Orpheus: The Taste of Ashes - Missions - Interlude001

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Dramatis Personae

Protagonists

  • Tom Knox, Haunter
  • Teresa Reilly, Banshee

Supporting Characters

Orpheus

  • Ben Cotton, Poltergeist
  • Kate Dennison, Banshee
  • Dr Annie Harper, Unknown Shade (Ghost)
  • Chet Mason, Skinrider
  • Matthew Peterson, non-projector (manager)
  • Rodrigo, non-projector (driver)

Other

  • The receptionist at a no-kill animal shelter in New York


First Interlude

Having successfully wrapped up their first mission, the team have a couple of days to relax before their debriefing on Monday. The first thing Tom does is to find a no-kill shelter for Roy’s dog, Smuggler. He decides that he just can’t look after the aged thing himself, and he can’t find anyone who’s willing to take it in. Searching the web, he finds a few shelters in the New York area, and goes to check them out. He takes the dog with him so as not to have to make another journey if one of the places is suitable. Smuggler shits on the back seat of his car during the trip. Tom thinks that the first shelter he looks at seems nice enough so, after asking the girl behind the desk a few questions about the place, he decides to leave Smuggler there. The girl asks if he would like to make a donation to the shelter and, after a short deliberation, he hands over half of his bonus for the mission ($250).

When the team left Roy’s storage unit after laying the ghost to rest on Friday, Tom took the radio through which they heard the broadcast from “Radio Free Death”. He wants to see if he can pick up any more such broadcasts, and thinks that it might be unique to that particular set. Almost exactly 24 hours after the one on Thursday night (which went out at around 11:40pm), he hears another (at about 11:25pm). As previously, it only lasts for a few seconds and is hard to make out through the static. However, he hears enough to make out that it is congratulating the projectors who successfully lay to rest “regular listener Roy”. Tom is a little surprised. There is another broadcast at roughly the same time on Saturday night, but this one doesn’t refer to anyone he knows. He discovers that any radio can pick up the transmission, so it isn’t just some property of Roy’s set. However, when he tries to record it, he gets only static on the tape.

Teresa defrosts on Friday. When she’s recovered sufficiently from the process, she goes to tell Annie about what she experienced when she used Forebode to look at the moment at which the spectre was created. Annie is intrigued, and wants her to try it again. Teresa says she will, but not just yet. (The incident has left her shaken as well as curious.) She adds that she has promised to let Kate know before making another attempt. Annie doesn’t seem overly pleased at that, but thinks she probably has enough clout at Orpheus to ensure that they can still go ahead even if Kate objects.

On Sunday, Tom and Teresa both relax in their own ways. Tom goes to a fortnightly gun club that Chet runs at “The Farm”, Orpheus’ firearms (and more esoteric ranged attacks) training facility. These gatherings are for those people among the company employees who take the whole thing a little more seriously. It’s mostly made up of professionals -- ex-military and former cops like Tom, who goes regularly. Ben also attends, but on a much more sporadic basis. The club isn’t just training, but also a social event, with a barbeque after the weapons practice. The whole thing seems to be very much a boys’ own adventure. Zoe went once but didn’t go back, complaining loudly of testosterone poisoning. Teresa spends some time with Blink. Company gossip says that the two of them are seeing each other.

On Monday, Tom, Teresa and Ben meet with Matthew for their mission debriefing. They have had to write a report, including a certain amount of paperwork to do with the fact that Tom and Teresa projected whilst out in the field. Matthew seems quite pleased with how things went, overall, and agrees that the field-projecting was necessary. However, he notes that the spectre only attacked when Ben used his more powerful technique and perhaps it might have not paid any attention to them if he hadn’t. He suggests that, in future, it might be wise not to use such energy-intensive abilities around such entities unless absolutely necessary.

