Orpheus: The Taste of Ashes - Missions - Interlude004

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Dramatis Personae

Protagonists

  • Frank, Eta crucible, unknown shade
  • Tom Knox, Haunter
  • Teresa Reilly, Banshee

Supporting Characters

Orpheus Projectors

  • Ben Cotton, Poltergeist
  • Kate Dennison, Banshee
  • Shelley Jackson, Delta crucible, Haunter
  • Annie Harper, unknown (PLE)
  • Chet Mason, Skinrider
  • Steven, a skimmer from Eta crucible
  • Zoë Vitt, Poltergeist
  • Other Eta crucible trainees
  • An unidentified member of Beta crucible

Orpheus Non-Projectors

  • Dr Murthy Chandrawati, chief physician
  • Andrew Green, an accountant
  • Julia, Dr Chandrawati’s secretary
  • Various medical personnel

Other

  • Unnamed male ghost


Fourth Interlude

The Orpheus technicians unveil their own prototype kirlian goggles, which they name after the man Hyde killed. (For reasons known only to them, they decide to call them ‘Mickey goggles’, rather than ‘Williams goggles’. Who can fathom the strange and eldritch logics of technicians?)

During their time off from missions, all skimmers are required to make themselves available for ‘coppertop’ duty. (That is: supplying vitality to sleepers out in the field by acting as human batteries; hence the slang.) Beta crucible seem to have claimed Tom and Teresa as their own personal power supply. This started with the Whole Earth Enterprises/mafia ghost investigation, but has become more noticeable since they lost the only skimmers in their crucible (the two killed by Hyde). Although there has been no official word on this, it’s generally accepted that Beta crucible get first dibs on their precious vitality. If Beta crucible don’t need them, they can coppertop for other projectors. The two of them much prefer that, as Alex and his team seem to go out of their way to make the experience an unpleasant one. (Alex seems to delight in being as obnoxious as humanly possible, and the rest of Beta crucible tend to follow his lead. It’s not unlike a pack of feral dogs, with him as the alpha male.) Luckily, coppertopping doesn’t take up all that much of their time.

One of the first things Teresa does with her free time is to use Forebode to see if she’s going to encounter the Reaper again. (Although he was dispersed, she’s worried that he might come back again. After all, Gwynneth seemed convinced that her dark shadow would simply reform over time.) She sees nothing at all, which she hopes fervently is a good sign. Tom continues his training. He also surreptitiously tries to sense whether Annie has any tethers, but she has none that he can discern.

Tom and Teresa return to the area just outside the sewers in which they fought the Reaper, and Teresa uses Forebode to look back at the slaughter of the Orpheus personnel at the surface. She sees Hyde -- they have video footage of the host, so she knows it’s him -- rush out of the sewers swinging a fire-axe. He ignores the bodyguard and rips the door of the people-carrier to get to the skimmers, whom he decapitates with a single stroke each. He then turns his attention to the bodyguard and the driver, dispatching them with little problem. This doesn’t take more than a few seconds. The vision ends just as he picks up one of the skimmers’ heads. Given the time-frame, it seems unlikely that Hyde simply happened to be within range to be drawn by the various pulses of energy caused by Beta crucible. He was there, and he seemed to know exactly where and when to strike. It also seems likely that he’s connected with the vanished children (and, presumably, the creation of the Lost Boys). This is something that Tom and Teresa plan on investigating further.

The ghosts of city hall is another thing that the intrepid investigators turn their attention to, now that they have the time. They do some research beforehand, obtaining the plans so that they can plot the best way down there. There are no strange incidents that they can find records of, and nothing to suggest any kind of ghostly activity. If it wasn’t for the fact that they think they saw a ghost there, they wouldn’t even have thought to look. They project and head over there, becoming immaterial to make their way through the sealed-up entrance to the now-defunct station. Descending to the platform, they see a faint, flickering light coming through the chinks of a crudely constructed barricade on the far side. It seems to have been placed there to screen off an area from passengers on passing trains. Naturally, they hop over there to investigate.

