A Quick Trip to the Store
|A Quick Trip to the Store|
|Casualties and losses|
Spider ran out of food. Now she works for the Black Lodge.
The Quest for the Hot Pocket
Spider was playing Stellaris 7 multiplayer, rolling over unoptimized players online, as her mind started to wander a bit. The opponents, too terrible to demand her attention, bored her, so she started to reflect on her recent actions. Having discovered horrifying new knowledge about threats facing the world, namely The Enemy, she had been scouring the matrix looking for clues, any scraps of information to give her better understanding. Even as she searched the darkest areas of the matrix though, she found almost nothing. Some group had to be scouring information from public access, silencing the truth. But whom? Null Sect? Dragons? Something else?
She didn't know, and it was infuriating.
Around this time, she finished her game and realized she was kind of hungry. Gaming is hard work. Heading to her freezer to grab a hot pocket, she unfortunately remembered she ate the last one earlier today. She was foodless. Determined to change that, she headed out to a nearby convivence store.
Luckily, as she arrived, she found that they were in stock. Hot Pockets acquired, she used her superior knowledge of mathematics to perfectly use the in-store microwave to heat her prize, avoiding a frozen center.
Heading back, happily munching on the decker food of champions, she noticed something strange in her AR display. A host for a dry cleaning business, generic and non-offensive, had a small marking engraved on its display. Hard to see, Spider only barely noticed it, but her curiosity fire up, and she went in to investigate.
Dragon Cultists, in MY City?
Focusing to examine the host in greater detail, she looked at the mark. Looking almost like a Sanskrit letter, an artistic symbol engraved in a crook of the host exterior. Spider knew this symbol. It was a mark of the Gilded Claw, a group of dragon cultists determined to spread the manifest truth of dragon superiority and help their vaunted masters maintain power. While not a powerful group, more hapless wannabe-minions, this mark was a message. Why was it on a dry cleaning host?
Spider, concerned at this symbol existing so close to where she lived, headed back to her apartment, finishing her Hot Pocket in quiet contemplation. Entering VR, she headed back to the mysterious host, hacking her way inside. The host was ultimately, not very impressive. A generic and low quality host, it showed clear signs of disuse and only basic business records. Nothing really of interest at all. The only lead she found was a service record. This host was provided and maintained by a technical consulting company, Brightview Technical Services. Unless the dry cleaning owner was a cultist hacker on the side, likely someone at the company did this.
Hacking their host and dodging spiders, a bit more difficult of a task than before, she raided the host of the tech company. Searching for interesting data, she stole several files. Grabbing a copy of their service logs, employee data, and taxes, she hoped that something interesting could be put together. There were no visible signs of dragon tampering in the host, so she'd have to find it in the data.
Checking out the tax data first, Spider quickly realized she didn't understand taxes very well. She had a lot of data, but not the context to use it. Determined though, she started reading about corporate tax law, becoming not a master by any means but learned enough to at least study the data. After a large amount of very boring study and data checking, she found something somewhat interesting. Some of the revenue streams seemed a bit, irregular? After crosschecking several times, she was reasonably sure that some dark money was heading into the firm. Following the trail, it lead to a holding company with a very vague set of information about it. Clearly a front for someone, but again, who?
Deciding to look into the other data, she learned who had been managing the dry cleaning host. A man named Anthony Stevens, he seemed like a fairly boring man at first glance. Quiet, a bit withdrawn, but a competent worker, he seemed not dissimilar to many other introverted deckers. However, he didn't show up to work yesterday. Odd for a man with a normally perfect attendance record. Following an included address, she headed to his apartment in Auburn, wondering what she'd find.
Key Locks are anti-Decker Discrimination
Hacking her way to his apartment door, she soon faced a challenge. One she was wholly unprepared to deal with. His door at a lock on it. A mechanical one. Loitering on the third floor of an apartment building in the middle of the night, she didn't want to just bust the door down. But the lock? How could she deal with such an impassable obstacle.
Eventually, she caved and asked for help. Getting contact with Rabbit, she gave a brief overview of what had been happening and invited her to join. Rabbit, curious as well, headed over. An hour or so later, she pulled up, making her way to Spider. Pulling out an autopicker, Rabbit inserted it into the door, and it clicked open.
