Tuesday, March 17, 2015

[Actual Play] Tears of a Machine - Tales of the Arx Jericho 2.07: Faith Day

Starring...
  • Rick Hunter: Team leader, Blue Company. Rick is the son of a human abductee and a renegade Mayzor general. Rick long ago swore revenge on the Mayzor for taking his mother, but the recent revelations about his father have resulted in Rick suffering an identity crisis, which he has been taking out violently on anyone who threatens those close to him. Well, more violently than normal, since Rick is hot-blooded most of the time anyway.
  • Esteban Knowles: Alpha Company pilot. Esteban was orphaned by the Mayzor and raised as part of a child soldier program and has spent most of his life drilling and learning to take orders. As such, he finds it difficult to connect with his fellow pilots in normal social situations, and struggles when required to act on his own initiative.
  • Marten Oiseleur: Alpha Company pilot. Formerly of Arx Bethlehem, Marten was transferred to Alpha Company aboard the Arx Jericho after recovering from an incident in which his SAInt was destroyed and he had to be resuscitated after the pilot pod was crushed. Since then, Marten has experienced dreams and auditory hallucinations in which the 'ghost' of his former SAInt speaks to him. Determined and brave, Marten tackles whatever challenges he faces with sheer force of will. 
  • Jason Reyes: Alpha Company pilot. Technically gifted, but not the most physical or athletic of kids. Jason has never really got along with his career military step father despite wanting to because of this, and became a SAiNT pilot in the hopes of making his stepfather proud of him. Things grew strained between them after his mother was abducted during the Mayzor assault on the Arx Galilee, which Jason partially blamed him for. He blames him even more now, having discovered that his step-father is in fact one of the Mayzor generals. Jason is quiet and reserved most times, although he does have a penchant for assigning nicknames to people, places and objects. 
  • Sarah Werner: Second-in-Command of Blue Company. Fun-loving and high-spirited, Sarah likes to help others and keep everyone happy. Her parents are alive, and her brother is a Robbie pilot for the Preservation Forces. She is an exceptional pilot, having defeated a Magnus single-handedly, and enjoys playing video games with friends in her spare time.
Guest Stars for this episode...
  • Laurie Bach: Jason's girlfriend and Second-in-Command of Bravo Company. Loving, loyal, committed. She can get jealous like any other girl, but she doesn't generally hold a grudge or has much of a temper. She's genuinely happy most of the time, despite the Mayzor attacks, but she's not incapable of being sad. She's smart, quick-thinking, charismatic, and respected by the rest of her company mates and fellow pilots. 
  • Dr Elizabeth Harris: Extremely kind, passionate about the lives and well being of the SAInt pilots, cheerful and optimistic at the worst of times, often a friend to all. She has taken over Marten's psychiatric treatment since his transfer to the Arx Jericho.
  • Billy Henderson: Former pilot and newly appointed head of security and combat instructor for the SAInt Academy. During his piloting days, Billy was a jerk and an ass, plain and simple. He was usually confrontational, prone to violence, and always throwing the first insult. He does have a hidden sensitive side though, which may be what attracted Rick's sister, Serena to him back when they were dating. Billy has matured and mellowed somewhat since retiring as a pilot, proving himself a trustworthy ally to the younger pilots in their secret investigation of the Mayzor conspiracy hidden within the Preservation Forces.
  • Captain Anastasia "AK-47" Kasherov: Operations director and SAInt Academy instructor, currently suspended pending a review into her recent command performance. Strict, direct, confident, not afraid to speak her mind, sympathetic, gives praise when its deserved, loyal, motherly, soft and caring underneath a harsh and strict demeanor.
  • Joanne Klein: Current team leader of Alpha Company and Rick's girlfriend. Fiercely competitive and confrontational like Billy but less direct. She's more of a tease and usually not completely serious.
  • Lieke: One of two twins piloting the tandem-operated Mendicant-class SAInt for Bravo Company. She is quiet, reserved, shy, introverted, relaxed, feminine, friendly, serious, and more prone to fear than her brother. She's currently competing for the affections of Strudel, who's been leading her and Ryoko on lately. 
  • Kazuhiro Masaki: Current leader of Bravo Company. Kazuhiro is the strong, silent and charismatic type. He used to be bullied, now defends against bullies. Used to openly take credit, now he doesn't. Lives with regrets and dark memories. He has a close friendship with his 2IC, Laurie, leading some to speculate how close they really are. 
  • Ryoko Mizushima: Current leader of Charlie Company. Contemplative, childish, flighty, easily depressed. 
  • Douglas Reyes: Charlie Company's newest pilot and Jason's step-brother. Douglas has a superiority complex and looks down on all the pilots, especially his step-brother. He has clear psychotic tendencies and is clearly part of some secret agenda, either his own or his father's. He also strongly dislikes any shortened form of his given name.
  • Alex "Strudel" Struder: Strudel is extremely hyper the majority of the time and exponentially so when given sugar. He overhears things far too often and knows way more than he probably should. He had more sympathy for Billy than most of his other friends with the exception of Serena perhaps. Lately, Strudel has let the fame of being one of the SAInt pilots who defended the Jericho go to his head, and has become a bit of a 'Lothario', leading on both Ryoko and Lieke, after having broken up with Stephanie.
  • Stephanie Yuzuki: Bravo Company pilot, Marten's girlfriend and Strudel's ex. She's flexible, nimble, and can pack some power when she needs to into her swings during Kendo practice. Fiercely loyal to her friends but generally somber and serious in her demeanor. She loves fiercely and does absolutely anything for the ones she loves, but she grows jealous easily and overreacts if she's hurt. She's always been easily depressed.
  • Opsie Wessel: Blue company pilot and Sarah's cousin. Opsie loves being the center of attention and projecting her opinions onto everyone else. She loves to take charge and take credit for almost everything, especially when it makes her look good or benefits her. Nevertheless, she's loyal and grounded when shit hits the fan. Still, there are only a handful of people that actually consider her a friend. She enjoys a sibling-style rivalry with Sarah.
Previously, on Tales of the Arx Jericho...

