It's a classic tale: a tidy accountant, a flexible AGI bodyguard, a congenial terraformer, a sex-addicted socialite, a hairless teen, an amoral gene hacker, and an autistic octopus meet in a virtual conference room to exchange icebreaks and tales of intergalactic doom before venturing forth to conquer evil and save the world.
Our heroes are a ragtag bunch. "Susan" "Jones" is an accountant with a penchant for khakis. In the outer system, she met Sunshine iPod, a particularly flexible bodyguard. In exchange for keeping track of her many small items, Sunshine follows "Susan" as her bodyguard and best friend.
Fred Uckerman once lived on Mars, but moved to Phobos who has found work as a terraformer.
Divinia Winslett loves all that glitters. A member of the gliteratti herself, Divinia has high rep in all the right places, and knows how to read almost anyone to get what she wants.
Like "Susan" and Sunshine, Negasonic Teenage Warhead Terton Malta also hails from the outer system. Her shaved head and acerbic demeanor belie a shaved and acerbic soul.
Gene Hackman is one of the greatest minds alive working in the area of gene hacking and morph modification hailing from the outer system.
Finally, the token diversity pick: Oslo Menlo is an uplifted octopus whose intelligence rivals the brightest of what transhumanity has to offer, though his interpersonal skills are less audacious.
Their mission is simple: find and secure Dr. Patrick Jove's research. The doctor had been working as a professor and researcher at Cognite's Wauxhall Institute on Phobos, covertly sending back information to Firewall. Before his disappearance, Jove was working on a new virus that had the potential to become useful as a weapon against the Factors, a mysterious alien race who made contact with humanity some years back.
The adventurers sleeve in on Phobos, meeting up with Fred Uckerman and venturing forth towards their first point of interest: an infamous pleasure palace called Eros, where another agent of Firewall worked undercover.
You Meet in a Tavern. No Wait, a Strip Club.
After climbing down the ladder that led to the seedy underground establishment, the group wandered apart. Terton, Oslo Menlo, and Gene investigate a rough trio hunched over a screen in the back corner, and eventually learn that the men work at the Wauxhall Institute (home of Jove's lab and his last known location) as maintenance staff. They agree to smuggle the party in to Jove's lab in exchange for Gene's help creating an octopus (in this case, Oslo Menlo) with human penises on the ends of its (his) tentacles.
The group learns that the Firewall agent is one of the identical blue waitstaff of Eros, and her only notable distinction is her impressive strength. "Susan" buys hard lemonades for herself and Sunshine and tips generously, then immediately begins challenging wandering waitstaff to arm wrestling contests, the first of which results in the quick dismemberment of her opponent.
Divinia flirts with a group of Direct Action employees, who openly discuss their fear of the Martian outbreak. One proves especially susceptible to her charms, but her deft hands cause a premature end to their blossoming relationship.
Oslo Menlo eventually sneaks through a pair of (unguarded) doorsto find a long, wide hallway flanked by doors down both sides and ending in another pair of doors – large, black doors with a visible electronic lock.
Terton follows close behind the octopus, but is quickly spotted by one of the waitstaff. She convinces the waitress that she and her friends have an appointment with one of the dancers. The waitress leads the party through one of the side doors of the hallway, where they meet Podette, an exotic dancer with additional orifices available for groups and parties. "Susan," now aware of her preference for feats of strength, offers to arm wrestle Podette. The dancer, impressed by "Susan's" skill but aware of her own shortcomings in this area of interest suggests she seek out Mnemonica, who specializes in strength and dominance, but who is unavailable at the moment behind the double black doors. The group peppers Podette with questions while "Susan" sneaks off to hack a terminal in the hallway, eventually producing and Official Gang Membership Card:registered:, giving the group access to the back room.
The waitress pushes through the double black doors to reveal a room packed with a rowdy crowd watching two naked women fight to the death. "Susan," restored to her natural element, saunters towards a tall, glamorous woman overseeing the event. The two exchange meaningful looks when suddenly a fight breaks out on the other side of the arena. One of the blue waitresses immediately pushes through the crowd, picks up the instigator, and throws him into the wall hard enough to instantly kill him.
Terton, realizing this strong waitress is likely the Firewall agent Mnemonica, makes her way towards the scene with Divinia in tow. Recognizing fellow Firewall agents, Mnemonica leads the party to an empty room where she reveals that Dr. Jove was working on the exsurgent virus, attemping to modify it for use against the Factors. She then implants extremely effective memories of a sexual experience in "Susan's" mind, per her request.
Satisfied (some more than others) with Mnemonica's information, the group returns to the three maintenance workers to find them enraptured by Gene, who had been keeping them occupied with lurid details of his planned modifications to Oslo Menlo.
