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2034-02-26 1530LT I just breathed human remains

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Event: 2034-02-26 1530LT I just breathed human remains

Scenario: The Time Before

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Characters Locations
Dex, Syd, Undertaker, Mycroft, Bill, Dale, Rebecca, Ms. Smith, Duchess Luna Alpha

Steam Tunnels

Umbra

Vault

Aspects
Caused By Cause Of
On This Day

Earlier, Mycroft informed Syd that Brian and Phil were both missing for over an hour, but that he was not allowed to investigate their disappearance until they were off the network for three hours. That would be 1700LT.

Syd asked Kevin to help figure out why the Vault was full of greasy smoke and no guests at all. Phil Bertrand and Brian William had disappeared. Kevin noted that there were experimental plasma weapons that could vaporize a person, but they were not considered practical or cost effective as far as he knew. Then Dex walked in. In the ensuing freak-out Kevin tried to grab Dex, and Syd threatened his life and livelihood while locking him in the Vault with them. Dex reacted badly to this aggression and turned his considerable skills as a conman to overwhelming Syd's mental stress. He did, knocking Syd out of the scene with a +6 shift hit. Syd was left deeply suspicious of Kevin, and with a strongly favourable attitude toward Dex.

When Syd shut down Umbra at 1520LT. Kevin left the bar to go to his meeting with Ms. Smith.

Dex assisted Syd in searching for anything wrong or out of place in the Vault. Much to Syd’s surprise, Dex found the control panel used to summon a stealth Pill. Syd mumbled that off as something he knew about, but didn’t tell Dex what it was for. Then the OCD symptoms of his disorders kicked in. He noticed a set of floor tiles that were minutely out of place. Between them, Syd and Dex discovered a tile that could be rotated.

Syd stared at the twisted tile for a long moment, seeming to collapse into himself. “That’s not right,” he said. He started to moan and rock at what was clearly an intrusion into his private space. “That is not supposed to be here.” His adrenaline and cortisol rose sharply, but his lace clamped down on the worst of it. It took intercranial magnetic stimulation and the lace exerting control over some of his motor functions to clear the panic chemicals enough for Syd’s thoughts to clear. This left him with a demeanour that bushwhacked it’s way into the uncanny valley and set up camp.

Dex found it deeply creepy, but did his best to play his part. “What do you think it does, Boss?” He asked. He didn’t want to learn too many of Umbra’s secrets – he couldn’t report what he didn’t know – but he was frightened enough of Ms. Smith that he felt compelled to show some effort. His lace reported that the fluid in his brain was full of metabolic byproducts. An AR display of his brain appeared in the air in front of him, glowing red and throbbing with his pulse. °So… bad?° he thought to his lace.

The lace said, °Waste interferes with neuronal function.° It recognized that the message was not sinking in. °Our brain juice is dirty. We need sleep to clean it.°

That was simple enough to penetrate his sluggish thoughts. °Help?° The lace did something. A few seconds later his thoughts cleared. A wireframe image of his body floated in front of him with a wide range of pretty colours and shapes moving through it. He realized what was happening as the adrenaline kicked in and his heart began to hammer. Fight or flight mode. He had about an hour before his system would start taking real damage. Even if he was well rested this would take a toll after a few minutes. Sleep deprived and still recovering from torture, he was sure he would be a mess for days.

The whole exchange with his lace had taken twenty two seconds – long enough for Syd settle in to his creepy mannerisms, and continue twisting the tile clockwise. It stopped at a quarter turn. Nothing happened.

“Nothing happened,” Syd said tonelessly.

They waited for a while. Dex was about to speak up, driven by adrenaline, when Syd turned the tile back. The square metre of very slightly misaligned flooring they were standing on started sinking.

“We’re sinking,” Syd said. Three seconds later he continued. “Thirty two centimetres per second.” Despite the best efforts of his lace, anxiety twisted his features.

“Ride or jump, Boss?” Dex asked.