Rick shoves the Mayzor collaborator, Dr Johnson, against a wall and forces him to spill what he knows about the Mayzor plans: "Commander Yamasuka is the Grand Mayzor General, the others I know of are Martin Reyes (Jason's stepfather), Brünhild Wessel (Opsie's mother), Dr. Kreuz (the CRC scientist who founded the Cloistered Research Council and was the father of the Preservation Forces and the SAInts), and Rafe Hunter (Rick's father). But Hunter is a traitor, he's trying to initiate a Mayzor civil war." 

Cut to Serena being abducted by masked figures, and then to Rick and the others fighting the same masked figures at a run-down warehouse as Johnson continues: "Commander Yamasuka, recruited Ora Cohen and the Followers of the Communion to find out Rafe's whereabouts through you and your sister, Rick. She even gifted Cohen with special, Legulus abilities to be able to see psychic projections and read the dreams of others."

"Why?" Rick demands, "Why did they make hybrids like Serena and me?"

Cut to Rick, seeing his reflection in a dream, with the pale skin and silver hair of the Mayzor. 

Cut to Jason at lunch with his father and step-brother. His father gestures to Douglas: "I'd like to introduce you to your step-brother, Douglas."

"Hi Doug." Jason greets him.

"It's Douglas." Douglas coldly replies.

Cut to Jason's pod being ejected from his SAInt on the moon, then to him in the hospital as Douglas pinches his IV line and gives him a creepy smile: "I could snuff your life out right now as easily as I could a fly, little brother."

Esteban appears behind Douglas and slams him into a nearby table. Cut to Douglas backing out of the room, still grinning: "I'll see you later, brother."

Brief flashes of the SAInts clashing with Mayzor units in previous battles, as we hear Rick continuing his interrogation of Dr Johnson: "If Dr Kreuz is one of the Mayzor, then the technology they use to fight us came from the Mayzor, what's the point of it all? What are they after?"

