CatH Post 87 opens with Clear being led from the hospital by Pully and guarded by the ST Clan member, Falcon Zac. Falcon Zac takes his role very seriously and he is constantly suspicious of everything around him and his ward. Added to his suspicions are Pully's suspicions of Dhaeriend do'Ziikin who has joined Clear's group on the basis that he was bored. Clear is approached by Ambassador Gwynne of the High Empire as she reveals that scans made by Kalor Varkesh in the Deep Void indicate that The Hopeful once belonged to the High Empire and was on an integral mission. Though initially hostile, thinking Gwynne wanted the ship, when Clear realises that they just want an artefact from the ship, she permits an exchange. When Gwynne describes the tall obelisk, Clear instantly remembers the mysterious obelisk hidden aboard one of the ship's rooms. Gwynne reveals that the ship was bound for Earth with the obelisk but was stranded in orbit around Mars before it could reach its destination. Clear doesn't give Gwynne an answer straight away and needs time to consider what she could get from the High Empire, instead she spends her time eating teacakes with Ohqeanos Simon in the Earth Embassy.
Pully carries Clear's bag as the two leave the hospital. Clear walks slowly, still showing signs of discomfort from her fight but the remainder of her healing can be done at home and not hogging a hospital bed. As they exit the ward the current ST Clan bodyguard steps in tow with a quick;
Falcon Zac: "Welcome back to the land of the living, Ambassador."
Clear has spent most of her life since meeting important people demanding that people not grant her titles. With these mercenaries, however, she feels compelled to stick with the title. She doesn't want to be on friend name basis with these people. Clear nods at the human and otherwise ignores him.
Pully guides her out of the hospital where they find a bench to give the salmitton a brief rest. Even when pumped full of bacta Clear's body is reluctant to get back to business as usual. As she and Pully sit there, Falcon Zac starts to walk around them in a square formation where he pauses at each corner survey the area. Clear restrains her annoyance at being guarded, as though she couldn't take care of herself. Yet she also knows she has come through on pure luck many a time, including this last brush with danger, so she lumps their presence.
The man himself has been on duty several times since Clear has been hospitalised. Each shift the current clan member would enter her ward room and make the exchange in front of her, so she would always know who was on duty. The other patients in the ward were often both intimidated and fairly entertained by the happening. Most of the group are kitted out in technology that seems to cater for every conceivable possibility. Falcon Zac's entire right arm is covered in cybernetic enhancements - like an arm-length PIP. While so many people have been miniaturising down to watch PIPs and the like, these guys had just been going against the grain. She notices that he mutters something from time to time, obviously signalling his status back to his command.
Since coming under their protection, Clear has learnt that there are many such 'honourable mercenary' groups on the Cosmic Nullius. The problem with the society here is that there's no overarching jurisdiction - there's no one ruling civilisation and therefore no one code of laws. What is legal within the boundaries of the Earth embassy may be illegal within the boundaries of the Jovian embassy. There's no military personnel to be found on official duty outside of their designated embassies. Apparently the guardsmen of the Alliance were only allowed to interfere in the Jovian embassy because Clear was the target involved. Had she been Jupiterian, they would have had to leave her to her fate.
Clear suspects this is a recipe for a thriving black market but since the Nullius is in its infancy, such criminal rackets have yet to firmly established. She suspects her attempted abduction may have even helped stall such syndicates in the future but she doubts it will last long. She just hopes that the nature of the Nullius itself will prevail over the probable criminal element.
Pully helps Clear back to her feet and they continue their slow march through the open-air walkways. They meander down onto a promenade that runs alongside a river that leads to the ocean. On the other side of the river is a fairly tall mountain, strategically placed by the designers of the landscape, where she can make out a hot spring towards its peak. There's a dark shroud around the mountain that appears as a greay-black, hazy sphere. The darkness is being projected to simulate the sensation of evening time and the air would likely be chilled to maximise the effect of the hot spring.
