Tuesday, August 31, 2010

She Walked Into My Office...

March 20-23, m0039

Over the next day or so, things turn quiet - no more attacks occur. Eventually, Marshall Kirkowicz drops by the embassy to talk to the team, She says that the incident seems to have put a rocket under law enforcement in Bako; while she doesn't hear everything, she believes that law enforcement there has run a series of sweeps, pulling in various individuals with connections to the Triads and elsewhere. She strongly suspects that the contract on Ouku/Kabra has been terminated; it will be drawing too much attention - and anyway, the European team have reason to believe that payment will no longer be coming through. She asks in passing about what the team know about the background to the incident and subsequent events, but the team can't tell her much; Florence for one shrugs and simply comments that "EU ambassadors are not without contacts".

(Florence also asks if she can recommend any bars, but doesn't get a very positive response; Kirkowicz mostly seems to regard bars as sources of trouble, and if she has any favourites of her own, they're quiet places which play a lot of traditional American music. Despite Dougal's recently acquired taste for country & western, they don't sound much fun to Florence, while Kirkowicz may not even want people to have the sort of fun that Florence is seeking.)

Anyway, given the circumstances, the Marshall has been able to arrange for the patient to be transferred to a major hospital in Robinson City, with a high level of security guaranteed. Tiberius is willing to authorise the transfer as acceptably safe - provided that he can go along and assist with this phase of the treatment. Hence, he disappears from Port Lowell for a time - and then, he announces that his personal plans have changed. The hospital is in fact willing to offer him a full-time position - good medical staff are still not that common on Mars, and he feels that he can do most good this way. He'll keep an apartment in Port Lowell, and he may still be available to the embassy from time to time, but he has evidently found himself somewhere where he can lose himself in his work.

March 26, m0039

After a couple more days of quiet, Jianwei is working in his office at the embassy one day, when his secretarial systems notify him that he has a caller in VR. Even his not-especially-trained eyes spot that this nameless newcomer is employing either a custom-design avatar or something selected with a lot of careful shopping; the visitor appears as a shapely woman in a classic little black dress, with a broad-brimmed black hat, high heels, and long black gloves. The effect is undeniably striking, but the face which meets Jianwei's look from under that brim is merely tolerably attractive rather than stunning, as might be expected with such a calculated image design. One thing that Jianwei's training in interpersonal relations does pick up is that the avatar moves easily and smoothly; it's almost certainly been matched carefully to the user's personal somatic model - she is almost certainly female, and probably looks somewhat like what Jianwei is seeing - or at least, she has looked like that for an extended period in the recent past.

Anyway, the visitor explains that she has "some information that you might need to know". She was, she says, in an Australian-territory bar, "Northern Territories", last night, when she saw one of the regulars, who goes by the name of "Sandy", doing business with someone who was pretty obviously a rich European tourist. Sandy isn't someone she likes, but he's one of those people who it's sometimes hard not to hear about - he handles all sorts of stuff "from the Belt" (implying that he's a low-level criminal entrepreneur with connections to the Triads). But he's been down on his luck lately, and in any case, the visitor wouldn't consider him to be a good place to go for recreational purchases, if you're sensible.

Anyway, the tourist retired to a private room at the back of the bar for a few minutes, then made to leave in a hurry. He somehow got into a dispute with one of the bar's bouncers on the way - and punched the man out. Sandy, meanwhile, had faded even sooner.

The implication is that someone for whom the EU might have to take responsibility has indulged in something - probably a brainbug - with radically unfortunate effects; some preemptive investigation does seem indicated. The visitor can't or won't offer much more information on the topic, though, and de-resolves shortly after telling this story; Jianwei calls the team together to decide how to proceed.

Their response involves a certain amount of caution, verging on paranoia. Certainly, they seem obliged to follow up the story, but they aren't sure why anyone would have told it to them - to set "Sandy" up for a fall, perhaps? They're determined to be careful. They do try putting a call through to Marshall Kirkowicz, but don't get much help there - she's a busy person, and they don't have a name to put to their report, while the location they're talking about is off her area of responsibility - there's a slight sense she thinks they're wasting her time, frankly.

