Yeah, I'm way overdue again. On the bright side, this episode brings us a major reveal, though I imagine some of you have probably twigged to it already. Also, a fun bit of trivia related to me by a reader and dear friend: "mouchoir" is French for "handkerchief". So apparently that computer in Transgressions is owned by Jean St. Snotrag. ...Anyway, it's time to head to the British Embassy at Dupont Circle, where we'll be meeting with Senator Erin Burr of the Citizens' Freedom Front!

British Embassy: It seems ironic that this charming, refined, old-world parlor is the waiting room for the revolution - the outer office of the head of the CFF's so-called Shadow Government, Erin Burr.

Charles Multi-Server Unit (silver guy): You tentatively approach the Charles Multi-Server Unit. Wrinkled skin and sagging muscles reveal the unit's age, but it is powerfully built.

Vivid (green pants): A young Asian woman is near a flesh-and-steel monstrosity.

Derek Literati (couch): A dangerous-looking man casts a withering, unforgiving glare at you, making it clear that not everyone in the Front welcomes your presence.

Talk to Vivid

You've got to be kidding me. That can't be what it looks like.

Can be, and is. What's the matter? Never seen a meat before?

I've never been this close to a living one before. Their skin's real, and yet the machines... look! The control panel rises and falls as he respirates. Doesn't he spook you?

Not me, but maybe that's 'cause we're sorta family. Did my fetal time in a Fecund 5085!

You look fine. Any negative side effects?

What do you remember about your mother's womb? Do you recall how that affected you? Hell, I've got time-lapse film of my gestation.

Yeah, I remember reading about it. "Science makes war on motherhood". That was the feeling, I think.

Takes some adapting, but he's got his uses once you're onto him. Knows what he's doing in the embassy commissary. Great omelettes.

(Charles is a multi-server, isn't he?)
Charles is over sixty-eight years old. His hardware hasn't been upgraded in fifty years, so it's clunky, and his organic tissue has aged...but you're not so bad, are you, Charles?

System memory and processing speed functioning at 89.4% capacity. White blood count is normal. No infections or serious illness to report.

Freaks the hell out of me. Solux may be evil, but I can't be sorry it put the meats on cold storage. I mean, just look at this hideous thing!

Talk to Charles Multi-Server Unit

His flesh is so real, so human, but then there are those machines in his abdomen. It's monstrous!

(Can we have information on you, Charles?)
Yeah, Charles. Your specs, please.

I am a Charles-class Multi-Server Unit. My hardware is powered by 400 megahertz of processing power and a twelve-terabyte drive. Gib-Tek's free association modules and Pandar Labs creative memory cells serve, respectively, as primary operating system and storage. My wetware was spawned from New Corporeal's Genesis Genome and grown in a hothouse Federal Center. Wetware incubation occurred over a seven-month period. Quality assurance tests completed. Current diagnostics: Major organs: 73% efficacy (rating reflects minor heart blockage, development of possibly precancerous polyps along wall of large intestine). Organelles, 89% efficacy (rating reflects deteriorations in lymphatic system). Skeletal system: 100% efficacy. Circulatory system...

400 MHz?! I've used cell phones with more raw clock than Chaz here. Must be one hell of an efficient AI.

That's enough, Charles. Thanks.

(Can we have a list of services?)
I don't think so, Charles.

Go ahead, Charles. I'm curious.

Selected services catalog for Charles-series multi-server unit. Last upgrade December 2048. Selected list, areas of specialty: automechanics, cosmetology, epistemology, heating and refrigeration, palmistry, and wok cookery. I am a licensed EMT. Language proficiency: major European, African and Asian tongues, dialect upgrades available, both Mandarin and Cantonese with assimilator modules for adaptation to local variants. My Lexicon processors are fashioned from a mech-cortical tissue matrix for rapid adaptability. I am a skilled raconteur, programmed with fictional superstructures, symbols, imagery, and themes particular to dozens of cultures.

Some other time, Charles. We've just met, you know.

Talk to Charles again
It'll take me a couple meg of text to sell me on this thing. I still think he's hideous.

Sorry, Charlie! She doesn't mean it.

Yes, I do! Don't apologize for me. This thing doesn't have feelings.

Yes, don't apologize for her. I don't have feelings, unless you want me to.

Talk to Derek Literati

So, you're Eshanti and Braque, the rogue ARC agents who've got the Five Fingers shaking like palsied old women.

You got, it, chief. Doing your job for you.

Maybe you are. Did they check these two, Vivid?

Stripped 'em and scanned 'em. Any weapons were stripped of ammo. Senator Burr wants to see them.

You make one false move near the Senator, and I'll kill you.

