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Who's the mind controlling roach that don't fly coach?

T.H.E.M. Episode 3, "Take Us To Your Leader"

I've been away from these for a long time, but with the two-year cliffhanger from our post-apocalyptic Deadwoodlands game finally resolved, we're hoping to play the next couple of T.H.E.M. episodes in the coming weeks. Maybe we'll even finish the season!

This one's gonna be a bit sketchy, because it was some time ago and I did not take good notes. I'll highlight the "I wonder if this enigmatic conversation will prove to be relevant in the near future?" exposition and be more hand-wavey about the cool things the players actually did. I've split my "Producer's Commentary" on game procedure-y stuff to another post.

Previously: 
"Klaatu, as in, 'I come in peace'; Dalek, as in, 'exterminate!'"
"I'm sorry, what were you saying about the 25th dimension?"
You told me Oroboros was dead.

We start with a glimpse of Dimension Y, home to the parachronic mind-controlling insectile intelligences known variously in our dimension as the Qlippoth, the Time Eaters, and the Hive. (They just call themselves "us.") It looks like a photo-negative of outer space: white sky, black stars, and a huge hive of hexagonal cells, buzzing like the Hypnotoad.

A buzzing metallic voice-over fills us in on Klaatu Dalek's backstory and mission. It's your basic Borg / Dalek / Invisibles' Outer Church story: "WE = THE HIVE. WE = THE ANTIBODIES OF CONTINUITY. ARE TIME DEBUGGING. ARE CANCER OF FREE WILL ELIMINATING. ARE SNARL OF SUPERIMPOSED PROBABILITIES CORRECTING."

The voice-over continues as we fade to Klaatu Dalek flying over Miracle City in insect form. KD's name to the Hive is "Pathfinder." They are sending him to Dimension X (Earth) as advance scout for their invasion. Earth, they warn him, is contaminated with the cancer of free will. (We see a flight of multi-colored superheroes blast by.) There is a bubble of implausibility, a kind of time tumor, nearly 100 Earth years in diameter. It is plagued with coincidences, contradictions, and improbabilities, and it is growing worse--a complete collapse of plausibility is imminent.

The only way for the Hive to enter Dimension X, we learn, is through human minds. Not just any minds: they must be advanced enough to contemplate the 25-dimensional hyperphysics of Dimension Y. (KD buzzes by Dr. Fox's apartment window--we see her scribbling away at her equations.) Pathfinder's mission is to find suitable "doorways" and open the way to his fellows. Then the cauterization of this timeline can proceed.

KD returns to the soup kitchen where he last left "Farnsworth," his default host. (I'm seeing Christopher Lloyd in the role, with a big snarly beard and a rubber glove stretched on top of his head like a rooster's comb.) But as he circles down a team of USmen is converging on the place, led by a hero in luchadore helmet and golden metallic armor. El Dorado and the USmen move in and capture Farnsworth without much difficulty. Across town, another team of USmen, led by a female version of El Dorado, abduct Dr. Fox from her apartment too.

KD swoops down and injects himself into the mind of one of the USmen as they hustle Farnsworth and Fox into an SUV. El Dorado and La Dorada take their prisoners to US headquarters (big surprise), where they are separated and quarantined in tiny antiseptic cells. KD's USman stays with Farnsworth. Once El Dorado is gone, KD uses his host's earpiece bluetooth dealie to send an SOS to Sidney and Karl.

"Don't say something like that unless you have real proof."

I may have the order wrong, but I think our next scene was Carol going digging through her mother's old memorabilia, looking for information about her mother, her grandmother, George Kane, Baron Ether, and the past. Barbara Abbott has a room full of medals and keys to the city and magazine covers and clippings, but before Carol gets down to the Silver and Golden Age stuff, she's distracted by things from her own childhood, when her mother retired from active supering and her world contracted from fighting alien armadas to birthday parties and pony rides.

