed into an empty chair and lay there, stunned on the ground. The surprise on his face was mostly fake, but the blood streaming down his chin was very real. A few seconds later he got to his feet and scurried away as everyone in the tap-caf applauded the comeuppance of a creep. The last thing he saw before leaving was Stefan Cassadine placing a protective arm around the girl’s shoulders.
Everything was fitting into place, and the mission was a go.

# 4
Within three minutes of the crash, Level 44 was evacuated, a special weapons response team had arrived, and the torpedo-like object was surrounded. Scans showed no explosive potential, but instead what looked to be a mangled assortment of organic body parts mixed with a variety of non-organic equipment.

“Why the frak would someone send us a casket?” one of the troopers mumbled.

“Maybe it’s a distraction,” their commander said. “Or a warning.”

Three of the men stayed behind, weapons drawn and pointed at the object, while the rest of the team quickly deployed to the plaza far below where a massive firefight was already underway.
Level 44 was the most heavily-defended level of the complex, and nobody could get in without encountering a bracing array of human guards, biometric recognition sensors, and anti-weapon countermeasures—for it contained the only access to the private turbolift banks that ran to the secured vaults dozens of levels below.

A minute later, a curved lid unlatched from the object and began to slowly open with small puffs of smoke. With one man to either side and the third standing at the bottom, they peered intently to see what lay inside.

“It is a corpse,” one of them said. The figure within was probably Rodian, but it was hard to tell—part of the right skull and eye socket had been replaced with artificial prosthetics, along with at least one leg and both arms. It lay there unmoving, its arms crossed over its chest as if in death or repose.

Suddenly a red light began to blink rapidly somewhere in the depths of the right eye socket. A low rumbling sigh filled the deathly silence, hands clenched into fists, and wrists flexed to reveal pop-up blasters. The guard on each side of the “casket” fell to the ground with a blaster burn to the face, never having really understood what was happening. The third guard took an involuntary step back and then recovered himself and opened fire. But it was too late: a fusion-powered tetranium leg had already crushed the man’s ribcage and sent him sprawling out of the breached transparisteel window.

Greesh Leedo rolled his shoulders and ran an internal diagnostic. Minor damage from the entry vector, but nothing auto-repair nanos couldn’t fix. His amplified hearing picked up a voice coming from one of the dead men’s earpieces. It was asking for a status report.

It was time to get to work.

Greesh strode rapidly down the corridor and into the security control room. Two bodies later, he turned a wheellock and slid back the thick durasteel door. Level 44 was nearly invincible from the outside, but easy to handle from within.

Stefan Cassadine stepped in and looked around. He gave a curt nod to Greesh and walked toward the turbolift bank. A few moments later, Kronos arrived with an access card and biometric scans to activate the turbolift for the tangible-item vault.

Cassadine, Greesh, and Kronos stood patiently inside the lift as it dropped 67 stories in less than 8 seconds, inertial dampeners compensating for the effect. Mellow background music dispensed with the need for small talk.

The lift opened to reveal a wide corridor two stories high and several hundred meters long. They couldn’t even see where the corridor ended—it simply stretched on into the distance. Each wall contained a grid of deposit vaults, some as narrow as 12 centimeters wide, others large enough to hold a landspeeder. Each vault was secured with a dense mobylennium hatch and a simple, nearly unsliceable locking mechanism: upon tampering or a third incorrect password, the contents of the vault were disintegrated.

Small repulsor sleds provided easy access to the higher vaults. The three beings walked onto one of the sleds and rose slowly into the air. The journey to Tangible-Item Secured Deposit # 7337142927 took three seconds longer than they had estimated it would, but that was still within optimal parameters. They were 8 meters above the ground, exposed and with no cover should they be caught.

Kronos stared at the small vault door, as if hesitating.

“Well, get on with it man,” Cassadine said.

Kronos leaned in close and whispered. The vault door began to slowly retract.

Greesh suddenly put a hand on Cassadine’s arm and, in response to the inquisitive look, a finger to his lips. The Rodian took up a kneeling sniper’s stance, raised one arm like a rifle, and peered along its length. His cybernetically-enhanced hearing had picked up what the others could not—footsteps. A Bank of Aargau watchman was making his rounds. He was lost in thought and staring at the ground in front of him and about to walk past the lift suspended above him.
Greesh smiled and sent the stream of neurons to his wrist-blaster at the same instant that other neurons from his audio receptors entered his cerebellum and identified that Kronos had shouted “No!”

The first blast caught the watchman square in the chest and spun him around. The second blast, intended as insurance in case the first wasn’t enough, missed completely. The bolt struck the wall across from them.

And then it kept going.

The ricocheting shot bounced back and forth along the corridor, gaining speed and power, too fast for even Greesh’s cybernetic eye to register. Then Kronos toppled and would have dropped over the edge of the lift if Cassadine hadn’t caught him. Blackened char was almost all that was left of his abdomen. He wasn’t dead yet, but immediate bacta immersion was his only chance.
“Goram it!” Greesh cursed. “No one said nothing about magnetic shielding! It wasn’t in the specs she got us!”

“Nor the fact that we’d have company,” Cassadine said, looking at the turbolift doors. They were opening, and an IBC security response team began to pour out. Each trooper was armed with a sonic disruptor rifle that wouldn’t be prone to ricochets from the magnetic shielding. “We’ve been set up,” he concluded.

“What’re we gonna do?” Greesh asked.

Cassadine pondered this for a second, and then drew his blaster. “Don’t miss,” he replied.

# 5

Korkoth had been assigned an undercover role. This was the largest point of contention during the planning phase.

Ninety-Six Hours Previously

“Any questions?” Stefan asked, turning off the holo-projector.

The conference room at the ARC on Etti IV was silent for a moment, then Korg spoke up. “I like it,” he said, his mechanical voice bordering on enthusiasm. Workers had had to remove the doorframe in order for the war droid to fit through. He took up a whole side of the table, forcing the other Sun Runners to squeeze into what space remained.

Greesh nodded and Rycar shrugged, but Kronos removed his spectacles slowly, his brow furrowed. “I foresee risk with the girl. In six hundred and seventy-seven out of twelve-hundred and eleven timeframes, she doesn’t cooperate,” he said. “In the rest, a surprising range of reactions and events occur, too many for me to analyze in a satisfactory manner. In short, something about this girl denies probabilistic foreshadowing.”

Stefan poured himself a drink. “I’ll take care of it,” he said simply.

Jocasta stood up and said to the Sun Runners “That’s enough for now. I’ll finish working things out with Mr. Cassadine and we’ll let you know your respective roles at the final briefing.” Then, in fluent Gammorean, she said “Korkoth, you should stay.”

The others shuffled out, leaving Jocasta and Stefan standing on either end of the table, while Korkoth sat placidly in the center, gouging a crude drawing on the table’s surface with his thumb-nail. Since he didn’t speak Basic, he hadn’t really understood most of what was said during the briefing, and the charts and maps displayed by the holo-projector gave him a head-ache. All he really needed to know was who to bash and when.

“It seems okay,” Jocasta said.

“Just ‘okay’?” Stefan said, with a hint of a smile.

“A bit more showy than I would have expected from someone trained in Malkite ways,” she replied. “But this is a hardened target and there’s no easy way to slip in. Still, are you sure you don’t want your wife involved? She has a surprising knack for getting things done and getting out alive.”

“She’s not ready yet,” Stefan said with a slight shake of his head. “I had hoped she would be, but recent events proved otherwise. She’ll be at her best for Mongui, however.”

“I should hope so,” Jocasta replied. “Now we need to talk about Korkoth here.” She made a slight gesture in the Gammorean’s direction—he had decided to taste the leftover shavings from his drawing. “I’ve travelled from one end of this galaxy to the other, heard more rumours and told more lies than anyone in this line of work, and never have I heard an idea more ludicrous than placing Korkoth as an undercover agent.”

Although it held a certain kind of twisted logic, Stefan’s explanation didn’t satisfy Jocasta entirely. Still, she had chosen him to lead this mission in her stead and she needed this partnership to succeed. Korkoth’s role wasn’t crucial and she didn’t have time to start second-guessing Stefan’s decisions.

To almost everyone’s surprise, it had worked beautifully. Korkoth was dropped off in front of the Bank of Aargau hiring center with only these instructions: “Go inside, get a job, and wait to be contacted.” He wasn’t really sure why he was supposed to do this, but he figured the bashing would come sooner or later. During the interview process, he talked repeatedly about the Sun Runners, failed multiple psi-scans, showed a mostly mistaken understanding of what a “bank” was for, and in almost every other conceivable way was the worst spy and job applicant one could conceive. And therefore, no one at the hiring center thought he was anything else than what he seemed to be: a dumb Gammorean looking for work with a tendency to tell fanciful, nonsensical stories about pirates, half-robots, and (as best they could make out with the shaky Gammorean-to-Basic software on their computers, a chubby Hutt who had travelled back in time from the future with dire warnings about what was going to happen next). Of course, no employer with an ounce of sense would give Korkoth a job, but the hiring center’s computer (easily sliced from the outside) showed a need for: “Security Guard, Gammorean or Wookie only.” Suffice it to say, neither of either species travelled often to Aargau and a quota was a quota. An hour-and-a-half after walking through the doors, Korkoth was a certified employee of the Bank of Aargau.

