Orpheus: The Taste of Ashes - Missions - Mission000

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Dramatis Personae


Protagonists


Dr Teresa Reilly, Psychiatrist, Banshee

Tom Knox, Cop, Haunter


Supporting Cast


Kate Dennison, Orpheus trainer, Banshee

Chet Mason, Orpheus trainer, Skinrider

Susan Blakemore, probably just out of high school, Banshee

John “Blink” Carruthers, stage magician, Wisp

Adrian Challis, Orpheus spook and occasional trainer, Wisp

Ben Cotton, probably a gang member, Poltergeist

Dr Annie Harper, Orpheus researcher, unknown Lament (ghost)

Tom Hayes, Orpheus spook and occasional trainer, Poltergeist

Hoyt Masterson, Orpheus spook and occasional trainer, Haunter

Matthew Peterson, manager

Zoë Vitt, stuntwoman, Poltergeist


Back to School


One by one, Orpheus’ latest recruits arrive in the building’s reception, ready to begin their training. They are each given an ID badge and asked to wait for the instructors. Tom Knox arrives first and Teresa Reilly shortly after him; both are early. They introduce themselves and make awkward small talk for a few minutes until more trainees turn up. The next three arrive in fairly close succession: John Carruthers (“but everyone calls me Blink”), Zoë Vitt and Susan Blakemore. (Susan is the only one to arrive by taxi. The others all enter Reception through the lift from the underground garage, which presumably means that they have their own transportation.) Blink and Zoë sit near the other two and quite happily make conversation, but Susan just huddles in a corner, seemingly trying to make herself as small as possible. She keeps her gaze firmly on the floor, speaking only to give her name during the general round of introductions, and then only just above a whisper. Ben Cotton is the last one to arrive, turning up a couple of minutes after nine. He looks around the room, very clearly sizing everybody up; leering at the women and staring down the men. Everyone reacts differently to this. Blink and Teresa seem to pretty much ignore it. Susan glances up at his entrance and then seems to huddle even tighter into herself, if possible. Zoë looks him up and down with frank appraisal, grinning. Tom meets his gaze. Ben seems to take this as a challenge, and the introductory handshake almost turns into an impromptu arm wrestling contest. Tom doesn’t back down, and the result of the struggle is inconclusive, although Ben is probably just ahead on points.

The conversation soon turns to the subject of what people did before being recruited by Orpheus. Blink was a stage magician, with all the charm and self-confidence that might be expected of someone with that background. Tom used to be a police officer. Ben snorts at that, calling him a pig. The only thing he says is that he comes from the streets, and doesn’t seem particularly receptive to further questions on the subject. Teresa was a psychiatrist, and Zoë was a stuntwoman. Blink seems to have heard of some of her exploits, which seems to please her. Susan has just graduated from high school.

Shortly after nine (only a couple of minutes or so after Ben arrives), the lift doors open and a man and a woman step out. They introduce themselves to the trainees as Kate Dennison and Chet Mason. (All of the trainees were interviewed by one or the other of them before being offered a position with Orpheus.) Kate, an acerbic woman in her forties, looks around at the trainees as if each of them has personally disappointed her. Chet, who holds himself like a military man, has a tendency to refer to them as “cadets”, giving orders as if they really are. It very rapidly becomes clear that training is just that.

The first thing Kate and Chet do is give the trainees the grand tour of the facility. They start with Sub-Basement Two (One is the underground parking garage), which is where the living quarters are. The new recruits will be living on site for the duration of the training. Each room can hold two people, so some of them have room-mates. Teresa and Susan are sharing, as are -- because someone obviously saw the psychological profiles and thought it would be funny -- Tom and Ben. Zoë and Blink each have a room to themselves. Sub-Basement Two also houses the canteen and a recreation room, which contains gym equipment, a wall-mounted big-screen TV and a kitchenette. Sub-Basement Three contains the Crèche, the Cradles and the training rooms. The crèche is where skimmers project from (or are supposed to project from). It has comfortable couches and cushions, low-lighting and soft, relaxing music. The Cradles are where sleepers are put into cryogenic suspension so that they can project. It is the last stop on the tour, for reasons that quickly become evident when the trainees see Chet and Kate’s bodies in cryosleep. To emphasise the point, they vanish and reappear, showing the class that they have been projecting all this time.