We're on the same side, hard guy.

I don't know that. I just see a couple of ARC agents standing in CFF headquarters, and I get suspicious about how a couple of narcs took out a scrub team.

I thought we passed our initiation when we helped Xenon set up Solux.

I want him dead. How do we know you haven't tipped Solux about that homing device you put on his vehicle? Xenon's too trusting. So's Senator Burr, for that matter. I'll be watching; you should remember that. Senator's through the door on the left. Luck for you, your fate is in her hands and not mine.

Talk to Derek again
Still haven't talked to Burr yet, eh? I'm getting more suspicious all the time.

That's enough from you, Booky McParanoid. Before we go meet the Senator, let's have a look at the computer room, which is accessed through the door on the right.

Resistance HQ Computer Room: Where CFF revolutionaries get to watch the revo as it unfolds on holovids and internets, like the rest of the country. It's also where they develop illegal computer soci-techs that they'll need to implement when...and if...they ever overthrow Solux.

Internets! Do they have rumors on them?

Katerina Goertz: A woman works a keypad like a concert pianist. She seems determined to make her dated machine work magic.

Talk to Katerina Goertz

This looks like a command center. Is that right?

Good eye, chief.

You're working on a Lex 6000? Little dated, isn't it?

Casing's from a Lex. I got the insides cranked. It could probably handle a deck if there were anywhere in cyberspace worth going. This kind of hardware isn't easy to come by. The Brits pony up what they can, but the Hand limits tech transfers even in here. Just a matter of time before the Hand stops respecting diplomatic immunity altogether.

Talk to Katerina again
Whatever it is, ask the Senator. She runs the show. I just work here.

OK, fair enough. At least Katerina's more polite than Derek. We now head back out to the waiting room, then through the left door.

Senator Erin Burr's Office: Erin Burr has left the elegant trappings of an embassy conference room relatively untouched, as if to remind herself that while it's meant to serve as her office, it's only temporary, and to savor its plushness would be to overlook the fact that there's a turgid revolution brewing outside.

Indeed. A turgid, veiny, throbbing revolution.

Senator Erin Burr: The formidable Erin Burr sizes you up with the perceptive eye of a politician.

Talk to Erin Burr

Mr. Eshanti. Ms. Braque. Aldous Xenon has briefed me about your midnight visitors. Never trust animals that eat their young or a government that shoots its own people.

Right now we don't have a lot of trust left for anybody, Senator.

You've proved to me that you have your uses. For now, at least, I'm going to risk trusting you.

You won't regret it. Desperate people can make loyal allies.

There is something you can help me with, something that has divided the Front's leadership for years. It involves missing comrades. The current efforts to strike at Solux are by no means our first. Our most ambitious and perhaps reckless attempt occurred a few years ago, when fifteen of our finest agents undertook a guerilla raid on the Pentagon. Acting on intelligence from agents we have on the inside, the attack force was to infiltrate the Pentagon, make its way along air ducts and secured hallways to the Imperator's sanctum, and kill it.

But something happened.

They never made it to Solux. In their final transmission, Marcus Vanders, the attack leader, reported that they'd discovered something so...significant, so...disturbing in its implications that they didn't trust explaining it over wireless transmission. Whatever it was caused Vanders to immediately abort the mission and order a return here to the embassy. The last we heard, they were engaged in a running firefight with the Imperator's troops. Eight members of the attack team were confirmed dead by Vanders before we lost contact with him.

You figure the Hand is holding them prisoner? Maybe in hell?

It's possible. I'm among those who think we should not give up hope of rescuing them until we know they are dead.

Corpus delecti, eh? You're the boss; why not lay down the law?

Because my staff is divided over the issue. Because I haven't the people to spare on what is probably a futile effort.

But now you've got us. Surplus labor, eh? A little gravy.

You get the picture. As you fight to save yourselves, I'd like for you to search for evidence...on Earth or in hell...of the attack team's fate. In addition to Vanders, the unaccounted-for commandos are Harold Balk, Leena Gordon, Vic Tavaleo, Mick Malone, Claudette Simeon, Frances Robinson, and Czech Vilsoz.

We'll do what we can.

Report to me whenever you learn anything about the attack team, or about anything else that might aid in the struggle against Solux and against hell. You can usually find me in the command room.

That's all we can get out of the Senator for now. I don't feel like dealing with the Psionic League's sidequest parade just yet, so in the absence of any other leads, let's go check out Dean Sterling the demon hunter.

Dean Sterling's Office: Gadzooks, but from the moment you enter this room, there's little question that the occupant knows how to hunt. The question is, does he know how to hunt demons? The rumor is, he does.