Clear: "We are so going up there to visit tomorrow, Pully."
Pully: "I'm up for that. Do you think Rui-Rho can get into the water, or would she fizzle?"
Clear: "Poor robot. I still don't understand why she wants to follow us around. Surely she can do better business without us?"
Pully: "Why is he hanging around? I mean, we all have our reasons to be aboard The Hopeful. I was assigned to you and sided with you. Lumo is captaining The Unbroken. Pashna needs your help to get his new world. Green worships the ground you walk on... but why is this guy stalking us now?"
Clear: "Boredom he said."
Pully gives her a dubious look. It's a little unsettling as in that frown and thin-lipped grimace she sees Pully's old face. Sometimes Clear forgets she ever had a different face and other times Clear forgets and is momentarily startled to see this stranger looking at her.
Clear: "I don't know. I really don't. He seems harmless enough."
Pully: "Yeah, well, he hasn't shown himself to be of any use to us yet and, really, we should be more careful about who we trust. What if those orions offered this Dhae guy some cash to turn you over? Would he do it? How can we know? We don't even know the guy."
Someone on a hoverbike whirls by with the familiar whooping sound of its engine. Clear watches it go by while her brain settles on what to say. Falcon Zac watches the bike too, though it may have been with suspicion than Clear's idle curiosity. His short cape picks up and billows in the displaced rush of air as the bike goes by before it then gently settles down again. He then glances around, probably checking that the bike wasn't a diversion, his rifle poised.
Clear: "You're more suspicion than most, aren't you Zac?"
Falcon Zac: "Ever been locked in the trunk of a vehicle?"
Falcon Zac: "And I'll make sure you never have the experience."
Clear: "Thank... you..."
Falcon Zac: "Let's just say it's cramped, dark, hot, next to no oxygen and no toilet."
Clear: "Sorry, let me rephrase. Thank you, Falcon Zac. Happy now?"
Pully: "Actually, Falcon-guy, do you guys do security checks on people?"
Falcon Zac: "Sure."
Pully: "Can you do it for members of our group?"
Falcon Zac: "Sure. Someone is probably already doing it anyway. Anyone in the ambassador's orbit gets a background check."
Pully: "Lemme know what turns up. Especially about that drow character."
Falcon Zac: "Suspicious one that."
Pully looks sidelong at Clear.
Pully: "See? Not just me!"
Clear: "He probably thinks your pants are suspicious."
Falcon Zac looks Pully up and down.
Falcon Zac: "They are coloured teal. Teal is a sinister colour..."
Pully: "Check out the comedy genius on this guy."
He gives a smirk. He has a wide, large-lipped mouth that appears highly animated. He hair is shaved short, showing dark prickles of hair on his head and face. He's not very tall, but his red, leather, military boots give him an extra couple of inches. Clear is pretty sure the brand is Dr Martens[Ext 1], judging by the yellow stitching of the sole. A fashion conscious mercenary of all things. At least they're a style of boot Clear has always approved of - perfect for parading around the wastelands of Mars.
Here on the Cosmic Nullius, however, she's better off with the soft slippers that are currently on her feet.
She even thinks his entire getup looks like it would have been perfect for Mars. He has a brown, suede bomber jacket - complete with sheepskin around the lapels. He is just missing eye protection and a scarf. She might have asked him if he has done any scavenging in his life, but she doesn't want to get too attached to someone only paid to be there.
The rest of their conversation mostly consists of idle speculation over the motivations of Dhaeriend do'Ziikin, ranging from him being a spy for the Jupiterian government to him being a secret fanboy of Clear's that has a creepy stalker infatuation and is probably in Clear's room sniffing her knickers. Clear requests that someone from the ST Clan double check that nobody has been in her room after Pully came up with that particular theory. Eventually they reach the Earth embassy where Pully shows her a recent expansion to the grounds, mostly being a new plot of lawn, where Clear's very own Martian consulate will be. Clear is surprised to feel a sudden elation at this. She knows it's not because of her own sense of glory over the matter but the fact that, finally, her world will gain some honour.
