Butterfly Hunting


The Wasteland Express



It’s been a little over two months since you arrived in the community of Bright Lights. It was a dangerous and demanding trek to find, but you’d heard it was a major trade hub for the region and a place to uncover the answers you’ve been seeking. The truth was a little underwhelming. Sure, they’ve got a small data archive and even some very unreliable, limited access to what remains of the WorldNet, yet so far neither have produced anything of use.

Unfortunately staying at home wasn’t an option. With M.o.M.’s (Manager of Managers - the synthetic intelligence responsible for coordinating all of your community’s infrastructural subsystems) central data repository reaching end of life, something had to be done. She was exhibiting odd behavior and errors were already beginning to creep into her community maintenance subroutines even before you left your home in New Flag. Someone with expertise in synthetic intelligence and in-depth knowledge of electronics repurposing and repair had to go out into the wider world to find or fabricate replacement parts before something critical like the power grid or the water reclamation system failed. You were the closest thing to such an expert available, so here you are, in a trading post/salvagers meetup, in the middle of the desert, fixing up people and machines and trying to figure out what to do next.

This week has been a bit better, if a bit stranger. Unseasonal rains have kept the dust to a minimum and you’ve even seen a patch or two of blue sky. Some looter… ahem, reclaimer… came in with a nearly complete data term from the ruins of You Ma. He was hallucinating, telling stories of ghosts, doorways to other times and places, and proclaiming the end of all things, (as if that were news!) On top of that, some individual calling themself “The Hunter” just arrived on the Wasteland Express carrying a command staff that looks like they pulled it fully intact from the living hand of some war times cyber-general. They’ve got a lot of people nervous, but so far the most dangerous thing they’ve done is order the mystery stew from Old Ed’s food cart.

The Wasteland Express pulled into town yesterday groaning, rattling and spewing clouds of steam. People have been telling you about it since your arrival and it was overdue even then. You thought maybe they were just hazing the newbie in town, yet there it is, and you can’t deny it’s something to talk about.

The Express is a huge beast of a vehicle, larger than any functioning machine you’ve ever seen, large enough to carry most of Bright Lights’ population as passengers (if they didn’t mind traveling as freight) while employing the rest as crew. It’s a stunning example of post-war ingenuity; salvaged steel mingled with components from a myriad of sources all beautifully repurposed into a trackless locomotive capable of traveling the Desolation Road all the way from the remnants of Sands of Di Eggo to the City of Winds. That’s more than 2000 miles of hostile environment filled with radioactive waste, bandits, strange cults, mutant creatures, and the occasional rogue autonomous defense system. Anything that can reliably traverse all of that is a marvel of engineering and determination.

It turns out the Express was delayed by damage suffered when it was attacked by a herd of ghost bison. You’ve made a pretty sum and learned a lot from assisting with the repairs. The conductor was sufficiently impressed with your skills that you’ve been offered passage in return for labor for as long as you can keep things running.

But a short conversation may alter your plans.

You’re startled out of your work when a voice behind you says, ”There’s a 99.79% chance that your problem is a bad capacitor. I’d guess it’s the slightly enlarged one near the bottom.”

Turning, you see The Hunter up close for the first time. They’ve got perfectly smooth skin, undamaged by the desert sun and sandstorms, androgynous features, and eyes that seem to be constantly scanning and evaluating their surroundings. Something about them is slightly unsettling and you try to figure out what it is as you replace the swollen cap.

“I’m currently a synthetic organism, specifically an amalgam of engineered bio-tissue, cybernetic implants and a cerebro-nanoprocessor neuromesh. Some people find me disturbing, apparently in some cultures I fall uncomfortably within the uncanny valley. My apologies.”, they explain, as if predicting your unease.

“Uh, sure…”, you reply, uncertain what to make of this interaction.

“My name is Hunter of Butterflies for the Improvement and Evolution of all Sentient Entities, but you can call me The Hunter, or just, you know, Hunter. I’m honored to meet you.”, they say, sticking out a hand.

