Otters aka Roadkill
Otters, TD, Heat and Aradia head to the dinner, with Otters using her high lifestyle SIN and the rest posing as her entourage. Heat and Aradia do some social engineering to figure out dress codes and appropriate behavior. Creep tags along as a bodyguard, figuring this will give him a little more leeway to wander. PPJ stays nearby offsite to act as backup or distraction if needed. The team goes in light other than Creep who sneaks in a polymer pistol using his excellent palming.
They get a good look at the high end security at Above It All, as well as the commanding views from the roof, which are broadcast on trid screens throughout the restaurant’s lower levels. Creep spots a few different scanners, seemingly MAD and explosive, and also some covert security personnel dressed as staff who don’t seem to be performing any of the duties of the other staff on hand, which gives them away. There are also more overt security in the lobby, as well as some other client’s bodyguards.
Heat maps out the matrix system as best he can- not many cameras or sensors, only on the entrances, and there is an offsite spider keeping an eye on it, though probably not dedicated to solely this location. The host doesn’t look to have anything nefarious, just booking, book-keeping, client list etc. So potential payday but nothing needed for this job. Heat also gets the list of sources of the restaurant’s fresh, local fare, which is proudly advertised on the menu, and which he is able to source back to various local farms and smallscale livestock operations in the nearby area.
Aradia checks out the astral and finds the security mage on-site and watching for trouble, as promised, as well as the extensive wards in addition to the dense greenery surrounding the rooftop of espaliers and trellises. She does it sneakily enough to not get spotted, and doesn’t see any other magical staff, though once again some of the other patrons and their security have various levels of ability. Otters does a comms check, and while the restaurant’s jammers are high quality, knows she can punch through as needed.
They all do some social team-work to get a little more intel from the waiter, and Creep wanders a bit, seeing that the entrances to the staff areas require RFIDs to enter, and that the well-surveilled and guarded elevator is the only obvious path between levels. Aradia flirts with the bartender a bit and hears that it gets pretty windy on the roof, so they take that into account with their plan. After they leave, Otters does a few stealth drone fly-bys of the roof, getting a good look, and they decide to rest for the night.
The next day, they stock up on supplies, with Creep buying some additional mic options, as well as a custom ghillie suit at a hunting supplier to match the greenery on the roof, and an emergency parachute in case he needs to make a quick escape. That night after the restaurant closes, Otters stealthily drops Creep onto the green roof, with Creep landing and moving carefully to not sink in enough to hit the ward. He finds a sturdy position and hunkers down to wait. Heat scouts out some bars nearby that are open various hours, and finds the team non-obvious positions to come hang out the next evening for the job, in case they are needed.
Creep watches the restaurant slowly open back up the next day as the team rests elsewhere, returning to the bars nearby in the late afternoon. Otters waits to gets drones up until Creep reports sighting the first of the two targets: Wade Takao, the Evo regional VP, who shows up with two cybered-up bodyguards. Upsettingly, one of them seems to notice Creep’s small burst of comms traffic, so Creep decides to go full matrix silence for the rest of the job. He also hid well enough that Otters is unable to spot him with the support drone she launches, but Heat monitors comms traffic a bit and doesn’t any suspicious increase from the restaurant, so they assume Creep has gone dark for a good reason but hasn’t been spotted.
Meanwhile, the guard keeps looking around but is unable to find Creep as he repositions for a better view of the table, after Takao insists on switching to a different one than initially offered. A short while later, a gangly hairless man instantly identifiable as The Auditor arrives, with his own security detail. These 4 individuals, moving lithely around the rooftop to take up positions at all the corners, look like adepts to Creep, and also he notes that they seem to be making a point of merely observing for threats while Takao is obviously in charge or counter-surveillance and the like.
This seems like another power play of some sort, and Creep also makes note of The Auditor’s well-concealed but apparent distate for Takao. The Auditor also refuses to use the “filthy” AR menu and insists he be brought a paper one, which the staff quickly obliges. Creep is interested to see that the food up here, while still fancy, doesn’t look notably different than the fare downstairs, though due to the focus on freshness and locality, it seems the menu changes a bit day to day.
Creep manages to get good clean recordings of the meeting with both the laser and directional mic, as well as visual on The Auditor for StepMAMA to confirm with her new lipreading program. The team waits nervously while the restaurant closes down, and Creep sees The Auditor pull another power play and show further distaste for Takao as they are exiting. Most distressingly, after Takao leaves, The Auditor looks directly at Creep and faintly raises an eyebrow, in a “like what you saw?” way. Creep finally calls for pickup a safe time after closing, and Otters scoops him up with the VTOL.
