nd now...we open the box!
Seriously, first thing we did after the night gaunt and random death thing was pop open the box and look inside. We find a dagger, and I am informed that Yog-Sothoth calls and says it's the Eye of the Mahdi.
Yes, that Mahdi.
On the one hand, I'm impressed with his diligence in finding ever more messiah figures to absorb. On the other...Marty, everyone. Who needs cultural sensitivty when you've got ego?
Once we get it out, we learn that it is not, in fact, all that real of a dagger. It's a little jewelry dagger on a chain, made of "unknown, silvery metal" with two ribbons on the extended crossguard. On the ribbons were two short phrases in Marty's made-up font. We didn't translate them until later, but they read as such:
"Peace through Prosperity."
"Prosperity through Order."
Now, I'm not a political scientist, but this sounds just a touch totalitarian to me, not to mention plutocratic. This kind of reminds me of how my parents raised my sibling and I: the objective is not justice or fairness, but silence. Marty, though, adds a whole new dimension of classist tomfoolery by believing economic prosperity ensures peace. As we all know, only poor folks are ever unhappy with their government. That's why lobbyists went extinct.
Regardless, we didn't have the ribbons translated, but we did have this dagger thing. I wanted to find out what it was made of. Thus did we dive into Hell.
I wanted, first off, to mass spec the thing and see if it had enough carbon for radiometric dating so we could possibly find out if it was really old. That was more or less how I phrased the request: can we [do this cool science thing] to learn [this] -- and I do this partially to stop myself from leading my GM down a blind alley with analytical science. As much as I despise movie forensics, where one photogenic technician poking a roomful of blue-lit machinery can do the work of six people and read the murderer's hometown off of his shoelaces, I do like how it effectively turns objects into plot hooks, and I try to phrase my requests so that what I'm after at the end is immediately apparent and can be dealt with sans an understanding of the underlying science. If I can learn what I want, great. If the results are inconclusive or will take a while, that's cool too. I try to be specific in what I'm asking, but that doesn't mean I'm trying to befuddle or outsmart the GM. It's just my way of asking for more plot hooks in case we miss the obvious ones.
Not that Marty grasped that; as soon as I asked, his face was a perfect mask of confusion and fear before he started stammering out objections. Cael couldn't know about this. Blackspire didn't have anyone with a lab so equipped and none were for hire. No one made those machines anymore and they'd junked all the old ones. Radioactive material was banned from the NEG. (I don't think Marty knows how radiometric dating works.) On and on and on he went; I didn't mean, at all, to so affect him, but apparently he's petrified of mass spectrometry. Eventually he explained that the NEG had essentially outlawed science outside of the Ashcroft Foundation. There would be no labs available for hire and no "fancy technobabble you pull out of your ass" could solve anything for us. Okay then, home testing time.
We learn, in a nutshell, nothing. Its physical properties are almost totally random, although it is immune to everything. The only reaction we get from it occurs when Ian picks it up. It glows red when it's near an Authyr. We also attempted to distance it from Ian; it appears to return to being around an Authyr's neck.
Three guesses who this is for.
And GM!Marty confirmed it. Not in a straightforward sense, of course; he just did his usual i-can-see-how-you'd-think-that smirk and pointed out that we didn't know who Marty actually was. That was all the confirmation we needed.
Another problem emerged: Darya, actually, pointed out that it is called the EYE of the Mahdi. Eyes see things. We have an surveillance device of unknown purpose irremovably secured to the neck of our mage. Naturally, our first thought is that the Tagers clearly knew something about this (having confirmed that neither we nor the Internet do), so we ring up their Operator and try to arrange a meeting.
What we asked for was to speak to Phil, their Lorekeeper; I proposed sending or handing them a file to read and pass on to him detailing what we knew and having him see if he could make sense of it. We knew from Marty's description of what Lorekeepers do that they take security very seriously and don't often come out into the field. I had hoped that might be sufficiently secure. It was not. We were categorically denied any way to communicate with the person whose job it is to know things. Apparently even this sort of supervised, chaperoned penpalship was simply out of the question.
Failing that, then, we managed to arrange to meet with the Operator and those pack members who would be free that day. Toby's is a wreck "that the OIS is going over with a fine-toothed comb." We ask if we can meet somewhere a bit more surreptitious and without drunken crowds.
Park? There are "kinda like lawns, but nothing with trees." Abandoned buildings are all watched carefully by the OIS. Our apartments are "almost certainly bugged." The Tagers don't trust us enough to suggest a meeting outside the arcology. Hotel rooms are totally not safe, and we can't rent a conference room. Apparently "real businesses have their own buildings and small-timers just deal with it." Finally he says we can find a coffee shop. I guess we're meeting there then, fellows.
