Fastball Express Inc.

Session #54: The Viking Funeral Undertaking
Meanwhile, back on Mars...

Static. A disjoint in time, and perhaps space. Venus is a thread in another wisp of memory.

I see red and grey skies over the maglev as it speeds toward the city of Ashoka through the dry, rocky Martian desert. I used to be Hokusai the neo-octopus artist, on the run from Nine Lives the soul stealing crime cartel. Now I walk on two legs in a ghost morph, in a physical body optimised for stealth operations. With me is the female async Quill, her telepathic mind percolating with a thousand paper cranes.

Back in Valles-New Shanghai, we are the only two members of Fastball Express hypercorp who answer the VR call from one Mr. Miyazaki. He gives us the time and invitation for an upcoming Zanzibar marketplace that would occur in 30 hours in Ashoka. There a neo-gorilla named Winston will be attempting to sell something valuable and rare: a handheld controller for a Pandora Gate.

My cover is Shankar, a game hunter. Quill is Devi. As soon as we disembark, Shankar and Devi blend into the Ashoka afternoon crowd.

Ashoka is a circular depression in the surface of Mars. A transparent roof separates the sky from the city. Tourists invade daily, enjoying the eateries, the parks, the museums. The Viking Lander, the Pathfinder Lander and the Sojourner Rover, ancient Mars probes all now infused with AGI egos and cortical stacks are known to tourists for their historical lectures and talks here in Ashoka.

We notice things. Among the tourist crowd are occasional loners whose morph has the bearing of highly trained military personnel. We stay away from them and head for the bar named Dead Padawan, looking for contacts. The meatspace bar is a theme bar. It has an old Tunisian desert architecture and displays the theme of an old fan favourite movie: The Backstroke of the West, an old space opera tale told in its original Mandarin. Lines are piped into the bar from hidden speakers.

Smelly boy.

Is that baby on the hoof?

Send these troopseses only.

Quill discovers from a contact that Winston is staying at the Hotel McConaughey so we head there next. The hotel’s emblem is a flat circle.

We check into a room two doors from Winston’s. Using off-the-shelf exploits bought from the hidden corners of the mesh, we take our tiime to break into the hotel security system. There is a neo-gorilla in the communal bath in the hotel basement, we discover.

We decide to get the Gate controller from Winston now before the Zanzibar marketplace begins.

I try to be a loudmouth hotel guest trying to reach the bath house, but Winston’s bodyguards block my attempt. My feeble attempts flailing as a human fail. How do these mammals spread throughout the solar system with such a limited central nervous system? Perhaps they didn’t. Perhaps the TITANs which they created but turned on them won the war and wiped us all out, and this is but a dream.

Or perhaps I should not have overused my chameleon skin to give the guards an impression of a bikini tan line. Especially not on a male morph.

Quill’s turn to try and she succeeds, bluffing her way past the bodyguards at the door. I learn later what happens. She slides close to Winston in the pool, blathers rather well that she wears out Winston. The gorilla falls asleep in the pool and she obtains access to his mind – using her brain which is somehow entangled with an infinite number of other Quills in an infinite number of other parallel universes – and discovers where the Gate controller was hidden.

The Viking Lander has it.

It is late in the evening when we reach the Viking Historical Museum in the open air park. We wait for the last of the tourists to leave before we emerge from the shadows. We dance, ducking and pirouetting to stay out of the Museum’s mesh-connected security cameras. It is slightly easier to do so while sleeved in a ghost morph. My chameleon skin chromatophores allow me to emulate dark human skin.

I blend in shadows well. For a human.

Still, I miss my octomorph body. Adapting to four limbs instead of eight is probably like humans having to adapt to one eye instead of two.

The Viking Lander stands alone at his position, over Martian soil. He is still in his original morph created by humans before the Fall. Immobile, but mesh connected, I can only guess what mesh sites the Viking lander is surfing at the moment. I am unsure if the AGI driving the ancient synthmorph is Viking 1 or Viking 2 and have no time to check on the mesh. Perhaps Viking 2 wears a moustache.

Quill wishes she wore a swarmanoid sleeve – an airborne, distributed-intelligence swarm of paper cranes. Senbazuru morphs should be a thing.

Game time. I roll an EMP grenade at Viking, no wheels with which to evade it. A burst of light. Sparks. Smoke. We sprint toward Viking, now totally immobilised and without power, and hide under it. Cameras are still probing the park.

A quick search on his body reveals nothing. Then I spot a patch of loose soil within Viking’s armsreach. A quick dig turns up a buried silver container. I open it: it is a Gate controller. The Gate controller.

But according to information sifted from the Mesh this device looks no other Gate Controller. Different UI/UX. Different protocols. Totally unfamiliar.

We depart before the troopseses arrive.

Less than an hour later, we are on a maglev back to Valles-New Shanghai to brief the rest of the Fastball Express executives.What do we do with this Gate controller? Do we hand it over to Mr. Miyazaki and what would he do with it? Do we infiltrate the Pathfinder Gate, under the control of Planetary Consortium, and test our prize?

To be continued?

Campaign Cover Pic

A good way to cap things off….


Session #53 - "Oh bother..."
The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades

Location: Sacajawea Patera caldera in Ishtar Terra, the surface of Venus.

Active Gamera Security (GamSec) Personnel: The infomorph DANAI in a q-morph, the other infomorph Wandering Ina in a Venusian flyer morph, William Cable Jr. paranoid terrorist in a neotenic pod morph and Hokusai Tarnungshaut – neo-octopus artist in another q-morph.

A Recap

The Venusian chapter of Fastball Express, under the cover name of Gamera Security, had been commissioned by Morningstar Constellation security executive Kage Musha to investigate possible terrorist activity among the aerostats of Venus. They began operating on the orbital habitat Gerlach, then established a branch in a dirigible docked in the aerostat Aphrodite Prime. Their investigations brought to light that the orbital habitat Timothea Bush-Kennedy, also known as Timbuk3, had been attacked by TITANs during the Fall more than a decade ago, broke up and crashed into the surface of Venus, no one knows exactly where.

When the reclusive artist Marquis d’Homem-Christos farcasted to Aphrodite Prime to display the unique psycho-empathic sculptures he acquired from the aliens known as the Factors, GamSec discovered a terrorist organisation known as the Free Fall Network (FFN) were violently against the terraforming of the surface of Venus. The terraforming drive was headed by the Solid Ground Initiative (SGI), a patron of which was the Marquis himself.

Their investigations led them to the aerostat’s Aviary where genengineered avian fauna were being developed for atmospheric terraforming. They discovered that the Aviary was being renovated and expanded by a hypercorp named Ikea-Tata Constructions. The construction site hid a flexbot combiner tank which GamSec and their allies neutralised before further damage was done.

Ikea-Tata Constructions, GamSec discovered, was created by a clique of Venusian thrill-seeking skydivers who was involved in a fatal crash to the surface, all cortical stacks lost. After their backups had been reinstated in new morphs they were compelled to form the hypercorp to vie for terraforming construction projects across Venus.

The Marquis security job also led them to the FFN terrorist agent Saladin Pelita who only appeared to them as an AR projection. After the Marquis returned home, Saladin was successful in somehow poisoning all the animals in the Aviary. Later, Kage identified him as Baron Julian Robbari, the heir to Soletta Corp. Robari had instated a former employee of Timbuk3, Shelby Cobra, from storage and set him to work in city cybersecurity. Using remote surveillance, GamSec had discovered that Shelby had been bouncing line-of-sight signals off Gerlach’s hull mirrors. The signals had been directed back to Venus, to a caldera on Ishtar Terra called Sacajawea Patera.

