Orpheus: The Taste of Ashes - Missions - Interlude002
- Tom Knox, Haunter
- Teresa Reilly, Banshee
- Albert Cook, manager
- Kate Dennison, Banshee
- Annie Harper, unknown shade (ghost)
- Chet Mason, Skinrider
- Alex Pretorius, Skinrider
- Beta crucible
- Charles Cross, CEO of Whole Earth Enterprises
- Harper Forrester, Mafia accountant, possible ghost or projector (Skinrider?)
Now they have some time, and have gotten past the initial shock of finding themselves in each others' heads, Teresa, Kate and Annie work on trying to dissolve their connection, or at the very least to keep the other two out. The link shows no sign of weakening. However, they do manage to learn how to selectively filter their awareness. None of them can keep the others out of their heads, but each of them can choose not to “hear” When he’s not on loan to other crucibles, or acting as a battery for sleepers, Tom has been learning a new Horror from Chet. He asks Teresa if he can practice on her. Reluctantly, she agrees to let him try to use Puppetry to make her hand move. Nothing happens at first so he tries again, this time putting more energy into it. The second attempt is successful, but he dives a little deeper than he was originally intending (and deeper than she was expecting). He can sense her mind, and an odd static effect around the edges of his senses. Teresa panics, all-but yelling at him to get out. She seems a little shaken, but quickly recovers. It’s not likely she’ll volunteer for training dummy duty again any time soon, though.
Tom takes the hard-drive they recovered from Magnox to a company called Computer Forensic Services LLC. The data recovery will take a couple of weeks, so he uses the intervening time -- when he isn’t busy helping out with Orpheus investigations, or acting as a battery for sleepers -- to investigate the assassin. Teresa draws a picture of the man she saw, and Tom runs it through various databases (gaining access by means of his detective license), starting with Immigration and Naturalisation Services (INS). He gets a match when searching US military records: Major Marcus N’Kejeda, age 27; left voluntarily about a year or so ago. He looks Marcus up in the telephone directory and finds that he lives in quite a luxurious apartment in the city.
Chet asks Teresa and Tom if they want to take out Marcus. Teresa clarifies that he means: do they want to kill the man. He does. Both Teresa and Tom seem a little uncomfortable at the idea, and Teresa says she would have to take some time to think about it. Chet points out that Marcus will kill more people if they don’t stop him. However, he says they’ll only go ahead if it’s unanimous. They discuss the practicalities of the matter for a while. Chet observes that it’s likely that Marcus projects from his own apartment. If that’s the case, they could tank and keep him under surveillance. When he projects, they attack and kill the empty body. If someone sticks with his gauze form, they can disperse it while he’s distracted. (Chet thinks it likely that he’ll stick around as a dangerous and rather pissed off ghost if they don’t deal with the gauze as well as the meat.) Teresa asks Chet if he’s ever killed living people (as opposed to dispersing PLEs) during his employment with Orpheus. He says that he has, but doesn’t volunteer any details. Apparently oblivious to his non-verbal signals, Teresa asks how common that is. He doesn’t answer. Belatedly noticing his reluctance to discuss the subject, Teresa starts to say she wasn’t trying to pry. Except, of course, she was. She gets a little flustered and mutters that she’s going to stop talking now.
Teresa and Tom go away to think about Chet’s proposal. When they discuss it between themselves, it’s clear that they both have significant reservations. Teresa thinks about it for a short while longer and then goes to tell Chet that she can’t do this. She says that killing Marcus in self-defence would be one thing, but out and out murder is another thing entirely. He accepts her decision amicably enough, and doesn’t seem overly upset or disappointed. Not long after she leaves, Tom also visits Chet. He seems to expect Chet to react badly to his decision, but the old soldier seems to take the news fairly phlegmatically. He tells Tom that Teresa has already said no, so it wasn’t going to go ahead anyway.
The forensic computer expert finishes recovering the data from Hubert’s hard drive. He says that the drive’s owner is likely an accomplished hacker. The drive has been partitioned, and one of the partitions effectively “hidden” from view. That partition contains a number of hacker utilities, together with data retrieved from other systems. It seems that Hubert was recently attempting to infiltrate the computer network of a company called “Whole Earth Enterprises” (WEE). It doesn’t look like he’d managed to do more than scratch the surface yet, though. WEE is a multinational corporation with various interests. Their main business, however, appears to be the import and export of foodstuffs.
Chet, Tom and Teresa discuss the findings. They surmise Kevin was interested in investigating WEE, but didn’t have enough of a case to do so officially. Hubert had been something of a hacker in his youth, and therefore had a record. As an employee of Magnox -- who do some contract work for the Department of Defense -- he would have had to have been given security clearance, so that kind of information would have surface during the vetting process. Kevin must have made contact with Hubert and either persuaded or coerced him into lending his assistance. WEE presumably found out about this -- perhaps Hubert wasn’t careful enough during his hacking attempts -- and employed NextWorld to make the problem go away. The trio decide to investigate WEE for themselves, on their own time.
