Faceman makes some enquiries at the coffee shop, and learns that their computers have been down since the early hours of the morning, around the time it sounds like the crime at LuCom went down. They managed to get some basic tills working but most of their systems are still offline, they’re waiting for IT support. Faceman offers Whiskey’s services in getting them back up, thinking they might find some useful information at the same time.
In the meantime the others are checking out the area. Behind the building they find a grate leading to a storm drain which looks like it’s been moved, but don’t initially see anything else when they look into it (they don’t open it yet). They climb onto the roof of the LuCom building, passing some windows that look like a tech lab of some sort, and a large frosted glass window too. When they get to the top, they find air conditioning ducts which have infra-red beam security on them, and an access hatch that’s almost certainly alarmed and which will need to be cut to bypass it.
Mouse checks out the surrounds while invisible and finds no magical barriers, but does see a security guard at the reception desk illuminated by the soft night-lights. He looks very alert.
Whiskey goes to Faceman in the coffee shop, who is enjoying a free coffee and muffin in return for the offer of help, and starts work on their computer system. He finds that although the hardware is fine, the entire system has been wiped down to the OS level, meaning getting it up and running is a long process, and there’s likely to be little recoverable data. Quite what could cause such a widespread wiping of computers in the area is puzzling – an EMP weapon would have wrecked the hardware, and the reported 15 minute window wouldn’t have been enough for a hacker to do all this themselves – and why would they?
Back in the alley, Tor hears a crackle coming from the grate, and investigates with the others. They discover 2 bodies lying in the drain about 10m from the grate, both of them have comm links which are on, but displaying white noise and making a hissing sound. One of the bodies is a street punk, with nanite trodes in the form of a yellow smiley facial tattoo, the other looks like a middle manager. Both have VR rigs modified for hot sim (no safeties). The team recovers the bodies and take the comm links. They’ve noticed a man outside the coffee shop watching them go into the alley, so Mouse covers their exit with a concealment illusion.
Back at the motel, Whiskey examines the commlinks. He finds them to be horribly corrupted, with fragments of code seeming to randomly activate, and the interface a mess of noise and juddering iconography. The only constant is a VR node which regularly pops up before disappearing back into the noise. It’s a hot sim rig, so a little dangerous, but Whiskey connects to it in VR to see what he can find.
He immediately appears in an idyllic world of rolling hills dappled with warm sunshine, softly waving trees, wild flowers and small furry creatures. It’s extremely realistic but also very twee, and there’s excessively cheerful ‘zippidy do dah’ background music on a continuous loop, but which is somehow not as annoying as you might imagine.
As he looks around, a white rabbit hops up to him, scratches one ear endearingly and looks him right in the eye, before hopping off again, stopping not far away to look over it’s shoulder at him, obviously expecting him to follow. When he does, the rest of the team are surprised to note that Whiskey gets up and starts walking in the real world too, which is not normal (VR turns off your muscle movements usually for safety).
The white rabbit continues to lead Whiskey through his excruciatingly happy world, and somehow it integrates real world obstacles into it so that Whiskey navigates the real world perfectly – a door becomes some long grass he has to push aside, a parked car is a rock, a road is a burbling stream with a quaint wooden bridge running over it instead of the real-world dingy overpass, etc.
Whiskey finds himself being drawn into the simulation quite a lot, even catching himself humming the ‘zippidy do dah’ song on one occasion. When the other team members get concerned, particularly when Mouse grabs his hand, Whiskey sees dark, twisted goblinoid shapes reaching for him instead. He’s hanging on to reality, but only just at times.
The white rabbit leads him across many a hill and dale (many blocks) with the team following behind. Eventually he reaches a large alpine log cabin. In real life, this is the Happy Canyon Mall, a place dominated by a large Chinese restaurant, miscellaneous other Asian speciality stores and a Buddhist temple. The rabbit leads him up some external stairs (mirrored in the mall), in through a second-floor door into a hallway (this is actually a balcony running around the mall’s second level).
The rabbit finally hops into a large eating hall, in which is a large table stacked with many roasted game: boar, deer and the like. In the real world, the team follow him into the Buddhist temple, where there is a large area of mats, on top of which lie the bodies of 3 mall guards. Two seem to have been shot by the colleague behind, and the last appears to have committed suicide. All have comm links on their belts showing the same white noise pattern as the 2 bodies in the drain.
In VR, the rabbit stops, turns around to face Whiskey (in front of the banquet table), twitches his nose and disappears in a small cloud of rose petals. In real life, the mall security alarms all go off at once, as if suddenly triggered (not by the team).