Under Kage’s authority, GamSec travelled to the mining aerostat Lucifer where the ursomorph members of the Teddy Bear Roadside Picnic Company salvage hypercorp where their CEO himself Mr. Snuggles decided to fly them to Sacajawea Patera to Shelby’s signal was bounced, where according to Mr. Snuggles was an area claimed by a rival salvage hypercorp known as Ladyboys Salvage and Repo. They had claimed the area, but kept it dormant for months.

What were the Ladyboys protecting and what did it have to do with Shelby Cobra, Saladin Pelita, Free Fall Network, their anti-terraforming drive and attempts to keep the Marquis d’Homem-Christos away from Venus?

Session #52 - What's in the Box?
At the Bottom of the Gravity Well

Location: Lucifer, Venus.

Active Gamera Security (GamSec) Personnel: DANAI and Wandering Ina the infomorphs, William Cable Jr. – paranoid terrorist in a neotenic pod morph and Hokusai Tarnungshaut – neo-octopus artist in a slitheroid morph.

In Transit to Altitude 40km

The mining aerostat Lucifer was a bustle of activity. Miners. Support staff. Security. Tethered over Ishtar Terra close to the north polar region it was being assailed by gale force winds generated by a Venusian polar vortex. The aerostat appeared from a distance to be listing although tethers allowed it to maintain station keeping. But Lucifer was their destination, tracking a terrorist signal from the city aerostat of Aphrodite Prime that was bounced off a mirror assembly on the superstructure of the orbital habitat Gerlach.

GamSec descended upon Lucifer via an elevator from the floating high altitude docks. Their patron Kage Musha had his salvage contractors the Teddy Bear Roadside Picnic Company provide them whatever they needed to complete their investigations. The TBRPC representative who escorted them down was Mr. Goldie, sleeved in a sun bear-variant ursomorph.

Mr. Goldie explained to them that Lucifer mined minerals from Venus surface, and two security hypercorps were contracted to protect the operation. TBRPC and the Ladyboys Salvage and Repo hypercorp, who also had salvage operations on the surface. Teddy Bear and the Ladyboys had a well defined boundary of operations which they both adhered to. This caused a slight competitiveness to emerge between them.

Altitude 40km

When Mr. Goldie and GamSec debarked from the elevator, they passed into the Quarantine Zone of Lucifer, through security checkpoints with warnings in Thai and English. At an interview room, they were joined by another ursomorph, Mr. Winnie. Cable asked him if he was familiar with cases of crashes or falls from the aerostats to Ishtar Terra.

Shelby Cobra, the Aphrodite Prime indentured cybersecurity employee who sent the signal to Ishtar Terra, did so without being aware of his own act. Shelby was sleeved and sent to work by people who had connection with Ikea-Tata Construction hypercorp. Ikea-Tata Construction – contracted by Aphrodite Prime to expand its Aviary – had been created by the clique of skydivers who fell to their deaths in a skydiving incident.

Mr. Winnie was unaware of any recent events although it was too far north for anyone to skydive. No normal aerostat nor transport would venture here. The polar vortices would throw them about like a rag doll and kill them. He also mentioned of finding disembodied cortical stacks during surface salvage and security operations, which they would sell to stack brokers.

(Cable rolls Investigation 38/61) Kage called them via a secure channel from Aphrodite Prime, telling them that his men had arrested Shelby Cobra and had determined that his signal was delivered to a location within the caldera of a long extinct volcano named Sacajewea Patera. The location was within a Ladyboys area claim zone. Were the Ladyboys in on this?

They tell Mr. Winnie that they required a reconnaissance trip to the surface and invited him to be their guide. Instead Mr. Winnie suggested their CEO Mr. Snuggles would be able to help as surface operations was his speciality.

A white-furred polar bear ursomorph, Mr. Snuggles cautiously greeted them into his office. Like everywhere else on Lucifer, the office was small, fitted with the barest of necessities and very utilitarian. The ursomorph, when he stood to welcome them, towered over the members of GamSec. After pleasantries, they began to converse.

Mr. Snuggles originated from Scandinavia before the fall and was sleeved in an ursomorph on Oberon, a moon of Uranus. He missed his old colony there, and the Queen of Uranus, Dame Miley Cyrus who was good to her subjects.

Cable then asked if Mr. Snuggles would pilot them down with a lander for a surface reconnaissance mission of a Ladyboys claim zone. The ursomorph was wary of the provocative act and demanded evidence that the Ladyboys were a threat to Venus security. However, the evidence Cable presented Mr. Snuggles considered to be circumstantial. Therefore there would not be a large support team. Instead Mr. Snuggles himself would take them down in a small lander because his curiousity was piqued.

But first the team agreed to train to acquire proficiency of not dying on the surface of Venus. The training took a few days.

Secondly, DANAI and Hokusai resleeved in q-morph before casting off in the lander.

In Transit to Altitude Zero

The lander, skilfully piloted by Mr. Snuggles was in a controlled fall toward Ishtar Terra. Snuggles, Cable and Ina were clad in their high-pressure ADS while the q-morphs were secured in the unpressurized lateral internal cargo bays. Constructed from sapphire, the q-morphs would only be operational upon surface atmospheric conditions. Very much conscious, the two still kept in contact via GamSec’s mesh VPN.

The ursomorph explained that the lander was designed to land on and take off from the surface. If there were no available aerostats or large landing dirigibles in the area, it could launch itself into low stable orbit and broadcast an SOS. There was also a universal airlock installed for space deployment.

Soon, the lander’s sensors were picking up signals from the Ladyboys Claim Zone on Sacajawea Patera. Mr. Snuggles set down the lander between the small impact crater Zlata and the edge of the caldera. Everyone geared up with their seeker launchers – as well as seeker use skillsoft. Firearms would not pop at surface pressures and beam weapons were rock projectiles in treacle.

Altitude Zero

DANAI led the way, crawling on all fours and sweeping the area with his T-rays. The particulate-laden high-pressure atmosphere diminished their sensor capability. As they trod uphill, Hokusai though that their footsteps would alert any sensitive seismic sensors that the Ladyboys might have deployed. He identified a spot where a controlled explosion would trigger a rockslide which would allow them to reach the lip of the crater. Ina planted then set off the charges. However, the rockslide was bigger than anticipated. Everyone scurried to get out of the path of the avalanche (Success in Freerunning for all) then they quickly scaled to the top of the patera.

Over the lip of the caldera, the ground sloped threateningly into the rock-hard maw of an extinct volcano. There was an impact crater several hundred metres downslope. There was a piece of curved metal fragment perhaps fifty metres across buried into the centre of the crater. The Ladyboys appeared to have set up an encampment at the far end of the crater, allowing GamSec and Mr. Snuggles to approach unseen, the fragment blocking the Ladyboys’ view.

“Oh bother,” whispered Mr. Snuggles as they arrived at the metal structure.

Hokusai accessed his skillsoft in Space Habitats said, “That’s a fragment of an orbital habitat.” (Success in Interest: Habitats 40/40.)

Cable asked, “Why didn’t it burn up on re-entry? Why didn’t the impact destroy it?”

They remembered that the American habitat Timothea Bush-Kennedy a.k.a. Timbuk3 had fallen into Venus during the Fall, attacked by TITANs and exsurgents.

“Wasn’t that eleven years ago?” DANAI asked.

Cable said, “As far as we know.”

“Yeah,” Hokusai said. “If there was a major data catastrophe during the Fall, what makes you think everyone’s memories of it were real. What if everyone’s memories were edited. What if the Fall actually happened more than 10 years ago – maybe centuries ago?”

Cable thought for a while and asked, “If they’ve been here for a while, why haven’t the Ladyboys dug the fragment out yet? Why haven’t they destroyed it or salvaged any part of it?”

With thoughts of dormant exsurgents in their mind, they arrived at the habitat fragment. Ina and Hokusai looked out from the long end of the semi-buried structure. Ina reported (with a Perception success 22/60), “There’s a q-morph with a seeker missile launcher on guard at their encampment. If we step into line-of-sight, we’ll be made.”

