Mission: Illuminating Investigations

When Noir jacked in, the coordinates would take him to the top floor of what appeared to be a high-rise hotel and casino above NetVegas net. He was situated on a balcony, overlooking a thirty story drop through the center of the hotel down to the first floor. From down below, the sounds of navis talking and shouting drifted up through the hotel, treating Noir to a muffled cacophony accompanied by the flashing lights of slot machines, billboards, and to one side, an illuminated poker table. In contrast, the rest of the twenty eight floors between the casino and Noir's current location were completely empty. Either other navis on those floors were in their rooms or there really was nothing between the top and the ground floor and the remainder was only a facade to keep up the appearance of a real hotel. Several floors down and , an elevator that in all visible ways looked completely nonfunctional led credence to the latter theory.

Doors lining the wall around the balcony looked indistinguishable from those one would normally find in a human hotel, save for the one directly behind Noir, which had no handle or keycard slot, and instead a touchscreen just below eye level for entering a passcode.

The moment Noir would look at it, however, it would become obvious that the touchscreen too was just for appearances. It automatically detected the coordinate and passcode data given to Noir by the GNA and opened the door. As it swung open, a halfway lit room appeared before him, with an obviously fake door projected onto a wall to one side next to the door, and a larged, curved sofa and table farther back. Beyond that, a faint blue light moving along the walls and ceiling marked the edge of the visible room, with an even fainter grid pattern beyond that. Within a second, the light spread the rest of the way around the room, filling in the rest of the details and leaving a second doorway to somewhere beyond at the far end. The room had clearly been generated from the moment the door had been unlocked.

There was no sign of any other navis inside. Should Noir enter?
The shadowy aura surrounding Noir screeched impatiently, muttering dark things in its' infernal little language, which Noir shushed as he walked into the room. He was well aware that right now he was a no-name; the idea that someone would specifically call him out here to kill him was ludicrous, at best.

His client, however...

The outline of Noir's shadow wavered and distorted as he walked into the room, briefly seeming in two places at once. He paused for a moment, admiring the surroundings as he stood in the doorway. A sofa, and a table. Rather bare. Whoever had set this room up hadn't put much thought into it. Noir sat himself down on the sofa in the middle of the room, set his feet up on the coffee table, and waited. Either someone would jump out and try to kill him soon, or his client would pop up.

Though, if they keep me waiting for too long, I might stop caring which is which. Noir grumbled inwardly.
Noir only had a few seconds to sit and wait before a flash of light emanated from the next room as another navi jacked in. Through the door entered a tall navi clad in a full bodysuit with shifting colors and images projected onto it, presumably as a form of camouflage. But there was no need to hide from anyone at the moment, so it defaulted to an image of rolling stormclouds. His face was hidden by a face shield as he entered, although as he turned to Noir the shield faded, revealing a normal, human-like face.

"Noir, I presume?" he asked rhetorically, taking a seat on a chair that appeared under him. "When the GNA informed me who took my job I wasn't expecting it to be quite so...literal.

"You seem to have already made your self comfortable, so let's get straight to the point. I've been investigating three navis recently on behalf of some interested parties. But I'm reasonably sure they're onto me, so I need someone unrelated to finish the investigation for me."
He raised one hand over the coffee table between them. The bodysuit glove split open, revealing what looked less like a hand and more like a collection of recording equipment in a vaguely hand-like shape. Projectors on the fingertips angled downward and turned on, displaying three different images on the tabletop.

The first was of a slender female navi in a midnight blue bodysuit and helmet, seated on a rooftop with a telescope in one hand and a projector that could have easily been ripped out of and stolen from a planetarium. Faint white dots surrounded the navi in a sphere. Below the image was the word "Stargazer", followed by "last seen in ACDC Net."

The second also portrayed a female navi, although this one was situated in a full-blown cybernetic exoskeleton. White hair was visible beneath a headpiece that wasn't quite a helmet, but came close enough to resemble one. Diamond patterns adorned her wrists and breastplate, and the faint outline of an active barrier surrounded the entire navi. Similar to Stargazer's projection a name, "Constant," was displayed below it, followed by "Frequents NetVegas. Last seen in Echelon Casino netspace."

