The standard complement of Safety Ethics Assurance, along with a number of Knowledge Corps stand beside your small but authoritative team of Archeo-Teleo-Linguists as the Sieve powers up, and, as its grid of white beams begin to turn the rich, living brown tones that indicate interface with Proxima, you feel the typical lurch that goes along with Sieversal travel, then shake your head clear to discover you are... right in the middle of a jungle.
After everyone has taken a moment to acclimate to the extremely green and extremely humid environment, it takes the Corps very little time at all to detect the direction of the ping that the Array suggested may imply the existence of natural nano-organisms. Such a discovery could provide a source of renewable power, as well as scientific data. As you head toward the place their scanners indicate, you are thankful for the presence of the Safety team as they clear a direct path through the foliage toward the source of the signal.
“Coming up soon, just over this next rise,” says a young Knowledge officer, eyes on their Portarray. “The source appears to be relatively small in size, but it’s a strong chirp, and consistent.”
As you crest the ridge, the source of the ping becomes obvious. A pair of tall, wide golden flowers that are clearly out of phase with the rest of this Proximan landscape shimmer beckoningly. They appear both pixelated and crisp, the only possible focal point in your field of view. However, they never appear to be truly at home within the water-laden air, thick vines, and deep garnet petals of the indigenous flora. It seems unlikely that they are the naturally evolved nanobots that you had come in search of, but they are certainly unusual enough to justify their detection by the Parafocal Array.
Looks of disbelief pass through the expedition, baffled by the chimeric blossoms. Then, the even more unbelievable happens! A figure, bearded, robed in blue, casually walks into your sight upon a well-worn path that must lie only paces away on the other side of the vexing blooms. As he registers your presence, a look of surprise coupled with relief comes across his face, and he begins to speak in a language that sounds, even through your Archeo-Teleophonic Translator, primitive yet full of decorum.
“Oh, my, sers! Come to rescue me? These innumerable fortnights since the wreck of that ship betrothed me to this isle I have endured! By that grace alone possessed of He Over Us you must have come! What schooners, what clippers, what armada must you possess, to find me here, to take me away home at long last!”
Stepping forward, confident that your ability to treat with such a strange persona is the very reason for your inclusion in the Initiative, you say, “Well met, good ser; many leagues we have traveled and have happened upon this place, in search of fabled [gold], one could say. Who are you, ser, and more important, why would you need rescue?”
“Gold, ser? No gold on this isle that old Fishhooks has ever seen,” says the castaway, unconsciously affecting a less formal tone, as he points a thumb toward his own chest. “That’s me, Fishhooks, ser. Jayson Junction is my name, or was my name, who knows how many days or years ago it was. A miracle of Him Over Us that I remember it still. I took a mind to go to sea, as many young lads do, what if their life at home is less than exciting, or less than kind. I might have been destined to it, with my nickname and all. Fishhooks, they called me, and they often said it were because of the shape of my name, and because I would amount to little but bait. Bait, it seems, would have been a kindness, compared to what really happened, and as for the shape of my name, I know no more than to make this sign.”
Jayson appears to furtively glance through you toward the unstable blossoms as he marks an X in the soil with his walking stick. “Junction, you see, ser,” he says, pointing to the place where the lines cross. “And many a moon’s junction I’ve waited rescue. But, before you take me home, I could show you what I’ve built here, alone, and treat your company to the fruits of my long labor; garden, farm, and net. I wouldn’t look unkindly on a chance to see myself away from this place having shared the happy and good.”
The choice stands before you, will you:
A: Ignore Jayson entirely and focus on the interphasic flowers? After all, the mission was to investigate a strange piece of flux, not treat with a castaway farmer.
B: Follow Jayson to his residence and participate in his going-away party? The Initiative insists that interaction with other cultures and beings be positive!
C: Use the power of the Sieve resonant in your away-team equipment to quickly and easily teleport Jayson to his rightful place in this realm, then return to study the flowers? Two birds with a simple stone.
D: Use authority of numbers, considering that Jayson’s relationship with the vexing flowers might play a greater role in his survival than he’s letting on? He’s a victim, but he’s not telling us the whole truth
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As you look around, the majority of the group seem to be feeling the same way that you do: as though Jayson knows more than he’s letting on about the anomaly. Further, it’s extremely unlikely that your paths crossed on this moderately sized island by happenstance, and far more probable that he was on his way here specifically. Best to press gently and see what you might discover.
“Fishhooks, my unlucky friend,” you begin, and pause to wait for his response.
“Yes, ser, unlucky indeed, that’s me.”