“Oh bother,” muttered Mr. Snuggles.

Cable, DANAI and Mr. Snuggles holed up in the middle of the structure. DANAI (upon Perception 50/60) told them, “I’m picking up what seems to be an airlock buried just under the surface.” Cable wiped the grime and dirt from an exposed surface of the fragment. There were stencilled words on the structure, which somehow survived planetfall: LAKE OKEECHOBEE RESEARCH FACILITY. Cable (fails a COGNITION roll, 89, unable to Moxie) felt a strong sense of famliarity with the name although he was unable to place why. Ina (upon a successful Research roll) said, “This used to be a United States Space Force installation.”

They dug deeper and unearthed a glowing keypad to the airlock. Hokusai scuttled up to them and asked, “How can there be power after all these years?”

Cable sidled up to it and pressed on the unfamiliar keypad (Interface success 01/50) with strange familiarity. WELCOME TO USSF, a display screen lighted up. There was a mesh ID handshake from the panel, querying who was knocking on the door. The display screen blinked, WILLIAM CABLE, ACCESS GRANTED.

Not William Cable Jr.? Now Cable’s curiousity was piqued. Shelby Cobra’s stolen memories were right! His father had been on Timbuk3 during the Fall. Why?

Mr. Snuggles was astounded, “How did it grant you access?” Cable beamed a babyfaced smile at the ursomorph (while critically succeeding Deception on 33) and said, “These things happen.” Cable’s confidence allayed Snuggles’ alarm.

Cable queried the door’s spime, which told him that opening the door would cause massive structural failure. More importantly, the spime displayed the last user of the door, identified by mesh ID: William Cable. His father who had been missing and believed to still be alive somewhere in the system was at the Lake Okeechobee Facility. Again, why?

Mr. Snuggles said, “We should fall back. The Ladyboys has legal claim to this site, even if they did not report their salvage.”

Cable would not be dissuaded. Cable Senior was his psychological trigger word. He wasn’t leaving until the facility’s – and his father’s – secrets were unlocked. Timbuk3. The Ladyboys. Ikea-Tata Construction. Free Fall Network the anti-terraform organisation. Marquis d’Homem-Christos the reclusive artiste. Saladin Pelita the ghostly terrorist, Shelby Cobra the unwitting agent and William Cable. How were they all connected?

So, they began to plan.

“Oh bother,” said Mr. Snuggles sadly.

Session #51 - The Country of Shelby

Shadow to Parvarti

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: A lonely civil servant planned a vacation to a town with seedy pleasures while being tailed by spies. Parvarti was pretty seedy for a vacation destination and that was where Shelby planned to spend some time off for a few days. Cable and Hokusai flanked Shelby – AR markers pinned on their subject – as the unassuming pod morph headed for the independent aerostat.

Would he meet his handler there? Was he planning to exfiltrate away from Venus? Was he on another mission?

No. His trip was purely for pleasure. Cable and Hokusai followed him from one pleasure house to another, one dance club to another. Shelby never formed any lasting bonds with the people he interacted with. Neither did it seem he was communication with anyone in secret. He truly appeared to be just a sad and forsaken man, indentured to Morningstar Constellation.

Cable discovered ponyclopping in one of the bars, but that’s a tale for a later time.

So, what happened when a lonely civil servant planned a vacation to a town with seedy pleasures while being tailed by spies? Nothing out of the ordinary, considering the circumstances. That’s the joke.

Although when they returned to Aphrodite Prime, Cable was a changed man because of the VPN feed from Ina and DANAI.

This was what they learnt:

Shadow of Timothea Bush-Kennedy

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: An unsuspecting fork with edited memories and two infomorphs walk into into simspace.

The simspace was engineered in a few days from Shelby-α’s memories, to make him believe that it was before the fall. His own memories placed him in an office on a habitat: Timothea Bush-Kennedy also known as Timbuk3 – an American station – although the United States of America no longer existed after the Fall.

The memories flowed back and forth in time, through DANAI and Ina, intangible as dreams. Like dreams, Shelby-α would not be aware of being in one. They both conjured an avatar to visit Shelby-α’s ego in its own little purgatory. Shelby-α greeted the newcomer, who was puppeteered by either DANAI or Ina depending on skills required. As a visiting auditor, the duo coaxed information from the fork. The information flowed to the GamSec VPN system where it could be

Shelby Cobra was from North Carolina and an employee of the Department of Space Security. He had been assigned to Timbuk3 not half a year before. A dream job in space. Then something had happened. What was it? What was it?

The GamSec infomorphs massaged the simspace data and time rushed forward. Shelby-α was busy in the expansive arrival bay. Newly debarked travellers flowed out of the gates. Indicator screens above the gates flashed the name: U.S.S. Ticonderoga. The memory ghosts flew past.

A woman and a little boy ran into the open arms of a man. DANAI looked at the AR screen from Shelby-α’s feed. The name William Cable hung over the man’s head. Cable received the data live from the GamSec VPN. This was what he was looking for. A secret to his past, his father’s dark life before the Fall.

More memory ghosts came and went. One figure wending its way though the crowd piqued the infomorphs’ curiousity. He had an AR label on him: Elvis Kaspersky. They filed it away for later reference.

Then the world turned to the colour of a television tuned to a dead channel, although televisions and their channels had been extinct for years. The memories had ended there. There was no record of the Fall occurring in Shelby-α’s memory.

They turned off the lights before leaving the simspace. Shelby-α’s ghost world winked out of existence.

Shadow under Lucifer

As Hokusai and Cable returned from Parvarti, word came from Kage.

His people had calculated that the signal from Aphrodite Prime was bounced toward Sacajewea Patera, a dormant caldera on Ishtar Terra. The mining aerostat Lucifer was presently hovering forty klicks above the north polar region. Kage assigned them to investigate by travelling to Lucifer by promulgating a security audit. Their contact would be the Teddy Bear Roadside Picnic Company, the salvage hypercorp ran by ursomorphs they had looked into some weeks earlier.

After some rest, they geared up. The mission began with a public transport dirigible ride to a docking station. The TBRPC rep who greeted them was an ursomorph named Goldie, who took them down toward Lucifer with a descent balloon, creaking as the lower atmosphere gripped it harder as it descended.

Soon, the clouds cleared enough for them to see the aerostat. Sheathed in synthetic sapphire, Lucifer awaited their arrival.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: A neotenic, a slitheroid, a Venusian glider and a sheldon walk into Lucifer…

Session #50 - Headjack Mindheist
We follow a trail of mirrors...

Yay fifty sessions!

Cable, DANAI and Ina were alerted to new activity in the lair of the Cobra when Shelby activated the laser signalling device hidden in his home. The speck planted to monitor him reported that Shelby had sent a coded beam up through the window toward…Gerlach.

Springing into action to trace the beam to its destination (and hopefully the next link in the Free Fall Network), our team took a shuttle up to Gerlach to examine one of its solar mirrors, which the laser signal had been aimed at. Where was the beam reflected to? That would depend on the angle of the individual mirror panels.

Ina and DANAI were also eager to test out another one of Ina’s new toys: tripod walker turret designed to allow DANAI to use its gunnery skills with a variety of personal weapons, from rifles and railguns to seeker launchers and sprays. The man-portable but menacing walker was dubbed “Paul” and came with enhanced senses and a single manipulator arm.

Out on the hull of Gerlach, an odd pair of figures emerged: an adult humanoid and a child, both in combat vacsuits, carrying an egg-shaped device (DANAI in a sheldon) and a rifle on a tripod (the Paul).