A living person of indeterminate age and gender, wrapped in ragged clothes and blankets, huddles in front of a trashcan fire. They would guess this to be one of the city’s many homeless. From the looks of this place, he or she isn’t the first to take shelter here over the years. They don’t react to the presence of the two spooks at all. Tom and Teresa poke around a little more. There is a hole in the wall that looks like it might be one end of a tunnel, but before they can investigate further a torrent of abuse brings them to a halt. A man steps around a broken door and continues to harangue them. His clothing is as ragged as the other person’s, and there is a huge growth of some kind on his neck. He is also a ghost. Tom tries to talk to him, but he isn’t listening, repeating the sentiment (with a quite impressive variety of invective): “Fuck off, this is our patch”. Teresa tries to talk to him, but he isn’t interested in anything they have to say. The more they try, the more hostile he gets. It doesn’t help that he seems to have pegged Tom for a copper. In the end, they decide to just leave him: there doesn’t seem to be any mileage in provoking him further. (The one piece of information they do manage to get out of him is that he has seen things that sound like spectres, but he says that ‘we’ took care of them: “Like we’ll take care of you if you don’t bugger off”.)

Tom asks Teresa for her help with something that's bothering him. A few months ago, a fire gutted his apartment while he was there. He thinks that he might have caused it -- possibly with Witch's Nimbus -- but he has no memory of the event. He remembers projecting to practice with his new abilities (specifically, Inhabit), but then there is a blank period covering an unknown span of time. The next memory he has is of standing on the pavement beneath his apartment, looking up to see his apartment burn. He would like Teresa to use Forebode to help him fill in the gaps. She agrees, and asks him some questions to clarify what happened. There isn't really much more he can add, apart from that he doesn't remember ever seeing any ghosts or spectres in or around the building. Parking her body in the crèche, Teresa projects and Tom drives the pair of them to his old apartment. After searching the building for any other PLEs, she tells Tom that the place seems clean, and that she's going to take a look back to the night of the fire. (She needs to do this from inside the apartment, since that's where it -- whatever it was -- happened.)

Using Forebode, Teresa sees Tom project and start Inhabiting various objects around the apartment, much as he described. When he tries to Inhabit the telephone, however, something unusual happens. The head of his gauze form jerks back, as does that of his physical body, and his gauze form seems to be thrown away from the telephone. Sparks start to rise, looking as if he is somehow pulling them out of the telephone and spinning them into the crackling arc of a Witch's Nimbus. Apparently without his own volition, he manifests, and the sparks begin to set the apartment alight. One lands on his physical body's chest, and he snaps back into it. As the fire starts to spread, he gets up and starts to stumble his way out of the apartment. His eyes are blank and staring, and he moves like a sleepwalker. It's as if he isn't really aware of his surroundings on anything more than an instinctive level. The vision ends there, but it's presumably how he made his way down to the street outside.

Teresa shares her findings with Tom, who is more than a little puzzled by what she saw. When they get back to Orpheus and she is back in her body again, Teresa gives Tom a medical examination. As expected, there is a healed burn mark on his chest, where the spark touched him. More of a surprise is the scar of a small surgical incision on the back of his head, just at the base of his skull. It is about half a centimetre long, and roughly four months old. This would roughly coincide with the end of their Orpheus training and, perhaps more relevantly, the first in-depth medical before becoming a full-fledged Orpheus projector. On a hunch, Teresa asks Tom to check the back of her neck. He isn't sure, but he thinks there might be a similar scar there. This is quite worrying. After taking digital photographs of both scars, they decide to gather some more data before doing anything, so they go looking for other people to examine.

They encounter Zoë just returning from taking her motorcycle out for a spin. Tom asks her if Teresa can check the back of her neck. "Kinky," she says, but agrees. Naturally, she seizes every opportunity to make double entendres and to flirt with Tom. Teresa quickly establishes that Zoë does have a scar, and that the degree of healing supports the fact that it the incision was made at around the time of her last full medical examination during training. She indicates this to Tom, and then the two of them fill Zoë in. (They don't tell her why Teresa gave Tom a check-up in the first place, as that whole incident is something that he doesn't want becoming common knowledge.)

