Orpheus: The Taste of Ashes - Missions - Interlude007
- James Darkwood, Poltergeist
- Annie Harper, Metamorph (revenant)
- Carlos Hayate, non-projector
- Tom Knox, Haunter
- Frank Nosrav, Mindbender
- John "Blink" Carruthers, Wisp
- Ben Cotton, Poltergeist'
- Kate Dennison, Banshee
- Matthieu Kerekov, Banshee
- Craig Forrest, Skinrider (hue)
- Chet Mason, Skinrider
- Mitch, a medical technician
- Frank Nosrav, Mindbender
- John Reeve, Skinrider (hue)
- Zoë Vitt, Poltergeist
- Lo-Jack, Wisp (hue)
- Mona, Banshee (spirit)
- Kazimir Brezhnev, NextWorld operative
- Bill Knox, Banshee (hue)
- Frederick “Freddie the Ear” Michaels, reporter for the New York Times
- Three unnamed hues
- A ghost
Part One – Breathing Space
It’s not yet light when Chet wakes Frank up; more properly Sunday night than Sunday morning. The attic is quiet: no eavesdroppers or witnesses. What is it that requires such secrecy, or urgency?
“You’re going to have to make a decision.” No greeting, no hedging, just straight to the point. “You almost got one of us killed last night, Cadet.” He says the words without heat, just stating the facts of the matter, matter-of-factly. “That’s going to make things difficult, for you and for us. Way I see it, you have three choices. First, you can stick around. It won’t be easy and you’ll have to work damn hard to earn people’s trust. No more secrets. No more poking around in people’s heads without their permission. Understand?” He nods, albeit reluctantly. He agrees with Chet’s assessment: it doesn’t sound easy at all. “Second, you go away and we never hear from you again. A clean break. Third, you leave the group but remain affiliated. Maybe once in a while we help each other out. Maybe you rejoin the fold somewhere down the line, or maybe you don’t. Either way, the door’s still open.” The silence stretches: maybe Chet’s waiting for a reply. If so, he waits in vain. Eventually, he harrumphs. “You think about it. Make a decision. I’ll talk to you again in the morning.” There’s no need to wait until morning: he’s already decided. He’d made his choice even before Chet began this little chat.
“Option three,” he says quietly.
Chet nods. “Thought so.” He turns to step out of the little cubicle, pausing on the threshold to say: “I’ll tell the others.”
“Fine.” And, just like that, it’s done. He’s on his own now. But then, hasn’t he always been?
“You are not fucking serious!” Although Kate’s voice is low – most of the attic’s other residents are still sleeping – the outrage in it is an almost palpable thing. She glares daggers.
“I mean it.” Chet’s tone, in contrast, is perfectly calm and level. “Your body just can’t handle it right now.”
“So what makes you think it’ll handle nicotine withdrawal any better? Don’t do this, Chet. Smoking’s the only pleasure I have left right now.” Somewhat bitterly, she continues: “Can’t you allow an invalid this one thing?”
I’m sorry, Kate.” He lowers his voice even further, so that he’s almost whispering. “You almost died last night. It was all I could do just to keep your heart going. If you’d been out of it much longer, you wouldn’t have had a body to come back to.” He lets her consider that for a moment or two. “In my medical opinion, withdrawal will stress your body far less than inhaling lungfuls of toxins will. Give it a week, and then we’ll see. Okay?” Silence. “Kate...”
“Okay. Fine. You’re the doctor, I suppose. Nearest thing we’ve got, anyway.” She heaves a heavy sigh. “I warn you now, though, I’m going to get cranky.”
“Can’t imagine that, General.” Chet’s voice is perfectly deadpan. Kate shoots him a suspicious glance, but there’s no trace of mirth in his expression. “Maybe we can get you some nicotine patches to tide you over.”
“Patches?” Kate looks and sounds utterly disgusted. “What the fuck use are they? I’d have to stick the whole packet on just to get something approaching a half-decent buzz. Patches!” She snorts.
“I’ll add them to the list, shall I?”
She shoots him a glare and then nods, grudgingly. “Fine. Whatever. Maybe I can chew them or something.” Looking away from him, she goes quiet for a moment or two. “Thank you,” she says quietly. She’s not talking about the nicotine patches.
He doesn’t smile, but his expression softens a little. “You’re welcome. Now,” he continues in a brisk tone. “Make sure you don’t push yourself too hard. I will be watching.” On that note – and ignoring the daggers Kate glares at the back of his head – Chet goes to get some rest of his own.
As soon Chet’s tucked away in his own corner of the attic, Annie – who’s been waiting impatiently for him to finish – pokes her head around Kate’s curtain.
“Morning. Are you up to visitors?”
“Come in, Kid.” Kate gestures wearily. “You’ll excuse me if I don’t get up.” Annie ducks inside and settles herself down on the floor. Her hand – the one she lost in the dream – twinges painfully as she tries to lean on it. Her whole forearm has come up in interesting shades of purple and yellow, but at least she can move it this morning. She’s just thankful the damage wasn’t any worse. “I’ve been expecting you to show up.”
“I would have stopped by sooner, but you already had a visitor.”
Kate grimaces. “I wish you had rescued me from the good Captain. I really could’ve done without another lecture.” Eyes narrowing, she looks Annie over, critically. “So, did you get any sleep at all last night?”
“Some.” Not that she feels particularly rested. Her eyes are gritty, her throat sore and she seems to have a crick in her neck. The last reminds her why she tends to stay at the warehouse. “You?”
“Sleeping tablets, remember? Slept right through.” But not well, judging by the dark circles under her eyes, and she was still up at the crack of dawn.
“Are you okay?”
“No, I’m bloody well not. Chet’s banned me from smoking for a week!” She glowers in his general direction. “I could really fucking do with a bloody cigarette right fucking now, as well.”
“I can imagine.” She studies Kate surreptitiously. Beneath her crankiness, the woman seems tense and... Nervous? Shaken? “I’m glad you got me out of there when you did,” she says, abruptly. “Another hour or so of that and I wouldn’t have come back.” Almost under her breath, she adds: “There wouldn’t have been anything of me left.”
“Did she... Did she hurt you?” ‘Please say no. Please.’ She doesn’t know what distresses her more, the thought of Kate being tortured, or the thought of Teresa being a torturer. Either way, it comes as a relief when Kate shakes her head.
“No. She didn’t have to. All she did is talk to me. Just talk.” She closes her eyes a moment, and then raises them to Annie’s. Her face is haunted. “That was enough.”
“Do you think it’s really her?”
“Yes.” There is no doubt in Kate’s voice; none at all. She wasn’t expecting any.
“I think so too.” Much though she wants to believe otherwise.
“What did she want?”
“She wants to save us. She wants to save everyone.”
“From death. Like she said while you were there. Except...” Kate’s eyes go distant and thoughtful. “I got the impression that’s not really what she was saying. It was just what I was hearing. Like when she was talking about the ‘Others’.”
“So ‘death’ and ‘Others’ were just the nearest English equivalents?”
“Something like that. Of course,” Kate muses, “she wasn’t actually speaking aloud by this point. She was talking inside my mind.”
Annie freezes. “In your mind?” Kate just nods, twining her hands together in her lap. “What happened?”
“As I said: she talked to me. She knows how to figure someone out; how to work out exactly what they want. And she believes – really believes – that what she’s doing is right. It’s... Hard. To walk away from that. She’s so... Persuasive. Can make anything sound believable. Reasonable. And you start to believe her. To agree with her. To want to accept what she’s offering. Because it’s what you want, deep down. And she absolutely means it. That’s the hardest thing of all. Maybe... Maybe I’m just not as strong as you. She’d already half-way convinced me. The more I listened, the more I could hear her, and then the other voices underneath hers. If it had gone on much longer, I think I’d have ended up as one of them. Just another member of her chorus.” Kate swallows, shivering a little. “You remember what we speculated; that becoming a spectre involves losing your humanity?” Annie nods, not trusting her voice. “That was happening to me. Has happened to me. I can...” She licks her lips, her voice soft and horrified. “I can still hear her. In my head. And them. They won’t stop whispering to me. I can’t make them stop. I can’t. Make. Them. Stop.”
After a horrified, frozen moment, Annie makes herself move, clasping one of Kate’s hands in hers.
“Oh, Kate...” Sick fear coils in her stomach. They can’t have pulled her out of there only to lose her like this; they just can’t. “Don’t listen to them. Stay here.”
Kate laughs; a cracked and broken sound. “I’m trying, Kid. It’s harder than it sounds.”
“I know, but you have to fight it. You have to stay here.”
“In this crippled body.” Kate’s voice fills with frustration. “That doesn’t make it any easier. At least there I could do something. It didn’t hurt every time I moved, or even breathed. Don’t worry,” she adds, as Annie opens her mouth to protest. “I’m not going to let go of it anytime soon.” She sighs. “And even if I was physically up to it, I don’t think I should project right now. I’d be... Too close to them.”
“Being around people can help, sometimes.” ‘It’s helped me,’ she doesn’t say aloud. ‘Even if I seem to unnerve them on occasion.’ “Anything that reminds you what it means to be human. If you could project, I’d suggest helping with breaking some of the ghosts’ tethers but I guess that’s out of the question. Maybe...” She thinks a moment. “Maybe you could help out with counselling the newly aware ones. I know Mona’s snowed under at the moment.”
“Maybe.” Kate’s expression is shuttered and closed, making it hard to see what she thinks of the suggestion, or even what she’s thinking at all. Abruptly, she says: “It really wasn’t like what they did to you, you know. Teresa was right about that much.”
“She knew exactly what I was afraid of.” The words just come out, without her really meaning to say anything.
“No, not Teresa. My double. Twin. Shadow. Whatever you want to call her. She knew me, knew everything about me. About when I was alive, anyway.” She frowns, her gaze distant. “Maybe that’s why it wasn’t as effective as it might have been.”
“Wasn’t as effective...?” Kate gives her an uncertain look.
Annie shrugs. “There are more recent fears she might have drawn on,” she says simply. “But she didn’t seem to know about them.” She looks down at her hands, where they’re wrapped around Kate’s. “It’s probably just as well. It was... It was bad enough as it was.” Memories creep up again, but this time – for the first time – she doesn’t try to block them out. And, much to her surprise, they don’t overwhelm her. “She was worse than the others. Their approach was much cruder, in a way. They didn’t use psychology, or play on specific memories. They just hurt me.” There’s something else as well; something she’s never really realised until now, even though she noticed it at the time. “My shadow didn’t seem to be able to communicate very well with the others. Not at first, anyway. She tried to... Direct them, I think. Tell them how to be more effective. But neither of them seemed to really be able to understand each other properly. It looked like there was a certain amount of frustration on both sides. Of course, they were having far less trouble towards the end.” When she could hear them in her head, just like Kate can do now. When she was on her way to becoming one of them.
Kate is frowning. “That’s interesting,” she says, softly. “So, the doppelgangers are different to the others.”
“It looks like it. Maybe the connection makes them more human, somehow?” Her voice is uncertain. She’s not sure that’s it – her twin didn’t seem very human.
“Kate, why didn’t you get out of there?” The question is apropos of nothing, but she needs to know. “You were right behind me; I know you were. I felt you push me through. Is that why? Did you...?”
Kate sighs, slumping a little on her pillows. “I had to make sure you got out, Kid. You couldn’t... Teresa knows too many of your buttons. She doesn’t have so much of a handle on mine.”
“Oh.” First Teresa, now Kate: how many more people will sacrifice themselves for her because she isn’t strong enough? “I’m sorry for being weak,” she whispers.
“It’s not that,” says Kate, sharply. More gently, she continues: “I don’t think you’re weak. She’s just very good at finding the cracks in someone’s defences, and she has a head start with you.” She sighs. “Anyway, you’re far more use to the group right now than I am.”
“I’m an invalid. I can’t even project right now. At the moment, all I am is a drain on our resources.” She shoots Annie a grim look. “Useless.”
“You’re not useless.” But, on a purely practical level, she has to admit to herself that Kate is right: an active skimmer is more valuable to the group right now. “We need you. You’re good at figuring things out – we’d never have tied the visions to Bounce Night without you. You’re good with people – the only counsellor we’ve got. Isn’t that valuable? And you’re a natural organiser, not to mention experienced at keeping people in line, General.”
“I think it’s usually the Sergeant’s job to do the arse-kicking,” Kate observes, mildly. It’s hard to tell if she actually feels at all better. She’s closing herself off completely at the moment.
“Hey, group discipline isn’t my responsibility. I just make suggestions. Chet’s the one who started with all this ‘Sergeant’ nonsense. Anyway,” she adds, “if it is my job, then I’m failing abysmally.”
Kate looks over to the corner of the attic where Frank is, presumably, still sleeping. Her expression is thoughtful. “We’re going to have to talk to Frank, you know. We can’t just ignore what he did: we have to decide what we’re going to do about it.” She frowns. “I wonder what he was trying to accomplish.”
“Oh, that’s right: you don’t know.” Obviously, no one’s told her that Craig went through some of Frank’s memories. Annie quickly fills her in on the salient points.
“That boy has a lot to learn about respecting other people’s privacy and boundaries.” Kate’s observation is a lot milder in tone than Annie would have expected, and contains far fewer swear-words. Evidently, she really isn’t feeling like herself this morning. Annie, on the other hand, has enough anger for both of them. Kate almost became a spectre. Thanks to that connection, she still might. ‘A lot to learn,’ indeed.
“I shouldn’t be the one to talk to him about this.” Her voice is calm and controlled, but inside she’s still seething.
“Because I would hurt him.” She doesn’t want to, not really, but at the same time she does. And she’s afraid she wouldn’t stop. Disgustedly, she adds: “I can’t believe I actually invited him into my head a couple of days ago.”
“Oh?” Kate raises her eyebrows enquiringly.
“I wanted him to stop the nightmares so I could get a good night’s sleep, for once. Since everyone and their dog seems to think I’m not getting enough rest.”
“Did it work?”
“Yes.” Annie laughs a little bitterly. “Best night’s sleep I’ve had in a while. Best night’s sleep I’ve ever had, in fact.”
“Well that’s something, at least.”
Kate starts to say something and then stops, frowning. She’s looking down at Annie’s hands as if seeing them for the first time. Sharply, she says:
“Let me have a look at your arm.”
“Hmm? Oh.” Annie holds out the offending limb. “It looks worse than it feels. I guess I was lucky.”
“Yeah, I’d say you were lucky, Kid.” Kate shakes her head. “This is what happens if you lose a gauze limb in a dream. I dread to think what would have happened if you’d been out in the real world at the time. You’re bloody lucky you didn’t lose that arm in the flesh as well.”
“I didn’t really think of that at the time.” As a matter of fact, she wasn’t really thinking at all when she did that; she was completely focused on getting away.
“Well, you should start. You’re not a ghost any more, Annie.”
“I know.” It’s still hard to remember sometimes when she’s projecting, though. “Just one more disadvantage of being tied to a body, I suppose.” She grimaces. “Like throwing up every morning.”
“You didn’t throw up this morning.”
“The wonders of modern medicine. Chet gave me some anti-emetics yesterday, and they seem to work. I still feel like crap, but at least they stop me actually emptying my stomach.”
“How long has this been going on for?”
She has to think about it. “I’ve been feeling sick for a week or two, and actually throwing up for about half that.”
Kate leans forward, looking concerned. “Does Chet know it’s been going on that long?”
“Good.” She settles back again, clearly relieved. Quirking an eyebrow, she says. “Of course, you realise that he’s probably going to want to give you a full check-up.”
“I hardly think that’s necessary.” She doesn’t particularly want to be poked and prodded. “I’m fine apart from that, and he’s already quizzed me about my symptoms. Not that he really managed to pin down what’s causing it.”
“There’s always the obvious.” In response to Annie’s enquiring look, she continues: “Teresa’s been out of that body for weeks. Maybe your gauze just can’t sustain it well enough.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of.”
“Maybe sleeping is weakening the connection. After all, if a Puppeteer sleeps while they’re inside a host, they get kicked out. Or, maybe you’re sleep-projecting, or something.” She shrugs. “You’re a unique case. We don’t have any answers yet.”
“Maybe I should try to sleep less,” Annie says, slowly, but Kate is already shaking her head.
“Don’t be daft. Exhausting yourself isn’t going to help. Anyway,” she sighs, “this is all just speculation. Might be something else entirely.”
“Thanks.” She glowers at Kate. “That makes me feel so much better.”
Kate just smirks. “I try.”
Annie looks down at her hands, hesitating a moment as she works up the nerve to ask: “What happened to it?” The gauze should just have unravelled on its own, but she’s still worried. The thought of a leaving a part of herself there makes her shudder inside. Glancing up, she feels her heart skip at the look on Kate’s face. ‘I’m not going to like this…’
“When you left, Teresa just stood there for a while, staring after you. She was… She held it to her and cried. She looked heartbroken. When she was sure you weren’t coming back, she held it up and… It looked like she was concentrating. Your hand changed into a hair-clip, which she pushed into her hair. She smiled a little. And then she started talking to me.”
“Oh.” She doesn’t know what to think. ‘She looked heartbroken?’ And Terri has a piece of her now. She has a feeling that’s going to come back to haunt her.
“I’m sorry.” Kate reaches out, to lay a hand on her shoulder, wincing a little at the effort. Annie tries not to pull away. “I know it’s not what you wanted to hear.”
“Well, there’s no point in worrying about it now. It’s done.” Not that it’s going to stop her, of course. “Anyway.” She gets to her feet. “I suppose I’d better leave you to your rest.
“Thanks.” Kate shoots her a black look. “Thanks a fucking bunch.”
“I’ll just lay here and stare at the ceiling, then, shall I? It’s not like I have anything else to do right now.”
“Apart from whine about it, apparently.” She can’t help but grin as Kate splutters, her expression completely outraged. “Don’t you think you’ve been lying around feeling sorry for yourself long enough?”
“Oh? What would you say if I sat back and complained about being useless and having nothing to do?”
“I…” Kate starts to say something indignant, but then stops, frowning. “I’d say you were whining and tell you to stop feeling sorry for yourself,” she mutters, grudgingly. Annie just smiles. There isn’t really anything she needs to say to that. “I’ve been a bad influence on you, Harper.”
“I prefer to think of it as following your example.”
“I think that’s what I said.” Kate levers herself up a little, looking thoughtful. “So, we’re Phoenix now, huh?”
“Yes. It seemed appropriate.”
“Hmm. I was thinking something along the lines of “Lazarus Redux.”
“Someone did suggest ‘Lazarus,’ but we preferred Phoenix.” ‘Lazarus Redux? I don’t think so.’ Tactfully, she doesn’t express her opinion aloud.
“Oh well.” She closes her eyes a moment. When she opens them again, her manner is brisk and businesslike. “Fine. I have things to think about. Fetch me a notebook and pen, would you?”
“Yes, Ma’am.” She retrieves the items in question.
Kate looks sharply at her. “That’ll be enough snark from you.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it, Ma’am.” She matches Chet’s inflection perfectly.
Kate just shakes her head. “Just go.”
Annie was planning on talking to Mona, but rather than heading straight downstairs, she lingers in the attic a little longer.
“Zoë?” She calls softly. “Are you awake?”
“Hard not to be with all that racket,” Zoë whispers back, peeking around the edge of the curtain.
“Sorry.” Annie looks contrite. “I didn’t think we were being all that loud.”
“Nah, don’t worry. You weren’t, really. Guess I’m just a morning person. Anyway, come in.” Annie ducks underneath the curtain and sits cross-legged on the floor. “What’s up?”
“Not much. I just wanted to talk to you about Kate.”
Zoë nods, fidgeting restlessly with her blankets. “Did she really come back?”
Annie opens her mouth to say yes, but then hesitates. Is that Kate? Yes. Is that just Kate? Or all of her? Uncertain. “I think so.”
“Hey, I can hear you, you know.” There’s a definite edge to Kate’s voice. ‘She can hear?’ Apparently, they weren’t being as quiet as she’d thought. ‘Oops.’
“It’s rude to eavesdrop,” Annie calls back, softly.
“It’s bloody rude to talk about a poor invalid behind her back. What’s your point?”
Mentally, Annie shrugs. She’d been hoping to do this quietly, but it doesn’t look like that’s on the cards. Abandoning all attempt at subtlety, she turns back to Zoë. “Did you hear what we were saying?”
“Some of it.” She looks sheepish. “I wasn’t trying to listen, but it’s a small attic and sound carries when no one else is talking. And,” she adds, matter-of-factly, “I was bored.”
“Fine. Then you know why I’m asking this.”
“What are you up to?” Kate sounds extremely suspicious.
Ignoring her, Annie continues: “I need you to talk to her. Keep her grounded; keep her here. Don’t let her focus on the voices. Do you think you can do that?”
An evil grin spreads over Zoë’s face. “Oh, I’m sure I can think of something,” she smirks.
“I’ll get you for this, Dr Harper!” Kate sounds outraged again.
“I’ve heard that before, Dr Dennison.” 
Somewhat more plaintively, Kate asks: “What did I ever do to you?”
“Don’t worry, Kate,” Zoë chips in cheerfully. “This is going to be fun.” The glint in her eyes says she’ll enjoy it, at any rate. Annie stands up, pushing the curtain aside. She smiles at Kate, who scowls blackly at her and Zoë both.
“Would you prefer I got someone else to keep tabs on you? Chet?” Kate snorts. Searching her mind for even more inappropriate candidates, she continues the list. “James? Kerekov? Ben?”
“Ben!” With a glance towards Zoë, Kate says: “What would he do? Loom over me and say ‘Stay with us, or else’?” She makes pounding motions with her fist, scrunching up her face in an exaggerated imitation of a scowling Ben. Or possibly a Neanderthal. It’s hard to tell.
“Hey!” Zoë’s glaring now. “That’s not fair.”
“Yeah?” Kate crosses her arms across her chest, meeting Zoë’s eyes. “You would say that, little miss ‘drools after anything with a six-pack and tight pair of jeans’. I bet I know exactly what you see in him.” As the bickering starts in earnest, Annie judges it’s time to make her exit. ‘My work here is done.’ Kate certainly seems a lot more focused on the here and now, and both women seem less despondent than they have been, not to mention distracted from their injuries. The only way in which this could backfire is if they decide to join forces and gang up on her. But what are the odds of that?