"That's right under here, by the way," Stormchaser added. "You might have seen it as you came in. Convenient place to start, although it presents its own problems, as I'm sure you're aware. Especially if she comes back."

Finally, the third image was of a navi of ambiguous gender, although from the sturdy build and broad frame male seemed like a good bet. The navi was shrouded in what had to be artificial shadows, obscuring any effective defining characteristics. From what could be seen, he wore cybernetic battle armor and carried a large weapon that could have been an anti-tank gun, but exactly what it was could not be determined. Despite the lack of identifying features, he too came with a name, "Oblivion", and a more detailed description:

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Frequently associates with a self-proclaimed "Hunter Navi" calling himself Blackbird.  Both navis were last seen in SciLab's server gateway, making use of a private data server.

WARNING: Do not approach directly.  Navi has been known to attack others with little provocation.  Caution in word choice is not always a reliable defense.

With all three targets laid out, Stormchaser gave his offer. "One thousand zenny for any information reliably linking these three to shady dealings. Two thousand if you can give me the name of a navi or organization."
Noir leaned forward, studying the information. Constant would be a decent place to start-- the client was right about that. But casinos are known for security, known specifically for being places where even the shadows are watched. If Noir wanted to pin her down, he'd have to shadow her somewhere else.

Stargazer seemed like the easy prey; "Stormchaser" there hadn't given him any warnings about her whatsoever, but looks could easily be deceiving. And that in itself was a problem; if she seems innocent and nice, it could be that much harder to pin her to anything, much less to make it stick.

Then there was "Oblivion". Noir stopped himself from making a crack about the name the moment he realized that the hypocrisy ran thicker than the navi in question's torso, and thought about it. From the look of the navi, you didn't even have to try to pin him to something illegal; he exuded it like an aura. The problem was proving it. Not to mention if he was caught there, he was dead. Client would probably bail, too.

"Do I have to find a reliable connection for all three of them? Or is that payment for each individual target?" Noir asked, the shadows on his face stopping any hint of an expression from leaking out. "Say for instance I'm able to link O to one organization, and C to another-- but am unable to link S to anything. Would I then be paid 2000z? 4000 if I got you the names of both organizations? Noir continued, hand splaying outward. "Or would I get nothing for failing to find any evidence of S' wrongdoings?"
"The payment is for all three," Stormchaser answered, eyeing Noir suspiciously for a moment. "Although I would be willing to pay a portion of that if you only obtained reliable information on one or two of them. If I went all or nothing, I'd never be able to get any business."

A bolt of lightning flashed through the clouds on his bodysuit as he lowered his voice and added "That said, if you do anything to expose me, the deal is off. I can't exactly do anything with any information you find if I end up deleted for it."
"Obviously." Noir rumbled, waving a hand dismissively. "I rather like being paid for my work, so there'd be no point to revealing you in the first place."

Noir paused as he considered something for a moment. "You said you've been investigating them on your own for a while. Anything useful come out of that?" He said, putting his feet down and coming to a proper sit. "Don't get me wrong-- what you've given me is more than enough to start an investigation. ...But all you've given me is enough to start an investigation. If you've been investigating them for a while, I'm sure you've probably got a few leads you weren't able to check out before things got too hot. Mind sharing?"
Stormchaser nodded. "I have. I'd rather not share everything I've learned, as much of it amounts to speculation based on weak evidence that I have already acquired, but I do have a few recent leads. Or rather, they're all recent, as until recently they haven't shown any activity at all.

"S, as you've called this one,"
The projection from Stormchaser's hand focused on Stargazer, "spends most of the time I've seen her in remote net areas observing." The projection shifted, to show many of the white dots surrounding the navi replaced by projected windows, showing what could be interpreted even at its small size as either videos or camera feeds. "Standard fare, most of the time, but every now and then I come across something rather interesting." He raised his hand. "Enlarge." The projection grew to twice its original size, allowing more detail of what was on the video screens to be seen. One shifted through a montage of a pair of dark-clad navis attacking several targets, including two normalnavis, an official-looking navi that could easily have been a NetPolice enforcer, and a navi in the image of an old man, holding his own despite an aged body. Another feed showed a navi with icicle blades sneaking through a SciLab facility. "I have yet to figure out whether she is keeping tabs on accomplices or simply observing them, for rather obvious reasons." A third screen, visible for only a second before the image returned to its original size and was pushed into the background, showed the likeness of Stormchaser himself.

