December 29, 2012
4Sworn, Session Seventeen
Shockwave Accused Psion of Having “Sold The Auteur the Amber Room” In Order to Resurrect Sybil
Psion dismissed the assertion, pointing out that he had resisted any action for five years of subjective time, and ultimately had no alternative to what he did. Shockwave was unsympathetic, but let the issue drop.
Zap explored the defense communications network to determine the response to the situation on Maria Laxara. He found that most defense communications were focused on the Iraq invasion, but that an alert condition was in place at Minot AFB in North Dakota. Traveling there, he determined that a pair of stealth bombers was enroute to drop GPS guided bunker-busting bombs on the island.
Zap Disarmed the Maria Laxara Bomb
Zap considered trying to intercept the bombers, but anticipated difficulty in finding them. He instead returned to the island to disarm the self-destruct bomb. While attempting to remove part of the bomb core, he accidentally fired the detonator, but phased away enough of the fissionable mass to avert a nuclear explosion.
Zap Broke Down
Zap realized that he can break himself into 32 duplicates, each with 1/32nd the awesome power of the original. He decided to disperse a cloud of himself over the island in hope of intercepting the bombers. He succeeded in locating them, but only after they had dropped their payloads. After a brief diversion into the aircraft’s lightning protection system, two Zaps entered the respective cockpits in time to see the crews announce the mission’s success, as four bombs hammered the island. He stole the crews’ written orders and made good his escape.
Psion and Shockwave Realized That They Had Never Removed the Staff of Bone From the PsiPlane’s Airlock
Shockwave Confronted Psion About the Implications of His Exchange with Starstrike
Enroute in the PsiPlane to pick up the refugees from Maria Laxara, Shockwave asked Psion about the “Committee”, that she had learned about when he carelessly allowed his conversation with Starstrike pass over his telepathic switchboard to the group.
Psion acknowledged that he had acted as a “monitor” of the A of A and System Four for the Senate Select Committee on Superhuman Activities and, by extension, the FSAB, Pentagon and US government. Shockwave accused him of being “an illegal mental wiretap”. Psion corrected that there are technically no laws against telepathic monitoring, though he admitted he had been doing his monitoring and reporting without the knowledge of the superhero groups in question. He emphasized the concern of the government at the time that beings of such power were operating without government control or supervision, and that individuals or groups might turn against the government. He defended his own efforts to alleviate those concerns and discourage government interference.
Pressed for details about his most recent contact with the Committee, Psion admitted having met with them in early 2004. At that time they had expressed concerns about being out-of-touch regarding System 4ce’s activities and intentions, and had vaguely threatened some sort of legislative or executive order-driven crackdown.
Psion explained that he had diminishing contact with the Committee over the years, partially because of the increasing time spent by System 4ce outside of US territory, and often away from Earth and/or its home universe. He emphasized that he considered the Committee, and its various contacts in the military and intelligence services, to be a potential danger to System 4ce, and that his cooperation with it had been both motivated and informed by that concern.
Shockwave expressed her regret about sharing information about her own clandestine activities with Psion, in light of his being “a government stooge”. He attempted to turn the tables, noting that her actions showed that he wasn’t the only member of System 4ce keeping secrets. Shockwave was unswayed, repeating that Psion’s actions showed that he couldn’t be trusted. Psion declared that she was unqualified to make such a determination, and was speaking from a position of “ignorance and paranoia”. This elicited an attempted blow to Psion’s head, but he managed to duck it.
The Freed Prisoners Were Crammed Onto The PsiPlane and Returned To the Firehawk
The argument briefly continued, with Psion attempting to pull rank/appeal to seniority, offended that Shockwave would presume to “dictate terms” to him. Shockwave essentially ignored him while the boarding of the refugees was undertaken, until they had arrived back on the Firehawk and she could inform Zap and Perdition of her concerns. The others, preoccupied with immediate security and strategic concerns, were not drawn into the argument, and Shockwave, in her frustration, attempted another attack on Psion, again unsuccessfully. Zap eventually drew her aside to discuss the complications posed by the sudden breakdown of trust, and potential means of avoiding psychic eavesdropping by Psion.