Zoë immediately leads the hunt for more victims, that is; people to examine. They find Ben in the rec room, watching a football game on TV. Grinning maniacally, Zoë sneaks up behind his chair and pounces on him. He jumps, swears a blue streak and somehow manages to restrain his violent impulses. (Tom and Teresa have the feeling that, if it had been anyone other than Zoë, he wouldn't have bothered. She can push him further than anyone else can.) Zoë bullies Ben into letting Teresa check the back of his neck: he doesn't have a scar. Teresa tells Ben why she wanted to examine him, and he seems pissed off at the idea that someone's been performing surgery on some of the projectors against their will. The fact that he isn't one of those it was done to doesn't seem to make all that much difference to him. After a little discussion, they speculate that perhaps the reason why he doesn't have a scar and the rest of them do is that he's the only Sleeper among the little group. It's certainly a good working hypothesis. Unfortunately, they can't get hold of any other projectors at the moment to confirm or refute it. Teresa sends Kate a cryptic text message asking if she has a scar on the back of her neck. She doesn't get a reply that evening.

The next morning, Tom and Teresa go to see Chet. As he already knows the truth behind the fire at Tom's apartment, Tom tells him everything. He lets Teresa examine the back of his neck, but he doesn't have a scar there. As he is a sleeper, rather than a skimmer, that fits with their theory. Chet is concerned, and more than a little puzzled. He doesn't know what's been done to them. At about this point, Teresa receives a text message from Kate, saying words to the effect of: "What are you rambling about?" Rather than try to explain through text messages, or over the 'phone, Teresa goes to see her in person. She explains what's going on, and Kate reluctantly lets her take a look: there is a scar there, and it's about two months old. When Teresa mentions this, Kate notes that's about the time of her last medical examination. Although she closes up straight away, she seems to be extremely angry about this. She looks like she's about to storm off and do something until Teresa says that she intends to speak with the chief physician about this. Kate doesn't seem overly hopeful that this will actually gain them anything, but she seems prepared to hold off on whatever she's planning while Teresa gives it a go.

Before going to talk to the chief physician -- a Dr Murthy Chandrawati -- Tom and Teresa decide to gather more data. Eta crucible (the latest batch of recruits; now just about at the end of their training) are all in today, so they would seem like a good place to start. Tom tries to talk them into letting Teresa examine them, passing it off as just another medical, but they don't seem overly convinced. (They seem to believe it's some sort of prank or hazing, and refuse to be examined.) In the end, Teresa drags Tom away and they go to see Chet again. They explain that they want to examine Eta crucible, and he agrees to come and help. He tells the trainees that Teresa will be carrying out a check-up. They still seem unsure, but as Chet has ordered them to go along with it, they all do so with varying degrees of reluctance. Teresa makes a show of performing a proper check-up, but all she's really interested is whether or not they have scars on the backs of their heads. There are two skimmers in the group, and both of them do. The marks are still inflamed, and presumably were made within the past week or so, when they had their full medical examination. The four sleepers are unmarked. All the evidence supports the hypothesis that someone is performing surgery on the skimmers during the routine examinations. The question is: why? One of Eta crucible's skimmers -- an ex-lawyer named Frank -- asks what's going on. Seeing no real need for secrecy -- and believing that this is something they deserve to know -- Teresa tells him, including the fact that she's going to speak to Dr Chandrawati about it. He asks if he can tag along.