Dr Johnson smirks: "They've been playing humanity from the start. It's all part of a grander scheme, an experiment to supply the Mayzor with as much power as possible."

"But how?"

Rick shakes Johnson, who shakes his head: "I don't know, the Commander hasn't shared the whole plan with me."

Rick pulls out his Linc and presses the stop button in his recorder app, giving Johnson a cold smile as the man regards the device with growing horror: "Now we have proof."

Cut to Rick walking away with Sarah and Serena as Johnson shouts after him: "You can't stop it, Hunter! No matter what you do, the Mayzor have a plan, the will always have a plan!"

His voice fades in an echo as the screen goes to black...

Two weeks ago...

The Names of the Lost
Rick and Serena check the list of returnees rescued from the Mayzor outpost in the Tsander crater, but do not find their mother's name on it. Serena consoles her brother, telling him that they at least know rescuing people from the Mayzor is possible now. She then wonders if there's any way they might be able to find out which outpost she's being held at, and whether their father would know. Rick points out that they have no way of contacting Rafe, but Serena wonders if Ora Cohen might be able to help them with the 'psychic gifts' that Dr Johnson mentioned her having been given. Rick is hesitant about the idea, since Cohen already kidnapped Serena once before to contact Rafe through them, but agrees it might be worth a shot.

Jason shows up to check the list too, searching for his own mother. He doesn't find her name on the list, but he does notice the name 'Esther Knowles', which he notes is the same surname as their fellow pilot Esteban...

Friday, April 2nd 2032

A Storm of Emotions
To celebrate the pilots' first successful rescue of human captives from the Mayzor, the Faithful - a religious group praising the SAInt pilots as reincarnations of actual saints - organise an event celebrating Earth's various different cultures and faiths which they call Faith Day. The whole Arx is decked out with banners, flags, Chinese lanterns and all sorts of varied decorations. There are lots of different booths and shows, offering food and entertainment.

The pilots and their classmates are given the day off to join in the festivities. Jason is at the Australian food stall, munching on a kangaroo burger when Strudel shows up with Lieke on one arm and Ryoko on the other, both of them competing for his affections while he looks very pleased with himself. Getting away from them briefly, he asks Jason for advice on how to deal with both of them demanding his attention all the time. Jason coolly suggests he pick one, telling him to stop leading the girls on. Marten is nearby with Strudel's ex-girlfriend Stephanie and notices her jealous looks toward the boy. He decides to speak his own mind and talks to Strudel about karma, indicating that his behavior will come back to bite him later if he isn't careful. Strudel retorts that at least he doesn't hear voices in his head, further infuriating Marten. He asks where Strudel heard this and the younger pilot says Opsie told him. Marten and Stephanie both in a stormy mood. Jason warns Strudel that he's turning into an even bigger jerk than Billy used to be, and that if he's not careful he'll look up from SpaceBook one day to find he has no real friends left. Strudel just laughs him off and moonwalks back to Lieke and Ryoko.

Meanwhile, Marten tries to sooth Stephanie's jealous rage and tells her that the Strudel he's heard about from the other pilots - the one that she dated - is gone, and whoever he is now is something else entirely. She agrees, but wishes she could find some way to teach him a lesson. Marten tries to distract her by steering her towards the Kendo club's demonstration tent in the garden area, but that gives her an idea on how to get back at Strudel: she'll challenge him to a Kendo match and wipe the floor with him in front of his 'floozies'. Marten decides to go along with this, and agrees to issue the challenge to Strudel for her, while she goes off to spread the word and prepare for the match.

Before they part ways to do so, they run into Esteban, who wants to do some one-on-one training with Marten to increase their efficiency in the field, since they've worked together regularly in combat. He wants to do the training tomorrow, but Stephanie protests that tomorrow is a Saturday. Esteban fails to see the problem, however. Stephanie tries to convince him to do a Kendo match with Marten instead, but Esteban is hesitant to actually fight Marten, as he wouldn't want to humiliate him in public. This irritates both Marten and Stephanie, who both grow insistent upon the match and get Esteban to agree to meet up at the Kendo tent later.