Clear: "They better not colour it red."
Pully: "Why would they colour it red?"
Clear: "Seriously? You humans see me and think, red. And so everything associated with me is suddenly red this and red that."
Pully: "HA! Maybe I don't get that since I know you're blue where--"
Clear slaps Pully's arm. The other woman laughs but keeps that information to herself. Falcon Zac only gives them a cursory quizzical glance and doesn't get Pully's implication. Instead he marches out onto the lawn and kneels down to check the ground. Clear rolls her eyes.
Clear: "Looking for landmines?"
Falcon Zac: "I'm paid to check stuff. So I check stuff."
He stands up again.
Falcon Zac: "Prime astroturf. I guess it'll be replaced with real grass once the building is done. It's easy to set this stuff on fire though..."
Clear: "Conspiracies round every corner, eh?"
Falcon Zac: "You'd be surprised. There was this one guy who was almost murdered because someone poisoned his toothpaste. Another guy was almost murdered by a snake in the bed."
Clear: "Does that mean you're going to check my toothpaste and bed before I sleep?"
Falcon Zac: "Already done."
Clear: "Good grief."
Falcon Zac: "Having quarters in the embassy helps though. There are guards and cameras everywhere so we can monitor the access points to your room."
Pully: "Didn't help much in the Jupiterian embassy, did it?"
Falcon Zac: "The orions bribed all the guards involved. Besides..."
He gives that cocky smirk.
Falcon Zac: "You didn't have the ST Clan watching your back then."
Woman: "And it seems you'll be needed since Kaptin Kwanza escaped!"
They turn to see a woman approaching from the Earth embassy, her tall, knee-height boots, clopping over the cobblestone path leading across the zone.
Clear: "What? Seriously? How!?"
Before she could respond to Clear, Falcon steps between them.
Falcon Zac: "Identify yourself, lady."
Clear: "She's the ambassador from the High Empire, Zac."
The woman gestures a palm to Clear and gives Falcon Zac a 'listen to her' look. He stands a moment longer.
Falcon Zac: "Got any paperwork to prove that?"
Clear: "Okay, now you're being stupid."
Falcon Zac: "Could be a Jupiterian in disguise. You never know."
Ambassador Gwynne: "That'd be a very talented Jupiterian to be able to guise themselves as someone else so flawlessly. Actually I've never heard of any Jupiterian being able to get it themselves to appear one hundred percent like someone else. It's not even possible. So. I am Ambassador Gwynne. Please shoo."
She wafts her hand at him.
He shifts aside reluctantly.
Clear: "How did he escape?"
Pully: "It doesn't take an ambassador to tell us this."
Ambassador Gwynne: "Quite right! I didn't come here to tell you that anyway. Just thought you'd be interested. I heard you were being released today so I thought I should come along and get an audience with you while I can. Sorry, I know I've got you standing out here like this -- you don't have an official ambassadorial suite yet and your friend, the admiral, said you wouldn't care where I met you so just meet you outside on the lawn and so that's where I am, I do hope it's okay, I know it's--"
Clear: "It's fine, it's fine!"
Pully: "And I thought Green liked to ramble on."
Ambassador Gwynne: "Oh! That's great! Okay, well--"
She looks around and waggles her briefcase pitifully.
Ambassador Gwynne: "I did bring some documents for you to see but, uh, there's no table so I suppose I'll just, uh, say it and you can take the documents later..."
She straightens her back so that she stands at her full height. It's not very impressive as she comes around just five feet. Only her tall, cat-like ears extend over her head height. The cut of her black, colonial style coat does give the illusion of extra height that, from a distance, might make her appear taller. But when standing up close to Clear, who is not very tall herself, Gwynne looks tiny. Even the tricord hat on her head doesn't add to her stature.
Clear grunts and shuffles past Gwynne without a word. Gwynne, surprised, then scurries after Clear.
