Day 44 – 49
The team gets details from Mr. Smith. Apparently he has some contacts in Octavia security, who gave him the heads-up about this, and will grant the team some accesses and privileges to help investigate, to help avoid this incident getting too blown-up. Octavia has been hosting a rocket-design, experimental flight & fuel-source conference, with attendees from all over the system having cast or travelled in. One of the attendees, a physicist and engineer named Hemi Patariki from Casa Arturo, has been killed. Worse, the murderer looks to be a non-powered flight researcher who is officially funded by Parvarti. Favoring a quiet resolution, and the avoidance of a diplomatic incident, Smith called in favors to get the team involved, hoping they can solve it without ruffling feathers.
The team is also contacted by Sohrab Wallach, who wants info about his death at Tooth and Claw, as well as what else went on there, for his investigative piece for the biocon journal Humanity Today. Pran stalls for time, and warns Blackvein. Lena and Pran eventually agree to set up an in-person interview when they are back aboard Parvarti, hinting that they will share valuable and secret info with Wallach.
Patariki is receiving conseling for his traumatic death in an infostate, and is not yet availble for questioning, although they can send messages. However, his last backup was before the start of the conference, on Arturo, so there will be some inherent lag anyway. But as he was current on his payments, and his backup seems fully functional and intact, the motive is unclear- Smith wants to know what he could have learned in a few days to make him worth killing.
The killer is named Mladenka Krisman, or is using her ID at least. She was also invited to the conference, and was seen talking to Patariki shortly before his death, and heading to his room together. The team heads to his room, the crime scene. It is blocked off, but CSI is done, so they look it over. It looks like a good portion of his head (stack included) was destroyed by fractal branching digits, an agonizing process as he seems to have been alive when it started. Frank finds a used whisky glass but no drugs, and it looks like he was merely knoced unconscious with the bottle, suggesting spur of the moment thing, not so much a planned attack. Also, the killer seems to have leaped from the window in the room, at a height which should have been damaging to most morphs even in Venus’ gravity.
They manage to track her, and based on the presence of fractal digits, find a synthmorph repair shop that she limped to. The proprietor, a surly steel liberator, tells them she was in a well-disguised pod, after they bribe him awkwardly. They find her in a nearby coffin hotel in the port district, and surround her. She briefly tries to escape, but seeing all routes block, quickly goes limp. Upon investigating, the morph has a burned emergency farcaster (which seems to have been used a while back), a puppet sock (sadly untraceable by Frank), & mesh mods to only record on a self-wiping 5 minute loop. Nothing is loaded in the stack. However, they track the pod to a morph brokerage called Tree of Lives on Parvarti, and decide to head back.
Before they can leave, they are once again accosted by Qamar Ra’d Ali, who shows up in the company of station security. He is very suspicious of their ongoing, and unhelpful, presence and seeming involvement in a number of mysterious crimes. He tells them that his office will be taking over this investigation, annoyed that station security let outsiders get involved at all. He tells themselves to make themselves available for further questioning as needed, but seems unwilling to cause a larger incident as they are acting under Smith’s imprimatur. They quickly arrange travel off the station.
Arriving back on Parvarti, they begin looking into Krisman. Her labmates haven’t seen her in about a week, which isn’t unusual, as she often vanishes (and shuts off comms) for weeks at a time while testing new flight appartuses. This apparently also has a high mortality, as she usually uses synths or pods with built-in emergency casters (and stack wipers, to avoid anyone stealing her data on an unlikely recovery later). They confirm that she exclusively uses Tree of Life. When questioned (and bribed with drugs), the employee there id’s her as a repeat customer, and also id’s the pod morph in question as one of theirs that she used in the past. Apparently she emergency cast out of it during a dire situation and resleeved, but the pod was recovered and returned at some point. As far as Fred can tell, whoever was puppet socking it and posing as her must have recontructed a semi-reputable version of her ego ID based on traces left behind by an incomplete stack wipe.
