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Discovery: Exposition
by Tokyo Rose

Since we've had some questions for details about the terms used in the current story and some background on the situation in Nippon might be useful . . .

Shinedo is the largest bastion of civilization in the former nation of Japan.  There are smaller enclaves (towns, villages, farming communities), scattered around, but Shinedo's the only real "city", and it occupies the region formerly known as the Greater Tokyo Area.  Outside its walls, the landscape's mostly recovering from centuries of civilization followed by centuries of post-explosion.  It got relatively few nukes dropped on it, but the biological/chemical weapons didn't make it a very friendly place to human life for a long time.  As noted above, there are settlements outside Shinedo, but they're inclined towards a lower level of technology.

It's worth noting that androids are treated with far more equality in Shinedo than in some parts of the world.  The nation's had a long-standing fascination with mechanical lifeforms, and even before open warfare broke out and decimated the human population, their androids were somewhat more advanced technologically and socially than they are in the Western hemisphere.  It's not unknown for androids to take "human" names and be treated as humans, right down to being accorded the same respect as any flesh-and-blood expert in a given field.  A stylized appearance is currently popular in android design, but the look goes in and out of favor on a fairly regular basis.  (That's why Jasper and Maddy both look the way they do.)

The Three Treasures--Kusanagi the Sword, Yasakani the Jewel, and Kagami the Mirror--are the linked AIs which oversee Shinedo and, by extension, the nation of Nippon.  Kusanagi commands the military and security forces.  Yasakani coordinates social services, public utilities, and other such programs.  Kagami acts as the executive branch and general administrator, maintaining infrastructure and diplomatic contacts.  Tokyo Rose is scarcely known even to the people of Shinedo; she works behind the scenes.

Chokushi and Shikome are rough equivalents of Cent-Comm's White Angels and Black Angels, respectively--purpose-built independent agents entrusted with particular tasks by the Three Treasures (and Tokyo Rose).  Chokushi aren't helpless by any stretch, but they're always partnered with a Shikome bodyguard.  The term "Chokushi" is literally translated as "divine messenger", while "Shikome" is meant to evoke the less-charming imagery of vengeful demons.  (To temper their fearsome reputation, and incidentally provide an object lesson in Why It's Bad to Underestimate One's Opponents, Shikome are deliberately designed to look like cute girls.  Chokushi can appear as either gender.)

How to Harvest Scythe Lizard Musk Oil
by Tokyo Rose

Materials Needed:
NBC suit (that's "Nuclear, Biological, Chemical", not a TV network).
Tranquilizer gun (or, preferably, Tranquilizer Shoulder-Fired Rocket Launcher).
An extraction device approved by all appropriate wildlife-protection agencies (in this case, that would be one crazy recluse who lives in a tree), or alternatively an industrial shop-vac you sincerely don't want any more.
An airtight flask.
A very strong stomach.
A complete lack of sense, or alternatively, total dedication to horrible practical jokes/SCIENCE!, whichever you prefer.

Step 1:  Find a scythe lizard.
Step 2:  Reach safety after it notices you.
Step 3:  Find a different scythe lizard.
Step 4:  See Step 2.
Step 5:  See Step 3.
Step 6:  Shoot scythe lizard with tranquilizer.
Step 7:  Put on NBC suit.
Step 8:  Make sure a reliable ally who does NOT owe you any money is sitting overwatch with the tranquilizer cannon.  (If at all possible, make sure YOU owe THEM money.)
Step 9:  Approach scythe lizard from the rear.  This is not a great view, but it's far better than the front.
Step 10:  Move scythe lizard's tail to one side to expose the anus.  Try not to throw up inside NBC suit, as the stink is all in your mind right now and you don't want to change that.
Step 11:  Insert nozzle of extraction device into sphincter of musk gland, which appear as small pits on either side of anus.
Step 12:  Pretend you are somewhere else while extraction takes place; the average scythe lizard musk gland contains as much as a liter of fluid.  Recommended happy places include wildflower fields, secluded beaches, and titty bars.
Step 13 (optional):  Repeat steps 11 and 12 for the second scent gland, if you're crazy like that.
Step 14:  Walk very quickly and carefully in a straight line away from scythe lizard.  It is going to wake up any time now, but you don't want to drop that fluid container and have nothing to show for your day of molesting horrible, horrible wildlife aside from the mental scars.
Step 15:  Decant contents of extraction device into airtight flask.
Step 16:  Wash outside of airtight flask up to fourteen times with grain alcohol, which will break down the chemical bonds of any musk oil on the outside of the flask and render it harmless.  Kentucky moonshine is recommended, as it can also break down some of the memories of what you've just subjected yourself to, you maniac.
Step 17:  Leave the area.  Take your overwatch guy along, unless you owe him money or don't like him very much.
Step 18 (optional):  Watch from safe distance as scythe lizard regains consciousness and instinctively charges at any- and everything in front of it for the next four hours.  There are few opportunities to see a scythe lizard in a state of greater-than-average blind rage.
Step 19:  Profit!