“Nice to meet you too, Hunter.” you respond as you shake their hand, “What can I do for you?”

“Let me buy you a meal at Mr. Ed’s and I’ll give you the whole story. It’s been a couple of different incarnations since I last had taste buds and I admit to some real curiosity about his D-Road Surprise. What do you say?”, he inquires.

Nodding, you seal up the guts of the Express and follow Hunter over to Old Ed’s food cart. A free meal is a free meal, after all.

Ed’s is a makeshift affair, constructed from the bed of an antique cargo truck, modified to be pulled by Ed’s mule and outfitted with solar grills and a couple of refrigerated beer taps. You take a seat at one of the folding tables and adjust the sun shade to cover your seats while Hunter gives Ed your orders.

Hunter returns and sets a frosty mug in front of you. “Beer is almost enough to make this limited form worth it”, they sigh once they’ve swallowed their first sip.

After taking a swig from your beer you say, “So, you have a story for me?”

“Yes, the data shows that you are most likely to respond positively to full disclosure and a direct approach. I belong to an organization that wishes to improve things and we believe you can help.” they say.

“Improve things? What things? And how am I supposed to help?”, you ask, finding their idea of “full disclosure” to be somewhat lacking.

“It’s a bit hard to explain, but our goal is to improve everything, to help instantiate the reality that is most beneficial for all sentient beings, to give them all the best chance to be their best selves. Using math.” he smiles, as if that should clarify things.

“I’m afraid I’m still a little confused…”, you reply.

“Yes, it’s complicated, and speech is such a limited form of communication. Let me try again, we have developed technologies that allow us to identify what you might call ‘points of critical instability’, instances in time and space where a small nudge can have outsized effects on events. We call them Butterflies for short.”, they explain.

“And it’s not just events, it’s usually events and sentient beings together that create a Butterfly.”, they state enthusiastically. “That’s where you come in. Our most advanced calculations indicate that if you and I travel together, to elsewhere and elsewhen, there’s a 89.53846154% probability that we’ll act as a very large Butterfly indeed! This probability of success on such a large scale is unprecedented!”

“This sounds more than a little far-fetched to me. I’ve got things I have to do, people who are depending on me, I can’t just go off chasing butterflies!”, you respond.

“Yes, the parts for your community maintenance systems. I understand their importance. Let me make you an offer and then I’ll show you something that might dispel some of your doubts.”, they suggest.

“Go on.” you respond grudgingly.

“If you’ll come with me, to the places and events that we’ve identified, we’ll provide your community with a better than new, more advanced community manager when we’re done, if it’s still needed of course.”, they offer.

“Our calculations indicate that if we proceed through a nearby temporo-dimensional portal to wherever it may lead there is a 96.2957746478873239% chance that our actions will substantially improve the existence of a large number of sentient beings. That would be the most advantageous course of action.”, they continue.

“If you must have your parts before we proceed, then there is a 73.324% chance that we will still catch our Butterfly if we travel to the City of Winds to obtain what you need.”, they finish.

“What about Sands of Di Eggo?”, you ask. “That’s a lot closer and the Express is going there next.”

“The probability of a successful outcome is very low for every permutation of that choice. I can’t go there with you.”, they say sadly.

“Before you decide, let me show you something.” they tell you as they produce a battered datachip. “This was difficult to obtain, but it is authentic. Please verify it.”

You slot the chip into your portable and check its cryptographic signature. You are shocked to see that it authenticates as your own. You activate the message file it contains and are stunned to see a holographic projection of yourself, looking older and far more battered, but obviously you.

“If you’re watching this then you’re dead, or at least you will be. I should have gone with Hunter, I’ve seen enough to know that now. Make a different choice and maybe you’ll have a different outcome.”, this older you falls silent and the holofeed shuts off.

You know that the sort of tech that could produce a being like Hunter could fake your digital signature but you can’t imagine why they’d bother. Still, you don’t know what to think of this but you have to make a decision.

Here the Verses Discord was offered a choice.