His assignment, per the work request, was to patrol Level Sub-Three. This was mostly disused storerooms, which Korkoth used to take long naps. It also contained a large black panel with bright warning stickers on it. Occasionally, he patrolled alongside another guard. Korkoth liked to tell raunchy stories in Gammorean sprinkled with Huttese. The human guard didn’t understand either language, but when loud and repeated shouts of “Shut Up!” were apparently seen as a sign of encouragement, the man simply gave up.

On his third day at work, Korkoth’s comlink beeped. He turned it on and said "[Yeah Boss?]" Jocasta had explained to him patiently that Korkoth now had a “Boss” (Mr. Cassadine) and a “Big Boss” (herself). Korkoth was supposed to do what either one told him, though Big Boss was still more important. This introduced a level of complexity an order of magnitude greater than Korkoth normally dealt with, but he was getting the hang of it.

“[Turn around the second flipper!]" he heard the Boss say, in very poor Gammorean.

“[Huh?]” Korkoth replied.

“[The second flipper!]” was the shouted response. Then, in Basic “Greesh! How do I tell him to flip the second switch? Hold on, I have another call,” he said with exasperation.

A few seconds later and Boss was back “[Flip down switcher number the second]” he said. “[Behind the gigantical blackish sheet!]

Now blaster fire could be heard in the background and Greesh said in Basic “We’ve got maybe thirty seconds before they realize that smoke grenade’s not anthrotoxin and they come for us.”

Korkoth looked around. Everything in the storage level was a dusty gray or a metallic silver, except for the big black panel. He shrugged, walked over to it, and yanked it open. Inside was a dizzying array of switches. Korkoth pondered this for a moment and then flipped them all.

# 6

Type-II sonic disruptors were popular with Bank of Aargau security because they had a devastating effect on organic beings but caused no harm whatsoever to property. By focussing and amplifying ultra-low frequency harmonic waves into a tight beam, a sonic disruptor could literally fry someone’s insides while leaving no visible wound on the outside of the body. Such wounds were painful, debilitating, and difficult to heal even with bacta.

Like the Bank of Aargau Counter-Insurgency Team, Sunset Cassandra was wearing a personal field distorter that negated the effect of Type-II sonic disruptors while still allowing normal communication and movement. This was a precaution, in case such weapons found their hands into hostile elements. Only a low-pitched whine would be the marker that such weapons were even being fired—that, and bodies collapsing to the ground with their internal organs turned to goo.

Sunset Cassandra—she had chosen the name herself, and insisted it not be shortened—slowly peered around the open turbolift doors and down the corridor. The thick smoke that had filled it a moment earlier was starting to dissipate, just as the BA-CIT had fished out their rebreathers. Deadly accurate blaster fire was coming from somewhere down the corridor, but at an oddly high angle. Either the Sun Runners were stuck on a repulsor sled or had learned to levitate through sheer mental power. She giggled at the thought. In her mind, it wasn’t that they were stupid, per se—just that she was much, much smarter.

They must have thought they were so clever with that fake fight, she reflected. Lame! Her firewalls were like webbing, slowing intruders and shunting them into useless corners until she decided how to respond—in other words, she knew an above-average slicer had been trying to track her down over the last several days, and let them get a fix on her position in the tap-caf. She assumed it was agents from the tax division—governments usually put their best investigators into tax, which showed you where their priorties lay. It was simple enough to have the tap-caf’s surveillance cams link into IBC and Republic facial recognition databases. Before Rycard and Stefan recognized Sunset Cassandra, Sunset Cassandra had identified them as suspected members of the criminal underworld. Then, it was simply a matter of playing along long enough to see what it was they wanted.

Things were starting to heat up now. The smoke had dissipated completely, and the BA-CIT were getting it together. The bottom of the repulsor sled provided the three Sun Runners some cover, but she saw the cyborg Greesh Leedo take several hits, some of which had an effect and others which were dissipated by his electronic equipment. Stefan Cassadine was laying prone, firing a blaster with one hand and, apparently, talking on his comlink in the other. He looked exasperated.

Sunset Cassandra figured she had made her point. She crouched back in the safety of the turbolift, removed her field distorter, and pulled a small silver box from her belt pouch. She isolated the frequency of the BA-CIT’s field distorters, set the device to match and amplify that frequency by a factor of one-thousand, and then activated the device. Each member’s distorter tried to cope with a massive power surge, failed, and then overloaded, sending powerful electrical shocks through its wearer. The BA-CIT fell to the ground convulsing.

Up until now, everything had gone according to Sunset Cassandra’s plans. Then the lights went out, which by itself didn’t seem like that big of a deal until she realized that might mean the power was out, which might mean that there was nothing holding the turbolift in place.
It started to fall, and Sunset Cassandra screamed.

# 7
Stefan rolled over with a low moan. The repulsor sled had apparently relied on transmitted power, and it fell to the ground hard when the power was cut. Everything was pitch black, except for a subdued red light emanating from Greesh’s right eye socket. It was deathly quiet—an almost apt metaphor, Stefan knew, for if he didn’t get Kronos to a med-bay soon, Jocasta’s favourite adviser would be a corpse. Moments before the lights went out, Stefan thought he had seen their attackers collapse, but it paid to be careful.

“Greesh,” he whispered. “Anything?”

He saw the red light move and face him. “Sensors report no movement. I think they’re down.”

“Good,” Stefan replied. “Call Korkoth and get the power back on—we need that turbolift.”

A few seconds later, and total darkness was replaced with almost blinding light. Stefan crawled over to Kronos. The latter’s face was pale and covered with sweat. They had managed to slap a med-patch over his blaster wound, but he was clearly in pain.

“I would like to see them again,” Kronos said, his voice slurred. “It has been so long, but mine is a long-lived race and the probabilities are . . .” he drifted off into a low mumbling. His eyes grew dim, and then he began a wet, hacking cough. “A pity,” he said, with difficulty. “The precise nature . . . my own mortality.”

“What’s that?” Stefan said, examining the repulsor sled. It had been heavily damaged in the crash. They would have to carry or drag Kronos out of here.

Kronos didn’t answer, but with great difficult raised the small grey tube he had removed from the vault so he could see it better. “Home,” he said, and began coughing again.

“We’re ready,” Greesh said, turning off his comlink. “The ship will be at the drop-off point in three minutes. We’re behind schedule though, and the shift change we planned on taking advantage of has already been completed.”

Stefan only nodded. He went to stand up and almost failed. The sheer agony from sonic disruptor wounds tore through him and doubled him over in pain. Greesh moved to help, but Stefan waved him away. He gritted his teeth and stood through will power alone. It was the first time he realized that he needed the med-bay almost as much as Kronos.

Greesh picked Kronos up with little difficulty. He was tempted to make some crack about how baldie could at least have predicted that eating too much would make him fat, but Stefan didn’t seem to be in the mood for a joke. If Greesh hadn’t flooded his own organic nervous system with synthetic adrenaline and pain-blockers, he would probably feel as bad as they looked.

They were a few feet away when the turbolift doors opened to reveal Sunset Cassandra. She was curled up in a ball in the corner, her eyes wide and face whitened with fear. Combined with her pink hair and black nail polish, it made her look almost clownish. The turbolift had fallen twenty-five stories into the very depths of the Bank’s underground vaults before the car’s battery-powered emergency system activated and kept her from being smashed into a thin paste. And now, before she could even gather her wits enough to stand up, she realized Stefan Cassadine, Greesh Leedo, and a barely-conscious Kronos had joined her in the car. Greesh had set Kronos down and pressed his wrist blaster against the side of her face.

“Wait!” she said, as the doors closed and the lift began moving upwards. “I saved your lives! I fried their distorters. You owe me.”

Stefan grabbed her roughly by the arm to stand her up. “What are you playing at, girl?” he said.

Sunset Cassandra was starting to regain her composure. “Whatever it is we’re playing, I’m better at it than you,” she said. “I knew from the first you ‘rescued’ me just to take advantage of my slicing skills. Well, now you can see just how much of an asset I am. I want to join your heist-gang. And I want an equal share of the loot, too.” In truth, she had already made a substantial profit from collecting the reward money for playing informant in the first place. But money wasn’t the real driving force behind her decision to play both sides against the middle. She had sliced enough cash for several lifetimes—but this was a chance to steal it with style.

Stefan snorted. “I’m not the leader of this ‘heist-gang’, as you so colourfully put it, and I doubt the one who is would be impressed by what you’ve done.”

“Well, you better put in a good word for me, Stefan Cassadine,” she said. “Or I’ll tell your wife you quenched your lascivious urges in the cooling depths of my loins.”