Syd was a timid, careful man. Rushing off into the unknown was not in his nature. He jumped up as hard as he could. They were three metres down, but it was easy to reach the rim and pull himself up. Dex followed a moment later. He was much stronger than Syd, and was able to leap all the way out of the hole, landing on his feet on the Vault floor. They both leaned over the shaft, watching the platform continue to descend.

“How deep do…” Dex paused as a something illuminated the platform.

“Six metres to the top of the opening on the West side,” Syd said. Ten seconds later he said, “Nine metres total.” He looked at Dex. “That’s not supposed to be there.”

“Got that part,” Dex said. His childhood in decaying urban slums had given him significant expertise with secret passages and hidden exits. Now that his brain was sparking, he realized he’d found the controls to Syd’s secret entrance behind that panel earlier. Obviously this one is not the Boss’s work. He considered what Ms. Smith would see in his report, and decided to play it straight. “We calling the cops now?”

Syd really didn’t want to involve anyone or anything that might be considered an authority in this situation. His fear of the unknown and danger was crushed by his need to find out what was down there. He calculated that an uncontrolled nine metre fall would only take 3.32 seconds, but he would hit the ground at 19.5km/h. It seemed prudent to reduce his final speed. He sat on the edge, then shifted until he was hanging from the edge. He took a breath, braced himself, and let go.

Dex watched all this with some curiosity. His lace told him this distance was about the same as a 1.5m jump back on Earth. Once Syd recovered his balance at the bottom, he said, “Incoming,” and stepped off. He put his hands on the walls above his head, pressing outward to keep himself centred and slow himself a bit if he needed to.

Syd scrambled out of the way just in time. Dex flexed his legs, but didn’t have to bend far to absorb the impact. “Where are we?” he asked.

“The steam tunnels,” Syd replied automatically. They weren’t really steam tunnels of course. ‘Ground level’ in Luna Alpha was ten metres above the lowest utility tunnels. This one connected Umbra to power, data, water, and sewage. He’d been careful to make sure Umbra’s branch was a dead-end feeder, with no other buildings beyond his. The utility pipes were all labelled clearly along their lengths. They disappeared into the rock and concrete ceiling a few metres from where they stood. That matched Syd’s schematics, but the utility corridor was supposed to end there. Syd knew of only one person who could manipulate the structure of the colony to extend a corridor IRL with no trace IVR: the Undertaker. The secret tunnel connecting the Vault to the Pill network was his work. This had to be his work too.

“I need to place a warranty claim,” he said. He wasn’t looking forward to making that call.

“There’s a warranty on this tunnel?” Dex asked.

“There is a warranty on…” Syd trailed off. He trusted Dex to a degree, but he wasn’t ready to talk about his own secret tunnel just yet. “Do you see anything odd?”

Dex shrugged. He started looking around, starting with where the pipes entered the rock.

Syd took a deep breath. The air in the tunnels was still and very dry, as usual. He could still smell the greasy smoke from the Vault. He was about to tune it out when he noticed another smell. His enhanced senses normally filtered out human body odours, but he had turned the gain up to full when trying to figure out what happened in the Vault. He identified his own smells, tagged them as friendly, and blanked them out of his awareness. He did the same for Dexter. He concentrated on the remaining scents. The Duchess, he thought. Kevin. Ms. Smith didn’t have a clear scent trail, what with her body being entirely cybernetic. That left one more scent in the air. He crouched down, getting his nose near the ground, and found a match. Brian William.

“I found a control lever,” Dex said, pointing to a recess in the rock beside the platform. “I’m not sure what it does though,” he said, flicking it up. There was a thump strong enough to feel through their feet. A few seconds later the lever sank down again.

Syd crouched down to the control tile in the floor and twisted it a quarter turn and back. The platform began to rise slowly. After three metres it slowed to a crawl.

Dex had worked enough construction in his youth to figure out what happened. “It’s hydraulic pump,” he said, “but it ran out of power.”

“It must recharge slowly to avoid tripping alerts.” Despite having abundant fusion and solar power Mycroft was very particular about managing the energy use in the colony. Syd looked up. He wasn’t going to make that jump.

“Need a hand?” Dex laced his fingers together for Syd to step into.

Syd looked at him blankly.