They review the info and write up their analysis, making the case that although they got spotted, it wasn’t by the person in charge of counter-surveillance, and as such seems to be a move by The Auditor to diminish Takao in some way that they don’t fully understand. The conversation overall seemed to be Takao making a case for Evo to make a deal with “The Dis”, and suggesting they have more to offer than “the others”. He seems a bit sweaty and desperate in his pitch, and the team notices that although he seems satisfied by the meeting’s outcome, The Auditor very carefully never fully agreed to anything, in a plausible deniability way. They report into Stiletto, who seems very satisfied with their work, and pays up as promised, suggesting she will have more work for them in the future once she analyzes this data and does some digging.
With fresh pay in their pockets, Heat has to borrow a little more money but he and Aradia fully upgrade their shadow cloaks, and Creep buys some extra doses of modded Shade from AZT just in case they need them. Heat and Creep go to the meeting of “like-minded people” that Sam Hart invited them to, and find themselves in a fully matrix-free warehouse with some anti-AI extremists trying to recruit them. They sign up for the direct action encrypted link and leave after Heat smooths over some Creep being Creep awkwardness that could have gone bad. Interestingly, the anti-AI group, as well as hating AI and Monads, seem to both know of and be opposed to the Null Sect.
As soon as they are back on the matrix, StepMAMA warns them that this was likely an extremist “terrorist” group known as the Turing Army, and Creep deletes the encrypted chat app, though Heat keeps his, after checking that is actually quite secure and doesn’t track or store any metadata, making the argument that if nothing else, the TA could be another Chrome Domes, next time the team encounters the Null Sect. Everyone else is a little concerned, but leaves it be for now. Aradia calls up Lothan the Wise in Chicago, and is happy to find he’s doing a little better with the help of the survivor support group, and he gets her some intel on ZCorp and Carcean. The rest of the team also gets assorted intel from contacts, with PPJ getting the name of a spirit lawyer from the IOND.
Heat decides to lay low and skip a few shows in the next few days, not wanting to get into anything else troublesome before they head to the metaplanes, and the rest of the team checks gear, stocks up on solar recharge batteries, and the like. They pay a local intra-city smuggler with a hooder rep, Silver Streak, to get all their illicit gear into the Hub and deliver to Arcane’s business address, where he holds onto it, as they head in on foot in street gear. They are once again ushered in by Dovos, the living armor, and find that Arcane has cleared some floor space for a large ritual circle in his sanctum santorum, his book-lined office, with the desk pushed back against one wall.
After confirming that they are ready and properly equipped, and giving them some further warnings about their need for mental fortitude in the deep metaplanes, he lazily waves a finger and opens a portal. PPJ is amused to see that the ritual circle was apparently just for show, as it isn’t powering the portal, and wonder what exactly Arcane is. He doesn’t mention it to the team for now though, as he can see what looks like Zecorporatum on the other side, and leaps through, followed by the team. Otters’ mule drone instantly becomes a strange biomechanical spider-dog, which seems to operate on the principle of Necrobotics- using the spiders hydraulic fluids with various installed pumps to stimulate movement.
Although it know has a meat port that Otters has to hardline into, it seems to otherwise operate the same as she is used to, so she ports in and sits atop it cross-legged for the journey. The team takes a look around and finds themselves in the permanently overcast, rain-slicked streets of ZCorp, where they quickly witness various surprising sights- some classic pink mohawks do some kind of paydata upload at a public terminal before quickly hopping back into their ride, which seems to be a living rigger- a fully merged man and machine, and racing away, pursued by some sort of motorcycle centaur gang.
They test out their abilities and are happy to find that aside from the drone, the shadow cloaks seem to be doing the trick, as they haven’t shifted to the local metaphor, and Heat is delighted to find that StepMAMA is still conversant, for now, though there is no active matrix. Interestingly, Heat feels like he can almost go hot into…. something… but it seems too diffuse and disconnected, and he can’t quite figure out what is going on. Oldschool direct connection hacking for now! After fighting off some Stabbers who want PPJ’s magic tongue, they retreat to a higher level from the streets, seeing that are also various levels below them, down into the sewerages and underground, where even less light reaches.
From a few levels up, they get a better vantage point on the chaotic city, which grows and changes as they watch, the buildings also appearing biomechanical in nature. They see as high above them a figure in a black trenchcoat grapples from one window to another, with a large explosion behind them launching out a screaming suited figure, who plummets to his death on a roadway nearby. They also spot a bustling restaurant, filled with the working civilians of this strange place, called “Tortilla Tower”. Seeing as all 10 of the megacorps appear represented here under slightly altered names, they assume this must be the local Taco Temple analogue, confirming, perhaps, Heat’s suspicions about the means of TT’s origins in the collective memory.
They head inside, and Aradia causes a distraction, demanding the manager, as Heat uses the opportunity to hack their system. The network is confusing- a combination of outdated tech, but also seemingly organic or living in some way? A spider patrols along strands of a web connecting oddly-shaped glistening organs that seem to represent the nodes of the pre-Crash 2.0 matrix. Heat manages to make enough sense of it to get a little data, and finds the oldest transaction records, which seem to align, roughly, with the timeframe he was expecting, if someone somehow used magic to establish something here and force it into the material plane as both a pre-existing memory as well as a physical locale.