The employee, bummed that Octavia sec is holding the morph for the duration of the investigation, and wanting to avoid trouble, also tells the team that the individual who rented the morph also rented 5 other pods. They all had extensive mods, 3 geared towards science and tech (like the one they saw), and 3 geared towards combat. They all included puppet socks. They paid a 3 month rental up front with a large deposit through an anonymous account, and had all the pods shipped to storage facility address in the lower portion of the station, which the team finds empty. However, using station sec footage, they are able to spot all of the morphs (including “Krisman”) being delivered in an inactive state, and then leaving, one by one, under their own power. They quickly lose their trail, however, but they all seem to head in seperate directions. They decide to continue looking into Krisman’s background for now as they lack other leads, and keep trying to contact Patariki.
They eventually get confirmation from Mr. Smith that Krisman has been spotted testing out one of her experimental craft, and determine that the use of her ego ID was merely a ruse, without her involvement. They also hear from Patariki, but he does not provide much useful intel as to who might have wanted to kill him, aside from anyone opposed to open-source design. He does, however, tell them that he had a meeting arranged with an inner system financier and tech enthusiast, Stewart Kelly, at the house of an Octavian socialite, Petya Rudaski. After doing some digging, they manage to extort her head of security, Thaun Panarma, into revealing what happened.
Apparently, Kelly arranged to have Rudaski send out the invitations, and also made sure to invite the faux Krisman. Krisman and Patariki left together, and Kelly killed Rudarski. Panarma is not privy to what went on during their meeting, but he killed Kelly, and disposed of the body, finding that it was a puppet-socked pod. The team compares security footage and confirms that it was one of the 6 rental pods, and manage to determine that they seem to have travelled in pairs after leaving the warehouse: 2 tech-modded ones to Octavia, the 3rd tech one and 1 combat one to points unknown, and 2 combat ones still on Parvarti. They soon hear from Smith that there was a “terrorist” attack on a Starware experimental flight facility on Luna, involving the 2 pods that left, having put out a general alert on the ego ID’s they used. So it seems like someone is targeting advanced spaceflight researchers.
They do some digging and find out that Starware is rumored to be trying to open up trade with the Factors, who currently have limited their trading (publicly at least) to Ecologene. Thinking that Ecologene might want to maintain their sole-partner status, they dig further, and find that Kelly has ties to that corp. However, he hasn’t been seen at his home on Mars in quite some time, and soon enough Smith lets them know that the bodies they pulled out of the recycling pool under Tooth and Claw are those of Kelly and his bodyguard. It seems someone has been sending in his check-in code, ensuring that he wouldn’t be resleeved, while they were apprently posing as him in the pod on Octavia. Confused, they dig further into surveillance vids, and find a vac-suited figure entering and exiting the warehouse, alongside Kelly, ahead of the pods arrival. They eventually manage to track the figure (due to an odd and distinctive gait) to a hotel near the port. They head there, expecting to find them long-gone.
Based on social media research, they determine that the figure has been staying in one of 2 7th floor suites, and rent the other one. Fred tries to hack the door open, but immediately trips an alarm, and is ko’d by a plasma beam that scythes through the door. Pran is quickly dropped by a 2nd blast, as Lena hears the sounds of glass breaking and a distant thump from the room. She enters as the combat pod inside is reloading, and he detonates a grenade as she ducks away. Lena calls in support from Smith as she sees the 2nd combat pod and the vacsuit figure running towards the port. She then tends to her friends, who are on fire and heavily injured. She manages to put them out and stabilize them until Taurus Security arrives.
They get the story from Smith, and review the video. The 2 figures staged a fighting retreat, until the combat pod sacrificed itself, using a grenade to blow open an airlock before station security could capture them. The vacsuited figure dived out- it was hit by weapons fire but seemed to be moving as though uninjured (though strangely). It seems to have been controlling the pods actively, given their odd lockstep movements. Watching video of the pod and the vacsuit figure falling out of the hotel window is disturbing- the vacsuit figure seems to cushion the pod’s fall, absorbing the shock & flattening out more than any sort of standard morph could without sustaining critical injury. They at first think it could be some sort of odd flexbot of swarmanoid, but after investigating the scene, the find traces of an odd, and unidentifiable, toxic dust, which reminds Pran of the dust used by the Factor that he met years ago to hold off its attackers. They are left wondering if a lone Factor could be behind the attacks, and if so, why? Factors are thought to operate exclusively as colonies, so a lone one is rare if not unprecedented, and the best motive they can come up with is to interefere with transhuman development of spaceflight tech that could compete with the Factor’s current dominance of the field. Straaaaaange.