The patch of mirror panels up ahead was overlaid with AR notices indicating that it was out of order pending maintenance – and had been for some time, as the maintenance priority was set to “lowest.” The patch of mirrors was angled in many crazy directions, tilted up and away. It made for a great hiding place for any dubious equipment. After creeping as close as they dared, our team decided to toss DANAI in a sheldon at the end of a smart rope over the mirror patch to scout it out. A horrid throw landed DANAI right in an expensive mirror (seven years’ bad luck), after which we pulled it back through the under-maintenance patch. There was a receiver here that wasn’t supposed to be here, a relay for the FFN that was redirecting the laser signals on to whatever the next destination was. It could have been anywhere in the polar region.

After carefully uninstalling it from the mirror patch, our team brought the relay back inside the airlock. But what luck – a scan found explosives, rigged to blow up at the sign of any tampering. After racking their heads and casting around for any explosives skill within the organisation, they were forced to call station security, whose bomb squad promptly stuck the relay back outside to dispose of safely. So much for hacking inside the relay.

The FFN would soon notice that the signals were no longer being relayed. Cable, Ina and DANAI had to take proactive steps. They had to bring in Shelby Cobra. After conferring with Kage, the team set up an ambush.

Shelby would receive a call from management consultants conducting a series of in-person interviews with Aphrodite civil service staff at a local office building. Said meeting room would be rigged with Paul turrets, armed with nonlethal takedown weaponry, including an EMP micro-seeker launcher to keep Shelby from signalling his allies.

A very detailed breakdown of the ambush commenced. DANAI and Ina were very concerned with comprehensive coverage of the rented office so that they could ensure no chance of escape or calling for help for the poor unarmed civil servant. Cable went for a coffee to allow the others to resolve the ambush themselves. At one point, the idea was mooted to have a Paul turret in a chair at the head of the table, sinisterly rotating the chair to face Shelby like in some Bond movie. Sigh, the mad ideas we come up with.

In the end, Shelby walked into a room covered with no less than three stealth-cloaked Paul turrets, to be hammered by immobilising foam spray, EMP and a neural agonizer, all while DANAI lurked invisibly nearby to cut off any escape for our doomed Shelby.

The prisoner was jacked into simspace for interrogation.

Cable, who was several blocks away, was having coffee. He was completely out of touch with his team due to the EMP, so he either panicked, had a coffee, or flirted with the robo-waitress. Or all three.

In simspace, the interrogators found to their surprise that Shelby was entirely cooperative, if a little confused. He admitted to having been given this job by certain contacts such as Robari, but did not remember anything about sending suspicious signals or other nefarious activity.

Not wanting to tip off anybody to their interest in Shelby, DANAI and Ina decided to psychosurgery to wipe memories of the past four hours and send Shelby back to work, while retaining a forked copy to further question…

Session #49 - Don't be Koi with me, Cable

Everything was fine again.

Gamera Securities had gotten away with consorting with terrorists, criminal conspiracy, a daring bodyjacking and much more. Best of all, thought Cable as he lounged by a viewport of the Aviary, the terrorists had failed to harm the airborne ecology project!

Then the flying rays and blimps of the Aviary started crashing right before his eyes.

The Aviary was sick. Alarms blared and the Aviary staff started closing all viewing ports and shutting down the place on account of the emergency.

Within minutes, Cable, DANAI and Ina were being ushered into Kage’s office. Their employer was not pleased. Our protagonists discovered that all their mesh links to the outside world had been shut down. The imposing security czar paced back and forth in front of his infamous koi tank.

It was said that others who had displeased Kage Musha over the years had been dealt with harshly. A fate worse than death or being put on ice. No, his worst foes were resleeved into koi. So that he could watch them swim in the confines of the tank and feed them at his leisure.

As he questioned them about their dubious activities over the past few days, activities which Cable had neglected to mention, he somehow subtly drew their attention again and again to the koi in the tank. No more need be said.

Cable admitted at last that they had in fact been involved in some covert counter-terror intelligence gathering. That they had a few leads on the Free Fall Network (FFN) that perhaps they could share with Kage. Perhaps he’d been remiss in keeping Kage up to date on things like the FFN contacts he’d made, or the suspected FFN infiltrator in the Aphrodite Prime cybersecurity staff.

Really? Kage was most interested. He dismissed the others and continued to question Cable alone. Perhaps gauging his suitability as a koi candidate.

Cable spun a quick one with his usual arrogance and recklessness. He explained all about his encounters with Saladin Pelita after having successfully posed as a terrorist mastermind. He explained that he’d convinced Saladin Pelita that he was able to sabotage the Solid Ground Initiative, and then by total coincidence the Marquis had fudged his own public appearance at Aphrodite Prime and ruined his exhibition. The serendipitous incident enabled Cable to pose as a criminal mastermind! Really, he didn’t know how he could have been luckier.

After this amicable (well, not really) exchange of information, Cable learned from Kage that based on his recordings of Saladin Pelita, the individual in question resembled the sleeve of Julius Robari, heir to a space engineering fortune. Baron Robari was the head of Soletta Corp, a space sunshade and space engineering company widely known to be a Fa Jing front. Why Robari would want to sabotage potentially lucrative terraforming projects, nobody knew. But Kage would keep an eye out. Kage was also most interested in the information that the FFN had started as a skydiving club. The chain of links in the conspiracy grew more and more intriguing.

In the meantime, Cable’s group would keep an eye on Shelby Cobra, with the possibility of reeling him in for questioning if his activities got too alarming.

And they would…

Session #48 - What does the Fox say?

Eclipse Phase: Clouds of a Morning Star continued from the previous session.

Location: Aphrodite Prime, about 50 km above Venus’ surface.

Active Gamera Security (GamSec) Personnel: DANAI and Wandering Ina (and Wandering Ina-α) the infomorphs, William Cable Jr. – paranoid terrorist in a neotenic pod morph and Hokusai Tarnungshaut – neo-octopus artist in a slitheroid morph

Inactive Personnel: Badal JonesLunar Lagrange Alliance (LLA) envoy and Boris Ivanov Rasputin the Second – a neo-hominid lawyer in the shaper morph.

Mission: To provide security and investigative services to Badal’s superior the LLA’s ambassador during an art show at the Cumulus Hotel, where reclusive posthuman artist Marquis d’Homem-Christos from the asteroid 163693 Atira would be showcasing alien sculptures he collected from the extraterrestrial Factors. LLA had intercepted a vague communique about a terrorist attack during the event and would like the attack thwarted. Their secondary mission was to help Gretchen Ambelina of Pax Familae by covertly disrupting the Marquis’ event which will deal a blow to the terraforming efforts of Venus, something the Solid Ground Initiaive (SGI) was a proponent of, and what Venusian terrorist groups like the Free Fall Network (FFN) were against.

A Happy Place

DANAI found herself frolicking in a green field beneath a bright blue sky and under a nourishing yellow sun. Baffled by current events, she looked down and discovered that she was in a body of a living fox, red bushy tail and all. What had happened before? She was uncertain.

Suddenly a window opened in the sky. A man looked at her from behind the window. Just when she wondered why there was a window in the sky, another one slid open seemingly across from the first window. Another man was there looking at her.

He then looked at the first man and asked, What does the fox say?

Then DANAI woke up from her strange dream.

Me Pousser

Me pousser. Me pousser. Me pousser. Me pousser. Me pousser. Me pousser. Me pousser.

The voice echoed from the darkness as DANAI slowly regained consciousness in the immobilised custom morph that belonged to the Marquis. She immediately remembered that her cover had been blown when the Maiko Clarimondo of the Geisha Bankers plugged into his cyberbrain in the suite at the 10th floor of the Cumulus Hotel.

Me pousser. Me pousser. Me pousser. Me pousser. Me pousser. Me pousser. Me pousser.

The Maiko was still perched on top of the Marquis’ prone morph that DANAI inhabited. Her arachnoid abdomen and legs were slightly visible under her kimono. She hissed inhumanly, “Now we know you are not the Marquis, tell me who you are.”