Greesh took a careful step back. This could get messy. There were some things one quickly learned about Stefan Cassadine, and one of them was that his wife was off-limits.

For a moment, such effrontery filled Stefan with rage, but then the sheer lunacy of the idea that this . . . slip of a girl thought she could come between him and Arresta made him chuckle softly.
“You go too far, and have overplayed your hand,” he said with a thin smile. “Do you think my wife a fool to believe such a lie? Do you think she would reward you for such a story, even if she did believe it? Or that you would survive such an insult if she did not? In her own way, she is as possessive as I am. Stars willing, you’ll have the opportunity to put your promise into action, so that I may witness the results.”

Sunset Cassandra was left open-mouthed when the turbolift doors opened. They were twenty-seven levels above the ground now, and at the end of a long corridor was a metal door leading on to an aircar platform.

“Forty seconds to pick-up,” Greesh said as they made their way down the corridor. “Rycard won’t be able to keep her waiting, as they’ll have scrambled fighters from the orbital picket ships by now.”

Stefan brought them to a halt about ten meters away from the door so he could peer around the corner where their corridor intersected with another. The blaster bolt nearly took out his eye instead of only spraying permacrete chips from where it hit the wall. He quickly ducked back to where the others were waiting.

“At least four of them,” he said.

“We can handle that,” Greesh said with confidence.

“And they’ve dredged up an E-web,” Stefan added.

Greesh groaned.

“We don’t have time for a firefight. We’ll have to sprint for it. You carry Kronos,” Stefan said to Greesh. “We’ll keep their heads down.” He drew a small hold-out blaster from a vest pocket, switched off the safety, and handed it to Sunset Cassandra.

“I can’t get in a shootout,” she stammered. “What if my datapad got hit? It’s got every—“

Stefan wrenched the datapad out of her hands and slid it into the intersection of the corridors. A steady stream of blaster fire melted it into slag. Stefan loomed over Sunset Cassandra. “You’ll fight, or by my word you’ll be the next thing I throw out there. We could use the distraction.”
She gulped and took the blaster.

“No one stops, no one turns back,” he continued. He counted down from three, and as a group they sprinted into the intersection.

Stefan never knew whether it was skill, adrenaline, or pure luck, but his first shot dropped the gunner on the E-web. The return fire was still heavy though, and one of the bolts hit him in the shoulder, spinning him around in a full circle. He stumbled, but managed to keep his feet and continue running. He saw Greesh a step behind him, his left arm and leg a gory mess, dripping blood and a greenish oil. Sunset Cassandra was sprinting too, firing wildly in the general direction of their attackers.

And then they were through. They burst through the metal door and on to the aircar balcony.
Stefan loved his own ship, The Knife’s Edge, but today he was a faithless lover, as the sight of the Sun Runner II filled him with an indescribable joy.

He hadn’t really thought they would make it through the corridor, and the thought of dying so far away from Arresta was more agonizing than his physical wounds.
***
He sat with Kronos in the ship’s med-bay, while the top-of-the-line GH-7 medical droid examined them. Someone had turned off the droid’s “bedside manner” program, and now it was all business.

“Triage situation,” the droid reported. “Top Priority: Patient Kronos--critical condition with imminent risk of cardiac arrest and respiratory distress. Patient Cassadine, please keep Patient Kronos calm while I prepare the bacta tank.” The droid went into the next room, leaving the two men alone.

Kronos’ eyelids fluttered and then opened. He saw Stefan and started to speak in a low mumble. Stefan could barely hear him and moved closer.

“My parents . . . they sent me away,” he was saying. “But I didn’t forget them . . . Jocasta will tell them . . . I didn’t forget . . .” He reached out with surprising strength and grabbed Stefan’s shirtfront. “The darkness is coming . . . cover everything. But Mistress knows the way out . . . Empress Uncanny . . .” His eyes grew dimmer, but then focussed on Stefan’s face. Kronos leaned up with the last of his strength and whispered in Stefan’s ears.

Stefan’s face twisted. Not in surprise, or disgust, or rage. Into a mask, a cold mask of death, the very last sight that many men and some women had seen in their lives. Stefan covered Kronos’s mouth and pinched his nose shut. His victim struggled for just a few seconds, and then shuddered and moved no more.

The one you love--if she chooses, she will not choose you, Kronos had said.

Then I’ll just have to make sure she doesn’t have a choice, Stefan thought.


------------
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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Scorpio Rose [Comics]


One of the interesting things about Scorpio Rose, a 1983 Eclipse mini-series, is how it came about. Writer Steve Englehart explains in a text box that in 1980, he was trying to sell DC two stories featuring the universe's resident female magician, Madame Xanadu. At the time, according to Englehart, "the universe's favorite game was something called 'Screw the Freelancer." Freelancers were paid peanuts because there weren't many companies making comics, and those companies retained all rights to the freelancers' work and ideas--in other words, there simply weren't the creator-owned characters and series that are common today. According to Englehart, he "took [his] stories and walked" and, when word spread, he was contacted by Eclipse, a new company on the scene that was willing to pay creators what their work was worth, and let them retain the rights.

Thus, Scorpio Rose consists of stories originally set to feature Madame Xanadu. In their reworked Eclipse form, the main character is still a female magician--but her origin is quite different. Originally a gypsy girl in the late 1600s, Scorpio is assaulted and raped by a daemonic entity possessing the body of a man named Igor Gravesend. In a manner that's not really explained, the attack gives Scorpio the gift (or curse) of immortality. In the next three-hundred years, she tries to track down Gravesend while also ensuring that occult dangers don't harm any other innocents. The main story, set in the modern day, sees Scorpio trying to keep a mystical tome, The Book of Fleshe, out of the hands of thieves. However, her possession of the book somehow puts the daemonic Gravesend back on her trail, and she's forced to flee into a mystical dimension inhabited by a former spurned lover.


Plot summaries of most comics, especially supernatural-themed ones, always lose a lot outside of the atmosphere of the book. It's actually a pretty interesting read, and certainly quite different than most of what DC, for example, was putting out at the time. The artwork and coloring are also quite well done. The mini-series was planned to be three issues long, but only two issues ever came out--leaving the story disappointingly unfinished and making it seem odd how a text box in the letters page bragged about how many copies the comic sold. (my guess for cancellation? delays by the creators--the first issue is dated January 1983, while the second issue is dated October--a comic better be pretty damn good for readers to wait eight months between installments!) Each issue also features a back-up strip featuring a new character named Doctor Occult, tasked here with performing an exorcism--it's also a pretty good story and also unfortunately unfinished.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Clone Wars Gambit: Stealth


In a previous post, I named Karen Miller's first Star Wars novel, Wild Space, as the best Star Wars book I've ever read. Unfortunately, I probably had too high of expectations for her second book, Clone Wars Gambit: Stealth. Whereas Wild Space was about Bail Organa and Obi-Wan Kenobi bonding together through a grueling experience on a forbidden planet (with little in the way of traditional action scenes), Stealth is a more traditional Clone Wars story: maniacal Separatist General Lok Durd is developing a lethal bio-weapon, so Obi-Wan and Anakin have to uncover the plot, rescue the kidnapped scientist involved, and stop Durd from spreading the toxin before it's too late. This book is heavy on combat (especially in the first 60 pages or so), but every description of mass-combat in the Clone Wars pales in comparison to the work of Karen Traviss in the Republic Commando series of books. Indeed, Miller comes across almost naieve in her portrayal of "heroic" Republic armies and "evil" Separatist armies, and she also lacks Traviss' sophisticated portrayal of military culture, terminology, and tactics. There's an attempt in the book to really delve into Anakin's struggles with having been a slave, leaving his mother behind, etc., but these issues have been explored sufficiently in past books. The scenes between Bail Organa and Padme on Coruscant really crackle, but on the whole I found the story and dialogue in this novel barely above mediocre.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Last Issue Special # 17: Marvel Team-Up (v. 1) [Comics]


SERIES: Marvel Team-Up

DATE: 1985

THOSE RESPONSIBLE: Louise Simonson (writer), Danny Fingeroth (editor)

CATEGORY: Acceptance

Marvel Team-Up functioned for over a decade as the third Spider-Man title, right next to Amazing . . . and Spectacular . . . It was tied strongly into the continuity of its sister books, so Peter Parker's troubles with girls, making rent, or Aunt May were usually pretty consistent across titles. What set it apart, of course, is that each issue prominently featured another Marvel hero or super-group helping out ol' Spidey defeat the bad guys. Although this and the other long-lasting team-up title (the Thing's Marvel Two-in-One) ended just before I started collecting comics, I always pick up the back issues when I see them in the bargain bins: they're one of the few ways for second-string heroes to get a turn in the spotlight, even if the nature of team-up stories tend to be predictable (villain appears; heroes appear and mistake each other for villains and fight; heroes make-up; heroes team-up to defeat villain).

