Maintaining his grip on Kevin Brazil, Vedeg convinced Brazil’s thugs that they would never get another paycheck out of Brazil if Vedeg killed him here and now. Brazil’s thugs took off, and Brazil folded, maintaining some bravado.
He revealed that Fritch had run off with Kara Canal, and, unable to find Fritch, Brazil tracked down Kara and killed her. The Lasers left him with an admonition to stay out of their way and went on to the Church of Regenerative Carnality.
At the Church’s Basilica of the Flesh, the lasers found all kinds of tourists and temple employees. Wild Jim entered the Basilica itself, and saw preparations underway for the great orgy of the Grand Conciliation. Deadbeef and Vedeg stayed outside and investigated one of the concession stands, recognizing Heather Roman from the terminal working one. While Deadbeef chatted with Heather, Vedeg hacked the Church’s network and discovered a connection between Brazil and Conciliator John Brook: pouring through wakaflops of data, Vedeg reasoned that Brazil’s organization provides security and protection for the church and steers wealthy clients to church recruitment drives, while the church keeps the government out of Brazil’s affairs.
Talking to Heather, Deadbeef discovered that she’d heard of Kara Canal through her friend Steve Moore: a facial tic was enough to inform Deadbeef that Moore and Heather were linked romantically. When the lasers reconvened to compare data, they decided to investigate Steve, whose number Mar Gravely had previously dialed.
Tracking the address from Gravely’s tether’s contact information to a tenement block on the edge of Joy City, the lasers spotted a figure watching them from a rooftop. Deadbeef sent up a prepared drone to snap holos of the figure and track in, but the creature ran and lost the drone in an alley. Video showed a grey-skinned, gilled creature with large black eyes and a small mouth. Abandoning the chase to find Steve, they knocked on his apartment door and eventually got him to open with their Laser credentials, which seriously impressed him.
Steve was a sweating mess, shying away from the bright hallway lights into the dark and messy interior of his apartment. The lasers immediately determined he was unwell, and convinced him to give them a blood sample, suggesting they would use it to screen him for application to their laser program. Steve dismissed his illness as a simple case of food poisoning from eating alien fruit, but Deadbeef’s analysis revealed that Steve’s cells were undergoing a radical transformation.
Showing Gravely’s picture to Steve didn’t spark any recognition, but a quick reconnaissance of the apartment revealed Kara’s holo and some personal effects: she roomed with Steve. When asked, Steve admitted he was worried about her: he hadn’t seen her in a week.
Pressing him harder, the lasers got him to admit that Kara had come home upset after being raped by her pimp, and he had “comforted” her through Church of Regenerative Carnality methods: he took advantage of her vulnerable state to pressure her into sex. He also mentioned that a doctor from Sanctuary Hospital had called for her, but he couldn’t remember the doctor’s name.
The lasers searched Kara’s room, finding a factory-fresh disruption pistol case without a vendor’s stamp: they surmised that the (missing) gun must have come from Gravely, who could get his hands on untraceable materiel through Loghos. While they searched the room, they heard Moore’s headset chirp with an incoming call.
The call came from Kara’s pocket communicator: Deadbeef intercepted it, but there was no voice on the other end. He did identify the call of the Andartan quiverbird, as well as the static hiss of a sonic fence. After tracking the call to the jungle just outside Joy City, Deadbeef triangulated the communicator’s location, and off the lasers went!
The crew took sky cycles to the edge of the chemically-cleared jungle, and found traced the signal to a morass of decaying vegetation disturbed by the tracks of a ground car matching Brazil’s SUV. They found a shallow, open grave.
Inside the grave was a mutilated, mutated corpse partially wrapped in plastic. Scales covered much of its body, and a forensic comparison of material gathered at Kara’s and Steve’s apartment revealed that the corpse was indeed Kara’s. She had signs of struggle, of sexual assault, and her face had been melted by extended exposure to disruptor fire.
The grave had been dug with shovels, but recently reopened by hand. Inhuman tracks led into the jungle: the lasers determined that whatever being Kara’s scales indicated she was transforming into could easily have been the same kind of creature making those tracks. Her communicator rested on the plastic, and in her pocket was a card for Sanctuary Hospital.
The lasers followed the tracks. En route, Wild Jim spotted jewel spiders in the trees. A quick and bloody battle ensued, resulting in six dead spiders and some wounded lasers.
The lasers made their way deeper into the defoliated forest, toward the scorched trees and broken ground of a landing or crash site. In fact, they found a small courier ship and a crater.
Several grey-skinned creatures, like the one they had seen near Kara’s apartment, emerged from the trees. One identified itself in hoarse and broken Comblish as Eldest, and explained that their race, the druath, when facing extinction, had sent its genetic material and collective artistic and technical achievements to the stars in an ark. The crater nearby contained this material, but time, the elements, and the crash had corrupted its data. Their genetic material had been programmed as a virus, set to transform suitable lifeforms into druath.
Scanning the druath, the lasers identified individuals who had formerly been Kara Canal, Steve Moore, and Mar Gravely. A scan revealed to Deadbeef that the probe in the crater would be salvageable with time and the right equipment, but in a row of sconces containing cylinders of genetic samples, two cylinders were missing.
The lasers bargained with the druath, telling them about a known planet inhabited by non-sentient humanoids which would be suitable for their viral genetic overrides. Deadbeef promised to help them recover the data in their probes, and, after much convincing, Vedeg laid down his fury cannon.
The druath revealed that they could sense humanoids “infected” with their DNA. Although the lasers’ mission was complete, having found Mar Gravely, they decided to follow up on the druath STD to make sure all Andarta didn’t become druath. The druaths’ noses led them in the courier ship to the Basilica of the Flesh, where a huge crowd showed them that the Grand Conciliation was under way.
Heather Roman stood at the center of a great mob of people in sexy ceremonial robes, sweating slightly. Hers would be the first flesh of the Conciliation, and the druath informed the lasers that she, plus a few others in attendance, were in the process of transforming.
The lasers burst into the basilica, pushing past Brazil’s guards, and announced that the Conciliation would have to wait; a deadly threat was nigh.
They led Heather and the other nascent druath into a back room and comforted them while their Combine bodies died and birthed new druath. Although the lasers couldn’t save everyone, Andarta, its sex industry, and its millions of inhabitants thrived thanks to their intervention.