Fletcher sent the crew back out into the great red outback to track down Michael Murza. Going back to the access hatch, they traced his steps to where they met up with some tire tracks. Following the tracks, they found that the driver must have known the area well since they avoided all the rougher terrain. After a couple hours, they saw the dust cloud of an approaching hovercar. Pulling over, Octavius slunk out of the vehicle and blended into the red rocks. The hovercar turned out to be a Martian Ranger by the name of Nancy Cho. She was looking for two men, one of them Michael, but the crew feigned ignorance, pretending to be lost. She let them know that the other missing person was her coworker, a Martian Ranger by the name of Eli Kim, and to let her know if they see either man. Nancy directed them to Starlight, a nearby town that was near a relatively busy trucking route that could get them back to the highway.
Continuing down the trail, the crew arrived in Starlight. The town is built into a cliff face, and the façades of buildings are carved right into the rock, someone even carved what looks like bricks and siding into the stone. An aluminum and plastic elevator clings to the cliff face, connecting the four levels of metal catwalks bolted into the rock. Above some of the doorways are signs, including, “The Downtown Bar and Grill”, “Pharmacy”, and a dollar store called “Last Chance Leon’s”. Four beat-up hovercars are parked out front, but you don’t see anyone.
The crew started with Last Chance Leon’s on the second floor. A steel door with a red L logo led in to a 4m wide, 20m long room filled top to bottom with dollar store goods. There weren’t even aisles as much as pathways. A desktop cornucopia machine was bolted to a steel table in the middle of the room. As they entered, the lights turned on and hidden speakers started playing big box store muzak. A beefy pod shuddered and looked up, “Welcome to Last Chance Leon’s – he’s on break now, but I’m his trusty AI sidekick – let me know if there’s anything you need. If it isn’t here,” he made a sweeping motion with his hands, “I can make it in a jiffy”, he pointed at the cornucopia machine.
The crew didn’t find anything overly interesting, so they went to the bar on the fourth floor. A sliding steel door opened into a bar 3m wide by 10m long. Two muscly ruster morphs sat with a fury with silver hair, each with a plastic bottle of beer in front of them. A group of four loud flats in black Ecologene uniforms sat together with a growing pile of empty beer bottles between them, singing (poorly) to the newest Martian independence dance song playing on the radio. A case stood at the back next to a fabber. The moment the crew entered, its AI meshed a menu (mostly different types of open-source beer) to them along with a jukebox playlist (mostly Martian independence songs of varying quality). Everyone was armed but the case. The crew noticed that the seams of the patrons’ clothing was deteriorating, and their eyes were slightly red, suggesting Michael had brought the infection here.
Solomon chatted up the Ecologene employees, finding out that they were just four locals that had been hired by Professor Madeline Yu to clean out the nearby lab. Thessa broke in to the bar’s system, and tracked down the Ecologene employees credit payments. She was able to get some information on the e-wallets they were using, hoping it would lead a trail back to Madeline.
The fury and her two ruster friends didn’t take too kindly to cephalopodic strangers, and told Octavius to leave. When Thessa tried to intervene, the locals told Solomon to tell his robot to quiet down. Even though he wasn’t the most popular person in the room, Octavius convinced the fury to talk about Michael. She was more than happy to, describing in detail how she saw through Michael’s synthmask to the clanker inside, and how she and her friends took him outside and disassembled his fingers joint by joint before putting a steel rod in each eye and then sticking the remains in the back of Last Chance Leon’s cornucopia machine. The crew asked Fletcher what to do now that they knew what happened to Michael. Doctor Kim responded that she had a nanoswarm ready that could clean up the fungus spores in limited areas. She sent the blueprints to Last Chance Leon’s. Fletcher suggested killing everyone in the room just to be safe.
The crew decided that was a good time to leave the bar. They fabbed up some nanoswarm hives, and cleaned the bar and Last Chance Leon’s. They opened the intake chamber of the cornucopia machine, seeing the only thing left a cortical stack (which the machines are programmed not to disassemble). A quick check confirmed it was Michael Murza’s. Thessa built a simulspace and used a bridge to boot up his ego.
The team tried to talk to him in the simulspace, but he could only repeat that he needed to get to the city, any city. The team eventually broke through to him, and he was lucid long enough to say that his ego was altered to make him want to spread the infection. Unless the crew can fix him, they have to kill him. Lacking in psychosurgery skills, the crew left him in the simulspace. Octavius added cities to the simulspace, and Michael’s ego quickly headed to the city, wandering in circles around large gatherings, such as sporting events and the downtown core. The team shut down the simulspace and put Michael’s ego into storage until they could find someone to fix it.
The crew went to find Nancy Cho, fearing that her colleague had been infected, and maybe infected her and their police station too. They met up with her at her station, finding it to be a small one-room outpost, with minimal staff (mostly AIs). Nancy said she had located Eli’s car (she had brought it back), but no sign of Eli. Octavius crept out to Eli’s car, finding a pile of fungus where Eli should have been, and he fished around, finally finding the cortical stack. He returned it to Nancy, who learned of the infection that had killed Eli. She sent out an all points bulletin to find Michael, fearing that he was still out there infecting others. Fletcher suggested killing everyone in the room just to be safe. Doctor Kim suggested trying the cleaner nanoswarm. The crew tried using the nanoswarm to clean the station and area, but it had limited effectiveness in the open. The crew headed back to Elysium.