Marvel Team-Up ended with issue # 150 in order to make for another dedicated Spidey title, Web of Spider-Man. The end of the series is nicely symbolized by Spider-Man walking away in the corner box on the cover, and they brought out Marvel's biggest guns--the X-Men--for the big good-bye. The story here concerns Juggernaut deciding that the best birthday gift for his bestest friend in the whole world (Black Tom Cassidy) is the same Ruby of Cyttorak that gave Juggy his power. Juggernaut returns to Korea, steals the Ruby, and returns to New York and gives it to Black Tom--but the crystal has the unintended effect of distributing its power between the two villains (making Black Tom stronger, but Juggernaut weaker). Then Spider-Man and the X-Men arrive and tear up most of Manhattan in an epic slugfest before Juggernaut gets his power back and throws the Ruby into outer space (I vaguely recall another story that sees Juggernaut return to Korea and unravel the mystery of the Ruby, but I can't recall where right now . . .)

In a text box cheekily labeled "Post Mortem Department", the editors announce the end of the series while promising that the debut of Web of Spider-Man is just six weeks away and will feature "the final showdown between the Web-Slinger and his black Secret Wars costume." As if.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Clone Wars Campaign: Star Wars Recap # 37

Out of all the sessions I've directed so far for the Clone Wars campaign, this is the one I spent the most time preparing for and the one that is the most memorable in terms of sheer spectacle. It started off with the PCs still in the Corporate Sector--after nearly getting his brain sucked into an evil Force artifact, A'tel and his friends tried to escape the Cestus Cybernetics building. A few of them got captured by the Espos (thuggish security squads), leading to a cinematic escape attempt in the back of a paddy wagon (Aaray strangling a guard with his manacles was a perfect result for the character!) We also had a short "cut-scene" with Arresta learning that Bel Sekand was worming his way back into her life, this time via her sister. Arresta's frantic calls to her husband, while he's away on a mysterious "business trip", are the subject of a fun moment in an upcoming short story.

The team's assault on the Joriander Beacon asteroid was when I really geeked out. I had everyone hide out in the office for about half an hour while I worked on getting everything set up. I pushed the furniture against the wall and laid down tactical battle maps along the entire floor of the living room, dining room, and kitchen, with any walls or remaining furniture treated as impassable mountains. I used overturned bowls of various sizes to represent buildings in the communications complex, and then arranged hundreds of cut-out miniatures to represent the squads of enemy battle droids and allied clone troopers. Each army was supported by (scale-fitting) LEGO vehicles like Hailfire droid tanks, massive walkers, scout bikes, and more. When all was said and done, it was a gigantic expansion of normal table-top miniature combat and by far the largest battle I've ever seen or done. I really wish I had a picture to demonstrate. It would have made a great capstone to a Clone Wars campaign, and I don't know if I'll ever be able to top it.

Using the squad-based combat rules for everyone other than PCs, the battle went reasonably fast but still lasted well into the night. It ended with a classic Star Wars-style moment, as A'tel faced off with his brother high up on a communications array in a lightsaber battle to the death. Fortunately, unlike his brother, A'tel had a couple of friends to help him out when the going got tough.

The session is also memorable for Daal penetrating enemy lines and running around frantically with Droidekas on his tail the whole time. He also let slip one of the campaign's funniest moments. In the prior session, Daal had learned through going through archived files in Garit Por'ten's office that the man had ties to the Dark Side of the Force. But Daal forget to say anything about it until the climactic battle of this session, when Garit drew and activated a lightsaber. The player who runs Daal exclaimed "Oh yeah . . . I forgot to tell you guys . . ." which cracked us all up.


SESSION #37

During the dead of night, a series of increasingly large explosions have rocked the center of Mondder on the planet Etti IV. As the sirens of emergency crews and automated alarms began to wail, workers and consumers alike turn on the holonews to see that an elite Espo anti-terrorist team has set up a perimeter around the smoking Cestus Cybernetics building, halting only to argue jurisdiction with the Emergency Fire-Dousing Response Unit. In the background, a Cestus PR person can be overheard telling a reporter something about routine, unscheduled renovations, but even this seasoned spinner seems unconvincing. In the lower right corner of the screen, Cestus stocks begin to tumble quickly.

Garit Por'Ten's private office has been turned largely to rubble. Doxen and a shaken Daal use medpaks to stabilize their injured companions and then, along with an astromech droid, make their way through the doorway into Garit’s private office. Although they manage to get the door open, the droid is destroyed by an unusual booby-trap: anti-gravity fields designed to levitate and slowly crush intruders. With a combination of improvised grenades and other weapons, the two adventurers destroy the anti-grav field projectors from a distance and then slowly make their way to Garit’s desk. There, resting on the middle of the desk, is a small obsidian box composed of an unknown substance that is difficult and unnerving to look at. Touching the box activates automated holo-messages from Garit--it seems the elder Por'Ten had assumed that after weeks of humiliating "negotiations," A'tel would eventually break down and try to steal the location of the Joriander Beacon.

When the strange box is brought near A'tel, the Jedi senses it is tainted with the Dark Side. Nonetheless, knowing the only way forward is to spring Garit's final trap, A'tel reaches out mentally with the Force to try to probe for an opening. Something . . . or some entity . . . within the box seizes hold of A'tel's mind. A'tel barely escapes before being utterly destroyed, but although the box opens to reveal a datacube inside with the coordinates of the Beacon, the Jedi temporarily loses a portion of his intelligence and will-power to the trap.

Soon thereafter, the group learns that the series of explosions they caused did not go unnoticed in Mondder. An Espo assault team has created a perimeter around the building and are preparing to go in. Ms. Prentiss arranges to move up the approved time for the group's departure from Etti IV, but they still face the difficult task of escaping from the building and the Espos. Fortunately, a check with Cestus' public relations officer reveals a series of underground tunnels used to shield certain visitors from the public eye. She also reveals that Garit has apparently disappeared from his hospital bed.

The journey through the tunnels proceeds without incident, but the exit lies just behind the Espo security perimeter. Doxen and A’tel are able to sneak away, but the others, including Aaray, who had met them outside, are captured, despite Ms. Prentiss’s vehement protests. They are taken away in an Espo ground car, but are able to effect an escape after Aaray brutally strangles their guard with his binder cuffs. Ms. Prentiss calls for backup from her department and they make it to an Auditor General safe house, but it's clear that Ms. Prentiss's arrest and escape will not be quickly forgotten by the Espos. Eventually, with Doxen having snuck aboard their shuttle in order to take it to a new docking bay, the group is reunited and they depart from Etti IV to rendezvous back with the Republic Acclamator Majestic.

Elsewhere, Arresta Cassadine is at home on the Knife’s Edge while her husband is away on business. Her sister Corinne, returning from a “vacation” to a pleasure planet, announces that she has a new lover and is leaving. Arresta demands to meet the individual, who turns out to be none other than Bel Sekand. A heated argument ensues after Arresta warns her sister that her new paramour is lying to her about exactly who he is and forbids Corinne from leaving the ship. When her calls to Stefan seem to do little more than aggravate him during his current mission, Arresta finally allows her sister and Sekand to depart--after she makes several threats and fires at least one blaster shot. After they leave, Arresta tasks several Cassadine operatives to begin efforts to secure the release of Corinne’s missing ex-lover Miklos from the notorious Hutt slaver Kordo Deshilich.

[A.G. 969]

Back on the Majestic, a planning session is held for the final assault on the Joriander Beacon asteroid complex, which intelligence reveals is protected on two sides by dense mountainous terrain. The primary mission objective is to capture the Beacon intact. Unknown to Ms. Prentiss (who will travel with the assault team to make sure no damage is done to Authority property), however, the secondary protocol, if capture proves impossible, is to destroy the Beacon so that neither the Republic nor the Separatists will have access. At the session, mission planners present four possible attack scenarios: a light recon, a traditional ground assault, a zero-G infantry assault, and an infiltration mission using a captured Separatist vehicle. With little difficulty, A'tel picks a combination of the first two options. The plan is for a small recon team, led by Aaray, but which will include Doxen, Daal and one platoon, to approach the Beacon from a separate ground vector than the main assault team, in the hopes that they can quickly gain access and secure the Beacon itself. Ms. Prentiss and A’tel will remain with the primary ground assault team, which will consist of the remaining platoons and the battalion's mechanized elements: two walkers, an ISP, and two speeder bikes. Once all of the troops are gathered, A’tel gives a rousing speech which seems to inspire his men. The final night before the battle sees all are busy in preparation. Preparing himself for a much different role than he ever aspired to as a Jedi, A'tel shaves his head and prepares to lead men into battle.

[A.G. 970]

The next morning, the assault team departs the Majestic for the short hyperspace voyage that will lead them to the edge of the Joriander field. With Daal at the controls, the bulky C-20 transport passes through the dense asteroid field and reaches the Beacon with little difficulty. Aaray, Doxen, Daal, and the other members of the recon team quickly deploy and head off in a flanking maneuver through a narrow valley. The low gravity and partial atmosphere requires certain precautions, but the assault team quickly acclimates. After some minutes of marching, intercepted communications reveal that Beacon defence grids have picked up an anomalous signal and have deployed scouts to investigate. With this prior warning, the recon team takes defensive positions and manages to destroy one of the scouts (a B-1 piloted aerial patrol) before it can give away their position.