It’s still relatively early in the morning, but Mona is already up and about. She’s flitting back and forth between groups of ghosts, solving disputes and helping the newer or less aware ones to come to terms with their new state. Many of them seem nervous, and seeking reassurance from her. The poor woman looks run off her feet. Annie waits around until she can spare a minute or two. While she’s waiting, she finds Lo-Jack and offers to help out by donating vitality, or assisting with breaking tethers. There are so many ghosts here that vitality always in demand. It’s not like she wasn’t planning on doing all that much with it today. In any case, she’s glad to help: it reminds her that she’s still human. Mona finally manages to get a little breathing space, beckoning Annie into her office.
“Thank you for seeing me. I’m sorry to interrupt – I know you’re busy.”
“That’s okay.” Mona gives a small smile. “I can always make time for you.” The smile melts into a frown. “I am run off my feet a little, though. We seem to have more and more ghosts coming in. People are still worried about what happened up at Mayfair Green, and they’re coming here because it feels safe. Even the ones who left to set up their own little communities are coming back.” She shakes her head. “It’s getting a little crowded.”
“The ghosts are partly why I wanted to talk to you. There are probably a number of new ones wandering around since Friday, lost and confused.” Mona nods. “We – some of my friends and I – would like to round them up and get them somewhere safe, so they don’t run anything nasty. I was going to ask if we could bring them here, but you seem to be full to overflowing at the moment.”
“They’re still welcome here,” Mona says firmly. “I suppose they’re mostly going to be rich white kids, aren’t they?” “A number of them are, I suppose.” And the population demographics of Brooke House are skewed towards poor and black.
“That might lead to some tension, but we’ll just have to do what we can to smooth things over.”
“If you’re sure.”
“We’ll manage, somehow.” That seems to be Mona’s motto. “We are going to need more space sometime soon, though. I’ve been thinking about setting up a second shelter for some time now. There are so many of us here. It’s led to a fair few fights, just because people just couldn’t get away from a source of tension. They’re in each others’ faces all the time. I would like to keep this place as a first point of contact – I suppose I’m rather attached to it – but another building to take the overflow would ease the pressure a lot. We’re also going to have to raise a lot more ghosts to awareness, just to have people who are able to help with organisation. Lo-Jack is fantastic, but there’s only one of him. He can’t be everywhere, and neither can I.”
“We can keep an eye out for a new building for you if you like,” says Annie.
“That would be a big help.” Mona looks grateful. “I’ve been meaning to look for somewhere for a while, but I just don’t have the time.”
“What kind of place do you want?”
Mona thinks for a moment. “Somewhere with space; preferably lots of rooms so they have somewhere to be on their own if they want to be. Maybe an old hotel or something? It might be better if there weren’t any of the living in residence. I mean, the human contact can be good for them, but, to put it bluntly, no one really believes the residents here when they say they’re talking to ghosts. Somewhere else, we might start to draw unwanted attention.”
“Do you want somewhere in this area, or somewhere else?”
“I hadn’t really thought about it. I suppose it might be easier if it’s not too far away from here.”
“I’ll see what I can find. I’ll get the others to keep an eye out as well.”
“You’re welcome. Anyway, I’ve probably taken up enough of your valuable time.”
Annie turns to leave, but something makes her hesitate. She pauses there on the threshold, a sudden tightness in her chest, her eyes burning. There isn’t enough air in here. ‘What’s wrong with me?’
“Is there something else?”
“Not really.” But she knows she just can’t face going back up there, not yet.
“That’s a yes, then.”
Slowly, Annie turns back to face her. “I think... I think I need to talk to someone,” she says, in a low voice. “But I don’t know who. I can’t talk to Kate right now. She...” Her voice wavers a little and she takes a deep breath, forcing it to steady. “She didn’t come back quite right last night and it’s my fault. She only got trapped there because of me. Because she wasted time and effort making sure I got out.”
“It sounds like that was her choice, Annie.” Mona’s voice is soft and gentle. “She obviously thinks you’re worth saving. Maybe you should think about...”
“No, that’s not it.” Annie shakes her head violently. “She just didn’t think I was strong enough to hold out.”
“I doubt that.”
“She’s said as much.”
Mona doesn’t try to argue with that. Instead, she tries a different tack. “Whatever reason she told you, I think the truth probably had more to do with her than you. I know she thinks she’s not much use to all of you right now. She probably saw getting you out as the most worthwhile contribution she could make in her condition.”
“She... She has said she thinks she’s a burden.” Mona nods slowly, but Annie doesn’t give her the chance to speak. “But this is the second time someone’s sacrificed themselves for me.” Hot anger fills her, making her words harsh and her voice ragged. “Because they didn’t think I was strong enough.”
Meaning: ‘because they thought I was weak.’ “First Terri and now Kate. When is it going to end?” When is she going to be strong enough?
Quietly, Mona asks: “Who’s Terri?”
“Terri...” From burning anger to the brink of tears in the space of a heartbeat. “Teresa is a friend. You remember I told you I was captured by spectres a few weeks ago?” Mona nods. “Well, Terri’s the one who saved me. She... She got me out of there by switching places with me. By sacrificing herself for me. I ended up in her body and she...” Her whole body shudders. “She was there tonight: we saw her; spoke to her. But she’s one of them now.” She doesn’t need to explain who they are. “And I didn’t even try to get her out. I just left her there. Again.” Her breath is fast and shallow, her whole body shaking with the effort of keeping the tears back. It feels like she’s about to shatter into pieces. “I’ve stolen her body and her life, and I just turned my back on her.”
“Oh, Annie.” Mona’s gaze is filled with compassion. A few steps take her across the room and to Annie’s side. “You didn’t ask her to do this, did you?”
“Would you have?” Her throat is too tight for speech, so she just shakes her head. “Do you...?” Mona hesitates a little, looking briefly uncertain. “Did she know what it would involve? That she would end up taking your place?”
“Yes. She... She was counting on it. That’s the only way she could think of to... They didn’t know where I was. They could only hear me in dreams, and I couldn’t hear them at all.”
“They could hear you?”
“The mental link.” She’s forgotten that Mona doesn’t know. The banshee looks puzzled, but decides to put the question aside for another time.
“So, Teresa knew exactly what would happen to her and yet she did it anyway.” She doesn’t wait for a response, pressing onwards eagerly. “Doesn’t that tell you something? Doesn’t that tell you that it wasn’t your fault? This was something that she chose to do; her gift to you. She chose to save you. You haven’t stolen anything; she gave it to you freely. She gave you your life back.”
“But it isn’t my life. It’s hers.”
“Teresa wanted you to have this. That has to be worth something.”
“She wanted to save them, too. What’s that worth?”
“The spectres.” The words are filled with venom, burning her as she spits them out at Mona.
“You mean it wasn’t even just because of you? She had another reason?”
“She wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t been there. I doubt she’d even have thought about it. So it’s still my fault.” 
“It was her choice. Just as what Kate did was her choice. They are your friends, Annie. They think you’re worth saving.” Mona gently touches her hand, holding her gaze when she looks up. “Wouldn’t you do the same for them?”
“I don’t know,” Annie says tightly, almost whispering the words. “I’d like to think I would, but I don’t know if I could bring myself to go back there.”
“I understand.” Mona looks grave. “I don’t know if I could do that either. But you would want to help them, wouldn’t you?” Annie nods wordlessly. “Then why can’t you just accept that they’re the same?” ‘Because it still feels like it’s my fault.’ But she can’t answer Mona’s question. Mona lets the silence stretch for a few moments, and then sighs, shaking her head. “Just think about it, okay?”
Annie nods again. “Okay,” she says, in a small voice.
“Good.” Mona smiles briefly, and then looks thoughtfully at her. “You know, you should appreciate the gift she gave you.”
Annie looks startled. “I do. Why would you think I don’t?” Of course she’s grateful. She can’t even begin to describe how much. She just wishes that it hadn’t come at such a terrible cost, to either of them.
“I don’t just mean getting you out of there, I mean this second chance at life.”
“But it’s her life. Her body. I’m still... We’re still going to try to get her back.”
“Even if you do, and even if you manage to bring her back to herself, you might not be able to fix this. It might not be possible to give Teresa back her body.” A pause, letting her mull that over for a moment or two, and then: “Do you know how to do that?”
“No,” she breathes. “It was a fairly unique set of circumstances. I can’t... I don’t know how to break my connection and re-forge hers.” Or even if it’s possible at all.
“Then you can’t spend your time waiting for something that might never happen. You can’t waste her gift. She gave you your life back, Annie. Do you have any idea what that means?”
“Of course I do.”
“Then live it.” Mona speaks with passion and sincerity. “Think about yourself; do something you enjoy. Remind yourself why it’s good to be alive.”
“I can’t.” The look she gives Mona is filled with distress and confusion. “There’s too much to do right now. We have too many enemies, and there are too many bad things waiting just around the corner. I can’t just stop what I’m doing to go off and... And have fun! There’s no time.”
“It’s important to make time. You’re not a machine: you can’t just keep going day in and day out without rest or respite. Even if you could, that kind of existence isn’t living; it’s just surviving. It would be throwing away what Teresa gave you.”
“Life goes on,” Mona says firmly. “Even in war. Make time to live. Do something for yourself, Annie. Think about what it is that you want.”
“What I want?” Emotion forms a solid, choking lump in her throat, burning her eyes with tears. She doesn’t need to think about it: she knows. “What I want, I can’t have. I... I want... I want her. B... But she doesn’t want me, not like that. And she still s... sacrificed herself for me but I... I don’t know why. Why did she...? Why would she...? When she doesn’t even...” She’s crying in earnest now, great racking sobs that shake her whole body. “I c... can’t have what I want, because she’ll never love me. Not like I l... love h.. her.”
Annie doesn’t even flinch when Mona puts her arms around her, just leans against the ghost and cries. Mona holds her, not saying a word, just letting her cry. She isn’t sure how long they stay like that for, but it feels like an eternity. Eventually, however, the tears dry up and the sobs fade into silence. Rubbing angrily at her eyes, she stands up straight and steps out of Mona’s embrace, looking at the ground. As if there had been no interruption, she continues speaking. Her voice is hoarse, but steady.
“When I saw her last night,” she says softly, “she said we could be together. She said she did love me, even if it wasn’t the way I wanted, and I could be with her forever.” Slowly, she raises her eyes to Mona’s. “She meant it. I could tell she did.”
Mona is quiet for a moment, and then says: “That doesn’t sound healthy.”
She shrugs wearily. “Doesn’t matter,” she murmurs. “I turned her down.” Her mouth twists in a wry smile that looks more like a grimace. “As I said: I can’t have what I want.” She shakes her head slowly, the smile fading. “I don’t think she realised what a potent weapon she was giving the spectres when she exchanged herself for me. They had me for two days and I still came back mostly human.” ‘Mostly human,’ she echoes in her mind. ‘Not completely.’ “She had Kate for just over an hour, and she can still hear their voices in her head. All Terri did was talk, and she’s already half-turned her. How can we fight that?” Lowering her voice, she adds: “The worst thing is, she still sounds like Terri; still feels like her. But she’s one of them.” Without warning, she’s suddenly crying again. Mona holds her while she sobs; holds her until she’s cried herself out.
“There are other people out there, Annie,” she says quietly. “It might feel like she’s the only one for you right now, but you will get over her. You’re still young.” ‘But I don’t want to get over her...’ Annie swallows that protest before it passes her lips, saying only:
“I don’t have time for anything like that right now. There’s enough to worry about without that kind of distraction.”
“How long have you known that...?” Mona seems to be having trouble phrasing her question. Perhaps she’s trying to be delicate.
“That I like women? Only a few months.” Her breath hisses sharply between her teeth. “This is... This is the first time I’ve been in love.”
“I know you probably don’t want to hear this right now, but it might help you in the long run. A broken heart can be painful, but it will heal. Trust me on this one. It might feel hopeless right now, but that will fade in time. You’ll come to realise that there are other people out there, and that not all love is unrequited.” Annie doesn’t quite know what to say to that. Fortunately, Mona doesn’t seem to be expecting an answer. “There are groups where you can talk to people who understand some of what you’re going through. Would you like me to see if there are any based around here?”
“I didn’t think there were any groups like that for ghosts.”
“You’re not a ghost any more, are you?”
“I suppose not.” More to herself than to Mona, she murmurs: “I don’t know what I am.” Thinking about Mona’s offer, she shakes her head. “Not right now. It’s not a no, but I don’t think I’m ready for that yet.”
“I understand. Let me know if you change your mind.”
“I will.” Her next words come out all in a rush. “Thanks for listening. I’m sorry for dumping all of that on you. I wasn’t intending to...”
“It’s alright,” Mona interrupts her. “I don’t mind. I’m glad I can help.” Much to her surprise, Annie realises that this has helped: she actually does feel a little better for having opened up to Mona. Maybe she really did need to talk to someone, after all. ‘And, speaking of needing to talk to someone...’ Looking Mona directly in the eyes, she asks:
“How are you?” Mona thinks for a moment before she replies.
“It’s getting easier,” she says, quietly. “It’s still hard, though.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
Mona shakes her head. “Not yet. I don’t think I’m ready. I need some distance first.”
“I understand. When you are ready, if you want to: I’m here. I may not be a counsellor, but I can listen.”
“Thank you.” Mona smiles.
“You’re welcome.” She gives a small smile of her own. “And now I really have taken up more than enough of your valuable time.” She starts to head for the door again, but then abruptly turns back and hugs Mona tightly. “Thank you,” she whispers. Mona hugs her back.
Annie takes her leave and heads back up to the attic, deliberately keeping her steps slow to give herself a little more time to think. Now that her mind is clearer, she finds herself able to consider the events of last night in a somewhat calmer manner. Not completely calm, of course, but definitely calmer. ‘Frank...’ There’s something she’s going to have to do, she realises, and it has to be now. If she leaves it for another time, then it might not get done at all. It isn’t going to be easy, but it is necessary. Hesitating a moment on the threshold, she weighs up the options and quickly makes a decision. ‘Now it is, then.’ With that thought, she strides purposefully into the attic.
The rest of the attic’s inhabitants start to stir. There’s quite a crowd of them this morning, but – despite Kate and Zoë’s continued bickering – the mood is generally subdued. Blink emerges from his cubicle, looking around with curiosity. Hoyt makes a bee-line for him.
“Hey man, good to see you.” They clasp hands.
“Morning Hoyt.” Blink looks pale and ill, with dark circles under his eyes, but his natural ebullience is apparently undampened. “What’s up?”
“You’re not gonna believe the night we’ve had…” As Hoyt fills Blink in on the night’s excitement, Tom speaks quietly with his brother, who seems listless and quiet. He’s been thinking about his new situation, the ramifications of which just seems to be sinking in.
“What about college? My friends?” He hesitates. “Mum and Dad? I’m… I’m never going to be able to see them again, am I?”
“I’m still here, Billy. I’m not going anywhere.” Tom doesn’t know what to say. Calming down a distressed ghost is a lot harder when the ghost is his little brother. He never really used to do this part of the job, anyway, not on his own. But he can’t walk away from this. He can’t turn his back on Bill. “There are some things you’re going to have to learn.” Maybe he’ll adjust faster if he’s kept busy.
“Things about being a ghost, and about the kinds of stuff you can do now. I can teach you, if you want.”
Bill nods tentatively. “Okay.”
“Okay.” Tom steps out of his body. “First of all, let’s teach you how to manifest…”
Someone turns on the radio, finding a news station. The reporters’ voices drone on in the background, their talk of death tolls and tragedy a familiar background hum. Craig disappears out to pick up the morning papers, as usual. Friday night’s official death toll is two-hundred and five. Commissioner Kelly has not confirmed that he received a warning, but hasn’t said why he didn’t act. He is said to be ‘considering his options’.
“What options?” Hoyt says something angry in Spanish. “If he’d actually done something instead of sitting on his arse, many of those kids might still be alive.” He snorts in disgust. “Arsehole.”
“He didn’t really have that much time,” Craig points out. “And I suppose he wanted to make sure it wasn’t a hoax. If it had been, and he had acted, the political fallout may well have cost him his career.”
“We’re talking about a matter of life and death! That’s more important than some fat-cat job.”
“Didn’t say he was right.”
“It’s a bit late now, anyway.” Blink shrugs. Hoyt glances at him and frowns.
“You look like shit, man.”
“Thanks, Hoyt.” Blink’s tone is dry, a wry smile on his face. “Must be my party lifestyle.”
“No, seriously. You’re not looking well.”
“He’s right,” Craig observes.
Blink shoots him a look. “You too?” He turns towards Tom, who’s just coming over to join the trio. “Tell them I’m just going for the pale and interesting look.”
“Umm…” Tom looks him over with some concern. “I think you’d be better off in one of the tanks. Maybe you and Hoyt could swap places for a while.”
“Well, I wouldn’t mind the chance to be useful again, but I’m not sure I really want to try to pry Hoyt away from it.”
“It’s okay.” Hoyt makes a big show of being noble and long-suffering, but then ruins the whole effect by grinning wickedly. “I was beginning to miss the flesh, anyway. It has its advantages, if you know what I mean.”
Blink shakes his head. “You have no class.”
“I don’t know; the ladies all seem to think I‘m a pretty classy guy.”
“Is that so?” Blink raises an eyebrow. “Let’s ask them.” He moves towards Kate and Zoë.
“Hey!” Hoyt moves after him, Craig shaking his head at the pair of them.
“Kids,” he says, quietly.
Frank keeps himself to himself. No one seems inclined to seek him out, which is just fine by him. There are things he needs to do. Projecting, he manifests and picks up his phone. Before he dials the number, he concentrates, channelling vitality so that his voice becomes smoother and more persuasive. This might be his area of expertise, but it never hurts to give yourself all the advantages you can while dealing with the press.
“Hello Freddie.” Frederick Michaels, also known as Freddie the Ear; a reporter at the New York Times and someone he’s had dealings with in the past. You never know when it’s going to be useful having an ear – so to speak – in the media. “It’s me.”
“Frank.” He can almost taste the eagerness in Freddie’s voice; knows he’s seeing the word ‘Exclusive!’ flashing before his eyes in big, neon letters. Probably accompanied by visions of the Pulitzer Prize. It’s good to start a negotiation knowing that the other party wants – no, needs – what you have to offer. “Quite a step to go from defending criminals to becoming one of them.”
“How are things?” He ignores the barb.
“Oh, can’t complain. Keeping busy. You know.”
“Not too busy for a little story, I hope.”
“Well… I suppose I could spare a few minutes. Seeing as it’s you. I mean, something like this isn’t usually my bag, you understand, but I suppose there might be some interest.” That’s the understatement of the year. Something like this could push him from somewhere near the top of the second-stringers to a household name. He’d sell his own grandmother for that kind of copy. “I thought I detected your hand in events. I take it that was you hanging Kelly out to dry… Never did like the man, but then I guess you knew that.”
“He always was a stick in the mud. Guess there are a few of us who are glad to see him go.”
“Guess so.” Freddie’s voice changes, his tone switching from ‘catching up with a friend’ to ‘business’ between one breath and the next. “So, what can I do for you? I know you didn’t call me up just to ask if I’ve heard anything interesting.” Freddie acquired his moniker after a run-in with a mob boss’ goons left him with only half the usual number of that particular body part.
“What would you say to a little exclusive?”
“Music to my ear. What do you want in return?”
“Oh, to get my side of the story out without bias.” Well, with the right bias, anyway. He knows Freddie understands what he means. “And the usual assurances, of course. That’s all.”
“Don’t worry, Frank. I know you can give me more than the Feds can.”
“How about an out of office meeting?”
“Sounds good. When and where?”
“Is this line secure?”
“Should be. I’m fairly certain it hasn’t been tapped, anyway. Ever since I ran that story on the mayor, I make sure to run a bug trace on the line.”
Frank thinks for a moment. “How about Ed’s?” It’s a restaurant they’ve used for such meetings before. Nice, but not too nice. Suitably discreet. The food doesn’t quite match the price tag, but the privacy more than makes up for it.
“I’ll get us a booth.” Freddie sighs heavily. “I guess I’ll be raiding the editor’s petty cash tin for this one, then. Is there anything you want me to bring?”
“Laptop and mic?”
“No, I think I’d prefer old school for this one.”
“Notepad and pen, then. That takes me back,” he muses, nostalgically. “Eight o’ clock tonight?”
“I’ll see you then.”
As Frank hangs up and returns to his body, his mind is already working through plans and options. He still has the mayor’s offer, which is probably worth cashing in. Between that and the interview – getting the public on Phoenix’ side can only help him in the long run – he should be able to start getting his life on track again. Life on the run is really getting old. Not for the first time, he muses how much simpler things would be if he could make himself invisible while in his body. It would certainly make things like getting to the toilet and back without being confronted by grudge-bearing spooks that much easier. Fortunately, everyone else seems to be occupied at the moment, giving him the perfect opportunity. No one seems to see him slip out, and he dares to hope that the return journey will be similarly missed. It’s only a few steps, after all. If he does nothing to draw attention to himself, what are the odds that someone is going to look up just at that moment to see…?
“Frank.” He’s so busy keeping an eye on the group that he almost walks straight into Annie. She’s standing next to the curtain, hand raised as if to push it aside. Was she coming to see him?
“Annie.” He nods at her. “Excuse me.” He starts to move past her, but she reaches out towards him.
“Wait.” Her hand hovers just above his arm, but she doesn’t touch him. She can’t. It’s hard enough as it is right now not to just lash out. If she closes her hand around his arm, she’s going to break it. And that’s not why she’s here. “I want to talk to you.” Frank halts, not sure what’s happening here. Last night, she was furious with him. She threatened him; had Craig go through his mind. Now… She wants to talk? He can tell she’s tense, but she seems relatively calm. Certainly, it doesn’t look as if she’s about to give in to any murderous impulses she might be harbouring. In any case, surely she wouldn’t do anything with so many people nearby? The attic’s other occupants are also on Annie’s mind. Two of them can’t move. One is too physically frail to intervene. One’s in fugue. The rest are distracted, and one of them is unlikely to get involved even if he could do anything. At least two probably would try to stop her, but they wouldn’t be fast enough to stop her doing some damage first. Hell, if she’s any judge of character, James – quietly field-stripping his gun in a corner – would probably join in. But she isn’t here to hurt Frank. Belatedly, she registers the fact that he’s speaking.
