It’s a typical morning on Deck 11 – hawkers selling their wares, traders and con men trying to earn barter, hypervigilent thugs standing guard, anxious for someone or something to inflict trauma upon.
Jackson’s big problem this morning: two scam artists (Skeeter and Trine) are selling bogus, substandard water pumps in the market. Jackson heads over to their stall and shakes them down a bit, but gets distracted by the appearance of Jay, who is heading for the clinic. Jackson intercepts the Angel and tries her usual pick-up lines – finding Jay to be every bit as outwardly unreceptive as usual.
Meanwhile, Raven is awakened by the faint smell of burning machine oil and a faint, hot breeze blowing in from one of the ventilation shafts. She checks with a couple of locals (Bob, a local orphan, and Sponge. an old rag picker/embroidery artist) and locates the source of the hot air, then sends Bob off to find Jackson and inform him of the problem. Bob manages to arrive at the perfect time to finalize Jackson’s failure to pick up Jay, and the urchin and the Hardholder go back to meet Raven while Jay opens up the clinic.
Raven gives Jackson a boost up to the opening of the ventilation shaft just in time for Jackson to get a face full of fire as a jet of flame shoots from the opening, burning her severely. A hasty evacuation of the area is organized and Jackson heads back to the clinic for treatment.
On the way, Jackson and Raven encounter Parcher the Preacher, a follower of the Cult of Ai who is preaching in the market square, claiming that the flames are a sign that all must turn away from the evil of machines and follow Ai. Jackson and Raven follow the standard, protag protocol and intimidate him, beat him up, and then throw him out of the Hardholding. One of the Hyenas then shoots him and Jackson seals off the entrance in the hope that he will crawl off somewhere and die (Ha! Like that’s going to happen – Ed)
Once Jay heals up Jackson (after a not inconsiderable amount of banter) an expedition is quickly arranged to try to discover the source of the flames and extinguish them. The resident Saavy Head currently being AWOL somewhere out in the wastes, Jackson gets some of her thugs together, and they head to an old, unused hatch leading inwards towards the lower decks. After some trials and tribulations involving fluctuation of the local gravity and an encounter with robot followers of the Cult of Ai, they are able to locate a very large tank of flammable liquid that has been crudely mounted to the air duct. The tank is guarded by two thugs, but these are quickly dispatched by Raven, and the flow of flammable material is cut off (and eventually disposed of down a waste chute). Taped to the side of the tank is an envelope addressed to Jackson containing an old holo of what appears to be people having a party. On the back of the holo is written “Happy birthday dear! Love, Mom”.
Returning to Deck 11, Jay discovers that several of the residents who inhaled smoke from the fire have developed high fevers and have fallen into comas (including Bob, Trine, Sponge, and several of the Hyenas who helped with the evacuation). Jay manages to convince Skeeter to pay for Trine’s treatment after promising to save him, and Raven agrees to pay for Bob’s, but there is no one to pay for Sponge’s treatment, and Jackson convinces Jay to treat his Hyenas for free. Those who have fallen ill are moved back into the area where the fire was and quarantined, and the clinic relocates there to treat them.
Jay finds the disease to be difficult to treat and those who contract it eventually fall into a stable, but persistent coma. The disease appears to have some sort of specific treatment or antidote, but Jay can’t figure it out. Desperate to save Bob for Raven, Jay eventually comes up with an experimental treatment which is marginally successful, but at the cost of vivisecting Sponge. Bob comes out of his coma, but seems to have lost his volition and most of his skills, being little more than a shambling husk of his former, youthful self.
Desperate for any sort of clue that will help him/her defeat the new disease, Jay opens his/her mind to the psychic maelstrom. From the depths and confusion, a single impression rises to the surface – his/her betrayal of Jackson, treatment of Jackson’s mother, and her subsequent escape are not true.