Approaching the Beacon, the recon team realizes how thick the defences are--squads of B-1 and B-2 battle droids are arranged in dense defensive lines around the Beacon complex. The recon group decides on the risky gambit of having Doxen open fire, in the hopes that the droids will break lines and other members of the recon team can slip around them unnoticed. The tactic does draw the defenders out, but their sheer numbers make sneaking around them impractical. The recon team and the droid defenders exchange fire, with the droid squads getting the worst of it until Hellfire missile tanks begin bombarding the area.

Meanwhile, the main ground assault team moves out, leaving the Ord Pardron platoon to guard the C-20. A scouting spider droid is destroyed without incident, and, once within range, the AT-AP artillery walker opens fire, with its mass driver cannon homing in on the Hellfire droids. Within minutes, the front lines of the droid army have been engaged by the Clone infantry and a slow push forward begins--it‘s clear the droid army is outmatched by the Clone troopers and their heavy armor. A’tel leads from the front to inspire his troops, while Ms. Prentiss observes from the safety of the AT-AT walker.

Back at the recon team, an astonishing number of B-1 and B-2 squads have been destroyed but eventually casualties mount among the Clone strikeforce--including Aaray, who is carried off the battlefield in a medi-lift. Doxen continues fighting, while Daal activates his custom-made droid jammer to infiltrate enemy lines and reach the Beacon grounds (a series of small buildings linked by underground tunnels) Unfortunately for Daal, the Separatists' last line of defense are Droideka squadrons and they’re not affected by the jammer. He engages in a running battle with them across the compound and, despite the danger, manages to call down deadly artillery fire on several Hellfire droids.
Although he’s taken several wounds, A’tel succeeds in linking his main force with the remnants of the recon team. Soon, only mopping up operations remain: a handful of droid squads isolated from the main force and droidekas concealed within the complex’s smaller buildings. Through steady leadership and overwhelming force, it appears the Republic has won a battle against the Separatists and taken far fewer casualties than expected.

However, the Separatists have one last trick up their sleeves. The “major Separatist leader” expected by Republic Intelligence to be at the Beacon is none other than A’tel’s brother, Garit Por’ten. The elder Por’ten has barricaded himself atop a tall transmitter array in the Beacon’s central communications center and, with a deadman’s switch in his hand, threatens to destroy everything if anyone other than A’tel climbs up. Garit’s face is scarred from the exploding droid he still believes A’tel arranged, but he has yet one more secret for his brother: he’s received training in the Dark Side of the Force and his rage and sibling rivalry is fuelling his strength.

A’tel bravely faces off against his brother in a duel, but his broken arm and battle wounds have taken their toll and the fight begins to go against him. He barely manages to duck Garit’s attempt to kick him off the array, and only with great effort manages to parry Garit’s increasingly powerful lightsaber attacks. It’s clear the end has come and that Garit will be victorious, until, suddenly, Garit is hit with simultaneous blasts from assailants far below the array--Doxen and Ms. Prentiss have arrived just in time to save A’tel’s life. The Jedi returns the favor by calling on the Force to catch the deadman’s switch before it detonates explosives hidden throughout the entire Beacon complex.

When the dust has settled, the Joriander Beacon is back in Republic hands and only one Por’ten brother still draws breath.

Clone Wars Campaign

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Barbi Twins Adventures [Comics]


I have only the vaguest recollection of mid-90s swimsuit and Playboy models the Barbi Twins. But thanks to Topps Comics' 1995 one-shot The Barbi Twins Adventures, I can experience their fictional exploits as super spies! Sticking with the "twin" motif, the comic has two front covers and two stories, so it can be read front-to-back in two different ways. One story, "Prelude to a Mission", sees the Barbi Twins on the way to a fashion show when they're confronted by scarred nemesis Betty Blodryed. Whilst escaping from Betty, the Twins somehow find themselves in a futuristic virtual reality simulation that requires multiple costume changes (skimpier and skimpier!) to escape. The second story, "The Barbi Twins & Razor versus The Queen City Mob" is about . . . well, I guess the title explains it all. Razor is a superhero vigilante from some other comic and helps the Twins bust up the mob. Finally, there's a three-page feature/interview by writer Robert Conte that includes some cheesecake photos and a promise that the second issue is being "worked on right now." You know how in Neil Gaiman's Sandman, Morpheus has a dream library of every book never written? I guess issue # 2 is there somewhere, because it was never released in the waking world.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Final Fantasy I (Dawn of Souls)


After what the game tells me took just over 25 hours of play (most of it in half-hour weeknight installments), I finished Final Fantasy I: Dawn of Souls on my Nintendo DS. I remember playing this game as a kid on my Nintendo and thinking it was very short and easy--but back then, I probably fit the 25 hours into a weekend with time left to spare!

To my embarassment, I got stuck a couple of times this round through and had to peek at an online walkthrough to get back on the right track after a lot of wandering around and double-checking stuff.

The game has a pretty standard high fantasy setting, but near the end you come across some funky futuristic stuff like robots and time-travel. The story is pretty sparse, but basically involves elemental Chaos releasing four elemental Fiends (Earth, Air, Fire, Water) loose on the world. As heroes of the realm, you have to defeat each of the Fiends and then the big-bad. One of the cool features of the game is that after successfully completing a certain task, each of the starting classes transforms into an upgraded version with special abilities: Fighters become Knights, Monks become Masters, Thieves become Ninjas, etc. My party of four consisted of a Fighter, a Monk, a White Mage, and a Black Mage. The Fighter was a great choice, as he was pretty much invulnerable and could kill pretty much every mundane enemy with a single hit; the Black Mage was a killing machine using fire spells, and the White Mage was great for healing. The character who sucked was the Monk, as he did little damage, got hurt easily, and couldn't use any good weapons or armor (except for a weapon called Masamune, obtained right before the final combat of the game)--I should have gone with another Fighter.
I bought my copy used, so I have no idea what most of the statistics mean (what is "Luck" good for? How is Attack different that Accuracy? I don't know!). Anyway, here's how my characters turned out at the last save point prior to the final combat (names swiped from The Wheel of Time):

RAND (Fighter/Knight)
Level 72
HP: 999/999
MP: 149/216
Magic Level: 3
Current EXP: 6000963
Str: 53, Agl: 41, Int: 18, Sta: 44, Lck: 40, Atk: 56, Acc: 255, Def: 74, Eva: 113
Wpn: Braveheart, Shd: Diamond Shield, Hlm: Diamond Helm, Arm: Diamond Armor, Glv: Protect Ring

GAUL (Monk/Master)
Level 72
HP: 999/999
MP: 0/0
Current EXP: 597027
Str: 35, Agl: 35, Int: 26, Sta: 52, Lck: 34, Atk: 74, Acc: 255, Def: 43, Eva: 108
Wpn: Masamune, Shd: None, Hlm: Ribbon, Arm: Diamon Armlet, Glov: Protect Ring

EGWENE (White Mage/White Wizard)
Level 72
HP: 931/931
MP: 955/972
Magic Level: 8
Current EXP: 603331
Str: 27, Agl: 30, Int: 48, Sta: 29, Lck: 28, Atk: 25, Acc: 136, Def: 38, Eva: 113
Wpn: Mithril Hammer, Shd: Zephyr Cape, Hlm: Leather Cap, Arm: Sage's Surplice, Glv: Protect Ring

MOGHED (Black Mage/Black Wizard)
Level 72
HP: 674/674
MP: 974/999
Magic Level: 8
Current EXP: 603331
Str: 22, Agl: 21, Int: 68, Sta: 20, Lck: 31, Atk: 37, Acc: 196, Def: 37, Eva: 96
Wpn: Judgment Staff, Shd: Zephyr Cape, Hlm: Ribbon, Arm: Ruby Armlet, Glv: Protect Ring

Angel Special: Lorne [Comics]


John Byrne has had an interesting career--for a while he was one of the most popular writers and artists in mainstream comics, given responsibility for overhauling traditional powerhouse titles like Superman and the Fantastic Four. I'm not sure what really happened in the interim, but now I mostly see his work for IDW, one of the many independent companies, which has Byrne doing a lot of work on licensed titles like Star Trek and Angel. I've felt lukewarm about most of his Angel comics, but I really liked his recent one-shot Angel Special: Lorne. The issue is intended as a memorial to Andy Hallett, the actor who played Lorne for several years and who died in 2009. The main story concerns three primordial entities named Discord, Disharmony, and Cacophony--beings who desire to destroy the planet by disrupting what Aristotle called "The Music of the Spheres." Even with the help of Angel, Groo, and Illyria, Lorne has to sacrifice himself to stop the entities--thus, the story is intended as an in-continuity explanation for why IDW plans to keep Lorne out of the main Angel comic for the foreseeable future as a sign of respect for Hallett's passing. A nice editorial by IDW's editor-in-chief explains the move. The book also has a shorter Lorne story that Byrne wrote for a previous Angel comic, an essay by the actor who played Groo and was a good friend of Hallett's, and several photos of the man. It's a pricey book at $ 7.99, but at least a portion of the proceeds are donated to the American Red Cross.

