The Board of Regents sends a communique to the Hamilton O. Smith with a new destination: the planet New Axom
In 2368 Dr. Naredin took a team of physicists, climatologists, and planetologists (bankrolled by the Chironian Union) down to New Axom to perform a survey and begin the process of re-establishing connection with the human infosphere (and human space in general). Contact with this expedition has been lost following a deployment to the Theodosus Ridge, along with the * Chironian destroyer Bellerophon which was their transport. The crew of the Smith has been instructed to:
- locate and extract the Naredin expedition
- locate the remains of the Bellerophon
- secure a long-term lanthanide contract with the New Axom government, if possible
Upon arrival, they find a single FTL relay satelite in orbit; apparently it was launched via primitive nuclear bomb propulsion. They are hailed by New Axom ground control and greeted genially. Seeming amenable to the ship’s mission, New Axom provides landing clearance and informs the crew that they will be met by Blair Washington, legate of New Providence (primary seat of power of the Bethlehem Group).
An away team is dispatched consisting of:
With an annoying level of religious pomp and circumstance, Legate Washington greets the away team as expected and they are whisked off to the royal palace.
The next morning after prayers, Legate Washington introduces the team to Subas, who witnessed the crash of the Bellerophon firsthand. His account starts unremarkably, but then describes that the starship was assaulted by “green fires” originating from both ground and sky, which he considers to be the mark of devil’s work. This green fire phenomenon has been seen before, but there is no way to know how long ago or how often – save for a story from “grandfather’s time” of a war in heaven which featured the green fire prominently. Subas also mentioned that there have been sightings of witches in the hills, marked by “people who are not themselves” who must be stoned. Johnny Five confirms that the atmospheric discharge of plasma weapons could produce an effect that might be described as green fire.
Although they are eager to depart, the team has been informed that it would be impolite to leave Kor before having an audience with the queen…and there is no telling how soon that is likely to happen. Rone chats up the team’s minder, a nice old man named Phillip, for any tips on how to expedite the process. As it happens Phillip would be well inclined to move things along in exchange for an infosphere download from the Hamilton O. Smith – an easily arranged bribe.
The next day, Schmitt makes contact of a local woman named Jamal who had befriended the expedition’s high-energy physicist, Dr. Hiroko. She shares that Dr. Hiroko had a number of theories regarding why the energy disturbances weren’t evenly distributed across the planet, the mot daring being that there was a wormhole anchored somewhere on the planet. Again, Beelzebub Pass and the Theodosus Ridge in general were flagged as the nearest high-energy locus.
They are also introduced (by means of Phillip) to a witch smeller by the name of Saturday. Although he describes some surface cues (including the being-in-two-places-at-once thing), the core of the practice appears to be some non-quantifiable intuition. Dr. Everett confirms that this can be how psionic abilities manifest unconsciously. It seems likely that witch sellers are unconscious psions of a particular stripe, it’s far from clear what it is they are detecting in others.