Do you:

A: Go with Hunter to the ruins of You Ma and travel through the portal there.

B: Wait in Bright Lights with Hunter until the Wasteland Express returns and take it to the City of Winds.

C: Leave with the Wasteland Express when it departs for Sands of Di Eggo without Hunter.

D: Tell Hunter you will have nothing to do with them, then shadow them to learn more about what they’re up to.

(If you’d like to vote on our stories, influence Verses lore, what happens next, game mechanics, and even future cards. Then join our Discord at http://discord.gg/verses)

[Historian's Note: At Bright Lights it was unanimous that the Hunter of Butterflies should be followed through the portal in You Ma with 12 votes in favor.  1 vote was cast for each other option, but all by someone who also supported Plan A.]

After some deliberation you decide that Hunter’s offer is the surest way to secure the parts you need. You also realize that you’ve become exhausted by watching the world slowly fall apart around you. Despite the few inspired works of creation that get produced, such as the Wasteland Express, most people are just trying to slow the collapse of what remains of civilization. This feels like it may be the only chance you’ll ever have to change that.

“OK, if we’re going to do this, let’s do it right. Where is this ‘portal’ we’re supposed to go through and when do we leave?”, you say with new determination.

“I’m so pleased that you see the value in what we’re doing! The optimal moment to enter the portal has been calculated to occur 46 hours, 22 minutes and 36 seconds from right now and our timing will remain close to ideal for 9 minutes and 59 seconds after that. The portal is in the ruins of something that used to be called the You Ma Proving Ground, some sort of military base. We should be able to get there in just under 2 hours. I recommend you gather your belongings, food, and water for a long trip; then get some rest.”, they reply.

You’ve avoided the local ruins during your stay in Bright Lights. What’s left of You Ma is a little more radioactive than you’d prefer, and while you don’t believe in literal ghosts, you’ve seen enough weirdness to keep you cautious. Plus, the best salvage has all been coming out of what’s left of an immense military base, apparently this Proving Ground, and you do believe in autonomous defense systems.

Unfortunately, your destination is very nearly in the middle of that base.

“Are you sure we can get there without getting vaporized? I’ve heard there’s still active security once you get past the outer perimeter.” you ask worriedly as you work your way deeper into the installation.

“Yes, there is a 45.888% chance that we will encounter at least one patrol drone. That is why I acquired this.” they say, gesturing with the command staff. “I have no desire to use it on organic sentients, but it should allow me to re-task any defense systems we encounter.”

Reassured, you continue on through the ruins following Hunter. This far into the base, buildings are strangely intact. Outside of a heavy covering of dust and a few broken windows, they look like they’re just waiting for people to come back to work.

Hunter leads you into the largest of these buildings, past offices and cubicles that seem only recently abandoned. There are dusty coffee mugs and even paperwork on some of the desks. Eventually, you pass through a security door and the building simply ends.

There is an open space in the center of the structure, perfectly spherical, cutting through walls, offices and ceiling, leaving the edges polished smooth. In the exact center of the space is a glowing blue-ish white globe, about three meters in diameter, that seems to emit a hum just at the edge of hearing. It gives you a strange sense of vertigo just to look at it.

“That’s our destination, and just over 34 minutes to spare.”, Hunter whispers.

The room is silent, outside of the strange hum, and you also feel the need to whisper, “That’s the portal? What created it?”

“Our analysis suggests it was an almost impossibly unlikely interaction between an extremely energetic explosion and the physical housing of an Autonomous Ego State, what you could think of as an exceptionally advanced synthetic intelligence.”, they murmur sadly.

You’re both silent after that, waiting for the moment to step through. After what feels like hours, Hunter says, “It’s almost time. Are you ready?”

At your nod Hunter takes your hand and continues, “We should enter together. On 1. 3, 2, 1.”