Elsewhere, Sarah is playing a new VR edition of her favourite game (Shinobi Knights) with Raspberry at the gaming booths, when AK-47 passes by in civilian attire and spots them. She asks about the game and listens to Sarah gush about it for a bit before deciding she'd like to give it a try. Sarah tries to start her off with a game against Raspberry, but AK-47 encourages Sarah to impress her with her skills..which she fails to do, suffering embarrassing defeat due to AK-47's beginner's luck and her own inexperience with the VR edition. Raspberry is doubled over with laughter at Sarah getting schooled not only by a newbie, but by their own teacher. Sarah pleads to make it best out of three.

Jason finishes his burger and spots his girlfriend Laurie walking around the booths with her team's leader, Kazuhiro, and goes over to join them. They discuss Bravo Company's recent battle in San Francisco, against a Magnus that landed on Alcatraz island, and Laurie complains about how the Preservation Forces have been limiting the number of pilots sent on moon missions since they brought the plague back from their initial recon. She says she isn't jealous, but she does miss going into space a lot. Jason assures her that eventually they'll push the Mayzor back enough that they'll be fighting them primarily in space but Kazuhiro is less optimistic, feeling they might be fighting a losing battle. During the conversation, Jason lets slip that there's a lot more going on behind the scenes, leading Laurie to ask what he knows that they don't. He doesn't want to say anything there and then, noticing his step-brother Douglas passing by, and tells them he'll explain later, after he's discussed things with the others (meaning Rick, Sarah and the rest of the pilots who are in the know). As he leaves, he notices Douglas talking to Opsie and mutters: 'He's welcome to her.'

Elsewhere, Rick and Joanne have taken a break from their responsibilities at the Kendo tent to enjoy some of the food available from the booths. Rick has agreed to try snail after having convinced Joanne to try out haggis, which almost made her throw up. While Rick is chewing on snail, Stephanie shows up with a mischevious grin on her face which puts him on edge until he realises he isn't the target of the planned revenge it portends. He and Joanne both approve of her plan to teach Strudel a lesson, but Rick is taken aback to hear about Esteban and Marten's match.

After Stephanie leaves to tell Sarah, Jason shows up and tells Rick about his conversation with Laurie and Kazuhiro, suggesting it's time they got the leaders of all the companies together to have 'the talk'. Rick says they can arrange to have everybody meet in the Kendo clubroom later, after Stephanie's match against Strudel. Jason decides to pretend no knowledge of Stephanie's plans, but secretly hopes somebody posts it on YouTube.

Over at the games area, Sarah has just suffered a third humiliating defeat at VR Shinobi Knights against AK-47 when Stephanie shows up to tell her about the Kendo match. Sarah agrees to come along, and AK-47 says she'd like to join them as she is curious to see the pilots practicing combat outside of their SAInts.

Esteban visits the Cuban booth, where he meets a 17-year-old Cuban girl with a worn look about her. She seems to look at him curiously, before asking his advice on what to try, since she hasn't visited Cuba in a while and isn't sure what she'd like. Esteban soon learns that she is one of the returnees from the Tsander outpost and has a vafue flashback to his childhood when she introduces herself as Esther Knowles. He doesn't remember much about his life before the orphanage where he grew up, but he vaguely recalls having a sibling. He notes a physical resemblance to himself and backs away in shock, escusing himself and hurrying away. Esteban goes on his Linc to check his family history and finds that his parents had two other, older children: Anita Knowles (deceased) and Esther Knowles.

'Friendly' Sparring
Esteban is still reeling from this discovery when he finds himself at the Kendo tent and runs into Marten, who's ready and raring to go. Esteban tries to forfeit because he doesn't think he's in the right frame of mind, but Stephanie stirs things up by implying that Marten beat him without even having to do anything. Marten tries to call it off anyway, but Esteban yells 'no' several times, drawing looks from the crowd as he says more quietly that he will go ahead with the match.

