Orpheus: The Taste of Ashes - Missions - Interlude005

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Dramatis Personae

Protagonists

  • James Darkwood, Poltergeist
  • Annie Harper, Metamorph (revenant)
  • Tom Knox, Haunter
  • Frank Nosrav, Mindbender

Supporting Characters

Orpheus

  • John "Blink" Carruthers, Wisp
  • Adrian Challis, Wisp
  • Ben Cotton, Poltergeist
  • Kate Dennison, Banshee
  • Craig Forrest, Skrinrider (hue)
  • Hoyt Masterson, Haunter
  • Mitch, a technician
  • Shelley Young, Haunter (spirit)

Other

  • A courier


Fifth Interlude

Part One -- “It’s Amazing the Things We Do in the Backs of Vans…”

Shelley is intent on her hi-tech playthings, her expression utterly rapt as she concentrates on getting the various parts into just the right position. Watching from the other end of the van, Tom’s earlier words come back to haunt him when Annie clicks the handcuffs onto his wrists. However, the threesome’s activities are much more innocent than they might sound. Shelley’s “playthings” are the parts of a ghostly computer interface forcibly implanted into her gauze so Terrel & Squib could use it to control her. After Tom shut the interface down, Annie managed to extract the various parts from Shelley using Flesh Flux. They seem to be more or less intact, so Shelley is intent on studying them, trying to figure out how then work, and then putting them back together again. She actually seems to be using Witch’s Nimbus to solder various pieces together, showing a level of fine control that neither Annie nor Tom have ever seen before with this particular Horror.

The three of them are currently in the back of the group’s one remaining black van, which is parked up in some waste ground an hour or two outside New York City. It’s the same place they holed up in before; the second place they stopped after running from Chet’s ranch with the FBI hard on their heels. There are no amenities to speak of, and it’s in the middle of nowhere, but it has the great advantage of being in a radiofrequency signal dead spot. The reason that’s a desirable quality at the moment is because they’re not sure whether or not Terrel & Squib will be able to track Shelley’s interface. Until she’s had the chance to go over all the parts with a fine-tooth comb -- metaphorically speaking -- they don’t want to risk taking her back to either of their bases. Annie and Tom are staying out here with her because they don’t think that leaving her on her own is a good idea at the moment. Although one of them could do the job, they figure it would be safer to have two of them along. Just in case. After all, nothing but bad things seem to result when one of them goes off and does something on their own.

While Shelley works on her analysis, Annie and Tom decide to make use of the opportunity to experiment with some of the anti-spook cuffs they took from the Mastworth plant. Which is to say, they think it would be useful to try to establish facts such as whether or not they can actually ripcord with them on. Given the likelihood that they’ll end up facing people carrying some of these things -- or something like them -- at some point, it’s probably better to find out what they do under controlled circumstances. Tom bravely volunteers to be the guinea pig.

The results of the experiments are… not encouraging. First, he is unable to project while wearing the cuffs on his physical body. Second, they’ll go on his gauze wrists without any trouble even if he’s immaterial at the time. (To someone without the ability to see spooks, it would look as if the cuffs are just hovering there in mid-air.) He notes that the metal feels extremely cold to the touch while in his gauze. This is strange -- it’s unusual for someone in gauze form to feel much of anything. Not only that, but it’s almost as if they’re radiating cold into him. From his account, the sensation is not precisely pleasant. The third thing he finds out is that the cuffs prevent him from re-entering his body. He can start to sink into it (not ripcording), but they fetch up against his meat so that he can’t go back in all the way. There don’t seem to be any other side-effects -- he just can’t return to his body. When he tries to ripcord, they stop him dead with a jolt that takes his breath away. It hurts, and not just because the cuffs slam into his body with enough force to leave a bruise. His body shows evidence of minor localised haemorrhages of the type normally observed in a skimmer after ripcording. Although the damage is only light, it seems to be more severe than after ripcording normally.

For his next trick, Tom requires the assistance of a member of the audience so Annie reluctantly agrees to wear the cuffs. It drags some unpleasant memories to the surface, but she resolutely ignores them. Tom attempts to possess her cuffed body and, much to his surprise, succeeds. The triumph of the achievement is short-lived, however, as he can’t get out again. Fortunately, his host can just unlock them again to let him out, but possessing someone wearing anti-spook cuffs definitely goes onto the list of “things Skippy shouldn’t to do”. (They may still work as a defence against possession of non-projectors by unfriendly entities, though. In theory, if possessed by a friendly Puppeteer beforehand, the cuffs should stop another would-be possessor kicking out this lodger. In theory, this means that they wouldn’t be able to enter the host. The risk is that it doesn’t work that way. In that case, the hapless landlord might end up becoming the battleground for two trapped Puppeteers, one of them unfriendly.)

Wondering if it’s possible to use Flesh Flux to slip out of the cuffs, Annie projects so Tom can put them on her gauze. She tries to change her shape enough to wriggle out of them, but nothing happens. Well, that’s not strictly true. The energy she gathered to power the shift drains away into the cuffs before she can even start to use it, leaving her weak and dizzy. The cuffs themselves burn with cold, painful against her wrists. It’s the same when she tries to use Wail, or any other Horror: the energy drains away uselessly, and it hurts. It’s just like the chains the spectres used. That thought almost leads to panic, but she squashes the sudden, desperate need to throw everything she has at the cuffs. ‘We have a key,’ she reminds herself. ‘I’m not trapped.’ Even knowing that, it’s still a relief when Tom releases her.

All in all, the main thing Annie and Tom have learned from experimenting with the cuffs is that being locked in them without a handy key would be very, very bad. Also, they have to assume that the black glass would prevent ripcording in a similar manner. It may not, of course, but they can’t afford to rely on that possibility. Whatever else may be said about Terrel & Squib -- and they’ve said plenty over the past week or so -- they’re good with anti-spook technology. Tom wonders if cutting off the hands of a ghost or projecting sleeper would get the cuffs off. In theory, the spook could just re-grow or re-attach their hands again afterwards. (He’s seen this in action. When the Southville Gazette spectre tore Ben’s head off, he just picked it up and put it back on again, channelling energy to re-attach it.) Unlike a skimmer, damaging a sleeper’s gauze shouldn’t harm their body. It’s not ideal, though. First of all, they’d probably need help with the amputation. Second, the combination of the damage and subsequent energy expenditure for re-generation would severely weaken them in what’s certain to be a dangerous situation. If they want to see whether this is even a viable possibility, they’re going to have to try to sweet-talk John or -- when they get the cradles up and running -- one of the sleepers into losing an appendage or two for the cause. Temporarily, at any rate.

Shelley doesn’t react to the other two playing around with the anti-spook cuffs. She seems completely focused on her examination and re-assembly of the computer parts. Once they’ve done all the tests they can think of, Annie and Tom talk among themselves for a while, discussing what the group’s next move should be. The conversation mostly goes around in circles, as it They keep their voices low, but for all the attention Shelley’s paying to her surroundings, it wouldn’t make any difference if they were yelling as loud as they could. After a while, they decide to try to ask her some questions. Well, that is to say, they each decide that the other should be the one to broach certain difficult subjects.
      “You should use your feminine tact and sensitivity,” argues Tom. Annie just looks at him. “Well, you work with people, don’t you? You’re trained in that sort of thing.” His voice takes on a somewhat plaintive note.
      “I’m an anthropologist, Tom, not a counsellor.”
      “But aren’t you…”
      “No. That’s Teresa.”
      “Oh. Oh, yeah; that’s right.” An awkward silence fills the van.