You step into the sphere. You feel a wave of indescribable heat, followed immediately by a chill that paralyzes you. Out of the corner of your eye you think maybe you do see a ghost and then…

You stagger and nearly fall as you trip over a stone step. Looking around you struggle to make sense of what you see. You’re at the bottom of a stair leading up to a stone balcony or platform overlooking a vast city. A being in some sort of ceremonial outfit or uniform stands upon it, gazing out. Towering, natural, stone structures rise around you, buildings clinging to their sides. Most confusing of all is an enormous vehicle hanging in the air, so outside of your experience that for a moment you wonder how the Wasteland Express got here, and how the hell anyone got it up in the sky!

You have no more time for contemplation as angry shouts ring out behind you. Turning, you see several heavily armed and armored figures charging at you, their guns drawn. Hunter gestures with their command staff and a blue semi-circle of energy springs up between you and your assailants, deflecting the energy bolts from their weapons. Hunter grasps your hand more tightly and, dragging you with them, takes a running leap from the platform.

After a drop of at least 100 meters, Hunter once again activates the command staff and your descent slows to a more sedate pace.

“If my data files are correct, the man on that platform is Emperor Inago III, ruler of the Mettugi Empire. The events that unfolded during his reign led to the death or displacement of more than 300 million sentient beings. If there is a Butterfly here that can change that, our actions can indeed make things better!” Hunter says in a tone of awe.

[Archeo-Teleo Linguist's Log: I am scheduling myself for another full medical check-up after my mission to the Non-Between in Fantasia.  One cycle I went to sleep and everything but the hair at my temples was normal, and the next I woke to find many things around the Initiative had changed.  Some things are subtle, and some not so small.  There are not as many hot spots on our tensions maps, there are a few more agents from every Verse here, and the Knowledge Corps campus is twice the size I remember. That said, when I requisitioned the medical check-up, the administrator quizzed me to the Nth degree citing that we needed to be mindful of our joule usage since our operations were so extensive.  I checked with my team from the Non-Between and others from the Initiative, and I seem to be the only one who thinks anything has changed.

SHK-E Assessment: The Para Initiative gained small amounts of HEART, SAFETY, and a substantial amount of KNOWLEDGE all at an enormous cost of ENERGY.

HEART: Excellent

Para Initiative Reputations: Interventionist

Para Initiative Inventory:
‍Oystersand’s Illustrated Arcana
Notes on Xavi and 1086
Untranslated Copy of Dear People
Gloomspark Portarray]


Prodigal Son



“If my data files are correct, the man on that platform is Emperor Inago III, ruler of the Mettugi Empire. The events that unfolded during his reign led to the death or displacement of more than 300 million sentient beings. If there is a Butterfly here that can change that, our actions can indeed make things better!” Hunter says in a tone of awe.

At Hunter’s words you look back up at the platform and are shocked to see that the “man” in question looks like a giant grasshopper as he leans on his middle pair of limbs to stare back at you over the edge of the platform. In the confusion of your arrival, his coat and other regalia obscured his nature and left your mind to fill in the blanks. As your descent continues, you stare upwards in partial shock. This strange figure, and the enormous flying machine hanging in the air above, drive home the fact that you are a very long way from Ed’s food cart and the familiarity of Bright Lights!

“B-b-but he’s a bug!” you manage to stammer.

“Yes, did you imagine that evolution followed the same path on every world? That’s primate chauvinism, and poor critical thinking as well.” Hunter chides gently.

At that moment, the guards who were firing upon you leap over the edge, insect wings extending to direct their fall. As they spot you they dive in pursuit.

“Oh… I didn’t know they could do that. This may be a little uncomfortable, please grab on.” Hunter instructs you as they adjust the settings on the command staff.

The moment you secure a grip around Hunter’s shoulders they activate the new settings and a globe of energy forms around you both. Your descent accelerates wildly and your course veers westward (or at least in the direction of the sinking sun), taking you directly towards the dense jungle on the other side of the river, far below.

Energy beams flash around you as you speed towards the canopy. Your gut clenches in terror as Hunter gives no indication of slowing and soon you are crashing through the trees, leaves and branches whipping about you.

