Having just been thrown off Reeva’s ship Otto, Shaun, Pilgrim and Deefor have no way other than public transportation to get from Nexus Gate to Harlinn’s World where they have a meeting with Abstract in two weeks or so.
Since Tigh has already finished with his job regarding the Blackwatch Gate incident and the Bioplague on Rakkhan Prime, he is willing to give a ride to the assembled group back to Blackwatch.
Shaun inquires about the success of the mission to fix Blackwatch. Tigh tells Shaun that the bioplague has been dealt with and there shouldn’t be any more outbreaks. As for the computer virus, that’s still an ongoing situation that is nearly fixed. They had to remove several heavily corrupted pieces of the system and repair some of the others. With things the way they are now, Blackwatch is up and running much more efficiently and should be 100% very soon. Shaun calls Watchdog, his security connection on Blackwatch, and informs him that he will soon be there and wants a quiet way in.
Watchdog is not in much of a position to help Shaun get onto Blackwatch unseen because he has been suspended from duty. Tigh uses his position as a RIFU agent to get everyone on station without many papers being checked.
Shaun visits Watchdog and gets the story of his suspension. Apparently while the bioplague was affecting the station, Watchdog saw no other way to keep order than to shoot anyone who would not stand down or was aggressive. He’s potentially being charged with dozens of lives lost. His superiors need to review the case to see if they feel there was any other way.
Since Shaun is involved with Tigh, who was the head field agent with regards to the cleanup of the bioplague on the planet’s surface, he asks if Tigh can give his expert opinion on the subject to help his friend. Tigh, puts in his field reports for consideration on the entire matter concerning the plague on Blackwatch and refuses to lie about anything to make Watchdog look like a hero. In the end, Tigh does his job, hands in his reports and Watchdog’s case is reviewed. Considering there wasn’t much else Watchdog could have done, except quarantine the infected,where they would have died anyway if he hadn’t shot them, he is released with a warning. It’s not a proud mark on his record but he keeps his job. Watchdog offers Shaun and his company a place to stay while they are on Blackwatch and shows Shaun that he has Stitch his medical robot friend.
When the virus was tearing through Blackwatch it infected every system that connected to it, including the robots charged with maintaining the station and it’s personnel. Luckily for Stitch, Shaun had gotten involved early and told him not to connect to the station network anymore, limiting the damage done. Stitch had thrown himself in a trash heap and shut his systems off, where Watchdog found him. Stitch is now a disabled heap of a robot packed away in the bottom of Watchdog’s closet. Shaun collects his friend and begins to go through his memory core to reprogram any glitches, finding an extensive job that may take him several weeks.
Otto is easily bored by the computer and robotics work and heads outside to stretch his legs. While outside of Watchdog’s place, Otto spots a bit of graffiti, which happens to be Syndicate code. The message indicates that Otto should meet someone in the shipping district of Blackwatch Gate.
Otto takes a leisurely stroll from the residential district to the shipping and storage district. Along the way he is approached by a homeless derelict who harasses him to an extent for some money. The man gets in his way and keeps his hands out waiting for some sort of charity. Briefly Otto considers killing this man for being in the way, but uncharacteristically takes the kind road and throws a few credits to the ground for the man, and pushes him out of the way. As Otto shoulders past the man, he is grabbed by the arm of his jacket by the homeless man. He looks Otto in the eye and says that he is not exactly as his reputation had said he would be and he thanks Otto for the kindness. He says that in return he will afford Otto with a little kindness in return and warns him that the people he is about to meet want to kill him. With a slight distraction diverting Otto’s attention for only a moment, the man disappears, leaving Otto standing at the entrance to the warehouse where he is supposed to meet someone.
The door to the warehouse is unlocked and there are no lights on inside. All the windows and other portals into the building have been blacked out and shut tight, leaving the inside pitch black. With only his predatory instincts to guide him, Otto enters the room and picks up that there is someone breathing somewhere in front of and above him. Thinking that this person may attempt an attack, he moves away from in front of the door where his adversary will think he is, and stealthily changes position.
A bright white light cuts the darkness and the hum of the hot beam shatters the silence. Otto is left standing still, blinded by a spotlight that illuminates his face, it’s heat feeling uncomfortable on his skin. Otto shies away from the light, placing his hands in front of his eyes, trying to shield his vision enough to see something in the darkness. A shadow of a person steps partially into view and he can sense others nearby, but cannot see them.
One of the people speaks using some sort of voice modulator. The device not only makes it difficult, if not impossible to discern the true voice of the user, but also uses the acoustics of the room to echo the voice, making it hard to pinpoint where the user is in relation to the listener.
