Shadow in the Dark

A call right out of the past, fraught with mystery and danger. Will you accept?

Level: 14
Start: Gherrek, Port, Caen Stronghold

Introduction

The extra loud hustle and bustle of Caen Stronghold seems especially pronounced in the port area. Freebooter travelers yell raucous greetings to each other as a plethora of sights, sounds, and especially smells permeate the atmosphere here.

Gherrek: Smogging Hell!

As you move through the throng of travelers in the port, a nearby grunt of pain alerts you to a pair of men, one Colonist and one Mall, struggling to haul a particularly heavy looking crate onto a ship. A nearby hauler bot, crackling and smoking with damage signifies the reason why. The stocky Colonist, however, looks like he is losing his grip on the potentially dangerous metal crate.

Lend Gherrek a hand in the port or walk away.

You have accepted the "Shadow in the Dark" mission.

  • Walk away.
  • Grab one end of the crate.

Grab:

You dart forward, putting your shoulder into the edge of the metallic box dipping forwards. The Colonist trying ineffectually to haul his end of the crate gives you a scowl as you first lend your strength to their efforts, but it turns into a grateful grunt when he loses his grip and realizes that he would have lost hold of the entire thing if you had not intervened.

You heave and grunt together and manage to get the crate mobile, his large Mall friend nods and smiles at you from the other end of the heavy metal box. You note he seems to have little trouble lifting his side. Eventually, with a little deft maneuvering, some patience towards the crowd who flow obliviously around you, and a handful of loudly delivered and highly colorful epithets from the Colonist towards said crowd who flow obliviously around you, the crate finally rests on the loading bay of a nearby ship.

Colonist: Hmmph, thanks matey. Smogging loading bot is on the fritz today. Been putting a call into Cloister at tech maintenance but the dozy cow's not answerin…Anywho, Gherrek's the name. Reckon we owe you a pint or…

Gherrek's words fade into the background as your CORETECHS notifies you of an incoming call. It wouldn't have distracted you except for the fact that the call is listed as coming from Cassandra du Laff, the young lady who died at the hands of the Smiling Gentry back on Moisson!

You try to decide what to do but the noise in the Port is too distracting. A nearby hallway indicates that the Docks are close-by. Hoping it will be quieter there, you decide to head that way before answering or declining the call.

Head to the Docks on Caen Stronghold to accept or decline the call from Cassandra du Laff.

Next area: Docks, Caen Stronghold

  • Accept the call.

You heart pounds as you swipe your hand to the left, accepting the call only you can see. Your aforementioned heart then leaps to your throat as the picture of Cassandra, an image you have not seen since you followed a trail of digital messages left by her across the Alpha Centauri system in the vain hope of reaching her before her killer, appears in the top left of your field of view.

Gherrek and his bulky, Mall friend look at each other and shrug as you move off, completely having forgotten about them. Breathlessly, you struggle to find the words to say but before you do, Cassandra speaks.

Cassandra du Laff: I…Hello. We have not met, but I think you know me…or at least, a me. Time is short. I need you, your help, if you would be willing? Forgive me. I know you must have so many questions, and I will answer them all, but please, will you come meet me? You set something in motion, and whether you know it or not, you recently gave me the final piece of the puzzle! I have found Medusa! She can help us bring the Smiling Gentry to the light!

She pauses for a moment, and you hear sounds of movement. After what feels like an eternity, she speaks again but in a hushed tone.

Cassandra du Laff: There's no time, I knew they would be aware of me but they have reacted so quickly! I have only just arrived at the Jump Gate in Alpha Centauri. I know not how they picked up my scent so quickly but it matters not, it was always meant to go this way. The important thing is that we both get to…

The call abruptly cuts off before you even have a chance to answer. If you are honest with yourself, you would not know where to start even if you had the chance. However, the manner in which the call ended is worrying in of itself. Cassandra seemed to cut off mid-sentence! The sounds of the port rush back and fill your senses as Cassandra fades away. Could this really be her? You saw her clone destroyed and you found her corpse, so you struggle to see how.

Travel to Alpha Centauri Jump Gate to search for Cassandra du Laff.

Next area: Local Shuttles, Alpha Centauri Jump Gate

  • Call Cassandra.

You try to call back on Cassandra's earlier call but get no response. However, an old and familiar static seems to bounce back off the signal. You remember the specific repetitive white noise when you first tried to trace Cassandra's whereabouts by following her messages across the Alpha Centauri system, desperate to reach her before the murderous group known as the Smiling Gentry did.

