Orpheus: The Taste of Ashes - Missions - Interlude006

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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
  • Matthieu Kerekov, Banshee
  • Chet Mason, Skinrider
  • Mitch, a medical technician
  • John Reeve, Skinrider (hue)
  • Zoë Vitt, Poltergeist

Brooke House

  • Lo-Jack, Wisp (hue)
  • Mona, Banshee (spirit)
  • Various ghosts

Other

  • William “Bill” Knox, Banshee (hue)

Sixth Interlude

Part One – The Morning After

The morning sun shines down on New York City as if nothing has changed; as if a dark cathedral hasn’t been forged from a night’s death and despair. As if every new day doesn’t bring the apocalypse ever closer. Ninety-six days and counting. Saturday morning finds the Orpheus spooks split between Brooke House and the warehouse. They have yet to compare notes on last night’s activities and to find out the final death toll. In both places, people are starting to wake up and face the day.

Things are quiet at the warehouse, the atmosphere a little subdued. Various people potter around, getting breakfast or just hanging out. No one’s really saying very much. Craig clicks the radio on as soon as he comes out of fugue, [1] listening intently for news of last night’s tragedy. The hushed tones of the announcers dampen the mood even further.
      “Fuck man,” Ben grumbles, “at least let me wake up first.” But there’s no real force behind his objection, and he listens as closely to the reports as Craig does. There is no mention of strychnine, but they do speculate on a possible drug connection. Nothing is said about the report John sent to the police commissioner. Presumably, the reporters are playing it safe and waiting for confirmation on both counts before breaking that story. The total number of deaths isn’t yet known, but it’s being tentatively estimated as around two-hundred or so. Almost half of those are probably from the rave where Tom’s brother died. It isn’t good. Hoyt looks faintly sick, and even Adrian, normally so composed, is a little pale.
      “Those poor children,” he murmurs, softly.
      “And their parents....” Hoyt shakes his head, for once lost for words. Mitch pauses in the middle of making his morning vat of coffee, looking shaken.
      “Weren’t you going to stop this?” He asks, glancing from one to the other of them as if hoping for some good news.
      “Yeah. We were.” If Mitch was going to say anything else, Ben’s grim tone stops him. He makes his coffee in silence, and then waits there with them, listening as the story unfolds.

Kerekov, James and Frank aren’t listening to the radio. Kerekov is busy stripping and cleaning his weapons, ignoring everyone else as per usual. Frank is still asleep – or unconscious – and shows no signs of waking up just yet. James checks up on him, dosing him with some anti-inflammatory drugs and making sure there are painkillers to hand for when he does awaken. He may not be the most highly trained medic in the world, but he knows that Frank’s going to feel those injuries. One leg is black with bruises, and across his chest is a long, deep gash. It’s just fortunate that the one across his throat isn’t nearly that deep. After cleaning and re-binding the wounds, James leaves Frank to rest. He figures that it’s best to let him wake up by himself. Cheerfully oblivious to the knot of people around the radio, he hauls out the ghost-shot they acquired after the NextWorld ambush and sets about modifying some of it for use in his rifle.

Brooke House is also fairly quiet. As well as its usual guests – Kate, Zoë and Blink – it is also playing host to Chet, Annie, Tom and William. Chet has been up all night keeping watch, but the rest of them are just starting to stir. Annie is the first one to actually get up, springing from her blankets and racing for the chamberpot as if a horde of spectres were snapping at her heels. The privacy curtains do absolutely nothing to muffle the sounds of her violent retching. When she finally emerges, white and trembling, Blink and Zoë are looking out from their respective curtains to see what’s going on. She stops dead when she sees Blink, trying to hide her discomfort. [2] He looks like he’s about to say something, but Chet interrupts with:
      “Still sick, Sergeant?”
      “Apparently.” Not caring how rude she seems, she claims a clean toothbrush – silently thanking whichever practical soul decided to go for the super ultra bumper value packs of toiletries – and draws the curtain behind her again. ‘Flesh has drawbacks as well as benefits,’ she thinks, scrubbing hard to get the vile taste out of her mouth. She also washes her face when she’s done, trying not to use too much of the water. (It isn’t easy lugging it up here from downstairs without being seen by any of the living.) The steady murmur of voices floats in through the curtain; presumably Chet is telling Blink and Zoë about the night’s events. ‘We need to compare notes,’ she thinks absently. ‘And we should try to find out how bad it was, in the end.’ But there are things she wants to do first, while she still has some hope left. While she still thinks they might have made a difference.

As she reaches for the curtain, Annie catches sight of herself in the mirror. Even after several weeks, it’s still a shock to see Teresa’s face looking back at her. She pauses there for a moment, studying it. Kate was right. There are dark circles beneath her eyes and she’s even paler than usual. ‘I look tired.’ A soft sigh escapes her lips. ‘I feel tired.’ But there are things to do – there are always things to do – and she can’t hide in here forever. ‘I have to do something about my hair, though.’ Her own hair was usually cropped short, or shoved out of the way in a messy pony tail until she got around to cutting it again. Terri’s hair isn’t that long, but apparently it needs somewhat more care and attention. Somewhat guiltily – she has the feeling that Terri wouldn’t approve of the way she’s been neglecting it – she resolves to try to brush it more from now on. Maybe she’ll even use conditioner once in a while. Spotting a hairbrush (it probably belongs to Kate or Zoë), she makes a start on her first resolution straight away. A few minutes of brushing actually makes it look presentable. It’s only a small thing but, much to her surprise, it actually makes her feel a little better. Now she’s ready to face the day.

Blink and Zoe are still talking to Chet, who glances in her direction when she steps back out into the attic.
      “I’ll leave you youngsters to talk,” he says. “It’s time this old soldier got some rest.”
      Zoë frowns. “But I wanted to ask...”
      “Goodnight.” Chet is already turning away. Ignoring Zoë’s pout, he tucks himself into a quiet corner of the attic and drifts off into fugue.
      “I’m going back to bed,” Blink murmurs, suiting the action to the words. Neither of the two women really pays him any attention. Zoë turns to Annie.
      “So, what’s been happening?”
      “What has Chet told you?”
      “You heard it.”
      “I wasn’t really paying attention.”
      “That was just me asking questions. Mr Tightmouth didn’t actually answer any of them. Any then you came out and he said he was going to bed.”
      “Oh.” Zoë seems to be feeling a lot more energetic this morning. “What do you want to know?”
      “Everything.”
      “You know about the Spook Night visions and the tainted pigment?”
      “Yeah – it’s kind of been a popular topic of conversation hereabouts.”
      “Well, we’ve mostly been trying to stop that.” She fills Zoë in on the events of the last couple of days, concluding with: “So it’s just been business as usual, really.”
      “I was just thinking that.” Zoë looks thoughtful. “How much ghost shot did James and Kerekov get from the NextWorld goons?”
      “I don’t know. Some. Why?”
      “I was just thinking.” Coming from Zoë, that can be a worrying phrase. “The problem with Helter Skelter is that it’s not really that good at affecting spooks. But if I had a couple of those bullets to fling around...”
      “Good idea. I’m sure we can spare a couple.”
      “Great! I can use them to kick some spectre arse. Anyway,” Zoë looks at her quizzically. “How come you’re here and not back at the warehouse?”
      “Oh.” The sudden change of subject takes her by surprise. Maybe there are one or two things she forgot to mention in her account. “Umm, you see the guy over there?”
      Zoë looks where Annie is pointing. “Yeah – who is he? Can’t really see enough of him to tell whether he’s cute.”
      “That’s Tom’s brother. Bill was at a rave last night; he took some of the poisoned pigment.” She doesn’t think she needs to add the fact that he died. “Tom managed to stop him from being carried off by the spectres.” She almost forgets to mention the other significant item. “There was another Reaper there.”
      “Shit.” Zoë studies the brothers. “Is Tom... Are they both okay?”
      “I think so. Tom’s got a couple of nasty cuts, but Chet seems to think he’s not in any immediate danger.”
      Zoë is quiet for a moment or two, but then flashes her infamous smile. “Well, it could have been worse. He’s dead, but at least he’s not gone, right?”
      “Yeah.” Zoë’s irrepressible optimism brings out a small smile of her own, but it quickly fades with the next question.
      “Hey – did you sense some kind of disturbance last night? Blink said he heard or felt something; voices screaming, and then something ripping. I didn’t sense a thing, but then I slept like a log. Didn’t even wake up with you lot clomping around. Do you know what happened?”
      “Kind of.” She explains before Zoë can explode with curiosity.
      “Mayfair Green’s not that far from here, is it?” Annie shakes her head. “What a cheery thought.”
      “Mmm. Isn’t it?”
      “So, when are we going to do something about it?”
      “When we’re back to something approaching full strength. We can’t just go charging in there half-cocked.”
      “Spoilsport.” Zoë mock-pouts.
      “Absolutely. We do not want to fuck around with this. With them. Not until we’re ready.” ‘If we even will ever be ready.’ It’s not that she thinks Zoë will go haring off in there by herself, but... Actually, no: it’s that she thinks the daredevil might well go and do just that. The worry lends an edge to her voice and puts a hard glint in her eyes. Apparently, it makes an impression on Zoë, who throws her hands up as if in surrender.
      “Okay, okay! I get the message, Annie. Jeez.”
      “Good.” She just hopes it sticks.
      “I’m not exactly likely to be heading there just yet, in any case. I’m on a fairly tight leash at the moment. I get complained at if I try to project, or even try to move further than from my bed to the chamber pot and back. Bastards.”
      “It’s probably for your own good.”
      “That’s what they say.” She heaves a great sigh, and it only triggers a small coughing fit this time. “This place might as well be Siberia,” she mutters. “We’re completely out of the loop, and no one will let me do anything interesting. The only thing there is to do around here is gossip.”
      “I bet there’s no shortage of that.”
      Zoë shrugs. “Been talking to some of the ghosts here; the more compos mentis ones, anyway. But it only fills so much of the time, you know? I’m bored out of my skull. This is driving me nuts!”
      “Maybe we can get you to the warehouse – at least then it would be easier for you to get involved.”
      “Good luck convincing Chet.” That’s pretty much what Kate said when she mentioned that possibility.
      “We’re going to look into getting a caravan or truck; something we can use as a mobile base. If we outfit it properly, it’ll be a lot more comfortable than bedding down here. It’ll also be easier to heat than the whole warehouse. As long as we’re careful when we move you, Chet seems to think there wouldn’t be a problem with installing you in that.”
      “Great. When do you think that’ll be ready?” Zoë looks like she’s ready to go right away.
      “We haven’t even started looking yet. It might be a little while.”
      “Damn.” Zoë shoots her a glower. “Why’d you have to go and get my hopes up, then?”
      “Just evil, I guess.”
      Zoë holds the glare a few moments more, and then the fierce expression melts into a smile. “Yeah, but only at the amateur level.”
      “You’re right.” Annie’s voice is completely deadpan. “I quite forgot who I was talking to. I bow before your talent, oh Queen of Darkness. You must teach me everything you know.”
      “You say the sweetest things, Annie. So tell me...”
      “Yes?”
      “Is anyone missing me at the warehouse, or have I just been completely forgotten?”
      “Well, Ben’s pining away without your radiant presence. And I think you’ve got something of a fan in Kerekov.”
      “Really?”
      “He seemed pleased to hear you were doing okay, at any rate. For him, that’s practically laying his soul bare.”
      “Hmm.” Zoë seems thoughtful. “He saved my life, you know, getting me out of there when he did. If it wasn’t for him...” Her voice trails off, but her sober mood lasts for all of two seconds before she shrugs it off to say: “So, tell me again how Ben’s pining for me...” They chat for a little while longer, and then Annie takes her leave. She wants to talk to Mona.

Tom wakes to a mass of aches and pains, his injuries not having been helped by a night on the hard attic floor. The blankets don’t really seem to have done much at all. Stretching, he rolls over to see his brother’s ghost curled up next to him. Freezing in place, he just stares at the huddled, monochrome form for a while as it all comes flooding back to him. It wasn’t a nightmare: Bill really is dead. Except that he’s still here. Does that make it better, or worse? No answers seem forthcoming, but despite his inner turmoil, Tom is already considering the practicalities of the situation. If he’s going to get through to Bill, he’s going to have to try to sever at least one of his tethers; assuming he has any. He might not – it could just be the drug keeping him here, on this plane – but there’s no point in worrying about that just yet. The first step is to try to work out what type of spook he is, which is something he can do without even waking him up.

Casting his mind back to his Orpheus training, Tom projects and concentrates, trying to “harmonise with Bill’s resonance”. Whatever that means. It’s a phrase he remembers Kate using during the lessons. He glances over in her direction, but she’s still snoring away, happily oblivious to everything. He decides not to try to wake her. Instead, he clears his mind as best as he can and tries to remember what it felt like when he did it before. Holding that sensation in mind, he extends his awareness, focusing only on Bill. He gets a sense of... Something. Sorting through the impressions, he realises with a start that he knows what it means: his brother is a Banshee. ‘Well, that fits,’ he supposes. ‘Bill is a psych major after all.’

He starts to reach out towards Bill, but changes his mind. There is something he wants to find out before talking to him. Giving Shelley a ring, he asks her if she’ll check up on what happened to Bill’s girlfriend. She agrees with a minimum of grumbling, leaving him with nothing to do but wait. As the minutes tick by, he tries to cling to hope. Maybe Liz left early; maybe she didn’t even take the pigment. Did she take drugs? He wouldn’t have thought so, but then, he didn’t think Bill was the type, either. [3] His ’phone buzzes: it’s a text message from Shelley. To the point as always, she says only that there is an Elizabeth Marks – Liz’s full name – on the dead list. ‘Oh.’ This isn’t quite the news he was hoping for. Then again, if wishing could get you what you wanted, he wouldn’t be looking at his brother’s ghost right now. The only thing he can think of right now is: ‘I hope knowing she’s okay isn’t one of his tethers.’ So, what are Bill’s tethers? He knows how to try to find out, but can’t do so whilst Bill is still in fugue. Once more he reaches towards his brother, and once more he hesitates. ‘I can’t do this now.’ He needs to talk to Kate; she’ll know the best approach to take. The fact that waiting for her lets him put off the inevitable just that little bit longer doesn’t have anything to do with it.

As she prepares to project, Annie notices that Tom is awake. A little hesitantly, she approaches him.
      “Morning, Tom.”
      “Morning.” Neither of them claim that it’s a good one.
      “I’m sorry about your brother.”
      Tom sighs. “Thanks. It’s okay – it could have been worse. At least he’s still here.” Almost as an afterthought, he adds: “And he didn’t get dragged off by the spectres.”
      “Yes.” There is a slightly awkward silence. Neither of them really seem to know what to say, so Annie takes her leave. Tom spots a radio next to Kate. ‘Might as well listen to the news reports while I’m waiting,’ he muses, reaching out for it. The radio is tuned to an empty channel – presumably Kate was listening out for the Radio Free Death broadcast. He makes a mental note to ask her if it said anything interesting. It doesn’t take him long to find someone talking about last night’s tragedy and he settles down to see how bad it really was.

