The team meets up with Dwala Chatterjee after Packard gets shave and haircut to try to clean up his slovenly used morph. He is distressed to discover the circumstances of his death, and the news of his missing ego/stack. Pran is back in the field, having been healed enough to travel under his own power again. Chatterjee tells them that she was snooping on some local singularity seekers, using decryption algorithms recovered by Wong on Venus’ surface (which Wong doesn’t recall, having erased his memory). They were discussing the kidnapping of 4 members of Octavia’s Neo-Synergist colony, having used a ruse of wanting to start a new colony on Parvarti. Firewall is obviously concerned about these two groups collaborating, willing or not, and wants the team to investigate immediately.
They use rep and hacking to find the last known location of the Skepsi, a balloon craft that was used as the transport for the Neo-Synergists heading to Parvarti. Analyzing data from weatherwatcher drones and other sensory equipment, they determine that the balloon hasn’t been destroyed yet, although it is not emitting a signal, and is rapidly sinking out of the altitudinal “safe zone,” so they rush off, renting a small corp jetcraft. They find the balloon, which looks to have been sabotaged (though not well enough!). Pran flies over and boards, and manages to retrieve the black box, as well as what looks like a spent knockout dart. Frederik overcomes his depression to hack the black box, and discovers that the instruments aboard the Skepsi were apparently sabotaged before a collision was recorded, with a craft ID’ as the Exegesis.
Researching this craft, they discover that it was reported lost with all hands about a month ago. A group of 16 researchers with known connections to sigularity seekers and techno-creationists were assumed killed when the craft was lost. None had current backup insurance, and haven’t been resleeved. However, by calling in some rep favors, the team finds out that the ship has still been in contact with some of these groups, although it seems to be using falsified (or new) ID codes to hold up the deception. They track the new ID’s flightpath, and discover that it was on a reported path recently, only going of course and silent at about the time they reached the balloon. Wong and Pran plot and pilot the jet over, and Pran manages to spot the dark and silent blimp deep in the clouds and storms of the floor of the “safe zone.” Frederik scans it, and hacks into the blimp’s mesh, but is unable to accomplish much before getting locked and dropping back out.
They hover the jet over the blimp while Wong leaps onto the top of one of the 8 gas envelopes and starts cutting his way in, while Pran spreads scrapper’s gel over the other 7, in case they need to sink the craft (or threaten to). The rest of the team counts on the AI pilot to hold the jet steady while they leap over into the passenger portion of the blimp below, after Frederik hacks open the airlock. Packard and Frederik easily make the leap, but Lena is almost tipped off into the toxic clouds after the jet gets caught in an updraft. Luckily, Frank catches her and pulls her in. They come under fire from 2 neotenic morphs with laser pistols, but drop them both, leaving one conscious for Packard to interrogate. Sadly, they seem to either be or believe themselves to be part of a hivemind of some sort, and says that they “are all fingers of one hand.” They also say that they learned so much from the Neo-Synergists, and that if the team doesn’t join them, they will never leave this vessel alive. Packard is disturbed, and executes the neotenic. Lena exchanges fire with 2 more neotenics while Packard and Frederik search the comparments nearby.
They find 2 rooms with a number of (empty) restraints, all facing a central omnidirectional screen, which springs to life as they enter. Both manage to shake off whatever effect it was supposed to have, but are even more worried. Wong cuts his way into the 3rd compartment, and falls into a pile of rags, clothes, bedding, and writhing flesh- he shakes his way free as Pran also enters from above, and the rest of the team enters to light up the terrifying thing they see within: a fleshy, tube-like, child-sized trunk with far too many arms on one end, and a mass of tentacles on the other. They all suffer some mental stress, and light it up. They then head forward to the cockpit area, where they encounter another terrible creature: a mass of flesh and tech, melded together into a series of mechanical tendrils radiating off of a large central core. It seems to also be bonded with the control apparatus of the blimp itself. It also seems to be breathing heavily, emitting a loud panting sound. It is smelly and close in the room. It lashes out with tentacles, and drops Lena, but the team is able to kill it with sustained fire. Frederik hacks in and gets the GPS location that the craft was headed to, although there is supposedly nothing there.