The team hightails after they hear heavy footsteps tromping down from above, not actually wanting to encounter whatever the manager of this place is, and Aradia loots the corpo’s corpse out in the street to get some local currency (some kind of semi-living coin) to pay another merged man-cab for a ride. As they drive away they head some booming shouting from behind them as the manager presumably arrives. They request a ride to Bartholomew Barkins, ESQ’s, office, with some of the team having done a quick directory search at one of the public terminals on the street outside Tortilla Tower.
While conversing with the mancab, they find out that some Blackjacks had waged a campaign against Tortilla Tower’s predecessor, Chimichanga Castle, destroying a number of locations, but they all just opened back up after a short repair period with the new branding. They get a little more intel about the state of the plane, and then arrive. Heading in through a door which announces their presence, they find a harried looking attorney at his desk surrounded with piles of scrolls, tomes, and assorted paperwork. He instantly makes them as travellers from the material plane, and after PPJ converses a bit, confirms that this is easy to do, given both the cloaks and their auras.
He says that he will assist them if they agree to do a task for him- merely ensuring delivery of a message, after he confirms his suspicions that they have some of the Grey Cell challenge coins. He passes them a strange note from an unknown sender, which promises valuable data in exchange for an extraction, with instructions to get it to Ringmaster. As a good faith payment from the note-writer, there is a Tarot card included, weirdly this seems to be from a 3rd deck, previously unknown to the team. Similar to the other mysterious card they found, while this one seems magical, it lacks the holo-projector and additional features found on the 6th World Tarot they are most familiar with.
They examine the card for a bit, and determine that is is the equivalent of the Vigilante card, which luckily they have records of the use of, so they decide to hold onto it til an opportune moment. Barkins watches, amused, and has definitely picked up on their talk about the card as well as their plans to travel to Carcean, though he goes along with Heat downplaying all of that as their conversation resumes. They question him about the plane, and he fills them in on the Corp Court equivalent- a white tower at the dead center of the city with an assemblage of sort of representational corporate mascots at the top that rule over the plane. However, he explains that it is hard to reach.
After some questioning, Aradia confirms that this is because a powerful lesser Horror known as “the Filth that Crawls” acts as a sort of moat around the tower, as well as having infiltrated the lower levels some cycles ago now, and consumes any unwary enough to come into contact with it. Aradia had read a bit about this Horror in the Vault of Lore back in Seattle, and is appropriately freaked out. Barkins explains that those who ascend high enough socially have the use of aircars to avoid the moat when visiting the court but that he has not yet been so fortunate. He also gives them some further intel- apparently before Chimichanga Castle, it was first branded as Enchilada Estate before being targeted by an Anarch collective, trying to prevent a new corp from establishing itself.
He explains further about the local beliefs about the corruption of “The Mirror Realm”, and takes them on a drive around town to scout out the dozen locations of the restaurant. They spot a single glyph at each location, which they are able to recognize from their time at Ordo Maximus PILLAR facility, as well as from Aylin’s debrief from Asamando. So these restaurants are definitely part of the whole thing. However, they speculate that the reason noone has been able to destroy them here is that once they were established here and pushed into the material plane, they would simply reappear on either one if destroyed in the other, unless all instances were destroyed at once.
Given the wide spread of TT on Earth, they presume this is essentially impossible, so they need to make other plans. As they drive around the city (disturbingly, it’s edges connect as if it were a globe, though not visually, and it seems totally flat, and the sky never changes nor does their perspective on it) they also see thin threads of magic connecting the 12 TT locations, as well as a thicker thread heading out of town, in a direction that Barkins says is further away from the material plane. He also says that TT supply delivery trucks come in from out of town, and notably don’t start as bio-mechanical but more as post-apocalyptic, before gradually converting to the local paradigm, suggesting they originate elsewhere.
Based on the team’s questions about Carcean, and the direction of travel of the magic line out of town, he suggests that Miggon might be a good place to look, as the trucks have the look of that place about them, and there are rumors of Earth corps, including AZT and MCT possibly having reagent harvesting operations in the region. The team also confirms that none of the TT’s here seem to be selling food with the Carcean reagents in them, so those seem reserved for Earth customers outside of Asamando- interesting.
PPJ plans to stay with Barkins for now, and work on acquiring some local allies to try to disrupt the magical runes at all 12 TT locations at the same time as the team disrupts the ritual elsewhere, once they have located it. They prepare to head out, with Barkins also warning them of the perils of the deep metaplanes. They also debate whether to take Arcane up on his offer and try to swing by the Seelie Court first to upgrade their astral map via his contacts there.