“Go on.” He eyes her cautiously, noting that she seems distracted. She straightens, clasping her hands behind her back.
“Your double,” she says abruptly.
“Yes?” ‘What about him?’
“He’s a spectre.” It isn’t a question. “You can’t trust them. You can’t trust any of them, no matter how sincere they seem. They’re not human. What they want isn’t what we want, even if they dress it up like it is. They’ll try to tempt you. It doesn’t matter whether they make you an offer you can’t refuse, or just try to convince you that you don’t have a choice. If you accept it, you won’t be yourself anymore. You’ll be one of them. Do you understand?” He nods slowly. She’s trying to warn him? After what he… Unexpectedly, he feels a twinge of something like regret. Why? He didn’t mean any harm. And he’d been planning to take away her nightmares, afterwards. Just like she asked. She would never have known anything about the rest of it. It’s not his fault that things didn’t go according to plan. And they got Kate back in the end, with his help. Annie is still watching him, frowning. It looks like she’s waiting for something.
“I understand,” he says.
“Good.” Apparently that was what she was waiting for. She continues speaking. “That’s not the only danger. Just interacting with them… Changes you. You start to become more like them.” This is almost touching, if a trifle confusing. So naïve. As if he hadn’t been doing this for most of his life. Of course it’s risky – anything worthwhile usually is – but he knows what he’s doing. Whatever the negotiation, he always comes out on top. Always.
“That’s good to know.” A little cautiously, he adds: “Is that all?” There’s an odd look in her eyes. Does she have something else to say to him?
“Yes.” ‘He’s not going to listen.’ She knows he isn’t; knew he wouldn’t, even though that didn’t stop her trying. Oh, she still wants to make him pay for what happened to Kate, but not like this. She wouldn’t wish her experience, or Kate’s, on anyone. Not even him. “Goodbye Frank.” She’s tried to warn him. There’s nothing else she can do. So she turns and walks away.
Frank ducks underneath the curtain. “Goodbye,” he murmurs, softly. If it’s up to him, it’s the only one he’s going to say.
“Bill,” says Tom, quietly. “There’s something I have to tell you.”
“What is it, Bro?”
“It’s about Liz.” He’s been wondering how to do this since he found out. There hasn’t been any sudden burst of inspiration, or anything like that, but he just doesn’t think he can put it off any longer. Bill’s been wondering about his girlfriend; talking about going to her flat to check up on her. He understands that she might be dead, but he’s still clinging to the hope that she’s alive. Tom can’t let him find out the hard way (well, the harder way). He was hoping to be able to get Kate to help break the news but, well, she seems more than a little distracted at the moment. It wouldn’t exactly be fair to try to land this on her as well.
“Have you… Have you found out what happened to her?” Bill looks scared and hopeful all at the same time.
“Yes.” He really doesn’t want to do this. “Billy.” He reaches out a hand and clasps his brother’s shoulder. At the back of his mind, he thinks it’s a good job he’s projecting right now. “I’m afraid she’s dead. I’m sorry. I wish there was something I could do.”
“Oh.” Bill looks like his whole world has just come crashing down around him. “I… I see.” He’s quiet for a moment. “I think I need to be on my own for a bit.” He gets up. “I’ll be back in a few hours.”
“Be careful, okay?” Tom stands up as well, wanting to go with him but knowing that’s probably the last thing he wants. “Don’t go too far. And don’t go near any strange spooks.”
“I’ll be careful. Goodbye, Tom.” Tom watches him leave. ‘I hope I’m doing the right thing…’
Towards midday, Craig says he thinks it’s time they got the van back to the warehouse. He doesn’t want to risk anyone noticing it around here and putting two and two together. It’s not that the risk is that great, but it is a risk and Craig is nothing if not cautious.
“Sounds good,” agrees Hoyt. “We need to get me out of the tank and Blink into it, anyway.” James is more than ready to return to the warehouse, saying:
“Hey, weren’t we going to question that NextWorld guy?”
“Yeah, you’re right,” says Tom, slowly. What with all the excitement, they never really got around to it.
“No time like the present,” adds Annie.
“You know I just meant to puppet the guy, right?” For some reason, James sounds worried. Annie looks at him in puzzlement.
“Yes, of course. Why?”
“Oh, nothing,” he says quickly. “Shall we go?” They say their goodbyes to the others and head off. No one suggests asking Frank if he wants to come.
The drive back is at a considerably more sedate pace than the drive out, much to Hoyt’s disappointment.
“This is embarrassing,” he mutters. “We’re being passed by a guy in a motorised wheelchair.”
“We’re at a red light,” Craig observes mildly.
“We wouldn’t have been if you’d let me put on a decent turn of speed.”
“I’d just as soon not get the cops’ attention, if that’s all the same to you.”
“The cops! They’d never catch us.” But, despite his grumbles, he keeps to the speed limit and drives like someone who actually has a sense of self-preservation. In a little under an hour, they’re back at the warehouse. As soon as they step out of the van, they’re greeted by:
“So what the flying fuck exactly happened last night?” Ben looks from one of them to the other, apparently looking for someone in particular. “Where’s Frank?”
“He didn’t come back with us,” shrugs Hoyt.
“He can’t hide there for-fucking-ever.” Ben clenches his fists, his expression dark. It doesn’t take any great observational skills to work out what he’s thinking.
“Come on,” says Hoyt to Blink. “Let’s go tell Mitch he needs to defrost me.” Blink nods, and the two of them wander off.
“Shall we go and start getting some answers out of the prisoner?” Tom looks at Annie and James.
“Sure,” says James.
“I’ll be there in a minute,” replies Annie, distantly.
“Okay.” A thought occurs to Tom. “I’ll ask Kerekov if he’ll give us a hand.” To James, he says: “He can make it easier for you.”
“Good idea.” Tom has much more experience at puppetry than James, but James wants the practice. He’s not averse to stacking the odds a little in his favour, however. The two of them head for Kerekov’s cubicle, leaving Craig, Ben and Annie standing near the van.
“Violence won’t help, Ben.” Craig’s voice is quiet, but firm.
“Oh, I don’t know. It’ll sure as shit make me feel better, and it might teach that fucker he can’t just go around messing with people like that.”
“It’s not up to you to give that lesson, Ben.” Annie locks her gaze with his. “It wasn’t you he fucked around with.”
Craig frowns. “That goes for you too, Annie.” He looks like he wasn’t really expecting to have to say that.
She sighs. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to hurt him.” ‘Much though I might want to,’ she can’t help but think. “And you shouldn’t either. We’re better than that.” ‘I’m better than that.’ “We don’t turn on our own.”
“Yeah, well, someone needs to tell him that.” Despite his words, however, Ben seems to relax a little, unclenching his fists. Craig looks from one of them to the other.
“We can’t just ignore what happened, but confrontation isn’t necessarily the best way to deal with it.” He sighs softly. “Although it may be a moot point, anyway.”
“What do you mean?” Annie frowns uncertainly.
“Chet tells me he’s thinking of leaving us. Still remaining affiliated with Phoenix, but going solo for while. Maybe even permanently.”
“Oh.” That surprises her, although she can understand why he would. Between Ben and – if she’s honest – her, he’s hardly likely to get the friendliest reception.
“Huh.” Ben looks like his thoughts are running along similar lines. “Might be for the best.” He frowns. “But how do we know he isn’t just going to go running to the Feds or NextWorld to sell us out?”
“We don’t. But there’s nothing we can do about that. If he wants to leave, we can’t stop him. It sets a bad precedent, and we don’t want to make it so that the only way out of Phoenix is to take everyone else out before they take you out.” Craig quirks an eyebrow. “We’re better than that. And we don’t turn on our own.”
“Mmm.” It’s hardly fair of him to use her own words like that, Annie thinks, but she nods, slowly. He is right. Ben just frowns.
“Anyway,” Craig says. “I have things to do. This warehouse isn’t going to secure itself. Annie. Ben.” He nods to each of them, and then turns on his heel.
Annie watches Craig stride away, turning back to find Ben studying her.
“What?” His scrutiny is making her feel a little self-conscious.
His gaze lingers on her bruised hand. She resists the urge to hide it behind her back. “You sure?”
“Yes. It’s Kate you should be worrying about.”
His eyes widen. “I thought you lot got her back.” Before going to sleep last night, Annie sent Adrian a text message saying that the rescue attempt was successful. She figured he and John would want to know.
“Good.” He looks relieved. He and Kate may not get on, but that doesn’t mean he wish something like that on her. “Is she… Did they hurt her?” He hesitates, then asks: “Did they hurt you?”
“No and no. It’s just… Terri did a number on her just by talking.”
“Terri? You mean you saw Teresa?”
“Yeah. Didn’t Adrian tell you? Frank tried to connect her dreams to ours.”
“He said that, but…” Ben shrugs uncomfortably. “I didn’t really put two and two together, you know?”
“Apparently Frank managed somewhat better on the whole ‘putting things together’ front.” Her voice sounds tight and angry, even to her own ears. “The two of them are still linked. Not like before, but Kate can still hear her. And the others, a little.”
“Shit.” Ben sounds horrified.
“Yeah. I’m telling you this” – even though Kate will probably kill her for it – “because we need to keep an eye on her. We need to try to keep her here. And we need to make sure that if she becomes… If she is turned, then we know about it the instant it happens. I don’t think it’s going to,” she adds, hastily, “but we need to be vigilant. You understand?”
“Yeah.” He nods, still looking shaken. “Yeah, I understand.” He nods towards her hand. “So, what happened there?”
She shrugs. “Terri wouldn’t let go of me.” Admittedly, after she foolishly grabbed her first, but she doesn’t feel the need to share that with him. “So I used flesh flux to separate it.”
“You cut your own arm off?” He sounds like he doesn’t know quite whether to believe her.
“Well, yes.” She looks a little sheepish. “Apparently my instincts still think I’m a ghost. Guess I was lucky that the rules were different in that dream bubble.”
“Yeah.” He smiles at her, even if it doesn’t quite reach his eyes. “Otherwise I’d have to start calling you the one-armed bandit.”
“That’s what I like about you, Ben: your sympathy.”
“Is that the only thing you like about me, Babe?” He waggles his eyebrows, his smile becoming a suggestive smirk. She rolls her eyes, even though inwardly she’s relieved to have a change of subject.
“You know what I really like about you, Ben?”
“Being somewhere else.” And on that note, she strides away, almost bumping into Adrian as she does so.
“Oh! Hi Adrian.”
“Hello Annie.” He smiles, but he has that same look of concerned scrutiny in his eyes that Ben had. ‘What is it with these people?’ She thinks in annoyance. Before he, too, can ask her how she is, she leaps in first with:
“You and Craig should have a little chat about security some time.”
“Oh?” He gives her an enquiring look.
“Much though I appreciate the fact that you didn’t get in my way last night, I could very easily have been my evil twin. Especially since you didn’t see me leave.”
“Ah, well.” He nods, conceding the point. “Although,” he observes, “you were with Frank at the time.”
“We know there’s at least one spectre with mimicry and another one with the capability to craft illusions. It’s not a guarantee.” A thought occurs to her, making her feel sick to her stomach with uneasiness. “Oh.”
“Combine either one of those with puppetry and you’ve got yourself the perfect way to walk off with someone else’s body.” It’s a horrifying thought.
“I see.” Adrian laughs, although it sounds a little forced. “You come up with the cheeriest thoughts sometimes, Annie.”
“I know,” she says, distantly. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m supposed to be helping James puppet the prisoner.”
Tom, Annie and Kerekov focus their energies on James, who concentrates and then steps into the captured NextWorld operative. ‘This is a piece of cake,’ he thinks, easily tightening his grip on his host. He’s fairly certain he has control of the man for as long as he wants it. Or, at any rate, as long as he can stay awake. Of course, he muses, having three other spooks assisting him probably makes a difference. If he were doing this on his own, it might be a different story. But, luckily, he isn’t. Going through the man’s memories, he starts to relay what he finds to the others. His host’s name is Kazimir Brezhnev and, like many of NextWorld’s operatives, he’s a former mercenary. His company was recruited en masse by Derkov. Apparently, the word went out that someone was looking to recruit soldiers either already trained in spook tactics, or willing to learn. Most of them thought that all this talk about spooks was nonsense, of course, but the pay was good enough that they didn’t care they were working for a crazy man. They found out soon enough that, while Derkov may or may not have been crazy, he knew what he was talking about regarding spooks. In short order, they went from being an independent mercenary company to being back-up forces for spook operatives, but none of them really cared as long as they kept getting paid.
Brezhnev remembers his Sergeant getting a phone call. He doesn’t know who it was from, but he remembers the name ‘Bishop’ being mentioned. Shortly after that, the Sergeant gave them a mission briefing. They were told that there was a meeting taking place between two people, one of whom was almost certainly spook-ridden. This person, plus any spooks that might accompanying him, were their targets. They acquired their anti-spook gear from the New Year’s raid on Terrel & Squib, although they have received another shipment of ammunition since (about a week ago). As far as he knows, NextWorld do have a few spook cameras, but their main anti-spook gear consists of goggles and ammunition. He knows the location of a cache, but Kerekov points out – much to James’ disappointment – that it’s almost certainly gone and/or trapped by now. Brezhnev saw his sergeant die in the ambush: flambéed by Hoyt.
After digging out everything he and the others can think of to look for, James leaves Brezhev and they shut him in the van once more.
“What are we going to do with him?” Kerekov asks.
“I don’t know,” says Tom.
“It would be safest to kill him.” Annie’s voice is flat, her intonation not unlike Kerekov’s.
“There’s no need to be hasty,” Tom says. “We need to think about it before deciding anything.” They report their findings to the others, and raise the subject of what they’re going to do with him now. “Maybe we can hand him over to the Feds.”
Craig frowns. “That might end up hurting us in the long run. It leaves us open to prosecution for kidnapping and wrongful imprisonment, among other things.”
“So, what are our options?” Tom shoots a sidelong glance at Annie. “I’m not entirely happy with the idea of just cold-bloodedly murdering someone.” That sentiment is echoed by other people.
“We could just let him go,” Craig observes. “I doubt he’d want to go back to NextWorld – I understand they have a very poor tolerance for failure.” Eyes turn to Kerekov, who nods.
“Non-projectors are at the bottom of the heap. Failure is punished harshly.”
“It’s not a guarantee, though,” Annie points out. “There is still a risk he could lead them here.”
“Let’s find out,” says Tom. He puppets Brezhnev and rifles through his mind. “He’s definitely not interested in returning to NextWorld. He seems to think N’Kejeda is going to do bad things to him because the mission got FUBAR.” Kerekov nods at that. “All he wants right now is to go back home to Russia. He doesn’t seem to have any real interest in selling us out – this wasn’t personal.”
“Let’s cut him loose, then.” There is a general chorus of agreement. They buy Brezhnev a one-way ticket to Moscow and drop him off near JFK airport. Job done.
Sunday evening, Kerekov comes back from a jog to find Annie waiting for him.
“Kerekov,” she greets him. He nods silently. “I’m sorry I put you on the spot about sharing vitality last night,” she says, without preamble. “I know you weren’t happy about it.”
“But you still did it,” he observes.
“Yes. I thought it was necessary.”
“Noted.” His voice is even more expressionless than usual, which is quite an achievement. He starts to turn away, but Annie hasn’t finished.
“The fact that it was necessary doesn’t mean it was right,” she says quietly. “I can’t say that I won’t do it again, but I’ll only do it if there’s no other choice. If it isn’t an emergency, then I won’t ask you.” He looks at her oddly, but all he says is:
“Understood.” She has absolutely no idea if she’s smoothed things over, mortally offended him or if he simply doesn’t care. He’s extremely difficult to read; not giving anything away. Nevertheless, she gamely struggles on.
“I appreciate the fact that you did help, even though you didn’t want to,” she says. “It did make a difference, and we might not have gotten her back without it.”
“Understood,” he says, again. “but it might have been better for us if you hadn’t.”
“Why?” She asks slowly. It's her turn to look at him strangely now.
“She’s a dead weight at the moment; draining our resources.”
“We don’t leave people behind.” Her voice is as flat as his. “Understood, but that’s a weakness.”
“I prefer to think of it as a strength.”
“Then it’s a strength our enemies will use against us.”
“It’s a price we’re willing to pay.”
He nods, once, slowly. “Noted.”
She looks at him for a moment, and then says: “Would you be willing to assist with an experiment?” He eyes her warily but says nothing. ‘This is like trying to get blood out of a stone...’ “I think it might be possible to use wail to counter other mind and emotion-affecting horrors. I would need you to try to target me with empathic projection  so I can test this hypothesis.”
He tilts his head, considering. “Interesting theory.” A sharp nod of the head. “I will assist.” Their initial experiments show that this theory is sound. After that, it’s just a case of refinement and practice, which they spend some time on over the next couple of weeks. The trick seems to come more naturally to Kerekov than to Annie, probably because he’s a Banshee. Interestingly, it looks like it should also be possible to counter the ‘resonance’ part of wail as well, but that will take a little more work to develop. After Sunday evening’s experiments are finished, Annie remains out of her body and picks up the gauze tablet to do some more work on translating the prophecy. She thinks it’s high time she spent some serious effort on the task.
Hoyt thaws out over several hours and Blink replaces him in the tank. Ben doesn’t give him quite so exuberant a send-off as Hoyt, probably because Blink is looking rather the worse for wear. After doing some research – finding out when and where Liz’s funeral is going to be held – Tom asks Ben to drive him back to Brooke House: he’s worried about his brother. Bill has returned by the time he gets up to the attic, looking up with relief.
“Hey Bro,” he says.
“Hi Billy. How are you doing.”
Bill shrugs. “I’m doing okay. I mean, about as well as you’d expect.” He swallows, rubbing a hand across his eyes. “I… I miss her, you know?” Liz’s death seems to be hitting him harder than his own. “We were going to get married after we graduated. I mean, we hadn’t set a date or anything, but we’d talked about it. I was going to ask her at the graduation ball. I had it all planned out.”
“Oh, Billy.” Tom projects so he can hug his brother. Neither of them says anything for a moment or two, but he can feel Bill trembling against him as he tries not to cry. “It’s okay. It’ll be okay.”
“Thanks for telling me.” Bill’s voice is muffled. Taking a long, shuddering breath, he wipes his eyes again and steps back, looking up at Tom. “I want to try to find her.”
“Her ghost, you mean?”
“Yes.” Bill looks determined. “She could be like me; like I was. What if she’s wandering, lost and confused? You told me it’s dangerous out there. I have to make sure she’s okay.”
“We’ll look tomorrow, okay?”
“Okay. Good. Thank you.” Bill nods, and then frowns. “Where do we start?”
“The warehouse. Annie has a way to look back into the past: maybe we can see which way she went.” ‘Assuming the spectres didn’t get her.’ Which, to his mind, is an awfully big assumption. Remembering what Annie and Teresa have said about forebode and connections, he adds: “It would be easier if we had something with a connection to Liz, or that was important to her. Do you know of anything like that?”
“She isn’t…” Bill takes a breath, and then starts again. “She wasn’t very materialistic. Things don’t… Didn’t… Weren’t really all that important to her. She has a cat, though.” He looks uncertain. “Would that do?”
“I guess so.” Annie never said it had to be an inanimate object, after all. “Where is it?”
“Probably still at her flat. I can take you there.”
“Fine. We’ll go there tomorrow, and then we’ll try to find Liz. Okay?”
“Okay,” echoes Bill. “I really hope we find her.”
“So do I, Billy. So do I.”
It’s Sunday evening, and Frank is setting off for his meeting with Freddie. He thinks about sneaking out unseen, but what would be the point? It isn’t like he cares if anyone sees him go. And it isn’t like he’s planning on coming back.
“Off out?” Chet is the only one who says anything to him. No one else really seems to be paying attention.
“Yes.” For some reason, he doesn’t leave it there, but adds: “I’m meeting with a reporter. Follow-up on the Phoenix broadcast.”
“I see.” Chet nods. “Good luck, Cadet. Be careful.”
“I will.” With that, he leaves. No fanfare, no goodbyes and no regrets. No regrets at all. Well, maybe one. It’s a small thing, really, but it’s the reason he takes a slight detour to swing by the warehouse. It certainly isn’t his for meagre belongings: none of those hold any particular value for him, sentimental or otherwise. No, there’s just one last thing he feels he has to do before he goes. Leaving his body somewhere out of the way, he projects and conceals himself beneath a shield of invisibility. Unseen, he sneaks into the warehouse, does what he has to do and then sneaks back out again. Slipping back into his body, he’s now free to go. Free to do what he wants without the others’ judgement or censure. Just… Free. At last. It’s a good feeling. And later that night, when she finally goes to bed, Annie finds a hastily-scribbled note on her sleeping bag, written in Frank’s hand. It says one word: ‘sorry’.
Bright and early Monday morning, Chet goes to check on Frank and finds the cubicle empty.
“Thought so,” he mutters quietly to himself. He asks Tom to call the warehouse, just to be sure, but isn’t overly surprised when Frank turns out not to be there either. None of them are, really. They figure he’s just done exactly what he said he was going to do and gone off on his own.
“Just like him to sneak out without facing us,” Ben observes. As soon Annie hears the news, she calls Kate and tells her about the note.
“Huh.” Kate sounds surprised. “Didn’t see that coming.”
“I know,” she says quietly. “Do you think he meant it?”
“Don’t know, Kid. But why would he leave it, otherwise? What would it gain him?”
“I don’t know.”
A moment of silence from the other end, and then Kate says: “Maybe he does have a conscience after all.”
“Maybe.” That doesn’t mean she’ll forgive him, though. Maybe she never will.
Hoyt drives Annie and James over to Brooke House, where they pick up Tom and Bill. Following Bill’s directions, they head over to Liz’s flat. Hoyt parks up around the block and the four spooks get out. There are an older couple and a younger man at the flat, packing things up in boxes. Bill recognises them as Liz’s parents and younger brother. There’s a cat box in the kitchen. James uses helter skelter to open the catch, and then tries to poossess the animal. The cat immediately starts yowling frantically. He manages to hold onto it, just, but he knows he’s about to get thrown out. He makes it run out of the flat as fast as its legs will carry it, racing past the startled family, down the stairs and through the open front door. Once there, he tries to tighten his grip, but its primitive mind slips through his fingers. Bounced out of its body, he glares at the still-yowling animal and says:
“I could just pick it up with helter skelter.” Narrowing his eyes, he continues: “I bet I could fling it all the way to the van.”