Annie steps out of her body and heads downstairs. There are a few ghosts hanging around in the corridors, still talking about last night’s excitement. Absently responding to their greetings, she makes her way towards Mona’s office. Lo-Jack is coming the other way down the corridor. He nods at her.
      “Hey Annie. How’s it going?”
      “Hiya.” She manages a small smile. “Okay, I guess.” Not strictly true, but what else can she say? “How about you?”
      Lo-Jack shrugs. “It’s a bit tense here. Something happened last night – did you feel it?” At her nod, he continues. “Mona told us all to stay inside.” He frowns. “She’s really spooked.”
      “I’m not surprised.” She only just manages not to add: ‘So am I.’
      “D’you know what happened?”
      “Not exactly, but...” She hesitates, not knowing how to put this. “The spectres have taken Mayfair Green.”
      “Shit.” His eyes widen. “Taken? You mean...”
      “It’s theirs now. You need to stay away from there; tell all the others.”
      “I will, but...” He shakes his head slowly. “There were some of us up there. We were hoping they’d come in; tell us what was going on. Do you... Do you think they’re okay?”
      “I...” ‘No.’ But he’s looking at her like he’s pleading for some scrap of hope, so she swallows her instinctive response and instead says: “If they were outside Mayfair Green itself or if they got out straight away, then they might be okay.” To herself, she can’t help adding: ‘If they didn’t, then you’d better hope they were lucky enough to be dissipated. You don’t want to think about the alternatives’ But they might have gotten out; it is possible, even if she doesn’t really believe it. She takes a deep breath. “I’m sorry.” It doesn’t feel like enough, but she doesn’t know what else to say.
      “Maybe they’re hiding somewhere. They could turn up later today.”
      “Maybe.”
      “I’ll tell the others to keep an eye out.”
      “Good.” That seems to be the end of that conversation, so it’s probably time to move on. “Is Mona receiving visitors this morning?” She’s assuming so, since Lo-Jack was coming from that direction, but it’s probably polite to check.
      “I’m sure she’ll see you.” His attempt at a smile doesn’t reach his eyes. “See you around.”
      “See you.”

Mona is sitting at the desk when Annie steps through the door. She’s looking worried. No, it’s more than that: she’s looking scared.
      “Good morning, Mona. Do you have a minute?” Mona jumps at the sound of Annie’s voice. Almost leaping out of the chair, she spins round. If anything, she seems to grow more tense when she recognises her visitor. Crossing the room – it’s small enough that to do so only takes a few steps – she stands there, nervously twisting her hands together.
      “Was that it?” [4]
      “No. This was something else. Smaller.”
      Mona closes her eyes for a moment. “Oh, thank God,” she whispers. Focusing on Annie again, it’s as if a weight has been lifted from her shoulders. She’s still worried – still scared – but some of the urgency seems to have faded. “Do you know what it was?”
      “Yes. I tracked the fracture down to Mayfair Green.” She describes what she saw there, adding in all the details she can remember.
      Mona frowns. “It sounds like a dark cathedral.” [5]
      When she doesn’t say anything further, Annie gently prompts her with: “You’ve mentioned those before.”
      “Yes. I saw them everywhere in that... That future. They were everywhere.”
      “Do you remember where?” If they know which places the spectres are going to claim, then maybe they can stop them before they establish a foothold.
      “Not really, but I’ll check my journal. Maybe we can work out where they were.”
      “Good.”
      “I think...” Mona takes a breath, and then the words tumble out all in a rush. “They didn’t seem to be just bases, or redoubts. It was more than that. I think they were holy places. For the monsters. The spectres. That’s why I call them cathedrals.”
      “Oh.” Annie doesn’t know what to say to that. What is there to say? It makes a certain sort of sense that profaning a place with death and torment would make it holy to the spectres. They’re all monsters, after all; irredeemable.
      “But if they have holy places, does that mean that they worship something? Someone? What kind of thing would a spectre have faith in?” It’s like Mona is speaking Annie’s own thoughts aloud. Following that train of thought brings something to mind.
      “They have a prophecy.”
      “What?”
      “It’s inscribed on a gauze tablet; written in a dead language.” Which is kind of fitting, when you think about it; just as it’s apt that one of the dead should perform the translation. ‘But am I one of the dead anymore?’ Or is she truly undead? She calls herself a revenant, but what does that really mean? As her thoughts wander in circles, she tells Mona how the tablet came into their possession. The ghost seems both intrigued and disturbed.
      “What does it say? Do you know?”
      “I’ve translated some of it.” She clears her throat, unconsciously standing straighter. “The first part is pretty much complete:
         ‘She will come, in all her raiment and glory
         Heralded by her choir of three hundred souls
         And by these signs shall you know her
         First will come a great war that shall block the Well of Souls.’
      Then there’s a gap of several lines. They’re fairly badly faded – I can’t make out enough of the letters to fill in the words with any certainty. I’ve only got two more lines after that:
         ‘Then shall the Ritual of Becoming guide her forth
         She will construct a holy city in the Well of Souls.’
      That’s all I’ve got for the moment. There’s more, but I haven’t worked that out yet.” She shrugs a little self-consciously. “I’m afraid my ancient Sumerian is a little rusty.”
      “I… That’s…” Mona shakes her head, and then frowns. “Three hundred?” [6]
      “Yes. Somehow, I don’t think that’s a coincidence.”
      “No, I don’t suppose it would be. What do you think it means?”
      “I’m still working on that. I think the war it talks about might be the reason why there are no ghosts from before the Millennium.”
      “Do you think it wiped all the existing ones out, or it just caused them to start forming for the first time?”
      “The first one, I think. We’ve come across some pieces of information suggesting pre-millennial spook activity. Nothing concrete, but it’s certainly a possibility.”
      “I wonder who ‘she’ is.”
      “The spectres said...” The words emerge reluctantly, pulled forth only by her academic’s desire to present all the facts. “They spoke about someone they called ‘Grandmother.’ They said she was coming. From the way they spoke, this is someone – or some entity – they revere; even worship. But knowing what they call her doesn’t tell me who or what she actually is.” There’s a note of frustration in her voice. It’s bad enough that a mystery remains unsolved, but the fate of the world could be at stake here. “I’ve tried looking through myths and legends, but I don’t really have enough information to narrow it down.”
      Mona looks at Annie oddly. “You... Spoke to the monsters about their legends?”
      “Well, I didn’t exactly try to interview them, no.”
      “But...”
      “Have you seen anything in your visions that might relate to the prophecy?” The question distracts Mona from following that line of enquiry any further.
      Mona shakes her head, looking apprehensive. “No. Only the dark cathedrals and I generally tried to stay away from those.” She shudders involuntarily, looking so lost and afraid that Annie instinctively starts to reach out to her.
      “Are you okay?”
      “I’m fine.” Mona waves her concern away, fixing her with a questioning gaze in turn. “Are you okay?”
      “Yes, of course.”
      “It happened to you too.”
      “Yes, but I was only there for a few hours. You were there for months.” Months of endless dying, or worse. Months of darkness and spectres and pain. It doesn’t bear thinking about. Mona doesn’t reply straight away, continuing to study Annie thoughtfully. It’s as if she’s seeing her properly for the first time. Annie fights the urge to squirm under her regard. “What?”
      “There’s something else, isn’t there?”
      She doesn’t like the sound of that. “What do you mean?”
      “What happened to you?”
      “You know what.” Her voice comes out flatter than she intends, but at least it doesn’t shake. “It was the same thing that happened to you.”
      “I mean the other thing.”
      It’s the gentleness in her voice that does it. Annie opens her mouth to say that there isn’t anything else, but what actually emerges is: “I was captured by spectres.” Her voice is completely expressionless. “They held me for a couple of days.” Mona unexpectedly hugs her. She flinches badly; even starting to channel vitality before she manages to throttle back her instincts. ‘Don’t kill Mona.’ The thought is more than a little frantic; it’s a real struggle not to just lash out, even though she knows Mona is friend, not foe. Fortunately, sensing her discomfort, Mona lets her go almost immediately.
      “I’m sorry, Annie.” From the look in her eyes, she’s talking about more than just the unwanted embrace. “Do you want to talk?”
      “No. There’s nothing to talk about.” This isn’t how the conversation is supposed to go. She should be asking that question. Suddenly, she recalls that Mona is a counsellor.
      “It doesn’t sound like nothing.”
      “It was only a couple of days.” She shrugs. “Maybe not even that.” Before Mona can say anything else, she continues: “What about you? Do you want to talk?”
      “There’s nothing to talk about. Not really.”
      “It doesn’t sound like nothing.”
      Mona frowns as Annie repeats her own words back to her, matching the intonation perfectly. Quietly, she asks: “Who would I talk to?”
      It isn’t clear whether that’s a real question or a rhetorical one, but Annie answers it anyway. “You could talk to me if you want. Or Kate.” She doesn’t think Kate will mind her volunteering her services as a counsellor. “Kate’s a good listener, despite her, ah, prickly exterior.”       “We’ll see.” If she’s anything like Annie, that probably translates to “never.” Before Annie can decide if she should push this, she adds: “Maybe you can talk to her.”
      “We’ll see.”
      Mona sighs. “I’m not going to push. I will say this, though: I’ve seen what happens when people try to bottle things up. It isn’t pretty. I don’t want that to happen to you.” Holding a hand up to forestall Annie’s protest, she continues. “I’m not saying that you’re going to fall apart. You obviously haven’t hit rock bottom yet. Maybe you won’t. But no matter what happens, you’re not alone. Okay?”
      “Okay.” Pushing aside her irritation at being counselled, she quirks an eyebrow at Mona. “The same goes for you, you know.”
      A genuine, if small, smile lifts the corner of Mona’s lips. “I know.”
      “Good.” In Annie’s opinion, it’s well past time for a complete change of subject. Luckily, she has just the thing: the reason she came to speak to Mona in the first place. “Anyway, I have a couple of questions, if you don’t mind.”
      “Of course. Go ahead.”
      “First of all, if there are no more immediate crises to deal with, I was thinking that I’d like to start those Forebode experiments. Do you think you’ll have some time over the next few days to do that? If you’re still happy to, of course.”
      “Yes.” Although her expression is more apprehensive than anything else. “I’ll make time.”
      “Thank you.”
      “It’s worth it if we can stop someone using it to track us. Or trap us.” That’s certainly a sentiment Annie can agree with.       “Secondly, I was wondering: have you seen anything like that gauze chess piece in any of your other visions? We found one – a small one – in one of the stashes of poisoned drugs. Maybe it means something.”
      Mona frowns thoughtfully. “I have seen it before,” she says slowly. “Only in certain visions, though: ones where I’ve seen monsters and the men in the orange jumpsuits. Maybe it represents a particular faction made up of both?”
      “That would make sense.”
      “Do you know about this group? Do you know who they are?” Annie explains about the Marion Prison spooks. “So the man who trapped me in that vision was one of them.” It isn’t really a question. She frowns. “I wonder what it is they want.”
“We’re trying to work that out. Whatever it is, we’re sure we want to stop it. Do you remember which visions you’ve seen the chess piece in?”
      “I’d have to check my notes. Off the top of my head, the only one I remember is the one you said sounded like the attack on the Orpheus building.”
      “Huh. Well, that tells us something interesting.” And not entirely surprising, but it does seem to fit with the theory that it represents the Marion Prison spooks and the spectres working together.
      “What happened with the poisoned pigment? Did you... Did you manage stop it from happening?”
      Annie looks away. “No.” Mona looks stricken as she recounts the events of the night.
      “At least you saved some. That’s worth something, isn’t it?”
      “Not enough. Anyway, on a slightly less depressing note, I also wanted to say that if we have a little breathing space, I should have some time to help out with breaking ghosts’ tethers. If you still want me to.”
      “Yes.” Mona smiles. “That would be a real help, thank you.”
      Annie smiles back. “You’re welcome.”

      “It’s bad, isn’t it?” Kate’s voice breaks into Tom’s thoughts. He was listening to the radio so intently that he didn’t even notice that she was awake.
      “Yeah.”
      “God, I need a cigarette.” She’s already lighting up, taking a long drag and exhaling with a sigh. “First drag of the morning’s always the best.” Tom doesn’t comment. “So, have they announced the death toll yet?”
      “Only an estimate.”
      “Well? Don’t keep me in suspense, Kid.”
      “They’re saying a couple of hundred or so.”
      “Shit.”
      “Liz is on the dead list.”
      “Liz? Oh, Bill’s girlfriend.”
      “Yeah.”
      “Did you know her?”
      “Yeah.”
      “I’m sorry.” She puffs on her cigarette for a few moments, eyeing him critically. “How are you doing?”
      “I’m okay.” He glances over at Bill. “I think we should just tell him that he’s dead.” The quicker his brother knows the truth, the quicker he can start to deal with it.
      Kate frowns. “I’m not sure that’s such a good idea. In his current state, he may not even understand what you’re trying to tell him. Or he might react aggressively; I’ve seen it happen before. I think it would be better to resolve at least one of his tethers first.”
      “Oh.” So much for that idea. “I’ll wake him up, then.” He does that, projecting again to gently tap Bill on the shoulder. “Billy? Time to get up.”
      “Huh? What? Oh...” He blinks owlishly. “Tom? What are you doing here?” It’s obvious from talking to him that Bill doesn’t really remember anything they talked about last night. He starts to sink back into the cycle of worrying about Liz, feeling ill, and forgetting again, but Tom interrupts him.
      “Bill, listen to me. I’m going to try something. It might make you feel better.” Well, it’ll be a valuable first step, at any rate. “Just try to stay focused. Can you do that?”
      “Yeah, sure.” But he’s looking blankly around at the attic as if he hasn’t the faintest idea how he came to be here. Still, this is probably about as good as it’s likely to get. Sitting down next to his brother, Tom concentrates. It’s much like when he sensed that Bill is a banshee, but the connection goes much, much deeper. Visions start to flow into his mind. There’s a petite Asian girl he recognises as Liz; the sight causing him to wince involuntarily. If that tether has anything to do with her wellbeing, it’s unlikely he’ll be able to resolve it. The faces of his parents come into focus, his father mid-rant, with a furious expression. The next one looks like a bundle of papers, with a title page bearing his brother’s name – a thesis or term paper, perhaps? Three tethers: not unusual. According to Kate, the majority of ghosts tend to have two or three. Except that the visions haven’t finished yet. Four tethers? But the last one is strange: an endless ocean; not of water, but some kind of thick, buoyant liquid. He can feel it cradling him, warm on his skin, the sound like a lullaby. It feels peaceful. And then he’s back in the attic again.