Chet pulls some strings to get Tom and Teresa a driver (Rodrigo, their usual chauffeur), so they can project from the Orpheus building. Tom does some digging around and finds out that WEE’s main office occupies the ninth and tenth floors of an office block in downtown Manhattan. The company also owns or rents a dock and several nearby warehouses. The investigators decide to visit the office first. Their plan at this stage is just to have a look around, to get an idea of the layout and of who the important people are. They’re not actually intending to delve into the computer system or anyone’s memories at this stage -- this is just the initial reconnaissance.
Teresa uses Forebode just before they go in, trying to see whether they are likely to run into trouble. She receives a vision of the two of them (in gauze form) walking through what looks like one floor of an office block. She thinks they pass a sign saying “Ninth Floor”. Security cameras follow them, dripping a black tar-like substance. There is a overarching feeling of malevolence and hostility, and it seems to be directed at them. She relates this to Tom and they decide to change their plan. (She isn’t sure how much of the vision was literal and how much was metaphorical, speculating that the cameras dripping tar could simply have been an indication that someone was likely to notice them and react with hostility. Nevertheless, they decide to return tomorrow morning, when Tom can Inhabit an object carried by one of the cleaners on their rounds. That way, he can have a look around without being seen by the cameras.)
Rodrigo drives them to the docks. Teresa uses Forebode again but doesn’t see anything, so they go ahead with their reconnaissance. (The reason they’re being so cautious with their investigation is because of the possible connection between WEE and NextWorld. They don’t want to risk running into any of their operatives while unprepared, if they can help it.) The facility consists of a port, four warehouses and a couple of offices. The offices are housed in portacabins, rather than proper buildings. One of the offices belongs to the site foreman, and the other to the head of their security staff. Tom considers looking through the feed from the CCTV cameras, but doesn’t think he can do so without the security guard noticing the images playing through on the display. Also, he’s not convinced it would be useful at this stage, since they have no real idea of what they’re looking for. Two of the warehouses are filled with grain and the others with crates. One of the warehouses containing crates seems to have more security than the other three, so presumably this is where the more valuable shipments are kept. It’s too dark inside the crates to see what they contain. Each of the warehouses contains a small office with a workstation that presumably holds the inventory for that warehouse. The offices are generally unmanned, unless goods are being brought into or taken out of the warehouse in question. There is currently no ship docked at the moment.
Tom reports to Chet. Teresa discusses her vision with Kate, who believes that the image of the cameras dripping tar is probably a metaphor. She says that the sense of hostility is strange -- that it seems strangely specific. She speculates that the may be one or more individuals on the premises who either feels hostility to all spooks, or towards Teresa and/or Tom specifically. Teresa relays this to Tom. They spend the rest of the day recharging and carrying out the usual downtime duties.
The next morning, they project from Orpheus and have Rodrigo drive them to the WEE head office (aiming to arrive at about six o’ clock). Teresa waits in the foyer whilst Tom Inhabits the lift, and then jumps to the ID badge of a cleaner who gets out on the tenth floor. The layout is more or less what he would expect -- about twenty offices and a couple of boardrooms. He doesn’t see or sense anything out of the ordinary, and the cameras that he can see (they’re quite discreet) seem perfectly normal. One of the offices is somewhat larger than the others, and its door is adorned with a plaque bearing the words: “CEO Charles Cross”. When the cleaner enters the office, he leaps out and has a good look around, but doesn’t find anything of interest. With a bit of hopping between objects, he manages to find his way to the lifts without (he thinks) being spotted. (As far as he can tell, the cameras are just mundane cameras, and there aren’t any spooks around. He decides it’s better to be cautious, though.)
It’s back to Orpheus again, to rest and to get on with the day-to-day work. Tom looks up the CEOs address and, later that day, he and Teresa (in gauze form) go to check it out. Charles Cross lives in a rather plush house in a gated community. This means that Rodrigo has to park a little way away to let them out. They arrive there around 4pm, as they want to have a look around without him being there. The house is pretty much what they would expect for a man in the CEO’s position, complete with a twenty-something year old trophy wife painting her nails in the living room. (Charles is in his forties, at least.) After giving the house a once-over, they concentrate on his study.