“Step on. I’ll give you a boost.” Syd looked a little concerned, but did as asked. “On three I’ll lift you. You push at the same time.”

Syd nodded.

“Three. Two. One.” Dex pushed up, hard. With the help of his lace, Syd pushed at the same time. Neither of them accounted for the other’s efforts.

“Are you ok, Boss?” Syd had caromed off the wall a metre below the Vault floor, spun wildly, hit the ceiling, and bounced out of sight. Dex heard a clattering, followed by breaking glass. “Boss?” He jumped, making it half way to the top before having to catch himself on the walls. The narrow shaft was an easy climb. Dex quickly walked his way up the walls. Syd was sitting up, rubbing his shoulder.

“Ow.”

“Sorry, Boss! That didn’t go like I expected.”

Syd didn’t acknowledge Dex’s apology, but that was normal. “I need to make some calls.” He got to his feet and headed for the door.

Dex followed. He narrowly avoided bodychecking Syd when he stopped abruptly just outside the Vault. He felt the internet surround him again. From the look of things, Syd would be wrapped up in those calls for a while. With the bar closed he didn’t really have anything to do so he made his way upstairs to see if he could catch a quick nap.

Syd wasn’t aware of Dexter’s departure. He was leaving a message for the Undertaker. “Um. Hi. This is Syd. Um. There’s an extra tunnel at Umbra? I think maybe that’s a warranty issue? Um. It’s not supposed to be there. Umbra is supposed to have one secret entrance. Um. One. Um.” He paused. “Call me.” He ended the call, but felt very unsatisfied with just leaving a message. °Call back and leave the same message again,° he told his lace. He still felt uncomfortable so he added, °forty seven times.° That relieved the mental pressure.

He turned his attention to figuring out what happened to Phil Bertrand. It was 1548LT, leaving only seventy two minutes before Mycroft would raise the alarm. He was starting to get anxious again. °°Rebecca?°°

It took a few seconds for her to respond. Her head and shoulders appeared in the air with a hazy mist in the background.

Before she said hello, Syd said, °°There’s a tunnel into the Vault!°°

Rebecca blinked. °°I know,°° she said. °°Kevin used it this morning.°°

His enforced calm slipped for a moment. °°No no no no no there’s another tunnel!°°

Her eyes widened. °°That’s not good.°°

°°I had to close Umbra.°° He settled down a bit, but his mind was darting around. °°I’m not sure how much we can trust Kevin. Mycroft says the people who used the Vault at two o’clock are missing. Brian William might have killed Phil Bertrand in there.°°

Rebecca’s mouth fell open.

°°Bill,°° Syd said, snapping his fingers. °°He can help. Good talk, gotta go.°° He signed off.

Rebecca set the mug of tea on the counter before her hands started to shake. She’d been carrying it to Shauna when Syd called. Now Kevin’s warnings about the coming corporate war rolled around in her mind. Two murders today? She reached up to the liquor cabinet above the kitchen island and pulled out a bottle of wine and two glasses. The tea forgotten, she wandered into her den, where Shauna reclined on her sofa.

Still standing in front of the Vault, Syd called one of his regulars, Bill Parks. He was an environmental systems troubleshooter, with decades of hazmat analysis back on Earth. He answered right away, avatar only. °°Syd?°° He was surprised and a little confused. He saw Syd at Umbra a few times a week, but he’d never called before.

°°Can you come to Umbra to analyze some smoke in the Vault?°°

°°Smoke? You want the fire department, mate, not–°°

°°There’s no fire. The ventilation system is fine, but I don’t know what was burned in there.°°

°°Well, sure, I mean, give me an hour to get –°°

°°There’s a night of free drinking in it for you.°°

°°See you in ten.°° Bill cut off the call.

Syd went upstairs. Dex was slumped over on the bar when he walked through the aquarium tunnel, but he perked up right away. “Hey, Boss.” Syd ignored him.

At 1603LT, Bill rolled in. He was short and fat but fit enough to become a colonist. He’d ridden hard, and was huffing and puffing as he walked in. His hands were full of equipment boxes, and he wore a backpack. “Free drinks, you say?” he gasped.