In the end, they reach a compromise: both of them will talk to Shelley. Perhaps feeling a little guilty about confusing Annie with Teresa, Tom is the one who actually approaches her. It takes a few moments to get her attention, but she eventually looks up at them, blinking owlishly.
      “We need to ask you some questions,” Tom says, gently. “We need to know about the people who captured you.” Shelley flinches, huddling into herself. For a large woman, she manages to take up a remarkably small amount of space. She looks down again, continuing to work on the machine.
      “Person,” she says, her voice barely above a whisper. “There was just one. One man.” There’s a pause, long enough for them to wonder if she’s actually going to continue, or if she’s lapsed into silence for the duration. “He had a scar across his face.” Her words sound brusque and awkward, which is actually fairly normal for her. Perhaps she’s a little more withdrawn than usual, but it’s very hard to tell.
      “Was he wearing an orange jumpsuit?” Annie has a suspicion that Shelley’s captor is probably another of the Marion Prison inmates. This theory seems to be borne out when Shelley gives a jerky nod.
      Tom asks the next question: “What happened?”
      “He came out of the wires. The lines. Grabbed me. He was strong; I couldn’t break free. Pulled me into the wires with him.” Now she stops working and sits back a little, staring into the distance with something like wonder in her eyes. It’s the last expression either of them would have expected to see on her face right now. “I… heard something in there. A voice. Singing? I listened to it. I don’t think he did. I don’t think he even heard it.” There is deep emotion in her voice; something that sounds like reverence. “It sounded… felt… gentle. Peaceful.”
      “Did it say anything?” Annie’s voice is intense. A feeling of deep unease grips her and won’t let go: some of this is sounding very familiar… [1] ‘I’m jumping to conclusions,’ she thinks, annoyed at herself. ‘There isn’t enough information.’
      Shelley thinks for a while before answering. “No words. Couldn’t hear any. Although I think… Maybe if I listened close enough, I would hear… I’d be able to understand it.”
      “What do you think it was?” Tom seems more curious than concerned.
      “The voice of the Wired. [2] All those systems, all those networks… Everything connected. Maybe… Maybe it’s the voice of God…”

Neither Annie nor Tom really know what to make of Shelley’s last remark, so they tacitly agree not to dwell on it. Not for the moment, at any rate. Perhaps when she’s feeling a little less skittish, they’ll be able to discuss it further.
      “So, what happened then?” There are many questions Annie wants to ask, but she contents herself with this one for now.
      “I… listened. I watched. I learned… how to do what he was doing. How to travel the lines. I tried… I broke free. He wasn’t expecting it. Not when we were in the wires. Maybe he relaxed. I got away.” She hunches in on herself, making herself even smaller. “Didn’t know where else to go. He found me. Grabbed me again. Didn’t get away that time. He… He gave me to the other ones.” This is probably the most they’ve heard her say at any one time.
      “So, the others didn’t teach you how to travel through the lines?” After reading through the Mastworth researchers’ files, they had assumed she’d developed the ability as a result of their machinations. It looks like they were mistaken.
      “No. They just took advantage of it.” The fact that she learned how to do it on her own -- and with after only one momentary flash of insight -- makes it all the more fascinating.
      “When you got away: was that when Craig saw you at the Orpheus building?” [3]
      “No. Yes. Don’t know.”
      “It was a few days after the attack.”
      “Don’t remember.” Shelley shakes her head. “I don’t remember much. It was confusing.”
      “What do you remember?” Tom asks the question, just getting there before Annie.
      “I don’t… He grabbed me, and pulled me into the lines. There were… There were other things in there. In the Wired. I could sense them. They weren’t human.”
      “Were they spectres?” Annie wants to know.
      “I don’t know. But they weren’t human.” She frowns suddenly, remembering something. “They were in the building. Inside the circuitry. Before.”
      “When?” Annie and Tom have the same thought, both asking the question simultaneously. Shelley’s answer comes as no particular surprise.
      “During the attack. There were weird pulses. Not the spikes; something else. I went into the system and they were there. That’s… That’s one of the last things I remember clearly before…” She trails off; starts poking at the circuitry again. Her heart doesn’t seem to be in it, though.

Annie and Tom look at each other. There doesn’t seem to be a lot they can say to Shelley’s revelation. Whatever those things are, they obviously had an interest in Orpheus, and in the attack. Maybe they’re the ones who took out the contract in the first place. Are they spectres? Something else? Tom remembers hearing about things “in the wires” before: it was one of Roy Berkeley’s crazy conspiracy theories. Maybe it wasn’t so crazy after all. Maybe they should go through some of his other theories; see what grains of truth they might contain. He mentions as much to Annie, who nods thoughtfully, her mind still on the subject of the ghosts in the Wired.
      “Do you think that’s what fried your chip and set fire to your apartment? One of these entities?”
      Tom thinks about it for a moment or two. “Could be. Teresa saw something jump out of the phone’s power line.”
      “I wonder if it was deliberate…”
      “Dunno. How would we find out?”
      “I’m not sure. Perhaps by going into the Wired?”
      “Could we do that?” Tom turns to Shelley, a note of excitement in his voice. “Do you think you could teach other people how to do that?”
      She looks overwhelmed. “Maybe. I don’t know. I could try.”
      “Can you tell us more about it?” Annie has been itching to ask this question.
      “What do you want to know?”
      “Anything you can tell us.” Tom leaps in while Annie is still trying to think where she wants to start.
      “When I was inside -- in the lines -- I could sense the network. The Wired. Not just the voice, but the whole system. It was… It was beautiful.”
      “Can you sense it from outside?”
      “Yes.” Shelley frowns. “But not here.”
      “That’s because this is an RF dead zone,” Tom explains. “We thought it would be safer here until we’re sure that Terrel & Squib won’t be able to track you.”
      “God is dead here…”
      There’s another awkward silence, which Annie fills by asking: “What does it feel like when you use this ability?”
      Shelley thinks for a moment or two. “It’s… It’s a bit like Inhabit, but deeper. But there’s more to it. It’s like you become energy. Kind of like Witch’s Nimbus, but more so. You’re not just surrounded by it. It’s inside you. You change.” Her expression shows her frustration at being unable to find the right words. It sounds like she’s describing something that has its roots in both Inhabit and Witch’s Nimbus, but is much more than just the sum of those horrors.
      “It’s a new horror.” Annie’s eyes are wide with the implications of what this means. Not only is it the first new horror she’s encountered since Frank’s, it’s the first one she’s ever heard of that isn’t one of a pair associated with a particular type of spook. “A third-tier Haunter ability.” She lets out a long, slow breath. “I didn’t know that was even possible.”
      Tom, ever the pragmatist, asks Shelley: “Do you think you can teach me how to do it?”
      “Maybe.” She shrugs, a jerky twitch of the shoulders. “I don’t know.”
      “Will you try?”
      “I guess.”
      “What do you want to call it?”
      Shelley looks up briefly, glancing at Tom from underneath her hair. “Umm. I hadn’t really thought.” Her hands keep shuffling delicate pieces of circuitry around as she thinks for a moment or two. “Ummm. Broadband Ghost?” [5] Annie and Tom exchange a look.
      “Ah, we can think about it.” Apparently, Tom is feeling tactful.

