Tuesday, April 7, 2015

[Actual Play] Tears of a Machine - Tales of the Arx Jericho 2.08: Anagnorisis

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...
  • 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.
  • Rafe Hunter: Rafe's father, a rogue Mayzor general who lived undercover as a neurological researcher, then went into hiding shortly after the invasion began.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Ora Cohen: Masked leader of the Followers of the Communion, a cult worshipping the Mayzor as gods.
Previously, on Tales of the Arx Jericho...


Intercut Marten and Esteban clashing with Kendo practice swords as we see the following events unfold...

"What have you heard?" Marten demands of Strudel, who just shrugs.

"Just that you hear voices that aren't there..."

Marten striking...

Marten clutching his head to shut out the voice as it says: "The faith is strong."    
 Esteban on the offensive, a flicker of emotion in his eyes...

Esteban conversing with a young Cuban woman at the festival: "I'm Esther. Esther Knowles."

Flash of Esteban's shocked expression before cutting to a computer screen displaying a family tree, identifying one 'Esther Knowles' as Esteban's biological sister.

Cut to Esteban knocking Marten to the ground.

"Is it true what they're saying, Marten?" Stephanie asks him outside the Kendo arena. Marten backs away from her and flees...

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."

Cut to Jason in the hospital after a battle, 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."

Sarah and Opsie stand together in front of Douglas, who grins at them, "The Mayzor have secretly been breeding with humans to create half-Mayzor hybrids...and I'm one of them. I don't know who the others are but I'll know soon enough."

Dr Johnston, Mayzor collaborator, smiles coldly despite being shoved against a wall by Rick. "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."

"The war against the Mayzor invasion...it's all part of the Mayzor's own plan. You, Serena, the other hybrids..."
 

Flash cut to still frames of Rick, Serena, Opsie and Sarah.

"...you all have some part to play in the Commander's scheme. Even I don't know what that is."


Rick clicks the stop button on his Linc, ending the recording in front of the gathered pilot leaders in the Kendo clubroom, spreading out his arms: "And that's what we know."

Quiet laughter from the back of the room. Everybody turns to find Douglas Reyes standing there, giving them all a creepy smile.

Friday, April 2nd 2032

An Uninvited Guest
A chilly silence descends as everybody notices Douglas at the back of the room, eventually broken by Jason asking who invited him as he walks towards him. Douglas says he noticed they were all having a meeting and didn't want to be left out, since he's still confident that he'll be joining Blue Company soon. Jason retorts that he shouldn't be so sure Blue Company will even have him. Rick nods his agreement with this as he and Marten circle around to block Douglas' exit in a pincer formation. Douglas says Blue will have him, and asks Sarah if she told them what he said earlier, before explaining that he is a half-Mayzor hybrid like most of Blue Company is. Jason tells him they'd already guessed that much, so Douglas gloats further about his knowledge of the Mayzor's plans for the hybrids and what they'll become. When Jason taunts him to try and get him to elaborate he just says it's far too early for that, giving Opsie a creepy grin as he does.

At this point, Jason throws a punch at Douglas, with Rick and Marten choosing the same moment to make a grab for him. Douglas' eyes flash blue and, with superhuman reflexes, he deflects Jason's blow and dodges the other two boys so that they crash into one another. He then gut-punches Jason, dropping him to his knees, staring down at him and spitting on him before he heads to the door. He warns them not to mess with him, before once again declaring that he will be joining Blue Company and they will follow him, then walks out.

AK-47 and Dr Harris go over to check on them, while Billy grabs his stun baton and moves to chase Douglas down. Rick warns him about Douglas' inhuman reflexes, but Marten points out that he's probably on his way to tell the wrong people what they were discussing. Rick growls in frustration before heading out after Billy, along with Marten, Jason and Sarah.

They catch up to Billy just in time to see him run up behind Douglas, who stops for a second before turning around and hitting Billy with a roundhouse kick. He then grabs Billy's baton and whacks him in the back of the neck with it, before turning to stare at the rest of them menacingly.

Joanne comes out after them, carrying two practice swords, tossing one to Rick and keeping the other for herself. Marten tries to talk Douglas down and convince him that he's not helping his case any, and maybe they can find some common ground. Sarah apologises for the boys' gung-ho behaviour. Then Opsie joins them and berates Douglas, demanding to know why he was looking at her so smugly earlier and what he means by 'what they'll become'. Rick follows up by telling Douglas that he doesn't know as much as he thinks, that they're nothing like him. Serena has joined them this point (along with the other pilots) and agrees with Rick.