"O has proven rather difficult to pin anything on, because I can't get a good track on anything he's up to with his 'partner', and anything he does on his own looks like random attacks. I've been attempting to track Blackbird down, but he has proven quite elusive. On the other hand..." Stormchaser's projector appeared to go into rewind briefly, re-enlarging Stargazer's image and backtracking through the projections surrounding her until they reached a point where the image of the two navis attacking the old man were the most defined. "This is purely speculation, but it would not surprise me if those two were the navis displayed here."

The image was pushed away again, and the cybernetic navi Constant was enlarged. "This one though...I haven't gotten anything on her yet, other than that some rumor spreaders who shouldn't be allowed to name anything call her the Immovable Object. She's easy enough to find, but by all appearances so far looks like an ordinary navi that spends a little too much time in casino networks."
"I'll be honest--" Noir paused, looking down. "Aside from O, neither of these seem very suspicious at all."

He pointed at the projection of Stargazer. "skip to 12:53:42. Stop." He watched the recording wind the few minutes and seconds back to the point he wanted, and then glanced at it. "Enlarge." As the projection increased in size, he pointed to one of the many screens surrounding Stargazer-- the one showing Stormchaser himself. "She did not know she was being watched, correct? Going off of that assumption, her ability seems to be observation of random points, like stars in the sky-- if you want to use her name as justification. Any defense would be able to pick apart a case against her based on her observations with ease, just through little snippets like this one."

"As for O..." Noir thought a moment. "You say O is fairly easy to track, but his partner, Blackbird, is impossible to keep tabs on? What if Blackbird doesn't exist?" He questioned, raising a hand to signal for Stormchaser's silence. "He could simply be an SP with an EXE extension. Blackbird and Oblivion-- they could just as easily be the same target in two parts as they are two targets working together."

"I realize it's the last thing you want to do in jobs like these, so I won't ask, but you should honestly be asking yourself who sent you after these people, and with what justification? You can't pin anything solid down on them, yet you're determined to prove their guilt, presumably for your employer. But if there's nothing provable... why is he so convinced they're all in on something?" Noir stopped, at that, and then dissolved a little into his shadows, his silhouette taking on that of a sword.

"The 'Immovable Object' and the 'Unstoppable Force'. It's always a question that seems to come up. Which wins? Does the force stop, or does the object move?" The rambling was accompanied by the sword swinging into a rock, bouncing off, and then swinging again. "The suspicious thing that immediately comes to mind-- if she spends most of her time in that casino, who is her operator? Is she a rogue navi? I'm allowed to roam freely mainly because my Operator has little constant need of me, but that is usually not the case."
"You say that, and you're absolutely right. Nobody would believe these navis suspicious based on what I have gathered so far," Stormchaser conceded, letting out a sigh. "Which is exactly why I cannot simply go on what I have gathered so far and needed to call in someone who has as yet had no contact with them. Although you do bring up a good point. S and C may be entirely innocent, and O may be acting entirely on their own. Given the amount of time I have seen them on the net up until this point it would not surprise me if they were all operator-less navis, but that in and of itself is not punishable despite the actions of certain rogue navis in the past. Nor does it mean they're a part of a similar organization.

"However, if they really aren't connected to anything, I would need to convince the ones who hired me in the first place of that as well. So I'd like to amend my earlier proposal. Either get me information reliably linking them to shady dealings, or sufficient evidence to prove that there is no link. Is that acceptable?"
"Certainly." Noir said, reforming. The smile on his face was hidden well by the shadows. "I'll be headed out then, unless you've got something else I need to know first?"
"Just one more thing," Stormchaser said. "Don't try to remember where this page is. Use the coordinates the GNA boys gave you to get back here. Chances are it won't be in the same location. Just as a precaution."
Noir nodded-- or wobbled, it was kind of hard to tell-- and then collapsed into a pool of shadows before jacking out in black beam.