In response to further questions about her “Broadband Ghost” ability, Shelley offers up the information that travelled through the security camera power lines in order to attack the van. Still using the same horror, she manifested as pure energy, which is both how she destroyed it and how she managed to avoid being hurt by the blast. From the gleam in Tom’s eyes, it’s fairly clear that he’s set his heart upon acquiring this new trick to add to his toolbox. For her part, Annie is more interested in trying to find a third-tier horror for her own (so far unique) species of spook. The conversation starts to drift a little, and Shelley returns her attention to her repair job. The other two start speculating about the entities in the Wired -- and, more specifically, what they were doing in the Orpheus system during the attack -- and about the Marion Prison spooks. That reminds Annie of something she’s been meaning to ask Shelley.
      “Since you became a ghost, have you ever…” She pauses, takes a deep breath, says the rest of the question all in a rush. “Have you ever seen anyone who looks exactly like you? Like a twin. A doppelganger.”
      Both Shelley and Tom look at Annie as if she’s lost her mind. Shelley frowns. “Once, maybe. I thought… But it was probably just a reflection or something.” She returns to her soldering.
      Tom raises an eyebrow. “Why do you ask?”
      “Some… Some ghosts -- maybe all of them -- have doubles. Like Gwynneth and Not-Gwynneth.” She frowns. “Although I suppose there’s just the one of them, now. Anyway.” She looks away, not entirely trusting her expression. “I have one. I wondered if Shelley does.” More to herself, she adds: “I should ask John as well. And Craig.”
      “You have a double?” This is news to Tom.
      “Yes.”
      “Have you met her?”
      “Once.” She hopes her monosyllabic replies will deter him from asking anything further, but he doesn’t take the hint.
      “When? What happened?”
      “After the attack.” At his blank look, she clarifies: “When I was with the spectres.”
      “Oh. Did you talk to her?”
      “A little.” While thinking: ‘Mostly to ask her why she was hurting me, and to plead with her to stop.’
      “What did she say?”
      “Not much.” When he looks like he’s about to ask yet another question, she interrupts. “Tom, she’s a spectre. Just like Gwynneth’s double.”
      “A spectre? Really?”
      “Yes.”
      “Do you think all ghosts have an evil twin?”
      “I don’t know. Maybe. That’s what I’m trying to find out.”
      “But you’ve only seen her once?”
      “Twice, actually. At least, I think so.”
      “When was the other time?”
      “It wasn’t that long after I became a ghost. I was wandering the world, talking with various ghosts and making my way slowly back to Orpheus. While I was hanging out in one place for a while, I got to know this slum kid. She was a nice girl -- liked cats. [6] I started watching out for her.” She sighs. “She was crossing the road one day when she tripped and fell, right under a bus. I got there too late to save her. But across the road -- just standing there, looking at me -- I saw myself. It was like looking into a mirror. When my reflection saw I’d noticed her, she smiled and turned away. I tried to go after her, but lost sight of her in the crowd. Or maybe she just disappeared. I more or less managed to convince myself that I’d just imagined the whole thing, but then you and Teresa saw Gwynneth’s double.” She wraps her arms around herself, as if cold. “And then I met mine for the second time.”
      The silence stretches for a moment or two before Tom replies. “Well, if you’ve only seen her twice in about three years, that probably means she’s not much of a threat.” Maybe he’s trying to reassure her.
      “Maybe.” She isn’t convinced.

The rest of the day passes uneventfully. Shelley finishes putting the machine back together, and says that it should now be fully functional. Also, she’s confident that there aren’t any hidden tracking devices, either in the device or in her. She can’t test the computer until they get out of the dead zone, however. They decide to take her to the warehouse, rather than Brooke House, as it’s relatively less crowded. Adrian has been busy putting up partitions, so they can at least have the illusion of privacy. (He’s also bought some camp beds and a few other items to make the place a little more comfortable. Even though their funds are dwindling, no one objects to the relatively minor expenditure.) Before they leave, Shelley says that she wants a computer. Tom says that should be okay, but points out that they probably can’t afford a top of the line one. She says she can order the parts and build it herself. With that agreed, Tom slips into the driver’s seat and starts up the van. It’s early afternoon when they leave the waste ground, so they’ve been here less than a day.

There are still one hundred days to go until the end of the world.


Part Two: All Your Base...

On the morning of the hundredth day, James actually gets his hands on the BFG (well, a shiny sniper rifle) he’s been pining for lately. He then spends much of the rest of the day at the warehouse, playing with his new toy. The warehouse is seems to be where the cool kids are hanging out today. Mitch -- the recently rescued Orpheus technician -- is working on the sleeper tubes, trying to get them up and running. Ben, Blink, Adrian and Hoyt are watching the process, impatient to be able to project again. They may also be plotting further escapades. It’s not clear whether Mitch feels under pressure from their observation. In any case, he says it’s going to be a few days before the cradles are ready to test and it’s going to be a little while longer before they’re fully calibrated. The plan is to use Hoyt as the test subject. (Chet did volunteer, but when Kate found out she said: “Don’t be such a fucking idiot, Chet” and pointed out none too gently that he’s currently their only medic. Not to mention the fact that someone who’s young and fit has a better chance of survival if anything does go wrong. There’s a reason that the people who organise clinical trials generally ask for healthy subjects.)

Matthieu and John are there, but they seem to be keeping themselves more or less to themselves. So far, and against all odds given Ben’s suspicion and short-temper, Matthieu has managed not to clash with any of the group’s alpha males. He’s achieved this mainly by doing a very good impression of being a stone-cold killer who won’t hold back if anyone starts anything with him. This may not help his long-term integration into the group, but for the moment it’s keeping things civil. Well, it’s keeping things non-violent, which is the next best thing. Frank also keeps himself to himself, but everyone expects that. When he’s recovered from the night’s exertions, he starts getting in touch with some of his contacts to make sure he’s up to date on anything that might impact the group.

Sometime during the day, a courier calls at the warehouse to deliver a package. He is unknowingly accompanied by Craig, who apparently hitched a ride in his van. Once the courier has driven away, Craig manifests and unwraps the parcel. It turns out to contain a bundle of maps and plans of the warehouse and surrounding area -- apparently he’s been busy. After looking around for a large enough table -- there isn’t one -- he spreads these out on the floor. Without much preamble, he gathers the others together and says:
      “We need to decide whether this is going to be a permanent base or just a temporary one. If it’s a permanent one, we need to start fortifying it.” He goes on to start outlining some of his ideas. The amount of information he’s managed to dig up is fairly impressive, and no one can really deny that what he’s saying makes sense. Unfortunately, given his target audience, breezing in and telling everyone what to do is completely the wrong way to go about it. There is a certain amount of grumbling, mostly from Ben and Hoyt, but he either doesn’t hear this or chooses to ignore it.

In the meanwhile, Tom, Annie and Shelley leave the waste ground. Shelley seems relieved to get out of the RF dead zone, commenting -- when asked -- that she can hear the Wired again now. As far as she can tell, the gauze computer isn’t sending any signals it shouldn’t be, and there’s nothing transmitting from her gauze. Perhaps, despite all their concern, Terrel & Squib simply don’t have any tracking devices in her or in the machine that she and Tom haven’t already located and neutralised. Stranger things have happened. With that worry mostly allayed (it’s not paranoia if they really are out to get you), they make their way to the warehouse. Tom is driving, and Annie is in the passenger seat. Shelley is in the back, showing no particular desire to interact with either of them. Lowering his voice, Tom wonders to Annie if Shelley would be willing to accompany them on a return visit to Terrel & Squib’s beta site, if they should make one. If not, perhaps she would at least agree to try to access their computer systems remotely. In response, Annie points out the obvious:
      “You know, you could just ask her.”
      “Oh, no, I don’t think that’s necessarily a good idea right now. Maybe we should discuss it with the others first.” This conversation is starting to sound a little familiar. Bypassing the usual circling, Annie bites the bullet and just asks Shelley the question. Shelley outright refuses to go near the place again which, honestly, neither of the other two can blame her for. They’re certainly not going to press the issue. She is willing to take a look around in their systems, though, assuming she can get in. Annie wonders if she might be able to disable their security measures remotely, a question Shelley treats with the contempt it deserves:
      “If they’re idiotic enough to have their security protocols accessible from that system.”
      “Oh.” Annie starts to ask another question, but Shelley forestalls her.
      “Only someone who’s seen and believed too many bad hacker movies would even think of such a thing. It’s stupid. Real systems don’t work that way.” The edge on her words could cut glass. It certainly succeeds in making Annie feel about an inch tall. Quietly, she resolves to make Tom ask the next technical question. ‘I’m an anthropologist, dammit, not a techie!’

