Deciding to raid the newly discovered secret lab under Northeastern University, and delay stealing the attack chopper, the team gets deets from Allison Sanborn and Sarah McCarthy. Apparently DJ McCarthy has been smuggling his cousin some data (and funds) to continue her investigations. He also discovered an Aztechnology mole in Knight Errant’s ranks, who was trying to subtly incriminate NeoNET for the whole Boston mess. Sanborn and McCarthy also funded a team who raided an Evo Corporation data storage facility. Evoculture, being so pro-aug, also lead to a high infection rate amongst their employees, and the facility was overrun with headcases (though many seemed high-functioning). The team brought back more info on all of the secret projects that the team has seen referenced recently, and since Evo seems least involved of the 3 corps tied into the CFD, their data seems likeliest to lead to the actual truth.
Based on this intel, Cereus hires Toast to track down one of these high-functioning head cases, get a sample of their nanites, and kill them as needed. Aomame 2-Chrome slips into the Catacombs to hide from her Yakuza pursuers. Ro Tain continues her investigation into the fallen Renraku Harborguide facility, and confirms that Pax and her Dissonant Technomancers captured the AI there and have surely by now driven it mad with their ritual. Sanborn and McCarthy also inform the team that they are seeking data on the locale of the final secret lab/ritual point, and are sending a team into NeoNET Towers (their HQ) to grab a top scientist who was involved. Ro and Aemon pay that team a little extra to look for any info on /dev/grrl’s parents, who were inside the Towers when it was attacked by Cerberus/Eliohann.
Doing some digging into schematics around NU, the team decides to do some recon- apparently some teams have gone in and not come back out, which doesn’t sound promising, and they haven’t heard of any survivor communities or rescues there. They scope it out while cruising the neighborhood in the van, with Toff and Love doing some astral recon. The campus is absent of life, aside from a large pack of Fenrir Wolves. Toff, with a lucky assensing roll, notes that they are infected with soft nanties: a high-tech blend, much harder to detect. It looks like they are trapped inside the security perimeter that has been recently put in place around the campus, but seem to have eaten anyone trapped inside when the QZ started, as well as anyone foolish enough to enter since. The team spots a few locations where people have cut through monowire atop the security fence, so they have some potential access points at least. Toff also uses Aurgury to see if there are wolves in the tunnels, and gets the sense that there aren’t- though there may be something threatening down there.
The astral recon provides another option as well: a runoff drain into a nearby tributary of the Charles River, which seems to be leaking some corrupted mojo of some sort. An astral barricade prevents Toff from astrally ascending the drain, but it looks large enough for metahumans, and seems the likely location of the secret entrance that Jane has found reference to in the various data. They hire Ron Deveaux to bring them upriver via sub, deciding against a boat after assensing a large number of auras in the water. They get up to the drain, and Senk cuts through the grate covering it with a mini-welder. They find the inside of the gate laced with an algae matrix, hence the astral barricade, and also find some hydraulic jacks, that look like they could have, if tirggered, moved the grate from the inside. Secret entrance discovered!
They ascend the slippery tunnel, glad that they all purchased chemsuit coveralls to protect them from the CFD sludge that lines it. They find an airlock at the top- it seems like the chemseal on it is broken, but it is still effectively a bank vault door. Love smashes it with magic force a few times, creating a deep hand-sized indentation, before Senk steps in and blows that hole wide open with a kilo of plastic explosives. The team enters, and sees part of Toff’s vision. A strange glade of trees (which Toff confirms were likely taken from alongside the Dragon Leyline) have been transplanted here, into the shape of a dragon (when viewed from above or in the astral). The equipment in this room also seems water-damaged. There is a door leading out (likely the main entrance), and an open staircase spiraling down one side of the room, deeper beneath the school.