Uses for scythe lizard musk oil include personal defense, area-denial measures, riot control, legally-actionable practical jokes, and--hilariously enough--the perfume industry; after evaporative distilling, the stuff makes ambergris smell like sweaty armpits.

Tamaree's sheet
by Centcomm

Tamaree's Rolemaster sheet - some items are not with her - and the staff entry refers to her Wood staff at the beginning of the comic ( Tama is currently in "Shard of life" on Shorties ) http://shorties.thecomicseries.com/comics/8

Shes still a active charcter even though I dont have a game currently... She was rolled useing standard procedures.. and played from level 1 to 4

Stealing What's Yours
by Tokyo Rose

It was going to be fun, that was a dead certainty.  Mr. Lambert took another long look around his rig, making sure that all his unusual gear was already out.  He’d spent the morning packing up all the sensitive hardware in sealed crates and loading them on a skiff for transport, getting the vehicle ready for long-term storage, and familiarizing himself with the Percheron-class grav hauler that Cent-Comm was donating for this mission.  All things considered, it was time for a quick shower and a lunch break.  He loaded four Q-drives into ports on the drive brain housing.  “Nice Personality.  Initiate file transfer.  All files, two copies, verify on complete.”

*TRANSFER IN PROGRESS*

“Good.”  A quick shower and change of clothes later, he stepped out of the cab, just in time to see his all-time favorite member of New Troy’s Port Authority skulking around and scowling at another familiar face.  Lambert checked his coat pocket for the chip he’d gotten from Cent-Comm yesterday, and smiled as he walked over.  “Hey, ‘Purple’... you’re on break.”

Supervisor Tillerman jerked around in surprise; Connie turned far more gracefully.  An additional contrast was Tillerman’s snarl and Connie’s pleasant smile as they recognized Lambert.

“The hell do—” Tillerman began, but snapped his mouth shut at a gentle, quiet cough.  Ten feet away, an unobtrusive young man with Int-Sec tabs on his dark grey jumpsuit was playing a stylus over a data-pad.  Tillerman’s face flushed a dull, angry red, but his tone was exaggeratedly polite as he said, “How can I help you, sir?  Do you need directions to the exit?”

“I know where the door is, but there’s a hundred-kilo pile of manure in the way.  Y’all ought to keep the docks cleaner, you know.  Cuts down on accidents.”  Lambert smiled at Connie.  “Like I said, you’re on break.  Let’s grab a quick lunch, shall we?”

Before Connie could answer, Mount Shit-suvius erupted again.  “You got no right to come in here and barge off with one of my andies like that!”

“You’re probably right...but she’s not ‘your andy’, neighbor.  Get over it.  Rent a skin-vid.  Move on.”

“She’s under contract—”

“Funny you should mention that, fat man.”  He tossed Connie the data chip from his pocket.  “Effective oh-eight-hundred this morning, her contract’s hers.  It’s right there on the chip, along with her certification as a vehicle engineering specialist.”

The smile that broke out across Connie’s face more than made up for having to include Tillerman’s bloated, purple-red features in his field of view.

“Now,” Lambert went, on, “if you’d be so kind as to go back to the playpen and wait for your diaper change, the lady and I have some business to discuss over lunch.”

 

“Connie, how do the plants look?”

“All go for flight.”

“Good to know.”  Mr. Lambert rolled the thrust vector controls through their range of motion, and watched on the external monitors as the big pods pivoted down, then back to horizontal.  He reached up and flipped a set of switches on the overhead.  “Navigation strobes and beacons live.  Thrusters to vertical.”  He brought the throttles up to just a bare notch above idle, and let the low-powered exhaust stream blow the dust and debris gently out from under the Percheron’s hull.  “Connie, could you chat with Departure, and make sure we’re clear?  I don’t want to break any rules...yet.”

