The team finishes recuperating at Dr. Brain’s, charge up their crazy repellers, and construct a spare charge satchel, Jane once again proving her usefulness. They head out to do the job for Dr. Penelope Xavier, since they are still on the MIT&T campus. Using the crazy repellers, they very carefully maneuver through the mob of thousands of shamblers, reaching the first 2 switches (and recharging at each) without any trouble. Ro has come up with a new defensive maneuver to assist everyone in doing this safely. 2C and Aemon are dropping any shamblers that get shoved into their protective bubble before they get close enough to cause trouble, while Ro and Senk run the repellers and Toast keeps an eye on Jane.
They run into some trouble at the 3rd switch, and almost run out of charge, accidentally blowing up one of their charge packs due to some bad wiring: good thing they built a spare! The 4th switch goes fine, and they get back to mainframe they are supposed to reboot only to find the area crawling with shamblers. They manage to kill/repel them and give Jane some space to work, but Aemon almost gets dogpiled in the process when he accidentally leaves the repellers’ protection. Jane hooks up to the relay and reboots with no trouble, and then just has to crack the firewall to get at the data Xavier wants.
She breaks in, but as she does notices a strange detail: it seems like something else has been trying to break out, and the system architecture looks significantly damaged. She sees a digitized floating head zip past her, saying “Thanks for freeing me!” on the way out, and feels like it is likely some sort of AI or e-ghost- a digital entity for sure. Being overly curious, she is also compelled to quickly grab a copy of a nearby encrypted file, that looks connected to the AI, as well as to some sort of secret lab that it seems to have emerged from. She gets the file just in time, as the system collapses and she gets dumpshocked.
The team all receive a “thank you!” on their wireless comms as well, and are disturbed to notice that afterwards all the shamblers in the room have turned to look at them. They head back to the Magnetics Lab, trying to move quickly and make the most of their repellers’ charge, as they shamblers seem both much more interested and much more aggressive now. Luckily, they reach the lab in safety, and are able to rest/recharge. Jane reviews the file a bit, and reports that there does seem to be a secret lab, somewhere on campus, that was involved in starting this whole mess, but that she can’t get an exact fix. IT also seems like it was NeoNET and Aztechnology working together as Project Vulcan who are the prime culprits.
The Vulcan program built on e-ghost investigations (Imago and Dickens) by Evo Corporation and NN, and also used many purchased or stolen nanotech developments from Evo, but it seems Evo has not been directly involved (though their transhumanist stance makes them a convenient patsy). AZT was brought on board due to their proficiency in blood magic/cybermancy and ritual casting, but apparently betrayed NN/Celedyr by using some of their new knowledge of draconic biology to manufacture the Blue 227-B anti-dragon nanoweapon during the Dragon Civil War. Although there was some internal fallout from that, Celedyr couldn’t risk word of his (accidental) participation in the development of an anti-dragon weapon getting out, so they continued the project, not wanting to cause AZT to spill the beans. Also, if Celedyr were able to bring Cerberus/Eliohann back together, that might be enough of a boon to overcome any negative PR from the rest of the story getting out, and allow him to maintain his position as Loremaster of the Great Dragons.
The team decides they definitely want to find that secret lab, but having no leads currently they decide to finish the last jobs they’re on first, and leave the campus. They find the Knight Errant station house, and scout it out. It looks to have around 45 auras present, and after some closer investigation, it looks to hold up DJ McCarthy’s fears: the cops all seem to be heavily CFD infected, and they seem to be collecting survivors from the MCZ to do who knows what with. The team decides to proceed with a threefold plan: rescue any uninfected survivors, kill as many infected as possible, and using those 2 things as a distraction, plant the data on their mainframe on behalf of Sandelerro and Chen.