The light goes out in Douglas' eyes, he slips the baton through his belt and stares at Rick, head bowed as he says 'we'll see about that'. He assures them that he won't tell anyone what he overheard. It doesn't matter since he'll be leading Blue Company soon anyway. He then turns and walks away with a backhanded wave. Rick is so angry that he grips his training sword tight enough to crack the hilt.

The Next Plague
Sarah snaps Rick out of it with a smack to the back of the head, telling him and the other boys off for mostly seeming to want to smack things with sticks lately. As they go to check on Billy, Marten starts hearing the voice of his old SAInt repeating over and over that 'the faith is strong', getting louder and louder. He excuses himself to go use the restroom, but Stephanie catches on that something's wrong and goes after him.

Marten doesn't want to talk to anyone in this state, least of all Stephanie, so he tries to outrun her. She catches up to him as he attempts to lock himself in a vacant classroom. Pushing inside the room, she demands to know what's wrong and why he's avoiding her. Marten tells her he feels like he screwed everything up earlier by not being able to deal with Strudel and letting Esteban rile him up. Plus, with Opsie spreading the story about his mental disorder, he just feels like everything is falling apart.

He tells her all about the voices and fears he isn't cut out to be with her. Stephanie surprises him by pulling him into a hug, telling him she's not mad at him, and calms him down. She suggests that, since he seems to hear the voices most around people like Douglas and the other hybrids, perhaps there's more to it and it's worth talking to Rick and the others about it.

Back at the Kendo clubroom, Billy is still recovering from his injuries and Rick rubs where Sarah hit him on the head, muttering a complaint. She maintains that he deserved it, and that he needs to rein in his current trend towards hitting people first and asking questions later. Rick protests that Douglas is dangerous, but Sarah feels they don't know his full story and should try to work that out first.

On that note, Opsie decides she wants to go talk to Douglas and try to find out the meaning behind his weird looks at her, and what he meant about what they'd become. Sarah decides to go along with her as backup. The two girls catch up to Douglas in the corridors and press him for more information, but he feels he's said too much already. They try to convince him he can open up to them, since they've been the least confrontational towards him, but he just shakes his head and says it's too soon.

He implies that the Mayzor have big plans for the hybrids, and that Sarah, Rick and Serena might not reach the same 'heights' as he and Opsie will; Sarah isn't completely like them, and he doesn't say why for Rick and Serena but it's probably because of their treatment with AmBro51A. He refuses to elaborate further, suggesting Dr Johnson might tell them more before walking off, leaving them with more questions than answers.

In the clubroom, as Jason returns from picking up the prototype lightning gun he's been tinkering with, everyone receives an urgent news bulletin on their Lincs. Food all across the Earth is starting to rot inexplicably, crops are starting to wither and die, and livestock are contracting deadly diseases. The phenomenon is causing widespread panic, and people are joining in mass prayer at various religious services.

Jason notes that Ora Cohen, leader of the Followers of the Communion, did warn about the coming of the 'next plague' and suggests they go talk to her to find out what she knows. Rick wearily notes that he needs to talk to Cohen about contacting his father anyway. AK-47, Harris and Billy leave to go and find out more about what's going on. Before they go, Rick sends a copy of his conversation with Dr Johnson to AK-47's Linc, trusting her to do the right thing with it.

Resignedly, Rick asks who else wants to go pay Cohen and the Followers a visit. Jason just cocks his lightning gun in response and Marten, Esteban, Joanne and Serena all decide to go too. Rick looks ready to argue against Serena going, but she assures him that it'll be fine and if there's a chance of finding out about their father's whereabouts then she wants to be there. With Sarah's lecture about resorting to violence still fresh in his mind, Rick leaves his kendo stick on the table, but doesn't argue when Joanne picks it up - along with her own practice sword - before they head out.

The Unfortunate Truth
On their way, they find the festival is still going on, but the atmosphere is more subdued because of the news from Earth. Those who were indulging at the food stalls have stopped and are looking guilty. The Faithful, who organised the festival in the first place, are leading people in prayer for the 'saints' to help them. Rick puts up the hood on his head in discomfort at hearing prayers being made in his own name.