There is no computer in the study, although there is a stand for a laptop, which he presumably carries with him. After a little poking around, they manage to find a safe. Tom Inhabits and opens it, but this trips a silent alarm. He closes it again and the two investigators wait to see what happens. Soon enough, there is a knock at the door and the wife leads a couple of rent-a-cops into the study. They check the safe and find out that it’s closed. As there is no evidence of a break-in and nothing seems to have been disturbed, they shrug and put it down to a fault in the system. When they’ve gone, Tom Inhabits the safe again, but this time he disables the alarm before opening it. Teresa manifests and starts going through the contents. (She is careful to take items out one at a time, and to keep them in the same order.) She finds some correspondence, and what looks like some accounts ledgers. The latter are largely meaningless to both of them, as neither has a background in finance. However, there is a rather interesting letter from NextWorld, containing a receipt for the sum of $300,000, paid for “services”. Looking back through the relevant ledger, she finds an entry that seems to correspond to the NextWorld payment, and makes a mental note of what she thinks is the corresponding account number. From a quick glance over the rest of the correspondence, nothing stands out as being relevant. After putting everything back the way she found it, she dematerialises again. Tom closes the safe and exits.
The obvious next step is for Tom to posses Charles and go through his memories. First, though, it’s back to Orpheus to rest and recover their energy reserves: the Horror in question is extremely draining. They aim to return to the house at about 1am, as it will be easier for Tom to do his thing when Charles is asleep. With a little assistance from Teresa, he dives into the CEO and assumes control. As he does so, there is a pulse of energy that spreads out in all directions: this tends to happen when spooks use their more powerful (and energy-intensive) abilities. This can be detected by any spooks in the area (for a pulse of this magnitude, that’s a circle of about a half-mile radius). Luckily, however, nothing seems to be attracted by the pulse on this occasion. Keeping Charles unconscious, Tom rifles through his memories. He then wakes the body up and walks him downstairs, so he can tell Teresa of his findings without waking Charles’ wife (who is sleeping beside him).
Charles Cross, it seems, has enjoyed a long and illustrious career with the Mafia as part of the Genovese family. The import/export business was dirty up until about ten years ago, when the feds instituted a crackdown. During one of the raids, an accountant named Harper Forrester went down with guns blazing, killing several feds. They took him alive and he went to the chair. After this nasty business, as the feds were keeping a beady eye on WEE’s affairs, Charles decided to go legit. Being a skilled businessman, he managed to turn a tidy profit even while keeping everything aboveboard, and WEE’s fortunes continued to grow. Everything was going well up until about two and a half to three years ago, when Harper materialised in his office. The ghost -- for that’s what Charles believes he is -- pressured him into smuggling goods into the US under cover of his legitimate imports. He doesn’t know what the shipments contain, and he doesn’t want to know: he just acts as a middleman. They come into the warehouses as normal, and then they’re picked up and transported somewhere else. He doesn’t know what happens to them after they leave the docks. Harper warns Charles when the feds are planning a raid (which they still do sporadically), or when the port authorities are going to inspect a shipment. He doesn’t know how the ghost comes by his information. Harper only contacts him when there’s a problem. On average, he shows up every few months or so. The last time was about a couple months ago, to warn of a large FBI raid.
Charles found out someone was attempting to hack into the WEE network and hired NextWorld to deal with it. He was familiar with the company from their activities in the third world, where he knew of them as an elite mercenary outfit. In recent years, he’s developed more of an interest in their other area of operations. He doesn’t know how they tracked the hacker down and he doesn’t care -- he just wanted whoever it was to be found and stopped. He doesn’t know anything about any strange security cameras in the WEE headquarters. Tom and Teresa decide that’s enough for the night. Tom is seriously low on energy, and can’t stay out of body too much longer. He puts Charles back to bed and then ripcords back to Orpheus. Teresa goes back to the car, and heads back the long way.
The next morning, the investigators report their findings to Chet. Tom investigates Harper, finding out that he killed two federal agents and put one in a wheelchair. He was incarcerated in Marion Prison (a name familiar from Roy Berkeley’s ramblings), on death row. There was a fire there in 1997, in which he and eleven other inmates are believed to have been killed. If that’s true, that would mean he had been a PLE for six years. Tom gets names and descriptions of the deceased inmates. Teresa shares the findings with Annie, who says that Harper’s death marks (or lack thereof) should show whether or not he really did die in the fire. Understandably, she’s eager to know whether he’s managed to break the three year limit.
Now that they’ve discussed their findings (Tom has done some research), the investigators have some more questions for Charles (or, rather, for his memories). That night, they head over to his house again. Everything proceeds more or less as it did on the previous attempt, up to the point where something is drawn by the energy spike. With a rending sound that goes through them like nails on a blackboard, the skin of the world is rent asunder and something leaps through. Dog-shaped but man-sized, the creature is made entirely of razorblades; all sharp edges and malevolence. It keeps shifting and changing, its outline blurring as the blades move. As it comes through the tear, its gaze snaps to Teresa and it draws itself in as if to leap at her. Instinctively, she ripcords. The creature howls at being denied its prey. Tom, still inside Charles’ body, is mercifully hidden from its perception. As it prowls around the house sniffing the air warily, he takes Charles back up to bed and then ripcords.