“You can’t do that!” Bill sounds horrified.
“Don’t you dare.” Annie glares at James. “There’s a better way.” Manifesting as a cat, she uses familiar to get it to follow her.  It happily trails her to the van, where Tom re-enters his body and opens the door. Once everyone is inside, Hoyt drives to the site of the rave. Tom ask Bill to stay in the vehicle, telling him that it might be dangerous. That’s certainly true, but it’s not the only reason Tom doesn’t want his brother there. If the news isn’t good, it will be harder to keep it from him. There’s no point in distressing him needlessly.
The warehouse is still classed as a crime scene, a evidenced by the fact that all the doors are sealed with police tape. That doesn’t really matter to the spooks, of course, but the cat is a different matter. James – who apparently really does hold a grudge against the poor thing – looks from the animal to the windows high up in the walls.
“You know,” he says, thoughtfully, “I bet it would land on its feet…” Annie shoots him a disgusted look, but before she can say anything Tom says:
“I’ll open a door.” Doing so tears the police tape, but none of them are particularly concerned about that. Once inside, they can see deep scorch marks in the concrete, which is crumbling in places. They can see the shapes of footprints etched into the floor. Presumably, those belong to the reaper that Tom saw. Aside from the three of them and the cat, the warehouse is completely deserted.
Annie concentrates, using forebode to look back to the night of the rave. Her heart skips a beat when the shard of Teresa appears before her, dressed as if for one of their outings to Chains. The apparition starts to dance, beckoning her forwards. She takes a step, and then another, and then… She is surrounded by people. They press in on all sides, hemming her in, dancing to music that makes her whole body vibrate. Strobe lights dazzle her eyes and she loses sight of Teresa. Before she can find her again, it begins to happen: people start dying. Waves of panic beat at her senses; a maelstrom of pain and death that nearly overwhelm her. She concentrates, the cat’s presence giving her the focus she needs to pick out one particular thread from all the others. ‘There!’ A petite Chinese woman shudders and falls, eyes turning glassy in death. Gauze starts to coalesce above the corpse, forming the outline of a hue. Barely have the details been filled in when a spectre swoops down and grabs her, flying out of the vision’s range. Then it ends. Annie shares her findings with the others.
“What do you want to tell him?” She asks Tom, softly. After some discussion, Tom decides to tell Bill that a spectre got her. He’s not going to say anything about Mayfair Green, or the fact that she’s probably been cemented into the walls for an eternity of torment. After all, there’s a chance that she still managed to get away, isn’t there? It’s a slim chance, but it still exists. There’s still hope.
Bill leaps to his feet as soon as they return to the van, his expression anxious.
“What happened? Did come back as a ghost? Did you see where she went?”
“I’m sorry, Bill. I’m afraid a spectre got her.” Bill looks distressed. Hurriedly, Tom adds: “At least she isn’t wandering around, not knowing what happened.” That doesn’t seem to help much.
“Is there any chance she’s still alive?”
“Well, neither of you are still alive but… Still around, you mean?” He shrugs. “Some ghosts got away.” Even if she probably wasn’t one of them. “Maybe. I don’t know.”
“Do you know where she would’ve ended up if she did manage to get away?”
“Probably her place, or her parents’ place.”
“Not necessarily,” says Annie, softly. “Ghosts tend to drift towards somewhere that was important to them in life. Not necessarily their home, but somewhere that meant something.”
“How would I find her?”
“The easiest way is just to go there and look.”
“She wasn’t at her flat,” he says, slowly.
“Her parents live out of state, don’t they?” Tom asks. Bill nods. “If she’s heading there, then she’ll still be in transit.” “I see.” Bill is looking a little overwhelmed. They go back to Liz’s flat to return her cat. Her mother immediately picks the animal up, cuddling it within an inch of its life. She starts berating her son for not latching the carrier properly, something he denies fervently. She gets more and more irate and then abruptly bursts into tears. The two men immediately try to comfort her. Bill watches the three of them quietly for a moment, and then turns to Tom. “Bro?”
“I’m going to take off for a bit. A few days, probably. I… I want to visit some places that are… That were important to us. To Liz. Just in case she’s there.”
“Are you going to be okay?”
“Don’t worry, I’ll be careful. I… This is just something I need to do.” Tom studies him for a moment or two, and then nods slowly.
“Okay.” He can’t keep his brother locked up, even if it does feel like his stomach is tying itself in knots at the thought of him being out there on his own. “Just take care of yourself. And be back by Thursday.”
Bill looks blank. “What’s happening on Thursday?”
“That’s when Liz’s funeral is being held. I, uh, thought you might want to go.”
“Oh. Yeah. Yes, thank you. I’ll be back for that.” He clasps Tom’s hand, and then turns and walks away, slowly. “Bye.”
“Goodbye, Billy.” Tom watches until his brother’s out of sight.
On Monday evening, Chet enlists Tom and Ben to help him move the invalids – only Kate and Zoë by this point – into one of the vans. He has decided that they need better medical attention than he can give them, and intends to possess one of the doctors at a nearby hospital so he can run some tests and perform a thorough check-up. There’s also the fact that their stocks of prescription drugs (like painkillers and antibiotics) are almost completely out, and this would be a good opportunity to acquire some more. Much to Annie’s annoyance, Chet insists that she comes along.
“But I’m fine,” she insists futilely, “I’m not an invalid.”
“You’re still throwing up every morning, aren’t you?”
“The tablets help.”
“They ease the symptoms. I want to establish the cause. Could be something serious.” He holds her gaze, not budging an inch until she gives a grudging nod.
“Fine.” She doesn’t sound happy. “But I doubt you’ll find anything.”
“Just be a good girl and take your medicine, Sergeant.” Chet’s parting remark doesn’t help her mood any.
“Told you so.” Neither does Kate’s.
Fortunately, there is a doctor asleep on one of the camp beds in the break room. Reasoning that the man probably won’t be missed for a little while, Chet dives into him. He examines the three women, taking blood samples so he can perform what his host’s mind tells him is the standard battery of tests. Kate’s and Zoë’s results don’t contain any surprises, but Annie’s is another matter. He tests it again, and then repeats it one more time for good measure: the result is still the same. He takes Annie aside for a quiet word.
“What is it?” Her expression is a mixture of curiosity and concern. It isn’t something serious is it? Is he going to tell her that she’s dying? What could it be?
“It’s...” Chet seems uncomfortable. If she didn’t know better, she’d say that he’s struggling for words. He clears his throat. “According to the tests, you’re pregnant.” She just gapes at him. That... Wasn’t at all what she was expecting to hear. Closing her mouth, she has to swallow a couple of times before she can actually speak. “What?”
“You’re pregnant, Sergeant.” He shifts a little where he stands. “Congratulations.”
“That’s not possible,” she breathes, mind stuttering like a skipping record. ‘But I haven’t... She didn’t... Did she?’
Chet’s discomfort deepens. “That’s what the test says. I ran it three times, just to be sure.” He shrugs, the clipped motion looking wrong on the doctor’s gangly frame.
“Huh.” She has no idea what to say. What can she say to a bombshell like this? In her mind, she can hear Mona saying “life goes on”. Apparently, it really does.
“Your condition could have some unusual biological effects, I suppose.” Unusually for him, Chet keeps talking. He really must be uncomfortable. “But there’s no reason to think that’s the case.”
“Huh,” Annie says again. She feels as though she’s just walked face-first into a brick wall. Her mind is a chaotic jumble of confused thoughts, but one in particular keeps floating to the surface. “I need to talk to Kate.”  Kate can help. Kate can tell her that this isn’t possible. Can’t she?
The journey back to Brooke House is a quiet affair: Tom is worrying about his brother, Kate and Zoë are exhausted and Annie is far too shaken by Chet’s bombshell to try to make conversation. Chet, never one to chatter at the best of times, seems to be lost in his own thoughts.
“It’s like a morgue in here,” Ben mutters. No one replies. Kate directs a few odd looks Annie’s way, but, like Annie, decides to hold the questions until they’re back at Brooke House. The attic may only a minimum of privacy – more a polite illusion of it than anything else – but that’s much more than they’re likely to get in the back of the van. This isn’t the kind of conversation Annie really wants to have in front of anyone else if she can help it. She hovers impatiently nearby while Kate is being settled down on her pile of blankets and checked over by Chet, resisting the urge to tell them to hurry up. The instant Kate’s on her own, she moves in and draws the curtain around them.
“I need to talk to you.”
Kate studies her. “What’s up, Kid?”
“I need to ask you a question.”
“Well, go on.” Kate gestures impatiently as she hesitates, wondering how exactly she’s supposed to ask this. “Don’t keep me in suspense.”
“While I was cut off from the two of you...” She grinds to a halt.
“Did Teresa sleep with anyone?”
“What?” A puzzled frown flashes across Kate’s face, only to be driven away a moment later by the flash of realisation. “Oh. Yes. Oh shit.”
“No,” says Annie, as her heartbeat yammers in her ears. “Oh fuck.” ‘This can’t be true, it can’t be true; it can’t be...’ “Which is apparently what she did.”
“Oh.” She doesn’t know what to say. It’s hard to think straight through the panic. “This is awkward.” And that’s an understatement.
“You’re telling me!” Kate sniffs. “She wasn’t shielding too well at the time, and I really didn’t need to be reminded how long it’s been since I last got laid.”
“Kate!” She doesn’t know why Kate’s bluntness shocks her so, but it does.
“What?” Kate raises an eyebrow at her. “Contrary to what you young people seem to think, your libido doesn’t just shut down when you reach forty, you know. And now I’m going to be stuck in bed for who knows how many fucking months. Too many no-fucking months, more like. Life’s a bitch, sometimes.”
“Too much information.” She really doesn’t want to hear about Kate’s sex-life – or, more properly, lack thereof – right now. Or at all, really. Gathering her scattered wits, she asks the second important question. “Who was it?”
Kate’s expression sobers. “Guess,” she says, quietly.
Annie nods, slowly. “Blink.” Just as she’d thought. She’s barely seen him since she ended up in Teresa’s body; not since that first, awful night. How is she going to tell him?
“What are you going to do?” Kate’s voice breaks into her thoughts.
“Apparently, I’m going to have a baby.” Unconsciously, she wraps her arms around her middle.
“You’re going to keep it, then?”
“How can I not?” Confused, she stares at Kate. “This is Teresa’s baby, not mine. I don’t have the right to...” She can’t bring herself to utter the phrase ‘abort it’, changing the words to: “To do anything other than keep it.” The thought honestly never crossed her mind. Kate’s expression is unreadable; her eyes distant.
“She might never come back.”
“It doesn’t matter.” ‘But we have to get her back. We have to.’ The thought that they might not – that Teresa might be a spectre forever – is like a knife in her heart. ‘I’m not leaving her like that. I can’t.’ “It doesn’t change my decision.”
With a weary sigh, Kate slides down in bed until she’s laying flat on her back, staring up at the ceiling. “It might be a moot point, anyway.”
“What do you mean?”
Kate shrugs. “May is a lot closer than September.”
“Oh.” And she isn’t living the safest of lives. How is her condition going to affect her effectiveness as a member of the group? For that matter, what effect will projecting have on the child? She has a lot to think about.
“Do you want me to tell him?”
Annie shakes her head. “No. I’ll do it.” ‘I should do it,’ she tells herself, but it’s a task she’s dreading.
“Are you sure? It might be easier this way.”
“Thank you for the offer, but no.” She draws in a deep, shuddering breath. “I have to tell him.” Now, if only she knew how...
It’s night-time by the time Annie gets back to the warehouse. Not giving herself time to change her mind, she projects and then goes to find Blink. ‘No time like the present...’ Unfortunately Blink, being the social and sociable creature that he is, isn’t on his own. He’s chatting to Adrian. She hovers indecisively for a short while, but the two of them show no signs of going their separate ways. In the end, she sighs inwardly, gathers up her courage and approaches the pair. Adrian notices her first.
“Good evening, fair lady.”
“Hello,” says Blink.
Adrian raises his eyebrows enquiringly. “Is there something either of us can do for you, or is this just a social visit?”
“Actually,” she says, making a conscious effort not to bite her lower lip nervously, “I’d like to talk to Blink.”
The man in question looks somewhat startled. “Here, or somewhere else?”
Jokingly, he starts to say: “Candlelit dinner for two, then,” but stutters awkwardly to a halt. Both of them wince and look away.
“Sorry to take away your companion,” she says to Adrian, who is looking curiously from one of them to the other. To Blink she says: “Shall we?” He nods, and the two of them step aside. Once they’re safely out of everyone else’s earshot, she turns to him and says: “I need to talk to you about Teresa.” Blink immediately looks like he’s bracing himself for bad news.
“What is it?”
“I... She...” Suddenly tongue-tied, she shakes her head and mutters: “How am I supposed to say this, anyway?”
“Go on,” he says, looking even more worried.
“Okay.” She takes a breath, and then forces the words out. They come out a little unsteady; a little rushed. “You’re going to be a father.”
For a moment or so he doesn’t react at all, but then he blinks slowly and says: “What?”
Slower this time, she repeats what she just said. “You’re going to be a father.” He continues to stare blankly at her. “She’s pregnant.” Blank stare. “Congratulations.” He stares at her for another moment or so, and then abruptly starts to cry. Hesitantly, Annie reaches out and pats him awkwardly on the shoulder.
“I’m sorry,” she says. “This probably wasn’t the best way to break the news. I didn’t mean to upset you, I’m sorry. I just thought you needed to know.” She babbles on a little while he gets himself under control.
“I’m sorry,” he says, finally. “It just… I...” He shakes his head. “This really wasn’t what I was expecting.” There’s a question in his eyes, and a conflict she can’t read. “You’re sure that…” He trails off. It takes her a moment before she realises what he’s asking.
“As far as I know, you’re the only person she’s been close to. No” – because it isn’t fair to leave him with that doubt – “you are the only one.”
“Oh.” He looks completely overwhelmed. Somewhat warily, he asks: “What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to have this baby,” she says, quietly.
“You’re going to keep it?” She nods. “Good. That’s good.” Relief shines in his eyes.
“This is Terri’s baby,” she says. “I can’t do anything else.”
“I want to raise it,” he says.
“I wasn’t sure if…” She wasn’t sure if he’d want to.
“Yes.” He nods his head vigorously. “ Yes, I do.” Wonderingly, he looks at her and then at the warehouse, where her body – Teresa’s body – is lying. “A father.” He shakes his head. “I can’t believe it. I mean, everything was so confusing. I think maybe I love her, and maybe she loves me, but I wasn’t sure. We just never really talked about it. Neither of us was looking for commitment.” The words burst out like water from a dam, and it takes him a visible effort to stop rambling. He swallows, pain showing in his eyes. “It hurt when she pushed me away.”
“She didn’t want to.” The words come out reluctantly. This is her rival, after all. “It wasn’t because of you. Doing that hurt her as well, but…” She shrugs, helplessly.
“I know it was… I figured it out when she and Kate told us about your connection. It explained a lot. But I didn’t know where I stood. Where we stood. We never really talked about anything like this. And… And… She made love to me like she was saying goodbye.” His face starts to crumple again.
“She would want this.” There are a lot of things Annie’s confused about right now, but this isn’t one of them. “She’d be panicking right now, of course.” ‘Just like I am.’ “But she would want this child. She would make the same decision.” And that’s why she can’t do anything else. This is what Terri would’ve wanted.
Blink sighs, looking at her as if seeing her for the first time. “I’m sorry I’ve been avoiding you,” he says, quietly. “I don’t resent you for what she did, not really.” ‘That means he does, doesn’t it?’ “But… It was hard to deal with. Looking at you reminded me…”
“I wouldn’t blame you for resenting me. I… I kind of resent myself.” She can’t look at him. She’s too afraid of what she’ll see in his eyes.
“It was her decision, Annie. You didn’t know she would do that.” His voice is gentler than she expected. “You couldn’t even hear her then, could you?”
She shakes her head. “No.”
“No one can talk Terri out of something once she’s made her mind up. She’s stubborn like that.”
“Yes, she is. But…” Blink doesn’t let her finish, neatly changing the subject.
“I never really got to know you before, at Orpheus.”
“I… Kept myself to myself.”
“And I’ve been avoiding you since.”
“That’s okay. I’ve… I’ve kind of been avoiding you, too.”
“But…” He takes a deep breath. “I’d like to get to know you now. I’d like to try. After all,” he flashes a lopsided smile. “If we’re going to be raising a child together, we should probably know each other.”
“You... You want me to…?” Her mind stutters and freezes. Being pregnant is one thing; being a mother is something else. The one might be a natural consequence of the other, but she hasn’t really thought that far ahead yet.
“You’re carrying this child,” he says, simply. “You’re its mother. If you want to be a part of its life, then I’m not going to push you away.” He looks uncertain. “Do you want to?”
She nods, once. “I’d like that.” This is Terri’s baby: of course she wants to be a part of its life. Even if the thought of raising a child is making her gibber inside.
Blink is starting to look faintly panicked again. “You’re not going to be able to project soon, are you?”
“I don’t know. I hadn’t really thought about it. No one really knows what effect projecting while pregnant will have on the child.” Just one more unique aspect of her increasingly unique condition. It’s all rather overwhelming. “There’s so much to think about. I’m... I’m going to have to be careful, aren’t I?”
Blink nods, looking pensive. “I never really worried about dying before. It didn’t seem all that important, you know? But now…” He trails off into a sigh. “Even if I’m careful, and don’t take unnecessary risks, I have terminal cancer. One way or another, I’m not likely to live to a ripe old age.”
“The cradle can help to put that in remission. I know of one case where the person was apparently cured completely.”
Blink frowns. “I don’t want my son or daughter to think of a cold black coffin as their father.”
“That’s not what they’ll be seeing.”
“I guess.” He sounds uncertain.
Annie shakes her head. “This isn’t something I thought I’d have to worry about. I’m not even thirty yet. And dead three years.” Is she really ready to be a mother? ‘It doesn’t matter: I don’t have a choice.’
“It’s not exactly something I was prepared for, either,” he says, softly. He shakes his head. “I think I’d like to be alone for a while. I need to think about this.”
“I understand.” So does she, and by ‘think about it,’ she means ‘panic quietly for a while.’
“Thanks for telling me.”
“You have a right to know. This is your child as well as hers. I couldn’t keep that from you.” She hesitates, then says: “Chet knows, and so does Kate. No one else.”
“I’m not planning on saying anything,” he says. “Not until you’re ready.”
“Thank you.” That comes as something of a relief. She knows the others are going to have to be told eventually, of course. Even aside from the obvious, it’s something they’re going to have to take into account when they make plans. But she’s glad she doesn’t have to deal with everyone else knowing right now. Not while she’s still trying to get the whole thing straight in her own mind.
He nods. “Goodnight, Annie.”
Tuesday morning’s headlines are all about the fact that Commissioner Kelly and his deputy have both tendered their resignations. It looks like a regime change is in the air. As far as the Phoenix group are concerned, this is will have little direct effect on them. Presumably, however, there’s some reason that Frank chose the commissioner as a scapegoat. Without Bill to focus on, Tom decides to go on a little ghost-hunting expedition to the university. He recruits James, Blink and Kerekov and Hoyt drives the four of them over there. (Kerekov seems a little surprised to be asked, but acquiesces easily enough. Tom thinks he understands that they’re planning on helping the ghosts rather than dissipating them.) Once at the university campus, they head straight for the frat house where Tom saw the Wisp. The steps of the building are littered with candles, flowers and other tributes. Apparently, they suffered a number of losses on Bounce Night, presumably the result of the tainted pigment. There are no ghosts wandering around outside this time, so they head into the building.
There is one ghost sitting in the lounge, apparently watching TV. Occasionally, he Inhabits the remote control to change the channel, apparently doing this unconsciously. Another ghost is singing to herself in the shower, and two poltergeists (both men) are wandering the halls. One of the poltergeists appears to be a blip, but the rest of them are drones or static repeaters. All four of them are hues. The blip seems to be trying to talk to people and getting quite frustrated when they don’t respond to him. If any of them are going to be trouble, it’ll be this one. Tom and James designate Blink as the official spokesperson, which he seems to accept without protest. He tries to engage the TV-watcher, getting his attention with magic tricks and patter. He tells the ghost about Brooke House, but the information doesn’t seem to penetrate. Five minutes after talking to Blink, he’s forgotten that the conversation has even taken place.
“This isn’t going to work, Tom,” Blink says. “They just don’t have enough awareness like this. If you want to give them a choice, we’re going to have to break at least one tether first. That has it’s own problems. Do we really want them to find out they’re dead like this? The poltergeists in particular are likely to just completely freak out, and they might end up hurting people.” He shakes his head. “It would be a lot easier for me to lead them into the van so we could just drive them to Brooke House.”
“Maybe you’re right,” Tom muses.
While the others are focusing on the drone downstairs, James concentrates, trying to sense the blip’s tethers. Four images float into his mind: a website titled ‘The Ten Raddist Bands’ (he’s positive that it’s ‘raddist’, rather than ‘raddest’), the blip hitting a home run across a baseball field, Angelina Jolie reading a letter, and the vast, peaceful ocean that all hues seem to have as a tether. He relays this information to the others and they discuss which one it would be best to try to break. (Kerekov doesn’t really take part in the discussion, merely listening silently.) The serene ocean is right out. The band is possible with a little judicious hacking, but they’d have to find out the name of the guy’s band first. The home run could be done but, again, requires a little research. The blip seems to be wearing team colours, but none of them recognise which team they belong to. It seems reasonable to assume he wants to hit the home run on their home ground. So, Angelina Jolie it is, then. All they need is someone who can look like her.
Tom calls Annie, who’s busy working on translating the prophecy back at the warehouse. She curses as her phone rings, making her jump.
“Want me to get that for you?” Adrian asks, helpfully.
“No thanks, I can manage.” Carefully laying the gauze tablet down on the floor, she dives back into her body (luckily, just next to her) and fumbles for her phone. “Hello?”
“How do you feel about Angelina Jolie?” As greetings go, that’s probably the most surreal one she’s ever had. Swallowing her instinctive response – ‘she’s pretty, but not as pretty as Terry’ – she says, cautiously:
“Why do you ask?” Tom explains about the blip and his tether, concluding with:
“So I thought if you looked like her, that might be enough. Do you think you could do that?”
