At the behest of their wiley Firewall contactJocko, nano-biologist Rad1ator, simulspace designerJaanus, and gene hackerBishop take the Salamander 9 to investigate the mystery of Quell 94. The asteroid-turned-research facility went quiet two weeks ago and turned away the sole water supply ship that tried to dock. Just after leaving Extropia’s southern spaceport, the team discovers Rosario, who is sleeved in a pleasure pod, was still onboard. During the ten day rendezvous with Quell 94, they discover that not all is at is seems, as Rosario claims to hold a particle physics doctorate, and she holds her own with the other scientists aboard.
Arriving at Quell 94, the team discovers that the small asteroid habitat seems to be operational, but quiet. The exception is the Space Traffic Control AI, which tries to warn them away before Janaanus hacks the data connection, gains admin access and shuts it down. Using his access, he is able to determine that power is on to parts of the station, but has been physically cut to other parts. Environmental systems also seem to be working nominally. And he’s contact, via a text message, with someone claiming to be a worker (Lag Tomok), trapped in a storage section deep within the habitat.
Rad1ator and Bishop follow a tether line down to the habitat surface, and open an exterior airlock. The open the inner airlock door to discover a bloody corpse just inside, which sets off Bishop’s post-traumatic stress syndrome. He panics, opens fire at the corpse, and sets off internal station alarms. Back aboard the Salamander 9, Jaanus receives a cryptic message from Tomok: “Too late.” And sitting behind him, Rosario goes into some sort of seizure.