Orpheus: The Taste of Ashes - Missions - Mission001
- Dr Teresa Reilly, Banshee
- Tom Knox, Haunter
- Ben Cotton, team-mate, Poltergeist
- Kate Dennison, Banshee
- Annie Harper, unknown shade (ghost)
- Matthew Peterson, manager
- Rodrigo, a driver for Orpheus
- Father James Anderson, St Agnes' Church, Southville
- Roy Berkeley, ghost, Poltergeist
- The receptionist at the Southville Regional Gazette
- Other employees of the gazette
Mission One: The Scarlet Letter
Teresa, Tom and Ben are given an assignment: investigating a possible haunting at the offices of the Southville Regional Gazette. There have been several accidents on the premises, and two connected deaths off the premises (one previous employee and one current employee of the paper). Orpheus has been hired by someone unconnected to the paper who wants the matter investigated discreetly, without his name being mentioned. His interest in the case appears to be that his daughter received a copy of the gazette containing an insert that seemed to be written in blood. He seems to be concerned that this and the other incidents may be caused by a malicious ghost. The agents’ brief is to investigate what’s going on and, if a ghost is behind it, to stop them. The owners of the building that houses the gazette have agreed to give the Orpheus investigators access to the premises. The newspaper staff, however, are unaware of the investigation. Both the contractor and Orpheus have requested that it be kept as low-key as possible, so it is necessary to fabricate a cover story. Tom and Teresa -- through Matthew, their line manager -- obtain documents and permissions from the building owners identifying them as buildings inspectors and authorising them to inspect the premises.
Teresa rings the newspaper offices, explaining that she and a colleague will be inspecting the building on behalf of the owners, and asking when would be convenient for them to visit. The receptionist books the appointment for that Wednesday (two days’ time). The investigators decide to do some incorporeal snooping around before their official visit. Ben is a sleeper, so will be projecting for the duration of the assignment. Tom and Teresa are both skimmers. After arranging for a driver, they leave their bodies in the crèche at Orpheus and the three of them are driven to the site.
The driver is a Mexican, something that leads Tom to wonder about the legality of his immigration status. (The driver can’t hear this or the subsequent discussion.) Ben takes exception to this, accusing Tom of having something against “brown people”. The phrase “fucking pig” is liberally sprinkled throughout his speech. This leads into a discussion of sorts about immigration. The two of them speak at cross-purposes for a while. Ben argues that the only people allowed to legally immigrate to the US are the white rich. He argues that the people who really need to do so -- for reasons of seeking a better life for themselves -- are those who the “system” keeps out. The subject seems to be something he feels quite strongly about. Tom, for his part, doesn’t argue Ben’s point directly, instead defending the need for a system of regulating immigration, and the impracticality of an open border policy. Teresa suggests that perhaps the journey might better be spent in planning out what they’re going to do when they get to the town, but the other two ignore her. The discussion soon degenerates and Ben accuses his team-mates of looking down on him for being “a black kid from the projects”. Tom observes that it’s clear he and Ben are never going to agree on the subject of immigration, so there’s no point in discussing it further. Ben seems to see this as an admission of defeat on his party, accusing him of running away. On balance, it’s not the most comfortable car journey.
Once in Southville, the Orpheus agents plan to investigate the sites of the two deaths and, if possible, the newspaper office. Their first stop is the Panning house, where Lou Panning (the ex-employee) had a fatal heart attack. They have the driver park up somewhere nearby and let them out. The house is in a fairly poor neighbourhood. It is fairly run down, but someone has obviously gone to some effort to maintain it, even if their diligence exceeds their skill at DIY. Searching the house, they note that someone has systematically removed all traces of a male presence (there are no men’s clothes in the wardrobe, or men’s toiletries in the bathroom, for example). Teresa thinks this is consistent with information they have suggesting that Lou abused his wife. There are a number of black bags scattered around the master bedroom, but it’s too dark inside them to make out the contents. As a whole, the house looks like it’s been kept fairly neat and tidy up to about a month ago, after which someone -- presumably the widow -- just stopped bothering.
