The team meets up aboard Parvarti, picks up Iskra at the resleeving facility (called A New You), waits for her to design and assemble a suitably fashionable smart-vac outfit, and links up with Lena, who has been healing smart animals. This impresses Frederik and Pran, uplifts themselves. Iskra recognizes Lena from her childhood memetic presence, which thrills Lena, and Iskra compulsively tries to bond with everyone. They do some research on their missing contact, and also find out that the aerostat seems to be on lockdown, with no transports leaving and no (legal) outgoing comms traffic allowed. There are rumors of people suddenly developing bumps on their head, losing consciousness in some cases, and then disappearing- all within 3 days of a resleeve. The team gets a bit worried and Pran tracks down some criminal means of escaping the hab or sending out an emergency message.
Due to their research, they are contacted by a Mr. Smith, head of Taurus Security, the official security on Parvarti, and summoned to his office. He tells them that he needs his officers keeping a riot from happening, and would appreciate it if the team investigates what’s going on. In exchange, he’ll give them security access to the station and share his info. They agree, not asking for anything in return. He tells them that Dwala Chatterjee, their contact, is amongst those missing, and that Taurus has quarantined the station, along with a half dozen people showing signs of infection, until they can figure out what’s up. He also provides a list of the missing- they don’t seem to have any commonalities except that they resleeved around 72 before they disappeared, in a variety of different body banks around town, including A New You. Everyone backs away from Iskra except Lena, who misidentifies the signifiers that she might be “infected.”
They head to the quarantine medbay and check out the patients, discovering that it was not fisticuffs as Lena thought, but a sloppy low-grade nano injection that caused the swelling. It is easily curable and non-contagious, which pleases Mr. Smith. However, the nano was used to contruct a hidden second set of mesh inserts which is broadcasting XP to a secure server. Frederik and Wong hack in and blow past the AI. They download all the XP data from the last day, and see that the server is pulsing out info via a farcaster link to an untraceable destination. They decide to go check out ANY. Iskra guilts the sleevetech into revealing that ANY, along with many other body banks, uses a morph broker called Dai Khan Industries.
The team does some research and calls in some favors to find the names of DKI’s 3 employees, Hellen Alvarez, Dario Silvestri, and Landon Markus. They split into 3 teams after deciding to question the employees before breaking in. Pran and Lena catch up to Landon, who seems friendly and willing to help, but has a wrestling match which his opponent has bailed on and demands one of the team step in, in exchange for info. Frederik races down there and tries to compete, but gets too depressed, and Pran has to tag in to finish the bout. Landon wins, but Pran makes a good showing for the uplifts, despite much jeering and flung items. Landon tells them where to find the other two, and gives them some personal info, as well as saying he could be bribed to deactivate security and let them into DKI, as he’s only partime and doesn’t really care.
Frank and Wong reach Alvarez’ apartment and hack through the door to find her waiting with a gun. They talk her down, and find out that she is essentialy indentured to Nine Lives, running ego copies and illicit sleeves for paedophile, snuff, and bestiality rings on Parvarti. They have something on her and she says she can’t stop. Though horrifying, she doesn’t know about the implants and suggests they try Silvestri, due to his gambling debts. Frank can’t let her go, knowing what she does, and executes her, loudly. He and Wong cut off her head to give the stack to Mr. Smith, but decide they should also call in shots fired, and he tells them he’ll send a cleanup crew and not to worry.
Meanwhile, abandoned by Frederik, Iskra proceeds along to Salo 120, the casino where Silvestri resides when not at work. She panics on the way there and has a multiple personality break, believing herslef followed. Her muse talks her back down, and she gets back into it. She enters the casino and spots Silvestri, but he also sees her and flees to a back room. Some guards emerge as Iskra approaches and refuse to let her through. Lena, Frederik, and Pran arrive, and they call in a gunaxi favor to id this place as a Night Cartel op and call off the guards. They all enter the room and interrogate the cowering wretch, who gives up his fixer, a connected neo-avian named Blackvein, who roosts atop the Rajni Towers. He says that he was skimming extra cred on the job by using low-grade nanogel, hence the swellings. They leave, taking Silvestri with them, as he says he’ll likely be killed now.