Rabbit entered first, carefully searching for any hidden threats, astral or otherwise. Inside the dark room though, there was no lurking ambush. Just the first room in a two room apartment. It did look slightly raided though, a few things scattered around in a hurry.
Before searching in detail, Rabbit approached the door to the next room, wanting to fully secure the apartment. Opening the closed door, she heard a click, whirring and clinking bottles. Rushing forward, she dived on a pile of falling pseudo-molotov cocktails, covering the flames with her body. While very painful, she managed to stop the fire before it engulfed the building. Spider followed closely after, following the scent of charred banshee, watching Rabbit heal from the nasty trap.
Taking a moment to breath, they started to look around the apartment, finding several things. The duo inspected the trap mechanism, finding that while a bit impromptu, the quality of it was at a level that implied actual training. Next, they noticed a crumpled up brochure near the burn location, one barely saved by Rabbit's quick reactions. Taking a look at it, they found that it was a tourist pamphlet for the southern region of the Salish-Shidhe Council with a scribbled set of coordinates inside. Doing a quick check, Spider saw that the location was a small town near the Tir border, an ultimately unimportant and remote place. Finally, Rabbit noticed a plethora of tiny cameras and microphones scattered through the apartment. Their wireless capability disabled, they seemed to be recording passively, being read and scrubbed every week or so. Looking at the recent footage showed the missing worker quickly packing up, setting the trap, and running out of the apartment.
Now with a clear confirmation that something bigger was at play, the two prepared to head to the SSC to follow the trail.
A Change of Scenery
To get a way into the country, Rabbit called Yokai and cut a deal to using a Yakuza smuggling dock, if they could make it past the countries coastal security that is. Taking Rabbit's submarine boat, the two headed underwater towards the location, confident things would go smoothly. As far as they could tell, it did.
In a more general sense though, they did pass a patrol boat which had a very threatening secret weapon. Sonar.
Thankfully, Rabbit used her control over sound waves to silence the area around the ship, calming any incoming sonar signals, hiding them from the sensor's prying waves. Now in the country, they hired a ride to take them over to the town, curious about what they'd find.
Heading to the coordinates, they unfortunately found themselves in a town square, standing in small park in front of the city hall. Not a secret lair. Ignoring a few curious glances from locals out in the early morning, they tried to investigate anyway, searching for anything useful. Spider, after a bit, got lucky, noticing an arrow in her AR display, floating slightly at the top of a nearby building. Focusing on it, she saw that is was, in a few hours, programmed to turn itself off and that it had data for an AR path, one pointed towards the forest outside of town. Using this data, they started walking, unsure of what they'd find.
As they started leaving the city, Rabbit noticed a spirit approach, floating a few meters away and studying her. Humanoid in shape, the spirit had both the head of a wolf and deer antlers. Realizing it was a free spirit and also guessing that it had broken through her masking, she asked what it wanted with her. After a moment, it replied.
"So how's hunting humans? Are you about to eat her?" Pointing at Spider.
The Spirit often hunted wildlife, but seemed interested to share stories and chat some with a fellow hunter. After awkwardly trying to explain that she wasn't going to eat her traveling companion, the spirit changed topics and asked instead that Rabbit head to a certain spot in the forest around the evening. Some hikers kept littering and mucking up the area. It would be very polite if Rabbit could eat them for her. Spider looked on quietly nearby, listening to the conversation when the spirit politely materialized after learning she wasn't Rabbit's prey.
As Rabbit continued to try to tell the spirit she was in a no-hunting mood, another free spirit, this a glowing mote of fire, appeared and started bobbing around, looking on in interest. Spider tried to engage this fire spirit in conversation to learn about the area, but the spirit seemed to communicate by radiating feelings and metaphor, which while perhaps entirely clear to a spirit like it, were completely useless to the metahuman. As these conversations continued, the hunter spirit eventually left, annoyed at Rabbit, and the fire spirit just happily followed the pair as they approached the end of the trail. Finally, in a clearing, they discovered a hidden shack.
A Dark Discovery
Spider and Rabbit quietly searched the exterior, finding nothing of note, both actually, physically, and in the matrix. Taking her contact off, Rabbit placed it on her finger, sliding it under the gap at the bottom of the door. Reading it's feed, they saw only two heat sources. A warm heater, fighting off the morning chill, and a cooling humanoid shape laying down. With an idea of what lay within, Rabbit slowly opened the door, wary of traps. Swinging open, no bombs exploded, but they did find their missing man in a bed, dead.