There are two individuals in the living room: one living and one dead. The former is a woman; presumably Lou Panning’s widow. She sits on the sofa staring blankly at the television. An open bottle of whiskey sits on the coffee table in front of her, together with a glass. The other individual appears to be a type of ghost known as a static repeater. Such entities aren’t thought to be sentient, and simply repeat the moment of their death in a continuous loop. It seems likely that they are witnessing the last moments of Lou Panning. He seems to be gesticulating wildly, possibly striking something (or someone). Looking up, an expression of horror crosses his face. He reacts as if being struck a number of times, and then clutches his chest, his face turning purple. Shortly thereafter he collapses to the ground and doesn’t move. This is consistent with the report that he died of a heart attack.
As this seems to be the site of death, Teresa uses Forebode to see exactly what happened. She sees Lou haranguing his wife, gesticulating angrily at her. His wife cowers before him. There is a third person present, though: a ghost. The apparition appears like the walking corpse of a man in his sixties or seventies. Although he looks dead, he bears no visible wounds. He looks on in horror and shock as Lou starts to shout at his wife, and then angrily tells him to leave her alone. Lou doesn’t hear him. The ghost gestures, and objects start to swirl and fly at Lou, striking him. Lou looks up, puzzled irritation changing to terror as more objects start flying towards him. He clutches his chest as the static repeater did, and collapses to the ground. The ghost looks shocked. Mrs Panning remains huddled in upon herself throughout all of this, not seeing any of it. One other thing that Teresa notices is that there were pictures around the living room that aren’t there now. Many of these show Lou, his wife and a younger man who bears a strong physical resemblance to Lou. Teresa relays what she saw to the other two. They can now confirm that a ghost was present, and indirectly responsible for Lou Panning’s death. However, it doesn’t seem to have been intentional. The ghost is likely to be at least Echo or Mirage class, and a poltergeist.
The investigators go on to the site of the next death: a woman who cleaned the newspaper offices. She died in her apartment. The apartment itself is empty: it was a rental property and the deceased’s effects have presumably gone either into storage or to any next of kin. There are no ghosts here. Teresa uses Forbode again, and sees the same ghost from before. He is frantically trying to tell the woman something, but she can’t hear him. He keeps saying “you have to listen to me”, “this is important” and other phrases to that effect, but it isn’t clear exactly what he’s trying to tell her. He rapidly grows frustrated at his inability to communicate and starts throwing objects around. Unlike at the Pannings’ home, he doesn’t throw the objects at her. He spills a bag of rice and swirls the grains into the shape of a man. When the occupant sees this, she looks shocked and then clutches at her chest, collapsing to the floor. Again, the death seems to have been unintentional on the part of the ghost. Teresa relays what she saw to the other two.
Teresa is running low on vitality by this point, so the team call it a day. Teresa ripcords back to her body and the other two go back in the car. Once back in his body, Tom does some research to try to identify the ghost. (When Teresa has sufficiently recovered, she provides a drawing of the individual.) He starts by using his contacts to get hold of the records for recent deaths in the Southville area. Looking for males in the sixty to seventy year age range who fit the description narrows it down to a list of ten names. Two of these died in accidents, so can be excluded on the grounds that the ghost didn’t show any signs of injury.
Tom and Teresa speculate that the ghost is probably connected with the newspaper somehow, as he’s been specifically trying to speak with its staff. Sure enough, one of the names on the list corresponds to that of a Southville resident who wrote in to the gazette on a regular basis (at least once a week). His letters referred to various conspiracy theories; UFO-related ones most frequently, but not exclusively. It seems likely that this is their ghost. Tom investigates Roy Barclay further, and discovers that he rented space in a storage facility under another name (Matthew Burke). The lease is still active.
The next day, the team return once more to Southville whilst projecting. Their first stop is the self-storage facility. Getting in is no problem, although the guard dogs react to their presence by making fuss. Tom goes into the office on his own. There is a fairly old an clunky computer there, which presumably holds the rental records. He boots up the computer, but lone member of staff present -- who is watching TV -- hears the noise and shuts it down again, cursing it as he does so. Tom enlists Ben and Teresa’s help to provide a distraction and then tries again when the man goes outside. It’s easy enough for him to get the number of the container where Roy’s possessions are stored. It seems that he has rented an entire container to himself. Once he’s got the information, Tom shuts down the computer again.