Matthew concludes his evaluation by telling them that the client has been told that the problems were caused by a ghost, which has now been dealt with. The client is apparently perfectly satisfied with that outcome. When he’s done with the debriefing, he asks the team if any of them have anything they would like to add, or to ask. Tom mentions the Radio Free Death (RFD) broadcasts, and asks if anyone at Orpheus has encountered it before. Matthew considers for a moment, and tells them that Orpheus knows about it, but the official management position is that it’s likely the work of one or more rogue ghosts (or, possibly, projectors) and shouldn’t be trusted. When asked for more information, he tells them that the signal goes out sometime between eleven and midnight every night, both on the radio (on a specific “empty” frequency) and on one of the satellite television channels. The radio broadcast is pretty much as the investigators heard: words coming through on a channel that’s usually nothing but static. A short time before or after that (but still within the eleven to midnight time-slot), there is a blip of interference on the television during the Fox News broadcast. Normal people only see and hear the static, but projectors and ghosts hear the same RFD broadcast as either went out, or is about to go out on the radio. As Tom discovered, the attempts to record the signal only pick up the noise. Matthew says that Kate is known to have an interest in RFD, so they would be better off talking to her if they want to know more.

The three projectors leave Matthew’s office. Ben bids goodbye to the other two, heading off to make the most of this leisure time before his next assignment. Tom suggests to Teresa that the two of them go to talk to Kate and Annie about RFD. They go to see Annie first. (Tom seems a little intimidated by Kate, for some reason.) She hasn’t heard about RFD before, but is interested in learning more. She doesn’t have a TV or radio, but Teresa says she’s welcome to listen to it over at her place. Before she and Tom go off to talk to Kate, she arranges what sounds suspiciously like a girls’ night out with Annie. Zoe will apparently be invited as well. Tom gets the impression this wouldn’t be the first such outing. When the two of them have left Annie’s office, he asks Teresa where they take a ghost to party. She tells him they go to Chains: a Goth club. It makes a certain amount of sense.

Kate seems less pleased to see them than Annie. Teresa starts out doing the talking, but then neatly drops Tom in it by telling Kate that he was the one who heard the broadcast that seemed to refer to them. Kate instructs them to come in, close the door and sit down. They do so. She tells them that they probably should keep their interest in RFD quiet, as management don’t approve. She’s been listening to it for some time now, and that it has given her some useful information on occasion. It seems to be, essentially, a local radio station for -- and possibly by -- ghosts. The broadcasts seem to be fairly specific, often mentioning particular ghosts by name. Projectors occasionally feature as well, but it seems to be fairly ghost-centric. Teresa asks if there are communities of ghosts, and Kate says that there are, listing a few of them. The largest one in New York is based in a shelter/counselling centre that Teresa has heard of.

Tom asks more questions about RFD, and Kate tells him that she has transcripts of most of them since she started paying attention. Being a Banshee helps with that, apparently. Teresa wonders if everyone always hears the same message when they listen, so Kate pulls out her transcript for Friday and Saturday night. They match what the others heard, which answers that question. Tom expresses an interest in looking further in to RFD, which Kate doesn’t seem to have any objection to.

Over the couple of weeks or so, Tom and Teresa are kept busy helping out with a variety of other missions. Tom gets called in when a crucible needs someone with investigative skills, and Teresa is often asked to scry the past or divine the future. They also make the time to further investigate the barrier that prevented Teresa and Ben entering the Southville Church of St Matthew during their investigation. They know that a holy relic of the church (the Blood of St Matthew) was being held there at the time, and they theorise that the barrier was a property of this, rather than the church itself. To test this theory, they pay a visit to the church once the relic has been moved on to the next church on the tour. Teresa projects from Orpheus’ Nursery, and Tom drives the two of them to Southville.

Tom pulls up outside the church and lets Teresa out, remaining where he has a clear line of sight on the front of the church. Teresa goes up to the doors and stretches her hands forward. She encounters resistance, but it is nothing like it was previously. Rather than being a solid barrier, this is more like a gel, and there is no pain when she touches it. She circles the building once before entering, testing the entire perimeter of the building. The sensation is the same all the way around and, like before, de-materialising makes no difference. After informing Tom of her findings, she tries the big test: walking through the front door. It feels like she’s walking through a layer of jelly, but she enters the church without any real trouble. The inside of the building is filled with a bright, directionless light that makes it hard for her to see anything at all. She thinks that it’s only present on the ghostly plane. It reminds her of some of the descriptions of what Orpheus agents have seen as ghost “pass over”. She explores the inside of the church, but doesn’t find anything noteworthy. It seems likely that the barrier was the result of the relic’s presence in the church, and that what’s left is merely some sort of residue. It remains to be seen whether that residue will fade completely.

