The team, safely returned to Parvarti, investigates the exhuman head that they recovered on Reino Station. Lena determines that it seems like most of the alterations were surgical, and it is unlikely to be an x-risk. Lena tries to use her animal handling skills to interact with the consciousness in an infostate, but fails as it seems to be an human-level intelligience being. Frank jumps in, and they get some info- it seems that the exhumans were what remained of the station’s pre-Fall staff, having altered themselves to become apex predators, and requiring a diet of human flesh to survive. They apparently have been importing and hunting morphs from nearby areas as a food source, as well as helping to run Dorris Lockwood’s experiments. However, Fred also notices that this infomorph is trying to hack its way out of the simulspace they’re running it in, so they quickly shut it down, though not before it is able to get a message off. They turn the head over to Firewall, and Ben Johanssen asks Iskra to quietly investigate Fred’s possible async abilities and report back.
Frank receives a package, which contains a skillfully removed, largely intact, human skin, including the face from his last morph’s missing head. There is a note included that says “Can’t wait to get back together!”, and signed “F.” He also receives a video message with footage of a visibly joyful Fiala O’Donnell torturing and skinning the morph she has attached his head to, while 2 masked doctors keep him alive & conscious. She pops the stack at the end, killing him. Frank gets depressed, and goes on the bender after feeding the skin into a wet disassembler. The team vows to help him track her down, and Fred determines that the signal seems to have originated on Venus, though it was bounced around so many times that it is hard to tell where exactly.
Fred gets in touch with his old Barsoomian friend, Arevig Berkowicz, to find out what mission she has for him. She tells him that a Barsoomian rep, Radomir Fyodorov, arrived on Octavia about a week ago in order to negotiate with sympathetic elements within the Star Council to introduce official recognition of the more centrist factions of the Barsoomian movement as a legit political body. He is suppsed to be laying low and staying off of everyone’s radar insofar as possible while conducting the negotiations, as he is a high-level member of the movement, and is wanted by the Planetary Consortium, specifically Stellar Intelligence, for his activities on Mars. However, his local bodyguards have reported that he has been slipping away from them with some frequency, and partying wildly at a wide variety of popular local establishments. Arevig wants it looked into.
Fred agrees, and the team secures passage to Octavia. Iskra and Lena arrive first, and establish themselves as relevant new members of the social scene, Iskra with the help of an edgy outfit from the Parvarti-based fashion/design house Cosmosis, with whom she has secured a deal to rep their outfits in exchange for early access to new lines. The rest of the team arrives, and does some digging- it seems that Radomir has been going to different places every night, and meeting with different people- no obvious patterns. Some nights, his minders track him down and haul him out, and some nights he goes home with various numbers of individuals of various genders. Iskra secures an invite to the best club on the ‘stat, Souler System, along with a +1 for Lena to hold her bag and a private table, and gets an even more cutting-edge getup, with a matching (but less original) piece for Lena. They put out the word that they’ll be there.
Radomir arrives, lurd by their presence, and they move in. Iskra quickly notices that he seems to also be an async, skilled in social manipulation, but also falls under his spell. They trade brainscans back and forth, with him proving a bit more powerful- he gets some info out of Iskra, such as that she is a member of the Lost Generation, that she generally keeps secret. Sadly, the rest of the team also learns this via the TacNet, causing some distress. However, he seems not to understand his powers, and to have been recently infected: useful info! Outside, the rest of the team watches, and notcies another figure keeping an eye on the club, who seems to be a local low-level gangster. They also intercept Radomir’s bodyguards on approach, to let them know of their involvement and ask some questions, which they brush off, saying they can talk later when their client is secure. However, this gives Iskra time to sneak him out the back of the club while Lena distracts the other patrons with a new science-experiment/drink.
They head to a sex club, where he incapacitates her with some sort of brain tickling power, and proceeds to whip and burn her after they both partially undress and he handcuffs her, all the while giggling maniacally and bleeding from the nose and ears. Iskra passes out while trying to continue manipulating him. The rest of the team, having lost the TacNet feed when Iskra entered the mesh-disabled, soundproofed “safe” room, finally tell the guards where Radomir went, and they rush off. The team decides to confron the other observer on the way, and start a fight with him. However, having left all their weapons in a secure locker to avoid arrest, they are easily outmatched by the ganger, who unsheates some implant wolvers and snorts a combat drug. He flees after inflicting some damage, once he realizes that they are at least well-armored. Frank keeps up for a bit, with spime-based mapping assistance from Fred, but they lost him in the crowd.