However, Toast gets bored of planning, and decides to start sneaking in while everyone else talks. Unfortunately, he biffs his ninja entrance and gets spotted, starting a massive firefight. Aemon and Ro lay down sniper fire from their vantage point (both smoking scent-masking cigs to keep the piasma away), while Senk, 2C and Jane head up the side, and Toast fires from the stations roof. They manage to take out 15 cops before Senk breaches a side entrance near the holding cells. They find 5 seemingly uninfected survivors, as well as 5 caged ragers, and kill 15 more cops and the ragers as Jane plants the data. They decide to clear the station as 2C gets the survivors free. Sadly, one of the survivors slips in lube-grenade splash, and is lit on fire by one of Toast’s still-burning white phosphorous arrows, quickly dying. 2C gets the others across the street, but gets a weird vibe from one- she turns off her crazy repeller and notices a look of relief on his face, and shoots him, figuring he was likely infected. The other survivors confirm that he was in the cell before they were brought in and asked a lot about other survivors still in the MCZ.
Meanwhile, the team clearing the station manages to take out the last 5 cops, and calls this mission a roaring success. Aemon couldn’t be happier! Ro has split off with the other crazy repeller (turned off) and all her wireless on to pull off a massive shambler horde and some ragers that were attracted by all the gunfire and explosions. She leads them on a merry chase before ditching them and making for the quarantine exit. The rest of the team herds the survivors back and links up with Ro.
Up North in Salem, Toff and Love secure an introduction to a scientist working on a strange project- Shane Bosel, one of the world’s foremost experts on metaplanar travel and access who is working with Dr. Dyna Mite to develop what they call The Gateway: a stable metaplanar link between 2 fixed points in the real world- effectively teleportation-like speed of travel, using modern tech and magic. Bosel has a small facility in an old building in Salem, but it looks to have been heavily (though discretely) uparmored, and is protected by some hired mercs and runners, many of whom have a bit of Middle Eastern look. They talk to Bosel briefly, and he says that as Aseela and Helva Brightwing both vouch for them, he’s willing to let them use “the device.”
He ushers them into a large, cleared chamber. On one wall is what looks like 1/2 of a ritual circle, with another half extended on the floor. There are a variety of braziers, candles, and other magical objects at various points on the circle, and the wall is lined with strange stone of a type unfamiliar to either Love of Toff. Basel clears the room as he beings chanting and lighting the candles. All of a sudden, the 1/2 circle in the wall fills with a black, oily, smoke, and Basel tells them to step through- it will get them close to their destination, so long as they don’t stray from the path. Toff leaps through, and catches the briefest glimpse of an alien world before sprawling out on a lab floor on the far side. Love takes his time and gets a better look (at the cost of some of his sanity): he has the feeling this is is the deep metaplanes, somewhere, and seems to be a barren and ash-strewn world, with no visible curvature. The local rock seems the same as that on the wall in Salem. 2 gates are built face to face, almost touching, so he only has the small gap between them to peer out of, but it piques his interest to explore further.
On the far side, they meet Dr. Mite, and after convincing her that Basel sent them, she tells the guards to lower their weapons, and introduces an older Muslim man named Asram Al-Aswani. He arrived just before the QZ went up, and is apparently providing most of the project’s security currently. He and Mite are both very worried about the Shedim threat: it seems Aswani is somewhat of an expert, having dealt with the shedim puppets in his movement a decade prior. After hearing of Mite’s possible success in her experiment, he travelled here to make sure that the shedim were not able to take it over, and use it to replace the stable connection to their homeplane that they lost when the Watergate Rift was closed. Toff confirms that a large group of Shedim did manage to slip inside the quarantine, and have probably set up in a cemetery just south of MIT&T campus, where her lab is.
They agree to help deal with the Shedim problem, and Aswani informs them that his intel is that Toff’s team is currently waiting in quarantine nearby, so they should be easily able to rejoin them. In exchange, Mite says she is working on a way to safely get people out of the QZ, and that if they can make sure her lab is secure she would be willing to let them use it. They make the deal, and sneak through the MCZ to link up with the others. Reunited at last, the 2 teams fill each other in on recent happenings and make introductions. The team clears quarantine, and heads back out into Boston proper. They get paid by McCarthy after filling him in- he is saddened by the loss of so many “good officers” but glad the problem is dealt with. They also get paid by Sandelerro and Chen, after assuring them that the data they planted was not damaged in their assault. Toff and Love are disturbed that the team is working for AZT fixers who are killing mages and spirits up in Salem, but they decide it’s too late to back out now.