Dean Sterling: His rugged good looks and a few well-placed scars go well with the outback outfit; he looks like a demon hunter.

Talk to Dean Sterling

Blimey! Didn't hear you come in. Got lost in these old texts here; fascinating stuff. Are you Eshanti and Braque, then?

You got it, ace. How'd you know?

Got to keep abreast of everyone on the demon trail. Figured we'd meet up sooner or later. Well, what can I do for you, then?

We thought maybe you could give us a hand. We're trying to track down why the Hand wants us dead. The trail seems to keep leading back to Mr. Beautiful, for instance.

Blimey, there's a bugger I'd like to bag! Got dreams of mounting his head on my wall.

We know what you mean. Are they all like that?

Essentially, yeah. It's a question of degrees, though. Some are a bit more approachable. Guy I'm working on now, for instance, fella name of Asmodeus. If you can find him, you can walk right into his hell front and chat up a storm with him. Finding him's the hard part, though. Sleazy bugger.

Tell us about this Asmodeus. You think we could get into Hell through him?

Lord, I imagine he'd take you there in an instant. He's always recruiting people for his film projects; bugger makes snuff films involving humans and demons, even a few beasties thrown in for good measure. Ghastly creature, bad as any of them. Maybe not quite as bright as Beautiful, though. In fact...well, no, I can't ask you to do that.

Try us!

Well, it just occurred to me that you two would have the perfect in! See the way to get to him is to have him recruit you for a film. See, he knows me. Don't think my scarred old frame is exactly his cup of tea, anyway...but you just might work.

What's your plan?

Well, the first step is to track him. Moves his operation around a lot, he does, but I'm following some leads to his whereabouts. Once I find him, I've got a device guaranteed to take him out, and his hell pit with him! Only thing is, you'd have to get there first...and then, of course, there's the little trick of getting out again.

We're willing to try.

He's operating out of some abandoned storefront near Union Station. All right, then, once you get to hell, you've got to hide this device and get out quick. It's on a timer, activated the minute you engage the suction device. You'll have about ten minutes.

Standard palm-heat activation of the suction device?

Now there's a quote to take out of context.

That's right. You're familiar with these little gizmos?

No. I mean, yes, I guess. To tell you the truth, I never saw one before, I don't think.

Gid, how did you know?

I dunno...

No bother! You're aware, that's the main thing. That's all there is to it. Then you activate your fannies out of there. I'll station myself across the way, where I can see into his shop. I'll bring along my blaster in case things get dicey while you're still on Earth. Won't be much help if you run into trouble while you're...down under, so to speak. Good luck to you, then!

We now have Sterling's Device in the inventory, but it has no description when examined. Asmodeus's Porn Studio has been added to the DC Map, so let's go there!

Asmodeus's Porn Studio: With its props and various sets, it looks like any normal film studio lot...and yet, there's something different about it all when you realize porno-snuff films are made here.

Rutterkind (short demon): A troll-like servant of Asmodeus and his actors obviously loves his work.

Grinda Dove (on desk): A hell porn queen is lounging about the studio. She is conscious that she is displaying her wares at all times. Her slutty splendor is swathed in Southern charm.

Asmodeus: A lean, mean, keen-tongued demon filmmaker. He can't be still even long enough to view one of his own snuff films.

Talk to Rutterkind

Hello there. I'm Rutterkind. You're new...what's your name?

Rachel, and this is Gideon.

Hello, Mistress Rachel, Master Gideon. May I serve you?

No thanks. We can't talk. We're here to do a little business.

I'm in the business. Ten years! Yet, my days were never happier than these last three in which I've had the pleasure of serving Mistress Grinda.

How nice for you.

Oh, I've had an illustrious career. Would you like to hear the highlights?

You can answer yes or no here. The decision has no consequence beyond the different responses you get from Rutterkind, but I'll go ahead and transcribe both because I love you.

I started at the very bottom. It was nothing like the level of prestige I've achieved now. I started just fetching towels for the lead in "NeuroManservant". Now I'm strictly in the service of Mistress Grinda...but I'm sure that something could be arranged, now that you're with us. I'll check on it.

Well, that's really not...

No, no, I'll ask, and I'll put in a good word for you. Don't be nervous. I'm sure you'll be just fine!

Perhaps, if I may be so lucky, we will one day have the pleasure of working together.


Talk to Grinda Dove

Hi there, gorgeous! Wanna be in pictures? Haven't chosen my co-star yet.

Well, as a matter of fact, I am looking for...

I wasn't talkin' to you, beefcake! I am addressin' this lovely young lady here.

Listen, it comes down to this. We're looking to make some good money, fast. Can you use both of us?