After passing the rest of the drive in awkward silence, the trio arrive at the warehouse in the middle of Craig’s security briefing. Shelley spots the group’s laptop and, without saying a word, simply dives straight into it. They leave her to make herself at home in there. For the benefit of the new arrivals, Craig starts from the beginning again, to no small amount of glowers and grumbling from Ben and Hoyt. As before, he doesn’t react. He’s obviously thought this out in a considerable amount of detail, but that isn’t surprising given his position as Orpheus’ head of spook security. That -- together with the fact that he’s the head of Delta crucible -- probably also explains why he’s acting like he’s in charge. When he’s finished, he looks around at them all and asks for their thoughts. The immediate response is complete silence. There is a lot of information to take in, and anyone who hasn’t lived security for the last few years needs to take a few moments just to think it over. After a few seconds have gone by without anyone volunteering a question, he asks:
      “Is this going to be a long-term base, or are we going to move on within the next few days?” With a specific question to focus on, the discussion gets under way. The general consensus is that this warehouse is now their permanent base. They’ve taken enough precautions that they don’t think anyone will be able to associate it with the Orpheus fugitives, and John is confident that no one can follow the money trail. Given their dwindling funds, it makes sense to stay here rather than to start looking for somewhere else. There’s also the fact that the more they move around, the more chance they have of attracting attention. At the moment, their best defence is anonymity. Craig nods. “Good. Now we can set about fortifying this place…”

One of Craig’s ideas is to create an emergency escape route by having someone use Witch’s Nimbus to burn a hole straight down through the concrete. According to the plans, the sewers are about twenty feet below them, and should be traversable, if unpleasant. They could even use this route as a way of getting in and out without being seen. It is likely to leave them a little fragrant, however, so they’ll have to set up sealed containers of water, clean clothes and lots of deodorant near their likely exit points. It’s not a bad idea, although Annie does point out that certainly the storm drains seemed to be a major thoroughfare for spectres in the future vision she experienced, so the sewers may well have the same problem. However, they can seal the hole with one of their precious sheets of black glass, probably attaching it to a piece of metal for reinforcement. This trap door should stop hostile spooks sneaking inside their defences from the sewers. It won’t stop them just coming up through the floor, of course, but there’s nothing they can do about that. There isn’t a convenient slab of metal lying around the warehouse, so Craig orders Ben and Hoyt to go and acquire one from the scrap yard at the end of the road. The two of them don’t react well to being ordered around like this, Ben visibly and verbally bristling. Annie tries to smooth things over, but it isn’t clear whether she’s actually helping or just making things worse. In any event, with a “sure, whatever” (Ben) and an “as the lady wishes” (Hoyt), the two men head out to the scrap yard. A short while later, they return with a sturdy slab of metal.

As the only skimmer with Witch’s Nimbus, Tom gets volunteered for mole duty. Before he starts, the others clear a space, moving everything flammable far away from his working area and dampening the concrete with plenty of water. They don’t want to end up burning this place to the ground just as they’ve decided to stay here for a while. When Tom starts to burn, Frank shields him from prying eyes and ears so as not to draw unwanted attention. The last thing they want is a visit from the fire brigade. (Well, that’s not technically the very last thing they would want, but it would certainly be inconvenient.) It takes quite a while to get through the concrete foundations, but the earth below is somewhat easier going. Tom breaks through into the sewers more or less where he’s expecting to. Much to his relief, the warehouse doesn’t fall down on his head. Given the total lack of any civil engineering expertise that was always a worry, but it seems like they lucked out. It’s possibly also a relief that he can’t actually smell his surroundings at the moment. He returns back to his body, passing through the metal sheet that now covers the opening of the shaft. (The people on the surface wasted no time in laying that down. They need to wait until the area has cooled a little before placing the black glass, though.) It looks like this part of the task is complete.

When Tom rejoins the others, Craig is talking about setting up the spook cameras they took from the Mastworth plant. There are only two of them, so they won’t be able to have full coverage, but it’s better than nothing. They’ll just have to use ordinary cameras for the rest. He suggests that perhaps Shelley should be the one to set that up, other electronic surveillance and security measures they need. (The others told him about her rescue.) Annie mentions that Shelley is probably in a less than stable mental state at the moment (perhaps a case of the pot calling the kettle black), and suggests that he might have the best chance of getting her to open up. [7]
      “I’ll try,” he says doubtfully, “but I’m not a counsellor.” He thinks a moment. “I suppose Kate’s the nearest thing we’ve got right now to one of those, isn’t she?” His tone of voice is very carefully neutral.
      “I suppose so.” While they’re on the subject of Shelley, Annie also fills Craig in on the ghost’s new trick. The idea of it seems to intrigue him, more for how they can use it than for what it might mean in terms of the development of more advanced horrors. The revelation that there were unidentified entities present in Orpheus’ electrical system during the attack seems to alarm rather than intrigue him.

Tom wonders if it’s worth returning to the Terrel & Squib beta site. The idea is bounced back and forth for a while, but the general consensus is that it isn’t. They’re not really equipped to take on a fully staffed and secured base; especially one that’s almost certainly expecting them. It’s more practical for the moment just to have Shelley try to infiltrate their computer system remotely. As part of the general discussion of their current situation and what they should do next, Craig tells the others that Osorio is out of town at the moment: the FBI seem to be concentrating their attention on Baltimore, Maryland, rather than New York City. Apparently, Beta crucible have holed up there and seem to be trying to take over the city. As far as Craig knows, most of Beta crucible are now ghosts. They’ve left a trail of bodies -- mostly cops and FBI agents -- behind them, and those agencies are out for blood. On the one hand, it’s good that they’re distracting the FBI from New York. On the other hand, their actions mean that the rest of the Orpheus fugitives are going to be tarred with the same brush. They’re going to find it that much harder to open up a dialogue with the FBI after this. Annie wonders if it’s worth trying to take Beta crucible out. It would buy them some credit, and from the sounds of it, Pretorius and his mob are likely to be as much a threat to them as to anyone else. Craig is the only one who replies to that suggestion, saying only that it wouldn’t be easy to take on Beta crucible. They’re very, very good at what they do. At this point, James -- who has only been half listening, the bulk of his attention occupied by his shiny new toy -- asks:
      “Who’s taking over Baltimore?”
      “Beta crucible,” Craig answers.
      “Beta crucible from Orpheus?”
      “Yes.”
      “So, not the bad guys, then?” It’s unclear just who he means by ‘bad guys’. The are a fair number of choices, depending on who you talk to.
      “Yes,” Annie breaks in. “It’s Beta crucible.” James looks confused, but no one argues with Annie’s assessment. [8]