They are unable to get ahold of Dr. Xavier, and get a taunting message instead of payment, saying that it is too late to halt her plans! and revealing the hirer as none other than Pax. After checking with Smedley Pembrenton III, they confirm that she wasn’t the one they were supposed to meet- she apparently waylaid and killed a member of Buster’s militia who was supposed to be watching the supplies. Annoyed, they check their messages, and find a request for a matrix-only meeting from someone calling themselves Cereus. They agree, but all decide to attend in cold-VR so that it can’t hurt them too bad if something goes sideways.
They meet with the large floating head that Jane set free, and determine that it is some sort of blend of Cerberus and Deus- something apparently went very wrong during the ritual to bring Cerberus and Eliohann back together, possibly due to Pax’s involvement? Cereus seems like and odd being- he has some memories of both previous states, but not all, and seems to be a bit confused still. Regardless, he wants a body, and as the team seems open-minded, he wishes to hire them to secure his the necessary components: initially, some clean nanite goo and some high-functioning CFD nanites. They agree, and also demand that he reward them for freeing him, as Pax never paid in full. He tells them to check their inboxes, and they find they all have a small gift-wrapped message waiting.
They question him a bit to establish his motives, and determine that the Deus part felt betrayed by Inazo Aneki for his implantation of the killcodes back in the ACHE, and that his earlier ‘misbehaviors’ were akin to growing pains. The Cerberus part seems like a tempering influence, and they feel that Cereus doesn’t want to destroy humanity or anything so they decide to work with him. Cereus seems to think that Pax freed him in order to torment him- he believes she has much lingering resentment towards his Deus half, and likely wishes to use her Dissonant Technomancers’ ritual to drive him insane. He also confirms the team’s suspicious about the Foundation of the new matrix- it is based on Deus’ faux-resonant realm tech from the ACHE, and ripe for exploitation by dissonants/AI’s.
They open their gifts. Senk receives info that Jenna Ni’Fairra was directly responsible for Senk’s parents’ death, and vows revenge. 2C gets a video of 4 very scary-looking Yakuza exiting a cargo drop, and notices that all are missing 1 or both pinkies. She also receives the warning “you need to be more careful- they know where you are.” She deduces that some Yak goons are being given a shot at redemption by bringing her in, which is worrying. Aemon gets a commcode with a Euro prefix for Martin De Vries, and is told he will want to be in touch when he finds out who really killed his parents. Toff is asked to help Cereus’ “brother” (the infected dragon) integrate his personas, and told he will have a friend for life if he does. Love is given a vid of his parents saying “we forgive you”, but as he crumples it up, feeling very little, he notices some sort of formula on the back. It seems to be a binding or pact with a powerful spirit, as far as he can tell.
Jane has her eyes opened to the full depths of the Resonant Realms, and gains the ability to submerge. Ro is given a list of the various Renraku Computer Systems facilities that are holding clones of her- there are 5 left, split between Chiba City, Seattle, and NYC. She vows to free them, and tells them team she will be leaving after Boston to do so- she plans to either destroy them (if they have no personality loaded), or free them and start her own squad of herselves. Toast receives a mysterious commcode, and is told that his enemy is perhaps his friend. He checks Neutral Ground and finds that Velenthial is no longer listed. He calls the code, and an Irish voice answers, and The Messenger tells him to stay away from Tir na nOg, as they know that Toast is onto them now. The Messenger says that “The Immortals” had Liam O’Connor killed after using him as a popular false front for the rise of the TNN, and that they feared he was too well-loved by the people so they had to removed him. He says he will not kill for them anymore and that this is the last time they will speak, and hangs up.