Not sensing any active threats, they head further down, and Toff levitates Jane over the meter of standing, fetid, infected water to the terminal banks to start hacking what she can. Aemon, Toff and Love examine the additional ritual down here: it looks like it was using the elemental power of water as a natural healing magic booster, pulling power from the nearby river. Meanwhile, the trees and dragon symbol above where used as an immuno-suppressant to make the body accept the implanted nanites better. Combined with the pyramid building ritual, it’s all starting to make sense! However, something seems to have gone terribly wrong here: they notice there are 4 floating blue-green globes at 4 points of the pentagram, leaving 1 missing, and sense that whatever caused the windows to blow out and killed the scientists at the pyramid building also caused something to go wrong here. Love tries to summon a water spirit, but finds the local manasphere so corrupted that he becomes worried he would get a toxie instead. There is also a lingering feel of blood magic in the air, signaling the involvement of AZT cybermancers.
As they piece this together, they hear some strange clicking coming from upstairs, almost as if about a dozen people were echo-locating using their mouths. Toff assenses and sees a dozen bizarre aura, not quite metahuman, approaching their position. Aemon and Senk set up on the stairs to ambush, just as the first one appears at the top. Aemon is the only to spot it initially, as they seem to have some sort of active camo- however, it appears biological instead of technological, as they seem to be naked and not emitting any wireless signals. The figure appears to be about the size of an ork, but with gills, nictating membranes, chitinous armor under it’s skin, and extended finned arms, with bony spikes protruding from the wrists.
As Aemon calls to it to halt, it exudes one of the bony spikes and chucks it at him- he barely dodges, and sees it shatter on the wall next to him, exuding nanties which begin to eat through the wall. Aemon gunes that one down, but the team all hear a collective gasp from upstairs as he does. Senk opens up as they boil over the edge of the stairs and charge. She nails a few of them with suppressive fire, slowing them, but many still reach her, Aemon, and Love, who all attack back and launch counterspells. Toff attempts to confuse them with a silence spell, which seems to help. Love and Aemon are both felled after having their chemsuits pierced and being injected with cutter nanites. The splicers hit hard, but luckily aren’t wearing much armor, and the team manages to barely take them down as Jane finishes her hack. Toff uses a controlled pulse spell to clear the nanties from Love and Aemon before they kill them, frying their antennas but saving their lives.
Toff used the CSI kit to grab a biopsy from one of the splicers before they leave, and head back down the tunnel. They see periscope and wave Ron up to surface. He does, holding the bottle of champagne he promised, and apologizes for going under, but says he saw the splicers surfacing, and didn’t plan to tangle with that money. As he congratulates them, a sniper’s round takes his head clean off, smashing the champagne bottle as well on it’s downward trajectory. The team retreats back up the tunnel as Toff assenses across the river. He sees what look to be 2 more NeoNET clone troopers, a spotter and sniper, set up in a blind that will likely make LOS difficult. Ron’s sub begins sinking after his death, taking their missile launcher with it. They decide to retreat up the tunnel and take their chances with the wolves. Senk rigs up a trap on the door out, after Jane manages to get it open.
They flee through the campus, with a spirit concealing them, along with a silence spell and other protective measures. Luckily for them, it looks like the wolves are distracted, as something seems to be attacking them- possibly a NeoNET strike team? They exfiltrate via one of their observed points of egress, and find a nearby abandoned building to hold up til Ro arrives with the van. They flee the area as the sound of APC’s in the streets nearby grows louder. As they watch out the back window, they see a drone zip by overhead, followed by a series of booming explosions- it looks like they carpet-bombed the campus area- NeoNET is serious about this info not getting out! Distressingly, Toff’s summoned spirit has also noticed that the team appears to be being observed astrally from a distance, possibly via some sort of ritual link.
They flee to the Leather District, hoping Buster’s militia can help keep them safe, and leave the van there, diving down into the Catacombs for further protection from Mama’s Boys. They decide they better grab that chopper soon, in case NN clone troops come calling. Also- some good news: Smedley Pembrenton III informs them that Dr. Dyna Mite left a message for them: she found a way to get them out of Boston! It’s very theoretical, but she thinks that by combining the Gateway portal with a ritual by Asram Al-Aswani and use of the drug shade for non-initiated members of the team, they should be able to access the metaplanes and escape that way. She suggests that they research possible exit points (known alchera and the like) before heading in, as it’s going to be a tough journey.
