They told me to track down River Crowley, and I did. Finding him wasn’t difficult. He was a prominent man on Andromeda Prime until his highly public exile. His group, what the media there calls the Children of Starlight, was gaining legitimacy in the primacy as a religious movement with tendrils spread out throughout politics and business. It had all been set up in back room deals with the height of aristocracy on Andromeda Prime. Crowley was using his influence to assist one of the senior party chairmen, Rainarch Alexander, in an effort to stage a coup against the current leader, Primarch Hsan. That is, until the coup failed.
Alexander was executed. Crowley was to be executed as well, but he fled offworld just in time. His writings were scrubbed from the net. Anyone caught spreading his teachings was prosecuted and silenced as a political dissenter. The crackdown was severe. This was all common knowledge. By the time I got there, the only way you could get anything about Crowley was by following a rabbit hole that started with coded messages in street art in Andromeda’s ground-level slums and popular images shared throughout the Andromeda metaverse’s unsupervised back alleys. Crowley was long gone, but his influence remained. You just had to know where to look.
They may have exiled Crowley, but it looks like they never understood the extent of his reach, or how the infrastructure of his spread functioned. They deleted the man from public life, but public life was just a calculated step he’d taken with Alexander. His influence has always been clandestine. There was nothing above board, but his inner circle of followers on the planet was thriving, albeit underground.
What I found was a sophisticated breadcrumb trail. The images his followers shared contained coded messages in puzzles in the images’ metadata. These messages pointed to friendly businesses in the metaverse where you could download some non-distinct, somewhat nonsensical essays and children’s stories that contained passwords that could be accessed with the use of a cipher. All heavily decentralized. The whole trail led me to the streets of Majere in District 109.
Majere was a ratty dump. At the center of the town was a pretty famous red light district. Nightclubs, brothels, dive bars. Questionably safe street food. Wander one street away and you were in a container yard of stacked houses made of shipping crates. Majere was an area of lawlessness that was only allowed to keep operating to give the well-connected party insiders and clever citizens a place to indulge their instincts and desires where they thought the cameras were off. It was all a farce. The cameras watch in Majere just like anyplace else. Half the reason Majere existed was to get blackmail material on its visitors. Still, their gaze was hazier in Majere. Too much crime to sift through all of it, even with AI assistance. Only the really bad stuff got flagged there.
The clues from my investigation had led me to a homeless shelter and rehab clinic outside of town. A little factory of 3d printed food made out of the amino acids and fats stripped from garbage. It was all half-eaten leftovers of the elitists cruising the main street, boiled down into sludge and then fed back into the printers to get shaped back into familiar foods. A gnarled old crone with a cybernetic eye and a missing ear asked me what I was looking for.
“I’ll take the strawberries,” I said.
She rasped back at me, “Been a long time since the strawberries were any good.”
“I heard they help you keep the sparkle in your eye.” I said. That was the password. The Children of Starlight had a thing about eyes. Third eye. Eye of God. A lot of their paintings showed a giant eye in space, like the nebulas that turn into dwarf stars, but bigger and as old as the universe itself.
The old crone squinted her eyes at me. “Have a seat, Sonny. We’ll get a warm meal out to you,” she said.
I settled down at one of the crowded benches in the cramped little mess hall. Everyone around me was mostly just spacing out. Coming down off some designer drug, having a bad trip from a bad batch, coming in to fuel up quick before getting back into the VENTURE metaspace. Just a gigantic sea of groans.
It was a long wait. I figure they were running background checks on me. It didn’t matter. All my IDs were fake. Government issue through SDF. My cover was a broke hyperspace technician who wasn’t certified on the new models. It must have all checked out, because eventually someone came around and set a bowl of thick, grey slop in front of me. Next to the bowl was a business card with a number written on the back.
“Don’t forget to pick up your computer. I know how forgetful you wage slaves can be,” the waitress said.
Then, it was off to the races. I checked in at the computer repair shop the card indicated on the other side of town and gave them the paper. They handed me “my” old beater laptop. It was a thick thing, probably from 20 years ago. Felt like a workman’s laptop, from back before everything was wearables. Told me they couldn’t get it hooked up to the net, but all the files should be intact. I took it back to my room and did my rounds to make sure the cameras were dark and booted it up.
There it was. All the complete works of River Crowley. Volumes of books. “Accessing the Systems of the Soul,” “Dismantling Oligarchical Collectivism,” “Transcending Transhumanism,” “Indoctrination of the Human Mind,” “Untold Stories of Earth and Andromeda Prime,” “Basics of Quantum Emergence,” thousands and thousands of pages of information the Andromeda ruling party deemed too dangerous to spread. All that knowledge… and a map.
I opened up the starmap and had a look. Just a map of the Andromeda quadrant. Versis, Ikizler, Song Ngu, Tideyr. Just the faintest of indicators by the Djevika system, considered by most to be relatively untouched. Just a few settlers on the planets there, on Djevika 4. Exploratory settlers. Scientists, or people who just wanted to live off the grid. I had heard it was a pastoral place. Rural, by Andromedan standards.
The map indicated Crowley’s location was on a moon orbiting around Djevika 9. “Oneiros”. Flagged uninhabitable.
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