Me pousser. Me pousser. Me pousser. Me pousser. Me pousser. Me pousser. Me pousser.

The repeating voice was in DANAI’s head, synchonised to the flashing of the SACRE BLEU button in her mesh HUD. She still had no idea what the virtual button does and did not wish to find out. DANAI also noted that a signal jammer had cut her off from the rest of Gamera Security.

DANAI wracked her brain and then told the Maiko, “I am here to ensure that the Marquis would be much, much more in favour of our Venus terraforming efforts. I am here only to protect our investments.”

The Maiko mulled over this for a minute. Then she switched off the signal jammer and made a call via mesh. The GamSec VPN connection was immediately reestablished and DANAI transmitted information of recent happenings to Cable, Ina, Boris and Hokusai.

Getting into Position

Meanwhile, GamSec had not been idle when DANAI’s signal blinked off. They knew exactly where the Marquis’ suite was and remotely rented a secure office cubicle in the building across the street facing the hotel. Cable contacted Ina-α at the airship, telling it to be prepared to run the DDOS program that it had set up at Cloud Nine aerostat. The original Ina infomorph driving the Venusian glider morph, armed with Hokusai’s sniper rifle, took its position at the window with the targeting recticle on the tenth floor of the Cumulus Hotel. But the room’s windows were closed and curtains drawn.

Cable and Hokusai used their legitimate security contractor IDs to gain access to the ninth floor. In the hallway beneath where DANAI was, Hokusai used his X-ray emitters to scan the Marquis suite and building a three dimensional profile of the room. He transmitted the tactical overlay to Ina across the street. Ina released the safety on the sniper rifle and told them, “If DANAI is terminally compromised, I’ll take out the cortical stack.”

Cheesy French Accent

DANAI was still talking up a storm in a cheesy French accent to delay the Maiko when the door opened. Several men in official Emergency Medical Responder uniforms entered. The Maiko looked pleased. The newcomers drew automatic pistols from their medical cases. She gestured them to apprehend DANAI.

Cable was monitoring the hotel’s elevator and corridor video feeds when he noticed someone familiar was wearing the medical uniforms. It was his anti-terraforming terrorist contact Saladin Pelita. He ordered Ina-α to implement the DDOS attack. Ina-α remotely connected with a server at Cloud Nine thousands of kilometres away to activate the program titled “release_the_kraken.exe”. Immediately online links via mesh began to slow down as the system was repeatedly assaulted by millions of data inquiries transmitted from Cloud Nine and routed through a dozen communication satellites. Security systems across Aphrodite Prime stuttered and fail. While the city systems were busy tracing the signal from Cloud Nine to quash it, it was a good time to discharge weapons and perform other criminal activities.

Ina aimed for DANAI’s cortical stack at the back of her synthetic skull.

That was when one of Saladin’s men turned his firearm onto the Maiko’s head and pulled the trigger.

Saladin told DANAI that all was well and she was being rescued by allies. DANAI told him that this incident should be enough for the event to be cancelled. She would return to Rekall facility to farcast the real Marquis – now trapped in a sensory deprivation VR environment thanks to the Maiko’s signal jammer – back to his asteroid, none the wiser.

Cable, listening in to the conversation, was happy that his contact had come through to save the mission and his team mate. Revealing his true name to FFN – or what appears to be FFN – had paid off. Before hotel security arrived, everyone stowed their weapons and gear, then disappeared in the chaos of the mesh DDOS attack. Also taking advantage of the DDOS chaos, DANAI returned to Rekall to order an immediate farcast. In the resleeving computer, she covertly switched her ego with the real Marquis who was then transmitted back to 163693 Atira.

After the Storm

When the chaos had settled and Aphrodite Prime had sent security personnel to Cloud Nine to disable the DDOS hardware there, Hokusai and Badal Jones retreived DANAI from Rekall the same way she was planted there: the tiny egg-shaped sheldon morph. Boris was disappointed that DANAI had not pushed the SACRE BLEU button.

Slowly, information was harvested from the next day’s news feed. The DDOS attack did not harm anyone. The Solid Ground Initiative delegates were unharmed but annoyed at the cancellation of the art show. Saladin Pelita and Free Fall Network were satisfied. Even Gretchen Ambelina was happy, much to Cable’s delight. The Maiko Clarimonda was resleeved but had no memories of the stand off at the hotel. The Marquis woke up on Atira absolutely confused. The furore in his social media feeds confused him even further.

However, the ship ferrying the Marquis’ sculpture, the one named “Agony” that DANAI had seen up close, disappeared some time after it left Aphrodite Prime, presumably attacked and crashed onto the surface of Venus.

DANAI wondered about her dream. What did the fox say?

To be continued in the next exciting session of Eclipse Phase: Clouds of a Morning Star.

Crossposted on Hishgraphics blog.

Session #48 - Malkovich, malkovich malkovich!

Eclipse Phase: Clouds of a Morning Star continued from the previous session at Wira Games and Hobbies.

Location: Aphrodite Prime, about 50 km above Venus’ surface.

Active Gamera Security (GamSec) Personnel: DANAI and Wandering Ina (and Wandering Ina-α) the infomorphs, Boris Ivanov Rasputin the Second – a neo-hominid lawyer in the shaper morph, William Cable Jr. – paranoid terrorist in a neotenic pod morph and Hokusai Tarnungshaut – neo-octopus artist in a slitheroid morph.

Inactive Personnel: Badal JonesLunar Lagrange Alliance (LLA) envoy.

Mission: To provide security and investigative services to Badal’s superior the LLA’s ambassador during an art show at the Cumulus Hotel, where reclusive posthuman artist Marquis d’Homem-Christos would be showcasing alien sculptures he collected from the extraterrestrial Factors. LLA had intercepted vague communique about a terrorist attack during the event and would like the attack thwarted. Their secondary mission was help Gretchen Ambelina of Pax Familae by covertly disrupting the Marquis’ event which will deal a blow to the terraforming efforts of Venus, something the Solid Ground Initiaive (SGI) was a proponent of, and what Venusian terrorist groups like the Free Fall Network (FFN) were against.

The Flurry of Planning Activities

Badal Jones stayed close to Karamojo Bell his fellow Lunar ally and self-fashioned big game hunter from the Mare Imbrium Credit Union who’d died during the battle with the flexbot combiner at the Ikea-Tata Constructions site. Unfortunately for Badal, Bell now has a new fun hobby: to get infected with tailored extinct diseases, enjoy the suffering and then purge the disease before the end. If he died from the disease, he would just happily resleeve in a new morph.

Elsewhere, Cable was just finishing up in a healing vat in a hospital, the medichines in his body expediting the treatment. Hokusai arrived to visit with some flowers. Unsure what to do with the flowers, he dumped the entire bouquet over the top of Cable’s vat. Boris arrived shortly just in time to see flower petals drift down toward Cable’s face.

Then Cable munched on them.

Back at the airship in his sheldon morph, Ina was preparing to unleash his DDOS attack onto the whole aerostat city’s security systems. When Aphrodite Prime’s systems would be under attack, it was hoped that the FFN’s embedded agent would be flushed out. Meanwhile, out in the skies over Aphrodite Prime, a regatta was underway. Sleek, lighter-than-air racing dirigibles were circling the city’s airspace.

Suddenly, the GamSec mesh network alerted them that the Marquis d’Homem Christos was now farcasting into his body all the way from his asteroid 163693 Atira. Isolated within the Marquis’ resleeving computer in Total Rekall Resleeving Inc., DANAI and Ina-α were ready for action.

The Advent of the Sacre Bleu Button

Qubit by qubit, the Marquis streamed into Total Rekall. The ID scanner confirmed his brain pattern in the buffer at the downlink. Then he was moved into his resleeving module where a virtual box awaited him. It appeared to him that he was now regaining conscious in and control of his custom synthmorph. But instead he had been shunted into the box which Ina built in the resleeving module computer and received streaming data from the morph, which would be driven by DANAI.