“Already done.  We’re clear for manual flight below 5,000 meters, subsonic within ten miles of New Troy.  Other than that, pilot’s discretion.”

Duke grinned.  “What makes you think I have any discretion?  Gravs to 40 percent, please.”  The big hauler lifted smoothly and transitioned to horizontal flight, gliding out of New Troy’s commercial port on what amounted to a check ride for its pilot and engineer.  For the next hour, Mr. Black made certain that he knew the controls cold, and made sure that the big machine was trimmed out to his satisfaction.  As it settled back into its berth, he shot a rueful look across the console to Connie.  “This is a sweet machine.  Pity that it’s going to be stolen before I can make a bid on it.”

“Wha?”

 

The uniform of a New Troy Mil-Sec major wasn’t the most comfortable garment ever tailored, but Major Mike Davis would never admit that.  He did adjust the collar ever-so-slightly as he approached the warehouse, data-pad in hand, and walked up to the human supervisor.  “We have a problem, Sergeant Jackson.”

“We who, Major?  I don’t have a problem.  I have a warehouse full of Mil-Sec stores.”

Major Davis gave a rueful grin and a nod.  “Point taken.  Really, it’s New Sparta’s problem... but The Boss made it my problem, and now, I’m making it yours.”

“Marfuckingvelous.  How big a problem is this?”

Major Davis held out the data slate.  “The Greek Geeks need a shipment of control systems for some of their fancy weaponry.  They’ve noticed how things are warming up between us and New Rome, and they’re making sure they have spares in case things go hot.  There’s a detailed manifest on the slate there, along with shipping instructions.  I’ll wait while you verify them.  Mind if I grab a cup of coffee?”

“Your funeral.  Helios, this is a lot of crap.”

Major Davis strolled over to the coffee maker, pulled a cup, sipped, and swore.  “Gawd.  If we could drop this shit on New Rome, we’d corrode the place to bedrock!  And yeah, it’s a lot of stuff, but when Cent-Comm says, ‘Get this stuff packed and shipped’, my only real option is to say, ‘Yes, ma’am’... you know how it is.”

“Yeah.”  A quick pause to look over the info on the data-pad, and the confirming info on a data terminal.  “Looks good, Major.  Says transport will be available, but I don’t see it.”

Major Davis pulled out a Mi-Sec comm link.  “It’ll be here in ten.  How long to get the pallets on the loading dock?”

“Probably about half an hour.  I’ve got some good droids here.  I’ll need a thumbprint and a sig, please?”

“No problem.  You point, I sign.”

 

An hour later, Duke Lambert was carefully storing Major Davis’s uniform, while the Percheron was pointed out into the Wastelands at best nap-of-the-Earth speed.  A quick check of the time told him that the pre-recorded ‘stolen’ report would be filing in about ten minutes.  “Connie, once we’re about a hundred miles out, if we aren’t being chased, set a course for Steeltown.  We’ve got some electronics to deliver to Kohlbaker-McKinnon, and I don’t want to keep them waiting.”

“Why are you doing this, again?  Why not just go straight to New Rome, and do what Cent-Comm hired you to do?”

“Because I don’t want some smart New Roman customs agent being curious about a free trader with a brand new, very expensive grav-hauler that came straight from New Troy.  Now that it’s a stolen vehicle, with a stolen cargo, nobody will wonder why we left in a big hurry.  We sell the electronics in Steeltown, pick up machine parts for Borden’s Landing.  While we’re doing that, I have friends in Steeltown who’ll give this beast a new paint job, weather it a bit so it doesn’t look so new, add a clean registry, all the usual goodies.  Once that’s done, we make the run to Borden’s, trade the machine parts for cotton, then sell the cotton on the docks in New Rome... their textile market is booming.  Now we have a valid reason to be there, no ties to New Troy, and the only person left holding a bag of crap is ‘Major Davis’.  Poor guy... born a month ago, and dead  by next week.  Mil-Sec really is a dangerous place.”  Mr. Lambert smiled as he fed Major Davis’s ID chips through the formatting machine.