Psion Consoled Sybil and Inquired Where She Had Been Since Her Presumed Death
In the Firehawk’s Officer’s Lounge, Sybil and Psion conversed telepathically. Sybil recalled awakening in a hospital ward, where Starstrike explained the New York Defenders had been planning some sort of coup in conjunction with the Soviet Directorate of Superbeings. He had abandoned their mission, suspicious that it may have been some sort of cover for the coup. Sybil had remained in hiding since, believing that she was assisting Starstrike and the government in battling a global conspiracy. Over time, what she learned from psychically conducting and assisting interrogations led her to suspect that Psion and System 4ce hadn’t “turned bad”, but she had been uncertain how to act on that until the group had turned up at Maria Laxara.
Psion explained the situation with The Auteur, and the possibility that he had somehow altered the timeline. He also considered the possibility that The Auteur was simply taking advantage of information unknown to System 4ce.
Sybil identified Nathan Trent as the hub of the various government agencies fighting the shadow war in which she believed she was involved. She noted that he was increasingly impatient with the intelligence she was collecting, and frustrated that it was insufficiently useful, that is, that it didn’t support his preconceptions.
Shockwave, Anastasia, and Mindy Discussed Known Security Issues and Psion’s Possible Involvement
Mindy explained that she had identified numerous computer “backdoors” and other apparent security gaps, as well as probable spies in the crew, which had previously been assumed to be the work of international intelligence services. When Shockwave inquired why she hadn’t heard about this previously, Mindy explained that only Psion typically had much interest in such technical minutia. Mindy proposed that she review the computer activity logs associated with Psion, noting that while he could take steps to conceal questionable actions, she would expect him to be too “self-confident” to think such things necessary. She also agreed to put a security flag on Psion in the DCSI system, such that a separate, secret log would be kept of his shipboard activities, accessible only to herself, Anastasia, and Shockwave. Mindy vouched for Psion, stating that in her years of working with him, she had never seen him do anything that she thought intended to be detrimental to the group, but allowing that there was some question as to what he might judge to be in the group’s best interest.
Perdition, Shockwave, and Zap Interrogated the WTC Bomber
Under the influence of the mystical Ring of Xian the bomber explained the specifics of how he executed his mission, which seemed like a fairly conventional terrorist bombing despite the unusual nature of the bomb, which was apparently provided by al Qaeda operatives (originating with known bomb maker named “Ali Mehmed”). He was captured in Atlanta while waiting to attempt a bombing of the LOOP terminal, which was apparently then executed without him. He identifies some of the other Maria Laxara prisoners as al Qaeda terrorists.
Another prisoner, identified as a weapons procurer, relates some knowledge about a secret weapon factory in northwestern Iran, near Tabriz, that produced the weapons (“like nukes, only better”) that were used in the WTC and LOOP attacks.
Anastasia Briefed Perdition, Shockwave, and Zap On the Past 5½ Months
The Firehawk’s phaser attack seemed ineffective, and the base responded with some form of concentrated energy weapon, which the team suspected might have been the "rho gamma" weapon that Desecrator had used on Psion. After withdrawing to longer range and waiting a half hour with no sign of the team, Anastasia and Capt. Ramius decided to withdraw due to the danger to the non-super crewmembers.
The Firehawk remained in international waters as media reports emerged accusing it of attacking unspecified US Navy ships off Hawaii.
The US invasion of Iraq ensued, with the government collapsing fairly rapidly. Reports subsequently surfaced that Iran was aiding the movement of al Qaeda and other Islamist sympathizers into Iraq in support of the continuing insurgency. The Firehawk moved to the Indian Ocean as further reports indicated that some sort of humanoid insects were among the insurgents. This appeared to fulfill Dave’s warning that an isolated group of his mantoid brethren might “latch onto” a human culture of compatibly “collectivist” motivations.
Perdition, Shockwave, and Zap, Later Joined by Psion and Sybil, Interrogated More Maria Laxara Prisoners
Ex-US Army Intelligence officer who trained for CIA service, and specifically with advanced technologies, but apparently had his memory erased somehow.
Sybil, obviously troubled by the psychological damage of the prisoners, described it as resulting from the ham-handed interrogation methods of the facility staff, utilizing drugs, high and low-frequency resonance, and other non-psi methods. She liked the approach to “trying to fix a watch with a hammer”. Her powers, far more effective, were tolerated by the staff as a last resort in interrogation. They otherwise disliked having to trust and rely on individuals as conduits for information.