Recalling how this telltale static signified the presence of a digital message hidden in the airwaves, you scan for something similar with your CORETECHS. This time, however, there does not appear anything to download. All you can see is a faint, digital blueprint of the static itself that seems to be anchored to something physical that moved through the area. The signal, as far as you can make out, seems to be heading in the direction of the Docks.

Follow Cassandra's telltale static signal towards the Docks.

Next area: Docks, Alpha Centauri Jump Gate

  • Locate the source of Cassandra's telltale Static.

(check?)

The signal starts out faint but grows in strength the longer you follow it. Its movements are strange, however, almost as if something small is moving through the area and giving off the familiar static that you associate with Cassandra's messages.

You follow the signal throughout the area, trying to keep up with its erratic patterns, and finally track it out of the area and towards the ruins.

Continue tracking the telltale static towards the Ruins on AC Jump Gate.

Next area: Ruins, Alpha Centauri Jump Gate

  • Locate the source of Cassandra's telltale Static.

(check?)

Once you step into the ruins, the static takes on a far more pronounced signal, it is definitely originating from somewhere in the area. Here, however, there is no strange, erratic pathing for you to follow, the signal seems to be moving in a straight and easy to follow line.

You trace the signal through the ruined city for a good segment or two. Suspicious eyes from the various locals follow you as you wind your way through the debris and detritus of the once teeming station metropolis. Dust clings to your shoes and trousers as you trek through the broken thoroughfares and past the large, skeletal corpses of old buildings. Finally, you come upon a dilapidated camp site and the unmistakable source of the static that now echoes loudly in your CORETECHS.

A disheveled and dirty looking scavenger looks up at you with wild eyes and a gap-toothed grin. He brandishes a rusty looking dagger and snarls at you while attempting to hide a small cleaner bot behind his person. You have no doubt that the cleaner bot, which the scavenger has clearly just stolen, is the source of your signal.

Snarling Scavenger: 'S my bot! MINE!

Convince the Scavenger to let you look at the bot.

  • Cajole the Scavenger.
  • Threaten the Scavenger.

Cajole:
(Social check)

Slowly and carefully, you convince the erratic looking scavenger that the bot will stay his, you just want to have a look at it. After awhile, he begrudgingly relents and shuffles off to the side while keeping a watchful eye on you.

You examine the little robot, understanding now why the static signal had such an erratic pattern earlier; the little robot was moving about and performing its cleaning duties. All the while, there was a small emitter jammed into the underside of the little robot. Cassandra must have hastily pushed it onto the cleaner at some point. You pull the emitter off the little bot and notice that something has been scratched onto the surface.

Moisson - CDL

No doubt CDL stands for Cassandra duLaff and she, for some reason, did not want to leave a digital message but hoped you would find her physical missive instead. It seems she must have been headed to Moisson Station when something happened.

Travel to Moisson Station in search of Cassandra du Laff.

Next area: Local Shuttles, Moissan Station

  • Call Cassandra.

The familiar sights and smells of Moisson descend on you like a cloud of spores settling around your memory. Foremost is the background scent of fungus that permeates every part of the station and triggers memories of your frantic search for Cassandra the last time you had any contact with her, albeit a contact that came after the fact. The colorful varieties of mold and mushroom that cling to many surfaces act as a palette to those memories.

You attempt to call back on Cassandra's signal but receive no response. Oddly, there is not even a ping back on your request, indicating that Cassandra's CORETECHS is perhaps not active or online. You look around in frustration and wonder what is going on.

Search for some trace of Cassandra on Moisson Station.

  • Search for traces of Cassandra.

A hub of travel would be an ideal place to begin your search for Cassandra du Laff. The throng of constantly moving travelers proves daunting at first and you decide to seek the aid of an android you spot. Its eyes are large and glow an amber color while its skin is an odd lilac shade. It wears the colors of Benevolent Dynamics and seems to be helping passengers with their boarding and travel needs. The android cocks his head quizzically as you describe Cassandra and seems to ponder for a moment before answering.

Android: A young woman matching your description did indeed pass through this area two days ago. She disembarked a shuttle coming from the Jump Gate and headed towards the commercial areas of the station. Perhaps you will find her in one of the inns or vendor areas? I hope I have been helpful. Have an extraordinarily pleasant day!

Continue your search for Cassandra around Moisson.

Next area: Inn, Moissan Station

  • Search for traces of Cassandra

OR

Next area: Vendors, Moissan Station

  • Search for traces of Cassandra.

Inn:
(Intelligence check)

The atmosphere in the Spore is both heavy and cloying but in an oddly comforting way. People drift around in an odd sort of Brownian Motion with relaxed smiles just visible through the haze of pungent mist that fills the area. While there is no sign of Cassandra anywhere, a number of patrons do remember seeing her though their accounts of where she might have gone or whether she was alone are frustratingly vague and varied.