Star Wars Saga Edition Critical Fumble Table

Due to popular demand (okay, one request), here's the custom-made Critical Fumble Table I used in the Saga Edition Clone Wars campaign.

Roll d100

1-3 Stumble and off balance, no attack next round
4-5 Hit Ally, Double Damage
6-10 Weapon drops, 1d8 meters, 1d8 direction
11-15 Slip & fall on ground
16-17 Backpack splits, everything drops to the ground
18-20 1d6 carried explosives detonate
21-25 Weapon shorts out/cracks (DC 20 Repair)
26-27 Background Struck, causing inconvenient obstacle
28-30 Off-Balance, All opponents w/ line of sight get free attack
31-35 Weapon falls & wedged somewhere (DC 20 Str.)
36-40 Hit self/Get Hit, 1d6 damage & lost teeth
41-45 Hit self/Get Hit, 4d6 damage & broken/blasted arm (no rifles/2 hand weapons)
46-50 Hit self/Get Hit, 6d8 damage & broken/blasted leg (speed=1)
51-55 Blinded by blood or flash for rest of combat
56-60 Hit nearest ally, normal damage
61-65 Hit self/Get Hit in Face--2d6 damage & scarring
66-70 Hit self/Get Hit deaf 1d4 days (possible weapon explosion)
71-75 Pathetic Miss, Opponents Mock (2 steps down on track)
76-80 Slip & fall, knocked out 1d6 rounds
81-85 Weapon destroyed permanently
86-88 Hit self, normal damage
89-90 Hit Self, Double Damage
91-95 Roll Twice
96-98 Hit Ally, Triple Damage
99-100 Hit Self, Triple Damage

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Fantastic Four: World's Greatest Heroes [T.V. Review]


There's so much comic-book inspired movies and t.v. shows that it's hard to keep up with them all. I hadn't heard anything about the first (and only) season of the Fantastic Four: World's Greatest Heroes animated series when I saw it on sale for $ 20 and decided to pick it up. I'm somewhat surprised to say it's really good and I wish they would have made more. Although the artwork is a little hard to get used to (Sue's pointy chin for starters), the show has a really nice sense of humor about itself and, although it uses a lot of classic elements of the Fantastic Four comics, it puts just enough of a spin on them to keep things fresh.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

City of the Beast (Planet Stories # 2)


On Grognardia, I've been reading a lot recently about Paizo's Planet Stories series, which is a line of classic fantasy and science-fiction novels (most from the 1950s to 1970s). The books come out bi-monthly and subscriptions are available, though so far I've just picked up several of the novels in used book stores.

The first one I read was Michael Moorcock's City of the Beast. Moorcock is a famous fantasy writer (especially with his Elric stories), but this is the first time I've ever actually read one of his books. City of the Beast (originally titled Warriors of Mars) has a refreshing simplicity to it, insofar as it is very much straight-up heroic adventure. Except for a framing sequence, it's told from the first-person point of view of a character named Michael Kane. A modern-day physicist (who just happens to be an expert swordsman and military tactician), Kane is transported by accident to the Mars of thousands of years ago--a world which is a lush, fantastic place full of strange creatures, civilizations, and quasi-scientific technology. Kane immediately falls in love with a native princess named Shizala and goes on an epic quest to rescue her when she's kidnapped by a race of blue-skinned giants named the Argzoon. In other words, this is the story of a guy fighting monsters to rescue a princess: it is Super Mario Bros: The Novel. I say that facetiously, as it's fun to read a fantasy novel that is straight-forward and fast-moving (it weighs in at just over 150 pages) and that doesn't carry with it dozens of subplots and hundreds of characters. As much as I like the layered myth-making and deep characterization in stories like The Wheel of Time, a book like City of the Beast offers a nice change of pace.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Torchwood: In the Shadows


Joseph Lidster's In the Shadows (an original Torchwood audio book) contains a few good ideas, but on the whole the production is more annoying than it is entertaining. The plot involves a religious zealot who receives in the mail a book of matches labelled "Lucifer." The zealot soon discovers that striking a match sends someone he perceives as a sinner to "Hell" (an extradimensional space where time travels much faster than normal), and he goes around like a serial killer punishing the wicked. The idea's not bad and there's some nice atmosphere, but some flaws in the execution really undermine the story. First, the serial killer has the incredibly cliched habit of humming a children's nursery rhyme in a slow, "creepy" way. This was repeated to the point of nausea. Second, the origin of the Lucifer matches is never explained (there's some speculation it may have been an experiment by the now-defunct Torchwood One, but why test the device out by mailing it to an unsuspecting stranger?). Third, the story ends with another cliche, the "this killer has been stopped, but there's another one out there!" ending. And finally, Eve Myles butchers the recording by trying (and failing miserably) to give Captain Jack an "authentic" American accent that actually comes out as a weird, strained, cracking nasal falsetto that most closely resembles a middle-aged blue collar guy doing an impression of the Queen of England. That last line might not make any sense, but trust me it's bad.

Shout out to Nebraska Steve: Your first and last name is the same as the opening murder victim in the story!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Torchwood Magazine # 20


Here's a few of the things I noticed in the most recent issue of Torchwood Magazine:

* An ironic news blurb "Fox Orders Torchwood Pilot Script." Didn't take the network long to decide, did it?

* The announcement of a Torchwood short story contest. I received this issue with just a few days before the deadline, and was thinking about scrambling something together when I read the fine print and learned you have to be a resident of the U.K. But I'm a citizen of the world! Once again the literary fame which is my due has eluded me.

* A short story titled "Happy New Year" by Sarah Pinborough, a Ianto-focused story which features everyone's favorite tea boy investigating another one of those ubiquitous "spikes in Rift energy". An elderly man has stumbled upon an alien device, and it seems to be literally growing a doppelganger from his body. The story has an interesting and original outcome, one that fits with Torchwood's darker tone (even though it has a mostly-happy ending).

* A very off-beat comic strip ("Fated to Pretend") about flesh-eating 19th Century French zombies taking over a present-day prison in Cardiff (turns out Jack had a fling with one of them at the Moulin Rouge). I'm not sure what to think about the story (maybe a bit too fantasy for my taste?), but the artwork by Steve Yeowell is much better than previous strips.

As a complete aside, it really is remarkable how much current pop culture is about either zombies or vampires. Twenty-second century literary historians are going to look back at this period with all kinds of interesting theories about what this means about our society . . .

* A novel feature about Torchwood fans who dress up like the characters from the show for fun. The thing about shows like Torchwood, Buffy, X-Files, etc. is that the characters don't really have costumes or uniforms, so wearing an exact replica of what a character from one of the shows wears won't result in anything different than regular clothing. (Seriously. Try going as Ianto or Agent Mulder for Halloween; without some special prop, people are going to assume you just got out of a meeting and didn't have time to put on a costume).

* Another short story titled "Photo Finish" that I'm not convinced makes a lot of sense. Bear with me: an alien ship has come through the Rift and crash landed. The ship is out of fuel, and apparently is powered by the energy of organic things. To re-fuel the ship, little blue monkey-sized alien creatures go around and trick people into posing for photos with them (charging them two pounds apiece for the privilege), but the camera not only takes real photos (which the aliens duly turn over), it is also a device (disguised by a perception filter) that reads the energy signature of the humans. Later, those energy signatures are fed into the ship's techno-organic computers and the human beings are sucked dry from a distance, their life force being used to refuel the ship. Okay. Why the hell would the aliens want to pose with their potential victims? Why would they give those victims photographs, thus leaving evidence of their very alien-ness? Why would they charge people for photos? Why wouldn't they just take "photos" (energy readings) of random people sitting on a park bench or restaurant and avoid all this trouble?
In case you're wondering, the aliens capture Jack and try to feed his life energy into the ship, but he has so much of it the ship overloads and blows up. Now, I leave to vomit.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Consequences [Torchwood]


Consequences is the fifteenth and (for the foreseeable future) last book in the Torchwood novel line. It's very different than its predecessors because it's a collection of five short stories by different authors. A very loose thread ties a couple of the stories together.

The Baby Farmers by David Llewellyn is a really good story set in Victorian-era Torchwood, as Jack (a freelance operative at the time) and other members of the organization investigate a mysterious ship-turned-children's orphanage named HMS Hades. There's something akin to an origin story for the infamous Blowfish aliens here, and more development of the other Victorian-era characters. I'm a sucker for seeing Torchwood in this time period, and this is definitely a story worth reading.