Chessick Allens-Whitehill also informs the team that he made contact with some local Monads, who apparently read his piece about the group he met in Chicago and approved. Jane passes along the recovered data: it basically lays out the timeline of CFD, and places blame squarely on NeoNET. They bought and stole nanite tech off of Evo, but it seems Evo was never directly involved. AZT was brought in for the blood magic/cybermancy expertise side of things, but it doesn’t look like they were where the project went sideways. That honor goes to Pax, who infiltrated the project a few years back as a specialist in Deus’ network tech (which she is) under her Dr. Penelope Xavier false ID.
It seems that Celedyr, desperate to bring his friend Eliohann back (and also maybe just curious), used existing e-ghost and AI research programs (such as Imago and Dickens) to begin capturing xeno/meta-sapient AI’s and e-ghosts, and experimenting on them to figure out how they worked. This led to the initial CFD outbreak at Celedyr’s Albuquerque facility, which infected Riser and Fastjack, who were running the mission on a tip from The Captain, aka the e-ghost of the legendary Captain Chaos, whose digital tribe had been targeted by Celedyr’s bounty hunters. The Ai’s/EG’s at the ABQ facility figured out how to infect nanites and use them as a transmission vessel to both digital and bio-forms, in order to escape their prison and it’s tortures and dissections, and in doing so, unleashed the current plague. It doesn’t seem to have been malevolent originally, which gibes with what Chessick has heard from the Monads, though some of the various CFD strains definitely have taken a malevolent turn since then, single-mindedly pursuing vengeance against their former captors and tormentors, and not caring who they have to take over along the way.
Given that AZT used much of the data from this project to develop their Blue-227 anti-dragon weapon, and given that it looks like NeoNET is essentially solely to blame for the initial CFD outbreaks (as well as the Boston outbreak), it makes sense that they are coming after the team (and anyone else trying to leave the QZ) so hard- they know far, far too much. Jane also found a series of angry exchanges between Miles Lanier and Richard Villiers, in which Lanier (NN security head) tried to warn Villiers (NN on-again, off-again CEO/exec) about the risks of Celedyr’s programs, and was shut down. This seems like the origin of the split between them, and explains Lanier’s decisions to go on the run and leak info to Jackpoint after his off-books investigation got him infected as well.
Between this info, and the intel gained from the Evo datasite and the snatched NN scientist, the team along with Jane, Sanborn, and McCarthy, manage to determine the locale of the final lab, beneath MIT&T: likely the place where it all began! The other runners also report that /dev/grrl’s parents have been listed as killed in the dragon attack. Sanborn and McC pay the team as promised for the NU data, and both separately contact them to offer more significant paydays for the info from the final lab, if it’s exlusive. McC seems to want to spread it far and wide, and get the truth out about what happened here. Sanborn, reluctantly, seems to want it for Horizon, likely to try to frame up AZT, although this seems to go against her journo’s instinct’s a bit. Maybe time away from the full Horizon Consensus has changed her a bit… She also gives Aemon the final portion of the pass phrase to give to Horst to finally find out who killed his parents.
Fumiko Ichihara gets back in touch, and tells Toast and Senk that their revenge quests might align: apparently O’Connor and his family had longstanding beef with the Danaan’s (rumored Immortal elves, ruling family in Tir na nOg), and the Danaan’s allies in Tir Tairngire, including Jenna Ni’Fairra. So the people who betrayed and killed O’Connor are old friends with the woman who killed Senk’s parents. The team sells Cereus the clean nanite goo that they found at NU (some of the fancy new soft nanties even!), and he happily reports that he is well on his way to finding a suitable “host.” He tells them he’ll be in touch with further work. Smedley also passes along word that Jackpoint members have requested Ro and Aemon retrieve anything they can about a no-name holding company called Murai Holdings, who have developed some sort of radical new nano that people are very interested in. Luckily, they’re based right here in Boston, and Jane reports that their name has cropped up in some of the data, implying they may find something at the MIT&T secret lab, once they get there.
They rest, restock, and prepare to go raid the Bane-Sidhe and steal their stolen helicopter! Which they’ve of course been using to raid and destroy other, smaller survivor groups- 2 are fallen so far.