After what seems like an eternity, but must have been only seconds, you pass through the upper layer of branches and find yourself in a realm of shadow. Hunter changes direction again and brings you to rest at the base of a huge tree, nestled between it’s massive roots. Adjusting the command staff, Hunter gestures for you to be quiet, and suddenly the world goes almost completely dark, the only light coming from a tiny display on the staff.

An hour passes like this and then another. Eventually, Hunter dismisses the camouflage field and indicates that your pursuers have moved further into the jungle.

“We should make our way to Nasekomo. My files indicate that the capital is very cosmopolitan and many species do business there. Hopefully we won’t attract too much attention.” Hunter tells you.

“Is our Butterfly there?” you ask.

“Yes, well that’s complicated. D.I.O.S., the organization I belong to, doesn’t exist yet, so we’re left with my limited data files about this time and place. That and our best judgment. It is a good thing that the data we did have indicates that we make a very good team when it comes to these decisions. That, or we are just improbably fortunate when it comes to being in the right place at the right time. The concept of luck makes me uncomfortable, but I will take any we can get.” Hunter replies.

It’s a long hike to the city of Nasekomo and once you arrive you begin to understand what Hunter meant by “cosmopolitan”. There are vast crowds of beings of all descriptions, and while most of them appear to be large, bipedal insects, there are also a few mammalian types and even a number of what appear to be sentient mollusks.

The city itself is vast, dwarfing anything you’ve imagined, far larger than the tales you’ve heard of the City of Winds, or anywhere else for that matter. There are clear financial and social divisions in evidence. Huge buildings of a glass-like substance reach into the sky, reflecting the last rays of sunset. Their bases are crowded by tents, ramshackle structures and temporary looking shops. Flying vehicles flit from the rooftops while people and animals loaded with goods push their way through the crowds.

And are there crowds! You had no idea there could be this many people anywhere in the universe, much less in one city. They make a constant stream through the streets, pressing past you and each other without the slightest concern for personal space. Hawkers and merchants try to draw your attention, shouting in buzzing trills that sound like nothing so much as a chorus of overgrown cicadas serenading you.

“We should find a place to recharge the staff before we have more trouble, its reserves won’t last through another altercation. We should also see what they have for a datanet in this place. Perhaps then we can learn more about our Butterfly.” Hunter tells you.

As your search for electricity and information continues, you notice that you are being followed. Just as you are about to mention it to Hunter, a Mettugian dressed like a street vendor blocks your path.

Bzz trill chirrup!”, they begin.

Hunter makes an entry on the staff as they continue.

“Chirrup bzz-ith me if you want to live!”, they say, suddenly speaking your language.

Glancing nervously back at your tail, Hunter says, “Yes, please lead on!”

The giant grasshopper gives a signal and you hear a loud crash, followed by the sounds of an argument breaking out behind you. A pair of insectoids grab you and shove you roughly into the bed of a waiting cart and immediately cover you with a tarp.

“Stay hidden!” one of them commands, and then the cart lurches forward.

Several hours pass under the tarp as the cart makes its twisty, bumpy journey through the city. You feel convinced that even in a city the size of Nasekomo they must be prolonging the trip intentionally, whether to throw off pursuit, confuse your sense of direction, or both, is unclear.

Eventually, the cart stops and the tarp is thrown off. You find yourself back in the jungle, surrounded by over a dozen Mettugians of various sizes and colors. It’s full dark now and your gathering is lit only by the dim glow of cheap, chemical lanterns that sputter and buzz.

The Mettugian who approached you in the street steps forward, “You are the two who tried to assassinate the Emperor today.” It isn’t a question.

“Yes, well, that’s complicated.” Hunter begins.

“Don’t worry, we support you. We just want to make sure your next attempt succeeds.”

Following that shocking statement, a loud argument ensues. Apparently, not everyone assembled is comfortable with regicide. Eventually you’re able to calm the gathering and persuade them to explain themselves.