Gearing Up
by Tokyo Rose

            Nobody called Desmond Ortiz “Desmond”, and very few people called him “Mister Ortiz”, other than his employees.  Thanks to his portly build and large bald spot, he was “Monk”, and had been for years.  Despite his nickname and genial appearance, his last appearance in church had caused one of the few documented cases of spontaneous roof collapse in New Troy’s history.  He ran the Ortiz Mercantile with an iron hand, an iron heart, and a profane vocabulary that could kill a scorpion at ten paces.  That said, if you wanted something soon, and with a minimum of questions attached, “Monk” Ortiz really was your guardian angel...which probably said a lot about guardian angels in this day and age.  The sound of boots on floor pulled his attention away from his data screen, and his professional smile slid into place on a fine layer of snake oil.  “Well...look at what the fuckin’ cat dragged in.  Johnny Black, as I live and breathe.  What brings you to my fine establishment?”

            The rangy Wastelander smiled.  “As soon as you open a ‘fine establishment’, I’ll tell you what brings me to it.  I came to this dump because I need to stock up for a run, and believe it or not, you come highly recommended.”  He tossed a data chip on the counter, and it slid to a halt almost exactly an inch from Monk’s hand.

            “Johnny, Johnny, you wound me to the quick with such slurs against my character!  Have you no respect for an upstanding businessman?”

            “You know any?”

            “Hell no.  Look at my customers.”  Both men laughed as Monk plugged the chip into his machine.  “Big list, Johnny.  Holding a party?”

            “I wish.  Got some young idiot who thinks he’s found the Lost Archives... wants me to run him and his buddies and more gear than good sense to the backside of Hell to retrieve ‘em.”  Black chuckled.  “I think he’s full of crap, but if he’s stupid enough to go and rich enough to pay me, I consider it a moral obligation to take his credits.”  He nodded to the data chip.  “Food and consumables for six people for thirty days, emergency rations for five more...five twenty liter drums of PVV-80 lubricant, same for hydraulic fluid.  Four sets of BR-540 chipsets for the drive brain, four extra first-aid packs.  There’s a few extra things on the chip, but those are the biggies.  Can you cover that?”

            Monk scrolled down the list on the chip, raised an eyebrow, thought for a minute, and nodded.  “It’s a big order, but I can fit it in.  Take about an hour, assuming you have the credits.”

            Lambert grinned.  “Funny thing, Monk—that’s exactly what your sister told me.”

            “Bastard!”

            “Probably.  I’ll be down at Mama Holt’s getting a coffee.  Tag my link when that stuff’s ready, and I’ll run it over...save you the wear and tear on your delivery droid.”  He was still chuckling when the door closed behind him.

 

            Mama Holt’s wasn’t the fanciest place in New Troy...it wasn’t even the fanciest place in the Trade Quarter.  It was one of those not-really-secret places that always seem to exist in big cities.  The lighting was dim but comfortable, the décor was mostly polished wood and spotless plaster, and the food was solid, simple fare served up in big helpings.  It was a quiet place where a good meal, a good measure of peace and quiet, and a thick slab of pie could be had by anybody, and a quiet card game could be had by anybody allowed into the upstairs salon.  Duke Lambert tipped his hat before taking it off, and smiled to the young lady working the door.  “Coffee, pie, and a small table in the back, if you have one, Anita?”

            “Certainly, Mister Lambert...follow me?  I’ll seat you and bring your coffee over in just a minute.”

            Lambert sat quietly, sipping his coffee and watching the light crowd of afternoon customers while his mind played with what he’d learned during the meeting with Cent-Comm.  He was still running through scenarios, and cups of coffee, when his comm vibrated in his pocket.  He pulled it out just long enough to see who it was, then scooped up his coffee and walked out to the vestibule before returning the call.  “Monk?  Black here.  Problem?”  

            “No real problem, Johnny.  All your shit’s ready to ship out.  Just need your credit stick and print.  I also found that info you asked for on ‘Connie’.  You getting sweet on a plastic girl, John?”

            Lambert chuckled.  “Artificial sweetener’s bad for your health, Monk.  I’m just getting too old for some of those long runs.  I’m looking for a co-driver and engineer, and let’s face it... if I’m gonna be sharing cubes with somebody, I’d rather ‘somebody’ that looked like her than like you.”

            “Johnny, as much as it wounds me, I have to give you that one.  Get yer ass back here and pay for this stuff, okay?”

            “Be there in about half a cup, Monk.”  He clicked off the link, tossed back the last of the coffee, and went back inside to pay his tab, all the while wondering exactly how deep a shit-pit he’d agreed to go snorkeling in this time...


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