“As the man said, for every complex problem there’s a simple solution, and it’s wrong.”
― Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum
“As the World Changes”
The kidnapping of actress Lucinda Fullbrigth, star of the popular RealSim soap opera As the World Changes hits the news. Clayton Reed decides the subject is too sensitive and decides to go and talk to Aziz Crowe about it. Neither of them are familiar with the actress or the soap but, as they chat, Aziz receives a panicked message from Nakatomi “Oh My god! they kidnapped Lucy. You have to do something about this!”. Crowe gets the feeling he should deal with the case, even if, officially, ZoneSec isn’t involved. He calls Nakatomi who, after calming down, explains that Lucinda is essential for the show right now: the soap is focused on the heated romance between Donatella Richmond and Mark Pendlenton, played by dashing Wagner Santoro. While they were chatting, an official request from the producers, Maddox Entertainment, finally arrives. Aziz asks Nakatomi to accompany him as a consultant, since he neither understands nor has patience for the biz. She agrees, but only if Doyle joins the party. Meanwhile, at the Blue Parrot, Doyle is greeted by the sensual Malena. She feels they have unfinished business: the concert that never took place, and maybe something else. They agree to book the concert for when her schedule is free. And, maybe, something else. The promise of romance lingers in the air!
Aziz calls Isabella early in the morning. The influencer is still ending her night and sipping a cocktail, but she is fully energised. Aziz tells her he is very intrigued about the British expat, but doesn’t want to risk a visit to the Hellfire club. He suggests Isabella to invite him for one of her parties. The influencer has a brilliant idea on the spot: the party will be at the Blue Parrot and the excuse will be the launch of Louise Sevignon’s (late Babaroux’s assistant) solo career. That will provide an excuse to invite Sir Nigel along with all the designer’s former customers. A duet by Malena and Ka’ athryn will be the main attraction. She asks for two days to put it together. Meanwhile there is Lucinda’s kidnapping to investigate. Isabella pledges to meet Aziz in ZoneSec later that morning, taking the opportunity to finally make her business proposal to the young agent who came up with the energy drink. Before leaving, she calls Doyle to put him up to speed on the party plans, and ensure the Blue Parrot’s and Malena’s availability.
At ZoneSec, the proactive O’Malley decides to combine Dark Dancer with Nutkicker to create a new version: Nutckicker Suave. The experience works like a charm, O’Malley has never felt so relaxed. And that’s how Jana finds him. O’Malley’s lethargy seems funny to her, and she decides to risk a sip, but not enough to feel anything special. That’s how Dr Nakatomi finds them: Isabella greets them and tells them the reason for her visit, O’Malley quickly presents her the new version of the drink and urges her to try it. In the name of science she does so. She leaves them with the drink in hand and goes to see Aziz but, suddenly, she feels so relaxed… She ends up falling asleep in the director’s couch, with the promise he will wake her up for their appointment with Marina Yasin, As the World Changes’s producer. While Isabella snores, Aziz calls Doyle to invite him to join them for the interview at Maddox’s offices.
The trio is expected (at least Crowe is) at Maddox Entertainment. Yasin receives them with a friendly and open smile; they are eager for news about the star whereabouts. After some questions, Marina admits that the actress’ behaviour changed lately. She wanted a raise and the corporate suits didn’t agree to that. Aside from that, she was a star and, fitting the part, she got along badly with everyone. Except for her co-protagonist Santoro; rumours say the two are lovers. It is also made clear the actress has been gone for almost a week, but since she didn’t have any shooting booked no one noticed it until the ransom demand arrived. They decide the next step is to talk to Wagner Santoro, who should be at the studio. As he leaves, Crowe shakes Yasin’s hand to try and get a feeling of her interactions with the actress. He sees flashes of a heated argument about money. Back in the car, Isabella says she has the feeling Lucinda kidnapped herself to get the extra money from Maddox “She isn’t very bright after all…”, the influencer adds.
At the studio, the handsome Wagner Santoro is waiting for them by the bar. He gives Nakatomi a sexy greasy smile, kisses her hand, and firmly shakes the hands of the gentlemen. While shaking hands with the actor, Aziz gets a flashback of a very sleazy hotel room, where he sees Lucinda, naked, lying in bed and Wagner kissing her goodbye. He knows the memory is fresh, it happened that morning. They start talking about the missing actress, Santoro gives them a lot of bullshit about how concerned he is, how important she is for the production, etc. The story of Lucinda’s disappearance is full of holes: she was driving alone, followed by her security guard and just vanished from the road. After some pressure from Doyle and Crowe his story starts to get even more confusing. Finally the actor cracks and ask them to continue the conversation at another place. Away from the studios, Wagner explains to them how Maddox is making tons of money and both him and Lucinda are being explored by the corp. Both the actors agree that Lucinda deserves a better treatment, and the suits at Maddox should realise how much they need her. So, following soap opera logic, they faked the kidnapping. Aziz says ZoneSec doesn’t care about salary disputes, their only concern is the star’s safety. After retrieving the address of the sleazy hotel, Aziz orders Jana to go there babysit Lucinda for a couple of days and, after that, perform an “heroic rescue” and a press conference.
Nakatomi and Doyle’s planning worked perfectly: the party is running smoothly and Malena and Ka’athryn’s duet its a success. But their intention was to attract Sir Nigel Smithe, and they aren’t relaxed until he arrives. Finally, Sir Nigel makes his entrance, dressed with a typical djellaba and accompanied by two young slutty, tacky and almost naked girls, one on each arm. He greets Isabella and asks why the hell he was invited. She gives him the official answer. Meanwhile, Isabella asks Doyle and Crowe about the plan. Apparently there isn’t one, they didn’t think that far ahead. The influencer decides to improvise and, once the expat looks drunk enough (he quickly gorges down four whiskies), she decides to approach him in seductive mode. It doesn’t take much seduction to attract the old drunken pervert (she actually has more trouble keeping his hands away) and, after some cajoling, Sir Nigel invites her to go to a hotel. Isabella convinces him that it will be much more practical and interesting to use the Blue Parrot: the guest room has recently been used by Malena and the sheets have certainly not been changed yet. Sir Nigel agrees and allows himself to be persuaded to walk ahead to the room.