Sadly, they didn’t leave a lookout, and they find the casino abandoned and come under fire from 4 augmented slitheroids. They quickly drop Iskra and Frederik, while Lena and Pran manage to drop 1 in return. Frank and Wong, hearing of the trouble, race down to the casino, with Wong making a desparate freefall jump down the outside of the aerostat to get there quickly. Frank tries to do the same down an elevator shaft, but lands poorly and hurts himself. One of the slitheroids begins removing heads from the unconscious, presumably to later extract stacks. Luckily, they start with Silvestri. Wong races in as the slitheroids drop Lena and wound Pran. He drops one, and is then dropped himself. Frank reaches the scene as Pran wakes Frederik back up. Frank drops another slitheroid, and is then dropped. Wong shakes awake, and drops the final slitheroid right after it drops Frederik again and kills Pran. They loot the bodies and call in Taurus Security, who cordone off the area and race Pran to a healing vat, after Lena tries to stabilize him as best as possible- with only a few minutes of brain death in total, it looks like he might be savable.
The rest of the team heals up for an hour and applies nano-bandages, before preparing to head to Rajni Towers to meet up with Blackvein. Mr. Smith says that both Alvarez and Silvestri are in for some longterm infodetention, if not erasure, for their crimes. This will be determined by simulspace questioning and analysis, but he thanks the team for shutting down both of their ops, for the time being at least.
The team calls in a g-rep favor to schedule a meeting with Blackvein. They arrive, and ascend an elevator up to the very top of inward-curving housing towers off of one of Parvarti’s largest plazas. BV’s roost overlooks the plaza through a transparent wall and partial floor, and he flits from perch to perch, swooping near to their heads, possibly trying to disquiet them. He has a number of antique old-Earth birdcages hanging about. Pran feels that he has an initial negotiation advantage, as he is also an uplift but is currently teleoperating a case, while his body heals in the a medvat. However, he quickly blows his cover with an ill-timed squawk, and BV catches on to his gambit. They attempt to persuade, cajole, and threaten, but it seems BV is a shrew negotiator, and wants to increases his local influence. They make a deal with an unhappy Mr. Smith to do so.
BV tells them that he hired Silvestri for the local Night Cartel boss Fiala O’Donnell, whose plan it was. BV directs the team to a local NC front called Corvalis Synthetics, where the kidnapped morphs likely are being kept. The egos are probably all sold off or destroyed already, but if they get there quickly, perhaps they can save some? The team heads out, but Pran shortly receives a call from O’Donnell, who arranges a meeting on an exterior platform with a promise of bribes. Pran heads that way, while the rest of the team heads to Corvalis, fearing a trap. They enter the business, only to find some guards telling them it’s closed. Packard bluffs his way past, dropping some names, and quickly ends up in a swordfight with O’Donnell, who was feeding morph pieces into an industrial dissasembler in a back room with 2 more slitheroid bodyguards. Packard is quickly ko’d, while the rest of the team gun battles their way through the front office into the back. Pran rejoins them, as the other meeting seems unlikely to happen now.
Frederik is ko’d in the front, the team drops the 3 facility guards and heads into the back. Pran and Lena are ko’d while taking out one of the slitheroids, as O’Donnell flees out an airlock in back. Wong drops the remaining slitheroid and desperately fires on her shuttlecraft as it ascends, but is unable to bring it down. He calls it in to Taurus Security, who arrive on the scene shortly, having also been alerted by Pran. They secure the area and clean up, but O’Donnell has escaped. Also- Packard’s head is missing, which is distressing. It was likely either disassembled or taken, meaning that a sadistic crime boss might possess a copy of his ego. They make a deal to resleeve Packard into Silvestri’s old splicer (with the head reattached), as well as get some pay. They don’t retrieve any egos, but do recover most of the morphs, including Chatterjee’s.
They also get a call from Blackvein, telling them that they don’t have to worry about official Night Cartel repurcussions, as O’Donnell seems to have been acting on her own on this one, and was already seen as perhaps a bit too unstable for upper management. However, she’s in the wind, so they should watch their backs. BV and Mr. Smith both also express their gratitude to the team for helping solve the whole thing just in time, as the inspection teams arrive shortly thereafter.
Packard resleeves, as does Chatterjee, who calls to set up a meeting: they can finally find out what info she wants to pass on to Firewall.