$Insert_Title, Episode 21: What a mess

"Aired" on: 2018-09-22

Cast: Engie. Mr. Fahrenheit, Hueco, Vince, Madoka

Plot Synopsis

There is a very brief recap of the previous episode, featuring:

  • The group, notable sans Vince, conspiring to desert/sabotage the operation behind a tent.
  • Engie telling Madoka, "This isn't my first rodeo. This is a bad idea."
  • Madoka telling the group, "Engie's not new at this kind of thing. He thinks this is a bad idea and that we shouldn't go through with this. I agree with him." Fahrenheit dismisses the idea.
  • A panning shot of the discovered body, followed by the group gathered around a hole starting to fill in the hole.

The opening credits play, featuring Vince. After the opening credits ZZ Ward's Home plays over a black screen as we slowly fade into a beautiful shot of Earth from orbit. (Image Source: NASA)

Two figures float into the shot at a distance, but Stella's long blonde hair are fairly recognizable at a distance. A closer show reveals the figures to be Stella Gamble and Riley Atway, otherwise known as Manifest. The two are nude, though it's an uncanny-valley nakedness where the parts of their bodies that are typically covered by clothes are are smooth and featureless. Riley is resting her head on Stella's shoulder and has her arm wrapped behind Stella. The music fades slightly so we can hear Stella quietly, but excitedly explaining the history of various constellations to Riley.

Riley lifts her head slightly, and Stella stops talking for a moment. "There are some situations I have to deal with, so I should go before anyone comes to check if I'm awake. I'll talk to you soon." Riley separates from Stella and then derezzes.

Stella continues to float alone for a moment, while her usual pop-star attire forms around her. Stella sighs wistfully, holding a hand to her chest briefly. The camera fades to black.

The show fades back in on Manifest opening her eyes in her tent. Madoka is elsewhere, likely with her team. Manifest is seen wearing a behind-the-head circlet that has two pads resting on her temples. A wire is seen coming from the circlet behind Manifest's ear, connecting to her commlink that has a large satellite antenna attached to it. Manifest puts on her glasses and checks her commlink, scrolling through some messages and grimacing.

The camera cuts to Manifest and Engie sitting beside each other in another tent. The cable from Manifest's trodes (the circlet) connected to a data cable  that has been spooled out of the back of Engie's neck. Manifest disconnects the cable, gives it a little yank and lets it wind itself back up into the circlet. As she says to Engie, "Thank you for informing me," an instrumental version of The Empire Strikes First by Bad Religion plays.

There is a brief montage: Hueco is ambushed by Tek and two other armed mercenaries. Fahrenheit reporting for patrol and entering a tent to a mercenary pointing a gun at him and a second entering with a gun behind him. Vince is grabbed at the mess tent. Madoka is speaking with Fearless when a mercenary places a hand on her shoulder; Fearless gives the exaggerated shrug and claps her on the other shoulder, gun drawn in the other hand.

The group is collected in their own tent. Hueco, Madoka, and Vince are positioned in a line on their knees, hands behind their heads. Armed mercenaries stand behind them with assault rifle, with Tek standing a short distance behind Hueco. Fearless is kneeling in front of them, all of the runners facing the same direction. A wider shot of the tent shows Manifest sitting atop a large hard case, rubbing her temples. Engie stands to her left in a military stance: hands behind his back, back straight, eyes forward.

There is a brief shot establishing the mood of each character in the situation. Hueco is seen assessing the situation, carefully, and clearly very angry. Madoka's long dark hair is blocking most of her face, but she is attempting to hold back sobs, clearly terrified and refusing to raise her eyes from the ground. Vince looks to the nearest mercenary and requests a beer, and the mercenary says "No," sharply.

Fahrenheit is seen eyeing Engie, with a look of recognition on his face. We hear very briefly Madoka's echoing voice from when she warned Fahrenheit that Engie was going to tell Manifest about planning to desert and that Engie has done operations like these before.