The conversation turns to talk of the upcoming apocalypse. Annie admits that perhaps calling it “the end of the world” is a little bit of an exaggeration. After all, people did (or will, depending on how you look at it) survive the initial blast wave, and it might be possible to evade or fight off the spectres that follow in its wake. There’s also no evidence that it’s anything other than a local (to New York City) phenomenon. In any case, forewarned is forearmed: even if they can’t stop it, they’ll almost certainly survive it. What will happen after that remains to be seen. The big question is whether they can actually stop it from happening at all. They know the future isn’t set in stone, and that Forebode visions show probable events, not certainties: it should be possible to change it. The problem is that they don’t really know where to start. What causes this? How is it possible? What are the spectres trying to do? They simply don’t have this information. James suggests that Annie could use Forebode to try to find out some of these things, but she flatly refuses, saying:
      “I’m not going to get trapped there again.”
      “You got out last time.”
      “Yes. Last time. What if that was a fluke? What if it doesn’t work a second time?” And even if she can escape, she absolutely doesn’t want to go through that again. It’s possible that she might receive a ‘normal’ Forebode vision rather than being dragged in, but there’s just no way of knowing. It’s just too much of a risk. James doesn’t understand what he’s asking, but she doesn’t want to say that because she’d rather just not think about it at all. Easier just to refuse point blank.
      “Well, what if you didn’t look at the event itself? Maybe what leads up to it?”
      “Or afterwards.” Tom sounds thoughtful. “We don’t know really know what happens after the blast.”
      “No. Absolutely not. If it’s like the event itself, it’ll just drag me in. I’m not going back there.” She has to stop herself from adding: And you can’t make me. “As for what leads up to it…” She looks conflicted. “Maybe.” The fact that she’s even willing to consider it is a fairly large concession: looking for the cause of the apocalypse is what brought Mona to Harper Forrester, and hence got her trapped. “It’s a last resort, though: I’d rather see what information we can get from other sources first. Besides, it’ll work better if I have a clearer idea of where to look.”
      James seems to accept that. Tom, however, has more questions. “So, what was -- will be? -- the sequence of events? There was the blast wave, and then what?” Although Annie has gone over some of this before, it was only in fairly general terms. Craig, having heard only a second-hand version of her original summary, is also keen to hear more details. Somewhat reluctantly, she obliges.

A little while later, Annie receives a text message from Kate. According to last night’s Radio Free Death broadcast, there have been a number of spectre sightings in the city. Their numbers are the largest they’ve ever been, but the really strange thing is that they don’t seem to be attacking anyone. She passes this information on to the others, who debate whether it’s worth investigating the sightings. Most people seem to be in favour of the idea. While they’re on the subject, someone suggests that they take a look at the Mayfair Green projects, just to see if their really is anything nasty there. Frank keeps quiet about the fact that he’s already been there, merely agreeing that it’s something they should look into.

People start drifting off to do their own things. Craig talks to Shelley and starts installing security systems. James tries to learn Juggernaut from Tom. Annie works on trying to translate some more of the inscription on the gauze tablet. When the opportunity arises, she also takes Craig aside to ask him quietly if he’s ever seen a double of himself since becoming a ghost. He hasn’t which initially surprises her until she starts to think that maybe only spirits have doppelgangers. Hues are certainly different to spirits, and more limited in many ways. [9] Maybe all spirits have doubles; like a shadow or an evil twin. A spectre version of themselves. Perhaps that’s what spectres are; where they come from. It could be that there’s a limited amount of energy shared between spirit and shadow, so if one of them is stronger, then the other is weaker. Perhaps the ghost is usually the stronger one. If a death is particularly unpleasant, then maybe the shadow is stronger, absorbing the other one so that only the spectre remains. Gwynneth was absorbed by her dark twin, after all. As for hues: maybe there just isn’t enough energy to form a complete ghost, so that their shadows are contained within them. They can certainly manifest mutations -- like the ones common to spectres -- easier than spirits can. This is all starting to make sense… As she thinks all of this through, Annie explains to Craig why she asked him about a double. He asks a question of his own that completely derails her train of thought.
      “So how will we know it’s you?”
      “What?”
      “When you come back out of body, how can we make sure that it’s you and not your double? Is there any way to tell?”
      “I… I don’t know. She looks just like me.” Annie has been completely knocked for six: the security issue of having a spectre doppelganger has never really occurred to her before. Luckily, Craig tends to think that way all the time.
      “This could be a problem, then, especially if we’re going up against spectres.”
      “Umm…” Desperately racking her brains, she tries to think of a solution. “She shouldn’t be able to ripcord. I think.”
      He looks dubious. “That’s something, I suppose. I’ll think about it.”

Frank disappears off (not literally this time, as he’s in his body) to make a ’phone call. He’s getting in touch with his friend Mayor Bloomberg. The mayor isn’t really able to shed any light on the possible spectre sightings, but he says he’ll keep an ear out for any unusual occurrences. He observes that if there are any high-profile “supernatural incidents”, then the Orpheus fugitives might be able to improve their PR by helping out. With his help, some of them may even be “redeemed”. Of course, it seems likely that they will also have to face a certain amount of suspicion that they engineered such an incident purely for that purpose. Frank also wants to know about the city’s illegal drugs trade, so Mayor Bloomberg tells him about the latest substance to hit the market. It sounds like it’s talking about Pigment. It certainly seems to be big among the club kids and down and outs. The trade is most prevalent around the universities and nightclubs.

As eleven o’ clock approaches, the subject of Radio Free Death comes up in conversation. A number of people express the desire to get in contact with the mysterious broadcaster, if only to ask where and how he gets all his information. Annie mentions her theory that he is one of the Marion Prison spooks; specifically that he is Terrence Green, former New York gang member. If this is true, it’s another reason for trying to get in touch. After some discussion, they come up with a plan: it involves Shelley’s new horror. From Kate’s previous research, the broadcast that’s piggy-backed onto the Fox News signal is being routed through their New York cable hub. They’ve been trying to trace the source of the interference for some time, without success. There’s a distinct possibility that the broadcaster is actually Inhabiting some part of the system to send out the signal. In the past, one or two Orpheus spooks have tried poking around there during a broadcast, but haven’t managed to find him. Shelley’s Deadwire [10] ability lets her Inhabit at a deeper level, and extend her senses through more of it. She might be able to find him, or at least follow his trail. She’s still Inhabiting the laptop, so Tom brings up an IM client and uses it to communicate the idea to her. Her response is, simply, “okay”. Presumably, she heads off through the Wired straight away.

A few minutes go by. It gets to ten, and then twenty. The night’s Radio Free Death broadcast comes and goes. (They listen to it on a radio that one of them acquired for the warehouse.) It doesn’t seem to be anything amazingly relevant to them. Some more time passes, until it’s been thirty minutes since Shelley went silent. They’re starting to get worried. Tom takes the laptop.
      - Shelley? - He types.
      - Yes? -
      - Are you okay? -
      - :-) -
      He waits a minute or so, but she doesn’t expand on that. - Are you in the Fox system? -
      - Yes. - Apparently, she can access the laptop remotely when she’s residing in another system. That’s useful to know.
      - What happened? -
      - Nothing. -
      - Did you find him? -
      - Sort of. -
      Getting impatient, Annie takes over the keyboard. - What do you mean: ‘sort of’? -
      - Found traces. Didn’t find him. He feels like God. Like the voice of the city. :-) - That starts a discussion among the others. Tom, in particular, seems fascinated by the idea of the city having a voice. He wonders if that means the city has a consciousness; almost like it’s alive. This is, of course, assuming that Shelley’s interpretation is correct.
      - Can you leave a message for him in the system? -
      - Yes. What? -
      After some suggestions from the others, Annie replies: - The Orpheus spooks would like to speak with you. -
      - Done -

People mill around for a little longer, and then start to wander off to bed. Annie has some trouble getting to sleep, and when she does finally drop off, she finds herself somewhere else. The stone floor is cold beneath her feet. The bare light bulbs are bright enough to hurt her eyes, but shadows still cluster dark and thick in the corners of the room. There is someone in the centre of the room, no; two people, one seated and one standing. The one in the chair is… It’s Teresa. Her head has been shaved and she looks gaunt and wasted, with dark circles under her eyes. The man leaning over her straightens up from adjusting the thick straps binding her wrists and ankles to the chair and reaches up to take hold of what looks like a metal skullcap with wires trailing from it. He lowers it onto Teresa’s head, securing it in place with another strap. The electric chair looks like something out of the nineteen-fifties, a crude affair of sturdy wood and thick wires. The man walks over to the side of the room, and a confusing array of dials and little blinking lights. As he prepares to throw the big lever, Annie finds her eyes drawn to the clock on the wall. It’s one of the old-fashioned flip-clocks, the large white numbers inexorably clunk-clunk-clunking onwards. The display reads 3:18. It wavers, or her vision does, the numbers seeming to shrink even as they rush towards her, flooding with scarlet… And she’s looking at the digital clock next to her camp bed in the warehouse. It’s 3:18am, she’s just woken up, and that… That was a Forebode vision.