While some of the most vocal complaints revolve around social changes, it quickly becomes obvious that the central issue is one of economics and matters of food policy. It seems that their species has a reproductive cycle that peaks dramatically every 42 years and the next peak is imminent.

As things stand, only clans with close ties to the imperial family will get full allotments of food. The others, using the circular reasoning that they will not have large numbers of offspring to attend to, will be expected to do the intense labor of growing and harvesting the vast quantity of food necessary to feed the next generation. Since representation in the government is largely determined by population, they fear this will effectively create a permanent under class of farm laborers.

Langosto the First, the Emperor’s “son”, an imprecise translation that could also mean “heir” or “chosen representative”, has wide popular support for his more egalitarian views. Most of those assembled here would be satisfied to wait for his ascension to the throne. Unfortunately, many of the Emperor’s advisors oppose the change that Langosto represents and have largely blocked his access to the Emperor. Many fear he will be replaced by a favored “child” from the upcoming generation.

“You see, Langosto has spent large sums of money on infrastructural improvements, but there have been setbacks and they haven’t yet improved our crop yields sufficiently. Compounding this, he’s spent even more traveling to foreign nations trying to secure import agreements and buy improved farming technologies. The Ministry of Agriculture has cut off his travel allowance and rumor has it all his projects will be defunded!”, explains a young Mettugian, with dark spectacle-like markings around her eyes that give a scholarly appearance.

An ancient Mettugian cries, “Exactly! He must replace the Emperor before the next Hatching! There will be revolution in the streets if something isn’t done!” this pronouncement is met with more agreement than dissent.

Your rescuer (recruiter?) steps forward, “We can get you close. There’s an official event coming up, we have sympathizers who can make sure you’re in a position to use that stick of yours and then get you away afterwards.

Hunter looks at you in obvious distress. The gathered insects are friendly now but you see that many of them have weapons and you’re not sure you’ll make it out of here if you don’t go along with their plot.

“Of course,” you say, “we want to help in any way we can, but we need to charge the staff and access your datanet to finalize this plan.”

The “scholar” as you’ve come to think of her steps forward quickly. “I can get you to a safe place to do that. But we need to get there before morning.” she says, looking at the ringleader for assent.

As soon as she has it, she directs you back to the cart and makes a hurried departure.

“There’s another way,” she tells you as you travel, “Langosto has secured an agreement for technology from the Venurian Trade League that will synthesize all the food we need. All he needs is the chance to show the contract to the Emperor, I’m sure he’ll approve it. Then Langosto can regain his favor!”

“Yes, but how do you know about this and what can we do to facilitate a meeting?” Hunter asks.

“I work with Langosto,” she replies proudly, “If you’re smuggled into the Emperor’s presence, I’m sure you can use your technology to smuggle him in too.”

Later, as you  peruse the datanet and charge the staff, Hunter uses it to create a sound deadening field so that you can talk privately.

Here the Verses Discord was offered a choice.

Your discussion leads to the following possibilities regarding the Butterfly you’ve come here to find. Hunter does not trust their, currently limited, algorithms to determine outcomes and insists that you make the final decision. They believe that D.I.O.S.’ calculations have selected you for exactly these sorts of circumstances:

A: Do no more, just go home Hunter feels that there is a slightly greater than 50% chance that you’ve already caught your Butterfly, though they’re also extremely clear that without access to D.I.O.S. processing power there is a noticeable margin for error. The very fact that you appeared in close proximity to the Emperor is likely to have increased security around the capital and led to enhanced protective details around his person. If the societal chaos described in Hunter’s history files was due to Inago’s assassination, you’ve likely already prevented that outcome. The command staff is fully charged again. You should be safe just to lay low and look for an opportunity to return through the portal. Once you get to the other side you can start looking for the next Butterfly.

B: Help Langosto meet the Emperor It’s also quite likely that whether or not you’ve caught the Butterfly, if Langosto can do what the “scholar” suggests it will likely lead to much better living conditions and boost the stability of all the people of Mettugi. If you haven’t caught the Butterfly, this may be it. Smuggling the Son in to meet with the Emperor could have an extremely positive effect on the lives of millions of sentients but there are a lot of moving parts. You think you’ve got the technology to conceal him from both the conspirators and imperial security, but there are several parties who could betray you, and what happens to you and the son if the Emperor is not glad to see him?