      “Well? Did you see anything?” Kate keeps her voice low, so as not to get Bill’s attention. The ghost is looking around confusedly again, not really seeming to notice them. He’s muttering something unintelligible.
      “Yeah.” He describes the visions he glimpsed, shaking his head over the last one. “The other three I can more or less work out. That one, though – no idea.”
      “I’ve seen that before,” muses Kate. “All hues seem to have it. I’d guess it’s something to do with the pigment, but I haven’t worked out what it means yet.”
      “Oh. Well, I guess there isn’t a lot we can do about that one, then. Nor Liz.”
      “Your parents or the paper, then. Up to you, Kid.”
      Tom doesn’t have to think about it. He turns to his brother. “Hey, Bill.” It takes a couple of attempts to hold his attention.
      “Yeah?”
      “Do you have any coursework or anything to do at the moment? Or are you in the middle of exams?”
      Bill looks blankly at him for a second and then groans loudly, dropping his head into his hands. “Oh shit. Yeah – a psychology term paper. It’s due in today.” That probably explains that one, then.
      “Maybe we can call your tutor – get you an extension.”
      “I’ve already had an extension. The Prof isn’t going to give me another one. He’s going to fail me, and then Dad’ll hit the roof.” He groans again. “He’s going to kill me.”
      “Well, maybe he’ll make an exception. You know, in light of what’s happened...” Tom’s voice trails off as his brother’s eyes widen in shock. ‘Maybe that was a mistake.’
      “I have to find out what happened! Is there a TV? Maybe one of the local news stations will have some information.” As Kate quietly turns off and hides the radio before he can notice it, Tom skilfully heads him off before he starts worrying about Liz again. Bringing the conversation back to the psychology term paper, he starts quizzing his brother for details. Apparently, Bill is quite stressed about it and really wants to hand it in. Well, to get it finished and then hand it in. Having visions of it consisting of nothing but the title page, Tom tentatively asks how much is left to do. Bill assures him that it’s almost done. He decides to give him the benefit of the doubt for now, reserving judgement until he sees it for himself. It’s apparently stored in his user area on the university network. Tom extracts his user name and password from him and sets off to retrieve it. He simply heads out to a safe distance – since doing this will generate a spike – and Deadwires into the system. Once inside his brother’s user area, it’s a simple matter to locate the file and e-mail it to himself.

Once everyone’s gathered in the attic again, Tom calls Ben to take them back to the warehouse. It’s time for that discussion about what to do next.
      “I hope you’re going to let us know what you all decide.” Zoë sounds a little despondent.
      “You could always listen in,” says Annie. “We could conference call.”
      “Hmm.” She brightens up a little. “Yeah, I guess we can.” When they get back to the warehouse, James is busy practicing his puppetry on the NextWorld prisoner. He hasn’t managed to go in deep enough to start rifling through his memories yet, however. Mostly, he just seems to keep getting bounced right back out again. He leaves off poking at the prisoner to join the conference.

The radio is still playing quietly in the background. Craig has been out to get the morning papers. Unsurprisingly, the “Bounce Night [7] Tragedy” is the big story on all the front pages. As with the radio, there is no mention of strychnine, or of the report received by the police commissioner (and blind copied to a number of media outlets). After everyone has seen and heard what the media are saying, the next order of business is to fill them in on what really happened. Everyone except Frank reports on what they saw and did in the clubs. Tom and Annie add what happened in the rave and at Mayfair Green, respectively. When Frank doesn’t volunteer anything, Annie starts questioning him.
      “What did you see there?”
      “Spectres.”
      “How many spectres?”
      “I’m not sure – it’s hard to say.”
      “A rough estimate, then.”
      “Tens; maybe as many as a hundred.” That number gives everyone pause.
Ben whistles softly. “Shit. That’s a lot of spectres.”
      “What type were they?” If it’s a hundred Reapers, they’re really in trouble, although they’d have problems dealing with even Lost Boys in those kinds of numbers.
      Frank shrugs. “Mostly construction workers – they looked like humanoid pigs with lots of mouths and trowels for hands.” Annie waits for him to continue, but that seems to be it.
      “What were they doing?”
      “They were cementing ghosts into the walls.” No one’s especially surprised, given she’s already mentioned the screaming ghost faces embedded in the black shroud covering the buildings.
      “So, what attacked you?”
      “A fetch.”
      “How many of those were there?”
      “I’m not sure.”
      “Guess.” Her irritation is starting to show through – this is like pulling teeth. She hopes someone will take over – preferably someone who’s actually trained in debriefing people – but they all seem content to let her play interrogator.
      Frank shrugs, wincing as the movement pulls on his injuries. “A handful.”
      “What about your other injuries?”
      “I told you. I was attacked.” His words dissolve into a coughing fit. Annie frowns at him.
      “The fetch gave you those cuts?” He continues to cough, moving his head in what might be a nod. Annie’s frown deepens. “That would make it a Reaper-class Fetch. We’ve never seen one of those before; never even heard of one of them.” Which doesn’t mean that it’s impossible, but those wounds don’t look as if they were made by dog-like teeth and claws. And Frank hasn’t really answered the question. There is a growing temptation to just have one of the puppeteers possess him and go through his memories, but she pushes it aside for the moment. “Frank, is that really what you’re saying?”
      “Ripcording through that black webbing is dangerous.”
      “That’s what gave you the cuts?”
      “I guess.” She considers that for a moment. It’s certainly plausible, and it’s possibly less worrying than the appearance of a Reaper-class fetch. It does mean that wounds caused by this stuff will be reflected on a skimmer’s body, though, which is still a concern.
      “Is there anything else?”
      No one is surprised when Frank shakes his head. “I don’t think so.”
      “Fine.” Maybe they should hold off on puppeteering him for the moment. It could be that he was going to tell them about the ripcording anyway once he got over his coughing fit. Maybe. He does seem to like his secrets, though.

Everyone seems to agree that something needs to be done about Mayfair Green, and that it should be treated as a priority. The question is: how do they deal with it? With their resources and manpower, a frontal assault probably isn’t their best option. James muses about the possibility of creating an anti-spook bomb, but is stymied by lack of materials, facilities and expertise. Whatever they do, they are going to need better information on what’s there. Craig can get hold of plans, but someone – possibly more than one person – is going to need to scout out the area.
      “If things stay quiet,” comments Annie, “we can start gathering intelligence straight away. I would suggest that we hold off on actually mounting any kind of attack until some of the injured have recovered.” There are general nods of agreement.
      “We should hit Terrel & Squib.” Frank’s suggestion, apropos of nothing, gets everyone’s attention.
      “Getting our hands on some of their anti-spook gear would be useful,” observes Chet.
      “If we can get past it in the first place.” Craig frowns. “Don’t forget that they kept NextWorld at bay, which is more than we did. They’re not going to be a pushover.” No one disagrees with that statement. Getting into one of the Terrel & Squib facilities – and, importantly, getting out again – is going to require a lot of planning and preparation. They could track down some of its employees to their homes and puppet them for information, perhaps even using them to get inside, just like NextWorld did with them. Presumably there’s a reason that didn’t work during the New Year’s attack, though. The other possibility is the research facility they rescued Shelley from. It may have been abandoned by now, but Shelley didn’t seem to think they were planning on moving out after the Orpheus spooks hit the Mastworth plant. They seemed confident in their ability to defend it. Unfortunately, that confidence is probably justified.

The discussion about Terrel & Squib goes on for a while, but nothing is really decided. The group move on to the subject of PR. If they’re going to take responsibility for sending that report to the police commissioner, then they need to act soon.
      “We could send out a press release,” says Frank.
      “We could,” says Adrian, “but I think putting a face to the words would be better.” He suggests that they put together a video broadcast. The idea seems to go down quite well, and the group quickly get to planning what they want to say. The choice of who will be their spokesperson is an easy one: Adrian, a former actor, is a natural in front of the camera. He notes, somewhat drily, that he’ll have to use an American accent rather than a cut-glass accent. “After all, Hollywood does so insist on casting aristocratic Englishmen as the villains of the piece.” Actually deciding what they want to say is somewhat more difficult. They have to take responsibility for trying to stop the deaths, but at the same time they don’t want to be blamed for them. They need to deny the crimes they’ve been accused of, but don’t necessarily want to draw attention to the crimes themselves. They need to paint themselves as victims, but also as people who are trying to do their best for the people despite everything. It’s not easy to balance all those things, and they spend quite a while talking. Annie suggests mentioning Tom’s loss to gain their audience’s sympathy. It isn’t clear what Tom thinks about using his brother’s death in this way, but he agrees to it. Everyone agrees that the group needs a name change – Orpheus just has too many negative associations in the public consciousness. Fortunately, the new one is obvious.

Once they have the basic framework of their speech, the group starts to break up. Frank and Adrian put the finishing touches to it. Shelley helps with the technical details like lighting, and making sure that there’s nothing in the shot that will allow anyone to identify where they are. (The idea is that they will save the footage as a digital file, which can then be distributed anonymously to people that Frank suggests.) Tom goes over to his brother, who has slipped into fugue again. He rouses Bill, and the two of them start to work on his term paper. Fortunately, Bill was telling the truth about it nearly being finished – it’s mostly just a case of editing and filling in references. They should be able to meet the deadline without too much trouble.

Annie goes after Kerekov, who is busy doing something with his guns. (Possibly field-stripping them, possibly calibrating them; she isn’t really sure. Firearms aren’t really her forte.)
      “Do you have a minute?” He just looks at her with his cold, dead, killer’s eyes. She takes that as a yes. “I have a couple of questions for you.” Still that silent regard, the only noise a few quiet clicks as he adjusts something on his pistol. ”What do you want?”
      He tilts his head, still staring at her. His expression might be curiosity, or he might just be going over the number of ways in which he can kill her. All he says, however, is: “What do you mean?”
      “What do you want out of this alliance?”
      “Protection. Revenge.” The first he’s stated previously. The second doesn’t exactly come as a surprise.
      “And after that?”
      “We go our separate ways.”
      She studies him thoughtfully, just as he seems to be studying her. “What do you want to do now?”
      “Take out Derkov.” That would be the revenge part, which is something she doesn’t have a problem with at all.
      “Not right now. When we’re back up to strength.” He just nods, once, showing neither surprise nor displeasure. “What can you do?”
      “I’m ex-Liberian special forces. You should know what that means.” Evidently, he’s very good at killing, with physical toughness to back that up.
      “And your horrors?”
      “Empathic projection. Resonance.” The two aspects of Wail. “Inorganic consciousness transfer.”
      “Sounds like what we would call ‘Inhabit’.”
      “Yes.”
      “And you’ve previously mentioned Forebode.” He just shrugs. From what he’s said before, he doesn’t really think of that a power. “Would you like to get better at those? Or to learn new ones?”
      “Yes.” She mentally adds ‘training’ onto the list of what he wants from them.
      “Anything specific?” He just shrugs. Leaving that for now, she moves on to the other thing she wants to establish. “Is there anything you won’t do?”
      Laying the gun down, he frowns. It’s the most expressive she’s ever seen him. “What do you mean?”
      “Actions you’re unwilling to take in the pursuit of our goals, or in support of the group.” Given his background, she’s not really expecting him to display any great moral sensibilities, but the question has to be asked.
      Kerekov is quiet for long enough that she doesn’t think he’s going to answer, but then he says: “I won’t be a juice bitch.”
      “What?” It’s obvious what he means, but his response surprises her a little. “No one’s going to try to force you to share vitality if you don’t want to.”
      “There’s expectation.”
      “Yes. They... We can recover quickly, so it makes sense that we power up those who can’t.”
      “I won’t do it.”
      “Then don’t.” She’s starting to get irritated. Doesn’t he realise how stretched thin they are? Everyone has to do their part. But then, from the things he’s let slip about NextWorld, it’s clear that there’s a definite pecking order, with the unfortunates at the bottom being forced to act as batteries for those at the top. He obviously thinks that how it works here. So, instead of telling him to just get over it, she says: “We tend to share vitality fairly freely, because that’s how we did it at Orpheus. So yes, there’s expectation. It doesn’t have anything to do with your standing in the group; it’s because it’s easier for us.” It’s still difficult to think of herself as a skimmer. “There’s a reason skimmers are known as ‘coppertops’. But no one’s going to force the issue.” Well, there are some who might, but she makes a mental note to have a quiet word with those individuals. “Okay?”
      “Fine.” Kerekov turns his attention back to his weapons.

Eventually, their speech – their manifesto – is as ready as it’s ever going to be. After a few trial read-throughs, they’re ready to go. Adrian looks into the camera, his expression sombre.
      “People of New York.
      We come to you to offer our condolences in this time of tragedy. You have all heard the news. Families ravaged; sons, daughters, brothers and sisters struck down. Poisoned. Murdered. You know this. You all know this. But there is more that you do not know.” The camera zooms in on his face, showing the earnestness, the complete sincerity there. He lowers his voice almost to a whisper; intimate, confiding. It was allowed to happen.” He pauses, letting those words sink in for a moment before raising his voice again.
      “It was allowed to happen.” Only a speaking voice, but it has all the impact of a shout.
      “We tried” – his voice cracks; he takes a deep breath or two before continuing, looking intently into the camera. “We tried to stop this. At great risk to ourselves, we obtained samples of the poison, analysed them; identified the substance as strychnine. We sent the results of the analysis to none other than the police commissioner himself! And what did he do?” His expression darkens, anger showing through. “He did nothing.” Another pause as the camera pans back again. “We didn’t have that luxury. We didn’t give up.
      People of New York, we will never give up on you.
      We gave out warnings. We disrupted the supply of the tainted drugs. When people started to fall, we called the emergency services and made sure that they knew what they were dealing with. We saved lives.” He glances away for a moment, tension clear in his jawline. When he looks back, into the camera, the sorrow in his eyes is an almost tangible thing. “It was not enough.
      People of New York, we share your pain. We have suffered pain of our own. We have suffered losses of our own.” On cue, the camera pans right to reveal Tom, standing there stoically. Adrian puts a hand on his shoulder. “A brother,” he says softly. Tom looks anywhere but at the camera, his awkwardness somehow making the moment all that more poignant. [8] Adrian lets his hand drop and the camera focuses on him again.
      We stand with you. We suffer with you. We grieve with you.” He stands straight, arms clasped behind his back, looking almost military in his demeanour. “And we make you this promise. We will find the perpetrators behind this terrible crime. We will find them, and bring them to justice. We swear it.”

It isn’t clear what he does, but with his next sentence Adrian’s whole demeanour evokes ‘friend’, rather than ‘avenging angel’.
      “People of New York.” Even his voice is softer, somehow. “You are probably asking who we are. Well, I will tell you who we are. And who we are not. You knew us as Orpheus, but that is not who we are. You know us as desperate criminals, but that is not who we are. We were born from the ashes of Orpheus. We are the survivors of the attack that left most of us dead. We are falsely accused of all manner of crimes; hunted by the authorities and by others. By people who have put contracts out on our heads. People who have no qualms about doing the very things we are accused of. People who may be behind this tragedy that we all have suffered. And we suffer, ladies and gentlemen. We suffer because we will not give up. Although we are hunted, beleaguered and malign, we will not give in. We will not rest until we have cleared our names of these slanders. We cannot rest until those that threaten us and the people of this city have been brought to justice. We are not victims. That is not who we are. We are survivors. We are protectors. Your protectors.
      People of New York, something is coming. There is a spectre of malevolence hanging over this entire city. It threatens us all, and it doesn’t care whether you believe in it or not. That is why we fight. That is why we have to fight. Not all of us are native sons and daughters of New York, but we are all proud to call this city home. We honour the outstanding traditions and of community and public spirit displayed by its citizens and exemplified by groups such as the Guardian Angels. We have risked life and liberty to protect you and you have our word that we will continue to do so. Despite what has been done to us, despite the forces arrayed against us, we continue to believe in the fundamental goodness of humanity and of this city. We believe – we know – that our cause is just.
      People of New York, we come to you to ask for your blessing. Believe in us. Stand with us, as we stand with you. Together, let us shine a light in the darkness. The light of truth. The light of justice. The light of hope.”
      People of New York.” Behind him, a banner unfurls to reveal the image of a blazing bird.
      We are Phoenix.”