Unable to get back to sleep, she decides to get up and make a herself a hot drink. The rest of the warehouse is in darkness, aside from a small pool of light where Ben is keeping watch. Hearing Annie’s footsteps, he plays the beam of a flashlight in her direction, initially tense but relaxing when he recognises her.
      “Watch where you’re pointing that thing,” she grumbles, putting a hand up to shield her eyes. He obligingly dips the beam, settling his gun back across his lap as she heads over to the makeshift kitchen area. “Do you want a coffee or something?”
      “Yeah, if you’re making one.”
      “How do you take it?”
      “Strong and black, just like me, Babe.”
      She rolls her eyes at him, the expression largely wasted in the gloom. “Sure, Muscles, whatever you say.”
      He smirks. Not that she can really see it, but it’s obvious in his voice. “Better than being a skinny thing like you.”
      “Hey! She’s…” She bites back a fervent defence of Teresa’s physical assets, concluding somewhat lamely with: “I’m stronger than I look.”
      “You’d have to be.” He seems amused.
      “Yeah, well, I suppose it’s lucky that we have Mr “Built Like a Brick Shithouse” to protect us frail and delicate types.”
      “Nice to know you appreciate my good points, Blondie.”
      “Let me know if you develop any, and I will.” [11]

On that note, she busies herself with making the drinks. There isn’t a lot of milk left, so it’s fortunate that both of them take their coffee black. Ben pulls a face as she spoons sugar into one of them, but forbears to comment on it, only saying “thanks,” as she sets the other down in front of him.
      “You’re welcome.” She starts to head back to her little cubicle (“room” would be a gross exaggeration), but then hesitates and turns back. She doesn’t feel ready to face her own company again just yet, and sleep is completely out of the question.
      “Mind if I join you?”
      He gestures towards a chair. “Be my guest.”
      She folds herself into the hard wooden seat, drawing her knees up to her chin. Noticing a notebook and pen on the table, she looks enquiringly at Ben. “Writing your memoirs?”
      “Something like that.” He seems slightly embarrassed and obviously doesn’t want to answer any further questions. [12] Frustratingly, she can’t sneak a peek at the pages because the notebook is closed. Changing the subject instead, she asks:
      “Anything happen?”
      A head-shake. “Nothin’. It’s been quiet.”
      “Good.”
      “Yeah.”

They lapse into silence for a while, each of them lost in their own thoughts. Annie puzzles over the Forebode vision, trying to figure out what it means. She thinks it was more allegorical than literal. Something important is going to happen; something bad. Very bad. And it’s going to happen soon: the sense of urgency was almost a tangible thing, making her heart race and her breath come shallow and quick. Death. Is that what’s coming? Whose? The numbers… 3:18, 3/18, 318? They feel significant. What she really wants to do is talk to Kate about it, but it’s a bit of an unsociable hour to be making a call.
      “Fuck!” The exclamation isn’t loud, but the unexpectedness of it makes her jump anyway, almost spilling her coffee. Her gaze shoots to Ben, who’s staring off into the shadows with an expression she can’t read. “I was supposed to be going straight.”
      Her heart starts to beat again as she realises that they’re not under attack. She sets her mug down on the table, watching Ben carefully for cues. It isn’t clear whether he’s expecting a reply, but she responds anyway. “Circumstances beyond our control. It’s NextWorld’s fault. And whoever hired them.”
      “Yeah, but…” He trails off, looking like he wants to say something else, but can’t find the words. “Fuckers.”
      “Yeah.”
      Another pause, long enough for Annie to wonder if she should have said something else; if he was expecting something different, and then he says, abruptly: “It’s the big day tomorrow.”
      “Oh?”
      “Hoyt gets to be a popsicle.”
      “Oh. Yeah.” She shoots him a curious look. “I’m almost surprised it isn’t you.”
      “Heh.” A wry grin twists his lips, but doesn't reach his eyes. “We tossed a coin for it. He won.” He shakes his head. “Probably used a double-headed coin. I checked, but it seemed okay. Motherfucker could’ve palmed it or sumthin’, though. He’s been spending a lot of time around Blink; probably been learning some of his magic tricks.”
      “You think he would? Rig the coin toss, I mean.” It isn’t clear if Ben’s being entirely serious.
      “Maybe. I sure as shit would if I could.”
      “Why? If it works, it’ll be your turn soon enough. If it doesn’t work, you’d be dead. Why would you want to go first?”
      “Because…” For a moment, she thinks he isn’t going to say anything further, but then he bursts out: “Because I’m tired of being useless.”
      “Oh.” She frowns. “But you’re not…”
      “I can’t do jack against spooks ’n’ spectres ’n’ shit; not when I’m stuck in the meat. It’s alright for you: a couple of seconds of going omm or just concentrating and you’re out. Me and Hoyt and the others, all we can do is watch. I’m fucking useless like this. Helpless.” He sighs, slumping in his seat. “I fucking hate being helpless.”
      “Yeah. I can… I can understand that.” She wraps her arms around her knees, hugging them close to her chest. “But you can be helpless even in your gauze.” ‘They can still trap you. They can still hurt you.’
      He shrugs uncomfortably. “I s’pose. But at least then I could do something. I could go down fighting. Take some of them with me, you know?”
      She nods. “I know.” Glancing up, she is startled to see Ben studying her, rather than being lost in his own thoughts. When their eyes meet, they both look away.

The silence this time is an awkward one. It’s an odd sensation, each of them knowing that the other understands. Out of all of the others, Ben is the last one in whom Annie would have expected to see a reflection of her own fear. ‘I suppose it doesn’t matter how strong you are,’ she thinks. ‘There’s always someone -- or something -- stronger.’ But she has the uncomfortable feeling that he’s kicking himself for sharing that with her, so she casts her thoughts around for a way to change the subject. [13] After some flailing, she hits on something that she hopes will lighten the mood a little.
      “Have you been to see Zoë yet?”
      “Yeah.” Unfortunately, Ben doesn’t relax as she’d hoped he would. If anything, he seems even more tense, his expression worried. “She’s in bad shape. I didn’t think anything could keep her down for long.”
      “Chet says she’s going to be okay, though. She should make a full recovery, even under these conditions.”
      “I know, but it’s still weird seeing her like this.”
      “Yeah.” She’s worried as well -- Zoe’s one of the few real friends she has. “I don’t think she’s ever been so quiet.”
      He smiles at last, albeit only faintly. “You got that right. But I suppose she’ll be back to bossing everyone around soon enough.”
      “Bossing you around, you mean.” Annie grins. This is as good an opening as any. “You know she’s got you completely under her thumb, right?”
      “Like fuck she has! Ain’t no one can order me around. Not more’n once, anyways.”
      “Oh, so maybe that’s why she was looking at collars and leashes. You were being recalcitrant.” Her grin widens when Ben looks at her as if he doesn’t quite know how to react. The expression on his face is a picture. She lowers her voice mock-conspiratorially. “She picked out a nice one, you know: good leather; real quality workmanship. You can’t let on that I told you, though. She’d kill me if she knew I’d spoiled the surprise.” He frowns uncertainly at her for another moment or two, and then leans back, shaking his head.
      “You’re full of shit, Barbie.”
      “If you say so, Rover.”