Manifest, addressing Fahrenheit: I don't know where to begin. Hueco: How about with what the fuck is going on?

Hueco is struck with the stock of a mercenary's gun.

Manifest, addressing Fahrenheit: It is my understanding that you believe that I hate you because you attempted to kill or kidnap me. I do hate you. But that's not why. Half the people in this camp have tried to kill me before because our jobs put us at odds. That's just part of the fucking business.
Manifest: I hate you because you're a bad leader. When we first met, after directing them to kidnap and interrogate me, you abandoned your team without telling them what information they need and dumped the responsibility on Hueco to fix the mess you'd made.
Manifest, increasingly frustrated: Then, later, after your gala plan got nowhere, you left your team with no direction for completing the objectives of your run. Your team then called me in to finish your run for you.
Manifest, visibly angry: Then, you had the fucking gall when planning to desert to save your own hide to look at Madoka and tell her that you didn't need to come back for her because she'd be safe. As if the moment your treachery was revealed Madoka wouldn't be killed for being an accomplice to it, which you made her by implicating her in your plans, before I have to track you down and kill you.
Manifest, calmly: I hate you because you are reckless and your decisions put your team in harms way and you are not going to be there when they need you.

Mr. Fahrenheit asks to speak, which Manifest agrees to. He begins grasping at every loose thread he can in an attempt to derail and deflect the conversation. He brings up the dead body, and that she was putting everyone at risk by not dealing with that before this, which Manifest counters by explaining that she already has the culprit and would be dealing with it after she was done here.

Fahrenheit pointed to her alleged lack of control on the events occurring in camp, particularly the magical occurrences that he had not reported to Fearless. Manifest dismisses this as a deflection, the topic of this conversation is his leadership.

Hueco interrupts, cursing and threatening Manifest.Fahrenheit attempts to pivot off this by trying to equate Manifest's carefully planned and well-oiled operation and his reckless ill-informed decisions as being different management styles.

Manifest shoots Mr. Fahrenheit in the leg (DV 8P, Fahrenheit resists 2 damage), and he experiences shock and distress immediately (Threshold: 4 [Hard]. Successes: 2. Failed composure check). Fahrenheit lets out a scream and holds the wound on his leg. Vince draws his pistol and shoots Mr. Fahrenheit in the back twice, knocking him out immediately. The guards all have their guns raised and are ready to shoot at Manifest's orders. Vince then scrambles to administer first aid, but does not have any medical supplies.

Manifest upnods Tek, who steps forwards past Madoka and Hueco to administer First Aid to Fahrenheit. Vince is pulled back and put back to where he was previously by other mercenaries and sees that Tek's brown jacket has a medic patch stitched into the shoulder. Tek administers First Aid (Dice pool: 11 [5 First Aid + 4 Logic + 6 Wireless (rating 6) medkit - 2 Poor Conditions -2 Patient is Awakened], 4 successes). Tek works quickly, disinfecting the wound and getting it patched up quickly, reducing most of the harm done by Manifest's bullet. She asks if he'll still be able to do the operation, and he says he'll be sore, but the wound shouldn't get in the way.

Manifest, to everyone: The right thing to do to save six months of intelligence work and planning would be to execute him. But I am responsible for the safety of everyone in this camp and killing him would put your fire-team at three people, which would expose you to undue risk.
Manifest: So, here's what is going to happen: You will all be tagged with sub-dermal GPS trackers. If any of you leave the operating area before being ordered to you all die. Fahrenheit will be isolated from the rest of your team until you are briefed and deployed to the operating area, to prevent him from influencing anyone else in the camp into making dangerous decisions.
Manifest, with an exasperated sigh: Madoka will be isolated for the rest of the operation because... Fuck. Madoka. You wandered around camp taking pictures and leaked operational details you were told not to share.