The interior of the container is pitch black, so they have to risk turning on the light. Fortunately, Roy isn’t present. Looking around the small space, they can see stacks of boxes that look as if they may contain files and papers. There is a small camp bed and a desk, indicating that he used the place for more than just storage. The desk holds a computer, which seems to be powered by a small petrol generator. The computer has been fairly competently set up for wireless network or internet access. For some reason, the inside surfaces of the (metal) container have been covered with a layer of tinfoil. There are papers scattered over the floor; possibly thrown in a fit of temper. None of the three can tell whether this was done before or after Roy’s death, or if he’s been back here since the event. It’s too dark inside the boxes to see what they contain. Reasoning that Roy seems to be the type to have complicated passwords and security measures on his computer, Tom decides not to try to go through it.
The next stop is the newspaper building. They have their driver park up a short distance away, and head in on foot. As they round the corner, Teresa spots Roy, apparently trying to get the attention of someone leaving the building. She starts to alert the others to his presence, but he spots them looking at him and bolts. The Orpheus investigators hare after him, but soon manage to lose the trail. Ben heads off on his own. Teresa spots something she thinks is Roy diving through the floor. She and Tom follow him down, into the basement and then the sewer system, after which they lose him. They come to a halt at a junction with no idea which way he went. Teresa uses Forebode to determine where he will be in an hour’s time, and receives a vision of him in the storage container. After a little discussion, she and Tom decide it’s best not to chase down the paranoid schizophrenic who is known to lash out when angry.
Teresa and Tom split up to look for Ben, agreeing to meet back at the car in half an hour. Tom manages to find him, and the two of them discuss options until Teresa turns up. Ben is all for jumping Roy and restraining him while Teresa uses Wail to calm him down. When this he suggests this to Teresa, she says she’d prefer to wait for Roy to approach her, rather than tackling him. That would mean she’d have to go into the tank, as skimming wouldn’t allow her to remain incorporeal for a long enough stretch of time. Ben isn’t overly impressed with this suggestion, pointing out that Roy might just try to kill her outright. She says it’s a risk she’s willing to take. Ben seems personally offended by the fact that she doesn’t want to take his advice, and implies that they think his ideas and opinions are worthless because of his ethnicity and background. The atmosphere during the ride back to Orpheus is a little strained.
The next day, Teresa and Tom visit the Southville Gazette in the flesh. Ben accompanies them out of the flesh. The two corporeal investigators poke around the premises like the building inspectors they’re supposed to be. They split up, Ben staying with Teresa and Tom going off on his own. Teresa chats amiably with the various newspaper employees as she wanders around, hoping for an opening to ask about the recent accidents. Tom heads down into the basement. As he’s poking around down there, he notices a rotten smell coming from a grating. Peering inside, he can see what seem to be a number of mangled rat corpses. He takes off the grating to get a closer look, and hears something rustling. He grabs a nearby broom and uses the handle to push aside the corpses until he can see the source of the noise. There is movement, and a large, misshapen ratlike creature shuffles forward. It is covered in sores and tumour-like lumps and protrusions, and the broom handle passes straight through it. Tom (sensibly) retreats to a place where he has mobile reception and calls Teresa.
Teresa and Tom head down to the basement and Tom shows them his discovery. Ben swears a lot and sprouts weaponry, attacking the rat. It strikes back, lumps turning into lashing, grasping tentacles. It vomits some kind of noxious substance over Ben, shredding his gauze to the point where his head is torn away from his body. Tom and Teresa instantly project so they can try to help him. Tom lets fly with Witch’s Nimbus, getting the creature’s attention. It targets him with its next attack, but he manages to evade it. Ben grabs his head and wades back into the fight. Teresa prepares to unleash Wail, but it’s over before she can so much as sing a note: Ben attacks, and the entity just… disappears.
