The team’s been up for over 24 hours at this point, and decide to head home to rest. Goober gives them a discount for making sure people know he’s the mechanic who helped save the ghoul kids, and they get their car back. Test decides to set up a bolt hole in the CZ to have a land (and matrix-connected) option. Using Opti’s rep they secure team invites to NooseNet, the local shadowboard, and Test makes contact withe 3D, the admin of the Hoodville community in the Noose. 3D verifies that the team aren’t affiliated with the Horde (although he doesn’t elaborate as to why) and agrees to set up the spot Test has envisioned. The team drops Test off there, so he can reconnect with GC via Marry Me. He also invites the hostess Molly from the bar, and gets her to agree to an IRL date in a few weeks as well. GC verifies that Garmonbozia will be in touch with Skeleton Key to see if it wants assistance or shelter. Ominously, 3D also wants some help clearing digital vines from some old hosts in the area, so it seems like Null problems are here as well.
The rest of the team heads back to Ahabitat via sub, and rests up. They fix up their fuel system using some more of the repair supplies they bought from Ares (to appease the Sea Dragon) and Mako pays a visit, confirming that the SD has extended her protection to the Zone community known as “Freaktown”, as she apparently has an affinity for changelings. The awakened team members finally feel somewhat adjusted to the local manasphere, also. They get a message from Allan Clay, the nervous TM johnson from the bar, and 6C plans to follow up. Aylin’s mom also says she has something for Aylin and 6C. 6C gets dropped off at ATF to buy a camo cloak, and the team grabs Test from his gaming fest at the bolthole and picks 6C back up.
They do some matrix sleuthing on Festival Foods, and find that they are providing product to a soup kitchen in the northern Noose, so they head there. They spot some Volk on headed that way as well, but Carol sees some other figures laying an ambush, so they lay back and use the gunfire as a distraction to sneak into the Feeding UCAS building. It seems like a totally legit soup kitchen (no bug magic), but they get spotted by a Neo-Anarchist decker named Gamze Seidel. After they assure her they’re just looking into Festival Foods, she backs off but keeps an eye on them. The team that ambushed the Volk come in shortly after, and seem to be more Neo-A’s.
A combat decker named Angoka is giving them the stink eye, but they make friends with the seeming “leader”, Lycus, and get some info about the SIN drive they are running out of this and some other spots (what the Volk were targeting seemingly). They are using old pre-Crash records to get Zone denizens started on their paperwork to get official ID’s. Gamze and Angoka have managed to retrofit some old city govt terminals that they are apparently able to pull data off of. Hotkey thinks this will be good info to pass on to Mrs. Clean/Sierra Corp, but Lycus and the others seem very suspicious of corp involvement. The team heads out and 6C is delighted to see a dwarf woman in home-welded knight armor ride up on a bike armored up to look like horse.
They converse a bit, and she reveals herself to be one Lassie Landsknecht, and offers her services as a chevalier if 6C or other weaklings find themselves in need of saving. 6C leaves a note after she bikes off to try to get in touch with her again, somewhat besotted. They also spot the Neo-A tagger Vonny seemingly commemorating the site of the nearby Volk massacre, using drones to quickly throw a huge piece up, but they leave him be. They head to their next lead, the Vault, where a fixer made the deal to get the soup kitchen Festival Foods for cheap. Arriving, they find a well-defended building surrounded with bollards and guarded by Desolation Angels, housing the fighting bar as well as a medical clinic.
Aylin makes friends with the DA’s, especially a young TM named Tasha who seems fascinated by Aylin’s monowhip, and gets approval from Becky 99, the leader, to get one. After a while Matt Wrath comes out to get Matt Rat some fresh air, and Kinnie and Test converse with him a bit, getting recognition as fellow Jackpointers. MR agrees to introduce them to Sid as a favor to some newcomers, and offers his skills as a guide and fighter if needed. They head in and meet Sid, who’s a bit greasy but seems cannier than he looks. Avocado feeds him a whole line, but he just seems excited about making a connection with a new team and is happy to help. He sets up a meet with Danny Dankwallow, his connection at Festival Foods, and Carol hopes to also use the meet to get intel useful to Ares. They plan to link up a public location near O’Hare, minimizing both parties risk.