Otto is informed that the Syndicate is displeased with his choices as of late. He has been making too much noise and his actions are too apparent. They inform him that they know he has been marked for death by “The Coil” which has brought them some troubles. They also tell him that they know that he used Syndicate men to bust up a drug cartel, getting one of the men killed, then sold the drugs which is against Syndicate policy. They do not condone drug trafficking because it leads to rivalry and violence which they do not need. Making matters worse, the drugs he sold ended up in the hands of a man who was once involved with the Syndicate, but has since lost his favor and is on the outs. The person in the shadows wants some answers. He wants to know who “The Coil” is, where Otto was for several months, who he used as his middleman to sell the drugs and who he is working for.
Otto feigns ignorance and tells the people, that he works with RIFU at the moment and they remind him that he is Syndicate and moments like this are meant to change the persons life. Either they are being elevated to a new level or they are being given a chance to fix something they messed up. Otto is being given a chance to fix his mistakes, instead of being punished.
Otto informs them of the little he knows of “The Coil” and how apparently they are people he once had business with but has lost his memories of the matter and that’s where he was for the several months that they knew little about. The hidden voice tells Otto that he was involved in several business deals during this time and he needs to sort them out, starting on Harlinn’s world. This might also help him understand his dealings with “The Coil” a little better.
The hidden voice now pushes the issue of the drugs. Otto knows he fucked up because he never deals with drugs, that’s Shaun’s dirty little habit, but they were desperate to fund their situation so he had Caleb help him out. The voice wants to know who the middleman was and they want answers quick. Since Otto’s mentor Mister E, had once said that Caleb is the only man he truly trusts, Otto opts not to sell out his contact. Maybe the voice here will respect him for not selling someone out under pressure. Otto is asked again if his contact has a name and if the answer is yes, and not an actual name, he will be shot. (A gun is heard cocking in the shadows.)
Otto asks if an answer of no, would be better. Otto is shot in the neck and he is aware that some sort of drug filled dart has been used against him. Some time is allowed to elapse and again he is asked for the name of his contact. Otto is beginning to suspect that a truth serum was used against him as he feels a little drowsy and confused, but shakes off the effects. He again replies that he doesn’t sell people out, he’ll take the punishment himself. The voice in the shadows tells Otto that he has lost his privileges on Rakkhan Prime until he cleans up his mess. He is warned not to come planet side until his problems are dealt with or he will be shot. The lights go out and shortly, Otto can no longer tell there is anyone else in the room.
Meanwhile Shaun had been working on the broken programming of Stitch and Pilgrim is catching up on some news on the video feeds. Otto returns from his “Walk” and tells Shaun that they need to get to Harlinn’s World. Shaun suggests that they head to Rakkhan Prime first, so they can search around Calvert City where the plague was and see if they can scavenge a ship that was left behind. Either that or Otto can use his connections in Starlight Port to confiscate someone’s ship that owes taxes or something. Otto refuses the idea and tells Shaun that he will pay for first class accommodations to Harlinn’s World if they just leave now.
Shaun and Otto leave, leaving Pilgrim to pilot the Equalizer with Deefor and meet them in Zone 3 on Harlinn’s World, which is a resort zone. While traveling to Harlinn’s World Shaun presses Otto about why he doesn’t want to go to Rakkhan Prime and Otto warns Shaun to leave well enough alone and orders himself a Scotch.
The three meet up in Zone 3 which is a resort area, that has much cultivated plant and animal life, a veritable Garden of Eden. They are here to meet someone who they suspect to be a Professor Jorge Arroyo from the Coalition, who left them a message to meet them at the usual spot. Shaun looks into the zones of Harlinn’s World and tries to guess the place where they would most likely have spent their time. Each zone is independently operated under their own ProVee and the rules and regulations vary widely. The consistent thing here is that each zone is operated under a dome. The outside environment of the world is hostile to human beings and there are bands of mutants who roam the surface. The mutants have their own society with a loose agreement of non-involvement with the domes. If anyone is found outside of a dome they are no longer safe and may be captured by the mutants.
The zones are either privately owned and outsiders are only allowed in by invitation, or if they are public property, the zones are places for relaxation or indulgence. The zone Shaun zeroes onto is zone 1 at the top of the world. Zone 1 is a place where anything goes and all vices can be fed. There is open prostitution and gambling. It is common to see human combat games and any and all sexual perversion goes on here, sounds just like the kind of place Otto would like to go. Transport is hired to get to zone 1 and advise is given to acquire heavy coats upon arrival, lest they freeze to death.
Otto also makes a call to Angel to see if she might know where he would have spent time on Harlinn’s World and she reminds them of their youth, where they had gone to zone 1 and paid a guy to do horrible things to himself, just to see how far he would go for how little money. The conversation with Angel and Shaun’s research both point to zone 1 so everyone heads out.