Part Two – Loose Ends

Putting together the ‘Phoenix’ broadcast takes a couple of hours, during which people mill around, talking or training or working on other things. Once it’s been distributed, the group start to congregate again, ready to continue their discussion. There’s a lot to discuss. They talk about the practicalities of their plans. James suggests that if they stick to guerrilla tactics when they hit Mayfair Green, using small teams to hit specific, strategic targets, then they don’t necessarily need to wait until they’re back to full strength. The idea gets a mixed response. On the one hand, some people are impatient to do something about it. On the other, few if any seem entirely happy about going into a place with that many spectres – and whatever other weirdness is there – without having at least the possibility of back up.

      “We need to continue tracking down the pigment supply,” says Tom. “Now we have some time, we can follow up on Raymond LaTaure.” [9] He frowns as something that’s been niggling at the back of his mind suddenly clicks into place. “Weren’t Terrel & Squib a pharmaceutical company?”
      “They still are,” says Craig. “It’s their main business. ‘Ghostbusting’ is just a sideline.”
      “Do you think they could be behind the pigment?” The rest of the group considers that possibility. Frank, of course, has heard the suggestion before, from his mysterious dream girl. [10] He remains silent.
      “They’ve certainly good with spook tech,” muses Annie, “and we know from the Mastworth files they have access to a substance like pigment.”
      “Right.” Tom nods. “So it’s a possibility.”
      “So we’ll find out when we hit them,” says James, shrugging. “Anyway,” in a complete change of subject, “what are we going to do about the Marion Prison spooks?”
      “We have lead on some of them,” says Annie.
      “Remind me again what those are,” says Tom.
      Annie rifles through some papers – notes that Teresa and Tom put together on the Marion Prison inmates who supposedly died in that fire, among other things. “Theodore Walters has a house in Chicago. According to Radio Free Death, strange things have been happening round there. He speculated that Walker was up to his old tricks.”
      “What was he in for?” Hoyt asks.
      “Serial rape and murder.”
      “Nice guy.”
      Annie raises an eyebrow at him. “What were you expecting?” He just shrugs.
      James frowns. “It’s not going to be easy to capture a spook.”
      “We have the cuffs,” Tom points out. “It’s not impossible.”
      “And we still have one of those Terrel & Squib tasers,” adds John. The others may have forgotten about it, but he hasn’t. The experience of being on the business end of one of them has lodged in his memory. His words remind the group that there are three people in this group whose experiences are proof that spooks can be taken prisoner. That realisation changes the tone of the discussion from “is this even possible?” to “how can we make this happen?”.
      “We could stake the place out,” says James. “We might be able to take him by surprise: taser him and slap the cuffs on.”
      “Yeah,” Tom nods agreement. “But we’d have to be careful not to scare him off.”
      Annie looks thoughtful. “Maybe we could lure him out.” The others look at her.
      “How?” says Tom.
      “Bait.” Silence.
      Hoyt frowns. “I’m not sure that’s such a good idea,” he says, slowly.
      “Fucking stupid idea, if you ask me.” Ben’s never been the tactful one of the group.
      “It does seem a bit, well, risky,” says Tom.
      “I’d be in gauze, and the rest of the team would be nearby. I could even take some of the Inhabitors with me, since I’d have to manifest. It’s less risky that it sounds.”
      “I still don’t like it,” says Hoyt. Others nod agreement.
      Annie shrugs. “Has anyone got a better idea? Other than just stake the place out and hope we don’t alert him?”
      “We can always work out the details if and when we decide to follow that up,” interjects Craig. “For the moment, though, maybe we should concentrate on something a little closer to home.”
      “What other leads do we have at the moment?” Tom looks enquiringly at Annie.
      “Harper Forrester: former Mafia accountant associated with Whole Earth Enterprises. Staking out or infiltrating the company might get us him.” Her attention focused on the list of names, she muses: “I wouldn’t mind having some very pointed words with Harper Forrester.”
      “Why?” James seems puzzled.
      “He was the one who trapped Mona.” Her grip tightens on the paper, crumpling it slightly. When she next speaks, her voice is low and angry. “I want to cause him a great deal of pain for a great deal of time.”
      “Surely it can only be one or the other?”
      “Not if you’re careful.” Annie meets James’ gaze, the look in her eyes fey and strange. The weight of it makes him shuffle backwards a little involuntarily. “If you’re careful to keep the gauze relatively intact, you can just put it right back together, ready to continue from where you left off.”
      “Oh.” James seems more than a little disturbed, and he isn’t the only one.
      “Anyway.” Oblivious to the looks she’s receiving, Annie glances back down at the list. “Next, we have Terrence Green: gangmember and, in my opinion, likely candidate for the voice of Radio Free Death. Shelley sent him a message, but as far as I know, we haven’t…” She stops, suddenly, frowning. “Oh. That is interesting.”
      “What?” James looks impatient to be doing something other than sitting around talking.
      “One of the inmates was called Uriah Bishop. He was a poisoner, and his weapon of choice was strychnine.”       “Like in the clubs.” Tom sounds thoughtful.
      “Yes. And then there’s the recurring bishop motif: the piece found in what’s-his-name’s drug stash, and the ones we’ve seen in visions connected with the Spook Night deaths. Also, Mona’s seen a white bishop in a number of her visions, including one of the NextWorld attack. Maybe it represents his involvement.”
      “Does that help us?”
      “I’m not sure.”

The discussion continues for a while, broadening to a more general discussion of their future plans. While they’re on the subject, Annie makes a suggestion: she thinks they should invest in a mobile base. Specifically, she thinks they should get a truck with a trailer large enough to hold the two sleeper tubes (with generators), a properly equipped medical facility and room for them all to sleep if necessary.
      “The problem,” she says, “is that we’re tied to this location. We need a means of packing everything up and moving out if it’s blown. We can’t keep the tubes in the vans because we need those for transport. If the shit hits the fan, gentlemen, we may not have time to pack them up.” Which would mean abandoning the people inside them. “The other problem is that we have the wounded at Brooke House to consider. I’m not happy having them out there in such a vulnerable location. Being split like this also makes it difficult to get them proper medical care.” Well, to have them checked over by Chet on a regular basis. That pretty much is their only medical care at the moment. “As it stands, we can’t move them into the warehouse because we just can’t heat it properly. We’ve talked about enclosing a small room – or getting a shipping crate – and setting that up as a sick bay.” Not that they’ve actually done anything about that yet. “But that has the same problem as the warehouse – it’s immobile. Setting up in a trailer would solve that problem.” She looks around at them all. “What do you think?”
      “How much will all this cost?” Asks John, at the same time as Adrian says:
      “How very ‘Knight Rider’.”
      Ignoring Adrian’s comment, Annie says. “According to my very rough calculations” – an hour or so searching the internet when she should have been sleeping – “we’re probably looking at an initial outlay of between forty and fifty thousand dollars. Just over thirty for the truck and trailer; around ten for the generator, a defibrillator and lighting. Say another ten for fuel, other medical equipment, sleeping facilities and anything else we might need.”
      “That’s a lot of money,” observes John, wincing.
      “Yes, it is. I think it’s a worthwhile investment for the mobility it gives us, though.”
      “A truck isn’t very mobile,” says James.
      “It’s more mobile than the warehouse.” Craig sounds thoughtful.
      “And you’d be surprised just how manoeuvrable a rig can be.” Hoyt sounds like he’s speaking from experience.
      “Could we afford it?” Chet looks at John, who still has a somewhat pained expression on his face. He runs some numbers in his head.
      “Yes,” he says slowly. “The money we siphoned from Mol’s accounts will probably just about cover it. But that will leave us with only the money from my accounts for day to day living expenses. We wouldn’t be able to afford any large purchases for a while.”
      “I like it,” says Tom, quietly. The reaction from the rest of the group is somewhat more mixed. It looks like more or less an even split between the yes and no votes.
      “A truck’s rather conspicuous,” notes Frank. “And it puts us all in one place. What about getting a couple of refrigerated vans instead? The larger ones should be able to hold a tube plus a generator without difficulty.”
      “Smaller vans would be good for transport,” says Annie, “but we couldn’t really use them as a base. We’d only move the truck if the warehouse was blown, so it’s not like we’ll be driving around Manhattan on a regular basis. We’re probably looking at about fourteen thousand dollars for a large enough refrigerated van.” She’s looked this up. “We’d need two generators, rather than one. If we get two vans, we’re looking at roughly the same outlay as for the rig, but we’d need another vehicle to act as a sick bay, assuming we wanted to do that. Basically, we’re sacrificing the ability to use it as a base and probably jacking up the overall cost, but we’re gaining the advantage of not having everyone in the same vehicle.” She shrugs. “Either way, it’s a big enough outlay that this is something we’re going to have to think about and decide as a group.”
      “I think I’m going to withhold my vote for the time being,” says James. That seems to be the popular choice, with most of the group indicating that they’d want some time to think about the proposal before actually voting on it. From initial reactions, it isn’t clear which way a vote is going to go.

Although the subject of the base is shelved for the time being, Annie has more to say. She’s certainly a lot more outspoken these days, as evidenced by her opening sentence:
      “Gentlemen, we’re getting sloppy. We’re being far too cavalier about projecting. I’ve been just as guilty of this as anyone else, but we can’t afford to just head out when we feel like it. Not without telling anyone and not without making sure that someone is keeping an eye on our bodies. Given the dangers out there, someone could die before anyone even notices. We need to set up a Nursery.” [11]
      “Low lighting and mood music?” Ben grins, shaking his head. “This is a warehouse, Babe, not a spa.”
      “For the moment, all we need is a designated spot where people leave their bodies whenever they project, and someone to check on them regularly. Okay?” There’s a general murmur of agreement amongst which Frank’s silence remains unnoticed. He doesn’t have any intention of letting people know when he’s projecting. Where would be the fun in that? Annie still isn’t finished. “And while we’re on the subject of being careless: more of us need to learn at least basic first aid.” A couple of people nod, but shrugs and/or blank looks seem to be the general response to that statement. She frowns. “This is important. If Tom or Frank’s injuries had been immediately life-threatening, they would have died. There were three other people in that van and not one of us had the faintest clue what to do.” If Kerekov and Ben mind being described as not having a clue, they don’t show it. “We were lucky, gentlemen.” Frank doesn’t look like he feels very lucky, but Tom nods.
      “Yeah,” he says, quietly.
      “We can’t rely on being that lucky; not with only two first-aiders. We need to have enough trained people so we can have at least one with each group of bodies.” She shrugs, leaning back again. “I’d prefer it if we all learned, though, just on general principles.”
      “James and I can train people.” Chet doesn’t bother to ask if James is willing. “Puppetry will make the process more or less instantaneous, so time isn’t an issue.” [12] The reception is slightly better this time, with a few people indicating an intention to take advantage of this. Annie seems a little mollified.
      “You done now, Sergeant?” Ben only smirks when she glowers at him.
      “Yes. For now.” That seems to signal the end of the meeting.

Tom ropes people in to help with resolving his brother’s tether. The essay’s as finished as it’s going to be, so it’s time for everyone who’s going to pile into the van. Ben’s driving, and five passengers (Tom, Bill, Annie, Frank and James) make it something of a squeeze in the back. It takes about forty-five minutes to reach the campus. The place is quiet, and the few people they see all have the same blank, stricken expression. The news has obviously started to spread. Already, the first tributes have started to appear: flickering candles and forlorn bunches of flowers decorating the steps of dorms and fraternity and sorority houses. It’s a heart-wrenching sight. The inside of the van is as quiet as the outside.
      “This ain’t right,” Ben calls back from the front as he slows the van to a halt. I followed the signs for the psych department, but this ain’t it. Sign on the building says ‘Institute of Mathematics,’ or some shit like that.”
      “Oh, yeah,’ says Bill, when Tom rouses him and manages to get him to understand the question. “Someone swapped the signs around. I guess they haven’t got around to fixing it yet. Liz says...” He stops; a puzzled look on his face.
      “How do we get to your department from here?” Tom quickly breaks in. “Time’s ticking on: we have to get a move on if we want to hand that essay of yours in on time. What would Dad say if you failed this course?”
      “Oh shit! Yeah, let’s go.” He gives directions, and they set off again, Ben muttering:
      “I can’t believe we’re doing this.”

After a few minutes of following Bill’s directions, they’re still lost.
      “This is the sports centre,” says Ben, sounding distinctly unimpressed. Bill doesn’t respond until Tom prods him to ask what went wrong.
      “Well, I usually walk,” Bill says, slowly. “I don’t know – I’m having trouble thinking straight at the moment.”
      Ben sighs heavily. “Fuck this shit.” He pulls the van into the sports centre car park. “You can walk from here. Campus ain’t that big – I could drive right through it in a couple of minutes.”
      “Fine,” says Tom. “Come on Bill.” The plan is that only the two of them will actually go into the department. Idly, Tom thinks that it feels strange to be out and about like this. It’s been a while since he’s left the van in his body when they’re somewhere other than at the warehouse or at Brooke House. He manages to convince Bill to wait outside the professor’s office – “You still look wrecked, Bro” – and hands the paper in for him. The professor seems distracted, barely even looking at him or at the essay. Tom isn’t complaining – it means less risk of awkward questions. Bill is pacing agitatedly when he emerges.
      “Did you do it? Did the Prof say anything?”
      “It’s fine, Bill.” Tom displays the slip of paper the Prof signed, confirming receipt of the term paper.
      “Great! I’ll have to tell Liz...” He gets that look again.
      “Come on.” Tom can’t actually take his elbow, but he gestures vaguely to try to herd him away. “Let’s get back to the van, okay?” As they walk, Tom spots a spook wandering aimlessly by one of the frat houses. ‘It’s glowing,’ he notices, and then quickly averts his gaze when he realises what that means. The spook is a Wisp, which means there’s a chance it could be using unearthly repose. Getting enthralled by it wouldn’t be a good idea. He thinks it’s a hue, but he didn’t get that close a look at it before his instincts snapped his gaze away. It’s quite a chore to ensure that Bill doesn’t inadvertently look in the spook’s direction, but somehow he manages it. He keeps a careful eye out as they make their way through the campus, but he doesn’t see any more spooks.