“Listen. We’re a good sized group, as you can see.”
“Indeed, that you are,” he says, starting to seem a little nervous.
“Well, we’ve come here, as we told you, in search of some special resources, and I think you and I both know that we’ve found them. If I had met you alone, there’s a good chance your charm and admittedly intriguing history would have diverted my attention from this unusual flora, but there’s no way that we would have missed them with this large a crew, so… Maybe take this opportunity to consider telling us what you know, unless you want us to just do as we wish with the…”
“No, no, you cannah do that, ser! Please! I’ll tell you what I’ve come to find out, little as it may be. The story of how I came to be here, ‘tis true. Cast away from an unhappy berth on an unhappy ship, and washed up here half-drowned and half-dying of thirst. Struggled greatly, I did, to stake my purchase here, but fresh water and a bit of game was to be found, and so I survived.
“After some time, when I had built my little shelter, and woven my fishing nets, and it was no longer hard scrabble just for daily food and drink, I set my mind to exploring my island in full, and to make a map of it as best I could.”
You raise a quizzical eyebrow at that. “A map? You’ve told me that you can’t read or write. Was that untrue?”
“No, ser, not in so many ways untrue. Letters are beyond my grasp, but any man with eyes can read a picture, and what’s a map but a picture with a sense of direction?”
“Indeed. Go on, then,” you prompt.
“During my forays, I happened across these,” he says, finally acknowledging the bright and obviously atypical flowers. “I thought they were special, as you did, on sight, strange as they are to the eye. Stranger still, that the insects and the creatures are right scared of them, or maybe more as if they are blind to them. Most just avoid them all together, but the stray bee that do fly near, he flies a path as though they weren’t there at all. A rare occasion for one to fly into them, but those that do don’t fly back out. I’ve crept close enough to look in, and his body isn’t inside the bloom, nor dead on the ground nearby, just… gone. Nor have they grown an inch in the thousand or more days I’ve lived in this wilderness, nor dropped a single petal to the ground as all the other plants do. So I beseech you, sers, to know that these plants are a danger and keep your fair distance. For that reason I’d hoped you’d look past them and would come to join me at my home.”
“It’s kind of you to have thought of our safety,” you say, “but investigating these sort of unusual findings is exactly the business that brings us here. And I wish you had simply been forthcoming with us about it, rather than risk us mistrusting you by using guile or subterfuge.” You motion to the KC officers to move forward and begin their scans, and take a few steps in their direction to have a closer look yourself.
As you do, a tiny golden insect comes buzzing out of the center of the larger blossom. It wobbles a bit as it exits into the heavy humid air, then struggles harder and harder, buzzing with an almost mechanical sound as it arcs to the ground in a losing battle with gravity and lands with a plunk. You move to it quickly and realize that it is indeed a bee, but not like one you’ve ever seen before. Its yellow color is brilliant, shiny and metallic, and it dawns on you– the bee is, in fact, made of gold. No wonder it is struggling to stay aloft in normal Class-1 planet gravity.
And no wonder that Fishhooks was trying to divert your attention! In the time he has been stranded here, he must have amassed quite a collection of this valuable conductor in the form of paranormally transported and transformed creatures.
You pick up the tiny auric insect and turn to confront him, but he is nowhere to be found.
“Finish the readings,” you say, “and let’s get moving. This is too important a find to waste time in reporting it.”
“What about the castaway?” asks one of the Safety Ethics patrol.
“No time to worry about him, either, unfortunately,” you sigh. “What he plans to do with all this material, we may never know, but he’s definitely not soldering it into circuits with this world’s level of tech. Too bad we can’t take any back with us; I know our friends at Phoenix Core would love some of this to boost the conductile alloy mix. Let’s move, people!”
It’s not until a few cycles after debrief when you are doing a little light research into the Proximan period in which you found the vexing flowers that you realize– a map, a pile of gold, Fishhooks’ curious signature… and an old saying, “X marks the spot.”
[SHK-E Assessment: You were not taken in by the dissembling of a potential bad actor, and demonstrated your awareness and capability to preserve the Initiative’s SAFETY. Your discovery and investigation of the strange blooms have increased the Initiative’s overall KNOWLEDGE. Not using Initiative tech to help a being in an unfortunate situation did not demonstrate HEART. The size of the mission, which proved to be a lynchpin in its overall success, cost an acceptable amount of ENERGY. Other Para Initiative agents learn from and emulate the strategies of this mission.
SAFETY: Very Poor
HEART: Very Good
Para Initiative Inventory:
Oystersand’s Illustrated Arcana