Shot with what looked like a large caliber rifle round, he had been placed in the safehouse, with little other disturbance, only the faintest hint of a blood trail leading outside. Rabbit, heading back outside, managed to deduce that he'd been shot outside, and then placed in the shack. She started watching the area, looking for potential snipers. Spider after a bit, joined her outside, doing another search of the matrix, worried that cops might be around.
She did find something. Not what she expected. As the morning sun continued to rise, shadows splayed from the trees of the forest, slowly shifting with the sun. Things seemed normal, until she caught it. A slight glitch in the shadow, a disturbance where there should have been none. Focusing, she realized that the darkness of the shadows an entrance to a host, one placed in the middle of nowhere and expertly hidden.
Telling Rabbit, they quickly inspected it, finding it to be a rating 8 host, again, in the middle of nowhere. Why?
Spider had to know, so the two decided to enter and hopefully find answers.
The Clockwork Vault
Entering, the pair met landed in a dark corner, surrounded by the constant ticking of gears, an untold amount, large and small. Peeking outward they found themselves in a large copper dome, occluded portals pressed into the exterior and clockwork machinery created to dispense information, files. Floating in the center, dominating the display, sat a large metallic cube, locked and chained. Beyond the noise of the machinery, the host was silent and unoccupied.
Exiting their cover, the two made their way to one of the portals, inspecting it. Spider, interfacing with it, caused the surface to shift and clear, displaying an image feed of the nearby town. These were camera feeds. Next, she took a look at the massive floating cube, discovering that it was a nested host, a data vault, highly secured and holding untold secrets. All she had to do was break her way in and perhaps she would finally understand.
As the two were about to move forward, Spider glimpsed something at the edge of her vision. A vaguely humanoid figure, female in appearance, a profound sadness radiating in their body language. Ethereal chains wrapped around them, floating outward and fading away. She saw it only for a moment, it's motions fluid, only for it to disappear from her sight. Rabbit and Spider, highly alarmed, frantically tried to figure out what was happening, unable to find the figure again, as IC started to deploy.
Eventually, things became more clear as the figure, failed to get a mark on Rabbit, revealing her to the banshee. Whatever kind of weird spider the figure was, Rabbit was more than ready to engage. What followed between the three of them was a slippery cyberduel, Spider oddly unable to find the enemy and Rabbit barely withstanding the enemy's attention. After a bit, Spider had an idea. Searching for marks on Rabbit and her, she found the spider had been busy. Both of them sported a mark, courtesy of the spider's actions before she was seen. Spider worked on removing them, and once eventually successful, a filter over her perception disappeared, one she didn't even realize was there. She could see the enemy persona.
Spider, much more knowledgeable about the matrix than Rabbit, took in the fluidity of the spider's persona, plus the odd effects she'd been experiencing and guessed, correctly, that this persona was an AI. With the two of them now aware, they slowly began to push back against the AI's assault while at the same time disabling the Black IC of the host. After Rabbit landed a devastating data spike against the AI, shattering a shield and causing shimmering lines of data to leak out of her persona, she tried to hide, cowering from the two seeming.
Rabbit, wary and very ready to continue the attack, asked the AI to surrender. The AI made a musical sound in response, a composition of several melodies, while at the same time holding her throat. Taking that as a hint that she couldn't speak, Rabbit opened a text editor, trying to get her to communicate that way. After a moment of waiting though, it was clear she wouldn't, or couldn't use that either. Taking a careful look, Spider noticed that chains, which at first seemed to disappear as they floated away, continued to exist if you followed them with your eye. Tracing it out, she saw the AI was chained to the sphere, restrained to this space. She was perhaps enslaved. Getting three marks on the AI, Spider started to examine the being, looking at the connections to the chains. She found something a bit disturbing. The chains cut deeply inside, wrapping around and through the core of her essence, warping and binding her in untold ways, the word PENITENT inscribed. While Spider could maybe try to undo the damage, it would be a long operation. Not something that could be done here.