Sarah Pinborough's Kaleidoscope takes place just after the end of Season One, when Jack has suddenly disappeared and the other members of Torchwood are left in the lurch. They begin arguing amongst themselves over who should be the new leader (Tosh, according to regulations) when (as often happens) sensors in the Hub pick up strange energy spikes in the Rift. Torchwood gets on the trail of a piece of alien technology that turns people into idealized versions of themselves. The investigation leads to a really rather sad story about an abused boy.

The Wrong Hands by Andrew Cartmel starts out with an interesting hook: the bodies of drug dealers are turning up in Cardiff, sliced neatly in two with cauterized wounds (like a lightsaber!). The bulk of this story (set after Tosh & Owen's deaths) takes place in and around the estates ("the projects" for American readers), and features an interesting and unique villain: a stranded alien baby with the power to control people's minds.

Virus by James Moran takes place just hours after The Wrong Hands, and involves the team being attacked by the alien baby's father, out for revenge. Xeno-Pappy injects Gwen and Jack with a paralytic virus--leaving Ianto to single-handedly save the day by dealing with (and going Rambo on) a group of black marketeers who hold the antidote. It's a nice gift to help assuage the legion of Ianto fans who are still mourning after Children of Earth.
Finally, we have Consequences by Joseph Lidster. In a nice piece of continuity, this story involves a mysterious book briefly seen in the first story in this collection. It also features a bittersweet arc for a supporting character named Nina Rogers, a young college student who has appeared in several previous Torchwood novels as the witness to some of the many strange things that always seem to happen in Cardiff.

Overall, this was a strong collection of stories, much better than the stuff that appears in Torchwood Magazine. I'd like to see more Torchwood books, especially if they are willing to be more flexible on the time period and geographical setting.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Law, Non-Linear Racialization, and Asymmetrical Hierarchies in the American West: An Ode to Manifest Destinies


Today's spin on the roulette wheel of the Random Law Review came up on Robert F. Castro, Law, Non-Linear Racialization, and Asymmetrical Hiearchies in the American West: An Ode to Manifest Destinies, 10 Rutgers Race & L. Rev. 469 (2009). I didn't realize until I started reading that this is actually an extended book review ("book review essay" in law review parlance), so I'll probably exclude them from future editions of the Random Law Review. Anyway, the book under review here (Laura Gómez's Manifest Destinies: The Making of the Mexican American Race) does sound like an interesting read. The book talks about the historical treatment of Mexicans by the United States, with a special focus on how various political and legal concepts served to racialize Mexicans (and U.S. citizens of Mexican descent) in ways that share some similarities with but extreme differences from the way African-Americans and Native Americans were (and are) racialized. Castro's review is quite favorable, and Gómez's book sounds like a solid bet for anyone interested in the subject.

Older Adults Project

I spent part of my time this past academic year working for the Law Commission of Ontario on its Older Adults Project. It was an interesting and eye-opening experience to learn about many of the challenges faced by people over 65. My work focussed on older adults in institutional settings like nursing homes, and I researched issues such as smoking bans, dementia-related resident-on-resident violence, and conjugal relationships. After spending three years on blasphemy, it was also kind of fun to get my feet wet in a whole different area of law, and it reminded me a lot of the sort of work I used to do for the ACLU and the CCLA. I'm a big believer in permanent law reform commissions which can undertake a thorough and comprehensive review of various aspects of the legal system--it's a shame the federal commission has been treated so shabbily in recent years.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Called Away

I'm out of town for the next several days, so there may not be any posts for a bit.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Clone Wars Campaign: Recap # 36

This session began with another "cut-scene" for Arresta, this time taking place at a fancy club (with tango music in the background). I ran Stefan as an NPC, and two of the players ran Bel Sekand (making his first appearance in quite some time) and a Jedi named Kasa. The scene reinforced to the players' minds just how cold-hearted Stefan could be, and the guy running Bel Sekand did such a great job that we brought the character back several times. This scene also is the first mention that Stefan has an obligation to help retake Mongui for Jocasta, and that Jocasta is spending a lot of money for something happening on Arkania. The first clue would lead into the next story arc, while the second still remains mysterious . . .

The regular part of the session, with the characters fighting room-by-room through a heavily-defended office complex, was probably the closest I've come to the Star Wars equivalent of a dungeon crawl. It was an action packed session, and the ending is something we still laugh about today. Basically, the PCs found themselves up against a foe who was kicking their asses (a Jedi Hunter/Killer droid from the novel The Cestus Deception) and decided to have their demolitions expert, Daal, pack dozens and dozens of grenades onto a protocol droid and send it in to kill the battle droid. It was a good plan, but they completely forgot to get any distance separating themselves from the massive explosion, and everyone ended up in negative or single digit hit points (except for the one character who had Evasion). Couple this explosion (which lit up the skyline of the city) and the explosion in the next story arc (involving a nuclear reactor) and I have the LEAST SUBTLE PCs EVER!

Great fun!

Update (July 26, 2012):  Added two brief previously secret scenes: Daal perhaps finding an ally against Jocasta and Arresta and Stefan agreeing that to abandon Mongui for a life elsewhere.

SESSION #36

Negotiations between the Republic and Cestus Cybernetics have taken a surprising turn: Jedi Knight A’tel Por’ten has agreed to return to the family business once the assault on the Separatist-occupied Joriander Beacon is concluded. However, with Garit Por’ten in critical condition, the location of the Beacon still not safely in hand, and the circulation of rumours that rival corporations have entered the fray, this fragile success could still be undone . . .

Following his "training exercise" on Rhinnal, Stefan Cassadine has convinced his wife that he would never risk their baby, which has partly mollified her anger. Sensing that she is still somewhat distressed, he proposes to make it up to her with a romantic evening out. He tells her to wear something sexy – and when she asks if she should be armed, he responds only with a smile.

The Knife’s Edge docks with a pleasure cruiser and the Cassadines come on board and enter an elaborate ballroom with a well-stocked bar and a live band on a floating platform. With sultry tango music in the background, they take to the dance floor. As they move in time to the music, Arresta share intelligence on Jocasta, revealing that she is investing heavily on the planet Arkania. Stefan tells his wife that in order to fully discharge the debt he incurred to Jocasta for information on Arresta's whereabouts, he must retake Mongui (now ruled by Purity First) and make it available to Jocasta for a short period of time. He proposes to Arresta that afterwards, they can rule the planet, not as Regents but as King and Queen, securing an important legacy for their daughter. Arresta is aghast and questions him about the role her sister Corinne will play in this plan. He explains that Arresta is meant to befriend her sister, gain intel and contacts with her resistance group on Mongui, and then eliminate her. Arresta protests and he assures her that he only wants her to experience the unique elation he felt the day he slit his own father’s throat.

Arresta recalls the vision she was shown while in the Anomaly, of a possible future with herself as Queen of Mongui, turning a bound and beaten Tarn Tamarand over to a mysterious figure in black body armour. She doesn’t mention this to Stefan, but does tell him the she has no interest in ruling Mongui and is vehemently opposed to this plan.

At that moment, the doors to the ballroom open and Bel Sekand, who orchestrated Arresta’s kidnapping and disposal as a “prize” on Ansion, enters the room with two ladies by his side. Stefan points him out to Arresta and, telling her that the security cameras have been turned off, suggests that she take her revenge. Meanwhile, Kasa, a young Gungan Jedi Knight, has been waiting for the notorious criminal mastermind Bel Sekand to arrive. Kasa attempts to take Sekand into custody. While they talk, Sekand summons his bodyguards. The Cassadines approach and Bel and Stefan exchange veiled threats. Eventually, Kasa makes arrangements with Sekand to delay his arrest until the end of the evening (out of concern that innocent bystanders will fall prey to any exchange of weapons fire).

Having returned to their table, Stefan and Arresta argue again, as he suggests that to gain the knowledge she wanted in fighting force users, she should attempt to eliminate Kasa. Arresta refuses, telling her husband that sometimes she wonders if he knows her at all. When Bel Sekand approaches and invites her to dance, she accepts, much to Stefan’s displeasure.

While they dance, Stefan approaches Bel’s female companions and engages them in conversation. Suspicious, Bel decides to return to them, but not before he dips Arresta in dramatic fashion and kisses her cheek – causing her watching husband to smash a glass in his bare hand.

While Arresta tends to her husbands’ injured hand and chides him to control his jealousy, one of Sekand’s lady friends suddenly collapses in convulsions. Paramedics arrive and she is rushed away. Sekand sends his other companion home and heads towards Stefan Cassadine. Kasa instructs the bartender to sound the fire alarm, sending the other innocent patrons out of harm's way.

Sekand accuses Stefan of poisoning his companion, which Cassadine denies with a smirk. Weapons are drawn and although her husband encourages her to stay back, Arresta draws her own blaster pistol and remains at his side. Sekand fires first, but the blaster bolt goes awry. An instant later, Bel is not so lucky. He is slashed across the face by Stefan’s poisoned dagger and although he manages to withstand the effects of the Malkite toxin, he is then snap-kicked by a spike-heel wearing Arresta, and hit by a point-blank blaster shot.