There are a lot of trophies and blue ribbons with Carol's name on them, and a lot of smaller trophies and second place red ribbons with Kelly's name on them. Carol alights on a photo of her own birthday party, age five or so. A baby Kelly and a little Olivia Kane is in the picture, as are "Uncle Simon" and "Uncle Lars" (Paladin and Dire Wolf). But an inch of the photo has been folded over. Carol unfolds it to see an attractive but cold-looking woman standing next to her father. Her hand is on his shoulder in a way that seems posessive and creepy.

Barbara comes in to the room. They talk first about Simon/Paladin--"What kind of monster could have done this?"--and then about Carol's recent argument with her sister. Carol says Brian/Aggro is no good for Kelly. Barbara poo-poos this. She admits Brian is a little "in your face," but insists that's just his public persona. It's only when Carol says she thinks Brian would or might be cheating on Kelly that Barbara takes her more seriously. "That is a serious accusation, honey. Don't say something like that unless you have real proof."

Prompted by that, Carol asks her mother about the woman in the old photo. Barbara turns ice cold. She tells Carol her name--Sophia St. Claire--and that she worked in Jack's biomedical lab. "She was a very unhappy, disturbed woman. She developed a kind of obsession with your father. Fantasized a whole relationship with him. Made wild, impossible accusations. He had to let her go." Carol fishes for more, but that seems to be all Barbara will say. Her mother leaves with a weird non sequitur: "You know I would do anything to protect my family."

"You betrayed science."

In the US Building, KD picks up a signal, very faint, amidst the static and roar of this noisy dimension. It seems to be a distress call, coming from his own kind: "PATHFINDER... COME IN PATHFINDER... AM RECEIVING? ... PLEASE HELP."

Farnsworth is visited in his cell by Jack Abbott (Carol's father, Fox's boss, and US' chief scientist). KD re-enters Farnsworth to hold up his end of the conversation. Abbott calls Farnsworth "Professor Oroboros." He obviously knows him, but apparently thought he was dead. Abbott wants to know why Oroboros came back, and why he started telling Fox about Y-theory. "All you've done is put her in danger," he says.

"You put her in danger!" KD/Farnsworth/Oroboros hisses. "You betrayed science."

That hits home pretty well considering it was a total shot in the dark. Abbott blanches and retreats. "You shouldn't have come back, Professor," he says as he leaves. "The Oroboros Device is Kane's now. We're all Kane's now."

KD tries another shot in the dark. "You've completed my Oroboros Device?"

But this one goes wide. Abbott looks confused. "You activated the Oroboros Device, Professor. In 1963."

"They all work for me now, the 'heroes' and the 'villains.'"

Later, Farnsworth has another visitor: George Kane himself. He's a frail looking old man in a white suit. His voice is thin and whispery; his eyes are intense and very, very old.

"Hello, old friend," Kane says. "I could have sworn I had you killed, but I suppose that was several iterations ago. I’m juggling so many variables at this point, even with the computers a few insignificant details always slip through the cracks."

Kane talks in an elliptical way about history, chaos theory, and time. "Look around, Henry. The century is nearly complete. Chaos is in retreat. We are a few iterations at most from perfection.” KD/Oroboros stammers the way a PC does when they know their job is just to soak up NPC exposition.

“Yes, there are more superpowers every iteration. You were right about that," Kane monologues. "It must be a side effect of so much revising and rewinding time – they multiply like roaches. But the supers aren’t much harder to tame than ordinary people. They all work for me now, the "heroes" and the "villains." Half of them don’t know it, but they do.”

"Go on," says KD/Oroboros, taking good notes.

“You asked me once when I would be satisfied," Kane continues. "Only when this century is perfect. Only when every variable has been accounted for and controlled. Then, and only then, I will let the clock strike midnight. Let this body die. Let my disobedient daughter collect her 'inheritance.' And then? A whole new century to conquer.”

Mind Control Caper Movie

I can't remember the exact sequence of events from here, but I know that Sidney, Karl, and Carol made their way to the US Building and caused some kind of explosion as a diversion and a way of getting in. And KD managed with some nice card draws to bust both Oroboros and Fox out of the US Building by hopping from guard to guard, host to host. It was like a caper-movie with mind control: a fast montage of USmen and other corporate mooks hustling Fox and Oroboros down corridors and stairwells, each one passing their mystified prisoners off to a different guard before passing out as Klaatu short circuited their brain waves and then hopped to the next host.

