Eclipse Phase - Apocalypse

The Fall of Cloud-9

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[Incoming Message]
[Source Anonymous]
[Public Key Decryption Complete]

Sir,

Our tertiary covert team proved not only their value, but their independent initiative. By now you have already seen the publicly-released feeds of the horrific VR experiments being performed by the Lacuna corporation on the covert aerostat known as Cloud-9, and Lacuna’s sudden dissolution and our own freeze and forfeiture of assets. None of this came about as the result of any particular mission, although it appears that my department’s attempts to secure Tari’s contractual request to free her of her indenture to Egonomics was at least one catalyst to the investigation.

I had found it odd that Tari was putting off returning the necessary paperwork for so long, and her eventual message that she needed to finish some things at Egonomics before doing so increased my curiosity further. I’ve read between the proverbial lines, and some of our assets on Parvarti filled in some missing pieces. It would seem that Tari was sold into indenture by herself as part of a covert attempt to infiltrate the company and discover its links to the Night Cartel. Part of this process involved ensuring that she had no memory of the actual plan, creating an alpha fork from backup, and relying upon her muse to subtly guide her, and secretly report on her progress to Blackvein. Apparently her impending release from indenture triggered certain safeguards, and she was scrambling to complete her mission before her own desire for freedom resulted in a failure condition.

As you are aware, until now, the Night Cartel has supplied the majority of the illegal drugs, weapons, and assorted other contraband to the aerostats of Venus. We have long sought the location of the hidden aerostat they would require for logistical purposes but were having no luck, as backtracing product from the markets always resulted in one or more corporate fronts with no apparent shipping capacity. It would appear that Blackvein discovered some time ago that Egonomics was the Night Cartel’s corporate partner, and that routinely “lost” shipments of raw material would end up delivered to their jointly-operated covert aerostat instead. Blackvein and the Night Cartel have no love between them, and so Blackvein forked one of his underlings, Tari, and sold the fork into indenture, then put pressure on the company to have her sleeved in a Menton, and promoted to a place where she could crunch logistics numbers to try to find the location of Cloud-9. This plan apparently ran into some trouble from within his organization, as contravening pressure was applied to keep her from succeeding.

Taft-Crowley came to me, along with Tari, Satori, and Thompson. They identified an area where they believed Cloud-9 was hidden, and had calculated the likely timing of another “lost shipment” that they could use to narrow down its location. They proposed that they would infiltrate the facility, learn what they could, and then extract themselves while giving the coordinates for a strike. By destroying the aerostat, we could cripple Night Cartel operations in Venusian space. This would create a void permitting more local interests to thrive, interests we can keep better tabs on and control over.

My read on those four made it pretty apparent that there was a lot more going on there, but I was content to allow them to proceed, trusting that their other motivations would reveal themselves in time. I provided alternate morphs for those who wanted them on the mission. Tari chose a “Skulker” model swarmanoid morph while Taft-Crowley opted for a simple, anonymous synth morph.

The plan worked, essentially. The team smuggled themselves aboard the shipping container and were brought into Cloud-9, where they were unfortunately isolated from any reporting by the aerostat’s jamming systems. It would appear that there was a lot more going on in that aerostat than at first assumed.

While the Night Cartel and Egonomics jointly owned and operated Cloud-9, there were other business partners who rented space there, including Lacuna. As you know, Lacuna’s experiments on Gerlach have always been in questionable taste, but when freed of what little restraint Gerlach imposes, they engaged in practices even Cognite was forced to publicly deplore. They ran a server-farm on Cloud-9 where they used alpha-forked instances of their own backed-up employees as test subjects in accelerated virtual environments, testing trauma reaction and long-term psychological damage. In essence, it was a torture-farm where each employee suffered eternal cycles of trauma only to be re-instanced, and re-iterated.

It would appear that “members” of Pax Familiae were contracted by Lacuna to provide logistics and technical expertise on the subject of forking and reintegration. Three instances of Claudia were observed operating and monitoring the systems.

The assets confirmed Night Cartel criminal operations, and fled the station in a shipping container, but not before procuring detailed recorded data on all 200 virtual reality experiments. As they left the range of the jammers, they called in the location of Cloud-9, and our military air-support scuttled the aerostat, sending it into the depths of Venus.

Almost immediately, complete and unedited video streams of all 200 trauma-experiments were streamed from an anomymous source out of Parvarti. If I were to speculate, I’d say that Thompson, an employee of Lacuna as well as one of the forked test-subjects, posted them as a horror reaction in response to his employer. That theory is not borne out by his psychological profile, but none of the four volunteered the identity of the one who leaked it.

I expressed to them a certain disappointment in the method, as I would have preferred more damage control on the manner in which the information got out, but the results were not unduly damaging, and in fact have been to our significant advantage. We were able to covertly take over Egonomics, which should serve us well as a front-corporation in dealing with Cognite aggression. Asset Tari is once more in the good graces of Blackvein’s network, a criminal connection that may or may not have a short shelf-life depending on how long Blackvein is willing to tolerate an employee with questionable loyalties. Taft-Crowley performed the difficult re-integration with her original self. Thompson has returned to the family business on Aphrodite Prime.

As a result of their independent initiative in this regard, we now have a firmer grasp on the Venusian criminal element, as well as additional corporate assets in our dance against the Planetary Consortium.

Yours,

R.