After the brief fight with the possible shadow-class threat (spectre), the team pull themselves together (literally, in Ben’s case) and investigate further. Tom goes intangible and travels a little way down the duct where he found the spectre and the rat corpses. He initially only goes in about ten feet or so, but when he doesn’t find anything of note, he goes further in. Another ten feet or so and still nothing, although it seems that he is no longer in a tunnel, but in an open space. He goes back to rejoin the other two.
Teresa uses Forebode to see what led to the formation of the spectre. Ben assists by using his ability to reduce the necessary energy expenditure. She has a brief vision of the ghostly Roy Berkeley using Helter Skelter to stash rat corpses into the duct and affix the grating over the opening. One of the rats isn’t actually dead when he seals the duct and it takes a while to die. It seems likely that the spectre was the rat’s ghost. She relays this information to the others. As Roy was a ghost in the vision, the events Teresa saw must have happened within the past six months. Tom examines the rat corpses, noting that they’re still juicy. It’s unlikely that they’ve been there more than a month. So, the spectre was obviously created within that time-frame. (Tom also notices that the rat bodies look at though they’ve been wrung out like damp cloths, rather than merely crushed as he first thought.)
Teresa uses Forebode again, this time to look at the moment when the spectre came into being. Ben helps, as with the previous attempt. What happens is unlike anything Teresa’s ever experienced before. She doesn’t see the scene replayed, as is supposed to happen. Rather, it’s as if she’s actually there; a part of whatever’s happening, feeling the emotions of the event wash over and through her in a way she can’t control. Something draws at her: love, need, wanting; it’s all the same. It’s like being born, like being needed completely and utterly. It’s revolting and enticing all at the same time and it’s strangely familiar. Part of her knows this feeling and stirs at its touch. That part of her wants to go to whatever’s calling her. It feels like she’s connected with something primal and awful and wonderful. Whatever it is knows her, just as she knows it. More than that: she thinks it sees her. Back in the cellar, Tom sees Teresa’s eyes dissolve into vast, dark pits that pull hungrily at him, drawing him in. Ben starts to grow, his skin cracking and sloughing off to reveal a shiny carapace beneath. His form dissolves into something huge and insect-like, just as Teresa starts to change and distort. And then it’s over.
Teresa and Ben are back to their normal selves again, albeit severely shaken. Tom asks what happened. Teresa tries to describe what happened. Tom describes what he saw. Teresa asks Ben if he experienced anything of that “vision” through the link that his assistance formed between them. He did, but he says he doesn’t want to talk about it. Tom and Teresa return to their bodies. They decide to finish their inspection and then leave. They split up, Ben staying with Teresa. Tom goes out to the car to ring Matthew. One of the journalists spots him, and notices that he seems a little shaken. He asks him if he’s okay; what’s wrong. Tom tells him that he’s fine, but that they discovered a rat infestation in the basement and he can’t stand rats. The journalist seems convinced, and goes back to whatever he was doing. Tom heads off to make his ’phone call. When he gets to the car, however, he decides not to make the call after all, as it will be easier to report to Matthew in person.
The three investigators meet up and drive back to the Orpheus building. The drive back is rather quiet. When they get there, they fill Matthew in on the events of the day. He asks them some questions and then tells them that he needs them to wrap up the case by the end of the week. It’s up to them how they do so, as long as they do so. After leaving Matthew’s office, they go to discuss their options. The main thing they need to do is talk to Roy. They also want to investigate the church mentioned in the newspaper insert that brought the situation to their employer’s attention. After some discussion they decide that Teresa will go in the tank and spend a couple of days in Southville with the other two out of sight, waiting for Roy to approach her. If he hasn’t made contact by Thursday, they’ll go with Ben’s suggestion of hunting him down and grabbing him so that Teresa can calm him down.