The blimp begins to rapidly descend, giving out a massive sigh as it seemingly “dies” and vents its gas envelopes. Pran flies to the jet, and tells the AI to hold it steady by the airlock with everyone else jumps back. Wong fashions a tether out of the retraints to assist. Packard makes the jump, and him and Pran try to help catch the rest. Frederik tosses Lena over, successfully, as well as 2 neotenic heads (to interrogate the stack later), and then tries to jump himself, but totally misses it, and falls. Wong hurriedly jumps over, and Packard tries to restrain Pran (who wants to flee!) as Wong puts the craft in a steep dive to try to save Frederik. Sadly, he pilots poorly, and Frederik mistimes his grab at the passing craft and caroms off, down into the sulfuric atmo and crushing pressure below. His screaming shortly ceases as Pran takes control and ascends again.
They return to Parvarti, taking a negative hit to corp rep for damaging the jet and failing to file and stick to flight plans. They plan to resleeve Frederik, heal up, and then head out to check out the GPS. Everyone heals and gets some psychotherapy from their muses. Wong prints up a bunch of guns and ammo for everyone after they call in favors for blueprints, and Iskra convinces Frederik to resleeve into a more appealing exalt morph. They interrogate one of the singularity seekers, resleeved into a flat, and Iskra gets some useful info about their base: apparently a Secret Aerostat composed at least partially of a lost TITAN called Antiphus. The seekers also seem to have some psi ability, and Iskra admits her abilities to the team (although Frederik keeps his secret). They also rent 4 Venus-modded hardsuits and another corp jet, with external grapples to haul the suits. They head out, and Pran easily navigates and pilots to the GPS site.
Wong jumps out of the jet to take out a defense cannon aboard the Antiphus aerostat. Pran lands the jet after Wong succeeds (just barely avoiding getting blasted himself). They enter, and encounter another huge group of the tentacle/tube/arm monstrosities (called “whippers” be Firewall apparently). They defeat them all, taking some damage, and suffering some psychic distress. They check out the various cluster modules attached to the core, and find the remains of the Neo-Synergists, 3 of whom are being transformed into whippers, and 1 of whom was dissected, seemingly to understand and extract the experimental mesh inserts. They also find a lot of sketchy TITAN seeming tech and cobbled together equipment, as well as some more “infection” areas, with screens and restraints (Firewall has id’d these as “incapacitating inputs” or “Basilisk Hacks”). They avoid infection, though Lena is sent into a minute-long seizure.
Wong blows the attachment bolts on all of the modules except for the landing platform and the tether to the surface, and drops them to their destruction. They decide to cobble together some signal boosters and descend the tether- 3 people will reach the floor (although it’s a 1 passenger, 15 min ride), with 1 person halting their descent halfway to act as a comms relay, and Iskra and Pran staying up top (lacking hardsuits, and wanting to protect the ship). Wong and Frederik, being thrillseekers, decide to magnet themselves together, and descend at once, with Lena following, and Frank holding down the halfway point. They do so.
Frederik and Wong end up in a running firefight through a horrifyingly dark cavern system filled with evidence of excavation and TITAN tech, killing three of the huge mechatendril snakes (Firewall calls them “snappers”), composed of surface mining tech and vehicles. The fourth one drops both of them however, and starts chewing through their hardsuits, but luckily Lena arrives just in time to drop it, saving them. She calls Frank down to help load them onto the tether to get loaded into the jet. They send Wong and Frederik up, and decide to explore the rest of the tunnel system. They find what seems to be a hardened system, and ID it as a component of Antiphus based on serial numbers. It is currently running off of some poorly contained power sources, and Lena decides to blast those in an attempt to destroy it, which suceeds but also ko’s Frank and injures her severly. She hauls Frank to the tether, sends him up, and then rigs up the comms to act as missile guidance.
They call in a favor to bomb the site, do so, and drop the last 2 modules off, as Pran rigs up a demo charge to blow one of the stabilizing jets on the core module, venting the air inside, and sending it gradually down. They return to Parvarti, with Wong clamped to the outside in his hardsuit (having jumped over after blowing the bolts on the landing module). Mission accomplished! They report it all to Firewall, and turn over the 1 stack they recovered from the dissected neo-synergist. They also call the Neo-Syn colony to tell them that their missing friends were killed, but offer no details, and don’t really make any progress there. They also heal up and get some more psychotherapy.
Lena receives a call from an old friend, Ram Kulkarni and starts looking into it.