There being no time like the present, Teresa, Tom and Frank head off to the medical section. Teresa asks Julia, the doctor's secretary, if they can make an appointment to see him as soon as possible. The secretary asks if it's something that can be handled over e-mail, as Dr Chandrawati is a very busy man. After thinking about it a moment, Teresa says that she will e-mail him her questions and then they can take it from there. (She figures that he'll probably agree to see her when he knows what it's about. There's no point in being obnoxious about it unless he ignores her.) She heads off to write the e-mail. Tom accompanies her, thinking of ways to get to the information without the good doctor's knowledge. Frank has more immediate plans. He locks himself in a toilet cubicle and projects. Returning to the secretary's office in gauze form, he uses a horror to create the illusion of an urgent need to urinate. Sure enough, she soon gets up heads rapidly in the direction of the ladies' room. Frank then returns to his body and goes to find Tom and Teresa, telling them that the coast is now clear. When they ask him what he means, he explains. (They are quite interested to find out that his horror allows him to create illusions. He is the only projector known to be able to do this, and he doesn't fit any of the characterised shade types.) Teresa says she doesn't see the need for this yet, and she is quite happy to try just asking the doctor what's going on. Tom, however, is interested. Teresa tells the two of them to leave her out of their nefarious scheme. For the moment, anyway.

Tom and Frank start to head back to the doctor's office, but then decide to actually discuss what they want to do first. After all, Frank can always get rid of the secretary again if necessary. Frank was thinking that getting her out of the way would allow them to just barge straight into the doctor's office. However, there doesn't seem much point in alienating him that way if he is actually willing to answer their questions. Getting into his files is another matter. Tom points out that he can Inhabit the doctor's computer and simply look through the information stored there. Dr Chandrawati would notice that something odd was going on, but Frank can get him out of the way… Now that they have something resembling a plan, the two of them project from the crèche and go straight into the doctor's office. Dr Chandrawati is in residence. As they watch, he receives Teresa's e-mail but they can't tell what his reaction is. He writes back to Teresa asking her to come and see him at nine o' clock the next morning so that they can discuss her questions. To get him out of the office, Frank makes him feel like he really needs to go for a shit. Dr Chandrawati heads for the toilet and Frank follows after him. When the doctor is ensconced on the porcelain throne, Frank makes him feel like he really needs to go, but can't. This keeps him occupied for a while.

Meanwhile, back in the doctor's office, Tom Inhabits the doctor's computer and manages to retrieve his own file. Unfortunately, he finds the medical jargon impenetrable. He contemplates e-mailing a copy to himself but decides not to, because he doesn't want to leave a trail. There doesn't seem to be anything else of interest there, so he goes to tell Frank that he can release the doctor now. The two projectors go back to their bodies.

The next morning, Teresa, Tom and Frank go to see Dr Chandrawati. He tells them that Management are interested in gathering more information about the process of skimming. To that end, the medical team have been inserting sensors into the brains of all the skimmers. These sensors are made by a company called Anodyne Systems, and the doctor presumes they have been designed specifically for projectors. (Possibly, they have been adapted from a more general brainwave recording device.) They will record the skimmers' brainwaves every time they project. As far as he knows, the sensors don't record continually, but only activate when the projector leaves their body. They are powered by the body's bio-electric field. He claims not to know any more details about their operation than that. Teresa thinks that he's telling the truth as far as that goes, but that he could probably deduce more from the information he has. He won't let himself be drawn to speculate, though. It's as if he doesn't want to know any more. Most of the skimmers have now been implanted. The rest will be done at their next medical. The medical staff have equipment to read the data stored in the sensors. The plan is that they will collect the data during the regular medical examination, and pass it on to a third party -- most likely a contractor, but Dr Chandrawati doesn't know specifically who -- who will perform the analysis.

The three of them ask more questions, but the doctor doesn't have any more information. (At least: none that he's willing to share.) He asks if they will keep this quiet, but Teresa points out that they haven't been doing so up to now. Dr Chandrawati sighs and says that he supposes that he's going to be getting many more visitors. He says: "You surely understand why we didn't inform the projectors of this", adding that they'd already given their consent to any and all necessary medical procedures when they signed their contract. The general consensus among the three projectors seems to be that this is all well and good, but they still should have been told. Teresa asks if the sensor chips have any kind of tracking function, and he replies: "Not that I know of." That seems to pretty much bring the conversation to a close.