Freaking out from these revelations, Toast tracks down and kills Brandon Wilson, the undercover runner/face that he was contracted for, and sends the vid of the kill to Fumiko Ichihara. She says that this is satisfactory payment, and fills in some more details: the Danaan family (one of the ruling fams in TNN) set up O’Connor up, internally, claiming he was still in touch with anti-TNN elements from his early days in the Irish military, and used this to get The Messenger to kill him. Apparently The Messenger found out since then (or has other grievances) and has taken out a number of members of the Seelie Court, as well as now Velenthial, who was apparently the handler who gave the order back in the day. Ichihara doesn’t know anything about Immortals, but says it’s an ongoing conspiracy theory/rumor around both Elven nations. She also passes along some more info for Senk about Ni’Fairra- she has a powerful backer that allowed her to ride out the recent turmoil in Tir Tairngire relatively unscathed, and is a notorious sadist, as well as one of the world’s best carromeleg figthers.
The team definitely feels like they got a good deal from Cereus so far, and is excited to see what comes next. They link up with Smedley, as he says he has further intel for them, as some things have happened while they’ve been in the MCZ. The Renraku Harborguide facility has fallen- Ro scouts it out and confirms that Dissonants overran it, and seem to have removed the powerful mainframes after breaching the walls. The missing tech matches up with that Love and Toff saw in Peabody, and they fear that the Dissonants now have a massively powered and possibly corrupted AI in their possession. Smedley also tells them that he has a mission for them: an unnamed backer wishes to hire them to capture a military helicopter from the Bane-Sidhe, who managed to take it down and capture it while it was flying low escort on a supply drop. They’ve been raising a ruckus with it ever since, and Smedley (and his backer) want the team to secure it intact, so that they can use it instead of just letting the BS fly it around like idiots until the Corps send in some killdrones to take it down. They agree to take it on.
He also has some worse news, which he suggests they best just watch. They get a panicked series of messages from a technomancer who has been captured by the Shipyards Enclave, and is being used in their fighting pits. He seems to be struggling to stave off CFD infection, but needs to get the word out that the infected are still present in their bodies: they feel, see, hear and experience everything, while being driven slowly mad by having no control. Also, the managers of the fighting pits have figured out how to “rig” some of the infected, and are now renting that service out as well. Toff and Love confirm that they saw this in Peabody as well, and worry that it may be a Dissonant inovation. Regardless, this makes most of the team feel pretty awful, although, lacking a cure, death may still be the kindest option for the infected. Smedley also tells Toff that Brightwing enacted her purge up in Salem: casualty figures aren’t in yet, but apparently it got pretty bloody. Toff is distressed that his list was used to such effect.
Ro and Toast decide to split off and check out the fighting pits- they can’t just attack, as the surrounding community is one of the largest/safest enclaves left aboveground. But Ro’s boat is there, so they have a good excuse as to why they might be wandering around. The rest of the team decides to tackle the helicopter and the Cereus job next, before investigating the mysterious lab they’ve located at Northeastern University. Allison Sanborn and Sarah McCarthy have pooled intel and resources to find the exact location and raise some funds to pay the team to check it out. With Toff’s info, and the info retrieved from the Pyramid building in the MCZ, they determine that the NU lab was the 2nd of 3 major points in the ritual to reunite Eliohann/Cerberus, and hope that they can find info there to lead them to the 3rd point: the secret lab on the MIT&T campus.
They also receive a job offer from Erika Knowles to investigate the ARES secret facility at Nahant, as she fears bug risks (which the QZ REALLY doesn’t need). They demur for now, but say they’ll be in touch. They also hear from Damon that he will back their move against the Shedim, when they make it, in cooperation with Mayor Meghan Rylan. Aemon is super jealous of Toff’s new ‘relationship’ with Damon, and Toff shyly brags about his invite to Damon’s Runner Crash Pads. They rest up and then split off to handle their various jobs.