Hueco challenges Manifest, and threatens Engie. Manifest barks back that Engie is the only reason everyone is going to be able to leave this operation alive. She also makes it clear that if anyone takes any action against Engie she will also kill them all. One of the mercenaries go around and injects everyone with a security tag, visibly careful/afraid of Hueco. Manifest comments that she has to leave and deal with the other issue.

Vince: Can I get a beer, now?
Manifest: There's coffee in the mess tent. But that's about it.

Fearless enters the tent and attaches a headjammer to Madoka, locking it in place around her neck. Madoka's technomancer mind is filled with static noise and her connection to the matrix is severed. Fearless escorts Madoka to Maniest's tent and brings her things to her.

Tek picks up Fahrenheit and takes him elsewhere to another tent to give him further medical attention and keep him separated.

As Engie moves to leave, Hueco steps in his way to intimidate him. Hueco places the blame for all of this on Engie.

Hueco: I should have known better than to trust someone who has no problem killing innocents.
Engie: Have you ever killed anyone?
Hueco: How the hell do you think I got into this mess?
Engie: Ah. Just keep in mind, I've killed a lot of people.

This is said as the camera is set below/behind Engie looking over his shoulder and over Hueco's to see one of Engie's drones lower into frame with it's FN HAR assault rifle aimed at Hueco.

The tension breaks as Hueco leaves. Engie wanders off, slumping down to the ground once out of sight, visibly stressed out by the interaction.

Commercial Break

A jaunty tune for NERPS RED plays, accompanied by bright neon colors and odd and out-of-context buzzwords like "extreme" and "high energy" and "for when you need to kick today's ass." It is unclear what kind of product NERPS RED is.

After the break

The scene fades in on Fahrenheit in the tent he was carried off to by Tek. He hears the end of Manifest and Tek talking. Manifest asks if Fahrenheit will be okay to be on the operation, and Tek responds by saying, "He's bruised from the rubber bullets from his teammate, and his leg will be sore, but it shouldn't be an impairment unless he gets shot or hit hard again."

Manifest dismisses Tek, then addresses Fahrenheit. She recaps for him his current situation: He has been separated from his team until the operation begins, his team has all been implanted with GPS trackers, and if anyone disobeys an order then everyone dies.

Manifest: How the fuck can you be so fucking stupid? You want to get your whole team killed?
Fahrenheit: I know you were just doing what you had to in order to send a message to all those mercenaries that you're still in charge. I get it, and I had to do the same. We have different management styles.

Fahrenheit goes on to discuss his understanding of etiquette and that he understands Manifest's management. His explanations and platitudes make Manifest weary because they are shallow misunderstandings and it is easier to let him think he's won for now than to try to talk sense into him. They have a discussion that ends with Fahrenheit agreeing to go along with her orders. Fahrenheit feels like he's won, and is told to go speak to Hueco at the mess tent to let Hueco know that he is alive and unharmed, and that Hueco should also follow orders for everyone's sake. Fahrenheit is then to report back to the tent, and nobody is to contact him afterwards.

After Manifest leaves, Fahrenheit looks weary. He takes a second to adjust himself and leaves the tent with an exaggerated dragging limp [6 Performance + 5 Charisma - 2 Wound Penalty, 3 Successes] (Think Igor from Frankenstein dragging his leg sideways). Fahrenheit makes his way to the mess tent, and we get a shot of Vince watching him walk in that direction.

Hueco and Fahrenheit meet in the mess tent and talk over trashy coffee. The two of them discuss what their next steps should be - primarily that they should follow orders. However Fahrenheit does not share any of the talk of social standing and keeping up appearances that he had with Manifest.

Hueco grudgingly agrees to do the job, but is clearly angry. Fahrenheit tells Hueco that he has to head back to the other tent now that he's checked in, and Hueco notices the limp but does not recognize that it is fake. [Hueco: 3 Perception + 4 Intuition, 2 Successes]

Hueco: Hey man, are you sure you're okay? Fahrenheit: Yeah, I'll be fine. Thanks.