      “Finally!” Ben has the van started up before Tom closes the door. “What the fuck took you so long?”
      “We were only a few minutes. Don’t be so impatient.” A grunt is Ben’s only reply.
      “Well?” Annie looks enquiringly at Tom. “Did it go well?” Tom shows her the slip of paper.
      “Let’s do this,” he says. Breaking one of a ghost’s tethers releases a lot of energy, sending up a spike powerful enough to draw spooks and spectres from miles around. That’s why they planned to wait until they were actually on the move before doing it. They all know what to do: Tom, unsurprisingly, is leading, the others channelling energy into him as he shows his brother the receipt once more. “Your essay’s been received,” he says. Bill, a puzzled frown on his face, starts to reach out, which is when Tom channels the stored energy. The spike is almost overwhelming. [13] Everyone reels, temporarily blinded, and the van swerves a little before Ben regains control of it. A second wave chases after the first, but this is different: not energy, but emotion. A psychic outpouring of warmth and wellbeing; an affirmation of what it means to be human. [14] And then it’s over.

The effect on Bill is immediate and visible. He looks around with a new alertness, taking in his surroundings. He stops when he reaches his brother.
      “Tom?” He says. “Where am I? What happened?”
      “What do you remember?”
      “Not much. It’s kind of hazy.” He frowns, thinking. “I was at a…” His eyes slide shiftily away from Tom’s. “A party. Liz started to feel sick, and then I did.” He shrugs. “It’s all a bit of a blur after that. Did I… Did I call you? Did you pick me up?”
      “Something like that.”
      “What about Liz?” Tom winces inwardly, but apparently Bill really is better: the thought doesn’t trigger another cycle.
      “I didn’t see her.” Technically true, if not the whole of what he knows.
      “Oh.” Bill starts reaching into his pocket, saying: “I should call her,” but then he stops. Looking around the van again, he points towards Frank and James. “Hey, why are there two of them?” Figuring that this is as good an opening as any, Tom says:
      “You remember that company I worked for: Orpheus?”
      “Yes…”
      “Well, this is what they do. Did.” He launches into an brief explanation of what projectors are. Bill seems a little bemused by it all -- he obviously doesn’t remember anything of the previous attempt to explain it to him -- but seems to be convinced by the evidence of his own eyes. As he’s struggling to get his head around the whole thing, Ben interrupts.
      “We still going back to the warehouse?”
      “No.” Tom looks around. “Everyone okay with going to Brooke House?” There is a general indication of assent. “Let’s go to Brooke House.”
      “Like I ain’t got anything better to do that to drive you lot back and forth,” Ben grumbles, but he hits the indicator and starts heading in that direction.
      Bill is looking thoughtful. “What really happened on New Year’s eve, Bro?” He asks, softly. “I know you’re not a terrorist, but the things they’ve been saying… And now this…” He gestures vaguely.
      “We were attacked. Someone paid NextWorld to take us out. We were framed so the authorities would finish the job for them.”
      “Wow.” Bill looks even more overwhelmed. “Why does someone want you all dead so badly?”
      “We’re working on that. And on clearing our names.”
      “Huh. So, this is what life is like on the run?”
      Tom fingers his bandages. “Pretty much.”
      Annie helpfully adds: “This is one of the good days. No one’s shooting at us yet.”
      Bill suddenly looks very scared. “Well, uh, this has been fun – it’s been great to see you, Tom, it really has – but I need to get home. Mum and Dad will be so worried about me. I need to let them know I’m okay.”
      “Uh, you can’t. Not yet.”
      “Why not?”
      “Uh,” Tom looks helplessly at Annie.
      “What?”
      “Can’t you, you know, tell him?”
      “Tell me what?”
      “No! I told you, this is more Kate’s field. Leave it to her.”
      “We’re still nearly an hour away. We have to tell him something.”
      “Hey, I’m right here!” Bill waves his hands in the air. Who’s Kate? What do you have to tell me?” Tom looks away uncomfortably.
      “Well, umm…” Dropping his voice a little, he looks pleadingly at Annie. “Are you sure it’s better to wait?”
      “I’m still here, you know.” Bill sounds distinctly impatient.
      Annie smiles at him. “Does he often talk over you?”
      He rolls his eyes. “He’s my elder brother.”
      “Heh. I hope you’re not expecting sympathy – I’m an elder sister myself.” She looks at Tom. “So, are you actually planning on introducing us?” Leaping at the opportunity to distract Bill, Tom introduces him to everybody, and they make awkward small talk for the rest of the journey. When he tries to ask pointed questions, Tom says he’ll explain when they get to where they’re going, and there’s someone his wants him to meet.
      “Fine,” says Bill. “But I’d better get that explanation soon.”
      “You will,” Tom promises. ‘Kate will tell him,’ he hopes fervently. ‘She has to.’

With Bill in tow, Tom makes a bee-line for Kate. She looks from one of them to the other and sighs heavily.
      “I need a cigarette,” she mutters, eyeing the empty packet mournfully. “Good evening Tom. What can I do for you?”
      “Will you talk to Bill? We…” He mimes breaking something in two. “I think it’s time to tell him…” He nods meaningfully, if somewhat vaguely. “You know…”
      “I’m still right here, Tom.” Bill glowers at his brother, and then looks at Kate. “Evening, Ma’am. You must be Kate.” A look of puzzlement creases his brow. “Have we met before?”
      Kate sighs again before turning to Bill and saying: “Yes we have, although you probably don’t remember clearly. There are some things you need to know…”

Zoë beckons James and Ben over.
      “Hey,” she says, enthusiastically. “Good to see you!”
      “You too, Babe,” grins Ben. The smile fades as he eyes her critically. “You look like shit.”       “Gee, thanks.” She pokes him in the leg. (As she’s sitting down and he’s rather tall, that’s as high as she can reach.) “Bet you wouldn’t look any better if you’d been on the wrong end of that spectre.” After directing another glower at Ben for good measure, she turns her attention to James.
      “Yo James, can I have some of that ghost shot?”
      “I guess,” he says, although he looks a little reluctant to give it up. “How much do you need?”
      “Three or four bullets ought to do it.” He counts them out.
      “What do you want it for?”
      “You’re not going to do anything stupid are you?” Ben eyes her suspiciously.
      “The problem with helter skelter is that it’s not very good at affecting other spooks, right?” The other two poltergeists nod. “Well, these bullets can. Toss ’em around with helter skelter, and they could do some real damage if they go through someone or something’s gauze. What do you think?”
      “Interesting idea,” says James, looking thoughtful.
      “Sounds like it should work. Course,” Ben smiles bitterly. “Wouldn’t be much use for me at the moment.”
      Zoë rolls her eyes at him. “Oh, stop sulking.”
      “Easy for you to say.” James sidles away as they start to argue. The longer he stays around, the higher the chance of one or the other of them asking him to take sides. Getting involved – or getting between them – might not be entirely good for his health. He joins Frank in listening to the conversation between Kate and Bill.

After a quick hello to the attic’s residents, Annie projects and heads downstairs to talk to Mona. Catching up with her in a corridor, she asks:
      “Do you have time to make a start on those experiments now?”
      “Oh.” Mona looks a little flustered. “Yes, I suppose so. I don’t have anything planned at the moment.”
      “Great! Shall we go to your office?” Once they’re inside, Annie looks thoughtfully at Mona who seems extremely nervous. “Are you sure you don’t mind doing this?”
      “No, it’s fine. I’m not really going to be doing much. And it’ll help to make walking forwards safer in the long-run. And there isn’t that much of a risk, really. I just…” She twitches her shoulders, the motion part-way between a shrug and a flinch. “It’s just that this is the closest thing to walking forwards that I’ve done since… Since that. Deliberately, anyway.”
      “I understand.” It was hard for Annie, too, the first time she used forebode after being trapped in that nightmare future. It still isn’t easy: each time she does it, she’s afraid that it’s going to happen again. But, as Mona said, these experiments should help to reduce that risk. It’s something that has to be done.
      “Anyway, shall we get started?” Mona smiles brightly, but it doesn’t really reach her eyes. “I’m ready when you are.”
      “Fine.” She takes a deep breath. “Let’s go.” She looks into the near future, Mona trying to sense the echoes, or ripples, or whatever it was that let Harper Forrester track her down. She senses… Nothing. They repeat the experiment several times, each time with the same result.
      “Maybe I’m just not strong enough,” says Mona.
      “You’re the strongest foreboder I know,” replies Annie. “I doubt that’s it. Maybe it’s just that we don’t really know what you should be looking for.”
      “Maybe. Shall we try it again?”
      “Okay.” They do so, Mona straining her supernatural senses to pick up whatever disturbance the forebode may cause. And this time, something happens. At her gasp, Annie looks over to see her eyes wide with shock. “What happened? Did it work?”
      “I don’t know. I saw… It was like walking forwards, but only a few moments. There were two… Futures, I suppose. Potential futures. And it felt like I could choose which one became real.”
      “That’s… Interesting.”
      “There was something else.” She swallows, looking scared. Her voice drops to a whisper. “I heard screaming.”
      “Ohhhh…” Realisation strikes. “I think I know what happened. You’ve just expressed your third-tier horror.”
      “What do you mean?” Annie quickly explains, concluding:
      “It sounds like an extension of forebode.”
      “What about the screaming? Is that a part of it? Does it come from them?”
      “I don’t know. I only heard it the first time I used mine.”
      “Not since?”
      “No.” Mona still looks worried, but the fear seems to be fading. “Do you want to try it again?” She hesitates, and then nods. “Okay.” It turns out to be repeatable. From her description of its effects, the third-tier banshee horror seems to focus on probability manipulation. Specifically, Mona can choose one specific potential future over another, and guide things in that direction. “This is fascinating,” Annie murmurs. “I bet Kate would love to know about this. Shall we go and tell her?”
      “Okay,” says Mona. “I would be interested to know what she thinks.”

Up in the attic, Kate has finished explaining to a very shaken Bill that he is no longer among the living. He seems to be taking the news surprisingly well, all things considered. Kate is experienced at this kind of thing, however. [15]
      “Wow,” he says, his voice hushed. “I just... Wow.”
      “Are you okay?” Tom looks like he wants to do something, but has no idea what. Maybe he’d be happier with something to shoot.
      “I don’t... This is a lot to take in.” He seems to believe it, however, and is showing no signs of flying into an uncontrollable rage. Kate takes that as a good sign. “Do you think... Do you think Mum and Dad know that I’m... Do you think they know?”
      “I... Think so.” Tom tries not to think about the fact that the Phoenix broadcast is probably the first they knew that one of their sons is dead, and because of a tainted batch of drugs at that. All in all, that’s not the best way they could have found out.
      “I need to talk to them. I need to tell them that I’m still around.”
      “That might be difficult. And I’m not sure it’s such a good idea.” Tom has no idea how they’re likely to react, but it’s not going to be easy on them either way.
      “Well, can you talk to them? I want... Can you tell them I’m sorry and I... I love them. Tell them I never meant for any of this to happen.” He looks like he’s about to cry; if ghosts can cry. Tom isn’t too sure.
      “We’ll see,” is all he says. Idly, he thinks that he could use Deadwire to call them untraceably. He’d have to move away from Brooke House to do it, because it sends up a spike. But he’s not sure he can face talking to his parents just yet. ‘And I can’t leave Bill on his own,’ he thinks, firmly. Suddenly remembering something, he tells Kate about the wisp he saw at the university.
      She frowns. “I wonder how many new ghosts are wandering around the city after last night.”
      “Who knows? Maybe we should try to round them up or something.” Idly, Tom wonders what the Brooke House ghosts would think about taking in some new residents.

      “What about Liz?” Bill’s question is sudden, apropos of nothing.
      “What about her?” Tom’s voice is cautious. Does he really want to tell Bill that his girlfriend is also dead? That her soul may have been taken by monsters and be suffering unspeakable torment right now? “Was she using pigment as well?” There’s a chance she wasn’t, after all. Maybe she just died. There were fires, and people getting trampled in the panic – it doesn’t have to have been the drug. But Bill is already nodding his head, and that faint hope withers before it’s even fully formed.
      “Yes.” He swallows. “She got sick just before I did.” Tom opens his mouth to say something – he’s not sure what – but Bill continues, all in a rush. “What if she’s... Like me? She could be confused. I was confused. It’s all a bit of a haze until you... Woke me up? What if she’s wandering around, unaware of where she is? We have to try to find her.” He starts getting agitated. “You’ll help me, won’t you Tom? You and your friends – you do this kind of thing.”
      “We can try,” says Tom, slowly. Some of the ghosts did get away, after all. There’s a chance that she made it. It’s a slim chance, but it’s still a chance. He turns to Kate.
      “Do you think she would have come back in the warehouse?”
      “Probably. Ghosts sometimes form at places that mean something to the person, but with the pigment...” She shrugs.
      “Will she still be there?” Bill’s voice trembles a little. “I don’t want her to be all alone when she wakes up. I promised I’d take care of her.”
      “She might be, Kid.” Kate’s voice is gentle. “She might have gone back home, or somewhere else important to her; somewhere at the university, perhaps.”
      “She’s from out of state. That’s where her family live. I have her address, but it would take her a long time to get there if she’s walking. Would she be walking? She wouldn’t be flying or something?”
      “Walking, probably.”
      “How will we find her then? It’s going to be almost impossible.” He sounds both discouraged and desperate, looking frantically from Kate to Tom. “I have to find her. I have to make sure she’s alright.” This isn’t a static repeater’s endless chant: this is an entirely rational concern for the woman he loves. In its own way, this is even harder to answer.
      “We’ll work something out,” says Tom, hoping that he’s telling the truth. “There must be some way to find her.”
      “Promise?” Bill looks up at his big brother, the need to believe that plain in his eyes.
      “We’ll try.”

Annie and Mona arrive upstairs part-way through the conversation. They hang back, waiting to talk to Kate. This seems to be a good a moment as any, so Annie leads Mona forwards. As they pass Tom, she leans forward to whisper in his ear. She doesn’t want Bill to hear this; it would be cruel to give him false hope, especially when the odds are high that his girlfriend’s ghost has been taken by spectres.
      “I might be able to use forebode to look back and see what happened to her,” she murmurs quietly. “If she did escape, it’ll give us somewhere to start.” And if she didn’t, well, at least then they’ll know.
      “Thanks,” Tom whispers back. Like Annie, he thinks it’s best not to let Bill know about the possibility until they’ve already done it. That way, either he gets to give his brother the good news, or he has some extra time to work out how to break the bad news. Bill doesn’t seem to have noticed the brief, whispered exchange. He is gazing into the distance, lost in his own thoughts. “What are you thinking?”
      “Oh.” Bill shakes his head, as if to clear it. “Nothing much. Just all the things I was going to do, you know?”
      “Like what?”