While Sir Nigel drunkenly climbs up the stair, Nakatomi quickly brings Doyle and Aziz up to speed on the plan: take advantage of the man’s trousers being down to interrogate him. Aziz, using his powers and professional experience, should take point. Doyle isn’t too happy about the fact that they’re using Malena’s room, and Aziz says it’s not exactly what he had in mind, but “que sera, sera”. The ZoneSec director goes up alone, apparently nobody wants to give him a hand with Sir Nigel. Aziz knocks on the door and hears barking, followed by: “Come in darling, I’m waiting for you!” The scene that awaits him is peculiar: Sir Nigel lying on the bed, completely naked except for his white socks and a dog collar around his neck. “What are you doing where? You naughty man!” he asks Aziz. “Sir Nigel I’m not sure how, but it seems that we both met at the same time, here in this room…” suddenly he realises the state of the expat and stops his speech to ask politely, but more aggressively than usual: “Gentleman, please compose yourself!…At least put on some underwear”. Sir Nigel grumbles, but agrees. The chemical-induced erection is clearly visible even with boxers on. Crowe takes a deep breath and continues: “Well, since we’re here, something has been bothering me since Barbaroux’s death. Why would he kill those two models? I think you are connected to this somehow. What was your relationship with the designer?” Sir Nigel replies matter-of-factly and a little surprised: “I bought some suits from him… He was a good designer, even though he was a fag.” He pauses to remember. “I lent him money once, but he paid me back… So I guess the gal is not joining me after all?” Aziz replies: “Sorry, but no, this was just an excuse to gets us together in the same room… But are you sure you don’t have anything else to tell me, those symbols on the floor of the crime scene?” Sir Nigel replies, indignantly: “And that’s why you distrust me?! What I saw seemed to be a ridiculous hoax. The occult is a serious thing, he probably thought it would be easy to frame me.” Aziz finally begins to believe him. In the end Sir Nigel invites him to the select Hellfire club. The rest of the night at the Parrot is without incident; the curse over Malena’s performances seems to have been lifted, and she stays over to celebrate.
At the Hellfire
Isabella is very excited to know about the invite to the Hellfire club, she also sends Sir Nigel a gift basket apologising for the deceiving. Meanwhile a couple of days go by, and Lucinda is “rescued” by ZoneSec. The fans rejoice, the soap opera gets back on track with filming schedule and both Fullbrigth and Santoro get a raise.
That night they finally decide to call on Sir Nigel at the Hellfire club. It is a small old, discreet building on the Crepuscule District. The impeccably dressed doorman is reluctant to let them in but, after being shown Sir Nigel’s invitation, they are ushered into an elegant, richly furnished, room. It smells strongly of leather and cigar smoke. In a corner there’s is a bar stocked with drinks that make Doyle go green with envy. One wall is occupied with a huge bookcase full of tomes on the occult. The few men present, distinguished looking elderly gentlemen, are either reading, or playing chess, and they ignore the visitors.
After asking to be announced, they are directed to Sir Nigel’s office. The bait, Isabella, leads the way. This time they find Sir Nigel dressed, but accompanied by three naked young women, lying voluptuously on chaise longs. Sir Nigel signals to one of the women who, obediently, slides under the table, positions herself between Sir Nigel’s legs and goes to work. Isabella asks permission to go to the toilet and, meanwhile, snoops around. Aziz and Doyle stare at each other and wonder what they are doing there… They must have done it out loud, because Sir Nigel replies: “Mr Crowe, you work for ZoneSec right? Maybe I have something interesting to tell you.” The eccentric Briton goes on telling them a tale of supernatural beings working secretly behind the corporations façade. He claims there are demons at work in Avalidad, Kobayashi probably being one of them, and that the most astonishing technological breakthroughs are due to them. Meanwhile, Dr Nakatomi returns and finds the conversation very entertaining, although for her it doesn’t matter how they got the technology, all that matter is that they have it. Doyle is feeling a bit vindicated about his distrust of all things technological and Aziz is still unbelieving. The conversation ends with them all agreeing in one thing: Barbaroux was an idiot and the only responsible for the murders. They leave the office with a weird feeling, Nakatomi carrying a borrowed book, Codex Voluptate et Dolorum, and dives into it that night.
Outside, Nastasja warns Crowe he has an encrypted call from ZoneSec. A worried Reed informs him there was an attempt on Takeda’s life. Clayton doesn’t have any details about it: the old man was protected by is one personal security, probably Yakuza types, but he has a bad feeling about the secrecy around the matter, and tells Aziz they are to meet Takeda and Bentley the next morning.
While they are approaching Doyle´s car, he hears a strange noise near it. It sounds like something is crawling around the vehicle. Pointing a flashlight at the spot he sees something crawling inside a gutter, followed by a flash of blue light. Then silence. Doyle moves to inspect the car and discovers the door was forced, the glove compartment is open and some things are missing: A 20th century poetry book, some bullets and an old fashion camera. Doyle exclaims “They broke into my car!” waking Aziz from a trance. He just had a disturbing vision: Crowe saw a strange figure, larger than a human being, heavily muscled and naked, but without sexual organs. The figure walked toward him, and Aziz feels a shiver of pure fear. He feels a something terrible related to that creature is about to happen.
The night ends in a sorrowful note.