Also: KD picks up the distress signal again, echoing throughout the US Building. But he has no time to respond.

As everyone unites in the street, they are attacked by El Dorado and La Dorada and their battery of groovy launchable attachments. This is supposed to be the episode's big fight--finally an opponent more formidable than geriatric supervillains or the punks of Generation Z!--but the cards are against me and Dora and Diego go down like a couple of chumps.

Mixed Biscuits

Our heroes hustle Fox and Oroboros back to Henchtown, where KD reveals his insect form and origin (although not his mission to launch an invasion of mind-controlling insects) to both Fox and Carol (who to this point had only seen him in Farnsworth/Oroboros' body). Fox takes the news, and her new fugitive status, surprisingly well: mainly she is pleased that her theories about Dimension Y have been confirmed.

Sidney works on something he called "JudUS," a software bot that will follow Olivia Kane through the USnet, collecting dirt on her and funneling it back to Sidney as insurance.

Carol and Karl go, separately, to the memorial service for Paladin: Carol goes to the formal memorial service at Centurions Manor with her family, Brian, and all of Miracle City's heroes. Karl, in a giant trenchcoat and floppy hat, skulks around outside where Paladin's fans have created a makeshift shrine to the fallen hero.

Karl speaks, under his breath, to the shrine. "Everyone says you were a good man. I... I think I may have killed you." He's suddenly laid flat on his back by five feet three inches of snarling hairy-chested fury. "Is that so?" growls the Dire Wolf. He unsheaths his claws with a sound our lawyers have asked us not to transliterate as "snik."

"You know who I am, bub?"

Karl says: "Aren't you Moondoggie?"

Dire Wolf threatens to carve Karl up like Lobster Neuberg. But first he wants to know who Karl is working for. He wants to know what happened to the Paladin. He doesn't believe a lousy henchman, even a juiced-up henchman like Karl, could really take him out. He thinks Paladin was investigating something big, asking questions people didn't want asked, and they came back at him for that.

Karl does not have to feign much ignorance. The two trade blows and quips. But Karl manages to convince Dire Wolf that he can help him get to the bottom of this mystery. "Okay, henchman." Dire Wolf growls. "You and me have a hot date with the truth." (It's really fun talking like that.)

“Hello, little insect. I have been expecting you.”

KD is alone again, in insect form, flying over the Miracle City skyline, closing in on the distress signal. "PATHFINDER... COME IN PATHFINDER..." As he approaches the US Building, it grows more powerful. Klaatu alights on the highest antenna atop the building's tallest spire. He plugs in to the skyscraper's whole nervous system. The signal is deafening now, changing from a distress call to an imperative. "COME IN PATHFINDER... I HAVE BEEN EXPECTING YOU."

Klaatu tries to pull back, but the signal is much stronger than he expected. It's jamming his will, drawing him into the building and the vast cool intellect connected to it. "HELLO, LITTLE INSECT," says the intellect--Kane or NostradamUS, who can say? His mind is huge, a trap, an office building of endless floors, corridors, and files. It's also impossibly old. Klaatu feels his will slipping away.

"YOU ARE A LONG WAY FROM DIMENSION Y, LITTLE INSECT. BUT YOU WILL NOT BE LONELY HERE. I HAVE OTHERS OF YOUR KIND. TRAPPED, ENSLAVED." Klaatu sees this to be true. He struggles to escape--and son of a bitch, my hand comes up empty! The tiny wasp tears himself off the radio antenna, free of the signal. He falls, unconscious, spiralling down from the heights to the city far below.

Next Time:
He's a fast-mutating former henchman turned hideous arthropod... he's a hirsute adamantium-clawed hero out to avenge his secret lover's death... they both fight and perpetrate crime! Plus: Sidney and Olivia get steamy; Klaatu has a splitting headache; Carol lets her secret slip; and Kelly pays a call on Syringe. It's Karl's spotlight episode, aka the Moondoggie and Crab Man Team-Up Extravaganza, aka episode 4, "Destroy All Monsters!"
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