While the trainees are still reeling from that, Kate and Chet tell them that it’s their turn. Without further ado, the doctors and medical technicians start herding them towards the cradles and preparing them for cryosleep. It takes five hours to cycle all the way down, so between that and the preparation time (which, naturally, takes longer for first-timers), it’s getting on for late afternoon by the time they’re out of their bodies and ready to go. The first order of business is to get them acclimatised and to determine what type of spook each of them is. The personality tests they undertook during the evaluation process mean that the trainers have a good idea of what they’re likely to be, but it’s only at this point when they can tell for certain. Teresa and Susan are both Banshees, Tom is a Haunter, Blink is a Wisp and Ben and Zoë are Poltergeists. There are no real surprises in the group. Once their Shades are known, appropriate trainers are drafted in, and the training begins in earnest.

At first, all of them attend all the lessons. Kate and Chet say that there are two reasons for this. First, there is the chance they might encounter spooks wielding the various Horrors out in the field, so they need to know what to expect. Second, it’s fairly common for spooks to learn Horrors more associated with other Shades, so it saves time in the long run for them to see them all in action at this stage. Kate teaches the two Banshees Wail, with Tom as a training dummy. Hoyt Masterton teaches Tom Inhabit, showing him how to project himself into a variety of objects. During one of these lessons, Tom -- for reasons known only to himself -- causes the words “Ben is gay” to appear on the monitor of a computer he is occupying. Ben does not react particularly well to this and uses Helter Skelter to smash the screen, swearing at Tom and threatening to mess him up but good. (It’s the start of a beautiful relationship.) Blink learns Unearthly Repose from Adrian Challis, and Teresa accidentally volunteers herself as the training dummy for the first lesson. Tom Hayes teaches Helter Skelter to Ben and Zoë, who seem to have very different ways of using this Horror. Ben channels his rage (which he possesses in abundance), while Zoë seems to use her natural (or possibly unnatural) exuberance.

The class spends about two weeks in cryosleep, and all of them seem to adjust fairly well to their non-corporeal state. The fact that they don’t need to sleep -- although they do enter a dreamless fugue state every so often -- seems to be the hardest part to adjust to. Fortunately, the training keeps them busy enough that it doesn’t really become an issue. The most popular pastime among the trainees at the moment is socialising, both with the other trainees and, in some cases, with the Orpheus staff.

In their introductory briefing, Kate and Chet mentioned that one of the common characteristics of projectors is multiple near-death experiences. Unsurprisingly, a frequent topic of conversation over the first few days of conversation is: “how we all nearly died”. Ben, as he never tires of telling everyone, grew up on the streets, where violence was a common occurrence. Zoë and Tom’s occupations answer the question loud and clear. When asked about her experiences by a slightly puzzled Tom -- since her job doesn’t seem to be a particularly hazardous one -- Teresa mentions that she was the type of psychiatrist who worked with the severely disturbed. (The secure unit evidently wasn’t always as secure as the staff might have liked.) Blink has terminal cancer, but he shrugs off his colleagues’ sympathy and never mentions it again. Susan never answers the question.

Chet seems to have taken a liking to Tom, acting as something of a mentor to him. He also seems to take an interest in Ben, but their relationship seems to be much more antagonistic: Ben does not take well to authority figures and to being given orders. He does, however, seem to take well to Zoë, and the two of them strike up quite a friendship. Blink gets on well with everyone, but especially with Teresa, and the two of them start to spend quite a bit of time together. For her part, Teresa seems interested in getting to know her fellow trainees, and makes a particular effort to try to draw Susan out of her shell. Susan mostly keeps herself to herself. After enquiring as to who within Orpheus knows the most about spooks and related matters, Teresa is pointed in the direction of Dr Annie Harper, Orpheus’ chief researcher into such matters. She also happens to be one of two post-life entities (PLEs or, more commonly, ghosts) on Orpheus’ staff. Annie seems happy to answer Teresa’s many questions (possibly because no one else really talks to her all that much).

After their two weeks in the cradles (or tanks, or coffins, as some of the staff refer to them), the six students are given a whole week off to do as they please. Most of them take advantage of the opportunity to stretch their legs a little. As Susan doesn’t have her own transport, Teresa offers her services as chauffeur if there’s anywhere she wants to go. Susan, however, says she’s happy to stay within the Orpheus building. The first thing she does make a beeline for the computer in their room, spending most of the next week apparently surgically attached to the internet. Blink also stays on site. He is fairly physically frail from his illness, and takes a little while to recover from being in the tank. Zoë is off like a shot, barely even stopping to get dressed before leaping onto her bike and roaring off into the distance. (Over the past fortnight, she has been heard to observe -- loudly and often -- that this is by far the longest time she’s ever spent rooted in one spot. She seems to be the restless type.) Ben and Tom also head off for the horizon, although not together.

Tom starts looking for a place to rent that’s within commuting distance of Orpheus, as his current apartment is a little far away. He also takes some time to visit his parents, who make no effort to hide their disappointment in his career choices. The strained awkwardness culminates in a blazing row between Tom and his father, while his mother tries desperately to smooth things over. Some things, apparently, never change. Teresa actually has an apartment nearby, as her previous job was in New York City. However, aside from a few excursions, she stays in the Orpheus building.