“If I watch one of her interviews first, I can be her.” She’s a very good mimic. Looking over at the tablet, she feels torn. She has been neglecting it lately. On the other hand, breaking tethers is one way to remind herself that she’s still human. “Do you need me to come over there?”
“Hang on a minute.” Turning back to the others, he says:
“She can do it. Do we want to try?”
“You said it will take a lot of vitality,” Kerekov points out. “And there’s no guarantee that he won’t react badly, or even that he will want to go with us.”
“If we don’t want to draw any spook and spectre in the vicinity to this frat house, we’ll have to get him in the van first,” Blink points out. “It might be easier to take them all to Brooke House anyway. We can always see about breaking their tethers then.” James just shrugs, indicating that he doesn’t particularly mind either way. Tom considers the matter, weighing up the options. He makes a decision.
“Looks like we don’t need you after all. Sorry to disturb you.” He hangs up, and asks Blink to get the four hues into the van. Once at the other end, he does the same thing to get them into Brooke House, and Lo-Jack’s capable hands. All in all, it’s a job well done. Back in the warehouse, Annie glowers at the phone before laying it down next to her.
“Bloody typical,” she mutters, projecting once more and picking up the tablet. “Dragging me away from my translation for nothing!” She shakes her head.
“Good afternoon.” The voice breaks into Annie’s thoughts, unravelling her thread of concentration and making her lose her place. ‘What now?’ She can’t help a certain amount of irritation as she slowly looks up at whoever’s interrupting her now. There’s one particular line that’s been giving her trouble, and she’s sure she almost had it this time. It’s gone now, of course.
“Oh. Blink. Hi.” Apparently, the little ghost-wrangling expedition has returned to the warehouse.
“I hope I’m not disturbing you.” He smiles at her, somehow managing to defuse her irritation a little.
“Not really.” Interrupting maybe, but not really disturbing. “I’m working on the translation.” Which he can see for himself. Cautiously, she asks: “Is there something I can help you with?”
He crouches down so she doesn’t have to crane her neck quite so much. “I was wondering what you do to relax.”
She frowns, caught off-guard by the question. “This is pretty much it.” It’s not like there’s really much else to do around here, and she does enjoy the challenge of figuring out a dead language. Well, when she actually feels like she’s making progress, anyway.
He raises an eyebrow. “Really?”
“Yes. Why?” What does he want?
He ignores her question. “What about before we became fugitives?”
“Well...” It feels like that was a lifetime ago. “Terri and Zoe and I used to go out clubbing.” Which was pretty much the first time she’d ever interacted socially with anyone since her death.
“Now we’re getting somewhere,” he smiles. “What kind of music do you like?”
“Umm. It depends on my mood.” Somewhat bewildered now, she thinks about her answer. “Rock. Classical. Industrial. World music. Dance. Jazz. Folk.” She shrugs. “I like some examples from most genres. For clubbing, more or less anything with a decent beat.”
“Any artists in particular?” She names some. “Great. I’ll be right back. Don’t go anywhere.” And with that, he strides over to Shelley’s computer, leaving Annie staring after him.
“That was... Odd,” she murmurs to herself. ‘What is he up to?’
A short while later – she’s returned to trying to puzzle out that sentence again – Blink returns, looking pleased with himself.
“Shelley’s burning a CD as we speak. You can collect it from her on the way to the van.”
“The van? What?” The look she gives him is part irritation, part confusion. “What on earth are you up to?”
“The vans have our only CD players,” he says, patiently. “And we can actually have a private conversation in one of them.” He quirks an eyebrow. “We’re supposed to be getting to know each other, remember?”
“Yes, but...” She trails off, glancing over at the van and then back at him. “Now?”
“No time like the present.”
“But... There’s going to be gossip if we disappear into the van. With a CD of mood music, no less.”
“So? I stopped worrying about gossip a long time ago. Do you really care if they talk?”
“Well... Yes. A little.”
“I see.” He flashes a charming smile at her. “Then this will be good practice in learning not to. Now,” he reaches out a hand to help her up. “It’s time for you to get back into your body.” When she hesitates, he says. “Put the tablet down and step away, Dr Harper.”
“You can come back to it later,” he says firmly.
“You’re not going to give up, are you?” She asks, somewhat plaintively.
“I’m afraid not.” He doesn’t sound particularly regretful.
“Fine.” With a small sigh, she sets the tablet aside – ‘so close!’ – and steps gets to her feet. Blink doesn’t seem particularly offended when she ignores his outstretched hand, merely waiting patiently while she steps back into her body.
“I suppose so.” While thinking to herself, glumly: ‘I am never going to hear the end of this...’
Annie has to admit that Blink has done a good job with the music. It’s been a while since she’s really listened to any, and it seems she’s missed it more than she realised. Maybe Mona is right – maybe they should make time for something other than surviving, and the fight to stop the spectres. Even as the thought passes through her mind, though, it brings a hot flash of guilt. ‘There isn’t time,’ she thinks. ‘I need to finish that translation, or do something useful. Not sit here and listen to music.’ But then, that’s not the only reason she’s here. Getting to know the man she’s going to be raising a child with is also important. Isn’t it? With that in mind, she sits up a little, straightening from her somewhat cramped position and actually turning to look at Blink.
“What kind of music do you like?” The question is a little hesitant.
“Jazz, mostly.” They chat about music for a few minutes, which gives her the courage to ask another question, even if it is the same one he asked her earlier.
“What do you do to relax?”
“Aside from spending time with beautiful women, you mean?” His expression is the picture of innocence. He is, she notes, one of the few people she’s met who can actually pull that off.
“Aside from that.” Because she really doesn’t want to think of him and Terri together right now.
He settles back, his posture relaxed and open. “Magic tricks, mostly, and occasionally a spot of juggling.”
“Were you a professional magician?”
A quick head shake. “No, just a talented amateur. I’ve done a fair number of shows in my time, but it certainly wasn’t my day job.” He sighs. “There isn’t much room for old-fashioned sleight-of-hand in the business any more. It’s all smoke and mirrors; gimmicks and technical wizardry. Which is all well and good, but all the clever gadgets in the world can’t replace true artistry.” There’s no bitterness in his voice or his demeanour, but this is obviously a subject he feels strongly about.
Annie casts around for another question to ask – ‘I used to be better at this, dammit!’ – but he gets there first.
“So,” he says, tilting his head a little enquiringly. “Tell me about yourself.”
“What do you want to know?”
“For starters, how did you end up becoming fluent in more languages than I’ve had hot dinners? That’s not something you see everyday.”
“My parents are anthropologists,” she says. “They used to take us with them on their travels, and I guess I picked up the local languages fairly easily. When I got old enough, I went into the same line of work.” Glancing up, she notices that Blink is frowning. “Is something wrong?”
“Just... Speaking of parents made me think of something.” His eyes are troubled. “If we do ever manage to clear our names and come in from the cold, what do you want to do about Teresa’s parents? What do we tell them?”
“I don’t know. I hadn’t really thought that far ahead.” Panic roils in her breast. “They’re... They’re going to hate me. I’ve stolen their daughter’s body.”
“That’s not exactly true, though.”
“It’s how they’ll see it,” she insists. “And what about the baby? It’s their grandchild, too.”
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” He has to be just as worried as she is – what if Teresa’s parents fight him for custody? – but he somehow manages to sound reassuring. Now, that’s a magic trick and a half. “It might be easier just to tell them that she’s gone,” he murmurs, more to himself than to her.
“We’re not giving up on her.”
“No. No, of course not. But there are no guarantees, and with everything that’s happened... It might be easier for them to accept. To grieve and move on.”
“I don’t know. I think... I think we should do what you said: cross that bridge when we come to it. There’s no point in worrying about it now.”
“Okay.” He seems just as relieved as she is to drop the subject of Teresa’s parents. “What about your parents?”
“What about them?”
“Are you going to go and see them?”
“I don’t know.” ‘I seem to be saying that a lot lately.’ “I hadn’t really thought about it.” ‘And that.’
“Have you seen them? Do they know that you’re...” He hunts for a suitable way to phrase it, settling on: “Still around?”
“No and no. I thought it would be too much for them. I didn’t want to cause them any more pain.” They’d already had more than enough of it, losing first their sons and then their daughter. Parents aren’t supposed to outlive their children.
“If I had a daughter,” Blink says, “I think I’d want to know. I think it would help.” He stops, a look of startlement in his eyes. “I suppose I might have a daughter,” he says, slowly. “Or a son. It’s still... I don’t think it’s quite sunk in yet.”
“You and me both,” she says softly.
“Are you eating properly?” He asks, suddenly. “I’ve been doing some research online. There are supplements you can take; vitamins you’ll need. We should add them to the list for the next pharmacy run.”
“Which will handily take care of telling the rest of the group about my condition,” she notes drily.
“It won’t necessarily be that obvious,” he says. “And we’re going to have to tell them soon, anyway. You might not be able to project for much longer, and you should definitely try to avoid field work where possible.”
“We’re short-handed as it is,” she points out. “One person can make a big difference. I’ll be as careful as I can, but what if I’m needed?”
“Terri needs you to take care of her baby,” he says. “That has to come first.” That was a low blow. It takes her breath away; leaves her reeling emotionally. He must realise the effect it has on her, for his next words are gentle; his expression sympathetic. “I know this is hard, and I know it’s a big adjustment to make, but you’re pregnant. You’re going to have to get used to putting yourself and your child first. Even if that means playing it safe. Even if it means hanging back when you would otherwise have charged in.” Somewhere at the back of her mind, she wonders when she became the kind of person who would charge in. She never used to be that person: she was always the cautious one; especially after her first, disastrous missions as an Orpheus spook. Then again, there was a time when she would never have dared to tell other people what to do, either, and she’s certainly been doing her fair share of that lately. ‘I guess I’ve changed more than I thought.’
Her thoughts are in confusion, but all she says aloud is: “I know that, and I am trying to adjust. It’s just... I only found out yesterday.”
“I know,” he says, still gentle, but she isn’t finished yet.
“And it’s all very well for me to try to play it safe, but what if I am needed? What if there’s no other choice but to go out there and do something dangerous?”
“Then I suppose we’ll just have to deal with that if it happens,” he says. She doesn’t think that’s the last he’s going to say on the subject, but he doesn’t push any further right now. “Are you getting enough sleep?”
“Yes.” She can’t quite help the edge in her voice. It makes her sound petulant, which she hates. How can she convince people that she’s capable of looking after herself when she sounds like a sullen teenager?
“If you’re having trouble sleeping,” he says, cautiously, “then I might be able to help.”
“How?” The look she gives him is full of suspicion.
“Unearthly repose. That is more or less what it does, after all: put people into trances. I don’t think it would take much more work to trance someone to sleep.”
“No.” The word is out almost before he finishes speaking; her response instinctive and final. She tries to soften it by appending a: “Thank you.” He doesn’t seem offended.
“Well, the offer’s still there,” he says, shrugging his shoulders gracefully.
“Thank you,” she says, again. And, because it’s been weighing on her mind since she thought of it this morning: “What if... What if the tests are wrong?” She doesn’t look at him. “Chet said that there might be some odd biological side-effects of my unique condition. What if I’m not...? If she’s not...?”
“Then we’ll deal with that as and when we find out,” he says, firmly.
“Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything. Not without being absolutely certain.”
“I would rather know, Annie. Even with the uncertainty.”
“Stop worrying. It’s out of our hands now, and worrying isn’t going to change things one way or the other.”
“I know, but...” She sighs, heavily. “That’s easier said than done, but I’ll try.”
The CD player moves onto another track; one that seems to be a favourite for both of them. That realisation serves as a catalyst for a more in-depth discussion about music.
“You really do have eclectic tastes,” he murmurs amusedly, at one point.
“I blame my parents. Well,” she amends, “probably my mother rather than my father. One of her favourite areas of research was music as an expression of culture. She made us listen to a lot of music.” A brief smile. “The classic rock is entirely down to my father’s influence, however.”
“Were you close to your parents?”
She nods. “Yes.” With a tight, pained smile, she says: “After I died, they donated money to the university for a new wing of the library. They named it after me, in memorial.”
“Have you been there?”
“Yes. I like it there. It feels peaceful. I haven’t been in a while, though.” It must be well over a year since her last visit; maybe nearer two. “What about your parents?”
“I haven’t seen or spoken to my father in years. We’re not exactly close. My mother died some time ago.”
He half-smiles. “No need to apologise. It wasn’t your fault.”
“You know that’s not what I meant. It was an expression of sympathy, not an apology.”
“Anyway,” he says, changing the subject. “You were telling me about your background.”
“You were. You are now, anyway. So, what was it like, growing up all over the world?” He draws her out with skilful questions and the occasional barely-noticed prod, and she finds herself actually opening up to him. She surprises herself by even talking about her brothers. Happy memories, but with a bittersweet edge. “How many siblings do you have?”
“Had. Two brothers; younger than me.” She takes a deep breath. “They died.”
“I’m sorry.” He sounds grave.
“That’s okay.” She attempts a smile, but she’s not sure how convincing it is. “No need to apologise. It’s not your fault.” He takes the hint and changes the subject.
They talk about lighter subjects for a little while: music, travel, magic tricks, amusing anecdotes (mainly contributed by Blink). She’s not quite sure how the conversation turns to friends and acquaintances, and from there to lovers, but some how it ends up with Blink asking her:
“So, is there anyone at the moment?”
“What do you mean?”
“Are you in a relationship?”
“Oh. No.” She laughs a little. “There aren’t too many people interested in ghost girls.”
“Then Terri was obviously taking you to the wrong clubs,” he twinkles back at her, and then raises his eyebrows as something occurs to him. “But you said you went to Chains.” He shakes his head disbelievingly. “If you can’t find any guys there who are interested in ghosts, then you’re really not trying.”
“I... Guess not.”
“And then there are ghosts themselves. I’m sure they – well, the self-aware ones at any rate – are just as interested in forming relationships as the living are.”
“I’m sure they” – ‘we’ – “are. But, to answer the question you asked: there isn’t anyone.” Firmly, she adds: “And there isn’t likely to be.”
“That was very definite.”
“Given the situation, and my condition, I think it’s a fairly safe statement to make.”
“I tend to find there are few things in this world that are truly certain.”
“Maybe.” She considers him for a moment. “Why did you want to know?”
“You’re carrying my child,” he says, simply. “I would like to know about anyone else who might be involved in their life. And...” The brilliant smile he turns on her somehow manages to melt away a little of her discomfort at this line of questioning. “I find getting things like this out in the open right away greatly reduces the potential for awkwardness later on. I mean, can you just picture the scene? A man is visiting his lady friend when, out of the blue, a charming stranger stops by to enquire after the health of his child that she’s carrying. That could make things a little strained, don’t you think?”
She finds herself chuckling a little. “Yes, that would be awkward.” Unlikely, but awkward. “Charming stranger?”
Blink casts his eyes down modestly. “I only repeat the words of others, dear lady. And now, I believe we were getting to know each other...”
Blink tells her about his life. His parents divorced at an early age and he went to live with his mother. She died of cancer, and he hasn’t really had any contact with his father. Annie’s surprised to hear that Blink’s been married and divorced. He skirts around the subject, but reading between the lines it seems that things started to fall apart when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. When he finishes his brief account, he looks at her, eyes narrowing in thought.
“What?” She feels a little self-conscious under his regard.
“Forgive me for being indelicate.” As if asking about her love life wasn’t sufficient indelicacy for one conversation. “I wouldn’t normally ask this question of a lady, but... How old are you?”
“I was twenty-three or so when I died. I suppose that would make me almost twenty-six now.”
“Hmm. You’re about a decade younger than me.”
“You’re thirty-five?” Somehow, she always thought he was younger than that.
“A couple of years older than that, even. Practically an old man.”
“Hardly.” A decade isn’t that much. Maybe once upon a time she would have thought so, but, well, Teresa is thirty-three. Somehow, that puts it in perspective.
“Do you...” He hesitates a little, which is unlike him. “Did you ever work out whether ghosts can’t fade after three years, or if it’s just that they started appearing for the first time after the millennium?”
“I think there were probably ghosts before the millennium. I think something happened that dispersed them all, and that’s why we’ve never found any older than that.” She shrugs. “That’s my hypothesis, anyway. Why do you want to know?”
“Between my cancer and the dangers of our situation, there’s a better than even chance I’m going to end up as a ghost in the not too distant future.” His eyes are grave and slightly sad. “I would like to be around to watch my child grow up.”
“Oh.” There isn’t much she can really say to that. “Did you ever talk to Tom Hayes? He was diagnosed with terminal cancer before joining Orpheus, but it went into complete remission once he’d spent a lot of time in the cradles. The doctors weren’t sure exactly why, but now you’re back in there maybe it’ll at least slow the progression down.”
“I spoke with Tom. He’s... He was a very angry man; very suspicious. He certainly didn’t seem to think of his “cure” as any kind of miracle. He suspected that Orpheus might have had something to do with his illness in the first place, and that’s why it cleared up once they had him on their payroll.”
“I’d heard he thought something like that, among other things.” Like Craig, Tom was deeply into conspiracy theories. “I never really spoke with him about it, though.”
“He’d been doing some investigating towards the end of last year. He was in the cradles on New Year’s eve.”
“I didn’t know that.” That explains why Blink is speaking of him in the past tense. Even if Tom survived N’Kejeda’s shotgun blasts, he’s unlikely to have lived through the building coming down on top of the cradles. “Maybe he came back as a ghost.”
“Maybe.” But then, where is he? Why hasn’t he got in touch? Maybe his ghost never even formed. Or maybe he was captured by the same people who took Shelley. Even now, Terrel & Squib’s researchers could be carrying out their experiments on him... All in all, it’s better to think he never came back at all.
Bleak silence falls; both of them lost in dark thoughts. After a few moments, Blink clears his throat, giving her a somewhat rueful smile.
“I seem to have inadvertently killed the conversation,” he says. “Please accept my most humble apologies.” The corners of her own mouth lift a little.
“Oh, I don’t know. I think I have to take my fair share of responsibility for its untimely demise.”
“You are too kind, my lady.” Although seated, he somehow manages to sketch out an elegant bow. Although he manages to rescue the mood a little, neither of them seem to feel like much more conversation. When Annie starts to make noises about needing to get back to her translation, he makes no objection, saying: “I’ve probably kept you from it long enough.”
“And we’ve given the others more than enough to gossip about.”
“That too.” He doesn’t seem in the least bit remorseful.
“I’ll take that as a compliment.”
That night, James decides to spend some time practicing his new horror. Ben has this watch shift. He glances up as James emerges from his cubicle and heads for the newly-designated Nursery (nothing more than a couple of spare camp beds at the moment), giving a nod of greeting before looking back down. He seems to be writing something in a notebook. James projects.
“What are you writing?” He asks, as he wanders by.
Ben closes the notebook. “Nothing much. Just a way of keeping my thoughts in order.”
“Like a diary?”
“Something like that.” Ben shakes his head. “This is some pretty heavy shit we’re going through.
“Yeah.” No one could really argue with that. Remembering that Ben’s a poltergeist as well, he says: “Hey – did you know I found my third-tier horror?” He tells Ben what he knows about its capabilities (which isn’t actually all that much at the moment) and says he’s planning on doing some experiments.
“Sounds cool,” says Ben. “Let me know what you find out.”
“Will do.” Spotting Ben’s half-drunk cup of coffee, James thinks about making one for himself and then remembers that he’s in gauze form. That gives him an idea. Concentrating, he congeals a mug of coffee. Well, it’s a mug of some gauzy liquid anyway. He takes an experimental swallow and almost gags. It’s not that it tastes bad, exactly. In fact, it doesn’t really taste like very much of anything. But he can feel the gauze separating from him even as it slips down his throat to be re-absorbed. It’s kind of like eating his own finger, if the finger was still transmitting sensory information as it slipped down his gullet. All in all, it’s a rather strange and not exactly pleasant experience. Ben is watching him with raised eyebrows.
“No, not really.” James reabsorbs the gauze. That’s one experiment he won’t ever be repeating.
“You’re a strange fucker, Darkwood.” Ben seems amused. Shaking his head, he flips open his notebook again and continues writing.
It’s so quiet and peaceful that one could almost forget that it’s ninety-three days to the apocalypse.
Part Two – Bits and Pieces
“This is … broadcasting to all new listeners … sure most of you have heard about the Phoenix Group … group of guys and gals, living, dead … somewhere in between. Framed for a crime they didn’t commit, on the run from both the authorities … far nastier … you know how to contact them, heh, … I’m sure you know the rest … just saying that they’re a group of generally righteous people who’re … their best to make the New York afterlife … much better. Radio Free Death …”
Wednesday passes fairly quietly. Freddie the Ear’s article appears in the New York Times. It actually turns out to be the first of a series: a column titled “Life on the Run”. Frank comes out of it smelling of roses and looking very much like the brains behind the operation. The rest of them come out of it okay. Well, it’s an improvement on what the press were saying, at any rate. The paper gets passed around the group, and Craig makes sure to get hold of the rest of the series when they come out.
With Bill off on his walkabout, Tom has been staying at the warehouse. He practices a little with Deadwire, but mostly takes things easy. His body still hasn’t recovered from the effects of his gauze being shot full of holes, so he’s hoping that resting up a little will help the healing process along. He occasionally asks Shelley if she’s made any progress with Radio Free Death’s reply to their message, but she either doesn’t reply or impatiently tells him she’s working on it. Still, that’s more than anyone else – except possibly Craig – are likely to get out of her. She seems to have taken a liking to Tom.
James works on his third-tier horror, which he has yet to name. He enlists Annie’s help, since she has a great deal of experience with this kind of experimentation. It soon becomes apparent that this is much more than just a very powerful helter skelter. He seems to be able to use it to alter gravity for him or for other spooks, allowing them to perform feats like running directly up walls and across ceilings. Also, unlike helter skelter, it seems to be able to affect spooks. He seems quite pleased with his new bag of tricks. For their part, everyone else appreciates its side-effect: he is now able to drastically reduce the amount of vitality someone has to channel into a horror. As long as he’s around, therefore, that means no more spikes.