Later that afternoon/evening, Hueco, Vince, Engie, and Tek are alone in their tent. Busty is absent, though her pack is near Tek. Vince is asking questions about Manifest and the team's history with her and what she does.

Vince: Manifest is well connected then? She sounds like a useful person to know. I'll need to ask her for a favor in the future.
Hueco, Engie, and Tek in unison: Don't do it.

During the conversation, something clicks for Hueco and he realizes that between him and Vince, they can piece together how the operation will run. They imagine that they will be separated into several units, with a hub-and-spoke communication structure. Each team will have communications available to them, and Manifest will monitor those communications and be able to jump in. Hueco suggests that they attempt to hack their gear to cut Manifest out of their comms.

Engie: You need to stop. Just stop. Why are you trying to get everyone killed?

Hueco attempts to mostly ignore Engie throughout this, but is visibly annoyed. He believes that Engie has betrayed them, and though Engie attempted to explain himself to Hueco, Engie has mostly given up trying at this point. Vince is still being caught up on the whole situation and why exactly everything is as dire as it is.

Manifest returns to her tent where Madoka is sitting with the headjammer. Madoka looks up and recognizes Manifest's exhaustion. The two of them have a brief conversation.

Madoka: I fucked up, really bad.
Manifest: Yes, yes you did.
Madoka: I tried to tell them not too. I told them what Engie said and they didn't believe me.
Manifest: I believe you. But I can't allow you to walk around camp, and I can't give you any more details about the operation.
Madoka: I really fucked up.
Manifest: You got caught filming people on this operation, and you leaked operational details you were told were classified. That's more than a fuck up.
Madoka: If anything happens to me, I want you to promise me you'll buy Engie a really nice bottle of hot sauce. I think he would like that.
Manifest: Nothing is going to happen to you.
Madoka: Promise me.

Manifest goes over her conversation with Fahrenheit, in broad strokes. That Fahrenheit has misread the situation, and that she is offended by the notion that what Fahrenheit does could be compared to her leadership. She expresses frustration with Hueco and Fahrenheit's reactions, revealing she'd always assumed that Hueco was the more level-headed of the two and didn't expect his behavior. She then comments that she has to deal with the other situation in camp, and hints at more conflicts brewing. Madoka gives Manifest one of the two manga that she brought with her, attempting to give Manifest an uplifting speech. The episode fades out on that.

Post-Session Notes

I love the comedy of misunderstanding and grand-standing that's occurred. I did not expect Hueco to react so aggressively when threatened like this. Neither did Manifest, as she'd perceived him as the reliable and level-headed one of the two (Hueco and Mr. Fahrenheit). I also loved the inter-party conflict arising between the group and Engie, and Madoka and Fahrenheit being isolated. It creates an excellent ground to distribute information differently to each party and let misunderstandings breed.

I personally think that Engie made the right choice by telling Manifest what was going on, ethically. Manifest, upon hearing 'sabotage', had to take the problems with Fahrenheit's team as a top-priority problem. She had to bring the team under control quickly, remove their ability (or will) to cause further harm, and can then assess the situation and start solving root problems/concerns.

The show of force was to make it clear that they are being watched and that there will be serious consequences. Then, separating them prevents them from further conspiring to cause harm, neutering their ability to co-ordinate attempts of sabotage. She'd be having a bunch of people inspect and go over all the gear in camp to check for tampering. Her next steps would be to deescalate the situation by addressing people's concerns to reduce the chance that they would follow-through on any plans of sabotage once they are reunited.

I was planning on jumping straight into the operation next session, but I think the camp stuff is more interesting and Manifest has time to investigate and follow-up with Fahrenheit regarding his concerns about the magic bullshit, and time to follow-up with Hueco to see if she can ease any of his stress.

Note: I do not believe I missed anything. Corrections may be needed if the players are in disagreement with this.