At Carol’s suggestion, they do a deep dive into the related Tarot, in order to maximize their negotiating position, and find some info on where Moonberry likely is being held captive, as well as determining some of the answers to Hansu Prophecies 6, 7 and 8. They head to the meet, and carefully negotiate in Courtly rhyme with Dankwallow, to subvert his guards’ surveillance. They discover that he’s working for Hanged Man, and the guards seem to be from AZT. Which is weird, since Festival Foods is a Renraku subsid. Dankwallow offers to put them in touch with his boss in HM, and seems amenable to switching sides as needed if it helps free his wife, which is the only reason he got involved. He confirms that the strange additive to the food was his idea, inspired by the team’s discoveries about Taco Temple at Court, and doen in order to magically track and approach people who are in dire economic or social straits for potential voluntary Pa bargains and servitude at Court.
The team decides to do further research and calling around, and goes for a drive, trying to resolve Prophecy 8. 6C calls up Fargus Sol and he helps them determine that there is likely some kind of 4th World treasure near the Iran/Turkmenistan border, near Aden’s turf. They also sell Prophecy 6 info to Ares, where Candice Phillips seems excited to be dealing with Avocado who she obviously respects more than Carol. They arrange for Ares to rescue Moonberry as well, in exchange for a positive intro at Court, where they currently lack standing. They also sell Prophecy 7 info and Moonberry into (related) to SpinRad via Miranda King, who seems excited to get the info, as she seems like she’s still finding her footing in the corp after jumping off the sinking ship of NeoNET recently.
Sol also gets the Catholics to finally return 6C’s calls, and he arranges with Darren Dolf (who seems likely to be a cutout for the Vigilia Evangelica) to bring their Book of 9 Gates and help with the ritual to free Aylin and 6C. However, there’s a cost: the VE requires that the team retrieve the 3rd Book from the Black Lodge (or whoever stole/bought it from them after they stole it from the Catholics), both for the ritual to work and as pay for them at the end. Dolf agrees that Arleesh will keep her Book, as they trust her to keep it safe, or so they say. 6C starts scheming on how to make this happen.
The team contacts Dankwallow using the burner comm they slipped him at the meet, and set up the deal with Ares. He says he will have his boss pop over to Earth and contact them, and a short while later they get a call from Rooster, who explains that the whole thing is an elaborate smear campaign on behalf of AZT, in revenge for the team’s actions to help Renraku at Court. Rooster agrees to share the smear info with the team’s employers if they wait a week to hype them. They plan to play up the “disappearances” of poor people who ate Festival Foods and hint at the bug cult/Chicago history to put people off of it. Holmes agrees, and Rooster and Holmes both seem delighted that Ares has decided to rescue Moonberry from MCT’s well-defended TRU-13 unit, which will likely be a deadly mission, which they now don’t need to undertake while still receiving the benefits.
The team gets paid out, and agrees to potentially do more jobs for Hanged Man in the future to disrupt Court stagnation. They head to the hotel where Aylin’s mom is staying in order to get the present she has for 6C and Aylin, and she requests they all call her “Patty C” for now. 6C does some real awkward stuff trying to participate in her and Aylin’s fam dynamic and she tries to welcome it. She gives them both potions, and explains that she is a skilled alchemist, though her magical ability has been depleted by her possession. They decide to invite her to the safehouse, where she can work on potions to make a living and also collab with 6C.
They drop HK off at the Bolthole, where he has a lengthy hang with his fam, gets updates on the situation in NYC, and talks about their plans to maybe come to Chicago, Aanka has been getting involved in some “Free CIty” campaigns on the matrix, in St Louis and Seattle specifically, and the community mesh network HK helped set up in their corner of Queens seems to be working well to keep both the Null Sect and the DelaMar sec upgrades at bay, useful for refugees and freedom fighters. HK also hangs with 3D for a bit and gets some deets on a few things: the missing technomancers (suspicious, and seemingly different than previous cases of corp kidnap or hate crimes), and the local phenomena of metaracist combat tourism. HK agrees to help with both, but decides to talk the team into looking into missing persons first, and gets a lead.
The rest of the team rests up at Ahabitat, and at Test’s demand, Patty C starts involving herself in providing some “real world” lessons to Otoko. Kinnie finishes the first major sub repair, and they try to contact Allan Clay, the nervous TM Johnson, but get a dead line. Worried that this may be connected, they head back to town and finally call Red back about his missing persons job as well, figuring they can roll two jobs into one again. Red puts them in touch with an alcoholic Omnistar detective, Nick Ryder, who sets up a meet shortly thereafter at a Zone dive bar.