Ina was compressed and loaded into the synthmorph’s extra cyberbrain storage space for storage because the morph had no ghostrider module built in.

DANAI planned to emulate whatever the Marquis did or said in the box while driving the morph. However when the mesh OS booted up, not only was it heavily customized fork of Deloitte 6.7 and unfamiliar, but everything was labelled in French. There was also an elaborate audio mixer setup projected as an interface in the morph’s field of vision. Finally there was a large but finely-designed glowing red button marked SACRE BLEU.

Whatever the button was for, DANAI hoped she did not have to activate it.

Meanwhile, Boris and Hokusai helped Cable out of the hospital. Then they split up. Boris and Cable would return to their position at Cumulus Hotel. Hokusai, upon learning the Marquis had farcasted in, would give tactical support to DANAI in case she needed it.

The Attack of the Bollywood Musical Number Flash Mob

DANAI (whose SOM was 5) was having problems (because of rolling 96 – Moxied to 69 – on a Integration check) controlling the morph. She shambled as she walked. Her shoulder slouched and shrugged intermittently. Sometimes her hands trembled, sometimes they spasmed, sometimes they did jazz hands. Her arms would suddenly fling themselves up and down and shimmy left and right. When she egressed the resleeving module, she stumbled while spasming a little jig.

The Rekall technicians rushed to help her, but she persuaded them that the Marquis was just moving his body according to a popular new style. (Success on a Deception check.) So the dumbfounded technicians made way as the Marquis’ morph shimmied its way out of the resleeving facility, signing an acceptance release as it did.

In his box, still believing he was in his morph, the real Marquis was yelling in French, “Why is everyone trying to help me? All is well! I am fine!”

Out in the streets, social media data, messages and e-mails started to flood his senses. DANAI reestablished contact with Gamera Security mesh VPN and isolated it from the feed back to the real Marquis. She noted that Hokusai was standing by in the shadows along the same street. Then she emailed the Ina-α.zip file back to their airship to be reintegrated with Ina.

Boris saw DANAI’s mesh feed and egged him to press the SACRE BLEU button.

As she hopped, skipped, swayed and shambled toward the Cumulus Hotel, passers-by started to recognise and notice the famed but reclusive artist Marquis d’Homem Christos. At first they only took pictures and short videos to upload to their social media network of choice. Most were amused and befuddled by the Marquis’ gait. Some started following him while emulating his gait. Soon videos of this was being uploaded to social media networks. People started to come to see the rare appearance of the Marquis. More people started to follow the mob trailing the artist.

When the Marquis’ morph wobbled to the left, everyone wobbled to the left. When its hips gyrated uncontrollably, everyone’s hips did the same. When DANAI couldn’t stop the morph’s right arm from pointing upward with its left hand on its hip, everyone struck a pose! (Every time DANAI had to roll SOMx3 to walk straight, the mob would follow him in a Thriller! dance as he shambled and lurched toward the hotel.)

If Hokusai had a jaw, it would have been slacked. But he did not. So it did not. He just facepalmed.

The Unutterable Attempt at an Abominable Autograph

A fan wearing an androgynous pod morph approached the DANAI-driven Marquis body, excited to be meeting him. The man handed DANAI a laser scalpel, unbuttoned his shirt and said, “Please! Sign your autograph across my chest.”

Realising that DANAI had a lethal instrument over someone’s chest with a SOM of 5 led her player Darren to laugh – nervously – for some time at the game table. He had to roll SOM x3 to successfully autograph on the pod morph’s chest. If he rolled below 15 with the percentile dice, DANAI’s control over her commandeered morph’s hands might slip and slice off the pod’s nipples or sever an artery. Everyone on the table was on the edge of their seat for the dice roll.

Sensing DANAI’s distress over the GamSec VPN, Boris pleaded with her to hit the SACRE BLEU button.

Then Darren rolled…

… and got 14 out of 15, causing the entire table to roar with applause.

The terrified DANAI managed to burn an autograph without any slip-ups. The fan departed happily with his mutilated chest.

The Reappearance of the Sepulchral Spectral Terrorist

At the bar of the Cumulus, Cable was visited by the virtual FFN agent Saladin Pelita once more. Cable sent a message to Boris – who was typing on his typewriter at the far end of the bar – to stand by, but to keep his distance. Saladin informed him that their operation at the Aviary was discovered by the authorities. Cable said he knew nothing about the Aviary. Saladin said that they would be changing their tactics and if Cable had associates, he should remove them from the Cumulus Hotel before the Marquis’ event began that evening. Cable eyed him as Saladin left the bar. He strode behind a thin pillar and disappeared. He had been, once more, an AR sprite that only existed in Cable’s vision through the hotel’s AR mesh projection system.

The Aberrant Appearance of the Arachnid Anathema

Meanwhile, a message marked Important was calling for DANAI’s attention. Taking his cue from the real Marquis’ action in the box, DANAI opened the message. It was from one of the Marquis’ associates on Aphrodite Prime, a Geisha Banker named Maiko Clarimonda. She had been scheduled for a meeting with the Marquis at the hotel.

Geisha Bankers accepted deposits and allowed withdrawals in terms of cash, assets, data and pleasures of the flesh. Clarimonda wore a peculiar synthmorph which resembles a robot geisha that appeared to move around without walking. There were rapid clicking sounds, like from many sharp objects under her voluminous kimono. DANAI (rolling a 60 out of 60 for Protocol) accepted Maiko’s offer in showing him the asset the Marquis had deposited with her, using the boxed Marquis’ responses to guide DANAI’s own replies.

She brought him through an airlock into a hermetically-sealed secure part of the hotel. A storage container awaited them. There was a security keypad at the door. DANAI duplicated what the real Marquis was doing, attempting to push the buttons in sequence. At first DANAI failed, but on her second attempt the door was unlocked and swung open. (First a 53 out of 60 Kinesics roll to see what buttons were pressed, then a successful 10 our of 15 SOMx3 roll to repeat it on the tiny keypad.)

Lights came on, revealing the Factors’ art piece, the alien sculpture that he traded by them. Not just DANAI, but even the other GamSec members were overwhelmed by a rapturous feeling of bliss from the twisted piece of unknown extrasolar material, even through the encrypted VPN video feed.

Boris said, “It looks like an alien turd though.” The real Marquis, seeing the piece, expressed that he was pleased and ordered it to be packed up for the show tonight. DANAI repeated his words to Clarimonda.

Upon leaving the secured hotel vault, the real Marquis told Clarimonda via DANAI that he wanted to make a withdrawal. The retreated to the Marquis’ opulently prepared suite. DANAI suddenly realised that “making a withdrawal” was an euphemism. Being synthmorphs with cyberbrain that has a digital limbic system, they would pleasure each other in software. However, a physical connection would result in DANAI’s cover being blown and the real Marquis realising that he had been boxed.

Clarimonda handed a cable with a cyberjack to DANAI. DANAI took it and attempted to plug it into the port at the back of the Marquis’ metal head. Clarimonda hovered closer, clickings underneath grew slower but louder. After several attempts, the cyberjack connected.

The last thing DANAI saw was Clarimonda eclipsing the rest of the suite with her extreme proximity. Then, darkness overwhelmed DANAI.

The Sanctuary of the Sordid Seditionist Saboteur

Meanwhile Boris had decided to investigate (rolling 40 for Research) and discovered that a new cybersecurity personnel had been hired by the hotel since the announcement of the Marquis’ event: Shelby the Cobra. Shelby was on shift at the moment, and coincidentally would be pulling extra work hours so he would be working during the art showing. A quick sousveillance check revealed Shelby’s particulars and his home address. Boris, Cable and Hokusai decided to investigate his apartment at Matsu-Musha Heights Residencies.

