There was a sudden, wrenching sense of dislocation. Cowboy’s eyes felt like they had been glued shut, his mouth was bone dry, and Ubi, his muse, was rebooting. The timestamp from Cowboy’s mesh connection had just jumped ahead several hours, and it wasn’t even clear which way was up anymore. Seconds of this senseless daze passed before his mind began to catch up with his senses. Finally, as the fog in his head began to clear, he realized that his equilibrium was shot because gravity was now much lower that it had been a few moments (or was it hours?) ago.
Cowboy was still groggy and trying to think straight when he felt something detach from his neck. A sense of calm and well-being began to flow through Cowboy’s system, and his usual clarity returned. With the return of awareness came memory. Please don’t let me wake up as a pleasure pod in some Triad fetish-den on Parvati… Dispelling his standard paranoia, Cowboy consoled himself with the knowledge that the gravity he felt was right for his intended destination and forced his new eyes open.
Cowboy looked around the resleeving facility’s receiving room, and while it certainly wasn’t the most cutting edge he had ever seen, Love and Rage had made this the most welcoming and comfortable he could remember visiting in quite some time. The room was small, but appointed much like a middle-class Martian bedroom with lush carpeting and faux-hardwood cabinets. A comfortable, well-worn chair in one corner had a side-table beside it, on which a decanter of water and a cocktail had recently been laid out in welcome.
Ubi was back up and running, and before a word was spoken a full AR report of the room’s specifications and security was brought up via Cowboy’s endo. [They’ve certainly optimized this place for privacy. This room is shielded and the only mesh connection is fed into the room via a single hardline. Once you start to feel like yourself again I’ll open the connection so Marcus can say hello. I believe he’s waiting outside. Take your time Daniel, I think Marcus optimized this morph for you, but you still need to make sure you’re acclimated.]
Cowboy gave Ubi a strained smile while he went through minor adjustments to his equilibrium and kinesthetics. “Actually Ubi, I’m already feeling pretty good1. I still remember waking up in that used, banged-up splicer after that cock-up on Earth. That took weeks to get used to, this is nothing.” [I’m glad to hear it. You should be aware that you’ve been fitted with some extra equipment this time, it looks like whoever set this up is expecting trouble.]
Cowboy winced, all manner of worst-case scenarios dancing through his mind, “Alright then, give me the bad news…” [You’ve got an emergency farcaster on board, and the neutrino transmitter’s anti-matter payload is considerably larger than standard. I’m sure you’ll be thrilled to know that triggering this will send fragments of your skull up to fourty meters in every direction.]
Cowboy picked up the cocktail from the side-table and shook his head, wondering if the perverse sense of humor he gave Ubi had been such a good idea. “Great, that just makes my day. Any other special surprises?” [Nothing else so spectacular. You do have a ghost-rider module installed for some reason, though nothing’s loaded into it. You’ve also got a nanophage strain in your system, hopefully that’s not a sign of things to come. That appears to be all.]
“Alright then… we might as well get to it.” After a few quick tests to make sure he was comfortable again, Cowboy went to take a look in the mirror. Marcus’ work never failed to impress, if Cowboy hadn’t known better he’d swear this morph was a clone of his old one2. Satisfied with the body, Cowboy opened up the armoire and switched out his clothes. Marcus’ quirky, pre-Fall sci-fi aesthetic just wasn’t going to cut it.
After making some final adjustments to his look, Cowboy felt ready to deal with the rest of the universe again. Without needing to be prompted, Ubi opened the external mesh channel and the door for him. As the Love and Rage Collective’s network began flooding through and updating his mesh, Cowboy walked out to where Marcus and Faith awaited him in the facility’s otherwise empty lounge.
“That was fast. I take it the updates I ran through your morph worked out well for you then?” After years spent working together Marcus was an open book to Cowboy, and he could see that Marcus’ easy going smile and light attitude were a thin veil for a heavy combination of anxiety and excitement. He was sleeved in his own crasher morph, having foregone his usual menton model. All his gear was integrated into his smart suit in various ways, so that at the moment he looked more prepared for a night at the bar than a gate run.
“Quit fishing for compliments Marcus. You know you’re a genius, we don’t need your head getting any bigger.” Faith’s smile kept any hint of edge or hostility from her jab. As always she was sleeved in a flawlessly sculpted Sylph, rather at odds with both her role and any sense of practicality. Unlike Marcus, Faith gave nothing away and remained as inscrutable as ever.
Ignoring Faith’s comment, Cowboy sat down at the booth with his drink in hand, “Yeah yeah, the morph is fantastic. Now what’s the story with this assignment? You were unusually evasive about the details when I last spoke to you Marcus.”
Marcus let out a deep breath with a sigh, “Yeah, that’s… complicated. There are a few layers to the story. First off, what’s known to most of the collectivists who’re paying attention is that Paradisus3, a major PC exo-colony, suddenly blocked off all access to its gate a few days ago.”