As the two of them prepare for the match they notice a lot of whispering and stares from the crowd. Rick and Joanne - who are already back to help out at the tent - notice the commotion, and the other pilots soon show up to watch the match. Sarah asks what all the buzz is about, and someone from the crowd mentions Esteban flipping out and that he's about to fight 'the looney guy'. She learns about the rumours Opsie has been spreading about Marten and share this with Rick, Joanne and Stephanie. When Stephanie realises this is what all the whispering is about she yells at the crowd to shut up.

The match begins and Esteban starts off on the defensive, not really focused on the fight due to his confused state of mind, but soon snaps out of it and reflexively cracks Marten on the head with his practice sword. Marten taunts him by suggesting Esteban was just saying he wasn't in the mood to catch him off guard. Esteban gets flustered while trying to deny this and presses the attack, flanking Marten and whacking him in the back.

Marten is knocked to the ground and spots Dr Harris in the crowd, which makes him uncomfortable. He pushes himself back up and evades Esteban's attacks with nimble footwork. The two of them circle each other, with Esteban taunting Marten this time by saying he thought the other boy wanted a proper fight. Marten tries to pull the same flanking manuever on Esteban, and the two of them keep neatly dodging and weaving past each others strikes. Marten continues smack talking Esteban until the boy soldier has had enough and punches Marten in the face.

Joanne calls foul, Esteban apologises, telling Marten that he has trouble keeping his emotions in check where Marten is involved. Marten suggests they're both a bit too worked up and concedes the match. Stephanie objects to Marten giving up, despite his protests that he's simply acknowledging his teammate's skill. When he tries to convince her to let it go, she tells him she's not just upset about Esteban talking smack about him earlier, but also about the rumours that are going around and asks if they're true. Marten looks from Stephanie to Esteban, then back, and flees the scene. She doesn't try to chase after him, but the fight has gone out of her. She wonders where Strudel is, and Rick asks if he was issued the challenge, leading her to guess that Marten must not have approached him about it. She stomps off, with Joanne running after her and Rick trailing along behind, deciding to stay out of it because they probably need some 'girl talk'.

Speaking of girl talk, Sarah texts Opsie and asks to meet at the German booth, wanting to talk to the girl about the rumours she's been spreading and find out where she heard it from.

Esteban and Dr Harris catch up to Marten, who tries to outpace them but eventually just deflates and stops in the middle of a corridor. Esteban reaches him and apologises again, explaining that the reason he has trouble when he's around Marten is that he thinks Marten gets too emotionally involved in things and asks why he can't seem to keep his feelings under control. Marten retorts that the reason he has such strong emotional responses is that it's the only way he can shut out the voices he hears, because the pills don't help enough. With that, Marten heads off with Dr Harris for an emergency session to discuss everything that's happened today.

Feeling like a complete failure in his handling of both Marten and the revelation about his long-lost sister, Esteban seeks out counsel from Billy. He finds the head of security in one of the Arx's streets, stuffing his face from a plateful of pasta. Billy is taken aback by the personal nature of Esteban's request for advice and freezes with noodles in his mouth, not quite sure how to respond...

Sarah meets up with Opsie - who's been having fun winning all the games - at the German booth, finding her there with Douglas. Sarah talks her into revealing her source about Marten's disorder, and discovers that Dr Johnson was the one who told her as a warning to 'be careful of the other pilots'. In quieter tones, she talks about the discovery that she, Rick and Serena are all half-Mayzor and wonders if Sarah is too. Sarah brushes off the question, saying she's still waiting on test results. Douglas butts in to try and find out what they're talking about, but Sarah claims they're just talking about girl stuff.

Douglas tries to pump her for information about Blue Company, and when she deflects his questions he gloats that he'll soon be joining Blue Company and that he'll end up being team leader and that there are going to be some changes.  When Sarah comments on how confident he seems about this he goes on to brag that he has special talents and abilities that will ensure his superiority to them. With further coaxing from Sarah and Opsie he tells them that the Mayzor have secretly been breeding with humans to create half-Mayzor hybrids, of which he is one. He admits that he doesn't know who the others are. He then tells them to keep this to themselves, or he'll come after them and it won't be pretty. He takes his leave of them, saying he and Sarah should talk again sometime, as she seems to have gained his favour by using his proper name.