As they left a cadre of cosplayers called the Legion of Lurchers wearing morphs made up to resemble the Marquis began to show up, lurching and dancing in the hotel lobby. A meme had been born. The trio ignored the meme.

En route, Cable briefed their patron Kage Musha on new developments and requested they be allowed to highest access into Aphrodite’s security network. (Protocol fail at 79!) Kage told them he did not have the authority and the reach to allow that to happen.

At Matsu-Musha, they decided that Shelby would have alarms in the public surveillance systems. If they were to break into his house, the system might have been programmed to send the video feed directly to Shelby’s mesh view. So, at first Hokusai went up to Shelby’s apartment floor then slithered his way coolly (Successful Infiltration roll of 29 out of 60) as his X-ray emitters scanned the interior of Shelby’s house. It was empty, but there was a suspicious-looking metal case in the bedroom.

Boris broke into the house directly above Shelby’s. He burned a hole through the floor with scrapper gel. Hokusai dropped one of his specks into the living room beneath. The tiny insectoid drone flew directly to the suspicious case. A quick remote hacking unlocked the case. WIthin the case is a laser communicator, a direct line-of-sight communication method which would be difficult to tap.

They decided to leave the speck behind to see if it would be used today. Cable found a place outside the building to hide a radio booster that would amplify the signal from the speck. Before they left Matsu-Musha, they tested the video feed from the radio booster and found it satisfactory.

Heading back to the hotel they discovered something wrong. The mesh feed from DANAI was dark.

Boris muttered sadly, “He should have hit the Sacre Bleu button when he had the chance.”

Entanglement in the Epilogue

DANAI regained consciousness and found Clarimonda smiling and standing over her, metallic spider legs rearing her up from beneath her kimono. Cable strands extended out from her hands and had wrapped themselves around the neck of the Marquis’ morph.

Helpless and immobilised, DANAI hoped this was not the end.

To be continued in the next exciting session of Eclipse Phase: Clouds of a Morning Star.

Crossposted on Hishgraphics blog.

Session #47 - The Great White Hunter Job

Report by Hisham from

Location: Aphrodite Prime, about 50 km above Venus’ surface.

Active Gamera Security (GamSec) Personnel: Badal Jones – Lunar Lagrange Alliance (LLA) envoy in the splicer morph, Boris Ivanov Rasputin the Second – a neo-hominid lawyer in the shaper morph, William Cable Jr. – paranoid terrorist in a neotenic pod morph and Hokusai Tarnungshaut – neo-octopus artist in a slitheroid morph.

Inactive Personnel: DANAI and Wandering Ina.

Mission: To provide security and investigative services to Badal’s superior the LLA’s ambassador during an art show at the Cumulus Hotel, where reclusive posthuman artist Marquis d’Homem-Christos would be showcasing alien sculptures he collected from the extraterrestrial Factors. LLA had intercepted vague communique about a terrorist attack during the event and would like the attack thwarted. Their secondary mission was help Gretchen Ambelina of Pax Familae by covertly disrupting the Marquis’ event which will deal a blow to the terraforming efforts of Venus, something the Solid Ground Initiaive (SGI) was a proponent of, and what Venusian terrorist groups like the Free Fall Network (FFN) were against.

A New Arrival

After being briefed by GamSec office administrator The Wandering Kid on Gerlach station, newly-employed lawyer Boris, wearing a shaper morph skinned as a male splicer, arrived at Aphrodite Prime to rendezvous with the team and brought up to speed on the mission. His job would be to use local law to their advantage and to take down enemies. Boris was more of an intellectual property specialist than an Inner System Law specialist but he would have to do. (His Thrown Weapons skill was 40% so perhaps he could throw the book at enemies.)

A Convention Grounded Solid

The SGI was hosting a convention to lobby for terraforming on Venus at the Cumulus Hotel to the Morningstar Constellation, the political cooperative governing Venus. A minor ballroom was reskinned in AR to look like a lush, green tropical paradise with palm trees, sand and the sea. Waiters served pina coladas. People from near and far came in attendance to hear what SGI was offering. Socialites, politicians, businessmen.

Badal entered the ballroom, under his official LLA envoy capacity. His bodyguard was Hokusai, in his “Heinrich Ausfahrt Plissken” cover ID for GamSec and an official security contractor for the LLA. Boris also arrived to schmooze with those in attendance, attempting to obtain intel and if possible discover and ferret out names of possible terrorist agents. Cable sat outside in the hotel reception area, connected to everyone else via GamSec’s secure mesh network.

SGI was pushing for healthy place to live and wellness on Venus. 160 years of investment is nothing for a green Venus for the children’s children to live on.

A Great White Hunter

Boris saw a familiar face, a Lunar banker named Karamojo Bell from the Mare Imbrium Credit Union. Bell was looking to see how his organisation’s investments were being developed at Aphrodite Prime, especially the Aviary. The Aviary was where genetically engineered flying lifeforms were being created for release into the Venus atmosphere to establish a new airborne ecology. Bell also recognised Badal whom he knew on Luna.

A conversation revealed that Bell yearned for the old days on Earth where it was possible to hunt large creatures out in the wild, like elephants in the savannah. But now such beasts were rare and safely guarded in offworld habitats and Earth was now a forbidden planet. He hoped that this Aviary investment would create new wild animals for him to hunt when the new Venusian ecology was implemented.

A Dolphin Artist with a Fricking Laser Beam Attached to Her Head

Also present among the guests was the famous Mercurial neo-dolphin artist Koko Pelli. Miss Pelli’s forte was to carve artistic expressions on surface of astronomical bodies that can only be viewed in its entirety from orbit or high altitude, like the Nazca Lines in what used to be Peru on Earth. Huzzah for Mesoamerica! Her last work was to control orbital lasers via mesh on Mercury to create a gigantic troll face with the words “U MAD BRO?” under it

Her next art project would be a planetary-scale Venusian scrimshaw. She would carve it using orbital lasers onto the dry ice used to terraform the surface of Venus. Clearly she was for turning Venus green, so Hokusai tried to troll her by asking her about the Obloquy mesh site, where Hokusai under his “Pickman Algol” nom de plume had uploaded paintings that were thematically against the Venus terraforming drive.

However, such mesh sites were apparently unworthy of the neo-dolphin’s attention. So she brushed Hokusai off. (SAVx2 roll – only 30% – resulted in 71 so failure!)

A Ghost in the Augmented Reality

Meanwhile, as Cable was monitoring his teammates activites from the hotel lobby, an unknown person entered his view and sat beside him. The male biomorph asked if the plans that Cable spoke of before were still on track. From his speech patterns and body language, Cable recognized the ego in the morph as Saladin Pelita, the possible FFN agent he had talked to in a secure VR environment some days ago. Cable gestured at the partial AR tropical motif around them that leaked out from the ballroom, “Disgusting isn’t it? I assure you there will be an amazing act of cyberactivism here soon.”

When Saladin asked whether Cable’s conscience would be able to handle the upcoming terrorist act, the neotenic said, “Remember Dame Miley Cyrus. As a young lady, the public once thought her F-Rep was tainted by her twerking antics, but by age 40 she had won a Nobel Peace Prize. By 80 she was the Queen of Uranus. Well, a sovereign colony off Uranus, at least. My conscience is clear.”

Cable asked how Saladin was going to implement his plans. (Persuasion roll: 60, spend a Moxie point to flip the digits to 06 for a success.) The man alluded to an unfortunate incident at the Aviary, which might even lead to loss of life support in the section.