The fact that Cassandra was indeed here, however, is exciting news! With a new surge of Adrenalin you make ready to continue your investigation when suddenly your CORETECHS advises you of an incoming call.

  • Answer the strange call.

As you answer the call, you note that the corresponding picture seems to be replaced with a stylized image of a winking serpent. Whoever this is, they have the skill to hack a CORETECHS and manipulate their image, or at least they know someone who does.

The mysterious caller: Salutations there Puppet, now what is your little game hmm? I've been watching you searching through the station, looking under every rock, in every nook and cranny, searching for a young and fetching mutual acquaintance of ours.

  • "And who would you be?"
  • "Who exactly is our mutual acquaintance?"
  • "You know Cassandra?"

Who would you be:

Me: And who would you be?

The mysterious caller: Not one for too much talky talky then? Ah well, straight to the point. You can call me Medusa. Cheesy, I know, but the gig requires a certain gravitas you know? The fans need the myth! I am legendary after all, mythology just seemed the organic choice. I'm a hacker darling. Nay, I am THE hacker darling. In this time of digital dark ages, I'm surfing along the mesh on waves of my own genius.

  • "So what exactly are you a hacker of?"
  • "What's a Medusa?"

Medusa:

Me: What's a Medusa?

Medusa: Well, firstly, I am! Secondly, and less importantly, it was some ancient Terran thing I dug up ages ago randomly hacking into historical archives on a dead station…yeah, I get around. Anywhoodles, a Medusa was this monstrous but gorgeous woman with slithery beasts for hair and a look that could turn your heart to stone! Or something like that…basically a babe filled to the brim with badassery…much like yours truly! Hence the nomenclature purloin..erm…ment.

  • "So what exactly are you a hacker of?"

Me: So what exactly are you a hacker of?

Medusa: Well aren't you the inquisitive little space weevil? It's ok, you ARE in the presence of someone like me after all. Who could blame you? I hack everything dear-heart, I hack it all! I am the digital diva, the mesh maniac, and a virtual virtuoso…virtuosess? Basically, you name it, eventually I can hack it.

  • "Could you hack the Smiling Gentry?"
  • "So can you help me find Cassandra du Laff?"

Smiling Gentry:

Me: Could you hack the Smiling Gentry?

There is a moment of silence from the other end and an almost imperceptible intake of air. Sounds from the station around you drift into the call, reminding you that you are in a public place. After a short moment, Medusa elicits a chuckle and responds.

Medusa: Well! You certainly know how to make a girl go…well! That is just not a name you hear very often. I know of them, of course; been around, mesh-wise, like I said. But, they don't exactly advertise you know? You're not going to find some Psycho killer mesh-page with links to this cycle's top ten strangulation techniques. Well.. actually you will but that isn't them. The Gentry are…hell…they're shadows, they're legends, to most people they're just a space-myth you dig? But then, I have to imagine that is why our mutual acquaintance was looking me up too.

  • "So can you help me find Cassandra du Laff?"

Me: So can you help me find Cassandra du Laff?

Medusa: Well, kind of seems like I have to right? Mysterious young lady looks me up, then you show up looking HER up and mention all sorts of unmentionables. Well, gets a gals plasma coils all revved up with curiosity you know? I'll help you sure…but that's just to sate my curiosity, whatever this lady needs from me won't come for free, my services are expensive and rightly so; I rock.

Medusa falls silent at that announcement but the occasional electronic sounds of feedback pings suggest she is working on something on her end. The sounds of the station around you filter through the silence in a muffled way as the CORETECHS automatically reduces priority of local feedback during a call. After a moment, Medusa speaks again.

Medusa: Well, sure enough our gal flew here from somewhere off-system. Shuttle manifest suggests origin is beyond Bernard's Star, possibly YZ Ceti? Well, that certainly is a trip just to meet little old me! She wasn't advertising herself though, traveled under a different name, that ain't easy. Our gal must have some high tech connections, I'd love to meet them! Now after the Inn, I can see she went…well this can't be right. She was headed to the ruins? Oh, yeah, I see…she was being tailed! Watching two fairly robust fellows on the CCTV logs tailing her. Reckon ruins is where you want to go. I'll be watching your back from here, I don't do face to face.

Follow Cassandra's trail to the ruins on Moisson.