At the same, in fact. Use and abuse. You folks look pretty hard up. That comes in handy 'round here, but you've also got to be versatile. That's the name of the game here, sugar.

And what does that entail?

Exactly. Tails, hooves, horns, you name it.

Wait a minute. I thought this was just straight smut.

Aw, relax, darlin'. They're just like us, except they don't go hidin' what they're all about. They ARE lust, sugar, the real thing. Droolin', snarlin', cloven, hopped-up flesh hounds.

Hey, Rach, do we really know what we're getting into here?

Aw, it's not that bad. Asmodeus pays great money, but on the other hand, none of these fiends have ever seen bathwater. Then there's the pot bellies, the moltin', the belchin'. C'mon, sugar. Take a walk with me on the dark side!

Talk to Asmodeus

Well, well, well! Look what the cat dragged in...and dressed so fashionably! You gotta love that about young people. Whaddya, whaddya, whaddya? You wanna be stars? You wanna see yourselves up on the big screen, is that it? Speak to me, baby, I'm wanted on the set!

Well, my friend here and I...

Whoa, baby, slow down. This side of beef is part of your package? Give it to me straight. What's the deal? What's the skinny? Where's your representation? Who you with? Whaddya, whaddya, whaddya?

We're looking for work!

Whoa, no shit, Sherlock! Everybody who comes in here is looking for work. Everybody wants to be a star. Asmodeus, they say to me! Asmo, baby, I'm hot! ...But really, they don't know "hot", you know what I mean" Heh, heh, a little industry humor there. No, seriously, what kind of experience you got?


That's OK, baby, don't worry about it. I can tell just by looking at you that you're good. You got good bone structure, heh heh. You know what I'm saying? 'Course, I'm gonna have to audition you. Why don't you just have a seat on the couch here with me while your boyfriend hits the pavement?

Both of us, or no deal.

You two are killing me. All right, all right, don't worry about it. The effects department can take care of it. Let's go down to the set and see what you're made of. I got a plot going I could use you two in. Standard contract, don't worry about it, we'll work out the fine print later, no problem. You game?


We need to consult with our, uh, agent.

Your what? You get your first role, and you got to talk it over with your AGENT? Forget about it. There's a million more where you two came from. Go, on scram.

Talk to Asmodeus again
Come crawling back, have you? They all come back to Asmo. I'm willing to give you one more chance. You gonna take it this time?

Oh, fine.

Fabulous! Let's go down to the set and see how you "emote". That's an acting term, heh.

Skull hat, Aztec barbershop smock, you know the drill.

Children's playground set D:

Asmodeus Film Office: Barely recognizable as a film office, it's even less recognizable as a porn-film headquarters.

Asmodeus: The demon filmmaker seems to thrive on the infernal insanity of the hell film set.

Talk to Asmodeus
All right, all right. Don't touch anything on the set, and don't let any of this spook you. These people are all professional actors, eh?

Oh my God!

Take it easy, baby, it's all effects! Trust me, they don't feel a thing. It's like falling off a log. Let me just go talk to this one actor over here. He's hamming it up, doesn't wanna do his part the way it's written. You know, some performers you just gotta stroke all the time. Pamper, stroke, pamper, stroke, that's all I do around here! Be right back, baby.

You got the device? Where should we put it?

I don't know. Is that his director's chair? Let's put it under there.

Hurry, he's coming back!

There's a bit of a plot hole here. You can't take items from Earth into hell, or vice-versa; this is reinforced by the fact that Gideon and Rachel have separate inventories for the separate planes, and by some information about hell we'll be discovering shortly. So, how did they bring Sterling's widget with them to Asmodeus's pit? Ah, well, it's ultimately of little consequence.

Hey, you're looking beautiful, baby! Hey, Beefcake, I told you, don't touch nothing on the set. Now, let me set the scene for you. Being as this is your first part, I'm gonna give you something easy; I just want you to show me some pain. Got it? We'll work our way up to agony and misery later. For now, just give me...pain. OK? Play around with it, see what you come up with...then you get a little drunk and you land in jail. Gaffer, get a grip! You gotta look for the union label. All's well that ends well! Swell! Swell! Lights, camera, interaction!


What's going on? He's talking to us like we're not here!

It's like he's shorting out or something. Did you place the device?

No, he came back too quick, but...

Suddenly, all hell breaks loose down (Local)

Following that strange interlude, we find ourselves back in Asmodeus's earthly studio, with the boss looking slightly the worse for wear.

Examine Dean Sterling: The intrepid demon hunter's bazooka is still smoking as you come to consciousness. He's bagged another one.

Talk to Dean Sterling
Man, where the hell are we?

