After a quick sync via the mesh, the four sentinels meet in a low-rent tea bar near the barge's engines; it's all dark corner tables and has a house policy of zapping any spime cameras that are spotted, so it's as good a place as any for a first meeting. The team quickly deduces that wink-wink-nudge-nudge references to "Masterpieces" and "Private Collections" in their activation message were warnings about a probable WMD deals going down on the barge.
Louis and H.P. start asking around about interesting or high-security arrivals. The results are mostly false leads, but there is a freelance streamer/journalist named Jennifer Government who's rumored to be chasing a story on the barge.
V31L hits the mesh, using her access as a member of the barge's volunteer security team to review arrivals and shipping manifests for the past day. Have any ships arrived, docked with the barge, and stayed close? BZZ2Z starts correlating V31L's data with public spime feeds, mapping panopticon blind spots that would be attractive to any smugglers trying to keep a low profile.
That line of inquiry narrows things down quickly: three small transport ships are tethered to the barge in out-of-the-way spots. Careful investigation of The Tipped Fedora reveals scum punk visitors arriving excited and leaving stoned: the classic signs of a smuggler supplying hard-to-fab drugs. Interesting, but not the WMDs the team is looking for. The SS Miss American Pie has a regular stream of visitors picking up crates, so odds are it's moving something vanilla. The Anorra Arabella, however, looks juuuust right. It's registered to a shady merchant by the name of Grey Xu, and nearby hallway video shows that three groups of visitors have arrived since it docked. Each group stayed onboard the Anorra Arabella for 30+ minutes and left empty-handed. Negotiation? Reviewing merchandise? It's hard to say without getting closer.
The team's hackers first lay the groundwork for infiltration: BZZ2Z in his swarmanoid morph sneaks through the barge's maintenance ducts to the docking clamp holding the Anorra Arabella. Using a saboteur swarm, he destroys the ship's hardline connection to the barge, forcing it to fall back on a lower-security wireless network.
V31L, watching on the barge support network, sees the diagnostic ticket come in… and assigns herself to check it out. Within a few minutes she's banging on panels and poking at maintenance hatches outside the Anorra Arabella's airlock, "fixing" the broken hardline. A beefed up heavy in a slitheroid body emerges from the ship, demanding to know what's wrong, but her credentials pass muster. The gaurd heads off into the barge, presumably relating a message that can't be trusted to the net until the hardline is back up.
Meanwhile, Louis reviews the footage of the suspected buyers who've visited the ship over the past twelve hours. The first pair is clad in rental case morphs, but Louis recognizes the second set of buyers as the McConnelly brothers, two local thugs who often as go-betweens for high rollers. The third group is promising, too: three Olympians in sharp suits and serious looks.
On a whim, Louis contacts the Argonaut VIP Juanita Cruz again. Would she, by any chance, know these suits? Even better, would she happen to know anything about Grey Xu and the Anorra Arabella? Juanita is cautious, but offers to give them a look.
The ever-limber H.P. puts his infiltration skills to use, tracking the ship's slitheroid guard in hopes of finding a bigger fish. Unknown to H.P., however, the guard spots him. After a few twists and turns through the ship's halls, his quarry is lost at the end of a dead end maintenance hall. With no other leads, H.P. turns back… only to find that he's been boxed in by three tracksuit-clad meatheads in gaudily tattooed pod morphs.
"Bro, you lost?" They've got big-ass shades, gold jewelry, and stun batons… and they want to know why he's sniffing around where he isn't wanted. Fortunately, H.P.'s quick footwork, parkour skills, and a concealed shredder make for a startlingly short fight. The thugs back off to lick their wounds, and H.P. delivers the bad news to the rest of the team.
"Hold on," pings BZZ2Z. "Did you get those thugs' mesh IDs? I think I have an idea…"
Putting the Pieces Together
Soon, Louis hears back from a concerned Juanita. They dance around the issue, but it soon becomes clear that she, too, is a Firewall asset — and she's aware of Xu's ship. Not only that, a kinesics test identified one of the suit-wearing Olympians who boarded the ship. Helena Krawczyk, as it turns out, is a high-ranking executive for Lars Mueller, an upstart hypercorp that's been hoovering up TITAN artifacts for barely-legal "security research."
"If Lars-Mueller is involved," Juanita warns Louis, "Watch your backs. If you get in their way… they won't even tap the brakes."
Cut to BZZ2Z, neck deep in zero-day exploits and brute force hacks. He's spotted an insecure firmware rev on Tracksuit Thug Number Two's mesh inserts, and that's enough for him to log in, plant a backdoor, and bail out before the target's muse.
"Guys? I think I know how we can get a look inside that ship without being spotted…"
Turns out, Tracksuit's got a puppet sock…