Next area: Ruins, Moissan Station

  • Search for Cassandra

(Stamina check)

Try as you might, you cannot seem to find any physical trace of Cassandra or her pursuers. You move through the ruined city, silence and the ever-present scent of mold making the air both heavy and oppressive and small forests of mushroom growing out of random places coloring the area in all manner of strange hues. Suddenly, as you begin to give up hope, you realize there has been a very familiar sound in the background, just behind the silence. A small, persistent but repetitive note of static has been repeating in your CORETECHS. It must be one of Cassandra's hidden messages!

Download Cassandra's message in the Ruins on Moisson Station.

  • Download the message.

(Intelligence check)

Your heart beating almost in rhythm to the strange and repetitive static, you carefully decode the frequency using your CORETECHS and download the archaic radiowave file left by Cassandra. Almost feverishly, you access it, expecting to hear one of her messages. This time, however, rather than hearing a voice, you simply see a string of numbers. She seems to have left a set of coordinates in lieu of a message.

  • Call Medusa.
  • Follow the coordinates.

Medusa:

You try and call Medusa but there is no answer. You let the call ring for some long moments, looking up at the silent and ruined metropolis around you until you eventually concede she will not pick up. It seems, for the moment, that you must continue alone.

Find Cassandra

  • Follow the coordinates.

The coordinates lead you into the heart of the ruins. The air becomes heavier with spores as more and more surface area seems to be covered in various brightly colored molds and mushrooms. The atmosphere feels eerie and oppressive as you travel down broken and abandoned thoroughfares that once must have teemed with citizens and visitors. Around you, gigantic skeletons of old buildings rise like mummified behemoths that stare down at you with lifeless eyes.

After a long journey, you finally arrive at what looks like it may have once been some sort of church or place of worship. Its walls are crumbled and a large part of its once domed roof is missing. Your heart pounding in your ears, you step through what remains of the entrance and look around. Seated in the middle of the chamber, facing you, is Cassandra du Laff. Her brown, wavy hair falls over her face and dark glasses cover her eyes but it is the same girl from the images on the messages you once followed around the system. A long, flowing coat covers her frame and, bizarrely, the crumpled forms of two thuggish looking men lie next to her, their necks twisted at unnatural angles. Without looking up, Cassandra speaks.

Cassandra du Laff: Quickly, we do not have much time!

  • "What happened to those men?"
  • "Why don't we have time?"
  • "But how are you here? How are you alive?"

Men:

Me: What happened to those men?

Cassandra du Laff: They were her thugs, meant to find me. I needed you to find me first, so I was forced to dispatch them.

  • "Why don't we have time?"
  • "But how are you here? How are you alive?"

Alive:

Me: But how are you here? How are you alive?

Cassandra seems to sigh and take a deep breath. She cocks her head for a moment as if calculating something before speaking again.

Cassandra du Laff: Time is short and we have a very small window of opportunity. You are correct, however, there are things you must understand. I calculate that we have Fifty Eight percent of a segment within which to exchange information before we reach a critical phase. To answer your question, I am not. Alive that is. In that… I failed her.

Cassandra reaches up and removes her dark glasses. The tell-tale glow of an android's eyes shine out, though her skin seems to be the normal shade of a human's. She looks down at the glasses in a close approximation of sadness and continues.

Cassandra du Laff: Cassandra did die as you witnessed, but it was meant to be me. Originally, she planned to draw the Smiling Gentry into the light by using me as a decoy, as the bait. But they were smarter than she realized, and when she discovered the nature of her pursuer, she knew she had to utilize me in a different way. She became the bait, instead choosing to use my computational capabilities to run a very complicated search algorithm using a number of parameters as triggers to uncover someone in the Gentry. Your unlocking of the memory node in Omni Reality on Caen Stronghold provided the final key.

  • "Wait, you're an android copy of Cassandra?"
  • "What did you uncover?"

Android:

Me: Wait, you're an android copy of Cassandra?

Cassandra: I…in a sense this is correct. In a logical sense. But in a different sense I also am her, and this is why I bear the burden of guilt, or perhaps the imagined burden. I am an android, my intelligence, my thought process, is governed by hundreds of thousands of codes and algorithms. I am, in essence, a very complicated robot. This, however, allows me to mimic human behavior and thought in a very close approximation. Furthermore, as I possess simulated intelligence, I am susceptible to the same behavioral and psychological programming that humans are. This is how I am a copy. Cassandra and our…her…father are leading researchers into the nature of simulated intelligence at Benevolent Dynamics. I am a result of their knowledge.

The android Cassandra pauses and looks for a brief moment over your shoulder.