As the brothers talk, Annie and Mona settle down next to Kate, who is watching Bill and Tom with a frown.
      “Poor kid,” she mutters. It’s not clear which one of them she means. Turning to the two women, she raises an eyebrow. “So, you’ve got something to tell me?”
      “Yes.” Annie describes the results of the forebode experiments. As she predicted, Kate is intrigued. She all but interrogates poor Mona, and then asks them – tells them, really – to repeat it then and there.
      “I wish I could project right now,” she mutters. “I’d like to try this myself.” She looks thoughtfully in Chet’s direction.
      “Don’t even think about it, General,” he says warningly.
      “I haven’t done anything!” The words are indignant.
      “Good. See that you don’t.” Annie stifles a grin at the look on her face.
      Kate glowers at her. “What?”
      “Nothing.” Annie strives for an innocent expression.
      Kate doesn’t look convinced, but all she says is: “Get on with it, then. I want to get your impressions when they’re still fresh in your mind.” They oblige her, Mona describing as best she can what it feels like. After a few repetitions, she shakes her head.
      “I’m afraid that’s it for me,” she says. “I’m exhausted and there are other things I need to be doing. We can continue some other time, if you want.”
      “Thanks, Mona,” says Annie.
      “Yeah, thanks,” adds Kate. “I know this can’t be easy.”
      Mona shrugs. “Oh, it’s okay. I’m just not really used to doing anything like this. I’m not much of a metaphysicist.” With that, she takes her leave.       Annie frowns after her. “I’m worried about her,” she says softly. “She keeps insisting she’s fine, but I don’t think she is. Not after what happened to her. I think she should talk to someone, but she won’t.”
      Kate snorts. “Pot. Kettle. Black.” The remark earns her a glare.
      “Anyway,” she says, trying to head off a lecture. “Since you’ve scared away the other active foreboder, do you want to help me figure out my own new horror instead?”
      “Sure.”

Frank and James are fairly quiet during the few hours the group spend at Brooke House. Ben seems happy to chat to Zoë and Blink until Chet firmly tells him that the patients need their rest. After that, he starts agitating to head back to the warehouse.
      “Bill and I are staying here tonight,” Tom says.
      “Rather you than me, man.” Ben shakes his head. “I like having a proper toilet and shower. It ain’t exactly luxury, but it’s better than a pot and a sponge.”
      “That’s not exactly an issue for me.” Bill’s voice is faint, but he attempts a smile. “One of the benefits, I guess.”
      “Heh. Guess so. Good to meet you, man.” With a sidelong glance at Tom: “Unlike your brother, you don’t seem have a stick up your arse.”
      “I thought you wanted to get moving, Ben.”
      “Yeah, yeah. Come on, people.” Frank and James are ready to go. “Oi, Swarm Queen!” Annie is still trying to get the hang of controlling hundreds of small, buzzing bodies. Almost as one (there are some stragglers, but she’s getting better) the swarm of wasps hovering near Kate wheels around to show she’s heard him. “We’re leaving. Are you coming?” Grinning, he starts to reach for her unoccupied body. “I can always carry you if you want to hang around here a little longer.” Her response to that is to immediately dive back into her body.
      “Hands off, Muscles.” The words are accompanied by a glare. “I’m coming.”
      “Then let’s go!”

      “Hey Ben?” The journey back has been quiet up to now; no one really showing much interest in conversation. Annie shuffles over to lean against the back of the passenger seat so Ben doesn’t have to strain to hear her.
      “Yeah?”
      “What would you say if I told you there might be another way to turn someone into a skimmer?”
      Ben glances back towards her briefly before returning his attention to the road. “I’d say: what’s the catch?”
      She doesn’t answer his question directly. “I’ve been talking to Kerekov about some of NextWorld’s techniques.” [16]
      He sighs. “I’m not gonna like this, am I?”
      “Probably not.”
      “Well, go on then, Blondie. Don’t leave me in suspense.”
      “Some of their skimmers develop the ability naturally. Most have to be... Encouraged. They’ve developed techniques for persuading the gauze to leave the body.” She takes a deep breath. “These seem to be based around a combination of forced multiple NDEs [17] and extreme physical stimuli. Weakening the gauze’s connection to the body, and then giving the subject incentive to leave it.” She shrugs. “After enough practice, they learn to do it on their own. From what Kerekov said, they use similar techniques to encourage spontaneous expression of a spook’s natural horrors, but that obviously won’t be necessary in your case.” When he doesn’t reply immediately, she asks: “What do you think?”
      He looks like he doesn’t know what to think. “You’re asking if I’ll let you kill me and bring me back a few times, and then, what? Break out the thumbscrews?”
      She winces. “I wasn’t thinking anything quite that crude, but essentially yes. Although I’d prefer to have someone with actual medical training perform the procedures.” Ben glances back again and shakes his head. James is looking on with a furrowed brow, glancing back and forth from Annie to Ben. As always, Frank remains inscrutable.
      “I don’t... I’m going to have to think about this one.” He must be shaken – he doesn’t call her ‘Babe’, or ‘Blondie’, or ‘Barbie’, or any one of the other nicknames he seems to have coined specifically to wind her up.
      “Fair enough.” She looks thoughtful. “I’m going to try to get some more details out of Kerekov. Hopefully, we’ll be able to refine the process somewhat; make it a little less... Extreme. Of course,” she observes, “it’ll still probably be fairly unpleasant.”
      “Uh, yeah. That’s what I was thinking.”
      “If we get hold of some pigment, we might even be able to do away with the need for it altogether.”
      “I like the sound of that.”
      “I’d prefer it myself, but we don’t have any pigment. And even if we did, we’d still have to calibrate the dosage.” She meets Ben’s eyes in the rear-view mirror. “You’re going to have to decide how badly you want to be able to project any time soon.”
      “Yeah.” He sounds both thoughtful and troubled. “I’ll think about it and get back to you.” They pass the rest of the journey in silence.

Back at the warehouse, the radio is still murmuring away. Adrian is listening to the reports and discussion, his expression serious. Mitch occasionally drifts over, but spends most of his time checking on the cradles. Neither of them seems to really be in the mood for conversation. John is poring over the laptop, frowning as he checks costs and crunches numbers. Hoyt is trying to talk to Shelley about Deadwire, patiently persevering despite her monosyllabic replies and long silences. Privately, he wonders whether he would be better off just waiting for Tom, but at least this is something to do. Kerekov is holed up in his cubicle, doing who knows what. Craig is nowhere in sight, having stepped out to gather the evening papers. Adrian perks up when he returns.       “Did we make the front page?” He asks.
      “Yes.” Craig spreads the papers out on the table. Hoyt bids a flowery farewell to Shelley, thanking her for her time and her company (she ignores both the goodbye and the thanks), and comes over to take a look.
      “Looks like they got your good side,” he observes to Adrian.
      “Naturally.” Adrian smiles, but his eyes are still shadowed. “Dear boy, they’re all my good sides.” Hoyt just snorts in response.

The newspapers are saying pretty much the same thing as the radio broadcasts. The deaths, unsurprisingly, are still the biggest story. The cause of death is now confirmed as strychnine poisoning, and a number of media outlets have confirmed that John’s report was mailed to them beforehand. They are asking some very pointed questions, most notably why nothing was done about it. The Phoenix broadcast also features fairly prominently in a number of the articles. Moving away from the front page, Craig points out a story about four police officers killed in Mayfair Green. The assailant, who is thought to have been hopped up on drugs (possibly something like PCP, they’re speculating) is described as being still at large. Reading through the article again, Craig frowns.
      “Probably the work of the Jason Annie saw.”
      “Do you think we should warn them?” Hoyt looks from Craig to Adrian. “They might lose more people, otherwise.”
      “Perhaps in our next press release,” says Adrian. “We’ve got their attention, now.” He gestures to the papers. “The next step is to get them to actually believe us.”
      “Do you think...?” Hoyt stops, takes a breath. “Do you think things will ever go back to the way they were before?”
      “I don’t know.” Adrian looks troubled. “I really don’t know.” Silence falls. In the background, the radio plays on.

Part Three - Truth and Consequence

It’s Saturday night, and most of the Phoenix spooks are asleep or in fugue. Not Frank, though; he has things to do. Projecting, he slips unnoticed into Annie’s cubicle and – without pause, hesitation or invitation – dives inside her dreams. Nightmare still rules this realm, but he pays it no attention. That isn’t why he’s here. He concentrates and his vision expands, revealing a network of golden threads. This is why he’s here. He searches through them, seeking out one in particular. This one? No. This? No. This? Maybe... But no. This? Yes. This is the one; the thread humming with Kate’s resonance. Now all he has to do is travel along it. Except... What if, like the last time, he emerges in the physical world? Someone – probably Chet – is almost certainly keeping watch. If they were to see him suddenly appear there, bending over Kate, they’re undoubtedly going to assume the worst. He remembers what happened the last time he was caught experimenting without permission. Somehow, he doesn’t think they’d be any more forgiving the second time around. Maybe he can enter her dreams without leaving the thread. Yes, that would be far better, as well of raising a whole host of intriguing possibilities for the future. There’s just one problem: he doesn’t think it’ll work. He doesn’t even know if it’s possible. Perhaps it’s time for a change of approach.

The plan is straightforward enough (well, straightforward for Frank, anyway): step into Annie’s dreams and travel from there to Kate’s. (He figures that, given their former mental link, it will be easier to get to Kate from Annie than from anyone else.) Once in Kate’s dreams, he can tell her about Teresa being held in Mayfair Green, which is the whole point of this exercise. [18] Well, that and experimenting with his new abilities. And, perhaps, a small amount of overdue payback for that ugly little incident at the waste ground. [19] Knowing where Teresa is but being unable to do anything about it is likely to cause Kate no small amount of distress, especially if he illustrates it with images of her crucified form amidst hordes of spectres. Still, he can’t help that. She has to know. Sometimes, information has to be shared, and she’s the best choice to receive it. Of course, that isn’t going to happen if he doesn’t find a way to get into her dreams without being caught.

There is another possibility, of course. If Mohammed can’t go to the mountain... Instead of travelling along the thread, can he use it to pull Kate’s dreams closer to Annie’s? If they’re close enough, maybe he can just step straight from here to there. He tries, but fails. The thread is just too slippery; too hard to grasp. Somehow, he knows this isn’t going to work. It can’t work, not this way. Letting his instincts guide him, he reaches out again, extending his metaphorical fingertips as he searches for something else, something he knows has to be there. Is it the stuff between the threads? No, that doesn’t feel quite right. Perhaps it’s another place within the dreaming. If the threads are the air, then maybe this, whatever it is, is the sea, but maybe that isn’t right either. And then… Contact! No thought, no analysis; just the shock of it rippling through him. A vast, unending storm; darkness and a million buzzing screams. Violation, and power beyond compare. All he has to do is take it. Focusing – it takes all his concentration not to let it overwhelm him – he steps a little way into the storm. Somehow, he pulls Annie’s dream with him, using it to forge a beachhead of sorts. Standing on this threshold, he reaches out and tries to pull Kate’s dream towards himself, channelling a small part of the storm’s fury into making this a reality. For a moment, there is nothing – he is nothing – but the darkness, and the wind, and the howling voices; he is the storm, in all its terrible glory. And then he is himself again.

Looking around, he is still standing on the beachhead, Kate’s dream nowhere in sight. Thinking through what happened

storm-whispers inside his mind, slivers of darkness piercing his soul

he comes to the conclusion that there just wasn’t enough power. The idea seems sound, but the connection just wasn’t strong enough. Maybe it’s an all-or-nothing proposition. In which case: in for a penny, in for a pound. Reaching out again, he searches for another familiar resonance, using the remains of the link that was broken when Teresa exchanged herself for Annie. The trail leads through the storm and, following it, he finds what he was looking for: Teresa’s dream. At the back of his mind is the thought that maybe this can help her; can help all of them. Maybe. There’s another voice that whispers maybe this isn’t such a good idea after all, but it’s too late to back out now. Taking a deep breath, he steps in all the way, channelling as much of the storm as he thinks he can handle. That’s when things start to go a little awry.

One moment Annie is trapped in another endless nightmare. The next, she is shocked awake to see a vast and hungry storm looming before her. Gripped by some inexorable force, she is helpless to resist as she is dragged forwards, through the cutting wind, and then... Let go. When she’s recovered her wits enough to look around, she realises that she’s standing in a corridor of some kind. A cave? No, definitely carved: a passage roughly hewn through volcanic rock. The walls are shot through with glittering, vitreous veins which occasionally break the surface in a forest of razor shards. There’s no light, but somehow she can see. She can see that she isn’t alone here. Two figures stand nearby, one of whom she recognises as Kate. The other… She draws herself into a crouch, fight or flight instincts briefly warring before coming firmly down on the side of ‘fight’. The other is a humanoid monstrosity with wings of bone. A demon. A spectre.

He tries to pull Kate and Teresa towards him, but instead finds himself dragged forwards with such force that it jerks him right off his feet. The storm swallows him, eating at his gauze and his mind like acid. It takes his name, his memories, everything that makes him who he is; takes from him until there is nothing left. The storm. The song. The darkness. And then…

Blinding light; sense of movement brought to a sudden halt. Frank somehow manages not to stumble, shaking his head to clear the ringing in his ears. He feels strange. What happened? This isn’t what was supposed to happen. They were supposed to come to him; he wasn’t supposed to be dragged to… Where is he, anyway? Looking around, he seems to be standing in some kind of tunnel, but it’s the people with him that get his attention. Kate and Annie… Why are they looking at him like that? [20] Something’s wrong. Belatedly, he realises that he’s lost control of the dream and tries to wrest it back. It’s more difficult than it should be: like trying to fight a storm or a swarm; trying to catch clouds. Just as he grabs hold of one part and imposes his will upon it, other parts swirl and flow past him. He tries to narrow his focus, concentrating on bringing one small part of it under his control. Suddenly, he finds himself somewhere else.

The others see the spectre’s features start to shift and change, becoming familiar. Just as recognition surfaces, it – he – disappears, leaving the two women alone in the heart of the storm. Warily, they turn to look at each other.
      “Kate? Is that you?”
      “I fucking well hope so!” It certainly sounds like her.
      “Did that... Spectre” – she can’t think of a better word for it – “look familiar to you?”
      Kate frowns. “It looked like Frank.”
      “Yeah.” That’s what she thought. It’s good to know she wasn’t imagining things. “What do you suppose he was doing here? And why did he look like one of them?” She hopes her suspicions are wrong, she really does.
      “I don’t know.” Kate looks like she has suspicions of her own. “I can’t believe it’s a coincidence, not with his dream-shaping ability...” She lets the thought trail off, glancing thoughtfully at Annie. “So, what happened to you, Kid?”
      “I was dreaming, I think, and then something snapped me out of it. The next thing I knew, I was being dragged through the storm and ended up here.”
      Kate nods. “Same here.”
      “We’re there again, aren’t we?” Kate doesn’t reply. She doesn’t have to: both of them already know the answer to that question. This is the place they were dragged to when they tried to look at the moment of a spectre’s creation. It looks different, but it feels the same. Whispers fill the tunnel; hundred of voices murmuring just at the very edge of hearing. Under the voices is another sound, a familiar sound: the distant beat of drums. Like before, it’s coming closer, or getting louder; the whole storm starting to echo the sound. It feels like the whole place is pulsing in time with the beat, as if they’re inside a giant heart. Just like before. Annie is struggling to remain calm, but panic is threatening to rise up and overwhelm her. She can’t quite keep the frantic note out of her voice. “We have to leave.” Kate nods, looking just as tense.
      “But you just got here.” The voice comes from behind them. Spinning around to face the speaker, they find themselves face to face with Teresa.