Annie experiments with her own new ability, deciding to swipe Ben’s suggestion and name it ‘swarm queen’. She also continues to work with Kerekov on refining a way of countering mind and emotion-manipulating horrors with wail. Now that there are no immediate crises hanging over their heads, she even manages to spend some time on the gauze tablet, deciphering a little more of the prophecy. True to his word, Blink starts keeping her company and making an effort to get to know her a little better. He’s a very good conversationalist, and is apparently never short of an amusing anecdote or two to make the time pass pleasantly. If anyone has something to say about the two of them spending time together, they don’t say it to Annie.
Figuring that Ben probably wants to get hold of some big guns of his own, James puts him in touch with his some of his street contacts. Ben seems to appreciate the gesture and starts putting feelers out. He also disappears off for a while to investigate the current state of the New York pigment scene. When he comes back, he tells them that the supply in the city seems to have completely dried up. The cops are really cracking down on the trade – every single newspaper seems to have an article about a stash being seized, or dealers being thrown in jail – and the dealers are running scared.
The group vote in favour of setting up a mobile base, and John – wincing at the expenditure – sets about making it happen. He thinks it’ll take about a week and a half to get hold of everything. He, Hoyt and Chet take on the task of putting everything together. This project does mean that they’re going to need a serious injection of funds sometime soon. On Wednesday evening, Bill turns up at the warehouse.
“I couldn’t find her,” he tells Tom, looking stricken. Tom tries to comfort him, but doesn’t really know what to say. In any case, they need to set off soon if they’re going to make the funeral tomorrow morning. Hoyt offers to drive the two of them there. The funeral is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a sombre affair. There are lots of people dressed in white, but Tom and Bill are the only two spooks present. (Apparently, unlike in the films, there really don’t tend to be that many ghosts hanging around in graveyards. Instead, they tend to be drawn towards places that meant something to them in life.) Bill remains quiet and despondent on the journey back.
“What do you want to do now?” Tom breaks the silence.
“I don’t know.” Bill shoots him a look filled with frustration. “What can I do? I’m dead.”
“Well, you could…” Inspiration strikes as he tries desperately to think of something. “They’re fairly short-handed at Brooke House. You could help out there.”
“Really? What kind of help do they need.”
“I don’t know. Organisers, maybe. Counsellors. People to move the less aware ghosts around on occasion. If you’re interested, you could talk to Mona or Lo-Jack.”
“Yeah, maybe I will. Thanks Bro.”
Back at the warehouse, Thursday passes much like Wednesday. The funeral party won’t be back until sometime the next day. When Friday rolls around, Annie decides that it’s high time they followed up on the Walters lead.  Rather than just rushing in as per their recent tactics, however, they’re going to have to do some investigation first. Just like being back at Orpheus, apart from the fact that they have to do their own investigating, rather than having an entire research department to do that for them. Having a fairly healthy survival instinct, she asks for volunteers to go with her.
“I’ll go,” says James.
“Thanks.” They start to plan the expedition.
“Where are you off to?” Ben comes in part-way through the conversation. “A field trip?”
“Chicago,” offers James.
“Following up on the Walters lead,” Annie clarifies.
“Walters? The Marion Prison nut job?” Ben’s eyes narrow as his memory furnishes the details. “The rapist?”
“That’s the one. RFD said he might be in the vicinity of his old house in Chicago.”
Ben folds his arms across his chest. “You ain’t going down there without a proper babysitter. No fucking way.”
“I wasn’t planning on it,” Annie starts to say, but he keeps talking.
“I’m going with you.” He glowers at the pair of them as if daring them to disagree.
“Okay,” says James, with a shrug.
“Thank you,” says Annie.
He nods, pulling up a chair. “So, what’s the plan?”
“Do some investigation; see if the lead plays out. This is purely a research operation at this stage: we are not planning on engaging the target.”
“You’ve been spending too much time around Chet, Blondie – you’re starting to sound like him.”
Ignoring Ben’s commentary, she continues: “We should see what we can find out online first, and then go down there in person.”
“Just as long as you know you’re not going anywhere near the guy.”
“I wasn’t going to!” She throws up her hands in frustration. “How reckless do you think I am?”
“You really want me to answer that?”
“Fuck off, Ben.”
“No chance of that, Babe. I’m sticking to you like glue on this one.” She prepares to fire back another retort, but stops at the genuine concern in his eyes. ‘He’s actually worried,’ she notes with surprise. The realisation deflates her indignation somewhat, so all she says is:
He shoots her suspicious look. “No argument?”
“Nope. None.” It’s actually kind of sweet, she reflects. Not that she thinks he’d appreciate the sentiment, so she keeps it to herself.
“Good.” After a moment he continues: “Well? Don’t you have work to do?”
“Good point.” James goes to grab the laptop. Well, actually a laptop, since John has just purchased a couple of cheap ones.
“We have work? What about you?”
“More your thing than mine.” He puts his feet up, leaning back in the chair. “I’ll supervise.” He grins as she glares at him. “You know what I could do with, Babe?”
“I have some suggestions.” None of which are particularly polite.
In answer, he slides his empty mug across the table to her. “A coffee.”
Pointedly, she ignores the mug. “Are you going to be this much of a pain in the arse during the trip?”
He pretends to think about it for a moment. “Signs point to yes.”
“Great,” she mutters. James quietly starts getting on with the research.
James manages to find some news archives with articles about Walters (including one with a picture of the man) and about the Chicago incidents. Within the past year, there have been seven rapes. The victims were all professional women and the attacks all took place near one of the business districts (the one closest to Walters’ house). There are few details about the attacks themselves (and, understandably, none about the identities of the victims), but the officer in charge of the investigation has been quoted as saying that certain similarities to Walters’ MO mean they think they might be looking at a copycat. That’s all the information they can dig up, so they figure that they might as well set off. After all, Chicago is a twelve hour drive away. (Being on the FBI’s wanted list, they can’t exactly just take a plane.)
They leave a message asking Tom if he can get hold of the police files for the attacks. When Tom gets the message, he asks Shelley to do it, figuring that she’s much better at going through electronic information than he is, even if he has more experience of police filing systems. She agrees without complaining too much, and he gives her vitality before she even has to ask for it. It doesn’t take long for her to retrieve the files, and she sends them to the three investigators. Naturally, she doesn’t actually tell them that she’s done so. Instead, Tom checks that she’s forwarded the information and then lets them know. They’ve taken one of the laptops with them, and James and Annie go through the information en route. (Ben is currently driving.)
The police reports make for exceedingly unpleasant reading. Four of the women were attacked in their homes and three were outside, near the business district. All of the attacks took place on weekday evenings. The four women assaulted in their homes had had previous contact with Walters through his job as a home security expert. Two of them had actually been his victims previously, and had given evidence against him at his trial. Each one of the attacks followed exactly the same pattern. After experiencing a loss of control of their bodies, the women were subjected to a horrific sexual assault. The three women who were attacked outside all found themselves walking into a deserted alleyway without their own volition. (It wasn’t the same one in each case, but they were certainly in the same area.) The assaults invariably consisted of anal penetration followed by their assailant forcing them to perform fellatio on him. This was Walters’ MO and, together with the victim profile and the proximity to the business district, is what has convinced the police that they are dealing with a copycat. Walters himself tended to move around a lot, using a van that he hid in business district car parks. The police suspect this attacker of doing the same.
None of the houses showed any signs of a break-in. All of the victims are, understandably, extremely traumatised. None of them really remember their attacker very clearly. The vague descriptions they give are certainly consistent with Walters’ appearance, but are not definitive. (Of course, since he is believed to be dead, he isn’t exactly a suspect.) When the attacks first started, they were occurring weekly. The interval between them, however, has been steadily increasing. The last incident was about four weeks ago. The police psychologist who put together the profile of the attacker speculates that the reason for this increased spacing is that the attacker has moved on to murder. He thinks they simply haven’t found the bodies yet. The report notes that a number of women matching the victim profile have disappeared lately.
To the Phoenix spooks, this evidence supports the fact that Walters himself is behind these attacks. The victims’ loss of control can easily be attributed to puppetry, and the lack of any signs of a break in to the fact that he just walked straight through the door or walls. The spacing of the attacks could indicate that he is either a sleeper or a ghost, and it simply takes that long for him to recover sufficient vitality. If the psychologist’s speculation is correct, then he’s still probably committing at least one attack a week.
The police files leave all three investigators quite shaken. Although they did come up with a cover story to explain why they might be asking questions about the attacks (reporters doing a story), they know that there’s no way they can interview those poor women. Similarly, using puppetry on them is right out of the question. Fortunately, they have other ways of gathering information. It’s getting late by the time they arrive in Chicago, so they decide to check into a motel and start their investigation the next morning. The place they choose can’t precisely be classed as luxury accommodation – they opt for cheapness over quality – but at least it has the advantage of containing proper beds.
“I could get used to this,” Ben says, kicking off his shoes and stretching out. “I’d almost forgotten what a real bed feels like.”
“You can take third watch,” Annie says, “since you did most of the driving.” With a hostile puppeteer (possibly Skinrider) on the loose, there’s no question of them not setting watches.
“Yes, Sergeant.” Lazily, he gives her a mock-salute.
“And don’t call me Sergeant,” she says, irritably.
“’Course not, Sergeant.” She starts to tell him to fuck off, but then notices something that drives the irritation right out of her mind. Hardly daring to breathe, she goes to check, confirming her suspicions. ‘I was right!’
“This place has a power shower,” she breathes.
“Yeah?” Ben sounds interested. “Could do with a decent shower.” He starts to get up, but Annie is too fast.
“I bags it first,” she calls as she locks the door behind her.
“That ain’t exactly fair.” He sounds a little aggrieved. “I did drive your arse down here.” Silence. “Hey, Blondie!” The gentle hissing of water is his only reply. “Fucking typical.”
The next morning, they drive out towards the business district to visit some of the attack sites. The idea is that Annie will use forebode to look back and see if the assailant really was Walters. They think it almost certainly is, but it can’t hurt to be sure. Leaving their bodies in Ben’s care, they project and head for one of the houses mentioned in the report. James uses the benefit of his third-tier horror to ensure that Annie doesn’t have to channel enough vitality to cause a spike. Drawing the attention of the local spooks would not seem to be the best of ideas right now. If Walter is close enough to sense it, then all their precautions would be for nothing. Even before she begins, Annie can sense the welter of emotions clinging to this place. It’s like it’s seeping into her gauze, leaving her feeling unclean and on edge. James seems cheerfully oblivious, but that doesn’t surprise her. She has a theory that this new sensitivity to sites of emotional events is a side-effect of her particular version of forebode. It’s certainly something she’s noticed since she started to develop the horror. Or maybe it’s simply a holdover from having a mental connection to two Banshees... ‘But now I’m just procrastinating.’ This isn’t the time for theory; it’s the time for action. She doesn’t really want to do this, but she makes herself concentrate, summoning up her spirit guide. ‘This is going to be bad...’ And it is.
She thought the emotional residue of this place was bad enough, but this is something else again. Raw and immediate; breaking over her like a tidal wave, flooding her mind until she can’t see, can’t breathe, can’t think straight. All she can do is feel. Disbelief: this just can’t be happening. It can’t! Jagged edges of pain. Terror making her heart race, driving her towards flight. And, under it all, the brittleness of humiliation and hopelessness. It drains her energy, saps her will to fight; to do anything except curl up and whimper. But this isn’t her; these aren’t her emotions. Clinging grimly to that thought, she makes herself concentrate, pushing it all away until the only thing that’s left is her. And then she’s out the other side again. The emotions are still there, but they’re not overwhelming any more. ‘How long...?’ She wonders, but it can’t have been more than a second or two at the most. It just felt a lot longer.
Her spirit guide appears before her; or maybe she’s been there all along. Whatever the case, Terri just won’t stop screaming. ‘It’s not really her; it just looks like her.’ But no matter how desperately Annie tells herself that, it doesn’t help. Teresa is pointing at something behind her. She turns to see a man in an orange prison jumpsuit; a man she recognises as Walters. The woman who he’s walking towards clearly can’t see him; has no idea that he’s there. Annie instinctively calls out to her, trying to warn her even though she knows it’s hopeless: this has already happened. It happens again before her eyes. Walters pauses for a moment, looking at the woman – at his victim – and then he disappears from view, diving into the woman to puppet her. ‘What is he doing?’ Annie is puzzled. Walters obviously isn’t going to take his victim somewhere else: the report clearly stated that the attack took place right here. The woman’s hands start to move over her body. ‘Oh.’ Sickened, she turns away as Walters uses his unwilling host’s flesh to pleasure himself. ‘Please let him have put her mind to sleep. Please.’ But he didn’t: she knows that even before she hears the woman start to sob. Looking back, she sees Walters standing there again. He manifests before her eyes, physically reaching for the crying, shaking woman. His victim. It looks like he’s following the script described in the reports. ‘I really don’t want to see this.’ But she can’t look away, and the emotions are starting to overwhelm her again... Thankfully, that’s when the vision breaks up.
It’s a moment or two before Annie can speak, not trusting her either her voice or her expression. What she witnessed – what she felt – makes her feel physically ill. When she’s sure she has herself under control, she turns to James and says:
“It was him.”
“Did you see where he came from, or where he went?”
She looks blankly at James for a moment as she parses the question. “Oh. No, I’m afraid not.”
“Could you do it again? Try to see where he went afterwards?” He wants her to...? She looks at James, horrified. ‘Again?’ But she doesn’t speak her instinctive refusal, realising that James is right: they need to know where he’s going to ground.
“I can’t use the same site. One of the limitations of forebode.” A foreboder’s first impressions of a past scene seem to be locked, somehow, making it very difficult to see anything further with repeat viewings. “We’ll have to go to another site.”
“Let’s do that, then.”
“Fine.” They head back to the van.
“Well?” Ben looks enquiringly at them. “You see anything?”
‘Too goddamn much,’ Annie thinks, but all she says aloud is: “It was him.”
“So, what now?”
“We need to go to another site,” says James. “Annie’s going to see if she can find out where he went.”
“Any one in particular?” James just shrugs, looking at Annie.
“No preference.” In all likelihood, they’re all going to be as bad as each other. “Whichever’s closest, I guess.”
“Yes, Ma’am, Sergeant, Ma’am!” She doesn’t reply, lost in her own thoughts. Ben looks back at her in the mirror, frowning. “Hey, you okay?”
“Just drive the fucking van.” She wants to get this over with as quickly as possible. ‘Before I change my mind.’
The next site is no better. The only upside is that she’s looking just past the attack, rather than at the event itself, but the place is still saturated with emotion. Trying to focus past it, to see Walters’ departure, is like trying to look at a tiny candle-flame when there’s a massive bonfire blazing just behind it. It takes a great deal of concentration before Teresa appears before her. There’s a flash of something reflected in her eyes; movement that draws Annie in until she is standing in the past again, watching Walters walk by. The sound of muffled sobbing comes from behind her, but she doesn’t turn around. She can’t bring herself to look at what he’s left behind him. Instead, she follows him as he dematerialises and walks through the front door. There is just time to see him moving down the street, on foot, before the vision ends. He seems to be heading towards the business district. She reports this to James, who asks her to look even further along, if she can.
“I don’t know,” she says, tightly. “The further away from the…” Attack. Atrocity. Tragedy. “… Event we get, the harder it is to focus. I can try, but not here.”
“Let’s go to another site, then,” he says.
“Fine.” ‘Let’s just do this all damn day, shall we?’
When they get back to the van, Annie doesn’t wait for Ben to ask where they’re going now.
“Next nearest house along,” she tells him.
“No luck?” After checking the address, he starts the van and pulls away.
“Nothing useful. He left on foot, heading towards the business district. There were vehicles parked nearby, but there wasn’t really enough time to see if he was going to one of them.”
“Didn’t ripcord, then,” Ben muses.
“Maybe he’s not a skimmer,” suggests James. After a moment’s thought, he adds: “Or his body was close by.”
“Who knows?” Annie says, distantly. She doesn’t really want to talk about this any more. Glancing over at James she says, on a complete change of subject: “That new ability of yours is bloody useful. I could definitely get used to it.”
“Yeah, it’s great for you.” James sounds a little peeved. “I’m the one who actually has to use vitality.” Raising her eyes to his, Annie fixes him with a flat, level stare.
“I’d gladly swap.” Her voice is utterly cold. “Do you want to?”
James looks away, fidgeting uncomfortably. “No, I guess not,” he mutters. “Anyway, he continues in a stronger tone. “That’s not possible, is it?”
“I suppose it isn’t,” she observes. The rest of the journey passes in an uncomfortable silence.
“Next target coming up,” announces Ben, a short while later.
“Let’s get this over with, then,” sighs Annie. She and James don’t head inside this time. Instead, they stand outside the house. He does his thing, and she tries to do hers, but luck is apparently not with them for this attempt. After a minute or so of fruitless effort, she shakes her head. “It’s not working,” she says, trying to hide her relief. “Maybe the connection’s not strong enough.”
“Do you want to try another site?” James is nothing if not persistent.
“I’m not sure there’d be much point,” she says. “There just isn’t enough of an emotional spike to lock into. He obviously wasn’t that fraught about his get-away.” ‘Son of a bitch has done this far too fucking many times before.’ No more, though. Not if she can help it.
Back in the van, the three of them discuss their options.
“I don’t think we’re going to find out anything more from the other sites,” says Annie, firmly. “We’re going to have to find some other way of tracking him down.”
“Might be worth asking around,” says Ben. “Maybe someone’s seen or heard something.” He shrugs. “Maybe a mysterious black van or two, like with the Mastworth plant.”
“Maybe.” If he or any of his friends are skimmers, they have to get around somehow. “If there are any local ghosts, it’s probably worth canvassing them, too.” Maybe they’ll get lucky and find one who’s seen Walters.
“We could go to Walters’ house,” says James. “The Radio Free Death guy mentioned it, didn’t he?”
“Ye-es,” says Annie, slowly. “But what if he’s there?”
Ben shakes his head. “No offence, Darkwood,” he says, “but I’d prefer to have a lot more back-up before going in there.” James frowns, but doesn’t push the issue.
“I could try using forebode to see if we’re likely to run into him.” She cringes inwardly even as she makes the suggestion, but overrides the fear. Whether they go in now or not, this could be useful.
“You sure?” Ben asks quietly, even as James says:
“Good idea. You want my help again?”
“Yes,” she says, to both of them. “Let’s move while we’re doing this, just in case.”
Ben nods, starting up the van. “Anywhere in particular?”
“Head towards the Walters house. I’ll try the forebode when we’re about an hour away, and we can decide what to do then.” He nods again. Much to her surprise, Annie finds herself actually missing his wise-cracks. ‘That’s me,’ she thinks, miserably. “Dr Annie Harper: professional killjoy.’
The vision is not at all what she expected. Instead of seeing Teresa, she feels someone slam into her, knocking her off her feet as a piece of masonry slams into the ground where she was just standing. She’s certainly not in the van any more. It’s a basement by the looks of it, but much larger than she would expect to find underneath a house. It’s more like something an apartment block or an office building might have. The walls and ceiling are crumbling as she watches, chunks of bricks and mortar flying everywhere. Through the spaces they leave, she can see women’s corpses in various states of decay. The corpses are moving: writhing and screaming as if in pain. But, unlike in the other visions, it’s pain she doesn’t feel. Before she has time to feel relief at that fact, the vision ends.
“What happened?” Asks James. “What did you see?” She explains.
“The fuck does that mean?” Ben doesn’t beat around the bush.
“I’m not sure it’s directly relevant to the question,” she muses. “But I think...” She frowns. “I think Walters has killed a lot of women, and I don’t think he’s necessarily burying them at his house.”
“You think that vision was telling you he has another base of operations?”
Ben shakes his head in frustration. “Maybe? What the hell kind of use is that?”
“Forebode isn’t an exact fucking science, Ben. I asked the question, and that’s the answer I got. I don’t know exactly what it means. The bastard wasn’t there, so maybe we’re just not going to run into him today. Maybe the basement means something, or maybe it’s just window dressing. I don’t fucking know.” She’s starting to lose her grip on her temper. Part of her just wants to lash out. Ben, James, a random passer by on the street: it doesn’t matter. ‘Get a hold of yourself, Harper,’ she tells herself. With an effort, she forces herself to relax, unclenching fists she hadn’t even realised she was making. “Sorry,” she mutters.
James looks from one of them to the other. “So, are we going to the house or not? If he’s not going to be there, it should be safe, right?”
“Not without more back-up.” Ben’s tone brooks no argument. “Vision ain’t clear by the sounds of it: fucker could still be there. We’re not gonna risk it.”
“Fine.” Annie can’t help the sudden rush of relief, even as she despises herself for her cowardice.
“Well... Okay.” James seems a little disappointed. “But it seems a shame to come all the way down here and not even pay a visit to the house.”
“We can try to narrow down possible locations for this basement, if it exists.” Annie looks thoughtful. “It’s not likely to be that far away from the attack sites.”
“An office building or apartment block, you said,” James muses. “Probably an abandoned one, or people might notice if he started bricking bodies up in the walls. Hey, do you think those were spectres? You said the bodies were moving, right?”
“That could just mean their spirits are restless,” she points out. “Or that they died badly.” Either of which they could have figured out for themselves.
“Let’s drive round the area,” says Ben. “See if there are any likely looking targets.”
“Sounds like a plan.” They manage to find three potentials: all office blocks. They hold off on actually scouting any of them out more closely, however, for the same reason that Ben didn’t want them to go into the house. While they’re driving around, searching, they spot a ghost wandering out. Annie projects and, after changing her appearance a little (specifically, to male), goes to try to speak to him. Unfortunately, he seems to be a skittish sort and starts to hurry away at her approach. She follows at a brisk walk, calling out to him, but all he does is speed up. Shaking her head, she decides not to follow.
By the time the three of them have finished all their investigations, it’s getting on for late evening.
“Shall we head back up to New York now?” Annie looks enquiringly from Ben to James.
“It’s a long fucking drive,” says Ben. “Don’t know about you, but I’d rather get a decent night’s sleep first, even if we do take turns.”
“We’re not in any particular hurry, are we? I mean, I wouldn’t mind getting back sooner, but we can still practice with horrors and stuff here, and it couldn’t hurt to rest up before driving back.” James shrugs. “Unless we want to just get everyone else down here.”
“I think we should wait for Tom to recover before going in,” says Annie. “Chet said that would be about another week.”