The bickering continues for a little while, remaining more or less at a stalemate (although each is convinced that they are ahead on points). It isn’t long, though, before the conversation returns to more serious matters.
      “Have you found out anything else about the pigment supply?”
      Ben shrugs. “Made lots of contacts. ID’d the major players on the street scene, but figure we’d be better off looking at the club kids and students. Dealers there are less likely to just up and shoot us for muscling in.”
      “Makes sense.” Her expression turns thoughtful. “I wonder if it’s connected to the Marion Prison spooks.” Given all the various plots and conspiracies that seem to be afoot, it doesn’t seem amazingly unlikely that the pigment glut might be something to do with at least one of them. But why would someone want people to be able to see spooks, or even to project themselves?
      “Fuck knows. We get high enough up the chain, we might find out.”
      “Mmm.” Her thoughts are already leaping ahead, skipping to the next logical conclusion. “And if we can get hold of some pure samples, we might even be able to recreate Orpheus’ skimmer drugs.” ‘If we can somehow find someone with the right knowledge and skills. Synthetic chemistry, pharmacology, medicine…’ It’s a long list.
      “You think we can do that?”
      “I don’t know. But it makes sense that the Orpheus drugs are based on pigment, or something like it. Mainlining it can make even normal people project. Combine that with the Orpheus training…” She shrugs. “It should work. Although…” Her voice drops almost to a whisper. “I wouldn’t want to be one of the first test subjects.”
      “Be worth the risk, though.” Ben’s looking thoughtful. “Even if the tubes work, it means we’re tied to one place. Vulnerable. This would be better.”
      “If it works.”
      “Yeah. Need to get hold of some first, though. I’ll poke around some more while I’m waiting for my turn in the deep-freeze. Once I get us a way in, we can make our move.” He attempts a smile, but it’s more like a grimace. “Least my skills are good for somethin’.”
      ‘Not good.’ His black mood is making her uneasy. ‘So much for keeping things light and cheerful. What do I do? What would Teresa or Zoë do?’ That train of thought doesn’t seem particularly fruitful, so she just improvises. “Oh, I don’t know. Zoë did say you have your uses…”
      That actually draws a real smile. “Damn straight.” He gives her a look she can’t interpret, and then his smile widens, becoming positively lewd. “Wanna try some of them out?”
      “Uh, what?” The devil’s own light dances in his eyes as he sets the gun down and stands up, a couple of steps bringing him around to her side of the table. “Ben, what are you…?”
      Resting one hand on the edge of the table, he leans forward, far enough that she has to tilt her head to look up at him. “Fancy testing out the new chassis?”
      “What… What do you mean?”
      “You know…” He looks her slowly up and down, and she suddenly realises what he’s talking about. ‘Oh shit. Is he being serious? What do I do? What do I say?’
      “Are you completely out of your mind?” Her voice couldn’t sound more indignant if she tried. “Teresa would fucking kill me.”
      “She doesn’t have to know.”
      “You’re not my type, Muscles.” She makes herself relax, ignoring the part of her mind that’s pointing out all the various ways she could hurt him; make him back away. “And I never figured you for a necrophiliac.”
      “Huh?”
      “Dead girls turn you on?”
      He blinks at that. “Your body isn’t dead.”
      “And it isn’t mine. Now back the fuck off: I don’t like being loomed over.” It’s a relief when he does so, and even more of one when he sits down again.
      “Just messin’ wit’ you, Blondie. No need to go gettin’ all worked up.”
      “I’m not.” ‘I’m a terrible liar,’ she notes dismally.
      “Whatever.” He smirks at her then, but it’s the expression she’s used to seeing whenever he feels like he’s scored a point over her. It means things are probably okay again. “You couldn’t handle me anyway.”
      She shakes her head at him. “What did I say about delusions of adequacy?” A thought strikes her. “Hey, aren’t you supposed to be keeping watch on this place? Shouldn’t you be paying attention instead of wasting your time propositioning a revenant?”
      “I can see the whole warehouse from here, apart from the partitioned bits.”
      “What about outside?”
      “Shelley’s taking care of that.”
      “Oh. Okay.”

That leads into a discussion on warehouse security that reminds Annie there are a couple of things she’s been meaning to mention. She says as much to Ben, who responds with a quizzical look and a:
      “Yeah? What?”
      “I figure I owe you an apology.”
      That seems to take him completely by surprise. He looks guardedly over at her. “For what?”
      “This afternoon, when Craig was ordering you and Hoyt around; I shouldn’t have interfered. I shouldn’t have backed him up. I’m sorry. I was trying to help, but I don’t think it did.”
      Ben shrugs tiredly. “’S’alright. He pissed me off, just coming in and giving orders like he’s in charge. Seems to know what he’s doing, though.”
      “Craig’s just used to giving orders. He’s been head of Delta crucible for a good couple of years. I doubt he meant anything personal by it, but you can always talk to him.”
      “I was thinking about putting him in his place, but we don’t need to be fighting amongst ourselves right now. We’ve got enough enemies.”
      Annie gets the impression that her definition of “talk to” is somewhat different to Ben’s, but all she says aloud is: “True.”
      “So, what’s the other thing?”
      “What?” She blinks, a little nonplussed.
      “You said there were a couple of things. What’s the other one?”
      “Oh. Right. Yes.” She takes a deep breath. ‘This is the third time, now. You’d think it would get easier…’ “I have an evil twin.”
      “An evil twin.” It’s a statement, not a question. Ben’s expression says he’s wondering what she’s trying to pull. “Go on.”
      “There’s a spectre who looks like me. Exactly like me.”
      “How do you know?”
      “I’ve met the bitch.”
      “When?”
      The memories start trying to fight their way to the surface of her mind, but she forces them back down again, blocking them out. “After the attack.” She can’t sit still, and she doesn’t want to look at him, so she gets up and starts going through some stretching exercises. Her joints were starting to feel a little stiff anyway.
      Ben, thankfully, doesn’t comment on either the tension in her voice (if he even notices), or her sudden restlessness. “Does she look like your body, or your gauze?”
      “Like me. My gauze.”
      “Huh. Does every spook have an evil twin?”
      “Just spirits, I think. Not projectors and not hues.”
      Ben frowns as a thought occurs to him. “If she’s a spectre, shouldn’t she be all black and spiky and deformed?”
      “She isn’t. She really looks just like me.”
      “So, how can we tell the difference?”
      She shoots him an unhappy look. “That’s the problem, and that’s why I’m telling you this: just in case she shows up. She is bad news.” ‘Okay, unclench the fists and relax. Ben’s going to think you’re a hysterical loon.’ “She could do some real damage to us if she turns up pretending to be me.” Lowering her voice, she curses her double in a variety of languages. German is always a good one to swear in. And Spanish.
      Ben listens interestedly. He may not be able to understand all of the words, but the sentiment is clear from the venom in her voice. When she eventually runs out of invective, he observes, neutrally: “Don’t like her, huh?”
      “You could say that.” She takes a deep breath that melts into a weary sigh. “I need to warn everyone else as well.” And that isn’t something she’s really looking forward to. “Craig’s trying to think of a solution, but for now all we can do is stay alert. As far as I know, she shouldn’t be able to ripcord into my… Into Teresa’s body. But that’s the only difference I can think of offhand.”
      “Does she have a body?”
      “I don’t think so. Why?”
      He shrugs. “Because when you shoot a disembodied spook or a sleeper, it looks different to when you shoot a skimmer.”
      “So, the only way to tell us apart might be to shoot us? Great. I’d just as soon not be shot if it’s all the same to you. Besides” -- making a feeble attempt to lighten the mood -- “I didn’t think my coffee was bad enough to constitute a shooting offence.”
      Ben grins. “I might let you off this time, on account of how I’m so pleasant and easy-going.” He makes a show of considering something, stroking his chin like a professor in a movie. “So…”
      “Yes?”
      “Are you sure this double’s your evil twin? ’Cause, you know, it would explain a few things if she was the other one…” She just looks at him. He’s only trying to keep the tone light, but she just can’t bring herself continue the joke. Not about that. Not about her. Ben must have noticed this time, for his expression quickly sobers and he continues with: “Just… let me know when you’re about to project in future.”
      “I will if I can.”
      “Then I’ll try not to shoot you. If I can.”
      “Generous of you.”
      “I know.”
      “Anyway…” She’s had her fill of conversation for the moment. Sleep is still a less than enticing prospect, but there’s always the gauze tablet to occupy her time. It’s been sadly neglected of late, and that ancient Sumerian prophecy won’t translate itself… “I’m off. And I’m going to project, so please don’t shoot me. Okay?”
      He pretends to think about it for a moment. At least, she thinks he’s only pretending. “Okay.”
      “Good night.” She starts to turn away, but he isn’t finished yet.
      “If you get me another coffee.”
      “Deal.” Now that she thinks about it, she’s going to need another one if she hopes to concentrate on the translation. Staying up all night was so much easier when she didn’t have a body to worry about…