That night, I did the vision thing, this time holding the Eye in my hand during the process. It...helped. Four pages this time, sadly lost to a hard drive crash, but as usual only one paragraph mattered. Some "eyeless old crone" sitting in front of a hologram and telling someone unseen that "what happened in Nanjing was only a test. We need the Eye for full implementation. Retrieve it by any means necessary."
What followed was interesting. Nery's already sitting in a booth when we get there. I don't want coffee, so I sit and talk with her while the rest of them are getting their immense vats of coffee and donuts. As an aside, Marty ran the barista as a completely incompetent, catatonically lazy imbecile, because respect for people in service industries is just so passe.
Anyway, I took the opportunity to quickly lay out the issues. I phrased it like this:
"Here's what we need:
1. We know next to nothing about the dhohanoids. Anything you can tell us regarding their physiology could be invaluable in devising some kind of test.
2. We know absolutely nothing about you guys. I know you're probably loath to divulge information on your weaknesses, but if you have anything to distinguish you from normal humans, we can have our analysts ignore that so we can stop bothering you.
3. We found this thing, the Eye of the Mahdi. If Phil can run it through your archives, we desperately need anything you have on it.
4. Whatever happened in Nanjing may recur in the future on a larger scale if the Children recover the Eye. If there's any reference to a ritual involving the Eye, we'd like to see if we can pinpoint its preparations being made."
The above was enough to send Nery into catatonic shock from which she cannot recover without "months of therapy." She was trying to stuff an entire pack of cigarettes into her mouth by the time the Tagers separated us. I offered to Suggest that "it's not that bad and we need you with us on this one" but apparently I'm never allowed to speak to her again.
Admittedly, I'm not the most socially careful person. I tend to be extremely blunt, so if the above is like a verbal slap to the face I missed it. On the other hand, though, Nery seemed like a seriously capable woman. She fought side by side with Tagers, for goodness' sakes, and took Dhohanoid lasers without crumpling. A status report should not send her weeping into the fetal position.
Still,it did, which means instead of Nery we get one of the packlings grouching at us about how to identify dhohanoids. This took hours, because he insisted that we couldn't just read about them and he had nothing prepared, so we just kind of looped over the same bits of information ad nauseam. We made dhohanoid flash cards OoC to pass the time while he rambled in this bizarre accent/tone of voice. It missed gravelly by miles and went into Bad Dick Cheney Impression.
What we got was a classic GM!Marty infodump: long and guaranteed to be full of information and simultaneously useless. He told us what the different types were, and that's great, and he mentioned their different special qualities, but we needed base qualities. Yes, great, this kind is slightly faster than the norm...but what is the norm? Any questions on that point were dismissed with an indignant "lemme finish."
Finally we're allowed to go. He knows nothing of the Eye or any ritual, and he "might" pass the query on to Phil. Of the Tagers he will say absolutely nothing. Apparently Nery is the only one who trusted us. "This [was] a watershed moment" in a very poorly constructed watershed. We concluded the meeting and tried plan B: we needed a way to study this thing with real instruments, and we needed a way to keep the Eye, and therefore Ian, away from Chrysalis' ability to detect it. Conveniently, Ian apparently could handle being mystically undetectable, so we had to worry about figuring out a skunkworks undetectable by the single most powerful cult/corporation in the world.
And Blackspire, our alleged bosses, wouldn't help at all.
This was the beginning of our difficulties with our bosses. Apparently this was "a self-determined side-mission" irrelevant to our actual goal of securing the Tagers' cooperation. I was puzzled at this, since they clearly care about it and we need each others' resources to figure it out before we're both in for it. Apparently reacting to new developments is outside our mission parameters -- and when I asked, I'm "technically not GIA, so I can't see classified documents." Grr. Then again, the actual Blackspire members couldn't either.
At the same time, it turns out Blackspire doesn't actually have that much. Their entire staff, which covers the whole world, is fifty people, and they have a single facility. They maintain no scientific equipment whatsoever and have no archives. "They're police and spies, not scientists." Similarly, there is no lab space or equipment for rent anywhere at any price. Apparently universities no longer do science, corporate labs don't exist anymore, and the government outsources everything to the Ashcroft foundation -- and they will utterly refuse to help us.
This was the point where we effectively stopped being Blackspire agents. I mean, we weren't being paid and were flatly ignoring our (lack of) orders. The Tagers needed us to have a way to differentiate Dhohanoid from human from Tager, and we wouldn't have tried this if a little thing like absolutely no support was going to stop us.
