Cold Open

Onboard the Ecstatic Metamorphosis, Louis XVII is the night's arm candy for Juanita Cruz, an Argonaut VIP. Louis got a personal ping from one of the high-rep swarm figureheads, asking him to show her a good time and make sure no one bothered her for the evening… which he did. As the evening closed, Cruz asked him if he'd considered leaving behind the life of a "free agent" and gave him her card. Does she know his Firewall connection, or is she making a different kind of play? Before Louis can find out more, a message from his Firewall handler comes in…

Meanwhile, 8ZZ2Z — clad in his trademark swarm of big-and-small bots — is hours into a high stakes poker game on a nearby ship. Down to his last dollar, he surreptitiously uses his saboteur swarm to alter the face of one of the cards to produce a royal flush… and cash out before the rest of the players realize what he's done. The funds should help as he hunts down an old family heirloom he suspects is hidden on one of the swarm's ships… but before he can pursue that investigation, his Firewall handler contacts him with an emergency activation…

Back on the Ecstatic Metamorphosis, V31l is pulling third shift in her job as a network security tech for the swarm. Hardening the network and monitoring inter-ship traffic for signs of attack or infiltration is grinding work, but it's steady — and tonight promises to be a rager. Two of the swarm's ships are holding an impromptu simulspace competition, and the spike in traffic is throwing swarm routers into chaos. While tuning the priority levels, V31l spots anomalous traffic that was masked by the noise: an intrusion attempt from a private server on one of the ships. Backtracking the traffic to its source, she spoofs an administrative login and grabs a copy of the origin server's data before shutting it out and notifying the swarm's security volunteers. It looks like a few weeks of data from a few of the swarm's usual smuggling suspects, but before she has a chance to decrypt it, she receives a priority message from Jake Carter, her Firewall handler…

On the other side of the scum barge, a screaming crowd of Scummers have packed one of the unused cargo holds for the 781st Annual Ecstatic X-Games, a zero-g parkour contest with insane amounts of rep on the line. Up against a thug in a bonobo morph, we see H.P. in his lanky-ass flexbot morph. He's whipping around obstacles and dodging the Spinning Rods Of Doom and — and the last minute — takes a hard hit in the back from the bonobo who's closed some distance. He almost takes a spill, but recovers gracefully, slapping the buzzer before the bonobo can cut him off. We haaaaaave a winner! Before H.P. has time to gloat, though, there's an incoming message from and old acquaintance… his Firewall handler.

To all four, the same message:

Ni hao, friend. Your urgent assistance is needed. It has come to our attention that an unknown art dealer in your vicinity is seeking to sell certain masterpieces to the highest bidder. Please investigate and ascertain the nature of the artwork and its potential impact on the public. If it is truly of masterpiece quality, do whatever it takes to keep this artwork from falling into a private collection. You have collaborators in your vicinity to help with your assessment. Keep us apprised of your progress.

Looks like it's go time.

Network Chatter

  • juanita-cruz @80.G30.I70 AF0.28.0

    Lovely seeing you, Louis. We'll have to talk again… xoxo