One day, Teresa hears a scratching at the door of her room. She opens it to reveal a small cat, which quickly morphs into Annie. It seems that the good doctor is bored, and more than a little stir-crazy (not really getting out much, if at all): she wants to get out. That seems to be a cue for Teresa to think of something. After a moment’s thought, she suggests they hit a local nightclub that she knows: Chains. Appropriately enough, it’s a goth club. Annie is amenable to the idea, and Teresa asks if she wants to invite anyone else along. With a shrug, she replies that she doesn’t really know anyone well enough. She would like to, though, so is quite happy for Teresa to make suggestions (although she does express a preference for making the trip a girls’ night out). It doesn’t take much thinking about: Teresa calls Zoë, who is, as always, up for a night on the town. As they’re sorting out little details like when and where to meet, transport, and dress codes, Teresa suddenly realises that the roaring sound coming from Zoë’s end sounds an awful lot like a motorbike travelling at speed. That prompts the following exchange: “Zoë, are you on your bike?” “Yeah, why?” The wind screams in the background, and there is the occasional sound of other traffic vanishing into the distance. “Are you on the freeway?” “Yeah... Shit!” There is the sound of screeching tyres, the elongated blaring of a very loud horn, and a rather impressive bout of swearing from Zoë. “Are you driving the wrong way down the freeway?!” “No, of course not!” She does her best to sound innocent, but Teresa isn’t convinced. Especially when she continues: “I’d never do that while I'm on my cell phone.” Very shortly after that, Teresa ends the conversation and hangs up. She doesn't want to be responsible for Zoë gaining the dubious honour of being the first Orpheus employee to gain post-life status before even completing the training.

The appointed hour rolls around, and the three women meet up in the rec room. Annie has arranged for one of the Orpheus drivers to take them to the club and to bring them back afterwards (“one of the perks of my status; not that I ever use it”). Teresa helps her shift her clothing into something more suitable, although she doesn’t manifest just yet. (She won’t be able to manifest for all that long, and she wants to make the most of the time.) The driver looks Zoë and Teresa up and down appreciatively when they get in the car, and then glances down at his wedding ring and sighs. He makes sure to keep his eyes firmly on the road during the drive. It doesn’t take long, and Annie manifests just before they reach their destination.

Chains is a rather popular venue, and the queue stretches halfway round the block. Teresa and Annie move to join the end of it, but Zoë links her arms through their and strides confidently up to the doors, dragging them along in her wake. One of the bouncers recognises her, and asks for her autograph, which she happily provides. He lets them all go straight in, which causes a bit of angry muttering among the crowd.

Once inside, the three of them head to the bar. When Teresa asks if Annie can drink, she says that she can, technically, but it doesn’t really do anything for her. Also, she doesn’t absorb it, so when she dematerialises again it’ll just make a puddle on the floor. All in all, she decides that it’s not worth the trouble, especially as it only serves to remind her of what she’s lost. She doesn’t have any objection to the other two indulging, however, so they do. (She possibly just doesn’t want to get between Zoë and her liquor; a dangerous proposition at best.) Zoë very quickly heads off into the crowd, but Teresa and Annie stay together. This proves an asset when an obnoxious drunkard keeps hassling Teresa for a dance (and more), and doesn’t seem to want to take no for an answer. After Teresa tells him firmly that she’s there with someone, indicating Annie (and after the penny eventually drops), he stomps angrily, muttering to himself about “dykes”. Once he’s out of earshot, Annie leans over to Teresa and murmurs: “If he hadn’t gotten the message, I was going to come over and kiss you.” They both laugh, and the two of them dance for a while. They see Zoë occasionally, and she seems to be enjoying herself greatly. She disappears off to one of the back rooms for a while, and then strolls back looking mightily pleased with the world. The evening rolls onwards, and a good time is had by all. And that’s when someone screams.

A rather panicked woman is pointing at Annie, and shouting: “She just disappeared. Vanished into thin air! One moment she was there and the next: poof! Gone.” A small crowd gathers, looking at Annie -- or, rather, at where she was dancing -- and muttering excitedly. More voices pipe up with: “Yeah” and “I saw it too” and “It’s a ghost”. Annie swears vehemently in several different languages and then tells Teresa that she lost track of time: she ran out of energy and abruptly dematerialised. Teresa attempts some damage control, trying to convince the increasingly hysterical witnesses that they must be mistaken; that the darkness and strobe lighting is confusing, that she probably just got lost in the crowd and, when all else fails: “Let’s just have another drink!” Some just shrug it off, but a couple of them -- mainly the woman who screamed -- seem certain that they’ve seen a ghost. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot Teresa can do about that. She and Annie move to a (relatively) quiet corner where they can talk. Annie apologises profusely, looking thoroughly annoyed with herself. Teresa tells her not to worry about it and asks if she wants to leave, but Annie would rather stay. After all: she can still enjoy the music. The two of them head out onto the dance floor again.