They head to the sex club, and find Radomir spooning a topless, unconscous Iskra, who is visibly injured, while alternating between sobbing jags and high-pitched giggling. He is still bleeding from the face, most of which is being soaked up by Iskra’s hair. The minders grab him, and say they’ll talk once he’s secure. Fred hoists Iskra up and they depart. She regains consciousness a while later and is distraught to discover that some photos of her have turned up on the mesh with scathing comments such as “a little TOO bleeding edge.” However, it was the most meaningful human contact she had had, maybe ever, so she was riding pretty high. While leaving, Frank notcies another hoodlum watching this place, and confronts him, but his intimidation attempt is laughed off. Some research indicates that this guy and the other gangster both work for the local Nine Lives. The plot thickens…
Fred makes contact with Arevig, and requests an ego-ID brainscan on Radomir from before his egocast to Octavia, to compare with a current scan, after Lena suggests this as a possible way to detect time of infection. She agrees, and forwards it, and Fred sets up a meet at the safehouse. The minders tell him to only bring one other, and Iskra manipulates her way onto the team. She also tries to convince Fred to make an unconscious alpha fork of Radomir for Firewall (or possibly for herself), and being a thrillseeker, he eventually gives in. They find that the minders have patched up and sedated Radomir, and also that they have a private ego bridge in the safehouse. They do the scan, and Lena confirms that they are different enough to be significant, so it seems like he was infected during the ’cast, as the minders seem legit, and sleeved him here themsleves. Iskra distracts them while Fred makes the fork. They seem sketched out by the risk of infection.
Fred contacts Arevig, but someone else answers the message (with all the appropriate codes etc.), saying that this has moved above her paygrade. He tells Fred to destroy Radomir’s current ego and any copies, as well as the body, the ego bridge and the safehouse. He will revert to his backup on Mars, and hopefully they can undo any damage he has done to their cause. The minders receive the same message, and shoot him in the head. They say they will wipe the safehouse down, not wanting to deal with the body, so the team wipes the stack (but keeps the fork), and then disassembles the body, implants and stack in various machines. Although she wants to keep it for herself, Iskra eventually agrees with the team to forward the alpha fork to Firewall, for which Johanssen is pleased.
Fred receives another message from the Barsoomians, asking them to look further into what happened, how he was infected, etc, as they are worried for the security of their whole darkcasting setup. He agrees. However, they seem to not be the only ones investigating, as they are soon contacted by 2 others looking for info on Radomir’s location and well-being. Qamar Ra’d Ali seems to be a MC operative involved in the negotiations, who is contactin those last seen with Radomir. He is tenacious and suspicious, but seems to lack anything concrete. Zola Wirth proves more complicated.
After some investigation, she seems to be a Stellar Intelligence operative planted on Venus to subvert anti-PC agendas. She is apparently behind the hiring of Nine Lives to intercept Radomir’s darkcast, and infect him (with who knows what…), as well as a smear campaign that she launches once the team gets onto her, trying to raise public outrage against a Barsoomian/MC alliance using footage of Radomir’s activities to paint the Barsoomians as “irresponsible decadent tourists, wasting precious resources aboard a habitat, as surface dwellers could never really understand the Venusian life, etc”, pretending to be a “concerned citizien.” Iskra doesn’t help by paying a popular underground Barsoomian musician to basically record a custom dis-track, which she appears in the video for, delivering a well-sculpted verse, sadly accompanied by an awkward dance which comes off as mocking of the the Barsoomian underclass and their built-in obsolescent morphs. It becomes an instant mesh sensation, and loses Iskra some rep (though she gains some fame!).
The 2 local gangers they’d run into also seem to be Wirth’s hires- one disappears with her once she realizes the team is onto her, while the other mysteriously dies in police custody, after failing to give up much intel of use during the team’s bothed attempt at an interrogation. He reverts to an old backup, which knows nothing, but ends up doing some info-time for possession of illegal weaponry anyway. Fred reports all this to his Barsoomian higher-up, who seems satisfied- they know the rough outline, if not the exact details.
They get a call from Mr. Smith, on Parvarti, asking them to look into an issue for him while they are on Octavia. They agree, in exchange for his covering their eventual travel back as well as some other expenses. Wong makes his excuses, and says he needs to leave to take care of some stuff for an old friend, so he’ll be out of touch for a spell.