Frank is standing on a pier in New York. He knows this place – it’s somewhere he used to go to relax, and to get away from the stress of being a high-powered lawyer. Many a fine afternoon would find him sitting here, letting the gentle swell of the waves carry his cares away. Sunlight glints on the water, dazzling him momentarily. Putting a hand up to shade his eyes, he suddenly realises that he isn’t alone here. There is one other person, sitting on the pier. In fact, they seem to be sitting in his usual spot. Perhaps he moves, or makes a sound, or something, for the figure turns around revealing himself to be... him. His clothes, his build, his face; everything. He could be looking into a mirror. His twin smiles.
      “Hello, Frank. Welcome.”
      “Hello.” Frank nods a cautious greeting. “Who are you?”
      Not-Frank (or Twin-Frank) smiles. “Don’t you recognise yourself? Maybe you should listen to yourself more often.”
      “Where is this? Where are my...” He hesitates. “Friends?”
      Not-Frank’s expression sobers. “This is a place where the grown-ups can talk, away from the children. Your ‘friends’” – the quotation marks are audible – “are somewhere else. But this isn’t about them, it’s about you.” He tilts his head, quizzically. “What do you want, Frank?”
      “I want to get out of here. And I want to find my friends.”
      “Oh, Frank.” A disappointed headshake. “That’s only what you want right now. And it isn’t even that, not really. You don’t need them, any of them. What have they ever done for you?” He lets the question hang in the air for a few moments. “You’re better than them.”
      “I need to get them out of there.”
      “They won’t thank you? Do you think they’ll appreciate your effort; your sacrifice? You know they won’t.” He snorts. “They should show you some respect. You deserve respect, Frank. Don’t you think that you deserve respect?”
      “Well...” He hesitates.
      “Forget the others. Just think about yourself for once.” He pauses for a slow heartbeat or two, and then continues in a low, intense voice. “Now, what do you want?”

Teresa looks the same as she ever did, only oddly luminous. The soft glow reminds Annie of the vision she saw when she first started translating the inscription on the gauze tablet. ‘She will come...’ The first words of the prophecy flash into her mind, but are driven away by the shock of seeing the woman she loves – the woman she feared lost forever – standing right there in front of her. Instinct takes her half a step forward before she catches herself, stumbling to a halt. Kate hangs back, brow furrowed, keeping her thoughts to herself.
      “Terri?” Annie’s voice cracks on the name.
      “Yes,” ‘Teresa’ says, simply. ‘It’s not her,’ Annie thinks, angrily. ‘It’s not her. It’s just a spectre wearing her face.’ But it could be. It really could be her, or what’s left of her and, one way or another, she has to know. Not giving herself time to think about what she’s doing, she quickly strides forward and wraps her hand around the woman’s forearm. Teresa offers no resistance, standing there calmly as she channels vitality into flesh flux. Rather than using it to shape the gauze she holds, she extends her senses through it, listening for a familiar resonance. Soon enough, she has her answer.
      “It feels like her,” she breathes. More than that, it’s feels exactly the same as she remembers. If she’s become one of the spectres, shouldn’t her gauze feel different, somehow?
      “It is me.”
      “You can’t be.” She wants to give in to that hope, wants to believe so badly that it hurts.
      “But I am. I’m still the same person, Annie.” She smiles, clasping Annie’s hand in hers.
      “Let go of me.” She tries to pull away, but can’t. It’s not that Teresa’s grip is too strong, exactly. It’s that when she moves backwards, the world ripples and warps around her, changing so that their relative positions remain the same. Just like in a dream.
      “But I want you to join me.”

Once he seriously considers the question, Frank doesn’t even have to think about his answer. He knows exactly what he wants; always has. He doesn’t speak aloud, but apparently he doesn’t have to. His mirror’s expression melts into an easy, confident smile.
      “You want power.”
      “Yes.”
      “We can give you that.” Without warning, the scene around them shifts, showing him a world where people obey his every whim; where his words can move a nation. A kaleidoscope of images, almost dizzying as they flash by, showing him the way things could be. The way things should be. And then he’s back on the pier again, looking at himself. “Well?”
      “Who are ‘we’?”
      His double shrugs. “That’s not important for now. We’re the ones who can give you what you want.”
      “How?”
      “We can talk about that when you make your decision.”
      “What decision?”
      “Whether to accept our offer.”
      “I’m going to have to think about this. I have questions.”
      “I understand.” Stepping towards him, the mirror-image holds something out to Frank. It looks like a vial. A drugs vial, maybe? [21] There’s a label attached to it. “Please accept this gift.”
      “What is it?”
      “It’s a way to contact us.”
      Frank feels something from the vial. It feels familiar, somehow. “But what is it?”
      “It’s…” His double thinks for a moment. “Think of it as a part of yourself; something you didn’t know was there.” That feels right, somehow. That’s exactly what it feels like. Now that he’s looking at it closely, he realises that the label has his name on it, written in his own handwriting. “Well?” Still holding out the vial, the double raises an eyebrow enquiringly. Making a decision, Frank accepts the ‘gift’ without a word. His double smiles broadly. “You won’t regret it, Frank. I’m glad we had this chat.” Without so much as backwards glance, Frank turns and leaves, stepping out into the storm.

      “I said, let go!” Using flesh flux on her own gauze this time, Annie steps backwards again, leaving the lower part of her arm in Teresa’s grasp. The gauze starts to fray and lose its shape.
      Teresa looks upset. “You didn’t have to do that.” Her eyes are locked on Annie as she absently cradles the remains of the arm to her chest, holding it like something precious and delicate. “I wasn’t going to hurt you. I only want to help you. All of you.”
      “You want to help me?” Anger is good. It keeps the fear at bay; keeps her thoughts clear. “That’s what they said when they… We don’t need that kind of help.”
      Teresa is quiet for a moment, looking stricken. “They didn’t mean it, you know,” she says, quietly. “It’s just… That’s all they know.”
      “They’re monsters.”
      “No, they just don‘t understand.”
      “You can’t fix them.” It takes a real effort of will not to stride over to Teresa – ‘it isn’t her!’ – and shake her with her one remaining hand. “They’re irredeemable. Evil.”
      “Am I a monster, Annie? Am I irredeemable?”
      “I…” Weary sorrow dulls anger’s cold edge. “I don’t know.”
      “I’m still me. Still Teresa.”
      “But you’re one of them. Aren’t you?”
      “They…” Teresa’s gaze turns inward. “They opened me; helped me to see. I know why now, and I know what has to be done.”
      “What…?” She can’t find the words to ask the question, but that doesn’t seem to matter. Teresa answers her anyway.
      “Something bad is coming and we have to save people. We have to save everyone.”
      “From what?”
      “From brainwashing. From death. From the Others.”
      “Who are the Others?”
      “I…” Teresa frowns, looking puzzled. “They are the Others. I can’t explain it in a way you’d understand.” What does this mean? Are there factions within the spectres? Can they use this? As thoughts race, mind trying to sort through the implications, Teresa takes a step towards her.

Once he’s out of the dream-bubble (if that’s what it was), Frank tucks the vial inside his pocket and tries to locate Kate and Annie. He doesn’t want to leave them trapped wherever they are. He might not have meant for this to happen, but he did bring them here. Casting his senses into the storm – which still seems to echo within him, somehow – he manages to pick up a trail. The further along the trail he goes, the more violently the winds batter his gauze until there comes a point where he can go no further. If they survived the passage, they’re somewhere at the eye of the storm. But how can he get through to them?

      “Stay back!” Teresa stops at Annie’s cry, looking grave and sad.
      “I’m not going to hurt you; I wouldn’t. I would never do that to you. There’s another way.” Looking uncertain, she adds: “I think.”
      “Another way for what?” She knew this was coming as soon as she recognised Teresa. They’re going to try to make her one of them; one of the monsters. Just like they’ve done with Teresa.
      “For you to join me.”
      “No.” She backs up, colliding with Kate, who puts out a steadying arm.
      “But it can be like it was before. The way it was meant to be. I didn’t mean to break it. I’m sorry – I didn’t know. But you’re here now.” Her smile is like the sun breaking through the clouds, lighting up her whole face and making Annie’s heart jump in her chest. “I don’t know how you did it, but you’re here.”
      “We didn’t do anything.”
      “But you must have done something. It wasn’t me.” Teresa’s expression crumples in distress and confusion, her voice wavering with unshed tears. “I thought you’d come back to me.”
      “Don’t…” ‘Don’t cry,’ Annie almost says, but she bites the word off.
      Kate speaks for the first time. “Where are we?”
      “You’re…” Teresa takes a breath, bringing her voice back under control. “You’re inside my mind.” Before they can ask any questions, she continues speaking, focusing her attention on Annie. “I thought you wanted to be with me. I still love you, even if it’s not the way you wanted.” She’s still cradling the remains of Annie’s forearm, now just the hand and part of the wrist. Still looking Annie in the eyes, she raises it to her face and holds it against her cheek. “Don’t you want to be with me?”
      “I…” She can’t think, can’t breathe.
      “We can be together. Always.”
      “You’re… You’re not her…” But she just doesn’t know anymore. It sounds like her, and it feels like her gauze. And she wants…
      “I came here to save you, Annie.” Her voice is low, but intense. “And I came here to save them, and I came here to make a difference. That’s still what I want. I’ve changed – I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t – but in every way that counts, in every way that matters, I’m still the same. I’m still myself. And I want you to be here, with me. Don’t you want that? Aren’t you tired of being alone?” She takes a slow step forwards. “You don’t have to be alone any more.”
      “I…” This can’t be real; it’s just another trick. Another lie, like before. She won’t be herself any more. It’s not her, it can’t be her. It can’t be real. But she wants it to be. “I want…”
      “Annie.” Kate’s voice, a hurried whisper in her ear. “Scream. Now.”
      It takes a moment to refocus. “Like before?”
      “I can’t think straight. Any longer and I don’t know if… We have to get out of here.”
      “Don’t go,” says Teresa, smile fading. Annie hesitates.
      “I can’t do this on my own, Kid.” There’s a note of desperation in Kate’s voice.
      Annie takes a deep breath. “I’m sorry, Terri.” Turning away from Teresa, she and Kate start to wail. Just like the last time, their voices resonate, reinforcing each other and becoming more than the sum of their parts.
      “Don’t leave me again!” Teresa’s voice is almost a shriek, harsh with pain and despair. It’s too late to stop now. The combined wail blasts the storm aside, making a way out. Not for long, though. It starts to close again before they’re all the way through. Annie feels Kate’s hand on her back, pushing her forwards, and then she’s through. Kate is nowhere to be seen.

Frank is still trying to find a way into the heart of the storm when he sees something come hurtling through. Recognising the figure as Annie, he quickly moves to intercept, somehow managing to catch her. She struggles in his grasp until she recognises him, at which point she grabs him and snarls:
      “What did you do?”
      “What do you mean?” His expression doesn’t give anything away. He starts to say something else, but she interrupts him with an impatient shake of her head.
      “Shut up. Kate’s trapped in there.” She gestures at the storm. “She was just behind me but…” Her voice cracks. “She didn’t make it out.” Steely determination fills her eyes and vice as she says. “We have to get her out.” As Frank studies the storm again, she wails at it – as she did with Kate – but to no apparently effect. Maybe it needs more than one of them. Frank thinks he might be able to get through it with his dream-shaping, but he doesn’t really want to take Annie with him. He did come back here to try to get her out, after all. Selecting a golden thread at random, he suddenly grabs her and sends them both hurtling along it. (If he could have sent her by herself he would have done, but that doesn’t seem to be within his capabilities.) They emerge in the physical world, in what looks like someone’s bedroom. The someone in question is asleep in the bed. While Annie’s still reeling from the shock of the transition, Frank tries to dive into the sleeper’s dreams but he can’t seem to get a solid purchase.
      “What’s going on, Frank? Where are we?” Ignoring the question he tries again, but with the same result. Grabbing him roughly, Annie spins him round to face her. The look in her eyes is pure ice. “Answer me before I start to hurt you.”
      “We’re somewhere in the real world. I need to get back in there if we’re going to rescue Kate.” When she doesn’t show any signs of releasing him, he adds. “We don’t have time to argue right now.”
      Grudgingly, she has to concede the point. “It’ll probably be easier to do from where her body is. We need to get to Brooke House.” The first step is to find out where exactly they are, but looking for the nearest street sign tells them that they’re only a couple of blocks over from the warehouse. There’s no real point in ripcording, so they start to jog. Annie tries to question Frank as they move, but all she achieves is more frustration. He continues to be evasive.

Adrian comes over when he sees Frank and Annie enter the warehouse.
      “Good evening,” he says, looking somewhat surprised. “I didn’t see you go out.” Neither of them answer him. Annie turns to Frank.
      “Get back in your body.” Much to her surprise – surely he knows what’s coming – he does so. While he’s doing that (still paying no attention to Adrian), she rouses Craig from fugue. He snaps out of it quickly, focusing on her straight away. Before he can say anything, she says: “Sorry for waking you in the middle of the night, but it’s urgent.”
      “Well it’s not like I really dream these days,” he replies absently, looking around. “What’s the problem?”
      “I want you to puppet Frank. He did something that got Kate trapped with the spectres and he won’t tell me what it was.”
      “Excuse me?” Craig looks startled.
      Annie repeats what she just told him, adding: “I need him to tell me what happened so I can figure out how to fix it. We don’t have time for him to be coy.”
      “I don’t really want to puppet another member of the group; not without giving him a chance to give his side first.”
      “Be my guest.” She waves a hand towards Frank, who’s now heading over to them in the flesh. “Good luck getting any more out of him than I did.”
      Craig sighs and looks at Frank. “What happened?” James and Kerekov wander over as he questions Frank, apparently roused by the noise. As soon as he figures out what this is about, James glowers at Frank, looking extremely pissed off. Kerekov shows no reaction.

Frank seems categorically unable to give a direct answer, responding to Craig’s questions with evasions and vague responses. In the end, Craig sighs.
      “I’m sorry. I gave you a chance, Frank. Please get out of your body.” When Frank doesn’t do anything, he says: “I’m going in anyway. It’s up to you whether or not you’re in there when I do.” After a moment’s consideration, Frank steps out of his body. Craig immediately dives inside him and goes through his memories of the night’s events, relaying what he finds to the others. Following the train of thought back, he also finds out about the mysterious woman in Annie’s dreams, and Frank’s first exploration of Mayfair Green. He does point out, however, that Frank didn’t intend for anyone to be hurt or trapped. He pulled Annie back out into the real world to be sure that she was safe, and had every intention of going back in for Kate.