Back at Orpheus, the babysitter at the crèche asks Tom and Teresa what happened. Teresa vaguely talks about an encounter with a spectre whilst Tom calls Chet. They make a full report to him and he says they did the right thing. From the description, the spectre seems to be of the type called Fetches: Orpheus’ previous encounters with such entities have resulted in investigator injuries and even fatalities. Tom remarks that, next time, he’ll perform the possession in stages. It will take longer and have less chance of success, but it won’t cause an energy pulse of the type that drew the spectre. In any case, they’re not going back tonight, or even in the next week: they want to make sure that the Fetch has left the area before they risk another pass.
The next morning, it’s time for another visit to the WEE offices. This time, the plan is for Teresa to get as close as she can to Charles’ office and use Forebode to try to get a look at Harper. Tom Inhabits the door sensor to let Teresa into the building and then takes her up to the eleventh floor in the lift. From directly above Charles’ office, she concentrates on the question of whether Harper will make an appearance within the next week. (Looking further than a week from the present time will cause an energy pulse. She looks into the future, rather than the past, because they know that from Charles’ memories Harper’s last visit was more than a week ago.) She sees Charles crash through his office window and fall, splattering messily on the ground beneath. A spook -- Harper -- steps from the body, looking down at it. A second spook -- Charles’ ghost -- starts to rise from the corpse. Harper grabs it by the hair and drags it off screaming. The vision ends before Teresa can see where they go. She relays this to Tom, and they wonder whether their interference will lead to Charles’ death.
Heading back to Orpheus, they discuss their findings with Chet. It’s clear that Harper possesses the Puppetry Horror, which means it’s possible he’s a Skinrider. Teresa didn’t see any death marks on him, so it’s extremely unlikely he died in the fire at Marion Prison. He may not even have died at all -- it’s certainly possible that he’s a projector rather than a ghost. His gauze form was wearing what looked like an orange prison jumpsuit. Chet observes that he doesn’t feel any particular desire to stop Charles’ death: the man is Mafia through and through, after all. He does point out, however, that this is likely to be their best (and possibly last) opportunity to hit the WEE headquarters and find out what’s going on. It seems likely that if Harper is prepared to kill Charles, then he must have made plans to cope with the inconvenience of his cat’s paw’s demise. It will, therefore, be harder to pick up the trail afterwards. Teresa asks what he’s suggesting, and he clarifies that he means a raid, possibly involving a scuffle with Harper and any other spooks that may be involved. If they’re going to do it, he says, they really have to do it now. After all: they only know that Harper is extremely likely to kill Charles sometime within the next week, not exactly when. He could be doing the deed as they speak. The only problem is that it will take Chet five hours to cycle down in the cradle, so he won’t be able to go with them.
Tom and Teresa discuss their options with Chet. There’s only so much that he can cover for, so if they want to go in with anything more than just the two of them, skimming, they’re going to have to take this matter to management. Teresa asks him how they are likely to respond to the fact that she and Tom have been pursuing this matter on their own time. He says that won’t be a problem. After debating for a little while, they decide to inform Management. Chet calls Albert to ask if it’s convenient to meet with him now and all three of them troop into his office. After greeting them, he gestures them to chairs (plush black leather: far more luxurious than the seating in Matthew Peterson’s office) and they sit down. Chet tells Albert that he’s asked Tom and Teresa to look into something for him: a loose end from the last mission. Albert says he hopes that it isn’t to do with NextWorld, and Chet reassures him that it isn’t; that it was WEE that they were investigating. He then hands over to Tom and Teresa, who report their findings. Albert is definitely interested and thinks that this needs to be pursued further. However, he’s handing it over to Beta crucible. He asks Tom and Teresa to make themselves available to them to answer questions.
Shortly after their meeting with Albert, Alex Pretorius and the rest of Beta crucible interrogate Tom and Teresa about their findings. Once they have the information they need, those of them that aren’t already tanked do so and they mount a surveillance operation on the WEE offices and warehouses. (Alex tends to spend as much of his time as he can in the tank.) Alex requisitions the two agents for coppertop duty and orders them to make themselves available so that they can be called out at any time of the day or night. They both live on the premises for the duration, and are often called out to the WEE offices, of the warehouses, or other locations entirely. Alex proves just as much of an arsehole as he ever was, but there’s no denying that he’s a competent arsehole. Beta crucible don’t share their findings with Tom and Teresa, and they don’t know the outcome of the investigation. (They do keep an eye on the newspapers, however, and they see no reports of a CEO taking a short step off a very tall building. It is uncertain what that means in the context of Beta crucible’s ongoing mission.) After a couple of weeks, they are released from coppertop duty and assigned another case.