So they begin by checking the Web site belonging to "Northern Territory", discovering that its slogan seems to be "What's Your Pleasure?"; it appears to be set up to exploit Australian extraterritorial status, Australia having especially relaxed laws in many areas, apart from weapons. (It's not as if there's much of an Australian population on Mars.) Some Web reviews confirm the impression; this is a bar where most things go and can probably be bought, provided that you don't annoy other clients too much. Jianwei also downloads a VR art appraisal system and has Aunty run it over the recording of the visitor's avatar; its conclusion is "good but not haute couture" - the clothes are a style cliche, but a cliche that's lasted 150+ years obviously has its strengths, while the system guesses that the face is either the one that the user wants for a very personal reason, or their original face which they've since changed in reality. The only other angle to check immediately is European tourists gone missing or in trouble, but there are no obvious answers there, and too many Europeans on Mars; they need to narrow their search first.

So the team decide to hit the bar - but doing so in a group might be problematic, so they'll send Florence, who's best equipped to look after herself, in alone, while the others hold themselves ready in another place just down the road. Lunchtime seems like the best bet, so that's when Florence goes in, less heat-suited up than most of the clientele, and orders a clone-meat kangaroo burger. (Her nonhuman physique attracts a little extra attention, but not enough to worry about.) She knows enough about how the shady side of things go to get a feel for how business is done here; the bar's own stock isn't overly remarkable (kangaroo meat and Castlemaine XXXX aside), but the place provides a venue for a range of dealings in moderately dark corners, and offers booths - for a small extra charge - that are doubtless used when a customer wants to try a brainbug or whatever straight away. She also notes that the place is set up as a Faraday cage - there's no transmissions in or out, except through a cable link provided by the bar, which demands access to content and reserves the right to block what's sent. It's far from perfect privacy, but it's as good as a place like this can reasonably offer (and it might make calling for help harder, should trouble break out).

Florence next finds a way to ask the (human) barman if "Sandy" is around, and is pointed towards a nondescript fellow who turns out to have an American accent. She's thought of a line that would explain her interest in him.

"Got anything that'll work with my biochemistry?"

"Maybe. What sort of thing are you after?"

"Just something for a good-time party girl, you know?"

"Hmm. I might be able to get something. Can you come back here later? About 7?"

Florence agrees to that, and ends the conversation. However, she has no more luck socialising with anyone in the place, so she eventually heads out (noting in passing that the bouncer currently on duty appears undamaged) and links up with the other two a few minutes later.

They discuss what she's learned, and wonder if there's any way to discover what happened last night. Florence has the idea of checking video/InVid sharing sites - and sure enough, by dint of some appropriate search term selection, Vajra soon finds one or two recordings. They show the interior of the bar, someone with a definite rich-tourist look leaving in a hurry and brushing past a bouncer, a brief exchange - and then the tourist throwing a snap punch that evidently catches the bouncer unawares, putting him on the floor. It doesn't look like a very expert attack by Florence's standards, although the tourist might possibly have basic self-defence training and be using target-marker software; it was a lucky blow, and a bouncer who didn't bother to continue the fight given that the opponent was out of the door before he was back on his feet. But if the tourist has purchased a disinhibition brainbug that can make him act that way, he may indeed be in trouble - or be causing it.

Of course, the recording does give the team an image of the individual, which they can run against records of EU citizens on Mars - and now they get a match. Kurt Weber-Markt is an Austrian citizen - and when Jianwei places a call to his address of record, he gets a "Not Available" response. Well, at least they have an actual problem to solve now. Unfortunately, though, there's not much more of use in the recording - no sign of anyone who might be the mystery visitor, for example.

But another thing they think to check is comments on the InVid site; there are a few, of course, mostly casually if slightly maliciously amused, some slightly concerned. One, though, a casual "Yeah, I saw this - it really happened", comes from a familiar name; Mika Hernandez, the team's downstairs neighbour. So they call him, and find him amiably helpful; he hasn't much to add, but he tells them what he can - except on the matter of Sandy, mention of whom makes him rather evasive.

So the team files a Probably Missing Person report with the Marshall's Office for Kurt Weber-Markt, and plan their next step.