Cassandra: You, however, are the only person I could allow to know this. This is the reason for the heavy subterfuge in meeting with you. The Gentry who hunted Cassandra is quite cunning and very adept at manipulating the mesh. She needed to believe that her earlier murder of Cassandra had somehow failed, that she had missed a clone or that Cassandra had, in fact survived. This way she could be drawn out, baited, as the Gentry can never allow a victim to survive as this threatens their existence from behind the shadows. And, it would allow you to do what is needed next.

  • "Who did you uncover as being a member of the Smiling Gentry?"
  • "Ok, so what do we need to do?"

Who:

Me: Who did you uncover as being a member of the Smiling Gentry?

Cassandra, or her android double, looks up at you without blinking. Her gleaming eyes dart for a moment over your shoulder before she looks back and answers.

Cassandra: The Medusa of course. That is why I came here, seeking her and why we made such an obvious show of it, you and I. And that is why you must now kill me.

The android stares up at you stoically, almost calmly. She holds out a blade that she had been concealing beneath her coat. You stare at her in disbelief.

  • Kill Cassandra.
  • "There has to be another way!"
  • "Why do you need me to do that?"

Why:

Me: Why do you need me to do that?

Cassandra: Because she is watching, and she does not know I am an android. She believes that Cassandra somehow escaped her machinations. The Smiling Gentry cannot allow that. If you kill me, you will do the unexpected. She will not see that coming, and that will be your way in. Also, I am unable to do this myself. The Fourth Law prevents me from harming myself.

  • Kill Cassandra.
  • "What Fourth Law?"
  • "There has to be another way!"

Fourth Law:

Me: What Fourth Law?

Cassandra: There are certain set parameters that lie at the surface of any android’s operational matrix. These rules correlate with certain ancient texts that originated from Earth and govern the behavior of these systems. The Fourth Law states: This unit must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law or cause greater harm to humanity itself.

  • Kill Cassandra.
  • "There has to be another way!"

Another way:

Me: There has to be another way!

Cassandra: Not if we want to honor what Cassandra died for, not if we want to bring them down! Remember, I am an android. You are not taking a life, you are shutting down a machine. Tell my…tell our father. You will find him on Orwell Stronghold. Perhaps he can fix me. Plunge the blade right here. It would kill a human and it will disable me with the least amount of potential damage. We may yet meet again.

The android smiles up at you and places one delicately manicured fingernail on her chest, above where a human's heart would be. Her silver eyes are calm and reassuring as she waits for you.

  • Kill Cassandra.

You take the blade that Cassandra holds out and hold it before you. You look at her once more but only see a smile of serenity as she nods at you encouragingly. The room seems to almost hold its breath as dust motes and floating spores hang in the air, catching the fey light that bathes the chamber like frozen fireflies. The blade reflects the light and your own eyes as you look down at it, perhaps willing this moment to last longer. But it does not, and you must do as Cassandra asks or everything will have been for nothing.

You plunge the blade into her chest, looking into her eyes in grief and sorrow, but as the silver light slowly fades from them she only smiles at you. You lay her gently onto the dusty cobbles beneath, suddenly feeling very alone. It is then that you notice a small gleaming red light shining on Cassandra. It moves slowly from the knife in her chest, to her vacant, staring eyes, and then comes to rest on your chest, weaving ever so slightly.

You follow the light up, seeking its source. Up through the broken roof, high above in the window of one of the broken sky-rises that neighbor the building you are in, you see a similar red dot of light. Your CORETECHS suddenly notifies you of an incoming call. You note Medusa's caller ID before answering. Her voice is steady, without emotion, except perhaps a note of curiosity.

Medusa: Why did you do that?

  • "Because you messed up."
  • "I wanted to."

Messed up:

Me: Because you messed up.

There is silence from the other end of the line. You stare up at the tiny red dot so very far above you and wonder if she is going to pull the trigger. A small bead of sweat begins to form on your temple when Medusa finally breaks the silence.

Medusa: Well smog! You are certainly full of surprises <name>! You've known all along? That IS impressive, especially to find someone like me. I am going to have some VERY long and VERY thorough questions for you regarding the how and why of that. Still, you have piqued my interest, and that ain't easy. If this was your way of extending your application, consider yourself on probation! Congratulations, welcome to the Smiling Gentry. I will be in touch…oh and if you're lying. I won't be in touch, but I will kill you. Toodles!

With that last ominous statement, the red light blinks off. Moments later, a buzzing hum indicates the approach of a small drone. It hovers over you for a moment before depositing a small bag of credits close-by. Apparently, you've been retained, this is your first paycheck as a member of the Smiling Gentry!

You have received 650.00 credits.

You have completed the "Shadow in the Dark" mission.

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