Having recovered from the shock of Esteban's query, Billy walks with him and listens as he explains that he thinks he knows what to do about his issues with Marten, but not what to do about his sister. Billy suggests he should just reach out to her and try to get to know her better. Moving on to more professional matters, he says he'd like to look over Esteban's new weapons designs and suggests he work with Jason on some of them, since Jason is working on his own EZKY-L project.

Esteban excuses himself and first of all texts Marten a training schedule to go ahead with the joint training he suggested earlier. He then posts a public message on the SAInt pilots' group forum:

Dear pilots,

It has come to my attention that rumours have been circulating about my teammate, Marten Oiseleur, rumours that have been damaging to his reputation. I am unsure of as to where this information started, nor does it matter if it is true. What I do know, however, is facts so let us analyse these. So far, officer Oiseleur:
1) Has spent a good deal of his teenage life protecting the citizens of Earth from the deadly Mayzor. Check.
2) Was proven good enough to be assigned to Alpha Company (the Aardvarks) where nothing but the best of the best soldiers are placed. Check.
3) Was part of the moon base assault where Bravo Company was infected and bedridden for weeks. He helped take down a giant Mayzor while also accomplishing the objective of the mission. Check.
4) Single handedly is responsible for the rescue of Charlie Company during their ambush. Each and every member of that company owes him their lives. Check.
5) Was there for the first human rescue mission - which, as an aside, also included the elimination of not one, but two advanced Mayzors, while completing a perfect mission. Check.
6) Is my battle partner, whom I trust with my life implicitly. Check.

Now I understand that people all want a scapegoat, a person to laugh at, someone to look down on to better themselves when they all may die suddenly in the middle of a mission. That makes sense, as it is a well known tactic amongst lesser minded people to keep themselves sane.

However, this sort of business will not stand. Officer Oiseleur has proven time and again that he is not only better than the average SAInt pilot, but he has gone above and beyond the call of duty in both battle and teamwork.

So if you wish to shut him down with petty rumours and terrible ideas, please remember - he is my partner and I am not known for my human empathy.

- Esteban Knowles

P.S. If you wish to have a scapegoat, please refer to Douglas Reyes. He speaks funny, has a strange look in his eye, and doesn't like being called Doug. Plus, he is new and not as nice as his younger, far more talented brother.
(The post gets twelve +1s and Esteban later receives one long, detailed message from Douglas_Reyes expressing his displeasure.)

When Esteban returns to the Cuban booth in search of Esther, she is long gone.

An Uninvited Guest
Later on, Jason and the others have assembled the team leaders from Bravo, Charlie, Delta and Echo companies, as well as all of Blue and Alpha Company, AK-47, Dr Harris, Billy and Laurie for a secret briefing in the Kendo clubroom. Sarah gives them all a brief explanation of why they've been gathered, and Rick plays the recording he took of his interrogation of Dr Johnson. After the recording finishes, they fill in the information not covered in it; the blueprints of Mayzor tech found on Dr Johnson's computer on multiple occasions, Rick's meeting with Rafe, Serena's abduction by the Followers of the Communion, etc.

As they're wrapping up, they realise that Douglas is standing at the back of the room and giving them all a creepy stare and evil smile...

TO BE CONTINUED...

Jason goes to punch Douglas with Marten and Rick both ready to jump him...

Sarah and Opsie confront Douglas in the hallway, with Sarah asking: "What are we going to become?"

Douglas just smirks: "You'll see soon enough..."

Marten runs through the Arc, with Stephanie chasing after him. He gets through a door and tries to shut it, but she holds it open with a determined look in her eyes...

Rick enters the warehouse chapel of the Followers of the Communion with Esteban, Joanne, Marten, and Serena all present.

Ora Cohen turns from giving a sermon and regards them coolly: "Ah, the Prince and Princess of the Mayzor grace us with their presence. What are you here for?"

Rick smirks: "I thought we might be able to help each other out."

Fade to:

NEXT EPISODE: 'Anagnorisis'

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