“We’ll set off first thing tomorrow morning, then,” says Ben. “Oh, and I get the shower first this time, Babe.”
“Fine. Whatever.” She doesn’t want to stay in this place a second longer than necessary, but it looks like she’s outvoted.
The evening passes relatively uneventfully. They check in with the folks back at the warehouse, letting them know that nothing untoward has happened. (Of course: given there’s a puppeteer around, hearing from them probably isn’t as reassuring as it might be.) The local news doesn’t mention any new attacks, which is something of a relief. Ben has his shower and settles down to watch TV. James and Annie work on their horrors.
“What are you going to call it?” She asks him, curiously.
He shrugs, looking down from the ceiling. “Haven’t decided yet.”
“How about spider-man?” That’s Ben’s suggestion.
“Maybe.” James doesn’t look convinced. They practice for a little while longer and then he decides to turn in for the night. It’s getting fairly late by this point.
“What about you?” Annie glances over her shoulder – she’s been seeing how quickly she can discorporate and then reform again – to see Ben looking at her.
“What do you mean?”
“You planning on going to bed any time soon?”
“Not just yet. I was going to practice a bit longer and then have a shower.”
“You’re on watch in a few hours.” Ben has the first shift, she has the second and James the last.
“Plenty of time, then.” She continues what she’s doing.
The shakes hit just as she’s stepping out of the shower; the beginning of the panic attack she’s been expecting ever since that first forebode vision. It hits hard and fast, leaving her little time to prepare. She lets her legs buckle so that she sinks to the ground (not so far to fall; less risk of accidentally hurting herself) and clasping her hands tightly over her mouth (to muffle the broken whimpering noises she can’t stop herself from making). She’s done this before, but it doesn’t help. It never does. And then there’s no more time for thought. Her whole body trembles violently, eyes wide and staring, seeing things that aren’t there. A man in an orange jumpsuit. Terri. Her dead brothers, pleading with her to save them. The demon that wears her face. The girl who plays. The needle-man. Teeth and claws and hooks and chains and knives and whips and fire and... Image after image after image. Fear clamps her mind like a vice, body aching with remembered pain. She remembers... She remembers her body moving like a marionette, commanded against her will. Made to stand there, unresisting, while they pierced her flesh with hooks and strung her up like so much meat. Change of scene: Walters brutalises his helpless victim, only now the woman is Teresa. The image fades, but the emotions remain. She can’t keep them back this time; doesn’t even try. Part of her – the coldly rational part that stands aloof from all of this – whispers that fighting it will only make it worse. She knows from painful past experience that she can’t keep these attacks at bay indefinitely. The longer she succeeds, the worse they are when they finally break through her defences. So, she doesn’t fight; she endures.
A knock at the door makes her jump, startling her enough to snap her back into the here and now.
“Blondie, you okay?” Ben’s voice is pitched low, and shot through with concern. Blinking, she slowly unclamps her hands from her mouth, uncurling her body from its foetal position on the floor. ‘No new bruises,’ she notes as she picks herself up. Although there is a set of teeth marks in one hand that she never even felt. Still, at least she hasn’t bitten her lip through this time. “Annie?”
“Yeah, fine.” Her voice is a little hoarse from crying. ‘Did he hear me?’ The thought is accompanied by a hot rush of embarrassment. ‘Just what I need.’
“Yeah.” She starts to reach for the towel, then changes her mind and steps back into the shower again. ‘Just a few minutes more.’ It’s one way of heading off this line of enquiry and, in any case, she thinks she deserves the indulgence.
When Annie finally emerges from the bathroom, she makes a bee-line for the kitchen.
“You want a coffee?” She calls softly over her shoulder as she fills the kettle.
“Aren’t you going to bed?” he sounds disapproving.
“That won’t help,” he says, nodding at the coffee jar in her hand.
“I think Terri’s body is immune to the stuff,” she says. “Probably just send me to sleep.”
“Hot milk’d be better for that.”
“I prefer coffee.” She starts spooning some into a mug. Her hands shake, spilling the granules across the counter. “Shit!” There’s movement behind her; Ben getting to his feet. He comes over, standing there a little awkwardly as she cleans up the mess.
“Go to sleep, Babe,” he says quietly. “You need to rest.”
“I’m fine,” she says, not managing to convince even herself. “In any case, there isn’t that long until my shift. I could take the rest of yours if you like.”
“I was going to suggest I take yours and you sleep the night through. You look like you need it.”
“When did you become my mother?”
“When Adrian asked me to make sure you got enough sleep.”
“You what? He what?” She turns around and looks at him, completely nonplussed.
“Someone has to look after you. You sure as shit ain’t lookin’ after yourself.”
“I’m looking after myself just fine, thank you, and I get as much sleep as I need.”
“That why we see you wandering around at all hours? Why you’ve got permanent dark circles round your eyes?”
He shrugs his shoulders. “The sleepers.”
“You don’t have anything better to do than gossip?” Her voice is indignant.
“We have a vested interest in looking after you skimmers – you’re the ones who actually go out and do stuff.” There is a certain amount of bitterness in his voice.
“Maybe we can do something about that.”
Another shrug. “Cradles have got other priorities.” That’s certainly true enough – no one’s going to suggest turfing Blink or Chet out any time soon. “Anyway, what are you doing still standing here talking to me? It’s getting late.” He makes shoo-ing motions in the direction of the bed. Tension flashes into anger.
“You can just fuck off, Ben. Stop telling me what to do. I’ll sleep when I need to, not when you or Adrian or whoever the fuck else decides.” Her pulse is pounding in her ears, vision narrowing; adrenalin bringing on another panic attack. ‘Not again; not so soon. Not now!’ With an effort, she forces her breathing to slow and her muscles to relax. “Sorry,” she mutters, picking up the coffee again. “I’m a little on edge at the moment.”
“You’ve been on edge a lot, lately.” He doesn’t sound angry, which comes as something of a relief. She wouldn’t exactly blame him if he was. ‘I guess I have been snapping at him a lot today.’ “It’s been worse than usual today.” It’s not exactly a question. He sounds cautious, as if he’s not sure how she’s going to react.
“Yeah, well, it’s been a tough day.” She finally manages to make her coffee, taking a sip and wincing when it burns her mouth. “Looking back at those sites was hard.”
“Sounds like you need alcohol more than coffee, Babe.” Leaning on the counter, he looks quizzically at her. “Want me to see if I can scrounge some up? Should help you get some sleep.” One corner of his mouth twitches in a grin. “If you’re worried about being a lightweight, you can always sleep off the hangover during the drive back.”
“Thanks for the thought, but I think I’d rather remain in control of my faculties. Especially if there’s a puppeteer around.” Ben looks like some realisation has dawned. “Don’t worry, Babe. If Walters shows up, I’ll just shoot him. Or Twitch over there will.” He nods towards the sleeping figure of James.
“Twitch?” Annie raises an eyebrow.
“Yeah. His first response to anything is to draw his gun. Twitchy fucker. Twitch.” It does make a certain kind of sense, she supposes.
“Shooting Walters might not help, though,” she says tightly. “Doesn’t take long to puppet someone.
“No problem. If he gets into one of your bodies, he ain’t going to be strong enough to stop me knocking him out.”
“What if he possesses you?”
“I’ll be in here.” He taps his head. “Should be able to kick him out.” He seems fairly confident. Annie hasn’t the heart to tell him that she thinks it’s misplaced. It’s not what might happen when they’re out of body that she’s worried about: it’s what might happen if she isn’t. And if he does possess Ben? If he finds out about the cuffs, he can stop them from projecting. ‘I’m not strong enough to fight him physically. Not in this body.’ It’s a terrifying thought. She can’t suppress a shudder.
“He’s a sick fucking bastard, Ben.” She hates the way her voice quavers.
“Putting a cap in his arse will take care of that problem,” he says firmly.
“I thought we were supposed to be questioning him?”
“Nice idea in principle, Blondie, but how do we do it? We don’t exactly have any trained interrogators on staff, let alone any who are used to questioning spooks.”
“I might be able to get into his surface thoughts,” she says, hesitantly. “But I’ve never tried it on anyone who was resisting.” 
“Huh.” Ben looks sceptical. “Given the track record of recent experiments, you sure that’s a good idea?” He shakes his head. “I was there for Teresa’s first attempt at looking at a spectre’s birth.”
“That’s right,” she says, looking thoughtfully at him. “I’d forgotten you were there. In any case, we’re going to have to figure something out if we’re going to get any useful information out of him.”
“Might be easier just to kill him.”
“Oh, he is going to die.” A twinge of pain from her bruised hand tells her that she’s clenching her fists, and she makes herself uncurl them with an effort. “It’s just a question of how quick it’s going to be.” She shakes her head. “He’s a sick fucking bastard,” she says, again. “What he did to those women…” Her voice falters. “He has to be stopped. We have to stop him.”
“You okay?” That must be the thousandth time he’s asked her that, and that’s just today. She almost snarls at him, but holds the anger back. It isn’t fair; she knows he’s just worried.
“Fine.” He frowns, and she knows he’s not convinced. She heaves a sigh, setting her half-finished drink aside and leaning against the counter. “It’s just…” What does she say? How does she explain? “Do you know how my version of forebode works?” He shakes his head, but it’s a rhetorical question anyway. “It tunes into emotions. The stronger an event’s emotional resonance, the stronger the impressions. If the… If the emotions are powerful enough, then I can feel them. As if they were my own.” She swallows hard. “There were a whole lot of strong emotions at those sites. I don’t…” ‘Why am I even telling him this?’ She doesn’t know, but she does anyway. “I don’t want to spend tonight trapped in someone else’s nightmare.”
Ben seems deeply uncomfortable, looking anywhere but at her. “Don’t really know what you’re going through,” he mutters, “but you still need to sleep.” He shakes his head. “Fuck knows I’m not the sensitive type.”
“That’s not what Zoë says.” Her smile is a little wobbly, but it’s the best she can do. She figures both of them want a change of subject.
“Ain’t nothing going on between Zoë and me.” He mumbles the words, looking distinctly flustered. ‘Oh, this is interesting!’ Not to mention a perfect distraction.
“Would you like there to be?”
“Hey!” He shoots her a sharp look. “When did this get to be about me?”
“You said you gossip about us; turnabout seems fair play.”
“At least we have the decency to do it behind your back.”
“So, do you like her?”
“Lack of sleep’s turned your brain to mush, Blondie.” He points. “Bed, now.”
“I told you, I’m not…” A massive yawn splits her face. “Sleepy.” She yawns again. “Fuck.”
Gently, he says: “It’s safe here. Walters ain’t gonna show up. If he does, I’ll shoot the fucker. Simple as that.”
“But…” That won’t help with the dreams. She doesn’t want to give in to sleep, but her eyelids are starting to droop despite her best efforts. She yawns again. ‘Fuck, I really am tired.’ It’s been a long, difficult day. “Fine,” she says, glaring half-heartedly. “Anything to stop you nagging.”
“Glad you’re finally seeing sense.” Ben nods approvingly.
“Just wake me when it’s my watch.” But she’s out before she hears his reply.
“No way, Babe,” he murmurs when he’s sure she’s asleep. “You need the rest more’n I do.” Settling down in his chair, he shakes his head. ‘She’s gonna be mad at me in the morning…’ He isn't wrong.
“So, it looks like it’s worth following up on,” James concludes. It’s Sunday evening, and they’re back at the warehouse. They’ve just finished filling the others in on their findings. “Although,” he adds, “I don’t know how easy capturing him is going to be.” He looks around at everyone. “Are we willing to kill him if we can’t take him prisoner?”
“I think we have to be,” says Annie. “We can’t risk him warning the rest of the Marion Prison spooks that we’re coming.”
Chet harrumphs. “If he’s a skimmer, he’s just going to ripcord when we pile on him. If we want to be sure of capturing him, we have to get the cuffs on him straight away.” Silence falls as the group think about the problem.
“The easiest way,” muses Annie, “would be to send a tempting potential host in there in the flesh, wearing the cuffs. They’d have to be concealed, or maybe disguised as bracelets or something, so he didn’t suspect. If he possesses…” ‘Me.’ “The target, he won’t be able to jump out again, or ripcord.” Chet looks distinctly uneasy, but Blink is the one who speaks.
“You can’t do that,” he bursts out.
“It’s not exactly ideal,” she admits, “but it isn’t like there won’t be back up...”
“You can’t do it,” he says, meaningfully, briefly flicking his gaze downwards, towards her belly. Realisation hits her like a slap in the face. ‘The baby!’ Unbelievably, she’d actually forgotten about her condition. Blink is right: she can’t risk the child. Also, now that she’s actually made the suggestion, its full implications start to sink in. If she did do this, Walters would have control of her body. That monster would be inside her flesh.
“You’re right,” she says quietly, unable to keep back a shudder. “I don’t want that fucker” – the word is filled with venom – “puppeting my body.” She shakes her head. “Can’t do it.”
James shoots her a puzzled glance. “No one’s suggesting that you do.”
“She was,” Blink says, softly. He looks relieved that she’s seen sense. If she hadn’t, he was fully prepared to use every weapon in his arsenal to talk her out of it; including guilt trips and supernatural persuasion.
“Well, I’m not going to,” she says, more for his benefit than anyone else’s. “So,” she continues, looking at the others. “What’s the plan?”
“We need to check out the house,” says Tom, “and we need to keep the other three buildings under surveillance until we know which one he’s using, if any.”
“That’s probably going to take pretty much all of us,” notes Craig. “It’ll leave the warehouse a bit under-manned, but if we wait until we’ve got the mobile base up and running we could de-camp en masse.
“Do we know anything about his house?” Tom asks.
“Not really,” says Annie.
“Let’s find out.” Tom does some quick research. “Looks like it’s an ordinary semi-detached house with a garage. The basement isn’t anywhere near large enough to be the one you saw. It’s currently on the market, and has been for some time, despite several price reductions.” He frowns. “People have claimed it has ‘bad vibes’.”
“It wouldn’t surprise me if there were a few restless ghosts hanging around there.” Annie’s voice has an edge to it.
“How are we going to get inside?” Asks James. “Just sneak in?”
“We could set up an appointment with an estate agent, pretending to be potential buyers,” says Annie. “Presumably people do view the place. It would get us a look at the inside without warning him that there are spooks poking around.”
“That could work,” says Tom.
“It’s a risk, though,” she continues. “Anyone going there in the flesh is a potential target for possession.”
“Then we have to think of something,” says Ben, firmly. “Fucker ain’t gettin’ hold of any of us if I can help it.” That’s a sentiment they can all agree with.
Time passes. People continue healing, training and playing ‘pass the vitality ball’. Annie spends some time at Brooke House. Kate is teaching her lucid dreaming, and she’s assisting with breaking ghosts’ tethers. It helps to keep her busy, which is something she needs at the moment. Monday night rolls around and she can’t sleep. Again. It isn’t like this is particularly unusual in and of itself, but what is strange – for her – is that she’s not actively trying to stay awake this night. She’s tried hot milk – which she loathes – exercise, a hot (well, warm-ish) shower, meditation... And none of it is working. Saturday night was bad. Once she actually drifted off, she slept the night through, more or less (and she hasn’t forgiven Ben for letting her do that; she never asked him to take her watch shift), but the nightmares were worse than usual. Sunday night, despite her best efforts, she barely slept at all. The sleep she did get wasn’t exactly restful. (She doesn’t seem to have gotten the hang of lucid dreaming yet.) Ordinarily she’d just try to soldier on through but, as Blink reminded her yesterday, things are different now. She has a baby to think about. Thinking of Blink reminds her of the offer he made: using unearthly repose to trance her into sleep. ‘Should I ask him?’ The thought of willingly putting herself in someone else’s power is terrifying. ‘But he wouldn’t hurt me. He wouldn’t.’ Maybe if she repeats it enough times, she’ll start to believe it. Maybe. She trusted Frank, and look at what happened there. But Teresa trusts – trusted – Blink, and she trusts Terri’s judgement. Well, she trusts it as it was then. Undecided, she tosses and turns for a while longer, trying to blank her mind so that sleep can take hold. ‘This isn’t working.’ She hates the idea of having to ask for someone else’s help; of showing weakness again. ‘I should be stronger than this,’ she thinks, fiercely. But if wishes were horses they’d be eating fillet of Black Beauty every day for a year. In any case, none of this is helping her drift off.
Heaving a great sigh, she throws the covers aside and stomps out of the cubicle. The floor is cold on her bare feet, but she doesn’t want to spend time hunting around for socks or shoes. Her hair probably looks like she’s been dragged through a hedge backwards, but she doesn’t care. ‘I hope he’s still up,’ she thinks. If he’s in fugue state, she doesn’t think she’ll be able to bring herself to disturb him. As it turns out, though, he’s not only awake but on his own; a rare turn of good fortune that she certainly isn’t going to question.
“Blink,” she hails him, keeping her voice low. He looks around, starts to say something and then stops, looking a little startled. Whatever the reason, he recovers quickly, inclining his head in greeting.
She quirks an eyebrow at him. “Why so formal?” ‘And it’s Dr, not Miss,’ she thinks absently.
“I wasn’t quite expecting to see you wandering around in your pyjamas,” he says, with a half-smile.
Frowning, she glances down at herself. “It’s tracksuit bottoms and a T-shirt. I’m not exactly indecent.”
“It’s the principle of the thing.”
“Ri-ight...” She shakes her head. “Anyway, I came to ask you a favour.”
“What is it?”
“You said you might be able to use unearthly repose to help me get to sleep.” She doesn’t want to ask this, but she makes herself continue anyway. “Is that offer still open?”
“Of course.” He looks at her enquiringly. “Do you want me to try now?”
“Please. If you’re not busy.”
“I think I can clear a space in my schedule.” He gestures towards her cubicle. “Shall we?”
A few moments later, she’s settling down on the camp bed, trying to get comfortable.
“Thank you for doing this,” she says, her voice a little strained. She just hopes it works.
“You’re welcome,” he says. He waits patiently while she fiddles with the pillow and blankets. When she finally stops fidgeting, he asks: “Ready?”
“I guess,” she mutters.
“Very well.” He moves around a couple of steps so he’s in her direct line of sight. “Pleasant dreams, my lady.”
“Not much chance of that,” she says, more to herself than to him. She tries for a wry smile, but somehow suddenly she’s crying and she can’t stop. Silently cursing herself, she turns away, rubbing angrily at her eyes.
“I’m sorry.” Blink sounds rueful. “That was a little tactless of me.” He must have manifested, because the bed creaks a little when he sits down beside her. She starts to say she’s fine, or maybe she’s sorry for breaking down like this, but then he puts an arm around her. It’s intended to be a comforting hug, but she just freezes in panic.
“Don’t touch me,” she whispers. Now it’s Blink’s turn to freeze, briefly, before dropping his arm and shifting backwards, away from her.
“I’m sorry,” he says, his voice soft and uncertain. “I didn’t mean...”
“I don’t like to be touched.”
A moment of two of silence, and then he asks, cautiously: “Is that new?” “Since the spectres.” The first thing she felt – really felt – since her death was pain. That kind of thing leaves an impression, and her subconscious now associates physical contact with torment. Knowing the cause of the dislike doesn't make it better, though. She huddles down as small as she can, wrapping her arms around herself. Despite her best efforts to stop them, tears continue to run down her cheeks. “But it’s worse since Chicago.”
He nods sympathetically. “It must have been hard, looking back at those attacks.”
She sighs, rubbing at her eyes again. “It was only two sites, and I didn’t really see much at one of them. But seeing wasn’t really the problem.” Sudden flash of memory: someone else’s fear and pain; jagged edges of emotion leaving her raw and trembling in its wake. ‘What’s wrong with me?’ She used to be able to keep it together better than this. ‘I should be able to.’ The bed creaks again, moving beneath her as Blink shifts his weight. She tenses, but he doesn’t reach for her again. This time he keeps his distance.
“Nothing, really.” But it doesn’t feel like nothing, even though she keeps telling herself it shouldn’t be affecting her this much. “It’s just...” She shrugs; an abrupt, jerky motion that’s more like a flinch. “I could feel it. What they felt. There was so much emotional residue there that...” She stops, shaking her head. “I could sense it as soon as I walked in the room. When I actually looked back it... I... It was like they were my emotions. I could feel what she was feeling when he...” A shiver runs the length of her spine. “It didn’t last long – not as long as it did for her – but it was... It was intense.” A quick glance over at Blink, who’s listening with a slight frown. She can’t really read the look in his eyes. “It shook me a little.” That’s an understatement and a half. She doesn’t even know why she’s telling him this, just like she doesn’t know why she told Ben a couple of nights ago. Maybe Mona was right: maybe she does need to talk to someone. Or maybe she’s just not strong enough after all.
“I didn’t know.” Blink’s voice, low and compassionate, breaks through her introspection. “I didn’t know that’s what it was like for you. It can’t be easy, being sensitive like that.”
“I didn’t used to be. It only really started happening since I came back, and more since I started developing forebode. Maybe it’s just because I spent a few months linked to two Banshees. They tend to be sensitive types.”
“I remember your lecture.” It was her work that formed the basis of Orpheus’ system of classifying spooks, so she was the one who taught the new recruits.
“I just...” She shakes her head again, not knowing what to say. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to dump all this on you.” Her eyes are burning, tears threatening to spill over again. “I’m sorry. I should be stronger than this.”
“You’ve been through a lot, Annie.” He sighs softly. “I can’t even pretend to understand it, or to know what you’re feeling right now. It’s only natural that you’d be affected by what’s happened to you. No one will blame you for it.”
“I was doing okay,” she says, looking at him and then away. “After that first time with the spectres; the mental link and everything, I mean. I was starting to come to terms with it all. And then New Year’s eve happened.” And Terri sacrificed herself for her. “Then I got trapped in that nightmare of a future.” Where she died again and again and again. “Then Frank dragged us into Terri’s head.” When Terri made her that terrible, tempting offer. “Then I find out I’m pregnant. And now Chicago. It just seems like it’s one thing after another after another. When is it going to end?” When is she going to be strong enough to deal with it?” She makes herself stop talking before she embarrasses herself even more. ‘He must think I’m pathetic,’ she thinks, miserably. “I’m sorry.”