Once Craig’s relayed all the relevant information, he steps back out of Frank’s body so he can re-occupy it. Only the last part of what Craig told them – and the fact that she needs his help to get Kate back – stops Annie decking Frank then and there. Instead, she returns to her body and calls Zoë.
      “Yeah?” Zoë sounds sleepy. “This’d better be an ’mergency,” she mumbles, “or’m gonna kick your arse.”
      “Zoë, it’s Annie. I need you to go and try to wake up Kate. She probably won’t, but it’s worth a try. I’ll explain later.”
      “’Kay. Hang on.” There are a few crashes and muttered curses as Zoë drags herself to her feet and stumbled across the room. “Kate? Kate, wake up.” In the background, Annie can faintly hear what looks like Chet’s voice asking what’s going on. “She won’t wake up.” It’s not clear whether she’s talking to Annie or Chet. She suddenly sounds a lot more awake. “Chet’s examining her now.”
      “Can you put him on?”
      “Hang on.” A moment or two passes, and then she hears Chet’s brusque tones.
      “What’s going on, Sergeant?”
      “Frank was fucking around and now Kate’s gauze is trapped with the spectres.”
      Chet doesn’t waste time asking questions. “She’s in a bad way. Her body is just shutting down; probably because her gauze is elsewhere. I give her an hour or two at most.”
      ‘Kate’s dying?’ Even as the panic makes her stomach twist, Annie is already running through the options. “Can you extend that by puppeting her body and maintaining it?” John did something similar for her when she was trapped with Mona. It should work for Kate, shouldn’t it?
      “I’ll try. Can’t hurt.”
      “We’re coming over to try to get her back.”
      “See you soon, Sergeant. Out.”

Tom surfaces from sleep to the sound of Zoë urging Kate to wake up. By the time Chet rings off, he’s fully awake and wanting to know what’s going on. Chet doesn’t answer straight away, diving into Kate’s body. Once inside, he relays the salient points to Tom and Zoë, asking Tom to power him up. (Fortunately, they’ve worked together long enough that he can do that even while Chet is possessing someone.) All that’s left to do now is wait for the others to arrive. Tom tries to rest. He has the feeling he’s going to need his strength for this.

Back at the warehouse, there’s a brief discussion, as a result of which it’s decided that Frank, Annie, James and Craig will go to Brooke House. Hoyt is roused to act as driver. Frank observes that he won’t be able to do much at the moment as he’s down rather a lot of vitality. For that matter, Annie has used quite a bit of hers. Her gaze settles on Kerekov.
      “I know you don’t want to share vitality with us,” she says quietly, “and I wouldn’t normally ask, but…” She takes a breath. “This is an emergency. We have to get Kate back, and we don’t have much time. Will you power us up?” Kerekov, put on the spot by Annie’s request, hesitates. Eventually, he nods reluctantly.
      “Just this once.” He doesn’t look happy, but that’s a problem for another day. They don’t have time right now.

Normally, the drive to Brooke House takes about an hour. With Hoy pushing it, they’re there within thirty minutes. Craig acts as a lookout to get them all up to the attic without being spotted by any of the living. As Frank quickly fills Tom in on the plan they’ve cobbled together, Annie projects and slips downstairs to talk to Mona. They’re going to need the Banshee’s help to pull this off.
      “I’m sorry for disturbing you,” she says, once she’s roused her from fugue. “I need your help. Kate’s trapped with the spectres and I can’t break through to her on my own. I need another siren.” [22]
      Mona looks stricken. “I can’t go there,” she whispers.
      “You don’t have to. We’re not going to go there.”
      “What are you going to do?” Annie quickly explains, and Mona thinks about it for a moment or two. “Okay. I’ll do it.”
      “Are you sure?”
      “No, but I’ll still help.”
      “Thank you.” Annie’s reply is heartfelt. They head up to the attic.

Tom is very low on vitality now that he’s given a huge chunk of it to Chet. Zoë offers to replace it, since it’s not like she really needs it for anything at the moment. Ignoring Chet’s glare, she projects – it’s obvious that this is an effort for her – and shares vitality with Tom, collapsing back into her body immediately afterwards. (Tom also steps back into his while they’re waiting.) She makes a valiant attempt at making the whole exercise seem effortless, but doesn’t quite succeed. Now it’s time for the first part of the plan. Frank thinks he can take other people into Annie’s dreams. From there, they reason that they can follow the remnants of the trail to the storm, and to Kate. It’s probably going to take a combination of their abilities to find her and pull her out of there, but they think they can do it. Of course: first of all, Annie has to actually fall asleep. The stress is making this difficult at the moment. She has sleeping tablets, but using those means that she won’t be able to wake up if anything goes wrong. It may also mean that she can’t ripcord.
      “I can help,” says Frank. She eyes him somewhat warily.
      “Fine.” He projects and starts to speak in a slow, soothing voice. Much to her surprise after a few moments of this, Annie’s eyes start to feel heavy, and she can’t keep back the yawns. In very little time at all, she drifts off to sleep. When they’re certain she’s under, Tom and James project. Frank takes the two of them and Mona into Annie’s dreams.

In this nightmare (and what were the odds it was going to be anything other than a nightmare, really) Annie is running frantically through a dark tunnel, splashing through thigh-deep water. Something – a large group of somethings by the sound of the splashing – is chasing her. She runs as fast as she can, fear driving her to her limits and beyond, but they’re faster. They gain on her inch by inch by inch. As the others get their bearings, the hunters fall upon their prey and start ripping her to pieces. James takes an uncertain step forward, but it’s past the time for intervention, even if there were anything he could do. It’s probably a good thing that the darkness hides the details, but the sounds are bad enough. Screams of course, but beneath that the wet tearing of flesh and the cracking of bone. Moist chewing and swallowing. After a while, the screaming trails off into silence. Tom and James start to relax – the nightmare is over now, right? – but Mona, tense and trembling, hides behind Tom. She recognises this place.
      “It isn’t over yet,” she says, softly. Before they can ask her what she means, Annie – apparently in one piece again – splashes past them once more, frantically trying to escape her pursuers.

Frank has been studying the scene, getting a feel for it. As this iteration begins, he starts to make changes. Let there be light, first of all, followed by a rope ladder for Annie to climb and a wall to barricade her away from the spectres. He’s aiming for neutral rather than pleasant – less time and less energy, both of which are at a premium right now – and achieves it quickly enough. With that done, he wakes her up. She looks around, awareness flooding her as she remembers where she is and what they’re about to do. As soon as she spots the others, she walks over to them. A little shakily, she says:
      “Welcome to my nightmare.” Who knew she was an Alice Cooper fan?

The next step is to try to find the remains of the connection, assuming it still exists. Frank extends his senses and manages to find it, he thinks. It’s very faint, though, and he seems to have a very tenuous grasp on it. He relays this to the others and Tom uses Deadwire to amplify the signal, allowing Frank to get a better lock on where it’s leading. They follow the thread until they reach the edges of the storm, and then stop. This part is up to Mona and Annie. The two women step forward – Mona looking like it’s taking a phenomenal effort of will not to just bolt – and together, unleash a wail at the storm. As with Kate, there seems to be some kind of resonance that isn’t present when the horror is used by an individual. Whatever it is, it blasts a hole through the storm, making Kate a way out. They think that should be enough. Once Frank has pointed out the thread, James uses helter skelter to tug at it, hopefully reeling Kate in like the world’s crankiest fish. He pulls with all his supernatural might, and… Something strange happens. An unearthly chorus of screams echoes in his mind. There’s a feeling almost like something tearing or breaking, closely followed by an incredible build up of force. A silver wave rushes towards them from within the storm, bearing a familiar figure ahead of it. This doesn’t feel like helter skelter, but James knows it’s definitely something he’s done. Maybe this was his third-tier horror expressing itself.

Kate hurtles past them at tremendous speeds. Frank contemplates trying to catch her as he did Annie, but changes his mind. Getting in her way would likely only hurt both of them. Instead, he manipulates the dream, creating winds to slow her down before she hits the ground. The lack of an impact crater suggests that his efforts have been successful, and a few minutes later they see her walking towards them from wherever she landed. She doesn’t look injured, but she is clearly very shaken.
      “Thank you,” she says quietly. It seems that they have what they came for. There is still one problem, however: a gaping hole in the storm. For some reason, it doesn’t seem to have closed again. Perhaps it is closing, slowly, but it’s hard to be sure. In any case, at the rate it’s going the process is going to take some considerable time. Annie, unsurprisingly, isn’t too keen on the idea of leaving an open portal to the spectres right on the borders of her dreamspace. Frank tries to close the tear, using his dream-shaping. It’s difficult – there seems to be some sort of resistance – but after about ten minutes or so of effort, he manages to seal it. After that, all that’s left to do is go home.

Back in the real world, the skimmers sink back into their bodies. Mona mumbles a goodbye and starts to head back to her office. Annie catches up with her to say, simply:
      “Thank you. I know that can’t have been easy.”
      “It had to be done.”
      “Yes, but… Thank you.” The words seem inadequate, but she doesn’t know what else to say. “I’d like to spend some time here over the next few days. I thought I could help with raising some of other ghosts to awareness. Or passing them over, if that’s what they want. If you still want my help.”
      “We won’t turn it down. You’re always welcome here.” Mona gives a fleeting smile. “We can do this on our own, though. You don’t have to… I know you have other things to do.”
      “I don’t mind helping.” But now she’s uncertain. Is she pushing in where she’s not wanted? Before she can ask, Mona says:
      “I need to get some rest. There isn’t much of the night left.”
      “Oh. Right. I’m sorry for keeping you. Good night, Mona.”
      “Good night.” The ghost pauses just before disappearing around the corner. “I’m glad we got her out of there.”
Annie stays there for a moment or so after she’s gone, staring out into the darkness. “So am I,” she whispers. If only they could have saved Teresa, too.

Kate is looking pretty rough. As soon as she’s safely back inside her body, Chet steps out and disappears briefly, returning with some sleeping tablets and a glass of water. She glares daggers at him but, surprisingly for her, takes the pills without complaint.
      “The rest of you should sleep too,” Chet says, firmly. “It’s been a tiring night.” There’s no argument there, not even from Annie, even though sleep is the last thing she wants right now. There are things they need to deal with, but they’ll have to wait until the morning. Maybe things will look better after a good night’s sleep. If only that was on the cards.


Footnotes

[1] A fugue state is the closest that ghosts get to sleep. [Back]

[2] Blink was in a relationship with Teresa, whose body Annie now occupies, and (unsurprisingly) didn’t react well when he found out what had happened. He hasn’t said anything about it after that initial shock – and has been perfectly civil to her on those rare occasions when they’ve interacted – but it’s an awkward situation all round. They’ve pretty much been avoiding each other as much as they can. [Back]

[3] Tom’s player has decided that Bill has been going out with Liz for about eight months, so Tom has met her after all. [Back]

[4] She means the apocalypse, of course: the future that she spent four months reliving over and over and over again. Annie knows exactly what she’s talking about without having to ask. [Back]

[5] Mona mentioned these places in her journal, and to Annie. She saw spectres dragging screaming, struggling ghosts inside and the buildings had a palpable aura of pain and wrongness. [Back]

[6] Three-hundred is near enough three-hundred and eighteen, the number that Mona, Kate and Annie saw in their Spook Night visions. [Back]

[7] Bounce Night is what the students in this continuity apparently call the first Friday after the end of the January exams. This day is traditionally marked by parties and clubbing. (I believe the GM just made the term up.) [Back]

[8] Adrian did try to coach him a little on appearing suitably sorrowful, but decided in the end that his real, if reserved grief would be more effective than faked tears or shock. [Back]

[9] Raymond LaTaure is the person who supplied pigment to Ike Turner, the dealer who was taken by Hyde. Ray is a commodities broker in the city – Shelley took a brief look around his office when Craig (puppeting Ike) called him to arrange a meeting. [Back]

[10] The woman he found wandering around in Annie’s dreams. [Back]

[11] The Orpheus building has a dedicated projection facility commonly referred to as the Nursery. One room held the sleeper tubes, watched over by a team of technicians and medical staff. There was another room for the skimmers to leave their bodies in when they stepped out. This one was decorated in neutral colours with low lighting and soothing music; filled with couches and large soft cushions. There were also monitors to keep an eye on the skimmers’ bodies. There was an emergency medical team on standby at all times. If any of the skimmers started to break out in wounds, these could be dealt with more or less immediately. Orpheus learned the hard way about the need for such a facility. [Back]

[12] If puppeteer and host are willing, either of them can learn skills that the other possesses. They still need to practice, but the basic knowledge can be imparted pretty much straight away. (The player still has to pay the experience point cost for the skill, but the time requirement is negated.) [Back]

[13] Breaking a tether requires ten points vitality: that’s one heck of a spike. It’s also why breaking tethers is generally more than a one-person job. [Back]

[14] Helping to break a ghost’s tether reduces a character’s temporary spite points. The amount removed is up to the GM. Breaking the last tether and passing the ghost over can remove permanent spite points. [Back]

[15] Luckily, no one actually followed up on James’ player’s suggested phrasing of: “Welcome to Deadsville, population: you.” That might not have gone down so well. [Back]

[16] I’m not sure the conversation actually made it into the write-up. The subject initially came up when they were still using the other warehouse, and she’s sporadically tried to get more information out of him since then. [Back]

[17] NDE: near-death experience [Back]

[18] No, I don’t know why he didn’t just pick up the ’phone. In his defence, the player did have reasons for not telling the group as a whole. (And his suspicion that some of the others might just go haring off into Mayfair Green to rescue her – potentially getting themselves killed or captured in the process – was, I admit, not entirely unfounded.) [Back]

[19] Frank first manifested his Dream-shaping ability in the early hours of New Year’s day, the first time the fugitives slept after the NextWorld attack. He secretly experimented with them over the next few nights, but got caught the night that Teresa exchanged herself for Annie. Kate had something of a go at him. Suspecting him of being a plant (mainly because of all his sneaking around, coupled with the fact that the FBI seemed to have an almost uncanny ability to track them down), she had Tom go through his memories. When she realised that he’d been able to get to Annie through hers and Teresa’s dreams, she completely lost her temper with him. The reason she was so angry was because if he’d said something sooner, they might have been able to rescue Annie without Teresa sacrificing herself. That was something that Frank didn’t seem to grasp, saying only that he couldn’t have taken on the spectres by himself. He didn’t seem to understand Kate’s point that he could have taken other people there to deal with the spectres. It was a fairly ugly argument, and Frank apparently holds a deep grudge against Kate for the whole experience. [Back]

[20] Yep, the ‘spectre’ is actually Frank. This came as quite a surprise to Frank’s player, who wasn’t aware that suddenly accumulating a vast quantity of temporary spite (five points) had affected his gauze in this way. [Back]

[21] Not that it’s ever really come up, but Frank used to be a pigment addict. [Back]

[22] A siren is a spook who possesses the horror Wail. They may or may not also be a Banshee. [Back]