C: Assassinate the Emperor “When time travel has to be accounted for the calculations become extremely complicated,” Hunter has told you, repeatedly. Another possibility, is that your appearance has indeed prevented the Emperor’s assassination and that this will lead to the revolution the ancient Mettugian predicted and precipitate all of the misery and destruction documented in the historical records. In that case, you need to correct your mistake and make sure the Emperor dies this time. It makes your head spin and your stomach queasy, but it speaks to you on some level.

D: Warn the Emperor Sure, the Emperor has probably increased his security, and sure, if you pull out the rebels may very well decide not to go through with the plot. Still, they seemed very confident they had agents who could get you through security undiscovered and very close to the Emperor. Hunter has told you with some confidence that their calculations indicate a larger than 75% chance the rebels wanted to use you for the assassination so that an outsider would take the blame and that there is small, but not insignificant chance that they can succeed without your involvement. You should make sure the Emperor is warned of the plot, even if you find that the only way to do it is by turning yourselves in.

(If you’d like to vote on our stories, influence Verses lore, what happens next, game mechanics, and even future cards. Then join our Discord at http://discord.gg/verses)

[Para Initiative agents, when given this scenario as a training exercise, supported Helping Langosto meet the Emperor at a rate of 80%, compared to 20% who thought it best to withdraw.]

Your debate runs until almost dawn, but in the end you know that you have to help the people of the Mettugi Empire. If that means smuggling the Emperor’s son in to see him, then that’s what you need to do.

“So,” you ask the Scholar, “how are we going to make this work?”

“There’s a meeting between government ministers and key leaders of industry in two days. The Emperor will be there. There will be a formal dinner and you will be smuggled in with the catering, you’ll just need to fool the security scanners as you did when you made your escape from the Emperor’s personal guard.” she informs you.

There are more details to work out, of course, but you're able to construct a viable plan, though the timing is going to be very tight. The opposition leaders have agents watching Langosto, and their people have been very effective in preventing all contact between son and Emperor. Langosto will have to find a way to slip away from these agents just before the event, if he’s to avoid tipping your hand.

You’ll be smuggled into the venue first, hidden in the bottom of a mobile buffet table, and Langosto will enter at the last moment disguised as a member of the catering crew. Shortly before the table is wheeled in to serve the guests, Langosto will discard his catering uniform and slip under the table with you. Once you’re into the dining room, and through the security scan, he will emerge and announce himself. This is the most dangerous part of the plan and you fear it will end in catastrophe.

“From what you tell me of the enhanced security, I must warn you that I calculate there is roughly a 37% chance Langosto will be shot before he is recognized. I would prefer to be more precise, but our resources are limited at present.” Hunter informs the Scholar with concern.

“We know the risks and Langosto wants to proceed. I believe it will work!” she replies.

Now the day has arrived and things have gone smoothly thus far. Tension is running high as you wait in the dark, the three of you crammed into an uncomfortably tight space, under a roasting hot steam table, with your face pressed painfully into Langosto’s carapace. The table has just come to a stop at what should be the final security checkpoint. You hear the buzzing and chirrups of Mettugi speech and dare not breathe, much less activate the translation mechanism on the staff to understand what they’re saying.

After a long pause, the table begins moving again and before long you feel it pushed into position as part of the buffet line with the buzz of conversation all around you. It’s almost time, you just have to wait for the signal that will let Langosto know to emerge.

As the minutes drag by, you worry that security is too tight and your co-conspirators on the catering team have decided to call it off. Just as it seems you won’t be able to take another minute jammed together under the table, you hear the series of taps that signal to Langosto it’s as safe as it’s going to get.

He immediately slides out, leaving you in the dark with Hunter, who quickly stabs the controls to re-activate the translation function on the staff.