“You don’t need to apologise.” There’s no disgust in his voice and, risking another glance, none in his eyes, either. Just gentleness and compassion. “It’s alright to talk about it. You don’t have to deal with this all by yourself. You’re not alone.” Just like Mona said.
“It feels like I am, sometimes.” She meets and holds his gaze this time. “It feels like every time I turn around someone is telling me I can’t handle it; that I’m not strong enough.” A bitter laugh escapes her lips. “How can I ask for help when that’ll just prove their point?”
“Oh Annie, no.” Blink looks surprised and sad. “That’s not what they’re – what we’re – saying at all. We’re just worried about you.”
“I know that. I know they’re only trying to help, and that means a lot to me. But it’s hard to keep it together when everyone’s telling you you’re falling apart.” He doesn’t reply to that. Maybe he doesn’t know what to say. “I should be stronger than this,” she murmurs. “Other people have suffered, and they’re dealing with it.” Shelley and John were both tortured by Terrel & Squib. Kate can still hear Terri’s voice. Mona was trapped in that terrible place for four months. And yet they all carry on. Why can’t she?
“Those kinds of comparisons are meaningless.” His voice is firm, cutting through her train of thought like a knife.
“You don’t know what’s going on in their heads, just as they don’t know what’s going on in yours. All you’re going to do is make yourself feel worse. If you hold yourself up to impossible standards then, you really will break.” He starts to shift towards her again; catches himself when she tenses. “Sorry. I guess I’m a fairly tactile person.” And, she supposes, the fact that she’s wearing Terri’s face probably isn’t helping with that. She’s probably triggering all kinds of protective and comforting instincts right now. Watching him, watching her, her heart aches with a sudden pain.
“Do you resent me?” She asks the question quietly; reluctantly.
“What?” Apropos of nothing relevant, it catches him off guard a little.
“Do you resent me for being here in Terri’s place? Do you blame me for what she did?”
Blink is silent for a long moment. “It was her choice,” he says, slowly. “It wouldn’t be fair to blame you for someone else’s actions. It wasn’t your fault.”
“Sometimes...” Her voice cracks and she has to swallow against the lump in her throat before she can continue. “Every time I sleep, I’m back there with the spectres. It’s why... It’s why I find it so hard. Why I don’t like to sleep. Because sometimes – mainly when I’m just drifting off, or just waking up – I don’t know which is real. I think that maybe I’m still there, and all this is just some delusion; something my mind has constructed to defend itself against them. I don’t...” She has no idea what expression she’s wearing, but her voice sounds anguished, even to her own ears. “I can’t tell.” Her breathing is ragged and uneven. “About the only thing that makes those times bearable is that if I’m still there, then that means she isn’t.” The words hang heavy in the air between them and she turns away, unable to face him right now. After what feels like an eternity, he replies.
“I don’t think there’s any mileage in dwelling on what ifs and might have beens,” he says. His words are slow and pensive at first, but become more forceful and animated as he continues. “You’re not there any more, Annie. Those are just memories and bad dreams – they have no power over you. This is what’s real.” His gesture encompasses the whole warehouse, maybe even the whole world. “We’re real. And we’re here for you. You don’t have to deal with all of this on your own. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help. There’s nothing wrong with needing help. Do you understand?”
“Do you believe it?”
She hesitates before answering that one. “Maybe.” It’s as far as she can go right now. Wiping her eyes again, she attempts a smile, managing something that’s in the right ball park this time. “I managed to freak Ben right the heck out on Saturday.” It’s funny, she reflects, that she finds herself actively avoiding obscenities and profanities around Blink, while she’ll happily swear like a trooper when talking to Ben.
“I told him why I was so on edge that day.”
“Ben is an old-fashioned macho man. Anything to do with emotions and other such touchy-feely stuff tends to make him squirm a little.”
“He did ask. He, ah...” She looks at him through her hair, her expression a little rueful. “He heard me crying.”
“Ah, well, you know what they say: you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t teach it to catch fish.”
“What?” Annie stares at Blink now, completely nonplussed. “What does that even mean?”
“Or maybe you can lead a horse to water, but that doesn’t make it a dolphin...” His expression is serious, but there’s a twinkle in his eyes. He meets her suspicious gaze with one of bland innocence. Is he making fun of Ben or of her? Either way, she supposes, at least she’s not crying any more. And speaking of Ben reminds her... ‘Blink would probably be good at that kind of thing...’ The man in question raises an eyebrow enquiringly at the shift in her expression. “What?”
“What do you mean: ‘what’?” She strives for an expression of innocence, but has the feeling she’s a little wide of the mark.
Blink shakes his head. “I can practically see the wheels turning. What are you planning?”
“Nothing.” She doesn’t have to fake the indignant tone in her voice. ‘What does he mean: he can see the wheels turning?’ “Just... I wanted to ask you something.” She tries to keep a straight face. “To draw on the wisdom and experience of age, so to speak.”
“I see.” He leans back, still looking at her thoughtfully. “Go on.”
“Say you knew two people who you’re fairly certain would be good for each other. Except he, I mean, one of them won’t do anything about it and the other one probably hasn’t really been thinking along those lines. How would you go about, ah, encouraging the situation?” That sounds so much more subtle than ‘setting them up’. Really.
Blink looks surprised, and more than a little amused. “A would-be matchmaker. Who would’ve guessed?” He shakes his head, his expression sobering a little. “Simply put, I wouldn’t. No matter how good your intentions are, this kind of thing can backfire horribly. I wouldn’t meddle in affairs of the human heart.”
“Oh.” She can’t help but feel obscurely disappointed at his response. She was hoping for encouragement, if not assistance. “I didn’t mean trying to push them into it, or anything like that.” Like anyone could push Zoë or Ben into anything they didn’t want to do. “Just... Help them to notice each other.” She sighs. “I thought... Life’s so short.” Especially for them. “Someone should have a chance at happiness.”
He sighs, shaking his head. She braces herself for a lecture, but he smiles at her instead. “Far be it from me to stand in the way of youthful enthusiasm,” he murmurs. His tone becomes brisk and businesslike. “First of all, you’re going to have to find out if his, sorry, if the first party’s interest is likely to be returned. If not, then no amount of ‘encouragement’ is going to help. It may even actively harm.”
“How am I supposed to find that out?” She could just ask Zoë outright, she supposes, but she has the feeling Ben would kill her if he found out she’d done that.
“You’re resourceful, Dr Harper. I’m sure you’ll think of something.”
“And what if the interest is returned?”
“See my previous answer.”
“I’m afraid that’s all the help you’re going to get from me. I am not getting involved in this.” He gives her a rueful look. “I’ve learned better.” It’s clear he’s not going to budge on this one.
“Well, thanks,” she says, grudgingly. ‘Thanks for nothing!’
“You’re welcome,” he says, sketching out a half-bow. “Now,” he continues, gently. “It’s getting late. Later. Are you ready to go to sleep now?”
“I guess.” Her voice is uncertain.
“And you still want me to trance you?” She just nods, silently. “Very well.” He stands up, and she settles back in the bed, watching him.
“Good night, Annie.” With that, Blink starts to glow. The light draws her gaze, expanding so that it seems to fill the whole of the world. She can’t remember what she was thinking, or even who she is. There’s nothing except the light. And then there’s nothing at all.
Tuesday passes uneventfully. Wednesday brings a new addition to the Phoenix group... ‘The dog is there again.’ Annie catches a glimpse of it as she walks by one of the window. It’s been hanging around Brooke House for a while now. She’s petted it a few times while in gauze form. Craning her neck a little, she tries to see what it’s doing. It looks like it’s chasing something. ‘Do ghost dogs chase ghost cats?’ She wonders.
“What are you looking at?” Lo-Jack, walking next to her, looks interestedly in the direction of her gaze, shaking his head when he spots the dog. “That mangy mutt again.”
“He’s not mangy,” she protests. In life, the Irish wolfhound was probably a beautiful animal. Now, its death marks twist and mar what should be a long-limbed, cleanly-muscled form. From the looks of it, it was probably hit by a car. The marks don’t seem to slow it down at all, though.
“It’s dangerous, is what it is,” Lo-Jack says, frowning. “Went for Jacob the other day and almost took a chunk right out of him. Might get a couple of the boys together and run it off.”
“Why don’t I take him away?” The words are out before she really intends to say anything.
“You?” Lo-Jack looks at her quizzically.
“Yes. We could do with a guard dog, and if you don’t want him round here…”
“You think you can handle it?” He glances in the direction of where it went, frowning. “It’s a big damn mutt.”
“Of course.” She smiles confidently. “Dealing with animals is a speciality of one of my native horrors.”
“Well… If you’re sure.” He looks dubious. “You want help?”
“No thanks. It’ll be fine.” What’s the worst that could happen?
When Hoyt shows up for the return trip to the warehouse, she asks him to wait a few minutes before heading back.
“What’s up?” He asks curiously, as she steps out of her
“I need to fetch something,” she replies. “I won’t be long.”
“Do you need any help?” Tom’s been visiting his brother, helping him learn more about what he can do.
“No, it’s fine. I won’t be long.” She heads for the alleyway where the dog tends to go to ground. Fortunately, it’s there now. She approaches it slowly, holding out one hand so that it can sniff her. It seems comfortable with her presence, so she crouches to stroke its coat. The animal seems to like the attention.
“You’re not mangy, are you?” She murmurs, keeping her voice low and soothing. “You’re a beautiful dog.” The dog just pants at her. “You don’t want to stay here, do you? You want to be somewhere you’re appreciated.” Concentrating, she channels vitality into familiar as she stands up. “Follow me.” The horror makes the words a command. Part of her feels a little guilty about doing this, but she reasons that Lo-Jack and co. are only going to drive it off – maybe even disperse it – if it continues to hang around here. ‘This is for the best.’ The two of them get raised eyebrows when they enter the van.
“What is that?” Hoyt asks, pointing.
“He’s an Irish wolfhound,” she replies.
“I can see that,” he says, “but what’s he doing in the van?”
“We’re taking him back to the warehouse. He’ll make a great guard dog.”
“Don’t worry, it’s safe.” The dog picks this moment to yawn, showing a mouthful of very large teeth.”
“I can see that,” murmurs Hoyt, his voice laced with irony. “Are you sure you can control that thing?”
Instead of answering him, she turns to Tom. “I’m going to need your help for this. Can you give me some vitality?”
“I guess,” he says, cautiously.
To Hoyt, she says. “You might want to start driving. This is likely to cause a spike.” Looking distinctly uneasy, he sets off.
“What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to make him my familiar.”
“Oh.” Hoyt considers that for a few moments as he negotiates the streets of Harlem. “What does that mean?”
“It means I’ll be able too communicate with him; even command him. We’ll be able to share vitality. Think of it as a rather condensed version of dog obedience training.”
“I didn’t know you could do that,” says Tom.
“Yes.” She shrugs. “Only with one animal at a time, though, and it does take some investment from me.” She’s not exactly sure how she’d describe what it takes out of her. It’s enough that she wouldn’t want to do it too often, though, even if she could.
“Why didn’t you do it before?” Certainly, there have been times when having a guardian might have come in handy.
“I didn’t think about it.” She was trying too hard to fill Teresa’s niche.
When she judges they’re far enough away from Brooke House not to draw any undue attention their way, she asks Tom to lend her the vitality she needs to do this. Placing her hand on the dog’s head, she channels it into forging the bond between them. It’s sort of like a summoning, or a command, but more than that. Deeper. She can feel part of her self going into the dog, strengthening it – much like breaking a tether would, if she could sense any from it  – although she can’t say for certain what it is she’s investing.  Whatever it is, something happens; she can feel the connection forming between them; settling into place. For a moment, it seems to hum like a high tension cable, but then the sensation fades into nothing more than a slight itch at the back of her mind; barely noticeable unless she concentrates upon it. She remembers that from last time. ‘It’s done.’ A little dizzy, she settles back on her heels. The dog is looking at her with a new intelligence. ‘He’s going to need a name,’ she thinks, suddenly. But what to call him…?
“Is that it?” Asks Hoyt.
“Yes,” she says, a little distantly. “That’s it.”
“Congratulations on your new pet.” Hoyt sounds amused.
“What’s so funny?”
“Oh, nothing,” he shrugs. “Just – he’s almost as big as you are.” He definitely sounds amused.
“What’s his name?” Tom is also studying the pair of them, looking from one to the others as if searching for visible signs of the connection.
“Rory,” she says, in a sudden burst of inspiration. “His name is Rory.” Rory just yawns.
Hoyt shakes his head. “I think he likes it.”
Kate has been keeping herself busy. As well as listening faithfully to Radio Free Death, she has been keeping an eye on the news for stories of interest. There seem to be a couple of relevance. The first refers to a television show called ‘Arms of Light’. It seems to be a cross between a spiritualist programme like ‘Crossing Over’ and a televangelism show. The host is a woman who calls herself ‘Madam Cassandra’, apparently a medium of some renown in those kind of circles. She has been speaking out against the spook agencies pretty much since their inception, claiming that they’re disrupting the natural cycles of life and death and disturbing some kind of balance. Now, she has some rather more specific accusations to make, and she’s directing them at Phoenix. She says that the spirits have been telling her that Phoenix were behind the Bounce Night tragedy, and that they are torturing ghosts for their own ends. Fortunately, the majority of the population seem to be taking this with a pinch of salt, but there are a not insignificant fraction of them – the show’s target audience, in fact – who actually seem to put stock in her accusations. They need to know why she’s doing this, and where she’s getting her information from, a goal that probably calls for the judicious use of puppetry.
The second story is actually related to the Bounce Night deaths. It seems that a Reverend Cale O’Reilly of the Church of the Children of the Angelic Host is claiming to have predicted the event. When she starts looking into this, Kate finds out that he seems to have been predicting other things, like the apocalypse. He is speaking about a dark tower that will strike at the heart of the city, saying that the faithful must band together to fight back the demons of hell. It seems that the man is a fire and brimstone-style preacher, or at least, he is now. He used to be a lot more gentle and moderate in his sermons, but that was before a long bout with an apparently incurable illness. It was only ‘apparently’ incurable because he seems to have been cured. He claims that an angel appeared to him and told him that he was part of God’s plan. Whatever the truth of it, his disease went into immediate remission and he was seized by a new, evangelical fervour. His congregation is swelling rapidly as people are drawn in by the sheer force of his personality. Kate speculates that the near-death experiences have left him a natural projector, almost a Banshee. Investigating him would be useful because he appears to have seen the same future that Mona and Annie saw: maybe they’ll be able to find out something that might help them prevent it from coming to pass. There’s also the possibility that he might be in danger: when Mona started looking, Harper Forrester came after her. Maybe he’ll do the same to this man. Finally, there is the matter of the ‘angel’ that appeared to him. Was there really an entity, or was it just a product of a mind seeking some explanation for what was happening to him? Either way, it bears investigating.
About half-way through the second week, Annie finishes her translation of the tablet, circulating it to the others. It makes for interesting, confusing and disturbing reading:
“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,
Second shall she be found, preborn, yet unknowing,
Third will the token? be seized, the key to her lock,
And she will deliver her avatar to you,
A bud that has yet to blossom.
Then shall the Ritual of Becoming bring her forth.
She will construct a holy city in the Well of Souls,
Marked by the sacred nine pillars,
Etched in ‘scthena’(?) 
And from here she will call forth her armies.
Though the unholy shall war against her,
And false prophets speak against her,
She shall prevail, and attain the crown of winds and souls,
And drive the unworthy before her.”
There is something else written on the back of the tablet, either another verse or a separate piece of writing entirely. It isn’t precisely clear.
“Saviour and destroyer,
She is the cusp.
As are the three
As are the four
As are the thirteen
Her fate is their fate is the world’s/everyone’s.”
Now, if only they knew what any of this means…
Annie has an idea for trying to find out more. The tablet – and specifically the writing itself – seems to be steeped in emotional residue. More than that, it almost seems to radiate the feeling of devotion. Given how her version of forebode works, maybe she can somehow latch on to that; use it as a hook to receive visions related to the prophecy. Not looking at a specific event, as such, just trying to gather more information about the context of what’s written there. As far as she knows, no one has ever tried to use forebode in this way, but then no one’s ever gotten their hands on a spectre gauze artefact before. (Given the nature of the prophecy and the circumstances of its appearance, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to assume it to be a thing of the spectres.) Kate’s response to the idea drips with sarcasm.
“Because nothing could possibly go wrong with using forebode to look at a spectre artefact.” She shakes her head.
“It’s a risk, but it could help us. We need to know what this means.”
Kate sighs. “I agree, but there’s no such thing as a calculated risk where this kind of thing is involved. We’re just fumbling around in the dark here. I’m not going to try to talk you out of it, but just... Be careful, okay?”
“Will you watch over me?” There’s no way she’s going to attempt this without someone keeping an eye on her.
She is falling; pulled down, down, down like Alice down the rabbit hole; down into a vast, deep well. A wall of wind, ash and souls surrounds her, rushing past her fast enough to take her breath away. At the bottom – the centre? – is darkness; a tiny speck in the distance that somehow seems vaster than the whole universe. It disappears, or dies, or goes to sleep, or changes – all of those things, and yet none of them – replaced by reflective black, like an obsidian mirror. Three shapes move within it. People? She recognises their faces: herself, Kate and Teresa. As she watches, still falling helplessly towards it, the mirror cracks. A large key tumbles past her, the metal glint of it the same as the chains the spectres used to bind her. Her own face screams back at her from within the circle of its grip. The key is inserted into the crack; turned as if opening a lock. The crack widens, and as the key is withdrawn again, Teresa emerges with it. A hundred souls surround her, chained to the wall of wind. Their gauze is slit and shredded by invisible knives, streaming towards her to envelop her in mist. When the mist fades, the darkness covers Teresa like a shroud, no longer reflective. She stands in the centre, surrounded by people Annie recognises. Two circles, one inside the other, their numbers four and nine. Annie, Tom, James and Frank. Zoë, Ben, Chet, Craig, Hoyt, Blink, Ben, Adrian and Kate. Together, they make thirteen.
“It’s us.” The words spill out as soon as she rouses from the forebode trance.
Kate frowns. “What do you mean?” But she doesn’t answer, scrabbling for a notebook and pen so she can scribble down her impressions while the visions are still fresh in her mind. “Don’t keep me in suspense.”
“Give me a minute,” she replies absently. Somewhere at the back of her mind, she registers that Kate’s muttering something about:
“Cruel to taunt an old woman like this.” Most of her attention, though, is taken up by getting all the details down on paper. It doesn’t take long, and when she’s finished she sits back, fixing Kate with a stricken gaze. “What is it?” Kate asks, impatience and perhaps something that might be nervousness edging her words. “What did you see?”
“I saw us,” she says, simply. “You, me and Teresa. She’s the avatar. I’m the... The token. It was because of me that they could get their hands on her; that they could put her through their ‘Ritual of Becoming’.” She describes what she saw, not needing to refer to her notes at all. Kate reaches for a cigarette, cursing when they’re not there.
“This is bad, Kid,” she says, quietly.
“Frank is one of the four, huh?”
“Even though he’s not with us anymore.”
Annie nods. “Whatever’s going to happen, presumably he still has a role to play.” She dreads to think what that role might be. If he makes contact with his doppelganger...
“Hmmm. Let me see that translation again.” Annie hands it over, and Kate reads through the verses, frowning. “It says that the three, the four and the thirteen are also ‘the cusp’,” she says. “Maybe... There must be something we can do to stop this. The vision doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going to cause it.”
“I know.” Not necessarily, no. But that doesn’t stop the doubt from clawing at her guts. Could they really be the ones who bring about the apocalypse? Are they just doing the spectres’ work? ‘No!’ She refuses to believe that. She can’t believe it. More to herself than to Kate, she murmurs: “We have to stop this.”
“I know, Kid. I know.” Closing her troubled eyes, Kate leans back with a sigh. “I could kill for a cigarette.”
 I’m not sure it’s ever come up in game, but for all her grumblings about ivory tower academics, Kate actually has a doctorate in theology. Annie is a doctor of anthropology. [Back]
 Actually, this isn’t strictly true. If Teresa had the same insight about the spectres some other way, she would still have thought about going to them and trying to help them. She would have thought about it a lot harder without the urgency of a rescue, but she would still seriously think about it. Annie is somewhat biased in her judgement. [Back]
 Empathic projection is what Kerekov calls the emotional-manipulation aspect of wail. He refers to the damaging aspect as resonance. [Back]
 Familiar is a horror that Annie hasn’t really used much, if at all (mainly because the player keeps forgetting how useful it can be). It lets her summon either the spirits of animals (if she’s immaterial) or living creatures (if manifested). [Back]
 The mental link between Kate and Teresa was still active while Annie was being held by the spectres. She figures Kate will know if Teresa was intimate with anyone during that time. She’s really, really hoping Kate will tell her that she wasn’t, so she can tell Chet the test gave a false positive. [Back]
 Theodore Walters was one of the Marion Prison Twelve. He was a serial rapist and murderer. A while back, a Radio Free Death broadcast referred to strange goings on near his old house in Chicago, suggesting that perhaps he was up to his old tricks again. If he is in the area, this is a good opportunity to capture and question him. [Back]
 There’s a stain called ‘wormhair’ that allows you to read another spook’s surface thoughts. Annie has experimented with it a little in the past. What she doesn’t know is that there’s a nasty little side-effect: using this stain broadcasts your thoughts to any spectre within range. If she actually does use this, it could end up being quite interesting. [Back]
 Animal ghosts don’t seem to have tethers that human spooks can detect, if they even have them at all. The jury’s still out on the subject. [Back]
 In mechanics terms, permanently binding a familiar takes a permanent point of willpower. However, the advantage of this is that you get to increase some of the animal’s stats, and you can summon it wherever you are. (Naturally, if it happens to be some distance away at the time, it might take a considerable amount of time to get to you.) [Back]
 This word is apparently particularly difficult to translate, and Annie isn’t sure what it means. However, I have a theory. Phoenetically, it’s very close to the word ‘sthenia’, which is Latin (via a Greek root) and (according to dictionary.com) means ‘strength; vital force’ or ‘condition of bodily strength, vigour and vitality’. I suspect that it essentially means gauze, or ghost-stuff, which seems to be to vitality what matter is to energy. I think the ‘nine pillars’ are the dark cathedrals. Or maybe just particular dark cathedrals. Or perhaps I’m just thinking about this too hard. [Back]