Saladin Pelita looked satisfied, picked up a pina colada from somewhere and left. Cable decided to shadow him out of the hotel but when he reached the street outside there was no sign of Saladin. Cable reviewed the vid from his recent conversation (Investigation roll: 11 – critical success.) and discovered some discrepancies: Saladin Pelita might have been an AR projection! Cable’s AI muse Ted performed a diagnostic and found nothing wrong with his internal systems. Cable called Wandering Ina (currently an NPC because of its absent player) in its egg-shaped sheldon morph back at the airship. Ina’s digital skills revealed that Saladin had somehow and skilfully hacked into the hotel’s AR systems for only Cable to perceive.

Meanwhile, SGI’s presentation and dinner was over and everyone made their way back to the airship.

A Return to the Airship

Back at the airship, Boris suggested they short the system to make some money out of the probable upcoming destruction of the Aviary.

Everyone agreed that it was time to inform their patron Kage Musha. However, Cable was unable to persuade Kage that the Aviary construction site they had infiltrated the previous day, Ikea Tata Constructions Inc. was an immediate threat to Aphrodite Prime and Morningstar Constellation (Persuasion roll of 89 – unable to Moxie – at a 44% skill).

A new plan was formulated. Karamojo Bell would be concerned if something threatened his investment, namely the Aviary. So Badal persuaded the banker – who was already drunk out of his Lunar mind when they met him – (He rolled a 12 on Persuasion) to use his authority as an investor to allow the GamSec team entry into the Aviary.

As a bonus, Boris mentioned that there might be something worth hunting right then in the Aviary, withinin the section open to atmosphere, and it was legal to shoot and kill it.

Bell was beside himself with joy and quickly retrieved his licenced high-powered hunting rifle that he always brought with him on his travels from his hotel room.

Everyone geared up with weapons and suited up in vacsuits (except for the synthmorphed Hokusai) for a hunting trip into the jungle.

A Return to the Construction Site

Of course the jungle had not been finished yet. Scaffolding crisscrossed this section of the Aviary which was exposed to the unbreathable atmosphere of Venus. Through transparent plates, they could see trees and flying creatures in secured sections of the structure. Bell, as an investor, had the authority to allow entry for everyone.

Kage chose to call them at that moment. He saw their mesh feed and asked dryly, “Why the hell is everyone suited up for some sort of elephant hunt?”

Cable grinned and answered, “Because a terrorist hunt is the most dangerous game!”

Kage rolled his eyes, muttered an “Uh-huh.” and cut the comms line.

Strangely, there was no construction personnel present. The site was empty although work should be work done around the clock. The drunken Bell took point and dangerously pointed his hunting rifle about looking for some feral beast. Hokusai tapped the datafeed from his speck bot that was left behind in the storage container where they discovered the robot parts in. The audio/video feed showed that the container was inactive. Cable also reported all-quiet from the ultralights they deployed one after another, flying on autopilot from the airship.

Badal and Boris persuaded Bell to stand down and wait for the “creature” at a tactically advantageous location above the suspicious storage container. After some minutes, the sound of snoring came from under Bell’s Pith helmet and within his vacsuit. Cable might have observed some boozy bubblings under Bell’s nose.

After six hours of waiting, the vacsuits’ O2 canisters were replaced without incident.

After nine hours, Cable’s dredged some information up from his online investigations. (Investigation roll 11 – critical success) The Ikea-Tata hypercorp had investing entities that were connected to an old clique of Venusian cloud divers. A nasty transport aircraft accident during one of their dives killed them all. There was no cortical stack retrieval as their bodies plunged to Venus’ surface. Their ego copies were resleeved as per their insurance coverage. However, the event caused the clique to disband. Somehow, years later the clique’s members had somehow the controlling shares in Ikea-Tata.

Before they could mull on this, there was movement in the speck video feed. Then the feed was disconnected.

A Battle With The Beast

(By rolling a 03 for interface) Hokusai reestablished contact with the speck. There was sporadic electromagnetic activity and sounds of metal click-clacking in the darkness. Cable slid down from their hiding spot with his agoniser brandished, looking very much like a prepubescent boy wearing a vacsuit and a pickelhaube helmet carrying a toy gun. Ted reported that there was an extra data feed pointed at the container, transmitted from far below the aerostat. Cable opened the container door and saw a writhing mass of flexbots transforming and combining.

The whole group received the mesh vid feed and jumped to their feet. Boris shook Bell awake who springed into full attention, looking for his beast to hunt. For some reason he was still somewhat drunk or hung over or both. At the same time, Hokusai slid down the surface toward Cable and the container.

Cable switched the agoniser to full laser mode and fired at the click-clacking frenzy. The laser merely peeled off a spot of paint. Panicking seemed to be a good option.

The robot burst out of the container. It was obviously a combination of six flexbots that locked into a configuration of a walking, quadrupedal tank. Its head bore a pair of automatic cannons, which turned toward Cable. Hokusai fired his laser pulser as he closed in on it but missed. Badal, Boris and Bell moved in to flank it from another direction, taking position near some construction vehicles close to a scaffolding precipice. A slip up and one would find oneself falling fifty kilometers down into sulphuric acid clouds and onto destructive 740 degrees Kelvin and 93 bar surface conditions.

Boris pointed Bell toward the flexbot combiner. He eagerly aimed his high-powered, large-calibre hunting rifle and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. He had forgotten to load it.

The flexbot’s cannon fired at Cable. Rounds clipped his side and he tumbled off the scaffolding in pain. But he quickly held onto a railing for dear life.

Hokusai aimed and fired again. The energy beam struck the flexbot. But it was barely scratched. Hokusai wished he brought his automatic rail rifle instead.

As Badal considered using a construction vehicle to ram the flexbot, it chose to fire at the person with the biggest weapon: which was Karamojo Bell. A burst of AP rounds shredded Bell’s body into a smoking bloody mess. His cortical stack flew off his upper spine and rolled for the edge of the scaffolding. Boris reached out with inhuman neo-hominid reflexes and grabbed the stack before it was lost.

Badal jumped for Bell’s bloodied rifle and found it still functional. He accessed the weapon’s smartlink and continued to reload it. Boris muttered while pocketing Bell’s cortical stack, “Smartlink? He was cheating?”

Cable, still hanging on to the scaffolding railing, decided to call Aphrodite’s official security forces (with a botched Protocol roll) but reached automated messages instead.

Unable to find a wireless hack, Hokusai decided to sprint for the flexbot, leap onto its back and shut it off from there. (It would take two rounds to reach it because of a lousy Freerunning roll at 98.)

Badal fired the hunting rifle (with a critical success at 22) and the bullet pierced the flexbot’s armour, badly damaging its innards. It screamed with rage and swung its cannons at Badal.

Cable was still unable to reach aerostat security. Hokusai slammed into the flexbot and decided to push it off the container landing. The flexbot resisted and swung an arm which Hokusai dodged. Another shot from Badal smashed into it (causing 28 armour piercing damage) and it reeled. It started to sway and sparks flowered out from under its armoured plating. Badal closed in on it and delivered the killing shot. Lights went dim and the flexbot went limp, belching sparks and smoke.

A Resurrection of the Great White Hunter

GamSec had gained favourable reputation with Morningstar Constellation and the Lunar Lagrange Alliance. Whatever entity behind the flexbot – Free Fall Network perhaps – would now be aware of GamSec’s fight against them. Kage appeared to be pleased with their achievement that day.

The cortical stack that Boris retrieved was reimplanted into a new cloned Karamojo Bell biomorph. When Bell was revived, Boris (who rolled a 11 for Deception – critical success) regaled him with a tale of the unbelieveably skilled hunter that went head-to-head with a lethal flexbot combiner and used his powerful weapon to disable it. Unfortunately the brave hunter was torn apart by a lucky burst of gunfire. This allowed the hunter’s companions to ultimately eliminate the flexbot.

Karamojo Bell was not able to remember his last day thanks to a night of boozing and enthusiastically accepted the tale as their wonderful night out to remember.

And now it was the day of the Marquis’ event.