I found you two in here hooked up to this bloody machine, Asmodeus watching over you. I saw him hook you up through the window and I didn't like the looks of things. I got a good shot off and down he went! Fell over like a bull elephant hit with a tranq shot!

Yeah, he was acting weird in hell. He just started jerking and stuttering...

Now it makes sense! Look at him; he's an android!

WAS an android. Whatever he was, you sure took him out, Sterling. Man, I hope I never get on your wrong side. What kind of gun are you using, a bazooka?

You only get one shot with a demon. Better make it a good one.

But what did you do to disrupt his system, and how come that made the whole place go kaflooey?

Got some weird news for you mates: I don't think you were in hell. I mean, I found you unconscious, hooked up to these little gizmos here.

What? Hooked up to these decks? Impossible!

Wait a minute, Gid, this is beginning to make sense! The android, the whole place shaking up, the message just appearing in midair like that...

Blimey, you mean hell was virtual? Naaaw! It's too incredible!

You said yourself, Asmodeus was already short-circuiting when you got here. Somebody got into the system and planted a bug so it would crash! The same person sent us that message!

You know, I think you might be onto something, Rach. Unbelievable; all these years...hell...virtual! What a SCAM!


But...who else knew? Who sent us that message?

I think we'd better get to Dante's and find out.

Absolutely incredible. The bloody government...look, let me know what you find out. I've got to get back to my place. This changes everything, except how dangerous the bloody Hand is.

We'd better take one of these decks with us. Dante can help us figure this whole thing out, and whoever this mystery person is.

Yeah, well, watch your backs, mates. You now know what may be the most dangerous information you could possibly know.

You do, too...but at least now we're more certain than ever that our battle isn't just with a scrub team. It's with the entire Hand itself.

The Hand it is. I'm gonna have to get myself a bigger gun! Go carefully, mates.

And there we have our big reveal! Also, our very own psychopomp, which will doubtless come in handy sooner than later. For now, though, we'd better go check in with Dante, as per the suggestion of those mysterious flaming words.

Talk to Dante
Dante, we've had a break.

No kidding! I'm networking with a deepthroat who claims he's been working from within the Pentagon! He says he's been in contact with you. What's the story?

Something big. Could change everything we know about hell.

It locked up! We were in a hell pit run by a demon called Asmodeus. The whole thing...everything, except for us...locked up, and this "deepthroat" contacted us in flaming letters!

What? A lockup? Get Quality Assurance on the line! Bug free, they said it was.

Locked up? What's that? You're babbling!

Because it's extraordinary, an unprecendented violation of physical laws. What did Deepthroat tell you? We must contact him!

He said the psychopomps are really wireless decking units, that you can access hell at will! He left an address..."garage"? What does that mean? What is this...decks, addresses?

I wouldn't know anything about decks. I'm just an old man with sore joints and bad eyesight.

I've got some guesses, but only Deepthroat can tell us what really happened.

Oh, shit. I think I get it. Oh, man...

What are you thinking, Gid?

I'm thinking that hell may not be real at all, that it's an enormous, complex virtual reality, that all these years of terror and suffering were founded on a lie.

That's my past, dammit. Can't an old man be left to die in peace?

Oh, man, they didn't! Don't tell me...they outlawed the stuff and kept it all to themselves!

Kind of interesting how they set that up, really. I don't believe the game ever comes right out and says it, but if you think about it, all of the Hell technology is likely rooted in some of the illegal stuff we've been learning about; the hell VR is likely based on the Acti-Deck's parallax code, and the real-world robotic demons are just meats. I dunno, I think it's cool.

They could be even more powerful than we thought.

More vulnerable, too. Damn, they made fools of us, Rachel! Reality Containment's a colossal joke if Deepthroat tells us what I think he will.

If we talk to Drexler, he just gives his usual ramble about refried beans and pan-fried quails, but Dante has a bit of new dialogue.

Talk to Dante again
I've been panning for gold on the nets, but nothing's turned up on you two yet.

Keep trying; we appreciate it. How's Drexler?

He's an interesting old coot, but I gotta eyeball him long hours 'cause he keeps rigging my hardware.

Can't damn a man to Tartarus for trying to stay current. Tech jacks in the warrens fetch a high price. I been making do for years with insufficient amperes and sluggish clock speeds. I'd pay a fortune for a multi-spectival poly-robust graphics system...

Hey, I'm hip to all that, but let me know the next time you plan on tapping the heating unit's power supply to run an arc welder. The coating on the wires melted into the floor!

...Poor Dante.
Next time on IPAT: Hell, we use our newly acquired psychopomp to meet the mysterious Deepthroat!