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Gumshoe City

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[Incoming Message]
[Source Anonymous]
[Public Key Decryption Complete]

Sir,

I think the new teams will perform to higher expectations than the last, unlamented ones. Our mesh-filters and recruitment subroutines have become more sophisticated. I admit, I certainly never would have considered pairing someone like Aeryn Taft-Crowley with a cartel thug like Argo, but mission-potential forecasts didn’t even come close in predicting how effective they’d be. The one thing they did predict accurately is how, after an initial period of cooperation and rapport-building, they’d be more inclined to accept our offer of employment when otherwise any one of them might have brushed us off.

This was, overall, a most effective recruiting scenario, with the added benefit of actually uncovering a sordid little murder plot on the part of our own Joanne Elgin, esteemed Councillor for the Shukra aerostat.

As suggested, I plucked a likely situation from the feed, one which showed a circumstantial connection to the Star Council as a pretext, and contacted Taft-Crowley, asking her to put together a small team to investigate. The situation in question was a trio of seemingly accidental deaths by individuals playing the new Emerald City Games ARG release “Gumshoe City.” It would appear that safety protocols did not function appropriately, leading one player, the daughter of our own under-secretary of Finance, to fall from a fifth floor promenade to the ground level of one of our Octavian plazas. Another, the son of our Director for Tourism, exited an airlock into the maintenance areas of the aerostat, where he asphyxiated. In both of these cases, upon resleeving from their cortical stacks, they reported none of the usual top-priority AR warnings or other safety measures most games of this sort employ. The third death was the secret, illegitimate child of one of our Councilors from Lucifer. A useful lever against him should he consider voting in favor of the VTP agenda at the next session.

I tapped Taft-Crowley, having already run the social-network analysis. I’m pleased to report that her eventual team matched our predictions with near-certainty.

She went to her connection within the Lacuna corporation of Gerlach, Ricky Thompson, counting on his skill as an urban tracker, and also recruited her new “project”, the transient asynch known as Satori. Thompson, in turn, brought in his occasional Octopus-muscle Argo, while Satori solicited the aid of her occasional petty-criminal co-conspirator Tari, borrowing her from her duties to Egonomics corporation.

They played around with Gumshoe City itself for a bit, familiarizing themselves with the ARG. They were given access to Octavia’s security services analysis of the software and the AI running the game, and the somewhat unsurprising negative results on anything strange or suspicious. I should really lean on Halis Sapien to hire better personnel, or at least get better training for the ones they has.

In any case, it didn’t take the team long to discover the Council connections on the three deaths. Tari, it seems, managed to successfully bypass all the encryption protocols and firewalls keeping people from tampering with the game’s AI, and was able to set up a mirror in her own personal area network to monitor the AI’s performance in real time as they tried to set up another victim, and thereby discover the source of the deaths.

They did an impressive mesh-analysis and found not only five relatives of current Star Council employees currently playing, but also found another concealed child, Jennifer Rodriguez. It seems the girl was brought to Octavia by her biological mother, Councilor Joanna Elgin, but that she had, in point of fact, been an accelerated-growth experiment performed by a Cognite subsidiary Elgin was in charge of five years ago, back before we formed the Constellation. It seems that notwithstanding the lesson of the Lost generation, Cognite was still dabbling in such things in secret. Once the Constellation was formed and Elgin became a Councillor for Shukra, her pseudo-daughter became something of an embarrassment to her. She revealed the truth to the girl, namely that the Rodriguez family of her memories were mostly virtual fictions modeled on real company employees who simply took over the job when she left the creche. She then brought her here to Octavia. It’s no wonder the child took to the escape of an ARG.

In any event, the team tracked Jennifer through the game and Tari monitored the functions of the AI as it dynamically adjusted the game scenario. She noted the sudden, cunningly concealed sub-AI routines that emerged under certain optimal circumstances which would have caused Jennifer Rodriguez to chase “Marco the Killer” into some narrow old-fashioned ventilation ducts which were, in reality, one of our public waste-disposal and reclamation chutes. Had she not been stopped by the team, she would have been broken down into her component particles and recycled, cortical stack and all.

At this point, the team had enough circumstantial evidence to theorize that Jennifer Rodriguez had been the real target all along, and that the other three, temporary deaths were the smokescreen to divert suspicion from Councilor Elgin, who sought to clean up the evidence of her former illegal experiments. With the complete disintegration of Jennifer, and the strategic destruction of any backups, there would be no remaining evidence. This theory was bolstered by the determination that the “switch” that turned the game’s AI into killer-mode had to be monitored and triggered by an operator, and the identification of two Emerald City Game company employees on Octavia with access and capability, who made for the docks as soon as Jennifer’s death was prevented. Councilor Elgin also received an encrypted communication while she was in the Council meeting, and sought to beg off on “personal family emergency” grounds, also seeking to flee apprehension. Fortunately the team alerted me and the security forces to the possibility, and all three were detained.

I have counseled Arisa on how to put optimal pressure on Shukra to ensure that any forthcoming Councilors from that aerostat are less likely to prove PR disasters for us.

As for my project, it would seem that my new prospects uncovered far more interesting dirt than I had any right to expect. I extended the contract offer to them to become covert free-agents on behalf of the Diplomatic Corps. They all seemed inclined to accept the offer. I anticipate their individual contractual demands momentarily.

I’ll keep you informed.

R.

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