They arrive at the warehouse used by the Followers as their 'church', finding the doors wide open. They head inside to find Ora Cohen on stage, delivering a sermon to the other mask-clad Followers, declaring that the prophesied plague has arrived and that they must pray to the Mayzor to reverse it; just as they solved the problem of the world's diminishing resources when they first appeared on Earth as the Legulus. She tells them that the plague is the Mayzor's punishment because their faith in them has been waning, and that they must strengthen their faith or the Mayzor will punish them further.

Rick interrupts the sermon with sarcastic clapping, drawing all of the Followers' attention. Ora greets him and Serena, announcing that one of the 'princes' of the Mayzor and his 'princess' have graced them with their presence, and welcomes them as guests. Rick observes that Ora's part in the plan seems to be to make people turn back to the Mayzor and submit to their rule out of fear of retribution. Ora reiterates the points of her sermon, leading both Jason and Rick to rebuke her. Jason says that 'faith doesn't come at the butt of a gun' and Rick denounces Ora's religion as little more than a protection racket. Marten agrees, if the Mayzor actually cared about humanity they'd help them, not punish and destroy. Ora counters by asking if Marten thinks all gods are just. Marten doesn't have an answer for that, but Rick retorts that the Mayzor are not gods.

Ora disagrees, repeating her sermon again, this time using the phrase 'the faith is strong' which catches both Rick and Marten's attention since they've both heard that a few times before. When Marten asks why she keeps saying that, she tells them it's something the Grand General of the Mayzor has said time and time again. She knows they're probably aware of the Grand General's identity, Commander Yamasuka herself, from having stolen her Linc during their last encounter. She asks for it back, so Rick gets it from Esteban and tosses it back to her. They've got all the information they could out of it anyway. She then asks Rick why he and his friends have come. Rick tells her that since both of them are looking for his father, he thought they could help each other out.

Ora suspected this was their reason for coming, and leads them down into the basement, to the blank white room where Serena was held last time. Rick and Serena both get a similar vibe from the room to that of the Zen garden the Prophet pilots use for their mental training exercises. Rick surprises Ora with his foreknowledge that she has been gifted with a psychic talent by Commander Yamasuka, but remains silent about the source of his knowledge.

She elaborates on her talent, telling them she is able to see into peoples' dreams and memories. She'll use this ability to help Rick attempt to contact his father. The first step is to guide Rick through his most recent dreams and memories to trace the source of Rafe's last psychic contact with him. As soon as Rick is ready, she places her hands on his head and starts probing his mind.

Among the most recent dreams and nightmares that surface in her probing, the most prominent is one of Rick and Serena standing on the surface of the moon without spacesuits, the two of them standing on a distinct border between the light and dark sides. They both cling to each other, holding each others arms tightly to keep each other firmly anchored between the two sides. Rick also sees the dream of him looking into a mirror and seeing himself with the pale skin and silver hair of a Mayzor.

They soon reach the memory of his conversation with Rafe in the Arx's garden park, zooming into Rafe's eyes and down a dark tunnel, coming out on the surface of the moon. There, they find Rafe with a swarm of Locusts and a couple of Magnas gathered around, rallying them to him against the other generals in a fight to restore balance to their race. Ora mutters in satisfaction: 'Found you.'

The vision fades and Ora tells Rick that he must now concentrate and morph the room they're in to match Rafe's location the same way they do in their visualisation exercises in the Zen garden. Serena links minds with him to help out, and they telepathically reach out to Opsie for her help as well.

The rest of the group are stunned as the room shifts to the same scene on the moon, finding the huge Magnas and Locusts towering over them and Rafe standing with his back to them. The Mayzor all turn their gazes on Rick and company, and then Rafe turns to face Rick. He doesn't seem surprised, but rather relieved to see his son. He notes the others' presence but focuses on Rick and Serena. He tells them that this army is the rebellion he has gathered against the Mayzor.

While everyone else is distracted by this family reunion, Jason notices Ora Cohen has her Linc in her hands and sees her type something into it before slipping it back into her pocket. Jason gets out his own Linc to hack hers, finding that she has sent Rafe's location to Commander Yamasuka. He edits the message to alter the coordinates to indicate the Peary crater on the opposite side of the moon, then wipes the credit from her phone just to be safe.