Kasa successfully persuades Sekand’s bodyguards to abandon him and then convinces the wounded crimelord that discretion, in this case surrender to his custody, is the prudent choice. He then confirms that the Cassadines have permits for their weapons and takes both of their identities down for his report.
Sekand allows himself to be led away, calling out threats to Stefan. Alone again, Arresta asks her husband if she should be concerned that the injuries suffered by Sekand’s “friend” will incriminate him, but he assures her that he used an untraceable biodegradable substance. With that excitement over with, he leads her back onto the dance floor, and they continue their evening without further distraction


Later, back on board the Knife’s Edge, Arresta seduces her husband, trying to persuade him that once they get Jocasta what she needs on Mongui, they can abandon the planet to Corinne or anyone else. When he asks her what she does want, she tells him that she wants him to be happy, that she wants Allegra to be safe and that she doesn’t want them to be tied down to a planet with a plethora of responsibilities. Whether for his own ends, or due to his wife’s feminine wiles, Stefan agrees. “Very well, Pet, we’ll do it your way. We’ll discharge my debt to Jocasta and then we’ll leave Mongui – and you and me and our daughter will travel as we see fit. And wherever we go, we’ll set the galaxy on fire….”


Far off, in the Corporate Sector on the capital planet of Etti IV, Daal accesses the mainframe at what his co-workers call the "ARC"--the "Anomaly Research Center", which they think is owned by one of the major interstellar corporations based on the planet. Daal realizes that the mainframe has compiled the first dribbles of information about the Anomaly's energy signature, which may eventually be of some use in tracking it. As he continues analyzing the information, Daal notices on a holovid monitor that a news crawl indicates an explosion at Cestus Cybernetics and the wounding of a man named Por'ten. Daal comlinks Doxen and learns that, although A'tel is okay, the Jedi may be in over his head and that the Duro's services would be extremely helpful. Before leaving the mainframe, Daal decides to try and encrypt the data so that only he'll have access to it--unfortunately, an extremely sophisticated anti-slicing program manages to narrowly avert his attempt. On his way out of the facility, Daal encounters the man whom Jocasta claims is his father. The elder Duro says that he ran a DNA test, confirming their relationship, and wonders why Balan changed his face, because he looks like a Stranger. Daal is still suspicious and takes his leave, stating that he'll return in about a week.


While in a robohack bound for Cestus headquarters, he receives a text-only message on his comlink from an anonymous source inviting him to meet "in order to get revenge on Jocasta."  Daal ignores the message.


At Cestus headquarters, A’tel Por’ten prepares for his first press conference as the Acting EXO of Cestus Cybernetics and Viceprex--Licensing of Cybot Galactica. He is aided by the head of company Public Relations, Lily Stiles. She informs him that a press release is being prepared, explaining how Garit was injured saving two small children from a malfunctioning Republic-made droid. While planning to retrieve the data cube with the Beacon coordinates, Doxen and Ms. Prentiss realize how tight security is for Garit's private office and that without Garit, they cannot get the access that they need. Doxen asks Ms. Prentiss to draw up paperwork for A’tel to sign, allowing them to bring in a sub-contractor for 25,000 credits. Ms. Prentiss also files the required 24-hour off-planet departure notice, which means the shuttle will be authorized to lift off at approximately 4 p.m. tomorrow afternoon.

With his companions urging extreme caution, A’tel enters the chaos of the PR briefing and it goes well, although he is inundated with questions and has to face down Tochs Niarb, the EXO of IntelStar Ltd. – a rival corporation that Ms. Prentiss tells him also wants control of the Joriander Beacon. Doxen is furious when one of the reporters insists on asking A’tel what species his furry “pet” belongs to.

After the briefing, A’tel realizes that Garit's majordomo, Regulus Trotter, is missing. A check by Ms. Prentiss reveals he is about to board a starliner and they head off to stop him. Trotter is stopped at the starport with seconds to spare and, after a blubbering crying fit, reveals that he sold classified intel on Cestus security procedures to an anonymous buyer. Ms. Prentiss is able to back-trace the deposit made to Trotter's account and learns it was made by IntelStar. She turns Trotter over to her superior at the Auditor General's office so that an official investigation can begin. She and A’tel then travel to an Espo precinct in a distant suburb of Mondder in order to file an application to have the Jedi's lightsaber classified as a "religious artifact" that can be legally carried within the Sector.

Meanwhile, Aaray heads for the shuttle in order to use its transceiver to contact the Majestic. While walking down a crowded plaza, he notices a familiar face--his own! Aaray chases after the Clone, and after a long pursuit catches up to him at a labourers' tenement house. A handful of Clones are there living together, but all but one of them are spooked by Aaray's sudden arrival and they bolt. The remaining Clone explains that he's a runaway, dissatisfied with how the Republic treats Clones as property and orders them into battle with little concern for their well-being or future. Aaray agrees not to turn in the deserters and even promises to send them information on a potential sanctuary where they can learn about their Mandalorian heritage . . .

When Aaray reaches the shuttle, he finds Espos waiting and attempting to gain access for a parking violation. Ms. Prentiss, whom he immediately contacts, finds this highly suspicious and is able to keep the Espos at bay. She arranges for a junior officer from her department to investigate further.

Late in the evening, Daal, Doxen, A’tel and Ms. Prentiss meet outside the secure offices of Garit Por’ten. They attempt to fool the security droid into letting them in by putting together looped footage of Garit, but they cannot supply the vocal password that is also required. Garit’s voice comes over the comm system in a pre-recorded message which taunts his brother and promises danger to come. Daal manages to rewire the door controls to gain entry, but the security systems are now on high alert.
In the first hallway, laser beams block access to a locked door leading to the security monitoring room. Daal is able to fashion a series of improvised grenades, removing many of the deadly beams. With them out of the way, they are able to break through the door. However, on the other side, they face several Cortosis-armored battle droids, whose special synthetic plating temporarily deactivates lightsabers after every strike. Doxen creates a distraction and Daal tries his droid jammer.
Unfortunately, it has no effect and A’tel (with his lightsaber) and Ms. Prentiss (with her sonic blaster and energy shield) must take the droids out in direct combat. With them out of the way, Daal and Ms. Prentiss activate the security computer and use the scanners to check adjoining rooms. They learn that the outer ceremonial office is guarded by two motion-activated e-web blasters, but the security grid for each room is locked down and unsliceable. After Daal is blasted by the e-webs while testing their effectiveness, the group explores other routes to Garit's inner sanctum.

[A.G. 967]

A’tel and Doxen explore the reception area and are exposed to a psychotropic gas, which makes A’tel extremely anxious and Doxen (even more) paranoid. Doxen barricades himself in the security office, warning the others to stay away, while the Jedi begins to attack the wall to the corridor outside Garit's private office with his lightsaber, desperate to cut his way through. Eventually, the psychotically paranoid Doxen escapes to the turbolift shaft and A’tel gets through the wall, with some help from Daal and his grenades. The corridor beyond, leading to Garit’s private office, is also booby-trapped. Acid sprays from the ceiling and the hallway is guarded by an illegal and deadly Jedi Hunter-Killer Droid (containing a Force-sensitive dashta eel), a carry over from the company scandal on Ord Cestus. The team temporarily retreats.

Daal gets word from his protocol droid that several men shrouded in grey (matching the description of the men the others fought previously at the starport) have managed to penetrate the lobby's security perimeter and are making their way into the offices. Doxen manages to kill one in the turbolift shaft with improvised weapons, but three more of the Grey Men attack the remaining team members. The unarmed Daal and the lightly-armed Ms. Prentiss try to help A'tel fend off the attackers. It's a long and brutal fight, but eventually the Grey Men are destroyed, with the self-immolation vests leaving no trace they were every there. The team presumes that they were working for IntelStar and were also here to gain the coordinates to the Beacon. Although the battle is won, none of the team escape unscathed.
Finally, the psychotropic gas wears off and A’tel and Doxen regain their faculties. The group debates for some time how to handle the deadly Jedi Hunter-Killer Droid. They ultimately decide that they will load a labour droid up with twenty-four improvised grenades, send it in to the corridor, and remotely detonate the explosives from a distance the moment the Hunter-Killer droid attacks. However, the Hunter-Killer senses their plan and flings the bomb-laden labour droid away. Doxen gathers his courage and shows surprising strength in lifting and pushing the now mostly-defunct labour droid towards the rapidly approaching Hunter-Killer. The instant that Doxen leaps away around the corner, Daal triggers the grenades, setting off a staggering explosion which incinerates the Hunter-Killer and sends a massive fireball spewing towards A’tel, Daal and Ms. Prentiss.

When the smoke clears, they are one acid-filled corridor away from their goal: the private office and the presumed location of the data cube pinpointing the Joriander Beacon. The cost is high though, as Daal is severely hurt in the blast, A'tel is barely conscious, and Ms. Prentiss lies perilously close to death.

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