Annie fills the kettle, and takes the empty mug that Ben holds out to her. Putting on her best stern voice, she says: “You’d better not get used to this.”       “Blondie, no one could get used to your coffee.” Why does he always have a ready retort? It just isn’t fair. She glowers at him.
      “You want to end up wearing this?” She waves the mug in his general direction. “Then just keep flapping your lips.”       He snickers, which only deepens her scowl. “Is that a threat? Ooh, I’m scared now. Can you even lift that mug all by yourself?”
      “Fuck you, Ben,” she says, sweetly. She’s starting to understand just how he managed to wind Teresa up so much. “Did you spend all night thinking that one up?” ‘I should tell him to fix his own damn coffee,’ she thinks, but her heart isn’t really in it.
      “Hey, I got better things to think about, Doll.”
      “Like playing with your barrel?” She nods at the gun he’s fiddling restlessly with. “Oh, wait, I’m sorry: that belongs to James, doesn’t it? Playing with someone else’s barrel, then.” There’s an instant of triumph as he finally loses the smirk, but that’s quickly chased away by uneasiness when she realises that he seems genuinely annoyed. ‘Uh oh. Too far? I’m too out of practice at this kind of thing. How do the others manage it?’       “You tryin’ to piss me off? I was playin’ nice.”
      “So was I.” The kettle starts to boil, giving her something to do. Not looking at Ben, she asks: “Did I offend you?” He doesn’t answer straight away, and when she turns back with the coffees he is looking at her oddly. After a long moment, he shakes his head.
      “Nah.” Accepting the mug, he takes a large swallow and grimaces exaggeratedly. “Although I think you might be tryin’ to poison me.”
      “Hah!” The corners of her mouth lift involuntarily in a small smile. “You don’t like the way I make coffee, then I won’t offer again. Make your own in future.”
      “Oh, I don’t know.” Leaning back in the chair, he raises the mug to her as if in a toast. “I could get used to being waited on.”
      She laughs. “In your dreams, Muscles.” With that, she turns and starts to walk back to her cubicle. “Good night.”
      “’Night.”

Ninety-nine and a half days to go.


Footnotes

[1] The first interlude: Teresa, Annie and Kate’s experiment in the basement of the Southville Gazette. While they were trapped in the false reality the spectres shaped for them, at one point their minds touched something vast and gentle. It was the mental and emotional equivalent of drowning in syrup, and it almost overwhelmed them. Given the sketchiness of Shelley’s description, it’s not clear whether there is any connection. Annie is sensitive enough about such matters that the descriptors Shelley used made her think of it, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. [Back]

[2] The GM and at least one of the players have seen the anime “Serial Experiments Lain”, from where the phrase “The Wired” has been borrowed. If you haven’t seen the anime, you should: it’s very good. Exceedingly strange and confusing, but good. [Back]

[3] It seems likely that Shelley was in the middle of her brief bid for freedom when Craig saw her at the Orpheus building. He didn’t mention seeing a scar-faced man in a prison jumpsuit with the spooks he followed inside, so Shelley’s captor almost certainly entered by another route. Presumably, he came “out of the lines” -- the person she was babbling about at the time -- grabbed her and dragged her away. Maybe the spooks Craig saw were capable of the same method of transit. When she dived into the computer, her captor must have found her again and simply [4] dragged her into its power lines and away. [Back]

[4] Well, not “simply”. This is an entirely new phenomenon, at least to the Orpheus spooks. No doubt they’ll manage to find some way of using it to get themselves in trouble, though… [Back]

[5] Apparently, this is the default name for the ability, taken straight from the book. However, both PCs and their respective players agree that it’s fairly poor. I rather suspect we’ll be offering up suggestions, as pretty much anything we could come up with would be better than that. Wired? Ghost in the Wired? Dead Wire? (As opposed to live wire, of course.) Something, anyway. We’ll see what we come up with when we know a little more about it. [Back]

[6] Annie’s zero vitality manifestation is a small animal. Her usual form is a cat, but when she needs opposable thumbs -- such as to pull the pin on a grenade -- she uses something like a capuchin monkey. [Back]

[7] Shelley was a Delta crucible member. Craig was the head of this crucible. [Back]

[8] Annie isn’t exactly fond of Beta crucible; their leader Alex Pretorius in particular. He’s one of the few people she genuinely hates. The whole pack show strong sociopathic tendencies at the best of times, and they seem to have lost all restraint in the aftermath of the attack. They’re potentially enough of a threat that the thought of killing/dissipating them doesn’t give her any particular qualms. [Back]

[9] Hues are the ghosts of pigment users. They are monochrome and have cracks in their gauze. These cracks limit the amount of vitality they can hold, as it tends to drain away if they try to channel too much. Spirits are ‘normal’ ghosts. Unlike hues, they can hold more vitality than their default amount, albeit on a temporary basis. Craig is a hue. [Back]

[10] A working alternative to “Broadband Ghost”. May be subject to change. [Back]

[11] Possibly a little harsh, but she doesn’t actually intend it maliciously. She never really spoke with Ben before they went on the run, so she’s figuring out how to interact appropriately with him -- and everyone else -- based on a combination of observation and what she remembers from Kate and Teresa’s minds. As far as she can tell, verbal sparring is more or less how he and Teresa used to interact. There was a certain amount of antagonism arising from differences in personality and upbringing, but on the whole it didn’t seem to be hostile. (Although the fact that he reminded Teresa of an ex-boyfriend from her youthful rebellious phase didn’t exactly help things.) His relationship with Zoë is a lot less confrontational (they seem to be either close friends, possibly with benefits, or a couple; it’s hard to tell), but the snappy banter is still a feature. He and Kate don’t get on at all, so Annie is discounting that interaction from her considerations. Generally, she’s aiming to mimic Teresa’s responses, but with somewhat less prickliness. As far as she can tell, she seems to be succeeding. At any rate, he generally seems amused rather than offended by her. [Back]

[12] I suspect he’s writing a journal, poetry or a letter. Or maybe a will, given the danger they’re all in. Alas, this is mere groundless speculation. [Back]

[13] This is one of the differences between Teresa and Annie. Teresa would have seized upon this opening and tried to use it to understand Ben better. It just makes Annie uncomfortable. She’s actually fairly empathic when she wants to be, but she’s so used to putting up barriers and keeping other people at a distance that it takes a conscious effort for her to actually listen to her instincts. She’s rather out of practice at relating to people. [Back]