Tom says he's not sure his chip is still working, so they all traipse down to the medical lab where the technicians can check it out. A technician gets Tom to put his head in a helmet-like scanning device that's connected up to a computer. After tapping a few keys and looking over the readout, he shakes his head and says that there is no signal from the sensor. It looks like it is dead after all. Dr Chandrawati says that it can be replaced during the next check-up, and there is no risk from leaving it in there for the time being. Tom doesn't say whether or not he's actually willing to have a new one put in. Teresa's is checked over as well, and that seems to be working just fine. Teresa mentally contacts Kate and fills her in on what Dr Chandrawati told them. Kate swears a blue streak and says she's going to ask Harper Forrest to try to Inhabit and disable it. She's still swearing when Teresa withdraws.

When they've escaped from the lab, Tom drags Teresa off to a vacant room so he can experiment a little with Inhabiting their chips. First, he Inhabits his own chip and, as far as he can tell, it seems to be completely inert. Second, he prods at Teresa's. She is a little wary about the prospect, but curiosity wins out: she agrees to let him Inhabit and examine it, on the condition that all he does is look. He Inhabits the chip with no great difficulty and, after some study, determines that it seems to have five distinct functions. One of these appears to be on continuously. A second activates when Teresa projects. The other three don't activate whilst he's observing.

Teresa uses Forebode to try to work out what would happen if Tom prods at the different functions he identified in the chip. Her results are inconclusive; she sees a vision of that she thinks is relevant to her future (or, one possible future), but it doesn’t seem to relate to the chip at all. (She is rattling along, underground perhaps -- a tunnel? Some contrivance or creature bears her through the darkness. Things brush her face, first few and rarely, then many and often. There is an impact -- she hits something solid with enough force to knock the wind out of her. The collision arrests her forward progress, and she feels herself caught and held. Whatever was carrying her continues on its way. It feels as if it actually passes through her somehow, and then it’s gone, leaving her alone, bound and helpless.) She puts it down to a quirk of the horror. Tom asks her if he can poke at the chip anyway, but she declines the offer of being his experimental subject. He asks Zoë instead. To no one’s surprise, she is up for this somewhat risky endeavour. (Teresa jokingly suggests that Tom asks Kate to participate, but Zoë thinks that this sounds like marvellous fun. Luckily, she gets distracted before she can go into the dragon’s den. Or push Tom in head first.) As he’s about to begin the experiment, Tom apparently has a sudden loss of confidence in his skills, muttering something about having no experience with prodding at delicate electrical devices. Especially ones currently implanted in someone’s brain. He decides he’d rather recruit some expert help.

After pondering for a couple of moments, he decides to ask Shelley Jackson, a Haunter known for being something of a tech geek. He sends her a brief e-mail outlining what he would like to do. She IMs him back immediately, agreeing to help. However, she’s a Sleeper and she’s not due to go in the tank until tomorrow. Zoë -- who’s been growing increasingly bored and restless during the delay -- says she has better things to do tomorrow, and leaves. Faced with Tom’s puppy dog eyes, Teresa sighs and gallantly volunteers to take her place. Tom and Shelley arrange a place and time for the experiment. At the appointed time, Shelley turns up in gauze form. Without so much as a word to subject or observer, she simply dives straight into Teresa’s chip. After a few moments, she dives back out again and then leaves the room. By the time the other two shake off their shock and follow her into the corridor, she has already disappeared from view.

A few moments later, Shelley IMs Tom. (Presumably, she went off to Inhabit her computer. Apparently, she didn’t want to speak with them face to face. She is known to be rather shy, but they didn’t quite realise how shy until now. This is the first time they’ve ever actually been in the same room as her.) The device is extremely sophisticated -- well beyond what she would consider to be cutting edge -- and probably custom-made for Orpheus. Either way, it would have cost a bundle. She wasn’t able to identify any of the functions. She believes she could activate them, but she is reluctant to do so without knowing what they do. (Teresa, unsurprisingly, is also rather reluctant for her to start playing with these mysterious functions of the chip in her brain.) This line of research seems to have hit a dead end for the moment. They try researching Anodyne Systems, but hit a blank. A small company would be unlikely to have the resources and expertise to develop the chips. More probably, they’re looking at a government operation or a multi-national corporation, but they wouldn’t expect something like that to have no trail. Possibly it’s a shell company, but neither Tom nor Teresa are experienced in this type of investigation. They decide to try to follow up on this later. (Teresa sweet-talks one of Orpheus’ accountants -- a man named Andrew Green -- who agrees to start teaching her the basics of financial investigation.)