Tom, Teresa and Annie have been listening out for RFD broadcasts. They’ve mainly been congregating at Teresa’s house to do so. Annie, who is a linguist expert as well as a sociologist and immaterial scientist, is able to deduce quite a lot of information about the person behind the transmission. There seem to be multiple speakers -- male, female, young, old; a variety of accents -- but she thinks the broadcasts were all scripted by the same individual. They are simply constructed using a collection of soundbites and samples: the audio equivalent of a note pieced together from words cut out of newspapers. From her analysis, the creator of RFD is most likely to be male, black, in his twenties or thirties, and from the low end of the social scale with a limited education. She thinks he probably grew up in Harlem, but has either moved around a lot or been exposed to people from a wide geographical area. This information won’t really help them narrow down who and where he is just yet, but it’s a good start.

Towards the end of the second week after the mission, Teresa tells Kate that she would like to attempt to scry the creation of the Southville Gazette spectre one more time. Kate seems to disapprove, especially when Teresa confirms (when questioned) that Annie wants to be involved. She doesn’t quite seem to believe that trying this again was all Teresa’s idea. However, she does seem to appreciate the fact that Teresa came to her before going ahead with it. After considering for a moment or two, she agrees, but says that she will be along to keep an eye on things. There being no time like the present, they go to tell Annie the good news.

There is a period of glowering between Annie and Kate -- who don’t really get on very well due to their conflicting outlooks on the world -- but the three women soon move on to discussing the practicalities. Annie volunteers the information that she is able to form connections between herself and up to three other people -- all the other projectors and ghosts only seem to be able to form one connection at a time -- so both of them can experience what Teresa does. Teresa suggests that it might be safer to have one person observe from outside the link, just in case. Kate points out that, realistically, none of them would be willing to stand on the sidelines. She’s absolutely right, as evidenced by the complete lack of any of them volunteering to do so. Teresa suggests bringing Tom in on this, mainly because they’ve been assigned as crucible-mates. Also, he was present the last time and will have an idea what to expect. Kate and Annie agree, so she calls him and asks if he is willing to assist with an experiment. He agrees without asking what it will involve, and she tells him to meet her at the Nursery.

When Tom turns up, Teresa explains to him what it is he signed up for. Whatever reservations he may hold privately, he doesn’t run screaming into the night. The four of them decide that the three projectors will project from the Nursery, and Annie will arrange for a driver and car to take them all to Southville and back. Soon enough, they are on their way. The paper has closed for the night, so they dematerialise through the walls and make their way into the basement. Annie takes Kate and Teresa’s hands and concentrates a moment, using her ability. Kate also uses her ability to help Teresa. When all the preparations are done with, Teresa begins.

Watching from outside the link, Tom sees all three women start to change. Their forms distort horribly, becoming warped and misshapen. Teresa’s body elongates until she is all angles and sharp edges, her fingers stretching into wickedly pointed claws. Her eyes enlarge until they seem to take up half of her head, becoming bottomless black pits that seem to pull hungrily at Tom. She expels jagged shards and razor-blades with every breath. Kate’s fingers transform into scalpels, and Annie’s transformation is perhaps the most horrific of all. Her body melts and expands, engulfing the other two until all that is left is one massive, grotesque shape. Tom starts to back away, but the thing that was his fellow Orpheus agents pay him no attention. They just stay where they are, their attention elsewhere, and then drop like puppets with their strings cut.

Tom calls out to them, but gets no response. He moves forward and sees that their forms are normal again, with one exception: Teresa and Kate’s hands are fused to Annie’s. All three of them are very deeply unconscious, and don’t respond to his attempts to wake them. Upon closer inspection, it seems that their hands aren’t actually melded together: rather, Annie’s hands have enveloped the others’. However, the result of this is still the same: they are joined together and cannot be separated.

With some difficulty, Tom manages to part carry and part drag his conjoined colleagues up the stairs and out to the car. Inhabiting the driver’s ’phone, he tells the man to take them back to Orpheus and then uses the ’phone to call Chet. He quickly explains the situation to his mentor, who swears and says he’ll meet them there.