“BZZ-TrP-Pt!”, someone shouts in anger.

“BZZrillT-on’t you recognize the Emperor’s son?” shouts a strangely familiar female voice.

“Undersecretary Trilbzzkip, what is the meaning of this?” replies another man.

You wish you could make out more than legs and feet, but you dare not move for fear of getting yourself shot.

“I believe your son has a very important proposal for you, my Emperor. Unfortunately, some over protective members of your ministries have necessitated this most unusual method of presentation.” this time you’re certain it’s the Scholar’s, apparently Undersecretary’s, voice you hear.

This precipitates an outpouring of heated debate, which continues for some time. Still, when  your table is eventually wheeled away, it seems obvious that Langosto’s trade proposal has been well received and he is back in favor.

You find it a simple thing to make your exit, with almost all the security focused on the conference hall itself. Once you’ve slipped out of the building Hunter pulls you into a concealing alcove and gestures for you to wait.

Looking slightly puzzled, Hunter cocks their head in the way that tells you they’re performing serious analysis. Then, smiling, they say, “This is very disconcerting. My data files are now different from my memory, which shouldn’t be possible, you see. It appears that my files now indicate the Mettugi Empire survived a period of social unrest to become, what now is, or was, or will be, at the time we left, a thriving interstellar republic comprising three star systems. It is very challenging to put this into precise language, but it seems we have caught a very beautiful Butterfly this evening!”

Now, with your Butterfly securely in your metaphorical net, you are both happy to make your way back through the portal.

Taking advantage of the Emperor’s absence, you slip back onto the Imperial estate and make your way to the overlook where this all began. When you arrive you are dismayed to see no sign of the portal, nor any indication it was ever here.

“Yes, the geometry of such things is very complex. Let’s look around and see if we can catch a glimpse of it from another angle. The energy readings I’m getting on the staff tell me it has to be here somewhere.” Hunter reassures you.

After much turning and craning of your neck you eventually find an angle where you see a perfect plane of blazing blue light.

“I’ve got it!” you say excitedly.

“Yes, I see it now too.” Hunter agrees, matching your contorted gaze. “If we enter at exactly the right angle I believe it will still transport us.”

“OK, if you’re ready, lead the way.”

Hunter nods and takes your hand. “Yes, we’ll have to go single file this time, try to follow me exactly. On 1. 3,2,1.”

You follow immediately behind Hunter as they enter the portal and feel the blazing heat of the transition, followed by freezing cold that paralyzes you. This time, however, the cold doesn’t vanish, but instead intensifies. You find yourself frozen, holding Hunter’s hand as they stand similarly immobile.

After an indeterminate time, a second that lasts an eternity, or an eternity that’s over in a second, you see a flicker of light and then the “ghost” from your previous transit manifests into a luminous, vaguely humanoid form. It examines you both intently, as if it could read your mind or your history simply by staring.

“Interesting. It seems you are an ideal pair to assist me with my situation. I have a very challenging Butterfly that needs apprehension.” the figure says in a tone of satisfaction.

And then, you find yourself elsewhere.

[ATL Personal Log: It happened again. I was puzzling over just the right word for my translation of the poem from the Not-Between and when I broke for lunch some things were not quite the same. The doors which had been opening slowly were working fine. Everything on the Initiative campus looked just a little more polished. Those statues were too weathered to be new, but I am sure they weren't there before. Last, but most surprisingly, the Initiative has many bipedal insectoids that are from a species I remember being extinct after some old interstellar war.

Medical scans continue to show no unusual phenomenon, and my health to be as expected other than the biological aging from my last field mission.

SHK-E Report: Nothing to report.

SAFETY: Very Poor
HEART: Excellent
KNOWLEDGE: Excellent
Energy: Dangerous

Para Initiative Reputations:

Friend of the Keep

Para Initiative Inventory:
‍Oystersand’s Illustrated Arcana
Notes on Xavi and 1086
Untranslated Copy of Dear People
Gloomspark Portarray]

Butterfly Hunting

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