Jin was looking at the problem from a social perspective. Our enemies were using a colossal megacorp to hide among the human population, so if we could start competing with and absorbing their assets we could limit their support structure. He's also an Erfworld fan, so we got to listen to his plans to found Charlescorp. It was ambitious; a carefully calculated program of weaponized economics that would hand us a third of the world's GDP within ten years, assuming we could find a way to destroy, disrupt, and generally play merry hell with their operations on a small scale. I'd say more, but it was shot down so fast I never got a chance to learn more.
At the same time, I was looking at it from a scientific point of view. We needed to hide a reasonably sized lab and life support for at least a few people, and we needed to mask a heck of an energy signature. Fixed facilites were out. We could buy one, but the Cult would track it "within days." Apparently they have a network of spy satellites that the Migou couldn't find and they can detect anything on or above the surface of the earth. We can't drill without them detecting it via seismograph, and "they've got orbital IR scans so sensitive they can see individual maggots on a bit of roadkill." Fine, say I, and I start sketching a very upscaled version of a UROV I built in high school. If the cartels can hide tons of cocaine underwater, I can hide a few guys and a mini machine shop.
My thinking ran like this: two of the major engineering challenges with a submarine are power and movement. If you let it sit on the seafloor, you don't need neutral bouyancy so you can devote much less space to ballast tanks without needing a vertical powered drive; if you have an emissionless infinite energy source, power is not a concern. So I figured out, in essence, a watertight legged tank covered in next-gen anechoic paneling and powered by banks of large D-cells that doubled as ballast. (D-engines were vetoed.) Picture a jet-black, lumpy, angular Kabuto about a third the size of a Landkreuzer Ratte and filled with lab equipment, crawling over the bottom of Lake Michigan-Huron. Very few of the parts were actually novel; I wanted to repurpose mecha parts, since Blackspire had access to mecha and the legs are watertight anyway. We'd just run a charter fishing service out of a surface vessel with a moon pool and surreptitiously drop a bathysphere and power cable along with the anchor, always in a different place to throw off anyone trying to track us; I assumed 5% efficiency on the legs, so we'd only need recharging every month or so anyway. Move slowly enough and you're just a bump on a seafloor full of debris anyway -- and apparently the Cult rarely ran active sonar sweeps of the lake, so we'd be in the only place they couldn't see us with all the power and lab supplies we could want. It'd be a cool little mini-quest to put together, at least; I suggested dropping a nanofabrication suite stuffed inside automated power armor on one of the wrecks.
In retrospect, we should not have suggested these two ideas almost simultaneously -- and I should probably not have tried to estimate the thing's sonar return after CADding it together. Hey, I was bored waiting on my cells. He spent about an hour detailing how Charlescorp was impossible, because "everyone already gets what they need from existing companies selling at the lowest price physically possible." I ask about, say, trees, or lab equipment. "No demand for those whatsoever. If there was, someone would already be selling them." We, of course, do not count as demand; there is no one else in the entire world who needs centrifuges or pipettes or anything. Freaking hell. At the same time, we can't innovate and make something trivially better, like "the Iphone 40,000" proposed by Darya. Apparently "innovation needs tons of capital and an existing corporate structure." Wonderful. Garage labs are a passing fad, apparently.
My idea for a secure facility was "cutesy but impractical." Sure the engineering is sketchy, but I thought it was feasible in concept. Ah, but. It's impossible, he says, to hide any 3d shape from sonar, even if we did what I wanted and hid in the wrecks like a little hermit crab. It's equally impossible to electroylze breathable oxygen out of freshwater, or distill drinking water, or exhaust CO2 with some kind of swingbed desorbing it into the water. I didn't know CO2 was "totally insoluble in water", Marty. Funny thing: he never got to the part where he said Cael couldn't do anything like that. He just kept going with how such a device was totally impossible, regardless of what mecha implied about our ability to put together topologically complex pressure hulls. Metal alone could get us to 100m; I expected nanofabricated materials to handle it easily.
Apparently nanotech is the most controlled technology in the NEG outside of microfuge tubes and smoke detectors. We got a long, long earful. The nanofabricators cannot be opened, moved, accessed by unapproved devices or unplugged without self-frying. This is built inextricably into the technology itself; the NEG invested heavily to make sure this type of nanofabrication was "the best one." The state-enforced monopoly is absolute. Unlicensed nanofabrication is high treason. Further, the schematics for nanofabricators are "encrypted." I pointed out that at some point someone has to decrypt them to use them. "Nuh uh the encryption is flawless." But...but...
And that was that. "I'm okay with you guys trying this stuff, but not when it's so ridiculous."