Another subject, identifying himself as Robbie Jenkins, proved to be unreadable via telepathy. His last pre-imprisonment memory was of exploring an abandoned mental hospital in Connecticut as a teenager, some 25 years earlier. Sybil speculated that he had been possessed by an Algolian, which had been “exorcised” from him by the facility’s interrogation procedures.
Another semi-coherent subject identified himself only as “The Destroyer”. Challenged to “destroy” a ballpoint pen, he did seem to be able to make it vibrate slightly with PK force of some sort. Asked how he had been captured, he claimed to have “volunteered”. Psion’s telepathy revealed only a confusing collage of memories. Sybil seemed better able to read him, and reported that he had apparently been the focus of “poltergeist” activity during a troubled adolescence. Referred to a succession of psychologists, he was picked up by government intelligence operatives, who seemed to have attempted to develop his psychic abilities. Either that development effort itself, or events subsequent to a failure in training, left him in his current, damaged state. Sybil was aware of efforts by the CIA and other agencies in Trent’s network to create superpowered beings. Collectively these programs were referred to as “Project Hothouse”.
Mantoids Attacked US Marines in Iraq
Anastasia alerted the group to messages indicating that mantoids were part of an insurgent group currently attacking US Marine “Firebase Obi-Wan” in Iraq. The team rushed with Dave to the site in hopes of dissuading his brethren from supporting the terrorists.
The team landed in the middle of the base, with Shockwave and Zap moving to engage insurgents and mantoids attacking the perimeter, Perdition covering Dave as he attempted to contact mantoids that had already entered the base, and Psion remaining at the controls of the PsiPlane hovering just above the ground. The attacking mantoids wielded a variety of exotic weapons, including another “Boomerooka”, a “Zero Point Funnel” that caused destructive blasts drawing energy into itself, a bundle of “gravitic implosion grenades”, and a melee weapon like a force saw-tipped bo staff. Most of the mantoids were ultimately killed by catastrophic malfunctions of their own weaponry as System 4ce and the marines beat back the insurgent attack. One mantoid apparently escaped, but the staff-wielding one was convinced by Dave to abandon his insurgent allies, and began to confer with him on how to persuade his 18 remaining comrades. Psion used the PsiPlane to evacuate a critically injured marine and attending medic to a hospital ship.
Zap Infiltrated NSA Headquarters
After extended deliberation, the group decided that the only way to obtain the evidence necessary to combat Trent and restore their reputations was to get it from his headquarters. They found personal information on Trent easier to obtain than they'd feared, but determined that no useful information was likely to exist outside his secure office at the NSA. Zap staked out Trent's home and electrically entered his briefcase when he left for work one morning. Once past security at the office, he left the briefcase and entered Trent's desktop computer. He feigned a hard drive crash, and once tech support had taken away the computer for maintenance, he phased the drive into electrical form with him, and took it back to the Firehawk for imaging. Once this was complete, he reversed his electrical footsteps and returned the drive to NSA headquarters as if it had never left.
The Secrets of Trent's Hard Drive
The drive contained a wealth of data about clandestine activities that Trent had directed or participated in over his 30 year career with the NSA. The files revealed an extensive campaign of monitoring and influencing superheroes and supervillains, as well as efforts to "manufacture" superheroes -- Individuals considered well-suited to the governments needs, whether because they were considered reliable or psychologically manipulable, would be steered into developing superpowers. This was apparently the case with such superheroes as Captain Defender, Captain Firehawk, Starstrike, The Adaptor, and Shockwave, and such villains as Quasar, Violator, and more recently Desecrator. On the other hand, superhuman individuals considered "unreliable" (even ones created by "Project Hothouse" in the first place) would be at least extensively monitored. In some cases such "unreliables" might be "outed" or even effectively framed as outlaws, in hope of precipitating their capture or destruction by other superheroes (as was the case with Quasar in the late '80s). In other instances they might be induced into self-destructive activities (as was the case with the New York Defenders and Adventurers of America.
This was not the limit of Trent's interests, however. System 4ce saw indications that Trent was heavily involved in pulling strings and manufacturing the data required to steer US policy throughout the world. Most recently and significantly this involved building the public case for the Iraq invasion. As with most things he engineered, it appeared that Trent was sincere in considering Iraq to be a threat to the US (both believing it to have been involved in the WTC Hf isomer bombing, as well as conventional WMD programs and assorted nefarious international schemes). He did not, however, appear to be especially rigorous in testing his own theories, and he seemed to view his righteous desired ends as absolutely justifying any means he deemed necessary.