After a while, Teresa hears Annie calling out to her, sounding a little panicked. Looking over, she can see a man dancing with Annie. Not just moving next to (or through) her, but actually dancing with her; matching her movements and trying to get up close and personal. He seems a little confused as to why he can’t actually touch her. Teresa interposes herself before he can think about it too hard, and that seems to distract him. He seems quite happy to try to get up close and personal with her. His pupils are extremely dilated, suggesting that he’s taken some kind of recreational pharmaceutical. That’s certainly consistent with his behaviour, which would seem to indicate that he’s currently as high as a kite. Teresa ditches him at the earliest opportunity. Annie is a little freaked out: she isn’t used to people being able to perceive her unless she wants them to. Teresa speculates that he may just be sensitive to the presence of ghosts. Annie rapidly recovers from her shock, and they return to dancing. However, after several more people display the ability to see her (and possibly hear her as well; she isn’t certain), she decides she’d really rather leave. Zoë wants to stay, so the two of them go back to Orpheus without her.

The main topic of conversation during the ride back is the fact that several people were able to see Annie when she hadn’t manifested herself. This has never happened to her before although, she admits, she rarely leaves the Orpheus building. When the driver drops them off, Annie still seems to be in the mood to talk, so they head to the rec room. Teresa makes herself a mug of hot chocolate and they stay up for most of the night chatting. Their talk quickly turns to the subject of relationships, and Annie grows increasingly more depressed. She tells Teresa that she’s never really had a serious relationship, and now she probably never will. Especially since it seems likely that she only has a year or so of existence left (she wouldn’t exactly call it a life). Teresa tries to comfort her, but there isn’t really a lot she can say to that. A change of subject seems to be in order. That old chestnut “men are bastards” seems to do the trick. (It seems that Teresa went through a somewhat less than amicable break-up shortly before joining Orpheus, so is more than prepared to expound on the topic.)

It’s about six o’clock in the morning by the time Teresa finally staggers into bed. For reasons known only to her she still gets up again at her normal time (about two hours later), although she clearly regrets it. Her mood is not improved when Zoë breezes cheerily into the rec room, apparently no worse for wear after her night on the tiles. She merely grins when Teresa glowers and tells her that she hates her. When she’s fully woken up, Teresa goes to have a quiet word with Kate, who doesn’t seem entirely surprised to hear about what happened to Annie at the club. Apparently, other spooks have reported people being able to see them while they were projecting. Orpheus doesn’t know the cause, but they suspect some kind of psychotropic drug, or a combination of such. Kate suggests that Annie and Teresa don’t mention this little incident (specifically, Annie’s little disappearing trick) to Management, as they wouldn’t be impressed.

The rest of the week passes fairly uneventfully, and then training begins once more. The next phase involves the students being taught skimming. Blink doesn’t take part in these classes, as his cancer means that he will be using the cradles. (Apparently, prolonged use has been known to cause remission of certain terminal illnesses. The most impressive example of this is Tom Hayes of Gamma crucible, who was suffering from terminal cancer when he joined Orpheus. After spending a significant portion of his time in the cradles, his cancer went into complete remission, and has remained so ever since.) Of the rest of the trainees, Tom, Teresa and Zoë manage to master the technique of skimming. As Sleepers generally outnumber Skimmers two to one, this is a significantly better than average.

The trainees continue to develop their abilities over the next few weeks. They’re not confined to the building anymore, so most of them move out into their own accommodation when they’re not in the cradles. (Teresa helps Susan to find a flat.) The Sleepers, however, still tend to stay onsite for a day or so after surfacing. Teresa, Zoë and Annie hit Chains a few more times, and Annie manages not to dematerialise in the middle of the club again. Zoë sees Teresa leaving Blink’s room one morning, and proceeds to tell everybody who’ll listen.

After another six weeks of so, the training is complete and the students officially become fully-fledged Orpheus agents: they are to form Zeta Crucible, under the management of Matthew Peterson (a non-projector, as are all of the administrative staff). To no one’s surprise, Zoë suggests they go out and celebrate. Everyone except Susan takes her up on that, and the result is a pub crawl of epic proportions. A good time is had by all and a great deal of alcohol is consumed.

The next morning (bright and early, naturally, which leads to some of them cursing the night before), Zeta crucible receive their first assignments.