Meanwhile, Rick tells his father he's not sure how long they have to talk and that he needs to know the Mayzor's plan. Rafe agrees that it's time they knew the truth and explains that the Mayzor do not want to eradicate humanity, but they are instead using them to power and evolve themselves.

When the Legulus were on Earth, they discovered that they could draw power from humanity's faith; the reason they say the faith is strong is because it literally gives them strength. When they revealed themselves and offered their aid to humanity, they were praised as saviours and that gave them some strength. They began to experiment with this effect, even after their exodus from Earth, and became corrupted by it.

They abduct people to use their faith that they will be rescued and saved to draw power from that. They laid waste to the Holy Lands in their initial invasion to diminish faith in the world's major religions, because they don't draw power from faith which isn't connected to them somehow. They had one of their generals, Dr Cruix, go undercover and provide humanity with the means to fight back, which culminated in the creation of the SAInts: Mayzor technology controlled by human pilots. Because the SAInts are tied to humanity as well as the Mayzor, humanity's faith in their ability to defeat the Mayzor actually generates more faith for them to draw upon.

The whole Mayzor invasion campaign is essentially a long con to build up the Mayzor's power. The longer this cycle goes on the more powerful the Mayzor will become until eventually they'll no longer need humanity and no force in the universe will be able to oppose them. Rick is staggered by this revelation, as there seems to be no way humanity can possibly win if what Rafe says is the truth. The only way, Rafe agrees, would be to destroy humanity's faith; stop fighting, stop making everyone believe in them and their ability to save mankind from the Mayzor. But even if they did that, the Mayzor would still have enough energy leftover to devastate Earth.

Marten protests that they've done so much to turn the Mayzor's weapons against them and that there must be a way to take that further. This gives Rick an idea, and he asks if there's any way they can harness humanity's faith in them to their own advantage. Rafe says it's possible for Rick and the rest of Blue Company - due to their half-Mayzor DNA - to draw upon the faith. Rick and Serena have been treated with AmBro51A to suppress that ability, but there is a way to reverse the process. However, in using the faith to empower themselves, they would risk being corrupted by it just like the other Generals. The only reason Rafe has been able to resist corruption himself is because his love for his family has given him enough of a tie to humanity to resist it.

Jason proposes another option: they could use the AmBro51A serum against the Mayzor Generals themselves, cutting them off from their power. Rafe agrees that it's possible, but as long as the Generals are united and strong it will be difficult to get close enough to use the serum. Jason remarks that five years ago he'd have said piloting giant robots on the moon was impossible too, so it's worth a shot.

Rick suggests preparing a means of reversing the serum for himself and Blue Company anyway, just in case they need an extra edge against the Generals. Rafe says he can help them do that but Jason will need to help in setting it up and they'll need to requisition Mayzor technology for it which can only be used by the Mayzor or those with Mayzor DNA. Unfortunately, the only place they'll be able to get such materials from is from one of their major outposts. Rafe promises to support the SAInt pilots with his army whatever course they decide to take and gives them a means of distinguishing the rebel units from the main force.

Before their connection is lost, Rick asks Rafe if he know where his mother is. He does: she's being held in an outpost in the Aitken crater, which is the equivalent of a fortified city and the next major stronghold they'll need to storm to reach the heart of Tartarus, the Mayzor's main base of operations. Rafe bids them good luck and farewell before the scene dissolves, and they find themselves back in the white room.

Rick turns to Ora Cohen, who is herself in shock at Rafe's revelations, and angrily asks if she will still follow the Mayzor, commenting that her 'gods' are nothing but parasites. Jason backs him up by referring to her faith as a 'happy meal' for the Mayzor. Cohen is unable to respond, needing time to process what she has discovered. Rick and the others leave her alone in the white room, looking completely lost.

TO BE CONTINUED...

Marten: We've got to pull everyone together for this mission...
Strudel: How is this the first I'm hearing about all this stuff?
 Rick: You're threatening to skip this mission because you're in a childish strop?
Jason: Sit down and listen, because this is big bombshell type stuff, and we need you on board.
Esteban: I'm getting some strange readings, multiple contacts appearing...
Strudel: NOOOOOOOOO!

NEXT EPISODE: 'Cage Match'

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