“Yes,” Syd said. “Follow me.”

By the time they reached the Vault, Bill was mostly recovered. He pulled a device off his belt and started to wander around the room. He swabbed some surfaces, sampled the air, and waved his hands around, doing something in his private AR space.

The machine went ‘ping’. Bill looked at it. The blood drained from his face. Then he turned a bit green. “This was a person!”

Syd nodded. It seemed pretty certain that the smoke was all that remained of Phil Bertrand. “Can you ident…” He paused while Bill vomited on the floor. He staggered out to the hall before throwing up again.

“Cops,” he muttered between heaves.

Syd cut off network access. “No cops,” he said.

Bill was starting to panic. “I just breathed human remains!” he screamed. “Call the fucking cops!”

“Can you tell me who it was?” Syd asked.

“Christ on a cracker,” Bill said. He heaved himself up the stairs. “No amount of free drinks is worth this.”

Syd followed him up. °°Umbra, lock us up. Don’t let Bill leave.°°

By the time Syd reached the bar, Bill was pounding on the doors, screaming incoherently.

°°What the hell is going on, Boss?°° Dex used a private point-to-point message instead of trying to compete with Bill’s bellowing.

°°Can you calm him down?°° Syd asked. °°If he’ll just be reasonable we can keep this quiet.°°

Dex stared at Syd for a long moment. It seemed kidnapping was Syd’s go to move when things got stressful. Shaking his head, Dex said, “Fine. But kidnapping to stop him reporting a murder doesn’t seem like a good plan. What’s the play here?”

Dex approached Bill. The man’s initial panic was winding down. He was pretty sure the man would flip into rage if he laid eyes on Syd, though. °°Go back to your office, Boss. You need to figure out the play here.°° He blocked Bill’s view, coming up close, and said, “Drink’s on me right now, buddy.”

“I just inhaled a dead guy,” Bill snarled. “You bet the drink’s on you. Why won’t Syd call the cops? Did he do it?”

“Syd is freaked out and acting stupid but he didn’t kill anybody.” Dex said. “Let’s get you a drink, get him thinking again, and get this dealt with.” His calm, intense manner caught Bill’s attention and drew him in. Calming people down was one of his most practiced skills, from childhood. He hadn’t always been sturdy enough to take care of himself in a fight. While he settled Bill down, he said, °°Time’s running out here, Boss,°° to Syd.

°°We just need him to keep this a secret,°° Syd said.

°°Not gonna happen, Syd.°°

°°But--°°

°°Nope.°°

Syd didn’t answer, so Dex refocused on Bill. He’d kept up their verbal conversation while cajoling Syd over their private channel, but it was clear the fat man wouldn’t be calm much longer.

All Syd could think about was losing Umbra. When word got out that the Vault was compromised he would lose all credibility. That would be the end. Thinking about things that could end him, he remembered that Phil and Brian were not the only clients he’d had that day. Shit. He triggered a conference call with the Duchess and Ms. Smith, but was shunted to voicemail. He recorded a full VR message for them.

°°Um. Hi. Um. Umbra is closed. I found a tunnel into the Vault that isn’t supposed to be there. Not the tunnel your guests used. A different one. Um. Also I think Brian William killed Phil Bertrand in the Vault after you all left. I’m calling the Royal Guard now. Um.°°

He hung up. He took a long breath, then said, “Mycroft, tell the Royal Guard there’s been a murder at Umbra.” He uploaded selected impressions of the crime scene from his lace to go with the message as he walked out of his office and into the bar.

“The Royal Guard are on the way,” he said. “I’m sorry I kept you here against your will. I had some clients who needed to be informed of the situation before I called the Guard.”

Notes:

The Royal Guard dropped in, lead by Colour Sergeant Dale Young. HIs CO was still dealing with the spearfishing murder at the Office. The initial investigation was fairly simple. Dale is deeply suspicious of Syd and Rebecca, and has serious questions about Kevin. He's not sure about Dex, either.

When Syd called the authorities Dex checked himself into Syd's office and went to sleep - a desperately needed sleep.


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