Teresa has a chat with Kate Dennison, telling her what happened when used Forebode to look at the creation of the spectre. Kate is quite interested, and asks a lot of questions. She also warns Teresa not to attempt it again without telling her first, and not under any circumstances to attempt it within the Orpheus building. After talking to Kate, Teresa has a chat with Annie Harper -- who is very interested in what happened -- and then rests in preparation for going under. Tom pays a visit to the Southville local library to have a look through previous issues of the gazette. The insert advertises a particular service at the local Episcopalian church and is actually four weeks out of date. It appeared for the first time four weeks ago, and was then repeated every subsequent week. It was only the last one that was written in blood, and then only in one copy that they know of.
The next morning Tom, Ben and Teresa head over to Southville again. Tom -- who is corporeal, rather than projecting -- drives his own car. The first stop is St Matthew’s Church. Tom walks in through the open doors and the other two try to follow after him but, much to their surprise, find themselves prevented. There seems to be some kind of barrier in their way. It is painful to touch, burning them as they try to pass through. It seems to be worse for Ben than for Teresa: he says it feels like walking into a fire, whereas for her it’s like stinging nettles. She thinks she could probably push through if she really had to, but Ben isn’t so sure. In any case, as they don’t know what it would do to them -- and if they would be able to get out again from the other side -- neither of them really wants to risk it. Tom notices that they’re not with him, and comes out to see what’s going on. He looks around the churchyard, but doesn’t seem to see or hear them. They try to get his attention, but he simply shrugs and heads back inside.
While they wait for him to come back out, they walk around the perimeter of the building, testing the extent of the barrier. It seems to extend through the walls and windows as well as the doors, forming a complete shield around the church. They don’t test whether or not it still affects them if they dematerialise. With little else to do, they keep an eye out for Roy or any other post-life entities until Tom returns. Inside the church, Tom seats himself on a pew and looks contemplative. After a little while, he is approached by the vicar, who introduces himself and strikes up a conversation. Tom says that he may be working in the area shortly, and came to look around. They chat for a little while. During the course of the conversation, the vicar mentions that the church is currently holding a holy relic called the Blood of St Matthew. The relic is being taken on a world tour, during which it is displayed at each of their churches for a few weeks before being returned to its usual resting place. He seems quite excited about its presence. After their chat, Tom makes his goodbyes and heads back out to the car.
Teresa and Ben are waiting by the car. Tom still doesn’t seem to see or hear them, so they follow him into the car and Teresa tries to manifest. It’s harder than it should be, and she has to expend energy even though it really shouldn’t take any effort at all. She manages to communicate with Tom and fill him in on what happened. Tom says that he tried to project while in the church and simply couldn’t do it. He tells them about the relic and they speculate that it could be the cause. The building itself is very old, which may also be a factor. As far as they know, churches are not supposed to be barred to the incorporeal. As time passes, Tom starts to see them again, albeit faintly, and it gets easier to manifest.
For completeness’ sake, they head over to the Catholic church (St Agnes) for a brief look around. Teresa and Ben have no difficulties entering this one. Teresa notices a faint tingling sensation as she passes over the threshold, but that may simply be her imagination. By this point, they seem to have returned to normal. Tom and see and hear them properly again. There seems to be nothing of interest there as far as they can tell.
They take up their positions for the stakeout. They have decided that Teresa will stand near the gates of the newspaper building. They know that Roy has been there before and that the gazette seems to be important to him. The location also has the advantage of being relatively open, so they should hopefully be able to see him approach. Tom comes to a stop a couple of blocks away and opens the door to let Teresa and Ben out. They separate and each go to their assigned positions. (Ben is to loiter around nearby but out of sight, just in case it all goes pear-shaped. Tom purchases supplies (coffee, donuts and other necessities) and then parks his car a short distance away, making sure he has a clear line of sight on Teresa, All three of them settle in for a wait.