On the way to the zone, the transport is stopped by boarder guards, heavily armed and armored soldats. The bus is emptied and everyone is asked to produce identification while the vehicle is searched for contraband. Otto and Shaun check out as they have their fake papers as Tony Danzig and Scott Dayo of Dust. The guards recognize Otto and laugh at the Tony Danzig papers, while welcoming him back to the area. They also note the name on Shaun’s papers and joke with him. They inform them that their robot is not allowed in unless they pay a luxury tax of 1000cr and have a special governor placed on the robot at all times, which will track the robot and restrict certain actions which might be illegal. Pilgrim on the other hand, being a drifter and zerg who was born in space, has no ID. Because he has no ID, he is not a person and non-persons have no rights, so he could suffer severe consequences. Otto steps in and pays the tax, plus an additional 1000cr to the guards and informs them that Pilgrim is his slave and personal property. Under those circumstances, Pilgrim is allowed passage and has no rights that Otto does not allow, enforceable by the ProVee of zone 1. Otto also inquires about where to buy some warm coats in the zone and is directed to one of the guards uncle Giuseppe, Otto thanks the man for the tip.
The guards finish their search and have taken one young girl aside. She appears dirty and very poor. Her clothing once was attractive, but is now worse for wear, the same goes for her face. The girl must have been attractive once, but now she is used up and worn out. The girl is being questioned and she appears frightened. One guard searches her belongings and nods to the other guard when he sees her ID. The girl runs quickly, trying to get away from the situation but she is not as fast as blaster fire. Both soldats crouch to one knee, take aim and fire off shots simultaneously. At a distance, the girl falls limp and no longer has a head. Her body is dragged back and thrown into a pile of other contraband and bodies.
Back on the transport, Shaun inquires about the girl and what her offense was. He finds out that she was a prostitute who had gotten knocked up and was unable to work. Since she had no income, she was unable to buy food and had stolen bread. Apparently the penalties for breaking the law are very stiff here, and trying to evade the guards is punishable by death.
Once inside zone 1, Shaun tries to get a map of the area from a local sysnet terminal and finds out that terminals cost 60cr a week for access with a 200cr luxury tax. Deefor tries to hack the terminal and is shocked into stopping his action by the governor. Deefor beeps and blips several curse words and complaints in IO and backs away from the terminal. Shaun pays the fees and gets a map of zone 1, as well as some old news from a few months ago, when they were supposedly here last. Apparently there was another T.T Bar Nippleopolis here, which is the same name of the club Otto frequents on Rakkhan Prime. The place was owned by a Tony Danzig and had burned down, and Tony has been missing since. Another quick search into public record shows that Tony Danzig owned a building that was converted into apartments, not too far from where they are.
Otto is trying to hire a cab to take the lot of them to go buy some coats from Giuseppe and is being hassled by a cab driver who insists that there are better coats elsewhere. It is becoming apparent that everyone in this area is on the take and are always trying to make some credit any way they can, even by referring visitors to clothiers. Otto insists on Giuseppe, and tells the driver that if he won’t drive him there, someone else will. Otto and company get a ride to buy some coats, and are heavily taxed and overcharged by the cabbie.
The interaction at the clothier shows Otto and company just how badly everyone is taxed around here. Simple and plain necessities are not taxed, things like bread, water and unadorned single color clothing. Things like information, tailored clothing, fresh food and basic public services are heavily taxed. The taxes are often several times the value of the thing being purchased, making most things impossible for the public at large to afford. The clothier goes as far as to work with a broken service robot, because one that is fully operational would be taxed so heavily, he would be driven out of business.
Not liking the interaction with people in the area, they opt to hire a robot cab. The robocab is more expensive in the short term, but if you buy a service pass for a week it ends up saving the customer money as the cab points out. Combined with the savings, and the fact that it doesn’t talk back or have an agenda, everyone is happy.
The ride to the neighborhood where Otto owns a building gives everyone a chance to see the living conditions of zone 1. Thick icicles hang from the dome as proof of how bitter and cold the area is. The buildings in many areas are run down and broken, with the people looking much the same. Violence in the streets is common yet short lived, as citizens prey on one another for things to survive, and are then shot by the guards if they are caught. What strikes everyone as odd is that the neighborhoods surrounding Otto’s building are well kept, clean and well ordered, and nobody is in the streets after dark.
Otto and all approach the building and an AI system greets them over the intercom. They are allowed in and given direction to their respective living quarters, apparently Shaun, Gabriel and Reeva also lived here at one point as they all have rooms.
Entering the living quarters, Otto can hear someone sleeping quietly in the open living area. He approaches the sleeping person and finds an old man and several piles of books and files around him on the floor. When Otto approaches, the man snaps awake and grabs him by the throat. Otto responds by breaking the arm that touched him. When the man is finished screaming, Otto forces and introduction from him and discovers that this is Professor Jorge Arroyo, who left him a message, and this must be the usual spot.
Jorge inquires about the absence of everyone for the past few months and receives more questions than answers. He soon discovers the amnesia everyone has and begins to understand that they know nothing of what was or is going on and he will have to explain absolutely everything, from the beginning.