Taking pity, the two decided to try to free the AI. While still continuously disabling the IC, the pair started blasting the chains connecting her to the sphere, shattering them. While they started to regenerate, by focusing fire they managed to break them faster than they reformed. Spider made space in her deck and quickly loaded PENITENT into her deck, separating the slave from her prison.
With the guardian freed, now lay the treasure, the vault silently watching the fight. Heading upward, the two gained marks and entered the host.
The interior was simply a larger, hollow version of the cube. A metallic square, a floating file in the center. Encrypted and armed with an incredibly strong data bomb, they'd finally reached the end of the rabbit hole. Spider, assisted by Rabbit, worked to disarm the trap, only for disaster to nearly strike. Tired by the long fight, the bomb nearly detonated, saved only by a last second feat of luck by Spider. Free of the bomb, the encryption was cracked and file freeded.
Normally, they would leave the hosts and then read the spoils, but as she copied it, Spider noticed the file was incredibly small. Suspiciously so. With trepidation, she opened it, revealing two simple words.
With dread, she realized this was a setup. Someone had been leading her here. Telling Rabbit, they leaped out of the vault, back into the copper prison, only to see a terrible sight. Shadowy personas dotted the interior, a hooded figure in the center, eyes glowing. They passively broadcasted intents to communicate to the space around them, waiting for Spider to exit. Confronted by numerous deckers and the full IC array, she decided to make contact, revealing herself.
Looking at the two, the figure turned to Spider and asked in a masculine voice if they could have a private conversation, promising that Spider could leave safely when she voiced her misgivings. Eventually she conceded, and Rabbit left the host, leaving her alone with the people behind this.
The man stared at Spider silently, tension growing, until she finally, simply asked, what was going on, why did all of this happen? Then, she was given understanding.
Spider had been searching deeply for forbidden knowledge, things that had been scrubbed for very good reason. She didn't find anything, but things found her. Knife realizing both Spider's talent and her worries about the Enemy, knew he had found another potential recruit, so he created an application. An extensive one, that Spider passed with shining colors. Selling his organization as protectors of metahumanity, working to guide and build the world, so that it would be ready fight the Enemy waiting in the darkness, the one she feared so much, Knife introduced Spider to the Black Lodge. Her new employers.
This entire mystery had been a setup from the start. The symbol was planted. The dead man actually was a spy, but for the elves, and needed to die. The host was moved to that shack specifically, to a backwater in the Salish Shide Council, just to show the power and means of the lodge. The AI, while an unfortunate moral sacrifice, was simply one of the meaning tough actions needed in the face on annihilation. She had intruded where she didn't belong anyway, and wasn't even sentient in the way people were (allegedly). Everything, was a test, a challenge, and a demonstration, leading to this moment.
Spider, trying to resist this some at the start, eventually got beaten down by the magnitude of what happened, silently going along with what Knife told her. At the end of the talks, he brought up the final issue. Rabbit.
While commending her on her usage of resources by calling in help, she couldn't know the truth of what happened here. The Black Lodge was a myth in the public mind for a reason, and it needed to stay that way. Spider needed to lie, and convincingly. Letting her figure out her method, Knife moved to leave, telling Spider with a smile in his voice, that he'd be in touch.
After sitting in the host for a bit, just processing what happened, Spider exited, heading back to meatspace. Rabbit was understandably quite curious what happened, but noticed something potentially problematic. The fire spirit from earlier still was in their vicinity, watching cheerily as ever. While a free spirit, she had no way of knowing where its allegiances lied. Using an AR display, Rabbit subtlety told Spider by text that a spirit was watching.
That in mind, Spider told Rabbit that the immortal elves were trying to recruit her for something, work of one kind or another. At the same time, with an expert bit of palming, she sent an AR message in kind. The Black Lodge.
Both needing to deal with this revelation in their own ways, Rabbit decided to change their masking to that of a magic 20 immortal elf and stared at the spirit. It left, losing its nerve.
A long journey done and uncertain events ahead, the two headed back to Seattle in peace. To get her deck space back, she bought a rating 7 commlink for PENITENT to live in, a temporary home for her until she could find something better.
Contact: Knife as a 7/2 - 8 RVP
+5 Black Lodge Rep
The Depth 7 AI, PENITENT is living in Spider's deck.
-10 Black Lodge Rep