Oh the Huge Manatee
The workers smuggle the group into Wauxhall in a wheel-barrow, disguised as corpses (aided by Divinia's efficacious corpse-scent). Once inside, Terton and Sunshine <strike>bully</strike> convince the workers to disrobe, giving their uniforms to the group so they can blend in more easily. The party sets off, abandoning the naked workers in a closet.
As the group approaches what they know to be the location of Jove's office, they are struck by an odd sight: a huge, two-story aquarium where the doctor's office should be. Placards in half a dozen languages confirm: this is Jove's primary lab. From outside, the group discerns a number of blinking machines, a series of airtight habitats containing sickly mammals, and a small desk with a strange minitature building on it. As Oslo Menlo, Sunshine, Fred, and "Susan" investigate ways to gain access to the underwater lab, Gene, Terton, and Divinia wander off to explore the campus.
Divinia heads to Fresco Niche Cafetorium, the all-hours eatery frequented by students and other residents of the Institute. She quickly slips her information to a lonely-looking man before discovering her true destination: President's Row. With a clever bit of impersonation, Divinia convinces a pretty blonde woman to let her enter the Provost's Office, where she finds nothing of interest.
Terton wanders to the Red Planet Psychosurgery Center, where she rummages through cabinets looking for the chemical intoxicants used to study of the effects of mood elevating drugs on uplifts. She grabs a box of syringes of Laughing Policeman, quickly injecting one into herself, before heading back to Jove's office.
Meandering through the halls of the Regi Thoni Research Center that housed Jove's lab, Gene stumbles upon an eccentric man hunched over a desk in the front of a classroom. The man turns out to be Eloise Martin – a former protégé of Jove who fell out with the older doctor some years back. Eager to demonstrate his superiority over his former teacher, Eloise leads Gene to his research lab – a large, open room bustling with researchers and lab assistants.
Glass takes up an entire wall, part of an enclosure of a huge aquarium where a couple of researchers guide aquatic uplifts, a beluga and a manatee, through a series of exercises. Gene's careful understanding of kinesics reveals duress boiling underneath the calm outward appearance of the uplifts. While discussing the extent of Eloise's research, however, Gene cuts off contact with the rest of the group.
Back in Jove's lab, Oslo Menlo explores various machines while Sunshine unsuccessfully attempts to drain the tank via a large plug in the middle. From there, they swim into the corner of the tank where a small, doll-house sized miniature building sits. A quick mesh search reveals that Dr. Jove typically inhabits an extremely customized mechanical starfish synthmorph, and this small building appears to be some kind of residence modified to suit him. Despite a thorough search, however, the doctor is nowhere to be found.
"Susan," splashing her feet at the top of the tank, notices a pile of nodules that looked like they might interface with the blinking machinery taking up most of the tank, which Oslo Menlo immediately investigates. Fred weasels his minute fractal digits around the drain and successfully pries it out, causing a slow whirlpool as the water lowers. "Susan" and Terton (now returned from her drug seeking adventure and laughing wildly) hop in and ride the swirl until the tank drains completely. There, the party hacks into Jove's system, discovering correspondence between the doctor and his daughter as well as a mysterious individual going by the handle Corrupt Motoko.
Jove's daughter Epiphany lives on Luna, and their correspondence makes it clear that the doctor cares for her deeply. His terse discussion of his work seems to indicate that he was becoming more and more dissatisfied with his role and his research. He frequently expresses an interest in visiting her and spending time away from his lab.
The messages with Corrupt Motoko, on the other hand, are written in code, but suggest some variety of business transaction. "Susan's" deep knowledge of criminal networks uncovers that Corrupt Motoko is a handle frequently used by a member (or members) of the Intelligent Design Crew, a criminal organization that specializes in smuggling infolives and bio- and synthmorphs (and who happen to own Eros). The last communication between the doctor and Corrupt Motoko transpired not long before Jove's last known appearance.
"Susan" runs off to investigate the local Pax Familae branch, discovering that her old crime family launders large amounts of money coming into the Wauxhall Institute, and Gene rejoins the group to assist Fred and Terton in investigating the animals in the habitats. Upon close inspection, they determine that the dead mammals are infected with a nanobot plague distinctly similar to the TITAN AI-born exsurgent virus. "Susan" returns, and the group refills the tank, leaving no obvious signs of their infiltration before departing the institute.
Their next steps are less clear: should they pay a visit to Jove's daughter on Luna, track down Corrupt Motoko, investigate the Barsoomian outbreaks on Mars, or wander wildly into the dark unknown of the Solar System?