One of Cowboy’s eyebrows shot up, “Paradisus? Holy hell, the Consortium must be shitting itself left and right over this. So I see why the Argonauts want in on this, that Iktomi site is supposed to be a gold mine. I remember the PC pissed a lot of people off when they refused to let anyone access it.”
Marcus just nodded, his excitement becoming more apparent, “Oh, it gets better… and weirder. What a lot fewer people know is that shortly before the colony went dark, the PC’s research team discovered some ancient alien relic in the Iktomi site, apparently something the Iktomi had themselves been studying.”
“Ok, well then. So it sounds like the Collective wants to get one over on the PC by setting up a new gate route and rescuing the colonists “for them”, and getting the outer systems access to a flagship PC colony and its research site in the deal… I can get behind that idea. A rogue alien relic and gate failure sounds bad though, and you said we were working with another group?"
“Yeah, as far as most people know this is a joint operation between Love and Rage and the Titanian Commonwealth. Also, like I said, this gets weirder. The big secret around all this is what has every major power in the system freaking out, ironically enough. A few hours before we talked an unknown beacon sent a brief but indecipherable signal to everyone who had a sufficiently powerful and complex receiver. Those groups communicating this little event to one another found something extremely… odd. Everyone received the signal at exactly the same time. Moreover, from what we’ve been told, it came from Paradisus.”
Confusion and surprise shadowed Cowboy’s face, “But this wasn’t over QE though, right? That shouldn’t be possible. Someone has to have come up with a theory by now… and who are we actually working with, you said as far as people know.”
Marcus shot a brief furtive glance to Faith, who flooded into Marcus’ and Cowbow’s mesh feed in response. [Alright we’re secure, standard dual-channel protocol4.] “We’ll just have to wait for the briefing to get the rest.” [No one’s volunteered a viable theory yet, though Faith’s been waiting for you to arrive to spill what she’s come up with. The real partners in this project are pretty telling though. I’ve always suspected they were out there… but it turns out that Firewall is very real, and very interested in whatever is happening on Paradisus.]
“Fine, but what’s the story with Wiley and my hat?”
“Didn’t have time to refit the facility and grow a new body for him, so he’s being shipped over with your hat. I had his stack pulled and his body put into gel-storage. They should both be arriving by mass-driver just before we leave. It’ll be cutting it fine, but I think we’ll get them here in time.” [The Commonwealth is involved, at least insofar as that’s been the Firewall agents’ cover. I believe Faith is about to say what we’re both thinking though.]
“I still can’t believe you insist on taking that wolf with you on these things. I don’t imagine it’s going to go well for him.” [Well, this beacon signal and Firewall’s involvement are bad enough, but while we were waiting for Cowboy I started poking into these Firewall agents we’re going to be working with. I do not like what I’ve found. I haven’t been able to ID their Firewall handler yet, it looks like all communication with them is over a QE comm unit, but whatever. What has me worried is the synthmorph weapon platform they’ve brought with them. Have either of you heard any rumors of The Legion Project before? What I’ve been able to piece together is attached5. Here’s profiles for the two agents I’ve been able to put together as well, Jack Sheridan and Mariah. I’ve got nothing new on Twitch, though I’ve been focused on this Legion… thing.]
Marcus nearly loses his facade, “Plus, do you know how much it costs to ship that hat all over the outer system for you?” * A shuddering, chilled sensation *[Well, that more or less cinches it. Firewall at least suspects TITAN influence of some sort.]
“Seriously, you’d be getting paid more if you didn’t drag that thing around like this.” [Well the good news, such as it is, seems to be that these agents aren’t too sure what’s going on either. I’m hopeful that they’re bringing this thing for a test run just to be safe, though I may be clutching a straws here… I doubt they have a pile of Legion platforms just laying around. Still, I’m not sure what’s more disturbing: the possibility of TITAN activity or that someone has managed to track my… investigations and gotten involved.]
“Well it’s a good thing I’m not getting paid for all this then, now isn’t it? Besides, I like my hat.” [TITANs. TITAN activity is definitely more disturbing.]
Marcus just snorted in feigned amusement, while Faith responded with a bemused shake of her head. [There is one more extremely bizarre, unsettling, but hopefully unrelated detail. After the beacon signal was received, the Factors pulled farther into the outer system and have politely rebuffed any attempt at contact. As best anyone can tell, they appear to be waiting for something and/or preparing to leave Sol.]
1 Excellent (MoS > 30) success for integration check – immediate acclimation.
2 Bonus (+10) to Alienation test due to optimization. Success – No ill effect.
4 Faith is referring to the practice of maintaining inconsequential conversation openly (either verbally or over unsecured mesh chat), while simultaneously having a real discussion over a secure channel.
5 Follow the links throughout her dialogue for her attached information.