Time passes. Teresa drifts into that neither sleeping nor waking state that sleepers are prone to when not engaged in some sort of activity. Suddenly, she is startled out of her fugue by the sound of a voice from behind her. “Why are you here?” It says. She turns around, slowly, to face the speaker. The figure is mostly shadowed, with only the barest sliver of a face peeking out, but she recognises him as Roy. She tells him that she works for the Orpheus Group, and they have been hired to look into the strange occurrences at the Southville Gazette. Roy is skittish and paranoid, but Teresa eventually manages to calm him down enough (using purely mundane methods) to answer some questions. He still isn’t convinced she’s not a government spook, though. (He thinks that Orpheus are controlled by the government, which is turn is controlled by the greys. The government, according to him, have been conducting experiments with retro-engineered alien technology, which uses ghosts and ghost material or energy.)(His conspiracies)
Roy knows that he’s dead, and seems to have adjusted to that fact relatively well. He believes that “they” poisoned him because he got too close to the truth. He also believes that they wanted to harvest his soul to power their technological devices, but he managed to escape. That’s how he believes he became a ghost. The accidents at the gazette are his fault, but he didn’t cause them deliberately. He has been trying to communicate through the paper, attempting to warn people of the various conspiracies that he believes are being perpetrated. Controlling the machinery is difficult, and sometimes accidents happen. He also gets frustrated sometimes, and lashes out. He doesn’t know anything about the spectre, but he confirms that he used the rats’ blood to print the insert about the church. He believes that human sacrifice is being practiced at St Matthew’s Church, and that the church is part of the “worldwide satanic conspiracy”. He believes this because he overheard them talking about blood. Teresa tells him about the artefact, but he says that’s what “they” want them to think.
Roy is a paranoid schizophrenic who sees conspiracies everywhere. When Teresa asks how he knows what he knows, he says that the radio told him. He happily rambles about these for some time. Teresa tries to identify his tethers and receives three distinct visions. In one of them, a man reads a newspaper front page with the headline “Aliens control the government”, nodding in agreement. The second shows a website about conspiracies, with an article entitled “Since I’ve been dead”. The third is simply an old-looking mongrel dog with a patchy brown and white coat.
After talking to Roy for a while, Teresa convinces him to meet the rest of the team, under the guise of helping him to get his warning out. She arranges to meet him in a local park, and goes to collect the other two. Tom recites Roy’s ramblings into a dictaphone, which takes some time. After some subtle prodding from Teresa, Roy begrudgingly tells them that he has somewhere they can use to type it up (as the laptop doesn’t have enough charge and they don’t really want to do this in a cyber café): the storage container they visited yesterday. He tells Tom to go to the desk and tell the man behind it that he’s Matthew Burke and that he’s lost his key again. Apparently this will go smoother if he slips the desk man a tenner as he does so. Tom observes to himself that this is much easier than the last time they did this. In a short space of time, the three of them are ensconced in the storage container.
Tom types up Roy’s theories and warnings. As he’s doing so, the hissing radio crackles into life with this broadcast: “This is Radio Free Death (hiss) to all new listeners (hiss) special is (hiss) pigment (hiss) shit is really starting (hiss) keep a watch out (hiss) bad feeling about all this (hiss) seen it before (hiss) Death signing…” Roy doesn’t seem overly startled, saying that this has happened before. Tom finishes his typing and uploads what he’s done to Tom’s website. Sensing that the conditions of one of the tethers have been fulfilled, Ben expends some energy to break it. When it snaps, Roy seems somehow stronger than before. Teresa asks him if there’s anything else he wants to do, and he mentions that he wants to make sure his pet dog is being looked after. Tom makes some ’phone calls and discovers that the dog is in a pet shelter and is scheduled for destruction. It’s now closed for the evening, however, so he’ll have to go back tomorrow. As it’s rather late in the day, he heads off to a motel to get some sleep. Teresa and Ben stay with Roy, who is quite happy to keep talking to them.
The next morning, after unsuccessfully trying to find someone on the Orpheus staff who wants a dog, Tom visits the animal shelter and adopts Roy’s dog. He takes the aged creature home and then goes to see the others. Ben’s eyes are looking a little glazed: the result of him listening to Roy’s ramblings all night. Tom tells Roy that he’s adopted his dog, and Ben expends energy to break that tether. When he does so, Roy looks around in a panic, saying: “They’re coming for me!” At that moment, a flying saucer beams him up and then disappears.
Tom, Ben and Teresa report to Matthew, who seems satisfied with what they’ve done. It seems that this case is now closed.