Ambassador Gwynne: "Sorry, was I clear enough, ambassador? The Hopeful was once under the jurisdiction of the High Empire. According to the information collected by Kalor Varkesh during your last meeting, information on The Hopeful turned out to be critical and--"
Pully: "You picked a really bad day for this, cat-girl."
Ambassador Gwynne: "W-wait! The Hopeful was on a crucial mission when it was lost and--"
Clear: "You can't have it and that's the end of the story. I don't care whether the ship was once part of the army of your armpit, you ain't having it. Why not go and fight Jupiter over it? They also reckon it's theirs."
Ambassador Gwynne: "That shouldn't be a probelm--"
Pully: "Wow, gonna start an intergalactic war with the High Empire just for a broken, old ship?"
They reach the entrance to the embassy and Clear, not missing a stride, sweeps inside. Gwynne hesitates but, determined, pursues her inside.
Ambassador Gwynne: "If we had to, we would. For this vital artefact! But that's what I'm trying to inform you of, if you would take a moment to listen to me, we don't want to take the ship away from you, we need to examine it for signs of an artefact! The mission of the ship was to gather an artefact and return it to Earth! Your ship was--"
She dodges a door and Clear swings it open.
Ambassador Gwynne: "f-found in the Sol System so there's a good chance that it was successful in its duty and was about to complete its mission when something happened to strand it in orbit around your homeworld, that pretty, little red planet--"
Clear: "You really think calling Mars pretty is going to get you what you want?"
Despite Clear's words, she is secretly warming up to Gwynne all thanks to that little compliment. Nobody ever calls Mars pretty.
Ambassador Gwynne: "N-no! I just-- we need the artefact, ambassador. If we could just investigate the ship to see if the artefact is there, we shall never bother you again."
They burst into the ambassadorial suite for the Earth. Ohqeanos Simon almost spills his cup of coffee in surprise at the suddenness of the intrusion.
Clear: "If there was an artefact, I'd know about it."
Clear lies. There could be thousands of artefacts all over the gigantic ship as she's only ever been able to investigate a tiny percentage of the craft.
Ambassador Gwynne: "M-maybe you have found it and didn't realise? It would look like a tall obelisk--"
Clear's attention snaps.
Clear: "What will you give me for this thing?"
Ambassador Gwynne falters at the sudden change in mood. She blinks her large, yellow eyes.
Ambassador Gwynne: "W-well, we would relinquish our claim to the--"
Clear: "No way. You barely have a claim at all. Just because you say you owned it doesn't mean you did."
Ambassador Gwynne: "I do have the paperwork here--"
Clear: "High Imperial paperwork. It's worthless."
Ambassador Simon speaks quietly, without looking up from the book he's reading.
Ambassador Simon: "I'm not sure an intergalactic court would agree with you..."
Clear: "Quiet you. I didn't ask."
Pully: "Come on, cat-girl, you can do better than that. Your empire wants this obelisk thingy so badly, you can give us something in return."
Clear sits down on the sofa along with Pully. Falcon Zac hovers at the door while Gwynne stands around awkwardly as she hasn't been offered a seat by either of the Sol System ambassadors.
Ambassador Gwynne: "Yes. Yes I think we can provide you with ample reimbursement. What would you like? Money?"
Clear leans back on the sofa thoughtfully.
Clear: "I don't know yet. You have to give me time to think about it."
Ambassador Gwynne: "And in the meantime we could come over and try to--"
Ambassador Gwynne: "No? But--!"
Clear: "Let's assume that I might know what you're talking about. Might. So you'll be taken straight to the artefact once I've decided what my payment shall be."
The fioxlon woman considers.
Ambassador Gwynne: "Fine. Your reward will be ample so long as you allow us to take our artefact."
Clear leans over to the table where there's a few choice snacks laid out. She snatches up a teacake.
Clear: "Right now, it's my artefact."
Ambassador Gwynne: "But--!"