About twenty minutes or so after setting off from the Southville Gazette, Annie, Kate and Teresa suddenly and simultaneously wake up. Speaking as one, they say: “The Reaper is coming for us!” Tom’s immediate response is not to ask questions, but to ’phone Chet. Chet tells him to get to Orpheus with all speed, not stopping until they get there. He says he’ll have people waiting and that, unless the Reaper somehow uses a vehicle, he probably won’t catch up with them before they get there. Tom passes this on to the other three, and asks Rodrigo (the driver) to get a move on.

When Tom gets a good look at Teresa, Annie and Kate, he notices something strange about them. First of all, they all seem extremely tense, and their body language is off, somehow. They also seem to be responding to things that he just can’t hear. Kate’s shirt is open, exposing a breast that has turned completely black. She buttons herself up again as Tom notices, glowering at him as if daring him to say something. Perhaps wisely, he doesn’t comment. Now that he has the chance to look at them closely in the light, he can see that Teresa has Kate’s hair and Annie’s eye colour, Kate has Annie’s hair and Teresa’s eye colour, and Annie has Teresa’s hair and Kate’s eye colour.

Tom eventually asks what happened. Almost before he finishes speaking, Kate snaps: “I don’t want to talk about it” and all three of them glower at him. Perhaps wisely, he shuts up. Annie concentrates briefly, and then her hair and eyes return to their original colours. When Teresa notices this, she apparently attempts to do the same. Her hair does change briefly, but it looks like something a child might sculpt: all one solid colour. She stops concentrating, and it shifts back to her new look. The three women don’t really pay Tom any more attention during the rest of the uncomfortable ride back to Orpheus. They seem wrapped up in their own little world, tense and just generally slightly off in their behaviour. He doesn’t try to talk to them again.

Unknown to Tom (or anyone else), the three women are now mentally linked, and are continuously aware of each other’s thoughts and emotions. It’s proving quite distracting, especially in light of their recent experiences and certain revelations. All of them have experienced a severe psychological shock (some of them more than others), and the effect of this is compounded by the fact that they are experiencing the others’ emotional turmoil as well as their own. The fact that the link -- which they had assumed to be a peculiar property of their experience -- was still present when they “woke up”, and continues to persist, is a source of great distress to all three of them. However, they have no intention of telling anyone else about it.

When they pull into the underground car-park of the Orpheus building, they are met by Chet, Craig Forrest (a PLE, head of delta crucible and Orpheus’ chief of security) and Alex Pretorius (head of Beta crucible). Craig asks why they think a spectre’s after them, and Kate says they saw it in a vision. She and Alex snipe at each other a little. Craig asks what happened, and Kate snaps that she doesn’t want to talk about it. He asks if whatever it was has anything to do with her and Teresa’s altered appearance. She says that’s related, but not important, and stonewalls him until he gives up. Effectively, she uses her position as a member of Alpha crucible to stop him prying any further, even though he would obviously like to.

Craig puts the Orpheus building on full alert status, which involves pulling Delta crucible away from their missions and stationing them on site. Half of Beta crucible are also brought in, and there is a certain amount of territorial posturing. Teresa, Annie, Kate and Tom are confined to the building for the time being. Time passes, and it’s more or less business as usual for everyone else. There is no sign of a spectre, but news reaches the group that the Southville Gazette -- where this whole mess started -- burned down a couple of hours after they left. Four people are dead and the building is a write-off. They speculate that it could be connected, but there is no evidence either way.

A day or so later after the full alert was instituted, Craig downgrades it, dismissing all but a couple of Delta squad. As the spectre still hasn’t materialised a couple of days after that, he dismisses the remaining extra security and lifts the restriction on the four principals leaving the Orpheus building. Life returns to normal, more or less, apart from the fact that Teresa, Annie and Kate still seem to be acting a little strangely. They often seem distracted -- something that Chet comments on when he and Kate are training the new recruits -- and under a certain amount of tension. None of them seem willing to talk about it, though.

Teresa and Tom are assigned to help out with a variety of other missions over the next week, and then it is time for their next proper case.