Tom and Teresa go over some of the loose ends they have yet to tie up. The first one that comes to mind is the missing children from their last case. They still haven’t established who or what has been taking them. Hyde’s presence in the area seems unlikely to be a coincidence, and a working theory is that he has been abducting and killing them. This would certainly explain the Lost Boys they encountered in the disused sewers. However, likely as this seems, it is still only a theory: they haven’t even found any bodies. There is also this “Fantastic Mr Fox” that the children have been talking about. In short, although that case is technically closed (the primary aim was to kill the Reaper, after all) the investigation is not complete. The two of them would like to continue with it, but they are reluctant to tangle with Hyde on their own. They decide that they would need to do some groundwork and recruit some help before taking it up again.

One of the previous Radio Free Death broadcasts mentioned the name of one of the twelve Marion Prison inmates believed to have died in the fire. Going over the transcript again, they find that it specifically refers to strange goings on at his former house in Chiacago. This is potentially something to look into, but investigating the site in person would take more time than they can spare at the moment. They start doing some of the background research now, with the intention of visiting the place during their next downtime. Tom digs into the ownership of the house, and discovers that it has had a few owners since Walker’s apparent demise. It is currently standing vacant, and has done for some time (at least the last six years). Walker was apparently a serial murderer/rapist whose preferred victims were confident, professional women; often executive business women. That’s all they discover for the moment.

Using her newly acquired skill with finance (what little of it there is), Teresa sets about trying to get a bead on Anodyne Systems. After some digging around, she finds the Treasury listing for the company. It is registered as a private company, with an address in Baltimore, Maryland. There are no named individuals associated with it. She and Tom take a drive up to Baltimore, with the intention of checking the place out. As they’re driving along the freeway, they notice a motorcycle that seems to be trailing them. Badly. In fact, now they come to think about it, the bike was behind them when they left the grounds of Orpheus’ headquarters. Teresa mentions the bike to Tom, and he says it’s probably someone from Beta crucible. Apparently, they started keeping an eye on him sometime in the past couple of weeks. He thinks it’s connected to the fact that he’s prying into the chips. They decide to pretty much ignore their shadow, seeing no particular reason to irritate Beta crucible.

The address in the file corresponds to an office building: Anodyne Systems is based on the third floor. That’s what the address says, anyway. According to the plaque listing the building’s occupants, a company called General Robotics Limited actually takes up that floor. Parking up somewhere inconspicuous, Teresa projects and heads in for a look around. There are offices, and what look like electronics labs. She isn’t enough of a technology expert to be able to analyse what’s being done there, however. Nor can she tell if the facilities would be sufficient to manufacture the chip. (Although there don’t seem to be any pieces of equipment matching the description of the scanning-tunnelling microscope that Shelley said they would need.) She and Tom return to Orpheus. When they describe the place to Shelley, she says (well, IMs) that the facilities don’t sound anywhere near sophisticated enough to manufacture the chips. It looks very much like Anodyne Systems is just a dummy corporation using the address of what seems to be a genuine electronics company. Which raises the question: where did Orpheus really get the chips from?

There is possibly one other avenue of investigation they can try. No matter where the chips came from, Orpheus must have paid, and paid a great deal of money. Expensive, beyond-cutting-edge technology like that isn’t given away for free. This means that there may well be a money trail that they can follow. Even if, bizarrely, Orpheus actually has the facilities and expertise to manufacture them in-house (something the investigators think is possible, but extremely unlikely), that will still have to be paid for. All they need is access to records of the company’s financial transactions…