Clear: "It's been in my custody for many years now. I've kept it safe. That means it's mine. I'm willing to give it over to you and then it'll be yours."
Ambassador Simon speaks, again not looking up from his book.
Ambassador Simon: "Ambassador Clear seems to have a point..."
Ambassador Gwynne: "Quiet you!"
She then catches herself with an embarrassed gasp.
Ambassador Gwynne: "I am so sorry, Ambassador Simon! That just blurted out because I was thinking of Ambassador Clear's reaction and I couldn't help but imitate it without thinking! I didn't mean to do that, I am profusely sorry and I should never have--"
Clear: "It's fine! Wow. You do ramble on."
Pully: "Told you."
Ambassador Gwynne: "Very well. Please come to a decision soon. The faster we have our artefact secured, the faster the emperor will be pleased."
Clear: "Huh. The Highemperor himself wants it?"
Ambassador Gwynne: "Everything we do is in service to him."
Clear: "Alright. I promise I'll come to a decision by the end of the day. That good?"
Gwynne swells and grins.
Ambassador Gwynne: "Very much! Thank you for your understanding, Ambassador Clear. This transaction will satisfy both sides, I'm certain. I'll take my leave."
Ambassador Simon: "Ambassador Gwynne, please take a teacake with you."
He finally lowers the book and gestures to the cakes on the table.
Ambassador Simon: "Or perhaps a jam tart? I wouldn't recommend the twinkies though. Someone said they've gone bad and might send you loopy..."
Ambassador Gwynne: "Um..."
Uncertainly the young woman picks up the closest food, which happens to be a teacake, and looks at the human to check she chose well. He nods with a smile and she returns a quick nod and bids them farewell. Falcon Zac steps aside to allow her to exit but watches after her as she goes.
Pully: "Well that was a bizarre encounter."
Ambassador Simon: "You did seem a little mean to her..."
Clear: "She shouldn't have caught me on the day I come out of hospital. And definitely she shouldn't be claiming my ship as hers."
Ambassador Simon: "Still, a little more tact might be a good idea in future? You want as many friends as you can get, remember?"
Clear: "Suppose so. I'll be nicer to her next time."
Clear swings her feet up onto the coffee table. She ignores the indignant frown from Ohqeanos and munches on the teacakes.
Clear: "Can cat aliens even eat teacakes?"
Pully: "Can red aliens eat teacakes?"
Clear: "How droll you are."
Ohqeanos removed his thin-rimmed reading glasses and pockets them.
Ambassador Simon: "This biography seems rather loose with the facts, I expect. Should I ever meet this Dorian Gray person I'll have to separate truth from fiction."
Clear: "And why would you ever meet him?"
Ambassador Simon: "He's a friend of a friend."
He waggles the book at her.
Ambassador Simon: "But reading in general is good for the mind. Keeps it active. Did you read that book I sent to you?"
Clear: "What book?"
Ambassador Simon: "You didn't get it?"
Falcon Zac: "Sorry, it was taken by the ST Clan. It was screened by my PIP and registered dangerous substances. It was taken away to be burnt."
Ambassador Simon: "Wh-what substances!?"
Falcon Zac: "No idea. To be honest my PIP makes a lot of false positives because it was designed by drow, who are allergic to several harmless human substances like chocolate."
They all glance down at the teacakes.
Falcon Zac: "Yeah, that'll be it."
Clear: "Just great. Keep up the good work, boys!"
Falcon Zac taps his earpiece.
Falcon Zac: "Yo, Mabey, need a replacement copy of that book we burnt."
"Ohqeanos' comment on the twinkies making people go loopy is a reference to a past occurrence where Gebohq Simon was made insane from an age-old twinkie in NeS1 Post 155. He also suggests that he is a friend of a friend of Dorian Gray, who is Britt. The artefact that Ambassador Gwynne is after is one of the missing hedrons that Highemperor wants to use to control the Multiverse." ~ Britt the Writer